The Chrysalids Summary

The Chrysalids is a novel by John Wyndham about a post-apocalyptic world where all mental and physical abnormalities are ritualistically purged. After being outed as telepathic, David and his friends must flee.

  • David and several of his friends are telepathic. They must hide their abilities or risk persecution by their authoritarian society.

  • David and his fellow psychics are outed after one of them reveals her powers to her husband. They flee into the Fringes, where other abnormal people are sent. There, David and his friends are imprisoned by his uncle, Spider.

  • A neighboring territory sends an aircraft to rescue David and his friends.


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

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The Chrysalids was published in Great Britain under that title and in the United States as Re-Birth. The novel takes place after Tribulation, a cataclysmic event (probably a nuclear holocaust that devastated the world thousands of years earlier) attributed to God’s anger in the tradition of Eden and the Flood. The agrarian folk, technologically backward and beset by fear and prejudice, obey a strict interpretation of the Old Testament, eradicating all crop and animal mutations. Stern commandments and proclamations hang on their walls, telling them that “blessed is the norm” and to “keep pure the stock of the Lord” and “watch thou for the mutant!” Humans “made in God’s image” reside in communities throughout Labrador, and deviations from the norm are ritualistically “purified” (exterminated) or exiled to the Fringes, the abnormal territories, where they forage for food and eke out an existence.

David Strorm, the narrator, has a deep secret. For years, he, his half-cousin Rosalind, and several other youngsters have been communicating telepathically. Although by appearance they are “norms,” they are mutants within and a potential threat to the existing order. Instinctively, they have never revealed their abilities to anyone except for David’s kind and protective Uncle Axel.

David’s life changes forever when, at the age of ten, he meets Sophie, a girl with six toes. Her parents are terrified of her being discovered by David’s intractable father, Joseph Strorm, Waknuk’s fanatical patriarch. Joseph has destroyed some of his own children and relatives as blasphemies, and his deformed brother, nicknamed Spider, leads a ragtag group of marauding mutants of the Fringes. Sophie’s secret is exposed, and Jo-seph whips David until he admits where Sophie has gone. Sophie’s family disappears into the Fringes. Following the birth of David’s sister Petra, a child with incredible powers, six years pass without further incident.

The adolescents are betrayed when one marries a “norm” only to commit suicide after confiding in her unsympathetic spouse. Uncle Axel murders the callous husband, but Petra’s awakened and uncontrolled powers send psychic blasts that paralyze the others, arouse suspicion and a witch hunt, and draw telepathic responses from Sealand (New Zealand), which sends an aircraft to rescue them. Pursued by Joseph Strorm and his troops, David, Petra, and Rosalind battle their way to the Fringes, where David’s banished uncle, Spider, captures them. Spider brutally beats David and leaves him to die, having announced his carnal designs on Rosalind. Sophie, her innocence corrupted, conceals David and murders the albino guarding Rosalind. As the posse descends for the kill, the Sealanders arrive, annihilating everyone except the young telepaths, whom they transport to Sealand to help build the world anew.

Writing what he termed “logical fantasy,” John Wyndham cast an unsettling shadow across the apparently placid landscape of post-World War II England. The literary heir of H. G. Wells, Wyndham blended fantasy, horror, and science fiction into a seminal body of work that resonates in the tales of many writers, including Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, James Herbert, and Stephen King. Generally overlooked in the United States, where it went out of...

(The entire section is 974 words.)