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John Wyndham Reviews

Thank you for this great site and your reviews of The Chrysalids and The Midwich Cuckoo, though I disagree with some of the points made.
Firstly the reviewer critises the 'weak' ending to Chrysalids. Wyndham is an intelligent writer so doesn’t need to spell out moral conclusions, and leaves the reader to make his or her own mind. In chapter twelve, after Katherine is tortured Michael declares ‘It is war’. The Chrysalids was written a decade after the end of the Second World War, the most barbaric war ever fought. Most people, including myself, would agree that the Allies were the ‘goodies’. However the British and Americans carpet bombed Hamburg, Tokyo, and a hundred other civilian cities, and of course there were the atomic bombs. War is brutal, sometimes even those who are fighting in self-defence, or for what is generally regarded as a just cause, commit dreadful crimes. Moral ambiguity is a theme of many Wyndham novels, and the atom bombs on Japan are about as controversial as war can get. I think the ending is brilliant in its unhollywood coldness.
Secondly you mention the 'cosy' argument to dismiss an element of Wyndham's writing. Could I refer you to the article Cosy Cliches at: www.wyndhamweb.com for a vigorous defence against this accusation.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

I agree with UKtriffid, The Chrysalids is a cracking read from start to finish. You say in the review that the Sealanders actions are not justified; please read the ending again! The actions were briefly justified. And why should a book have a dull, black and white ending, to appeal to an American audience perhaps? Chrysalids is too classey for that. Secondly, I hate to be pedantic, but in the Midwich Cuckoo review you seem to be unsure of the differenc between a village, town and hamlet. Midwich is a village (say a thousand people), a town is much bigger and a hamlet much smaller (say a dozen houses). Sorry but these things have t bee explained to North Americans!

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

One of the more surprising things about being a webmaster of a site like this is that your most trafficked pages are never what you think they're going to be. I've been fascinated over the last few years to see how my review of the 55-year-old The Chrysalids has gotten more hits than any other on the site, even Ender's Game. Clearly it's touched a nerve. I've gotten emails telling me it's been argued over in literature courses in UK colleges. If one goal of a critic is to upset some long revered applecarts, I suppose I've done my duty.

I've had emails telling me the climax of The Chrysalids (and naturally this post will be full of spoilers, so be warned) was intended ironically, allegorically, what have you. So far I have yet to read a defense of the novel that holds up to a clear and objective reading of the book's final chapter. But I wouldn't be so arrogant as to think these defenses don't have some good insights to offer.

Triffid UK, I think you make some good arguments for the allegorical intent of the story. But I think that only goes so far. While there is a very convincing interpretation to be made that the Chrysalids represent the Jews living under the repressive regime of the Nazis (Waknukians), the novel as a whole does not suggest a broad WW2 allegory. I can assure Liz I've read the climax to the book, not once, not twice, but scores of times, and today I've read it again and have it sitting in front of me right now. And whatever "brief" justification the Sealanders give for their massacre of the Waknukians runs into the very problem I described: Their rationale of genocide towards the Waknukians is no different than that given by the Waknukians for their genocide of the Chrysalids. They're different. They threaten us. We're better. So we have to kill them.

Here are the salient passages from the climax. The Sealander representative has a lengthy speech which we pick up here:

"It is not pleasant to kill any creature," she agreed. "But to pretend that one can live without doing so is self-deception. There has to be meat in the dish, there have to be vegetables forbidden to flower, seeds forbidden to germinate; even the cycles of microbes must be sacrificed for us to continue our cycles. It is neither shameful nor shocking that it should be so. It is simply the great revolving wheel of natural economy. And just as we have to keep ourselves alive in these ways, so, too, we have to preserve our species against others that wish to destroy it, or else fail in our trust....

Here is where attempts to defend the novel as a WW2 allegory break down. The Sealander is placing their killing of the Waknukians in the context of natural law, not politics or warfare (except, arguably, at the end of that passage, which can still be interpreted as talking about natural law). While the Nazis were all about genociding the Jews for reasons no different than those the Sealander will express in a moment, it was not the goal of the Allies to preserve ourselves against those who wished to destroy us by exterminating every German alive. We wanted to bring down an oppressive ideology and the regime that promulgated it. But our war, in the end, was against that ideology, not simply the people.

Also, note at the end of that passage that the Sealander makes clear distinction of themselves as a different species from the Waknukians. This I think takes us irretrievably far from any interpretation of the book as a WW2 allegory. Unless you are willing to concede that the Sealander's views are much more representative of the Nazis (who did in fact view Jews and other ethnicities as a bunch of different subhuman species) than the Allies.

The passage continues:

"The unhappy Fringes people were condemned through no act of their own to a life of squalor and misery — there could be no future for them. As for those who condemned them, well, that, too, is the way of it. There have been lords of life before, you know. Did you ever hear of the great lizards? When the time came for them to be superseded they had to pass away.

Here is where the Sealander shamelessly launches into exactly the sort of rhetoric employed by oppressive regimes throughout history. We know better what's good for these less civilized people than they do. And it gets worse:

"Sometime there will come a day when we ourselves shall have to give place to a new thing. Very certainly we shall struggle against the inevitable just as these remnants of the Old People do. We shall try with all our strength to grind it back into the earth from which it is emerging, for treachery to one's own species must always seem a crime. We shall force it to prove itself, and when it does, we shall go; as, by the same process, these are going.

"In loyalty to their kind they cannot tolerate our rise; in loyalty to our kind, we cannot tolerate their obstruction.

There's so much wrong with these passages I could spend all night on them. But the problems boil down to these.

I think it's clear from reading Wyndham — and not just The Chrysalids — that he had a real fascination with "struggle for survival" themes. Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes and The Midwich Cuckoos put humanity in the position of defending itself against different and often more advanced life forms. But at the same time, I think he had a very poor understanding (not surprising, as he wrote largely in the 1950's) of evolutionary biology and natural selection. Wyndham interprets "survival of the fittest" as "might makes right," and, as the above passages indicate, he sees evolutionary change as resulting in all instances from head-to-head conflict. The thing is, evolution doesn't work this way.

Homo sapiens did not vanquish the Neanderthals by wiping them out to a man in bloody battle. It was simply the case that H. sapiens were smarter, better able to adapt to environmental changes, and more adept hunters. We simply made better use of the resources around, and so we survived where the Neanderthals, H. erectus, etc., couldn't.

Wyndham is also ignoring the idea of environmental niches. In arguing the Waknukians/Fringe people had "no future," how exactly does that entitle the Sealanders to accelerate the process through killing? Why could it not be possible for the Fringe people to exist in their niche, while the Sealanders thrived in another?

