A Real or An Imaginary Friend?

Chocky by John Wyndham qualifies for the RIP Challenge in the Supernatural category. It seems at first as though Matthew has an invisible friend, just like his little sister’s Piff, who appeared when Polly was about five. Matthew at eleven seemed a little bit old for such a friend, and when his father overhears him having what seems like a one-sided conversation he becomes worried. It all becomes more puzzling when Matthew starts asking unusual questions about physics and maths and starts to do things he couldn’t do before.  When Matthew becomes ill he can’t keep his secret any longer and running a high temperature he asks his mother to tell Chocky to go away and stop asking him questions. Just who Chocky is and where is he/she from, and indeed what gender  Chocky is, is all most mysterious.

Matthew who can’t swim, saves his sister from drowning, much to everyone’s astonishment. Does he have a “Guardian Angel”? He suddenly starts painting in a most unusual style and it appears that he is “possessed”.  On the face of it this is a simple story and told in an innocent, almost facile style. But every now and then philosophical questions are thrown into the story as Matthew’s parents discuss the problem. Mary, his mother reflects on reality:

Reality is relative. Devils, evil spirits, witches and so on become real enough to the people who believed in them. Just as God is to people who believe in him. When people live their lives by their beliefs objective reality is almost irrelevant.

 She wonders if they dealing with the problem in the right way. Is Matthew mentally ill? Eventually they get professional help from Landis who specialises in mental disorders. Landis is baffled and says it has him beat:

More than anything I’ve come across it resembles what our unscientific ancestors used to consider a case of “possession”. They would have claimed quite simply that this Chocky is a wandering, if not a wanton, spirit which has invaded Matthew.”

But Chocky is not malevolent. It appears sometimes as though John Wyndham, writing in 1968, is using this book as a means of stating his criticsm of the state of technology and the use that was being made of scientific advances, such as atomic power. Chocky tells Matthew’s father:

You have not done badly with electricity in a hundred years. And you did quite well with steam in quite a short time. But all that is so cumbersome, so inefficient. And your oil engines are just a deplorable perversion – dirty, noisy, poisonous, and the cars you drive with them are barbarous, dangerous …

Chocky is convinced that resources are being squandered. At the end of the book it does come over as a lecture for finding and developing new sources of energy, of gaining access to an infinite power supply.

Chocky advocates that she/he contacted Matthew because young minds are disposed to accepting the improbable because

they have absorbed so much that is unlikely and inexplicable from myths, legends, fairy-stories, and religion, that they are disposed to accept the improbable with little question, providing it is not alarming. Older minds, on the other hand, have formed rigid conceptions of probability, and are very frightened by any attempt at contact: they usually think they must be going mad, which interferes with rapport.

I liked this strange little book, although it is now a bit dated, and I had little difficulty in accepting its reality ( after all, I have read many myths, legends and fairy tales). One other topic I found interesting is the view put forward that women have “a compulsion” to “produce a baby as soon as possible after marriage” and that this is not just a biological urge but also a response to pressure to conform with other people’s expectations and the

“desire to prove that one is normal, the belief that it will establish status, a sense of personal achievement, the symbol of one’s maturity, a feeling of solidarity, the obligation of holding one’s own in competition with the neighbours. … It is not the least use pointing out that some of the world’s most influential women, Elizabeth the First, Florence Nightingale, for instance, would actually have lost status, had they become mums, in fact it is much wiser not to try. Babies, in a world that already has far too many, remain desirable.”

On one hand it seems as though John Wyndham was being rather condescending but on the other as though he was advocating feminism. Matthew is adopted and Mary’s sisters do think of her as inferior until Polly is born.  So there are also some reflections on the difficulties of adoption and its effect on children. Until Polly was born Mary felt that she was not a real mother – she had the impression that “some babies confer a little more equality than other babies”. 

I liked this mixture of story with its gentle sci-fi theme and its social and philosophical reflections. All of which was different from Chocky, a children’s TV series of the 1980s which I remembered watching. I found this great site – Little Gems – which contains lots of information on children’s TV shows and films of years gone by, including Chocky. If you have time on your hands and fancy enjoying a bit of nostalgia I can recommend Little Gems