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The Chrysalids is a Science Fiction novel written by John Wyndham, first published in 1955.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the story tells how the inhabitants of Labrador, and especially in the community of Waknuk, live in a society where literally everything - from vegetables to animals to human beings - is expected to conform to certain specific descriptions of what is constituted as normal (identified as "The Norm" - in the image of God, according to the given definition). Any deviation from the norm is labeled as a Mutant or Blasphemy and is either killed or burned immediately, or, in the case of humans with physical deformities or oddities, banished to a forbidden land-stretch known as the Fringes.

During this time, David Strorm (the narrator) and several of his friends discover that they have a mutation that is not visible to the naked eye - they are able to communicate with each other by means of telepathy, or "thought-shapes" as they refer to it. The story centers on their efforts to conceal this ability in a society that is violently unforgiving of all things different from the norm.

The story was adapted for radio by the BBC in 1982, and for the stage in 1999. It is regarded by many as being among Wyndham's best.

SPOILERS ABOUND. BEWARE.

The Chrysalids provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Both Rosalind and Sophie qualify (the latter during the second half of the book).
  • Affably Evil: The inspector, arguably. He sympathizes with David's home life (considering that David has a monster for a father) and strongly objects to Joseph's Cold-Blooded Torture of his own son. However, it's indicated that he takes part in the interrogation of the captured telepaths, which in turn causes the three main characters to flee Waknuk for their lives.
    • Gordon The Spider-man could be possibly seen as this, considering that he knows that the mindset of Waknuk is incredibly messed up and knows the situation David's coming from all too well considering the fact that he's David's uncle and was banished from the Strorm family for frivolous reasons; having spidery like arms. He also kills Joseph in revenge of being robbed of his birthright and because Joseph's a monster. Then he lives up to the "Evil" part in Affably Evil by trying to rape Rosalind so he can have babies.
  • After the End
  • And Man Grew Proud: Implied to be the reason behind "Tribulation."
  • Anyone Can Die: David, Rosalind, Petra, Rachel and Michael are the only survivors among the titular group by novel's end.
  • Asshole Victim: Alan Erwin. And Joseph Strorm.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Not only the Bible, but also the book "Repentances" and a document known as "The Definition of Man," that give specific conditions for man, beast and crops to be considered normal and not deviant. Joseph Strorm and other like-minded religious zealots are fond of quoting these sources to justify their actions and behavior.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Sophie. Alan learned it the hard way.
  • Berserk Button: Mutants are one to the populace of Waknuk in general.
    • The inspector could be considered as one to Joseph, since he's so good at pressing Joseph's other Berserk Buttons.
    • David is fiercely protective of Petra and Rosalind and he won't shy away from even fighting his own uncle to keep them safe.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: The Strorm family can't be considered anything else but this trope.
  • Black Sheep: Aunt Harriet, to the point that following her visit, she's never spoken of again.

  David: (narrating) It was as though she had been erased from everyone's memories save mine.

  • Blessed with Suck
  • Book Ends: The novel begins with David dreaming about a futuristic city and ends with him, Rosalind and Petra actually going there.
  • Boring but Practical: When David and Petra are getting ready to flee, he deliberately decides to arm himself with a bow and arrow as opposed to taking the family's hunting rifle. He makes this choice because (1) guns are heavy to carry, whereas bows and arrows are much lighter; (2) guns are slow to reload; (3) guns are useless once you run out of gunpowder (which is what all guns in the novel use), whereas you can retrieve and re-use arrows as many times as needed.
  • Broken Aesop: The main point of the book besides showing the possible effects of nuclear warfare on the world was to show that racism is bad. It does a good job of sticking to it until the S/Zealand woman speaks about why her people chose not to save the rest of the humans.
  • Broken Bird: Sophie. Being forced to undergo female castration will do that.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Joseph Strorm gets this on a number of occasions. One such moment is during an argument with the inspector over the use of great-horses which have been approved by the Government, but which Joseph insists are Blaspemies due to their unusually huge size (which the inspector declares has happened as a result of controlled, Government-sanctioned breeding):

 Joseph Strorm: It is your moral duty to issue an order against these so-called horses.

Inspector: It's part of my official duty to protect them from harm by fools and bigots.