And how are the Fringe people in any way "obstructing" the Sealanders? True, they're xenophobic towards the few Chrysalids, nascent Sealanders, in their midst. But compare the two civilizations, and you have on the one hand Fringe people living in quasi-medieval agrarian simplicity (using bows and arrows for weapons) while the Sealanders have advanced technology beyond even our own in the 21st century. They fly in and spray the unsuspecting Waknukians from the air with a kind of insta-kill goop. How could the Waknukians possibly pose any threat to Sealander advancement, especially as the two cultures have never encountered one another prior to the book's climax. (They live on opposite sides of the globe, which might as well be the moon as far as the Fringe people are concerned.)

I'll skip a bit to the end to make my final points. The Sealander concludes, at the end of a two-page sermon:

"The static, the enemy of change, is the enemy of life, and therefore our implacable enemy. If you still feel shocked, or doubtful, just consider some of the things that these people who have taught you to think of them as your fellows, have done. I know little about your lives, but the pattern scarcely varies wherever a pocket of the older species is trying to preserve itself. And consider, too, what they intended to do to you, and why."

I could accept, as a valid ending to the book, the Sealanders swooping in like a not-quite-deus-ex-machina to save the day by killing off the Waknukian army. But it's this lengthy, tortured series of rationalizations that Wyndham feels he has to put in the mouth of the Sealander that undoes the book's thematic intentions. Here, essentially, is a book widely interpreted as an indictment against xenophobia and racial hatred that, in its last two pages, does an abrupt about face and extols those ideas in the name of "change" and "evolution." The very beliefs and actions that made the Waknukians the book's villains make the Sealanders the book's heroes. And if there's any irony here, it's that Wyndham doesn't seem to notice the irony.

And to have the Sealander throw in as an afterthought the simple concept of retribution for crimes — "They tried to kill you first!" — smacks of Wyndham trying to have his cake and eat it too. Justify aggression as punishment for evil deeds, and fine, morally you're on the same page as the Allies in WW2. But then to have your heroes launch into a "Ve are ze Master Race!" monologue that's ideologically no different than what your villains embraced (the only difference being the Waknukians used religious justifications, the Sealanders scientific ones), and you have a novel that not merely betrays its themes, but perverts them.

I certainly don't suggest The Chrysalids ought to have had a "dull, black and white" ending. But it certainly shouldn't have had one that did that. Consider the quietly powerful exchange between David and Uncle Axel in Chapter 10, where they are discussing dealing with someone who threatens to expose them in the community:

"It wouldn't just be murder, Uncle Axel. It'd be something worse, as well; like violating part of ourselves. We couldn't do it."

"The alternative is the sword over your heads," he said.

"I know," I agreed unhappily. "But that isn't the way. A sword inside us would be worse.

A sword inside us would be worse. There, in a moment of masterful writing, Wyndham connects to the notion of human compassion — the real antidote to bigotry and hate — with gentle power. But at the ending, what does he do? He has David take up that "sword inside him" with pride. And the tragic mistake of the story is we're meant to think it's the right decision.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Thomas,

I do not wish to get into a slanging match with you, since I agree with the first half of your Chrysalids review, and clearly you rate Wyndham as an intelligent, thought-provoking author. However, I feel a little frustrated that somebody who thinks that the book is 98% five-star masterpiece, could then go on to write 'I cannot believe Wyndham could screw up this badly, especially when, considering how masterfully he had woven his story up to that point'.

You made an eloquent response to my original post, and an informative one, since I did not know that The Chrysalids has also been interpreted as a metaphor for the Jewish holocaust. This point is especially pertinent. Surely this is an example of Wyndham's briliance, when his book can be viewed as a parable on an Axis war crime (concentration camps), and an Allied war crime (atomic bombs). I agree that we should not over-egg the pudding here, and that Chrysalids is not meant as an exact allegory of the Second World War (a conflict that Wyndham himself served in), but persecution and genocide are certainly themes.

I just don't undersand why you hate the ending so much, you appear to be cutting off your nose to spite your face, simply because the finishing chapter does not correspond to your themematic expectations. Is it not possible that Wyndham intended the Sealanders to sound hypocritical? Surely some of the defences used by politicians to justify Allied war crimes ARE hypocritical and DON'T stand up to closer inspection. Surely we as Humans are very often prepared to swallow inadequate excuses in order to pacify our consciences. You appear to be saying that neither a fictional or real person ever says one thing, then does another. Would you not except that their were British people who condemned the blitz, whilst readily supporting the bombing of Germany? So should there be no hypocritical thoughts or characters in a book? Is it not possible that Wyndham was purposefully allowing holes to left in the Sealander's diatribe?

I'm also interested to note that you didn't mention the passage where Rosalind killed one of her persuers in self-defence. This raises no objections and yet in the final scenes you take great umbrage to the a similar act by the Sealanders, albiet on a much larger scale, who had no other way to defeat the hundreds of enemies, than through their secret weapon, in order to save their persecuted brethren.

You write: 'Here is where the Sealander shamelessly launches into exactly the sort of rhetoric employed by oppressive regimes throughout history.' Yes Wyndham is probably satorising the Sealanders, in his usual subtle way,

It's also the language that you use in your reviews, especially using the word should in relation to the ending.SHOULD?! Why SHOULD? I don't understand why you feel the right to use 'should', as though Wyndham is under some sort of obligation to justify the actions of his characters. I would suggest that it is far more realistic to have characters whose persecution has turned them into people who CAN justify the slaughter of their enemies. I'll move on from the Second World War, and give you another example. If some Americans (and some Brits) can justify an invasion of Iraq, because of the terrorist actions of a handful of Saudi nutters, then it is quite believeable that the oppressed mutants, who have been so hounded by their own community and family, could readily accept any justification given for the elimination of the aforementioned foes. Why on Earth does this make the ending a poor one? And to then give it a mark of three and a half out of five!!! Come on, that's a bit harsh isn't it. So please Thomas, remove the bee from your bonnet, and just enjoy a marvellous book, with an original ending (well I didn't see it coming)!

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Quote: Triffid UK
However, I feel a little frustrated that somebody who thinks that the book is 98% five-star masterpiece, could then go on to write 'I cannot believe Wyndham could screw up this badly, especially when, considering how masterfully he had woven his story up to that point'.

Triffid, old pal, I'm a critic. This is what I do. I praise what's praiseworthy, and I call out flaws as I see them. In the case of The Chrysalids, I honestly have no idea how I could possibly be any clearer as to what my objections are and why I object to them. It's a smashing book that is held back from its potential for greatness by an ending that perverts its own themes regarding xenophobia and oppression.

