The Chrysalids

The Chrysalids Study Guide

The Chrysalids is a science fiction novel written by John Wyndham. He wrote the book shortly after World War II. At that time, England was still recovering from the effects of WWII, while also managing the threat of the Cold War. Wyndham’s novel illustrates his concerns about what the projected effects the Cold War could bring. In the novel, the tension between the Deviants and the norms parallels the political and military tension between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the US/the North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies (including the United Kingdom). As Wyndham's novel progresses, more characters enter the "war," paralleling the alliances that both the US/allies and the USSR gained as the Cold War tensions built. The undoing of the novel’s antagonist, Joseph Strorm, is due to his rigidity and unwillingness to embrace differences; this highlights Wyndham's thoughts that both sides in the Cold War should embrace each other despite their different governing systems.

Wyndham's novel was first published in 1955 by Michael Joseph. Over the years it has gained popularity; for instance, it was adapted for the stage by David Harrower in 1999. In addition, the song "Crown of Creation" by Jefferson Airplane was also inspired by Wyndham's novel. Although The Chrysalids is not Wyndham's most renowned novel, it is regarded as one of his best. The Chrysalids follows the aftermath of a nuclear war that resulted in an almost complete destruction of humanity and civilization. The main difference between The Chrysalids and his other novels is that this novel is set in the distant future, hundreds of years after an apocalypse-like event. While Wyndham’s other novels are also set in the future, they contrast The Chrysalids in that they take place more immediately post-disaster, and in addition are set in more familiar backdrops–the background of the average man in the twentieth century.

The Chrysalids' success can be attributed in part to the successful novel that Wyndham published in 1951, The Day of Triffids, which garnered support and media attention. On top of that, Wyndham’s insight from serving as a government censor for the Ministry of Information for the British in World War II served as inspiration for this novel.

Given Wyndham’s unstable childhood and young adulthood, with his parents divorcing at age eight and his failure at multiple careers, Wyndham's success is a feat in itself. Wyndham has a particular interest in human psychology and behavioral patterns. This accounts for the religious references in The Chrysalids, as well as for the varying personalities of characters in the novel and how they interact. Wyndham was inspired to write the science fiction genre because of an American magazine that he read called Amazing Stories in the late 1920s. He subsequently contributed a series of stories to Amazing Stories, as well as to another publisher called Wonder Stories. He also received the title of being the best British science fiction writer at least once in his lifetime. As his style focused on human behavior, he often featured irony, intentional ignorance, and hypocrisy in the characters of his novels. His books were so well received by his audience that 2 of his novels and 5 collections of his work were published posthumously.

In The Chrysalids, Wyndham writes science fiction while also writing post-apocalyptic fiction. Wyndham brings a fresh perspective to this genre by focusing on the events following the global calamity, rather than focusing on the calamity itself.