“The Chrysalids” is a science fiction novel written by John Wyndham and published in 1955. The book was given mixed reviews with some lauding it for its originality and other’s finding it too hard to believe. In 1970, the novel was adapted into a radio serial for the BBC.
The novel revolves around a young boy named David Storm, who lives in a future dystopian society called Waknuk where normality is expected and anyone who suffers from any type of physical or mental deformity is outcast from the town and labeled a Deviant.
David realizes as a child that he can read people’s minds and that his cousin Rosalind can as well. As they grow into adults, the two discover that there are more telepaths hiding in the town and begin to communicate with them regularly. It is imperative that their secret stay hid, so when suspicions begin to fall on them for acting oddly, the telepaths agree to leave town to go out into the Fringes where the Deviants are sent.
Once in the Fringes, they are beset by both Deviants and the people of Waknuk who are still looking for them. After a battle between both sides, a strange woman arrives and brings down an unearthly mist that kills everyone in the battle. The telepaths are the only survivors and the woman agrees to take them to her utopian society.
In the beginning of chapter one, the reader is introduced to the main character and narrator, David. When David was a young boy he often dreamed of a city with tall buildings, a harbor and strange traffic with no horses or carts.
David told his older sister, Mary about the city and she told him that no such city existed and to keep his dreams private. David did not understand at the time that she told him not to tell anyone of his dreams because of the social norms of their district and the punishments that he might face from the Waknuk society for being different.
One day while playing by a river, David meets a little girl named Sophie and the two begin to play together. As they play, Sophie’s foot becomes stuck between two rocks and in the process of helping her get unstuck, David discovers that the girl has six toes. Things, like having six toes or having dreams about a city, are what the Waknuk society calls “Deviant”. These types of things can get someone punished and possibly expelled from society.
David helps Sophie get home and after treating her wound and putting her to bed, Sophie’s mother, Mrs. Wender gravely asks David not to tell anyone about Sophie’s extra toe. David agrees, understanding that it is important to keep such things a secret and begins to wonder why his society has such a standards against differences at all.
David walks home by himself through the woods, being careful to watch for large animals that might attack him.
David’s house was built by Elias Storm, his grandfather. Elias was from somewhere in the east and traveled to Waknuk for reasons that are unknown. He began to build the house after arriving and soon left to find a bride.
He married a meek, shy woman who he dominated until she faded and eventually died shortly after their second son was born. Elias brought Joseph, David’s father, up with the same strict, religious notions that had sapped the strength from his wife. Joseph did not marry until Elias was dead and then met and married David’s mother, a similarly strict, religious woman named Emily.
Joseph is “a man of local consequence”, a preacher and the largest land-owner in town as well as the magistrate. Joseph takes a strong stand against Deviants in Waknuk and this has been a large part of David’s education.
After this brief exposition, David picks back up in current times and tells us that he began visiting Sophie regularly and became friends with her. David and Sophie bond over their innate need to question the laws of society and begin to talk about the Old People that started Waknuk and compare what their elders have told them.
David tells Sophie that he once wished aloud that he had an extra hand to help him with his housework and his father became very angry. He was severely punished and David was made to seek forgiveness for saying such a thing in a religious procession.
That night, David has a dream that Sophie is undergoing the religious procession and his father kills her with a knife at the end. When David wakes from this dream he is glad that his parents aren’t around to see how upset he is.
David tells the reader that meeting Sophie was the beginning of the end of a”placid period” for him. He then began a period where “things kept on happening”.
In the beginning of Chapter Four, the reader is introduced to Uncle Axel, David’s uncle who married one of his aunts.
David begins to realize that he can speak to people in his mind, specifically his cousin Rosalind. Even when they are far away, David can hear their thoughts and reach out to them. Rosalind seems to be a telepath as well, and the two can speak back and forth to each other in their minds.
David confesses that it is good that Uncle Axel finds him talking to himself while using his telepathy and that he is relieved that it is Axel and not someone else for Axel seems to care about him and his well-being more than anyone.
Axel also warns David not to tell anyone of his dreams and to keep it secret. He does not realize that David is Deviant. On the outside of Waknuk, there is a place called the Fringes where Deviants are banished.
An invasion from the Fringes begins and this causes Gordon, Joseph’s brother and David’s uncle, to come into town and finally meet David. An alarm is raised in town and although there is no concrete plan to deal with such an invasion because the Waknuk people have better weapons they are able to capture two of the Fringe leaders. One of them is Gordon.