Quote: Triffid UK
I just don't undersand why you hate the ending so much, you appear to be cutting off your nose to spite your face, simply because the finishing chapter does not correspond to your themematic expectations. Is it not possible that Wyndham intended the Sealanders to sound hypocritical? Surely some of the defences used by politicians to justify Allied war crimes ARE hypocritical and DON'T stand up to closer inspection.... Is it not possible that Wyndham was purposefully allowing holes to left in the Sealander's diatribe?

No, it's not, because it is as clear as a hammer to the forehead when you read the final chapter that Wyndham does not intend for us to consider them hypocrites. He intends for us, through the viewpoint character of David, to agree with the Sealander. (David's actual reaction to the speech is one of rather bizarre insouciance, rather like, "Well, all that was over my head, but I guess I can kind of see the point." Bwuh?)

You are essentially trying to make a "The ending was ironic" argument, which I addressed in my original response. If Wyndham had presented the ending as ironic, in the way you describe above, then yes, it would have been an absolutely brilliant shocking twist ending. But that's just not Wyndham's intent. He expects us, in effect, to accept a moral double standard: what's evil in the Wanukians is a moral virtue (and a biological necessity) in the Sealanders.

Quote: Triffid UK
I'm also interested to note that you didn't mention the passage where Rosalind killed one of her persuers in self-defence. This raises no objections and yet in the final scenes you take great umbrage to the a similar act by the Sealanders, albiet on a much larger scale, who had no other way to defeat the hundreds of enemies, than through their secret weapon, in order to save their persecuted brethren.

That's because Rosalind kills in self-defense, and doesn't go on to justify it with a load of bollocks about the necessity of evolutionary change, etc. Again, I don't know that I could have made it clearer in my original answer that a "self-defense" justification for the climax would have been fine, had Wyndham stopped there and not overplayed his hand.

Quote: Triffid UK
SHOULD?! Why SHOULD? I don't understand why you feel the right to use 'should', as though Wyndham is under some sort of obligation to justify the actions of his characters.

Because that's what good writing does: an author offers adequate narrative justifications for his characters' actions, so that his story makes sense. If a character's actions are irrational and being falsely justified with lies, as in your examples, then that is made clear also. Again, I believe I've explained why I do not think the book has an ironic ending.

Quote: Triffid UK
I would suggest that it is far more realistic to have characters whose persecution has turned them into people who CAN justify the slaughter of their enemies.

And Wyndham was doing this just fine as long as he was focused on the plight of the Chrysalids and the Fringe dwellers. They were fighting to survive, and were thereby sympathetic in their plight. The minute he brought in players from a civilization so much farther advanced from the Waknukians they might as well have been gods descending on golden chariots, and had them offer the same justifications for their slaughter that the Waknukians were basically making, Wyndham jumped the shark.

Quote: Triffid UK
So please Thomas, remove the bee from your bonnet, and just enjoy a marvellous book, with an original ending (well I didn't see it coming)!

Ah yes, the old "Why can’t you just enjoy it? Why do you have to analyze it?" And now it's time to invoke what is now known, in our post-Avatar age, as Moff's Law. Moff is a bit more forceful and foul-mouthed in making the point than I'd be, but he still gets it dead right. As I said, I'm a critic: if I don't have a bee in my bonnet, I'm not doing my job!

I appreciate your posts and your disagreements, Triffid. You needn't worry about getting into a slanging match with me; good literature should inspire exactly that kind of passion. I certainly wouldn't offer my analyses for public consideration if I didn't believe that.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Thomas,

I wasn't suggesting that you shouldn't critise things you don't like. You are quite right in thinking that poorly written books, film-scripts etc., should be regarded as such, and I certainly don't believe in the 'suspend your disbelief' cliche which is continually employed to excuse god-awful Hollywood productions. If the criteria for a bad book is having an ending that does not fit in with a novel's previously stated morality, then I suppose there is a case for critising The Chrysalids. However, I've never seen that as being an essential part of reading.
You wrote: 'The minute he brought in players from a civilization so much farther advanced from the Waknukians they might as well have been gods descending on golden chariots, and had them offer the same justifications for their slaughter that the Waknukians were basically making, Wyndham jumped the shark.'
Not quite sure exactly what the poetic turn of phrase 'jumped the shark' means!? Anyway, to re-use my Iraq War analogy, surely Bush's America was far in advance of Saddam's Iraq. Does that mean he was right to drop white phosphorus (spelling) on civilians? Since when have technologically advanced peoples, adopted a more civilised approach to their enemies? The 20th and 21st centuries have produced a hell of a lot of genocides and bloody wars, and a corresponding load of justifications, often from highly-industrialised modern nations such as Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and America.
Personally I think Wyndham's worst ending is in Kraken Wakes, which is anti-climatic.

On a final note, do you think Wyndham was justified in having Zellaby (a character who spent much of the book attempting to see matters from the childrens' angle) blow up the Midwich cuckoos? To me it's a similar finish, but one that does not seem to stimulate any passionate rebuke from your good self.
Triffid UK

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Quote: Triffid UK
If the criteria for a bad book is having an ending that does not fit in with a novel's previously stated morality, then I suppose there is a case for critising The Chrysalids. However, I've never seen that as being an essential part of reading.

Well, it's certainly an essential part of criticism. If there is something you perceive to be a flaw in a work of art, you point it out.

I should add here I don't think The Chrysalids is a bad book (there is much powerful writing and drama throughout), but one that is definitely deeply flawed, as it betrays its own themes at the end.

Quote: Triffid UK
Not quite sure exactly what the poetic turn of phrase 'jumped the shark' means!?

A bit of internet slang basically meaning "he blew it."

Quote: Triffid UK
The 20th and 21st centuries have produced a hell of a lot of genocides and bloody wars, and a corresponding load of justifications, often from highly-industrialised modern nations such as Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and America.

Yes, but as I stated in my last response, the Sealander does not justify their massacre in the context of warfare and defending themselves against an enemy, but in the context of evolution and biological necessity. And there simply was no threat to the Sealanders from the Waknukians on that score. They were just using science to justify their atrocities in the same way the Waknukians were using religion.

