Growing up, my daughter, Jade, often heard me talk about a book I’d read as a high school student that had a profound effect on my life. It made me realize that the Bible was a book, produced by people, and that it could be wrong. Which is quite the revelation, when you think about it.
The novel was John Wyndham’s, The Chrysalids, a post-apocalyptic tale of teens on the run.
Jade was thoughtful enough to buy me a copy for Christmas (Penguin Classics has re-issued it). And I am pleased to say that I enjoyed it as much this time, almost four decades later, as I did the first time I picked it up.
The details in Wyndhams’s world reflect an astonishing imagination. Mutants rendered outcasts by a society that relies on a new interpretation of the Bible (‘thou shalt have five fingers and five toes…’) called Nicholson’s Repentances.
Families forced to hide children because of small variations from the norm: a sixth toe enough to result in sterilization and forced exile. The main protagonists are adolescents who communicate telepathically as they deal with the usual angsts of growing up. Until they discover that they too are mutants, and considered far more threatening than all those exiled to the Fringes, because they look normal.
The Chrysalids is brilliant, visual and gripping. (Where the heck is the movie?) It’s as much a thriller as anything in the genre today. And behind that great story lies the profound question of what it is, and what it means, to be human.
Thank you, John Wyndham, for changing my life. I no longer remember the name of the high school teacher at Centennial High School in Coquitlam, B.C. who introduced me to the novel, and engaged my critical faculties, but I’m grateful to him too. And thanks, Jade, for giving me back a little piece of my past.