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The Chrysalids

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John Wyndham

Imagine living in a world where an extra toe on a newborn will automatically result in the death of the baby, a horse that is larger than normal will be put down, and corn kernels that are not in perfectly formed rows will result in burning an entire field. This world exists in John Wyndham’s novel, The Chysalids.

This is the world of David, the main character of the novel. As a child, he often dreamed of a world filled with objects considered fantastical in his world, such as flying objects and carts that move without the helps of horses. However, as David grows older, he realizes that he has the ability to communicate telepathically. This ability means that David would be considered to be an Offence in his community.

David does not understand the severity of being considered an Offence until he meets Sophie, a girl who was born with an extra toe on each foot. David befriends Sophie and keeps her secret. When her secret is discovered by another boy in the district, Sophie and her family are forced to flee. As a result of this, David realizes that, if his secret is discovered, he will suffer dire and severe circumstances.

As David gets older, he realizes he is not alone. There are others in David’s community who share his abilities. David’s uncle, Axel, also becomes aware of David’s telepathic abilities. He makes several efforts to protect and advises David how to safely maintain his secret while living in the community. The others agree to keep their secret, and they are able to live among the rest of the community for some time.

The secret is threatened when one of the others chooses to marry someone who does have the power of telepathy. If the secret gets out, David and the others realize that their lives are in danger. Another risk emerges when it becomes evident that David’s little sister, Petra, also demonstrates powerful telepathic abilities. Petra’s powers are considerably stronger and cannot yet be controlled by her. She is young, and her powers are tied directly to her emotions. When she becomes upset, she becomes a beacon, drawing the others to her. This creates a potentially dangerous situation.

Members of the community become aware of David’s powers, and he must flee with Petra and his girlfriend, Rosalind, who has also been revealed as telepathic. They must make a dangerous journey to a land where no one knows who they are or why they left their home.

On their journey, Petra begins communicating with a girl from a faraway land, who promises to send help. She also promises to bring them to Sealand, a land which is populated with telepathic people. David and the girls must avoid the posse from their district that continues to pursue them and the Fringe people, a group of Offences who seek revenge.

Themes examined in The Chrysalids include change, man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, ignorance, and bigotry. Despite being over 50 years old, the ideas expressed in this science-fiction novel are still timely today. This novel is an excellent reader for individuals who are avid classic science-fiction readers.


Major Characters

David Strorm

  • Son of the religious community leader, Joseph Strorm
  • Dreams of a world outside of his own with flying cars and sailboats
  • Has the ability to communicate with the others telepathically
  • Loves Rosalind

Joseph Strorm

  • A zealous religious leader in Waknuk
  • David’s father
  • Disturbed by anything different from the norm and considers them to be Offences to God

Sophie

  • A girl David meets when he is playing
  • Has twelve toes
  • Is sent to the Fringes by Waknuk leaders because she is an Offence

Uncle Axel

  • A trusted relative of David’s
  • The only person besides the others who know about David’s ability
  • Protects David from being exposed as an Offence

Rosalind

  • Loves David
  • Also has the ability to communicate telepathically
  • Exposed along with David

Michael

  • Also has the ability to communicate telepathically
  • Continues to communicate with David after he has fled Waknuk to alert him to danger

Petra

  • David’s youngest sister
  • Has the ability to communicate telepathically beyond her district
  • Has the most powerful range and potential of all the others

Chapter Summaries

Chapter1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

David’s mother gives birth, and before the new baby can be announced, the inspector must examine the baby. The baby is found to be normal and is named Petra.

Aunt Harriet comes to visit and brings her new daughter. The baby has an abnormality, and Harriet wants to swap babies for a week so that she can show the Strorm baby to the inspector.

This is the third baby born to Harriet with an abnormality. She fears her husband will marry another woman who can give him normal children.

Aunt Harriet leaves with her baby after Mr. Strorm lectures her about bringing heresy to his house. Harriet is found dead in the river. The baby is not mentioned.

Chapter 8

Aunt Harriet is never mentioned again, but it is implied she committed suicide.

David prays to lose his power of communication, but it does not work.

While Uncle Axel tells David the boy who stopped communicating died while cutting timber.

David continues communicating with the 8 others, learns all their names, and he learns there is a 9th.

Chapter 9

Petra grows to be a little girl. When working in the fields, David is struck by a sudden need to run. He finds Petra struggling in deep water, and David saves her.

Rosalind is also there, and they are amazed that Petra is like them. David realizes Petra is more powerful than the rest of the others.

The others are unable to communicate with Petra. They decide to wait until she is older to contact her again.

The crops and animals are deviant this year, and next, causing many to be destroyed. People fear this is God’s Tribulation.

Chapter 10

Anne, of the others, announces she will marry Alan, who was once the boy who reported Sophie years ago. The others are concerned that their secret will be revealed. Anne stops communicating with the others.

Rosalind and David are in love, but have to see each other secretly.

David confides in Uncle Axel, who asks David what he is prepared to do to protect the others. David says he cannot kill Anne because having communicated constantly and knowing eachothers' every thought over all those years has made them extremely close.

Anne marries Alan. David thinks about marrying Rosalind and realizes the feud between their fathers would make marriage impossible.