Quote: Triffid UK
On a final note, do you think Wyndham was justified in having Zellaby (a character who spent much of the book attempting to see matters from the childrens' angle) blow up the Midwich cuckoos? To me it's a similar finish, but one that does not seem to stimulate any passionate rebuke from your good self.
Triffid UK

A good question, and my answer is yes. Here's why the two endings are different: in Midwich, Zellaby and the normal humans are the underdogs, and they are in fact in a fight for species survival. They are legitimately threatened by the Children in a way the Sealanders simply are not threatened by the Waknukians. And Zellaby's cleverness in defeating the children makes for a very smart ironic twist: the Children may be more advanced than regular people in so many ways, but they are still fundamentally children, naive, arrogant, immature, and willing to favor those who flatter their overweening self-regard. That is how Zellaby wins their trust, and in turn is able to defeat them. He shows that humans, when it comes to smarts, are still superior. (You'll remember there is also a chapter in Midwich where some of the Children give Zellaby a little "we're the master race" lecture not dissimilar to that the Sealander gives at the end of Chrysalids. In both speeches the arrogance is plain, it's just that in Midwich you're meant to recognize and condemn it and in Chrysalids you're meant to excuse and support it.)

In the end I guess this is just one we're going to have to agree to disagree on, Triffid.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Fair enough mate, though I'm still disappointed at your determinatino to dislike the ending of The Chrysalids.

On a change of topic, have you ever read The Outward Urge, one of Wyndham's less well known novels? I feel it warrants a review on your website?

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Quote: Triffid UK
Fair enough mate, though I'm still disappointed at your determinatino to dislike the ending of The Chrysalids.


Ah well. Triffid, if, after this many very lengthy posts where I've done my level best to explain why I didn't like the ending, you still haven't understood my reasoning and think I'm working on some kind of stubborn determination, then I really don't know what else I can say to make it more clear. I guess I've just failed to communicate.

I do have a copy of The Outward Urge as well as several other old Wyndhams, and I hope to get to them soon as I can. Newer books, understandably, take priority in the queue. Thanks for being a reader!

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Hahaha - very entertaining debate here! I say cos most of the time on the interent people just insult and get personal so well done for keeping it intelligent! Im another brit and maybe you feel we're ganging up on you mr wagner? But I have to agrre with the others - the ending is great and does not spoil the book at all for me. However I think you probably argue your case better. Not that i have the knowledge to talk about world wars and evolution!

Now that you make the points about the illogical ending, I notice it. But at the time i didn't cos i was too wrapped up in the story - and what a story! I think maybe mr wagner you're looking at it from too sci-fi an angle if you get me. Remember wyndham called his work Logical Fantasy. And i think its why chrysalids is so effective. He's a good writer! To be honest i havent read or even heard of most of the folk reviewed here and i'm a reader in genereal, not just sf. But from my experience wyndham is just different from sf cos he has proper characters that you care about - plus the great ideas. Take asimov one of the sf authors i have read. I loved the first three books of the foundation, espceailly the ones with the Mule in. But after a while i got bored cos asimov is not a great writer - wonderful thinker mind but not a fantastic prose man. When i read and reread chrysalids i was so on the side ofthe children that i really wouldn't have cared - if id noticed - that it didn't comply to a more sci-fi set of rules. If i was in david or rosalinds shoes id not give tuppence if all my enemies were eradiocated in a brutal way, as long as i survived!

So in conclusion john wyndham is fantastic! And as the first poster mentions isnt at all cosy or "cozy"

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Im Spanish so don´t have enough English for arguing but Chrysalids is wonderful AND so is the ending

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

OK Thomas M. Wagner, where exactly does Wyndham tell us how to think? Where does he tell us how to interpret the story? Answer: he never does. Not in Chrysalids, not in any of his books. Why? Because he's a fabulous writer who doesn't patronise....ever.

You see Wyndham, like many good authors, writes about humans. Do you understand this concept??? You see almost every human is hypocritical. So to read a book that you yourself are enjoying, then suddenly say "these characters are not acting within critical expectations" is utterly absurd.

OK so you don't like the ending, that is your view, but to then go off on a tangent about how illogical Wyndham is, is nonsense. Complete nonsense. Are you seriously saying that only logical (inhuman) characters can appear in fiction. Only characters who speak and act in an unhypocritical manner. What? What! Ok so an author can only talk about Mother Terresa that's essentially what you're drivelling.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

It isn't about writers telling you how to interpret things; no skilled writer ever does that. But a novel's overall narrative usually makes a writer's thematic goals clear. That's what novelists do: communicate ideas and themes in the context of a story. In good novel writing, one expects both logical and thematic consistency. If the book's theme is the chaos and unpredictability of people and the world around you, then fine. But that isn't the theme of The Chrysalids.

You're essentially (and poorly) trying to make the argument others have already made, which I've responded to in-depth here: that Wyndham intended for the ending of the book to be ironic. I think I make a good case he didn't intend that. I don't think you've made a good case for your disagreement.

The thing is, of course it's okay for characters in a book to be dishonest hypocrites, if the author establishes them as such. The factor here that you haven't understood is logical consistency in character development. At no time in The Chrysalids does Wyndham ever make it apparent that David and Rosalind are dishonest people (except where deceit is necessary to survive in Waknuk) or moral hypocrites as a matter of course. Nor is their sudden moral hypocrisy at the climax given any kind of convincing narrative justification. It is, rather, given a supremely unconvincing one. That's poor storytelling. Period.

So if it's your position that the protagonists of The Chrysalids intentionally behave, at the book's climax, in an illogical and hypocritical manner that is at odds with both the entire novel's themes and the development of their characters up to that point in the story, and that Wyndham meant to do this, then on what basis am I supposed to find his heroes sympathetic, or the novel praiseworthy? What can you quote me from the book's actual text to show that this is not a major story flaw?

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

As someone else said - how great to come across an online debate where everyone appears to read everyone else's posts and actually have something resembling a coherent argument. Thanks to previous posters for a good read thus far.

I've just finished the book, literally 10 minutes ago. I read the review and wanted to rebut its critique, but the number of posts trying to do the same (at times wandering close to silly ad hominems) - and the well-evidenced counter-argument - make me wary. So from me it's a "well- y'know-it's-complicated" position.

I think there's enough scope for a range of interpretations. I think it's entirely possible, writing in an age before decolonisation and following the seemingly brutal black-and-white moral realities of the Second World War, that Wyndham wanted to be unambiguously in favour of harsh and intolerant selection in favour of an 'improved' humanity, with a more humanist/post-Enlightenment oriented values. Such a position would clearly be offensive from our contemporary, more relativist perspective.

It could even be argued (though not without some apparent contradiction of the above) that in the Second World War he saw a kind of nihilistic destructive urge (so often remarked on in the Old People) that he would wish to see forcefully purged from humanity, even if that meant casual genocide. (Kurt Vonnegut comes to mind as another sci-fi author who fought in the war and ended up similarly misanthropic.) After all, the book constantly reiterates that telepathic bonds between people make it impossible for them to do harm to one another, once they 'know' each others minds.