    • David later contemplates whether to do this to his father, but he's convinced not to venture out to face Joseph.
  • Character Development: David experiences this over the course of the novel.
  • Cheerful Child: Petra. Of course, she's only 9 years old, too young to fully appreciate the grim reality of her world.
    • She does get an idea of the seriousness of what's happening around her when she sees Sophie's expression of resentment toward Rosalind, and in her childlike innocence she attempts to comfort a now-weeping Sophie.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Petra's extraordinarily powerful telepathy, which is stronger than the others' telepathy.
    • David's dream in the first chapter also counts.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Both David and Petra serve as this. David, because his strange childhood dream at the story's beginning allows him to confirm Petra's second-hand description of S/Zealand; Petra, because her strong "thought-shapes" allow the S/Zealand woman to home in on her and thus have an idea of where to find the protagonists later.
    • The minor character Jerome Skinner, certainly. He's only seen in person for one brief scene but he's the one who outs the protagonists to the authorities.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: In the first chapter, David mentions that he has another older sister named Sarah. She is never mentioned again.
  • Church Militant: Many of the preachers described in the story, but Joseph Strorm is the prime example.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture
  • Crapsack World: The kindest possible description of the world David lives in.
  • Crazy Prepared: Rosalind. David, too, but not to Rosalind's extent, which earns him a stinging rebuke from her.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Petra's telepathic ability is much stronger than that of the other main characters, especially for her age, and she's able to communicate with other telepaths over a distance of several thousand miles. As a side effect, other telepaths who are much closer to her experience severe headaches and blinding mental images.
  • Days of Future Past
  • Deadpan Snarker: The inspector and Michael.
  • Death by Irony: Joseph Strorm is killed by not just a mutant, but his own mutated brother who was banished for being one.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Rosalind, David's half-cousin.
  • Deus Ex Machina: The arrival of the S/Zealand woman. It's made less of an Ass Pull by the mere fact that the main characters are assured of its happening throughout the latter half of the novel.
  • Double Standard: Any woman who gives birth to three deformed or mutated children in a row is banished from society...but apparently their husbands don't suffer any repercussions, instead being allowed to seek other women as new wives. Children get DNA contributed from both parents, so have the men never considered that it might be themselves, and not their women, who are the cause of the biological mutations seen in their children?
    • Justifiable, given the shortage of scientific understanding. In the real world, women used to be the first ones to cop blame for infertility, too.
  • Driven to Suicide: Anne and Aunt Harriet.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • The End of the World as We Know It: "Tribulation," implied to have been the result of nuclear warfare, wiped out a lot of civilization and drastically altered the landscape and caused mutations on a wide scale - all prior to the beginning of the novel. The residual effects of said "Tribulation" is responsible for the genetic deformities and irregularities that the society David lives in constantly seeks to destroy in an effort to maintain "purity".
  • Fantastic Racism: Taken Up to Eleven and going both ways for the Norms and the Mutants/Blasphemies, with Joseph Strorm being the worst known offender in the book.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Being banished to the Fringes is this for a lot of people. This view is quite justified, as because of the long-term effects of nuclear fallout, the living conditions there are...hazardous for anyone who's not tough enough to survive, to put it mildly.
  • Feuding Families: David's and Rosalind's fathers do NOT get along; in fact, they make a point of spying on each other's farms in order to publicly point out deviations in the crops or livestock.
  • Four Man Band
  • Foot Focus: Sophie is seen barefoot, or taking off her shoes, in most of her appearances throughout the novel. Unlike most instances of the trope, however, it's not played for Fan Service, and each time she goes barefoot it ends up being plot-relevant (due to her having six toes on each foot).
  • Foreshadowing: David has a mysterious dream in the very first chapter, about - as he describes them - carts driving without horses to pull them, fish-shaped machines flying, and shining cities with lots of lights; and he wonders if any such place really exists. When he asks his sister, she suggests that it may be a description of what the world used to look like before "Tribulation," then warns him not to tell anyone else about it. It later turns out it's not a dream.
  • Freudian Excuse: We learn early in the novel that Joseph Strorm, David's father, got his way of thinking from his own father, Elias. That doesn't excuse his later atrocities.
    • David's mother, Emily, could also qualify, seeing as the only reason why she's acts so distant and uncaring towards David in general, especially after Joseph beats him is probably because she's afraid of Joseph. Also, she only sent Harriet and her mutated baby away not because she wanted to, but because Harriet's plan[1] would have no real chance of working. She's not proud of doing so either, seeing as she cries after doing it. When you consider just how much of a monstrous bastard Joseph proves himself to be even before this event, you really can't help but feel sorry for Emily.
  • Friendly Enemy: The inspector, somewhat.
  • The Fundamentalist: Joseph Strorm. And, really, the majority of Labrador's population as a whole.
