20 March, 2013

One of the Greats

John Wyndham

This was the first of Wyndham's books which i read, for Barb Baker, or Killough, whichever she was at the time; i can very clearly remember sitting in my Dad's office in the MacMillan Building on UBC, trying to read it and, a bit later, explaining that i was having a difficult time getting into it, as it all seemed to be introduction not action: As i was several chapters into the book at the time i cannot now work out what my problem was, as the action seems to start almost straight away. Evidently i was, though enthusiastic, not quite as skilled a reader as i think i have been developed into (i can scarcely take credit for it; i have just been taught well).

The Chrysalids is, regardless of my first thoughts of it, one of Wyndham's best books; there are probably four of the later, post-War, group he wrote, that of his highest quality; in mine opinion, clearly this is one of those four: It is a flawed book, in a couple of minor ways, but it is also skilfully written, well thought through, cleverly imagined, and a delight to read.

Flawed, i say, though perhaps in conception rather than execution ~ as though that makes the flaw the less! ~ because the appearance of the Sealanders/Zealanders at the end to rescue David, Rosemary, and Petra comes across as more of a deus ex machina device than Wyndham was wont to use. If i think of the others of his classics, The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes both end with an amount of hope, but no certainty for the future, and The Midwich Cuckoos is resolved purely by the actions (within character) of one of the leading residents of the village. At the time of my first reading (and several afterwards) i did not find this to be a problem; now it seems to me to be a weakness that might have been avoided, had Wyndham changed some of his conception of his post-Tribulation world. On the other hand, it is that world, close enough to ours to be recognisable, yet different enough to horrify us, which makes this such a powerful book.

A second point which has arise on this reading, though i'm not sure i'd go so far as to classify this one as a flaw, is the crosses which all the inhabitants of Waknuk ~ indeed, all the citizens of the whole of the civilisation of Labrador ~ wear so constantly as to surprise David when he finds they are not worn in the Fringes. Certainly they are intended to be related to the fundamentalist religion of the Labradorians, based as it is on the Bible (implied to be what we understand by that term, as it is the only book to have survived the Tribulation) and Nicholson's Repentances. The problem is that nothing other than the crosses implies that their Bible contains the New Testament: There is nothing in their practice or speech which points to a post-Jesus religion, quite the contrary, it seems to be very dogmatic, legalistic, bound by Law. It is not the lack of the New Testament which is an issue, as i can easily postulate only an Old Testament survived; what i see as problematic, though, is that the cross has no meaning at all in the Old Testament, so why do they use it? I suppose it is merely one of those puzzles an author is allowed to pose without necessarily giving a solution. Flawed or not, The Chrysalids is an excellent book by an author i love, and i will continue to buy his books when i come across them on market stalls and take them out of the library when i unexpectedly see them.

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