On the other hand - it is not inconceivable that Wyndham was fully aware of the savage and detestable irony his ending suggests. Early in the book, Uncle Alex suggests that 'maybe everyone thinks they're created in the true image'. It is possible that he wrote the book, ending included, so as to deliberately pull the punch entirely - to avoid laying it on thick, even allowing the narrative voice to appear to agree with and endorse the logic of the Sealanders, so similar to that of the Waknukians (?). Possibly he wanted the reader, only on finishing the book and reflecting on its ending, to be struck by that ending's repugnance and hypocrisy; and the masterful way in which he or she was deceived into agreeing with the awful and inhuman logic of the Sealanders, and the naive wide-eyed (and in fact self-serving) acceptance of David and the others. To realise that even the most honest and upright figures, the most sympathetic of characters - can be led to unthinkingly condone the worst hypocrisies. Such a realisation would arguably have much more force than the author patronisingly explaining it all himself.

In the final analysis - maybe the more general question that arises is what criticism should be about. Are we discussing the author and his intentions, or the work itself and the response it generates in contemporary readers? [insert navel-gazing metaliterary digression on the lives of texts, reader-author dialectics and the thorny philosophical problems of 'signification'.] If the latter - it seems a lot of people here, reading the review and commenting, are sufficiently repulsed by the Sealanders' approach as to want to defend Wyndham from any suggestion that he was, in modern terms, a monster. Maybe that itself makes the book relevant, and worth a wider readership.

Anyway. I enjoyed the book. I'm off to read the Midwich Cuckoos now (no thanks to the person with the plot spoiler above!). Thanks again for the thoughtful commentary!

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Personally I enjoyed The Chrysalids and its ending, but whatever you think it certainly isn't a cosy ending.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

But at the ending, what does he do? He has David take up that "sword inside him" with pride.

Sorry what does this mean? How does he take the sword inside him with pride? What he actually does is accept a morally uncomfortable turn of events, preferring it to death in battle, and there by the grace of god go I.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

I see no indication by Wyndham in the actual text that David finds the situation all that morally uncomfortable. At first, he shows more "confusion" (Wyndham's word) than discomfort at the Sealand woman's attitude at having killed literally everyone: ...there was no callousness in her mind, nor any great concern either: just a slight distaste, as if for an unavoidable, but unexceptional, necessity. But once the Sealand woman gives her little might-makes-right lecture, he gets over it pretty quickly.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

It's quite a few years since I read the novel. But from what I remember of it, Thomas, I'm inclined to agree with you, at least regarding David and his reactions...

The fact that the Sealanders are such a ruthless culture is not necessarily a flaw in the novel... It is certainly conceivable that a nation of telepaths in a non-telepathic world might have a culture like that...

But the starting point of the story, after all, was the bond between David and his six-toed friend Sophie. Sophie, if I remember correctly, is killed by the Waknuk people towards the end... but the fact remains that she is in a category of people that the Sealanders destroy without compunction... When David embraces the Sealander culture, what has happened to his feelings about Sophie? Or, for that matter, his bond with his mentor Uncle Axel, who also belongs to the non-telepathic category of people who the Sealanders despise?

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Had much the same question as Thomas Wagner. After brilliantly attacking the "purity" of the bigot and the wretchedness that it brings into the world, how could Wyndham end the book with a repugnant sermon on Social Darwinism?

Here are possible explanations.

1. Wyndham actually believed in an amoral evolutionary struggle in which superior variants shrug as they eliminate inferior ones and survival is the only measure of superiority. No need in this brave new world for artificial equality of people since they could all link up with each other on the basis of who and what they really were. In any event, they, too, would be surplanted by still more successful variants who would eliminate them without much thought.

2. The book was plotted from the very beginning with Zealand as the "City on the Hill" with its aircraft, lights, and sailess ships as it appears in David's dreams at the beginning of the book. The intervention of the Zealenders at the end is the intersection of that utopia with the dystopian Waknuk. It turns out that when utopia arrives, it carries the seeds of its own bigotry in its condescendtion towards the Waknuk "primitives", its explanations to David that seem geared toward simpletons, and its indifferent killing of people whose death could have been avoided with the application of whatever goo remover they used to get the sticky stuff off of the David & Co. Thus, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

3. After his lucid explanation of bigotry and sympathetic portrayal of the effects of bigotry, it is hard to believe that Wyndham did not understand what he was doing with his didactic Zealander speech at the end or fail to understand that it contradicted his horror at intolerence. However, he had to get the book to his publisher, wanted it done, and wasn't a good enough author to integrate the smugness and amorality of the Zealand society into the plot and themes of the book. Thus, the last ten pages.

The three explanations above are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and you can deconstruct the book all day long and still never really know why Wyndham ended up where he did. It's a pity he didn't explore the parallel between Waknuk bigotry and Zealand smugness more fully, but perhaps if he had, and if he came down on the side of Social Darwinism, we would think of him less as an author who missed his chance than an author who manipulated empathy in order to draw the reader to an odious conclusion.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

I´d like to talk about Midwich Cuckoo NOT Chrysalids as I think enough has been said already on that book. I´ve only recently become aware of Wyndham. I watched the God awful recent BBC version of Triffids and my wife insisted that I read the book. Then I read Kraken Wakes, then Midwich. I think youré being a bit hard on JW when you say:

"With the appropriate allowances made for the archaic ideas and storytelling methods it invariably contains´.
Also not sure what was so bad about his view of evolution, and women. To me it reads like an attack on conservative rural England rather than misogyny (spelling). It´s the scandal dimension that a 21st Century English woman would not have to endure to the same level, though a village - and yes as somebody else said neither a town or hamlet is qute right but I forgive you! - in the Third World would probably be the equvilant now.

For me the great thing about Wyndham is what he doesn´t tell us, he let´s us do the imaging and filling in the holes. Even at the end there remain unanswered questions about the origin of the Children and how human they are. They definately have a touch of humanity in their paranoid actions. Brillant, wonderful, amazing, chilling book. Please read it if you haven´t already, and the black and white film is ok too.

Have enjoyed reading some of your site, and just off to read some more reviews, interested to read what you have to say on Richard Morgan.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Mr Wagner, Hi!

Would you have guessed it, yet another one coming over here about your review of John Wyndham's The Chrysalids. In my opinion, you misread that ending, Sir.

Did you get from the story that had they been able to make it to Waknuk and fetch Rachel, it would have been the Zealanders' intent to, as a necessity, right away "goo up" every single unarmed soul that they in fact left alone there?
They killed those who were in The Fringes, intent on destroying _at least_ three who were of the telepaths' kind.

Quote: Thomas M. Wagner
Their rationale of genocide towards the Waknukians is no different than that given by the Waknukians for their genocide of the Chrysalids. They're different. They threaten us. We're better. So we have to kill them.