  • Harmful to Minors: Like you wouldn't believe, in-universe.
  • Heroic BSOD: Rosalind has one after being forced to shoot a man who was covertly hunting her, David and Petra following the trio's flight from Waknuk.
  • Hot-Blooded: Rosalind, Michael and Sophie.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Uncle Axel's murder of Alan to protect the titular group's secret.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Anne. David also prays for this at one point, out of fear of what he's witnessed happening to mutated crops and animals and fearing that the same may happen to him if he's found out.
  • Infant Immortality: Cruelly averted; if you're found to have a deformity upon being born, well, sucks to be you.
  • Irony: A recurring theme in the book. The fact that Joseph Strorm, the most extreme of the fundamentalist, mutant-hating population of Waknuk has two children that are mutants is just the tip of the iceberg.
    • He's actually had four, if you count the two mutated children David's mother had before Petra (referenced by Joseph following Aunt Harriet's visit). Which thus makes the irony all the more bitter (also see Double Standard, above).
  • Jerkass: Alan. So much so, in fact, that following his death, it's discovered that he's made a number of enemies.
    • Joseph Strorm is this trope taken to horrifying levels.
  • Kick the Dog: When Sophie and her parents are captured, the first thing Joseph does is announce it loudly to the inspector and David and then he sneers at David, who at this point is crying audibly.
  • Kill All Mutants: A recurring theme. The humans also get killed near the end of the novel.
  • Kissing Cousins: David and Rosalind. Well, they're half-cousins, anyway.
  • Knight Templar: Joseph Strorm. Early in the novel he harshly punishes David when the latter makes an innocent remark about needing a third arm to tie a difficult knot - because he interprets it as David wishing to be a mutant.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Joseph Strorm was instrumental in getting numerous innocent people banished to the Fringes for having physical deformities or other oddities that did not conform to the stipulated guidelines of "normality." During the climactic final battle his brother Gordon, who was banished as a child for this very reason, singles out Joseph in the crowd and shoots him dead with an arrow.
  • Masquerade: David and the other telepaths, being physically normal but possessing telepathic powers, have to hide these powers from their villages' general populace out of fear of Fantastic Racism. By the second half of the novel, their secret's out in the open, causing David, Rosalind and Petra to go on the run.
  • Mercy Kill: In the second half of the book, Michael instructs David to do so to Petra and Rosalind if the trio are caught.
  • The Mole: Michael, the oldest and best-educated of the telepaths and one of the few whose ability remains undiscovered, joins one of the groups hunting David and company in order to give them play-by-play information on what the fugitives need to do.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: David gets this Gordon, the spider man.
  • Not So Different: The argument presented in this review of the novel suggests that, in terms of personality and motivation, the S/Zealanders are really no different from Labrador's society.
    • While in the Fringes, David comments that, barring tolerance of deviation, the mutants in the fringes aren't different from the townspeople of Waknuk.
  • Offing the Offspring: Joseph Strorm joins one of the hunter bands seeking out David and Petra in order to do this. He ends up being offed by his long-banished brother instead.
  • Only Sane Man: On one hand, you could see this being played straight with the inspector, who isn't as fundamental as Waknuk is and only purges mutants because it's his job, but on the other hand, you could see this trope being inverted as Joseph Strorm's the only one that's really extreme about purging mutants.
  • Our Ancestors Are Superheroes: A rumor described in the book indicated that the precursors could communicate over long distances, just like Telepathy. However, this was aided by technology rather than being a superpower.
  • Overprotective Dad: Sophie's father is quite wary of David being around his daughter, although considering the kind of society Waknuk is, one really can't blame him. It doesn't help that David is the son of the local Sinister Minister.
  • Properly Paranoid: Sophie and her parents at the start of the novel. By the time the second half gets underway, the titular group is this way as well.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Gordon basically intends to force Rosalind to have relations with him so she can bear his children. Fortunately, he fails.
  • The Resenter: Sophie becomes this toward Rosalind when the two meet later in the novel, likely because Rosalind is David's Love Interest that Sophie used to be, but also because Rosalind could possibly give Sophie's current lover Gordon babies, while Sophie herself is incapable of this due to being forcibly made sterile before being banished to the Fringes.
    • Gordon is this toward Joseph Strorm as well. Because Gordon, the older of the two brothers, was banished to the Fringes as a child for having spider-like limbs, losing his rightful inheritance as the oldest son to Joseph.
    • A case could be made for David being this toward his father. Late in the novel, upon being told that Joseph is part of the party that's come to the Fringes to take part in the battle, David recalls all the stress and trauma his father has put him through all his life, and angsts over whether to forgive the man or try to kill him. However, the S/Zealand woman advises David to leave Joseph be.
    • It's hinted that both Anne and Michael may have felt this way regarding their powers. So much so in Anne's case, in fact, that she closes off her mind to the others, not even replying to their mental messages. In Michael's case, David sums it up this way:

  David: We had a gift, a sense which, Michael complained bitterly, should have been a blessing, but was little better than a curse. The stupidest norm was happier; he could feel that he belonged.

  • Run for the Border: David, Rosalind and Petra are forced to do this in the latter half of the novel, when one of their True Companions is forced through Cold-Blooded Torture to reveal their mutual secret.
  • Secret Keeper: David's Uncle Axel. And Rosalind's mother.
  • Sinister Minister: Joseph Strorm, yet again.
  • Sitcom Arch Nemesis: The inspector to Joseph Strorm, but Your Mileage May Vary whether or not it's less "sitcom" and more "archnemesis".
    • The inspector loves to invoke Joseph's Never Live It Down moment with the tailless cat, deliberately takes his time in coming to inspect Petra and then deliberately prolongs said examination just to get Joseph riled up. Take that as you will.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: David starts the novel on the idealistic side, but by the time the second half of the novel starts, he's going more toward the cynical end of the scale.
    • Michael, one of the Chrysalids, is already on the cynical end of the scale near the end of the novel's first half. As is the woman from S/Zealand.
    • Near the end, pretty much everyone is on the cynical end, Petra being the only exception. Justified since she's only 9.
    • Rosalind is mainly on the cynical side for the majority of the novel. By the very end of the story, however, there's a hint that she's beginning to go toward the idealistic side.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": The main characters debate about whether S/Zealand's name should in fact start with an "S" or a "Z." It's "Z."
  • The Stoic: David's mother Emily, based on her interactions with him. Rosalind is largely this way as well, even toward David at times despite him being her Love Interest.
    • Not So Stoic: Emily eventually shows herself to be this after Aunt Harriet's visit. Rosalind gradually mellows, too.
  • Telepathy: What sets the Chrysalids apart from normal humans; it's referred to as "thought-shapes" by the group's members. The known individuals who can use this ability, aside from David himself: Rosalind, Michael, Sally, Katherine, Rachel, Anne, Mark, and later Petra, whose telepathy is the strongest of the bunch but also largely uncontrollable due to her young age. There's also the S/Zealand woman and the majority of the members of her society, with "normal" humans being the exception for them. It's hinted that Sophie and her mother may have limited access to this ability as well, but it's rather vague. David actually tests Sophie's mother with no success.
  • The Chosen One: Petra is described as this to the S/Zealand woman.
  • Training From Hell: Inverted when the True Companions seek to teach Petra how to control her abilities, after said abilities first emerge. Petra's willing and eager to learn under David's tutelage, but it turns out to be torturous for the trainers because Petra is Cursed with Awesome.
  • True Companions: The titular group, out of necessity.
  • Tsundere: Rosalind is a definite Type A. She could also be argued to be a Kuudere.
  • World Half Full: Despite living a terrible world, David and his friends still end their journey on a positive note.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Joseph Strorm, to David.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never do find out just what happened to Sophie's parents after they left Waknuk and got captured...
    • We also don't find out what happened to Uncle Axel, David's mother and David's sister.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?
  • X Meets Y: X-Men meets Fallout (though the book predates both examples listed)
  • You Can't Go Home Again

Notes

  1. which was to swap Petra with her baby
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