A couple of months later, Alan is found dead. Anne will not talk with the others. Anne commits suicide, but before she does, she writes a letter condemning the others. Her sister Rachel, who is one of the others, found the letter before the inspector did, and burned it.

Chapter 11

Petra sends another distress call, and the others respond. This is the first time they meet as a group.

A man sees David, Rosalind, Petra, and two others in the woods. He questions them.

David and the others teach Petra to read thought shapes. Petra says she can hear people farther away who are also telepathic.

Uncle Axel tells David that people are asking questions about David and Rosalind. Uncle Axel also tells David that Anne told Alan about the others. Uncle Axel killed Alan to protect David.

Michael, one of the others, tells David to be prepared to run.


Chapter 12

David wakes up and learns some of the others have been taken. He takes Petra and meets Rosalind. She gives him a fresh horse, and they flee.

Michael tells David that posses are out looking for them.

Rosalind kills a man during her watch. They decide to travel at night.

Later that day, they receive a painful distress call from Katherine, who was taken by the inspector. They learn she is giving information because she is being tortured. The others tell them that the inspectors only know about David, Rosalind, and Petra.

There is a reward for their capture. The inspector wants to learn more about their abilities so that it never happens again. They decide to head to the Fringes. Michael says he will try to find a way to fake their deaths.

Michael is communicating with Petra when she asks him about the other person who is sending messages mixed up with his messages.

Petra realizes it is a girl. She tells the girl who they are. The information the girl gives Petra matches the dream David had as a child.

Michael tells them the men are on their trail. They need to hurry up.


Chapter 13

They see a man ahead of them on the road. They knock him off his horse and ride on.

Petra talks with the girl again. They learn help is coming for them, and that Petra must be protected at all costs.

Michael communicates that the posse found their trail again.

While they are traveling, shots are fired at them. They race to the woods. Something drops from a tunnel and knocks David out.


Chapter 14

David wakes up and learns they were attacked by Fringe people. They are being taken somewhere by the Fringe people.

David and Rosalind can now talk to the girl. She tells them everyone talks telepathically in Sealand, where she lives.

They reach the Fringe town, where David meets the man who looks like he is half-spider again. David learns he is his uncle, the older brother of his father. His abnormality was not found at birth, but was found when he was four. His mother saved him from being killed, but he wants revenge on Waknuk and David’s father.

The Fringes decide to keep the women for breeding and throw David out. They beat David unconscious.


Chapter 15

David is being dragged away when he regains consciousness. He realizes the young woman who dragged him from safety is Sophie.

Sophie is upset because the spider man wants Rosalind to bear his children. Sophie is in love with the spider man, whose name is Gordon.

Sophie is not telepathic. She reveals that she was sterilized before being released to the Fringes from Waknuk.

Sophie leads David back to the Fringe lair.

David talks to Michael again, who says the posse is making slow progress because of Fringe attacks.

Sophie says she can help David rescue Rosalind and Petra. She says she will go into Gordon’s tent where the girls are being held. No one would notice her. She tells David to tell the girls to make no noise, no matter what happens in the tent.

Sophie, Rosalind, and Petra return to David. They watch as Sophie washes blood from her body and knife.


Chapter 16

Sophie tells David that they will look for them in the woods when they realize the girls are missing. She says they will be safe staying with her until the search for them is called off.

Rosalind and Sophie do not fully trust each other. Sophie resents how Gordon feels about Rosalind. She wishes she could give him the children he wants.

Michael contacts David again and tells David the posse has been fighting with the Fringe people. During the discussion, Michael asks if they can count on the help that is supposed to be coming from Sealand. The girl then interrupts, saying she is only 8 ½ hours away.

Sophie walks up and leaves for a short time. She returns and tells David the Fringe men who left to fight are coming back two or three at a time.

David considers what he will have to do if he meets his father in battle. The girl tells him to leave his father alone because his way of life is dying already.

Sophie leaves again and returns in an hour. The Fringe people plan to ambush the posse. David tells Michael to hang back.

The girl contacts them again. She is an hour closer than she originally thought.

The posse and Fringe people begin a battle. Gordon hits David’s father in the chest with an arrow. He falls. Gordon is also hit and falls.

In the middle of the battle, a flying craft hangs in the sky. The shooting stops and everyone watches the craft. They begin to run away.

David calls for Michael to join them. The craft lowers some kind of cobweb substance which paralyzes everyone on the field.

David accidentally gets some cobwebs on his hands, which eventually paralyzes his body.


Chapter 17

The craft lands and a figure in a shiny white suit walks into Sophie’s cave. She sprays David with a solution that dissolves the cobwebs. Michael, who has already been freed, enters the cave.

After Petra and Rosalind are freed, the woman lifts off her hood. She tells them they should start back for Sealand, and Michael asks if they can go back to Waknuk to get Rachel. She tells Michael they do not have enough fuel to go back and get her.

It is revealed that everyone on the battlefield is dead.

Michael asks Petra to contact Rachel so that she will know they all survived. He decides not to go on the craft to Sealand. Instead, he decides to go back to Waknuk and travel to Sealand with Rachel.

David, Petra, and Rosalind leave on the craft. When they approach Sealand, David realizes it resembles the dreams he had as a child.