“A terrifying story of conformity and deformity in a world paralyzed by genetic mutation.”
This is a quote from the back of the YA novel, The Chrysalids, written by John Wyndham. The book, published in 1955, became a classic used in the school curriculum when I attended. The author takes the reader into a future post-apocalyptic world where a few pockets of human settlements battle the effects of the fall-out of the war. Because of radiation, deviations in crops, animals and people were extremely common, but were rooted out and either destroyed as offences and abominations or exiled to the treacherous ‘Fringes’, the surrounding lands where deformities were the norm.
In the middle of this strict enforcement, David and a band of other teenagers are barely able to conceal their telepathic abilities. This deviation from a cruelly rigid norm would have gone unnoticed except for a bombshell that comes in the form of a little girl – David’s kid sister, Petra, who shows a powerful telepathic gift…
“Who is it?” Rosalind asked, in real words, and a shaky voice. She put her hand on her forehead. “Who was able to do that?”
I told her.
“Petra?” she repeated, staring incredulously.
I carried my little sister ashore, and laid her on the grass. She was exhausted, and only semi-conscious, but there did not seem to be anything seriously wrong with her.
Rosalind came and knelt on the grass on the other side of her. We looked down at the sopping dress and the darkened, matted curls. Then we gazed across her, at one another.
“I didn’t know,” I told her. “I’d no idea she was one of us.”
Rosalind put her hands to her face, fingertips on her temples. She shook her head slightly and looked at me from disturbed eyes.
“She isn’t,” she said. “Something like us, but not one of us. None of us could command like that. She’s something much more than we are.”
Oooooh, now they’re in trouble!
The Chrysalids was the one book that was the catalyst for my thirst for fantasy and science fiction. From the moment I finished reading it, I wanted to create alien worlds where strong-characters had to fight for what was important to them. But it was more than that, I loved the underlying comments on our societies that the genre offered. Other books like The Day of the Triffids, and 1984 fed my imagination, but paled in comparison to the effects The Chrysalids had on me. Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm were a bit heavy-handed for 12-year-old me, but the stories stayed with me nonetheless.
Petra, the gifted telepathic girl in John Wyndham’s book has been the seed for many characters I’ve written about since my school years. The innocence of a gifted child mixed with the ability to destroy lives fascinated me, and I’ve seen similar characters in other stories I’m fond of. Ender’s Game, and Harry Potter to name a few.
Was there a book that truly affected you from your school years? If so, why?