Joseph eventually gets in a squabble with a man named The Inspector, over the size of their horses and how God must not have made them. Eventually, a peace is found and the invasion ends. After the invasion is over, the children are allowed to leave this houses again and David and Sophie begin to resume their normal playtime.
Sophie is not allowed to attend school because of her parents worry that she will be found out as a Deviant so David spends much of their playtime teaching her what he has learned in school. At this point, the reader learns more about Waknuk.
Waknuk is only one small part of the civilized world which is called Labrador. Labrador is thought to the be Old People’s name for the world but there is no confirmation of this. Around Labrador there is a great sea but David has never seen it. Uncle Axel is the only person David knows who has ever seen the sea. The sea is in three directions from Waknuk, East, North, and North-West. But South and South-West are the badlands and the Fringes which are very dangerous.
There’s no telling what the Old People were like or who they were before the beginning of Labrador. Labrador’s recorded history began with a punishment called ‘The Tribulation’ and a man named Nicholson writing a bible-like book called “Repentances”.
Repentances laid for several many centuries in a sealed coffer before being discovered. Apart from Labrador and one big island called Newf, there is no sign that the rest of the world is populated and most in Waknuk consider them to be Badlands.
David and Sophie soon begin playing with another child named Alan. Alan sees Sophie’s footprint in the sand one day and begins wondering about whether she is a Deviant. He chases Sophie down. David tries to stop him but Alan manages to escape the boy. Finally, Alan is knocked down by Sophie throwing a stone at him.
After hearing about this incident, Sophie’s parents decide to escape the community. They bid David goodbye and leave him a lock of Sophie’s brown hair. David returns home, but the lateness of his arrival and the lock of hair make his father suspicious.
Joseph manages to intimidate David into confessing that Sophie is a Deviant. Sophie and her parents are caught before managing to escape town. David is so upset that he begins to consider running away. He is given a lecture by The Inspector about hiding Sophie.
David tells Uncle Axel that he is planning to run away and Axel manages to talk him out of it by explaining how difficult it is to escape through the areas surrounding Waknuk. Axel tells a long story about the badlands and the savages inhabiting them which, as a child, David readily believes. When he is done, David is persuaded that running away is not a good idea.
David asks Axel if, in his travels, he has ever seen a city. Axel admits that he has not. David has recently become convinced that the city he saw in his dreams belonged to the Old People and that the dream was somehow prophetic.
David’s mother soon gives birth to another child. David is surprised by this and finds it very sudden. In fact, he did not even know that his mother was pregnant. No one in the house is allowed to mention or reference the child until The Inspector comes to assure them that the child is not Deviant. The baby, a girl named Petra is thankfully certified as normal by The Inspector.
David reveals that his mother had previously had two children who were not certified as normal and were thus taken away. If Petra had been Deviant as well, David suspects that his mother would have been branded Deviant and sent away.
Shortly after Petra’s birth, David’s aunt Harriet comes for a visit unexpectedly. Harriet has given birth too, but to a Deviant. Having gone slightly insane from the shock and fear, Harriet brings her baby to her sister’s house in order to attempt to get her to swap the babies so that Harriet can get her baby certified normal.
David’s mother rejects this idea and immediately calls his father in to throw Harriet out of the house. She tells him what Harriet is trying to do and Joseph sends Harriet away, demanding that she do penance and inform her Inspector that her baby is Deviant.
The next day Harriet commits suicide by drowning herself in a river. David never learns what became of the baby.
The incident with Aunt Harriet and the baby stays with David for a long time. Afterward, no one in the family speaks of Harriet again. David’s family tries to pretend that Harriet never existed.
This upsets David and makes him further question Waknuk’s ideals and why the Deviants have to be an outcast. He wonders what was wrong with the baby and why it deserved to be so hated. Uncle Axel notices that David seems withdrawn and asks him why. In a rush of tears, David confesses all that he knows about Harriet and that he is worried that the society will find out about his prophetic dreams and his telepathy brand him as Deviant, too.
Uncle Axel tells David that he believes that he and Rosalind have a “new quality of mind” that doesn’t make them any less human than anyone else. Shortly afterward, David and Rosalind realize that baby Petra can converse with them in their minds as well.
David and Rosalind begin trying to communicate with baby Petra and warn her not to use her gifts in a way that anyone will notice. They become aware of more people in the town that are telepathic and the group of them come together to try to help educate baby Petra. However, after much failure, the group decides that baby Petra is probably to young yet to understand what they are trying to tell her and that they will have to try again when she is a little older.
David has a conversation with a farmer in the town called Angus Morton who tells him that his crops have been struggling and that all of them have died. Angus believes this is a judgment from God on the state of the town and that they should be punishing the Deviants more.
