Friday, November 18, 2011
But about a year ago I read The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, which is sci-fi from the 1950s and I actually rather enjoyed it. Well, it turns out that John Wyndham and John Beynon Harris were the same person. His full name was John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris and he apparently wrote quite a few books under a variety of names. And it seems many are post-apocalyptic, or – as I like to call them – "end of the world books." But not knowing that connection, and having enjoyed the Triffids, I recently listened to the audio version of The Chrysalids.
Wyndham creates an interesting world that still reeks of frequent radiation-caused deformities. Outside the small and insular community lies the "Fringes," an area teeming with plant and animal mutations as well as those who've been cast out. Beyond the Fringes very little is known except what David learns from his Uncle Axel who was once a sailor and saw firsthand the weirdness in the world. But Axel also provides a quiet voice of borderline heresy in David's fundamentalist upbringing, questioning what really is normal and if the real "image of God" is what's being preserved.
I find the religious aspect of the story particularly interesting. I wouldn't go so far as to say the book is anti-religion, but it raises the question of whether anyone could claim to know ultimate truth or God's intentions. And while it's easy enough to read this book and see the ridiculousness of judging a person living in a radioactive world with an extra toe as an abomination, what about deviations from the norm in our own society? We certainly have those whose choices and lifestyles are less accepted than others, some benign and some uncertain. I'm not questioning religious prerogatives for calling any disagreeable behavior "sinful," but does that justify mistreatment of such people? In an interesting twist, the book's end kind of explains such pruning of deviant characteristics as natural for self-preservation, but equates it to a type of evolution and natural selection. At any rate, the ending wasn't as strong as the beginning (for several reasons), but it raises some interesting philosophical thoughts.
And I DO like a book that makes me think.