Based on "the salient passages from the climax" that you've quoted and which I'll be addressing, I actually think that everything the Zealand woman says pertains to killing in 'self-defense' (not in the Bush Doctrine sense),
or more accurately how she sees a bigger picture that rids her of the feelings David & Co would have expected about using presumably the only weapon at their disposal that would be effective under the given circumstances.

Quote:
While the Nazis were all about genociding the Jews for reasons no different than those the Sealander will express in a moment, it was not the goal of the Allies to preserve ourselves against those who wished to destroy us by exterminating every German alive.

Completely outnumbered, the Zealanders figured that they would not have stood a chance had they landed in the midst of that battle.
I'm sure the United States also wished they could have had a weapon that would only target every single Japanese soldier and not hurt any civilian, but no, that's not what they had.

And no, the Zealanders did not go 'Next Stop, goo up the rest of Waknuk!!' , they left them alone, exactly.

Quote:
The unhappy Fringes people were condemned through no act of their own to a life of squalor and misery — there could be no future for them.
As for those who condemned them, well, that, too, is the way of it. There have been lords of life before, you know.

Here is where the Sealander shamelessly launches into exactly the sort of rhetoric employed by oppressive regimes throughout history.
We know better what's good for these less civilized people than they do.

I beg to differ. No, she surely does not imply 'So it's right for us to put them out of their misery'.
That's almost an insult to the intelligence of John Wyndham and to his respect for the intelligence of his reader.

"there could be no future for them" means that owing to the "squalor and misery" in which they lived they were doomed to meet their demise as collateral damage, for being nowhere near ready for it, should such a conflict as happened on that day be brought to their doorstep.
'there could be no future for them' puts the blame squarely on the bigots who forced them into that location, and tragically, at that point in time.

Quote:
and, as the above passages indicate, he sees evolutionary change as resulting in all instances from head-to-head conflict.

Wyndham had the Zealand woman(!), of all people who think no small beans of themselves, call it "the _great_ revolving wheel of natural economy".
'Great' indicates to me that Wyndham is aware that one cannot possibly address/comprehend 'all instances' of 'evolutionary change'.
So, for the purpose of his story, some of those instances which all would result from head-to-head conflict had to do it.

Quote:
Wyndham is also ignoring the idea of environmental niches. In arguing the Waknukians/Fringe people had "no future,"
how exactly does that entitle the Sealanders to accelerate the process through killing?"

It is the Zealand woman's opinion that that battle was part of the natural end of Joseph Strorm's kind.
Killing them was not the necessity. Using the (presumably) only effective weapon at their disposal in the face of danger to even just three of her kind was, even if it meant killing the bigots and accepting the collateral damage on the deviants.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Thanks for your interesting website.

I think the review of the ending of the Chrysalids makes a fundamental error in assuming Wyndham is using the Sealand woman to express his own views. Why make this assumption? The Sealands woman arrogance is commented on by the children several times leading up to their 'rescue', all hints towards the Sealanders perhaps not being everything they seem. To me this is simply an expression of Wyndhams classic lack of faith in humanity and a very clever ending. To have the Sealanders be perfect and give us a classic Hollywood happy ending would have been a great disappointment!

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Jean Phillipe Alexis offers some elaborately constructed defenses of Wyndham's ending...except that nowhere are any of Jean's assumptions supported in Wyndham's prose (such as the Sealanders' presumed fear that they would be overwhelmed if they tried to land — Jean has simply made this up, as this is nowhere stated or even implied in the text). The idea that the Waknukians presented the sort of clear and present danger to the survival of the Sealanders that their annihilation was a necessity is absurd on its face. The Waknukians are a bunch of rustics on horseback. The Sealanders are a high-tech civilization living half a world away, capable of raining death down from the skies, and prior to their confrontation at the climax, neither side was aware of one another. In short, it seems that Jean has fully bought into the moral justifications for genocide put forth at the end.

Re Michele's point: Whether the Sealanders' views are Wyndham's own is not even remotely the relevant issue (though given what I've read in Wyndham's other works, there are reasons to think it might be). And indeed, it would have been great to have the Sealanders be "not quite what they seem." But I've already dealt with the notion that the ending was intended ironically. The usual goal in storytelling is to make your protagonists sympathetic and relatable to the reader. The problem lies not in the Sealanders being just as xenophobic and evil as the Waknukians, but in having David, Rosalind and Petra so blithely and unthinkingly accept the Sealanders' rationalizations ("We're superior to them, they stand in our way, therefore we have to wipe them out"). In so doing, the protagonists essentially become the very evil they were spending the whole story fleeing. And with no one to like at the end, where does that leave the reader?

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

You wrote:
And with no one to like at the end, where does that leave the reader?´

It leaves the reader with a refreshing and challenging conclusion. I like several other people fail to understand your reasoning.

You also wrote:
The usual goal in storytelling is to make your protagonists sympathetic and relatable to the reader.

Well Science Fiction wouldn´t exist if writers were only interested in formulaic tales.

I suspect Wyndham is making a serious point about how persecution dehumanises the victims as well as the perpetrators (spelling?)

Chrysalids gets five stars out of five from me.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Does that mean that we as readers are meant to be dehumanized as well? After all, the ending — in which the saviors and heroes are revealed to be just as evil as the villains, they simply justify it more eloquently — is presented without a hint of irony. We are meant to think of it as a happy ending and the morally correct outcome of events.

Characters can still be sympathetic even if they are forced by circumstances to perform morally questionable (or even outright evil) acts. But events must be set up in such a way that we see the moral conflict within the character, and relate to it. While we would not wish to make such decisions ourselves, we can understand why the character was forced to do so. This isn't formula, it's good storytelling.

Wyndham sets up nothing like this. The Sealanders turn up, slaughter everyone, we get a self-gratifying lecture from their leader, and the kids think "Yeah, that sounds good," and everyone flies off to a happy ending untroubled by consequences.

Wyndham appears to have had a "might makes right" philosophy underpinning much of his work (it's even evident in The Midwich Cuckoos) that sometimes makes his stories feel morally dubious, however entertaining they may be.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Quote: Thomas M. Wagner
Jean Phillipe Alexis offers some elaborately constructed defenses of Wyndham's ending...except that nowhere are any of Jean's assumptions supported in Wyndham's prose (such as the Sealanders' presumed fear that they would be overwhelmed if they tried to land — Jean has simply made this up, as this is nowhere stated or even implied in the text).


So, Jean Philippe Alexis elaborately constructs defenses and simply makes things up, doesn't he?

