The Chrysalids Summary

John Wyndham

The Chrysalids

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The Chrysalids Summary

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The Chrysalids is a 1955 science fiction novel written by British author John Wyndham. The novel takes place in a dystopian society set in the future after a nuclear holocaust. The inhabitants of the society subscribe to a fundamentalist religion focused on keeping all living things in their “pure” form, denouncing genetic mutations. The novel is generally considered to be one of Wyndham’s best works and was the inspiration for the Jefferson Airplane song “Crown of Creation.”

The novel takes place in a farming society called Waknuk, located in rural Labrador many years in the future. The“old civilization”—our own—was destroyed by a “Tribulation,” or nuclear apocalypse. David Strorm is the 10-year-old grandson of Elias Strorm, the founder of Waknuk. David’s parents, Joseph and Emily, are important religious leaders in the community. Only the genetically pure are allowed to live in Waknuk; humans born with genetic mutations are labeled Deviants. They are sterilized and then banished to live in the Fringes outside of the community. Plants and animals that have mutations are called Offences. Such crops are burned and animals are killed by having their throats slit at dawn.

At the beginning of the novel, David has a dream about a strange city that he’s never seen. He then meets a girl named Sophie and discovers that she has six toes on her feet. Sophie’s parents make David promise not to reveal to anyone that their daughter is a Deviant. David discovers that he is telepathic and can communicate with other telepathic people through “thought shapes.” However, only David’s Uncle Axel and his cousin Rosalind, who is also telepathic, know about his special ability. Rosalind’s father, Angus Morton, owns large horses. Joseph argues with the Inspector, a person charged with enforcing Waknuk’s rules about Deviants, over whether the horses are genetically normal.

One day, when David and Sophie are playing together, a boy named Alan follows them and becomes suspicious when he sees Sophie’s six-toed footprints. David starts a fight with Alan to distract him while Sophie hits him over the head with a rock,knocking him unconscious. When Sophie’s parents learn of the incident, they prepare to flee Waknuk. However, Joseph and the Inspector coerce David into revealing that Sophie is a Deviant, and the authorities eventually catch Sophie and her family and banish them to the Fringes.

David’s mother Emily gives birth to his baby sister, Petra. David suspects that Petra may be telepathic like himself, but the Inspector deems her normal since she does not have any physical mutations. Meanwhile, Emily’s sister Harriet gives birth to a Deviant child and begs Emily to switch Petra with Harriet’s baby so that her child may also pass inspection. Emily refuses to help her sister and tells Joseph about Harriet’s plan. Joseph accuses Harriet of conspiring to commit a crime. Harriet is later found dead in the river.

David and Rosalind, who have fallen in love, discover that Petra is indeed telepathic when she falls into the river and sends out a thought signal for help. David has disturbing dreams about his father sacrificing Petra at dawn like one would an Offence animal. Another telepath named Anne marries Alan despite being warned not to marry a normal person. Soon after the marriage, Alan is murdered and Anne hangs herself in despair. In her suicide note, she reveals the other telepaths to the Inspector. However, her telepathic sister Rachel discovers the note and destroys it before anyone else can read it. Uncle Axel later reveals to David that he killed Alan to protect the telepaths.

All the telepaths meet each other for the first time when Petra sends out a thought signal after riding her pony into the woods and seeing a frightening creature. Their unintentional gathering in the woods raises suspicions, and they prepare to flee as the authorities begin to pursue them. Two of the telepaths, Sally and Katherine, are captured and tortured into giving information about the rest of the group. However, David, Petra, and Rosalind escape on Angus’s large horses while keeping in contact with the leader of their group, Michael, who has not been captured. Petra tells the others that she is receiving signals from a woman in a faraway place called “Sealand” who is coming to rescue them. Petra learns from her communications with the woman that everyone in Sealand is telepathic.

Before they could be rescued, the trio runs into a group of Deviants living in the Fringes. The group is led by Joseph’s brother Gordon, who was banished many years ago. David is also reunited with Sophie, who had been living in the Fringes since her capture. She is Gordon’s romantic partner, but cannot have children with him because she is sterilized. Gordon kidnaps Rosalind and Petra so that Rosalind can bear his children. Sophie helps David rescue them from Gordon’s tent, but she is jealous of David and Rosalind’s relationship.

An army of people from Waknuk, including Michael, invades the Fringes and engages in battle with the Deviants, who are led by Gordon. While they are fighting, the woman from Sealand arrives on a flying machine and ensnares them all in a web made out of a sticky substance that forces everyone to come to a standstill. The woman rescues David, Petra, Rosalind, and Michael from the web, but everyone else dies as a result of coming into contact with the sticky substance. Michael goes back to Waknuk to get Rachel, the only other surviving telepath, while the woman from Sealand flies David, Petra, and Rosalind to her home city. As the flying machine approaches the island of Sealand, David realizes that it is the city that he dreamed about at the beginning of the story.

Wyndham wrote The Chrysalids during the Cold War, and the novel reflects the fear of nuclear disaster that was prevalent at that time. The Tribulation that occurs before Waknuk’s founding is a nuclear holocaust, and the mutations suffered by some of Waknuk’s residents are heavily implied to have been caused by nuclear radiation. Other major themes in the novel include religious fanaticism, purity, contamination, dreams, and knowledge. The novel is also a coming-of-age story that focuses on its protagonist, David, as he journeys from childhood to adulthood.