The Chrysalids

From Academic Kids

The Chrysalids (US title: Re-Birth) is a science-fiction novel (ISBN 0748742867) by John Wyndham, first published in 1955. It is the least typical of Wyndham's major novels, and in some people's opinion the best.

The story is set in a post-apocalypse rural area of Labrador, evidently a warmer place than it is at present. The setting is loosely reminiscent of the American West, not the classic period, but during the 17th or 18th century. They have vague memories of a more advanced civilisation which existed several centuries earlier (evidently 20th century society) which was destroyed when God sent "Tribulation" to the world. They believe that to follow God's word, they need to root out mutations. Most of the time, these mutations manifest as odd plants or animals. But on occasion, they occur in humans, and those human mutants are banished and sterilized.

Though the nature of "Tribulation" is not explicitly stated, it is implied that it was actually a nuclear holocaust, both by the mutations, and by the stories of sailors who report blackened, glassy wastes to the south (presumably modern day USA) where the remains of cities can be seen and which glow faintly in the night time. It is also mentioned that going too close to these places causes symptoms which are similar to radiation sickness.

The story is narrated by a boy, David Strorm, who goes through some very disturbing experiences when he meets a girl who he discovers has six toes on each foot. Later in adolescence he discovers that himself and a few others living in the area are telepathic. Their mutation cannot be seen, making them all the more dangerous. Wyndham tells this story with his characteristic dry humour.

John Wyndham preferred the title The Chrysalids for this book. The word chrysalid means "relating to or resembling a chrysalis". This title is perhaps ironic: a chrysalis is a "protected stage of development" in the life cycle of a moth or butterfly.

The novel has been adapted for radio by the BBC.

The song Crown of Creation by Jefferson Airplane was inspired by the novel; much of its lyrics come from the book.

Notable Quote

"Your work is to survive. Neither his kind, nor his kind of thinking will survive long. They are the crown of creation, they are ambition fulfilled - they have nowhere more to go. But life is change, that is how it differs from rocks, change is its very nature."

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