Jean remembers a part where Wyndham has Michael *state* that for the Waknukians it's in reality not a matter of the true image any more but about a war between our kind against theirs. Does Mr Wagner remember that part? and what is "implied" in that part?

Quote:
The idea that the Waknukians presented the sort of clear and present danger to the survival of the Sealanders that their annihilation was a necessity is absurd on its face. The Waknukians are a bunch of rustics on horseback. The Sealanders are a high-tech civilization living half a world away, capable of raining death down from the skies, and prior to their confrontation at the climax, neither side was aware of one another.


So? To Mr Wagner that implies the Sealanders can just land and have the Waknukians just stand there and watch the kids they'd come all this way from Waknuk to destroy being taken away safely?

Ok, say the Sealanders don't kill anyone and they go ahead and land (either out of sight or in full view) assuming that the Waknukians present no danger to them (because that's what Mr Wagner found was 'implied' in the text)...

May I know how would Mr Wagner have written the ending to the story from there... while still hoping to pay the mortgage?

Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Splendidly put Jean Philippe Alexis, couldn't have worded it better myself. I think Thomas M. Wagner would view 1984 as supportive of the principle of 'might is right'.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Quote: Jean Philippe Alexis
So, Jean Philippe Alexis elaborately constructs defenses and simply makes things up, doesn't he?


Well, yes, when you cite things that are not, in fact in the story to shore up your interpretation of the story, that's exactly what you're doing.

Quote: Jean Philippe Alexis
Jean remembers a part where Wyndham has Michael *state* that for the Waknukians it's in reality not a matter of the true image any more but about a war between our kind against theirs. Does Mr Wagner remember that part? and what is "implied" in that part?


Can you quote that part? Because I'm re-reading the last chapter of the book right now, and Michael says nothing of the kind. All he does is stay behind so that he can return to Waknuk and fetch Rachel.

Quote: Jean Philippe Alexis
Ok, say the Sealanders don't kill anyone and they go ahead and land (either out of sight or in full view) assuming that the Waknukians present no danger to them (because that's what Mr Wagner found was 'implied' in the text)...

May I know how would Mr Wagner have written the ending to the story from there... while still hoping to pay the mortgage?


I'm not sure what you're implying by that last bit. Are you suggesting that Wyndham deliberately ended his book badly because he thought has audience needed to be pandered to, as the book wouldn't sell as well with a better ending? I'd say Wyndham deserves a little more respect than that.

Given everything Wyndham established about Waknuk society — intensely religious, xenophobic, post-scientific — the mere appearance of the Sealanders' vessel would have been enough to frighten most of them into headlong flight. If the ship had landed and some of the Waknukians had attacked, just a single display of their superior weaponry would have frightened off the rest. There'd have been no need for a cowardly wanton slaughter, followed by a reprehensible and insulting (and wholly unironic) speech about how it's all okay, because killing anything weaker than you is just the natural order of things.

Quote: Jean Philippe Alexis "Fan"
Splendidly put Jean Philippe Alexis, couldn't have worded it better myself. I think Thomas M. Wagner would view 1984 as supportive of the principle of 'might is right'.


Tsk tsk tsk. Jean Philippe, you are aware that sock-puppeting is considered very bad form, aren't you?

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Both sides in this discussion have focused on similarities between what happens in the novel and things that happened in reality in the twentieth century.

I agree that there are similarities, but there are dissimilarities as well.

The difference between the populations in the novel -- people with the gift of telepathy and people without -- is portrayed as an objective reality, very much greater than the trifling ethnic differences which the Nazis were so obsessed with.

There is another, better comparison which Thomas Wagner raised in an earlier posting (Jan 20, 2010): Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. As Thomas Wagner said there, Wyndham's understanding of evolution may be poor in terms of what we know today, but that is not surprising given that he was writing largely in the nineteen fifties.

Chrysalids is not the only Wyndham novel about encounter between two intelligent populations. The Kraken Wakes and Midwich Cuckoos also have this theme. In these three novels, the outcome is never peaceful coexistence or cooperation, it is always a lethal struggle.

To understand where Wyndham was coming from in these novels, it may help to look at twentieth century conflicts not so much as a moral lesson, but more as a lesson in how things happen.

Wyndham was writing in the aftermath of two world wars, with the shadow of a nuclear third world war hanging over the Earth. If it was so difficult to have peace, just within this one human species, what then would be the prospects for peace between earthlings and aliens, or between the current sort of humans and a new population of telepaths? Perhaps it seemed to Wyndham that an all-out, lethal struggle was the only likely scenario?

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

First off I just wanted to say what a great forum this is. It's very interesting to see everybody else's opinion with this book. I personally really enjoyed the ending of the book even though Mr. Wagner does make a pretty convincing argument that Whyndam got the ending wrong.

Anyways, the main reason that I wanted to comment on this forum was to express my own opinion about how the book ended. Now I am just a few years out of high school and have not read as many books as most people on this forum but I don't have any problem at all with the Sealander killing all of the Waknukians. I know that sounds really bad but I just can't get myself to feel sorry for them. I understand that one group of people shouldn't be able to exterminate a lesser intelligent group of people because they think they are smarter or their beliefs are better but the Waknukians were just a burden on society. Whyndam compares the Waknukians to flies when he has the Sealander kill them with what seems to be an artificial spider web. In Whyndam's and the Sealander's eyes, they are just pests that just get in the way. Sometimes you may kill a fly even if it isn't bothering you at that time because you know if you leave it alone it may bite you later. That is how I look at the last chapter of the book, even if most people feel that it is wrong.

In short, I just don't see the problem with removing the people that drag society down in a negative way. It is obvious that the Waknukians are very stubborn and will not change their ways. I know I sound like a horrible person when I say that but I always felt that if you weren't a part of the solution then you were part of the problem and the Waknukians sure feel like part of the problem to me.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

I think Wyndham did mean the ending to be ironic, because I think he may have been using Nietzsche'n themes of the 'will to power' and 'eternal reccurance'.

You have already been discussing the morality behind survival of the fittest or 'will to power' and social darwiniamism so i don't feel i could do justice to adding to your debate on this.

However Nietzsche also talked about how if 'God is dead' then there is no absolute goal or end to life. In place of this he posits a type of nihilism where life repeats itself over again, and the strong continue to defeat the weak until they themselves are defeated by something stronger.
This is what I understood the 'Sealanders' to represent. And when the story ended, I was still trying to imagine what would happen next, as I didn't get the sense that their new powerful social position would remain stable for very long.

And, I'm sorry anonymous, but I really disagree with your perspective. I think Wyndham was strongly criticizing fascism, and a morality which is based on 'removing people which drag society down'.