David asks Uncle Axel if many people in town believe the way Morton does and Uncle Axel admits that before there were Inspectors to weed out the Deviants, it was the responsibility of the town and that many of the older people in town still feel that it is their job to punish the Deviants.
He tells David that the Deviation rate is higher in some years than others but cannot explain why when the boy asks. Axel warns that next year is going to be a bad year for Deviations and that the townspeople will be even more stirred up than usual. He tells David this in an effort to get him to be cautious and David dutifully warns his telepathic group about the situation.
He also learns that one member of the group, a woman named Anne is going to marry soon. The group tries to talk her out of this and it immediately becomes a fight. The group contends that if Anne marries, her husband will surely find out that she is a telepath and that they will all be revealed as well. Making things worse, Anne is to marry Alan, the boy who turned in Sophie. Alan is now a teenager and a good marital prospect since he is the blacksmith’s son.
Anne refuses to be talked out of the marriage and does marry Alan. David, looking for guidance, asks Uncle Axel for help. Uncle Axel is surprised to hear about the telepathic group since he had previously thought it was only David and Rosalind that were able to hear each other’s thoughts. He is more upset to learn of Anne’s marriage and the possible outing of David as a Deviant.
Uncle Axel comes up with the idea of killing Alan in order to protect David and Rosalind. David immediately refuses this idea but realizes that this is the most practical solution and that if it can’t be done than nothing can. Anne begins refusing to talk to the other telepaths and pretending to be normal. The other telepaths decide to wait to see what develops.
David and Rosalind begin to get more introspective during the wait and both realize that they already assumed that they would marry each other. David says: “To me, it had never been thinkable that anything else should happen, for when two people have grown up thinking together as we had, and when they are drawn even closer together by the knowledge of hostility all around them, they can feel the need of one another even before they know they are in love”.
However, since there is a feud between Joseph and his half-brother, Rosalind’s father David and Rosalind fear that they will not be allowed to marry. Both of their mothers have already begun trying to find them a match within the town. David and Rosalind begin trying to figure out what to do about this when they hear the news that Alan has been found dead.
Anne is bereft. She assumes that one of the telepaths did it and will not speak to anyone. The other telepaths worry what she will do. Eventually, they discover that she has killed herself in her home and although they are horrified to admit it they are relieved that she will not be revealing their secret now.
Some time later, Petra, now a young girl, is playing in the woods when she is attacked by an animal. She screams telepathically and the other members of the group race to her aid. Once they manage to kill the animal, they realize that this is the first time that they have ever met in person.
Unfortunately, another man sees their gathering and grows suspicious. He tells some people in the town and the group realizes that they will have to be even more careful now that suspicion is upon them. Soon, two of the group are caught. The rest of the group, including David and Rosalind, realize that they have to escape Waknuk.
David brings Petra and escapes into the Fringes with the group. In their minds, they can hear the torment of the two telepaths that were captured as they are being tortured. The two telepaths, Sally and Katherine, eventually confess who the other telepaths are although they manage to protect the secret of a few who were not under suspicion.
Though the telepaths have set up a camp and guards, they are soon found by a man who shoots arrows at them.
David and Rosalind manage to wound the man and he escapes back to Waknuk. The group realizes that they must move again. They make it to the Fringes but are attacked again and black out.
When David wakes he realizes that the group has been attacked by the outcasts of the Fringes and are now tied up.
Petra tells the group that it is okay because some people she is referring to as either “Sealed” or “Zeeland” are coming to rescue them.
David sees Gordon Storm, his uncle again and the two talk about the Fringes. Gordon tells David that the Fringes people live in hiding and David point out that they get to live as themselves. David confesses that he thinks that the Waknuk people are hunting the group because they are scared of this type of Deviation that they can’t see. They fear there are more telepaths in Waknuk and want the group to tell them where.
David is knocked unconscious again and this time when he wakes he sees Sophie. Sophie and David talk about their lives and how they have grown up. Sophie agrees to help David and the others escape and ends up fighting off the other Deviants in order to help.
Sophie tells David that his father, in trying to come after him to bring him back to Waknuk, was hit by an arrow that Gordon shot and killed. The people of Waknuk invade the Fringes and fight the Deviants. Just as they are fighting, a Sealand woman arrives. She tells them that help has arrived and brings down a strange fog over everyone in the battle. The fog numbs everyone and causes them to freeze in place.
Later, as David comes out of the fog he begins trying to find Petra and Rosalind to confirm that they are alright.
