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The Chrysalids – Novel Study Activity Guide
by John Wyndham
The Chrysalids is set in the future - many years after a nuclear war has devastated much of the world. Waknuk, in Labrador, has survived, but it has been reduced to a primitive agricultural society struggling to return to the level of civilization that the “Old People” had enjoyed. Radiation from the war has left much of the land useless and is still causing mutations in plants, animals, and humans. The people in Waknuk, however, are unaware of the true cause of the deviations. Instead, they believe these deviations are a punishment sent from God. As a result, they follow a strict religious code that demands that a plant or animal born with any type of imperfection be destroyed. Human deviations are exiled to the Fringes, a lawless region to the south of Waknuk. Beyond the Fringes lie the Badlands (where all of nature is distorted) and then the Blacklands where nothing grows at all.
The story centres around the narrator, David Strorm, and his extremely religious family. As a child, David befriends a young girl named Sophie. He soon learns that Sophie has six toes, a fact that has been hidden from the community by her parents. David cannot understand why his friend is considered “different” and has no difficulty keeping her secret. However, when she is accidentally discovered and she and her family are forced to flee to avoid persecution, David sees first hand the cruelty and intolerance that exist in his world. Compounding the problem is the fact that David himself and several of his friends have their own secret: they possess the ability to communicate telepathically. As they grow older, the group realizes that they, too, are in peril if discovered. In addition to this problem, David continues to be mystified by the dream he has had since childhood—the dream of a city with tall buildings, horseless vehicles, and flying machines.
David soon learns that his young sister, Petra, has even stronger telepathic powers than he and the rest of the group. She is so powerful that she can receive messages from someone a very long way away; from a place called Sealand to the far south. Petra soon endangers the group due to her inability to control her powers. Soon, two of the members are arrested and tortured until they give up the others. The others flee, making a perilous journey to the Fringes, where they are rescued by the Sealanders. The group is taken to Sealand, which David discovers is the place he has been dreaming about. It is a place where everyone is telepathic and accepted.