Re: John Wyndham Reviews

I think, like several others, that the reviewer has missed the point. Yes of course he is entitled to his own opinion, and if you don't like the ending then no amount of persuasion will convince you otherwise. However, to say that JW is somehow justifying the views of his characters is arrant nonsense. Since when does an author have to include only characters that he/she feels are morally comdenable? Did the writers of the Bible intend to justify the actions of Judas? The critique even admits that the finale is believable (in the context of the story), so what's the problem?

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Quote: Goblin Prince
I think, like several others, that the reviewer has missed the point.


In what way?

Quote: Goblin Prince
However, to say that JW is somehow justifying the views of his characters is arrant nonsense.


I think the actual text of the book suggests otherwise. Wyndham essentially has the Sealanders vigorously defend the notion of "might makes right," and the genocide of "inferior" beings, and this rhetoric brings his protagonists around to their view — even though the story up to that point had been, presumably, depicting a society in which the ruling class thought that way as horrific and dystopian. At the end, we get a thematic flip-flop, and I haven't seen a convincing argument that Wyndham intended this ironically that has been supported by the text of the story.

Appreciate the feedback.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

Can I suggest a possible solution to this argument? What if we suppose that the ending reflects both possibilities - i.e. that it is wrong to kill someone (as David suggests in the conversation with his uncle, along with Rosalin's feelings of guilt, etc.) AND that the Chrysalids were involved in a fight for their survival? In other words, is it possible that the point is the impasse represented by these two realities? It seems to me that this struggle is both mirrored and perhaps clearer when considered in light of Alan's murder. There is no question that that preemptive act was wrong, but then again, there is really no way to see how the Chrysalids would have survived if he hadn't been killed before he had an opportunity to use what he knew against them. In short, perhaps what Wyndham is pointing out here is the moral ambiguity that is present in much of human conflict and, by extension, in human nature as well, now matter how 'evolved' we become.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

I think the moral message of the Sealand woman is wrong, but I think disappointment is inflated by overtreating the majority of the book as a plea against bigotry. When you quote Uncle Axel as stating mind makes a man he goes on to say that David et al have a new quality of mind. Uncle Axel, presented as the voice of intellengence within the Waknuk community, will go to extreme lengths to protect David, but only because of his superior abilities. There is litle sign that Uncle Axel cared much about the plight of Sophie or even his relative Harriet, even if he is smart enough to know the religious justification given to it all was nonsense. Axel is like the Sealander, interested in nurturing the abilities of the exceptional, and disinterested in protecting the ordinary. This seems to be Wyndham's morality.

Wyndham may have conveyed the pain of Sophie and Harriet brilliantly, but he seems to be more syphathetic than you think to the harsh laws of Waknuk. The man who extols the virtue of the "purity of the race" is the Inspector, who the book makes clear has no time for Joseph Strorm, who needs the certainty of religion to give an absolute justification to the harshness of his society. I don't think Wyndham is taking sides here. He understands the pain of Sophie and Harriet but he's uncomfortably understanding of the Inspector's position too.

Wyndham wanted the reader to identify first and foremost with the telepaths. After Harriet's passing, David, despite liking his Aunt, expressed to Uncle Axel that his fear was what would happen to him when they found out he was different. Wyndham did portray a deep sympathy from David for Sophie. However when David encountered Sophie in the fringes one would think the never explained fate of Sophie's parents (who David was fond of) would be important to him, but that didn't seem to occur to Wyndham when he wrote the book. For Wyndham, the emergence of the telepaths was the key. How the ordinary suffer from bigotry may have been brillantly conveyed, but it was a side-show to him.

Personally I would have liked to see Wyndam take a completely different track in the second half of the book. Aunt Harriet could have cried for help in the church in front of the entire community. Sure she would have received no support at all, but once Joseph Strorm went on his callous tirade, a few would cautuiously express a touch of compassion for her. Perhaps husband Henry could have been more obviously flawed than Harriet and some could have asked if God's judgement might have been on him. We already knew plenty in the community (the Drakers, Angus Morton and even the Inspector) found Joseph over the top.

The first mutterings of dissent may have been minor, but Joseph, unable to tolerate any sense that Waknuk was starting to lose its faith, may have gone on the warpath, leading to a violent confrontation with those who only wanted to soften the harsh rules a little. The news of the divisions within the community could have carried to the fringes, and Gordon could have led a rescue of a bunch of norms facing execution from Joseph's mob. Then things could really change. People wanting nothing more than a bit of compassion for Harriet would owe their lives to those thay had formerly dismissed as blasphemies. Distant Rigo could have ignored it all. Through Gordon, David would have become re-acquainted with Sofie, still wretched, but suddely given new hope. The book could end with the broken Wenders returning to their old Waknuk home after a lengthy spell in a distant jail, suddenly finding joy beyond their wildest dreams.

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Re: John Wyndham Reviews

heyy, look who's back... party's still going on it seems.

Quote:
Can you quote that part? Because I'm re-reading the last chapter of the book right now, and Michael says nothing of the kind.


Certainly. It's on the gut-wrenching, heart-breaking 'hot irons' part. When Sally comes through to inform the others that "they've broken Katherine", Michael seethes "It's war. Some day, I'll kill them for this."

Later on, Michael comes through "David, they've made a proclamation, they've officially classed you as deviants, non-humans. Anyone can shoot you on sight."
Rosalind: "But I don't understand. What if we were to promise to go away and stay away?"
Michael: "They're afraid of us because nothing shows. They want to capture you and learn more about us. Imagine if there are a lot more of us, able to think together, and plan... we could outwit them all the time."

Quote:
If the ship had landed and some of the Waknukians had attacked, just a single display of their superior weaponry would have frightened off the rest


There's no evidence in the story that they had any other "superior weaponry" that could be used on the ground. But ok, that would have been your ending: Most Waknukians flee seeing the vessel, the Zealanders land, hold the Waknukians at gunpoint and take the telepaths away. [I prefer Wyndham's ending]

Look Thomas, you don't like the ending, you don't like the Zealand woman's reasoning, you don't like the fact that she feels no remorse, you don't like her; well, join the queue, because neither did David, Rosalind and Michael like her much.

But I can see from the story as it is how circumstances had her make a choice, justified and inevitable in her view. She chose the success of their mission. They could probably have landed, nothing indicated that they would just be allowed to secure Petra.

Quote:
Tsk tsk tsk. Jean Philippe, you are aware that sock-puppeting is considered very bad form, aren't you?


Hahahaha. Thomas, there was this dad who had a hunch and was looking for his son: Hey! Jean Philippe, where are you? Are you masturbating right now?! I told you you would go blind, you know that, right?!

And his son goes: Dad, I'm here... hellooo... no over here Dad!

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