The Sealand woman helps him find them. When he does, David learns that everyone else, excluding the telepaths, was killed by the fog. Though all of the telepaths survived, the Sealand woman tells them that she cannot bring all of them back to her land because she doesn’t have enough room on her transport.
Some of the telepaths decide to wait for another transport and David, Petra and Rosalind go with the Sealand woman. She tells them that her home is a utopia where everyone is allowed. As they approach the area, David realizes that it is the city that he saw in his dreams and all of the telepaths begin to hear the rising voices of the people inside the city.
David Strorm – The main character and narrator of the novel. A young boy who gradually grows to realize that he is a telepath who can communicate with others like him in his mind. David is a very sensitive and thoughtful boy who often questions why his society is so cruel to people who are different.
David agrees to protect Sophie’s secret without hesitation and does not treat her any differently when he discovers it. However, his fear of his father’s abuse and absolute control force him to give up the secret and he bitterly regrets being the cause of Sophie’s family leaving Waknuk for the Fringes.
David considers himself the protector of the group of telepaths although he does not admit to being the leader. He is the first one to begin collecting everything and everyone needed when the group decide to flee and leads the escape.
In the end of the novel, David is saddened to see that the Fringe people and the Waknuk people have been killed even though they had treated him roughly. David’s dream of a gentle utopian city is eventually made real when the Sealand woman brings them to her city.
Uncle Axel – David’s uncle. Uncle Axel is the half-brother of David’s father Joseph and different in many ways than him. Axel is a kind, understanding, patient man who takes to David and advises him on many tough situations throughout the novel. David is one of a handful of adults in the book who is not a slave to the Waknuk’s societal ideals. He agrees to help and support his nephew every chance he gets and puts himself at great personal risk without necessarily getting a reward.
When David confessed his telepathic abilities to his uncle, the man did not condemn his as a Deviant as many in town would have and instead embraced him as a human. However, Axel wisely instructs David to keep his abilities a secret and is willing to go to the lengths of killing Alan to protect it, revealing that Axel is a man of hidden depths.
Joseph Strorm – David’s father. Joseph is the son of the founder of the town and the town’s preacher and magistrate. Joseph is an extremely religious man who believes in the societies ideals more than anyone. Joseph regularly exerts his will through intimidation and violence and as a result, although he is respected by his children he is not loved. Most of the sermons about the need to be rid of the Deviants in the book come from Joseph. In the end of the novel, he is killed by an arrow fired by his own brother who he had previously cast out to the Fringes.
Rosalind Morton – David’s cousin and another member of the telepathic group. Rosalind is a childhood friend of David and eventually his love. She is very protective of Petra and David and becomes jealous when she meets Sophie because of her relationship with David. Rosalind is as careful and conscious of what she is risking as anyone and warns David many times that they have to keep their telepathy a secret. But Rosalind is also very optimistic and loving.
Petra Strorm – David’s younger sister and the youngest member of the telepathic group. Petra is a very bubbly and sweet child who keeps the group’s spirits up by being funny quite often. The group immediately becomes worried about Petra revealing their secret when her telepathy is discovered and begin trying to urge her to be careful.
However, as she was still a small child at the time, they assumed that she couldn’t really understand them and agreed to wait until later. Petra has the strongest abilities of the group and is able to “hear” the Sealand woman coming although no one else can.
John Wyndham Biography
John Wyndham was born on July 10th 1903 in Dorridge, Warwickshire, England. Born John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, Wyndham later shorted his name when he began writing. The son of a barrister, Wyndham’s parents separated when he was very young and he and his brother, the fellow writer Vivian Beynon Harris were shuffled throughout preparatory and public schools for the remainder of their childhood.
Wyndham graduated from Bedales School in Hampshire in 1921 and began trying different careers to see what would fit him. He worked as a farmer, a lawyer, and an advertising associate but eventually began writing in 1925.
In 1931, Wyndham was selling short science fiction stories to magazines and his story ‘The Lost Machine’ was published in the April 1932 issue of the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. Wyndham worked in the Ministry of Information during World War II before joining the British army and working as a Corporal cipher in the Royal Corps of Signals.
After the war ended, Wyndham returned to writing and soon published his first novel. ‘The Day of Triffids’ in 1951. The book was a success and established him as a respected science fiction author. Wyndham went on to publish six more novels in his lifetime including the very successful ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’ in 1957.
In 1963, after knowing her for over 20 years, Wyndham married a woman named Grace Wilson whom he was married to until his death in 1969 at the age of 65. After his death, some of his earlier work was republished and his archive was acquired by Liverpool University.