The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

My copy of The Chrysalids by John Wyndham is the Penguin Books edition published in 1955. This is the second book I’ve read in the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

As this is science fiction and I’™d read The Kraken Wakes, about an alien invasion of Earth and I know that The Day of the Triffids (which I haven’™t read) is about grotesque animal eating plants, I was expecting The Chrysalids to be about monster insects hatching out of pupae. It isn’™t.

It’™s a post-apocalyptic novel set in an imaginary Labrador. The people have vague recollections of the ‘œOld People’ who lived before the Tribulation (maybe a nuclear war), which they believe God sent to punish the population for their sins. The society they live in now is strictly governed by a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, one of the few books that survived the Tribulation. Anything that deviates from the Norm had to be rooted out and destroyed or sent to the Fringes. This applied to people, animals and plants. David Strorm has grown up in a house where the walls are covered in texts such as,


So when he realises that his friend Sophie has six toes he is worried, and with reason. Sophie is not the only deviant from the Norm, David himself and a group of other young people have telepathic powers and can tune in to each other’™s thoughts. When they realise that Petra, David’™s little sister is developing even stronger telepathic abilities, David and Petra and his friends flee to the Fringes, where they expect to find fearsome mutations, but hope to find sanctuary. Petra’™s long-range telepathy puts them in touch with a woman in Sealand, on the other side of the world, who promises to rescue them.

Wyndham’™s story still has relevance today, with its central theme of intolerance of anyone or anything that does not conform to what is considered to be ‘œnormal’. Intolerance based on what a group of people ‘œknow’ to be the truth is always scary, especially when they persecute others who believe or think differently. The question of identity is also explored – what it is to be an individual and also part of society. His characters are real people, the story is compelling, and I had to read on to find out what happened as the tension built.

The title, I suppose, comes from the analogy with the evolution of insects from grubs to the adult stage. The people of Labrador are stuck in the chrysalis stage; they have not evolved and do not want to change. David and his friends are changing however and moving towards a more advanced stage of humanity. As the woman from Sealand tells them:

The essential quality of life is living; the essential quality of living is change; change is evolution; and we are part of it.

It’™s a book I should like to re-read, now that I know the story. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Booking Through Thursday – Manual Labour (Labor)

This week’s Booking Through Thursday’s question is:

Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos . . . do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries’“if any’“do you have in your library?

My English teacher at school, Miss Orr, would be pleased and amazed if she could read this now – I like books on grammar and punctuation! I love dictionaries and writing guides.

I regularly use The Chambers Dictionary, which boldy says on its cover “the largest, bestselling and most comprehensive single-volume English dictionary” and also “the richest range of English language from Shakespeare to the present day”. It’s more than a dictionary as it also has lists in the back – first names, phrases and quotations in Latin and Greek and modern foreigh languages, books of the Bible, plays of Shakespeare, chemical elements and so on and so forth. It’s the meaning that I’m looking for because you have to have some idea of how a word is spelled to look it up. I do use on-line dictionaries but really prefer my “real” dictionary, somehow it’s more satisfying. I just opened it now to check the word “labour” (that’s how I would spell it not “labor” – I’m not too bothered about spelling) to see if my idea of using writing guides etc is covered by that word. “Labour” means, among other definitions “physical or mental toil; work, especially when done for money, or other gain, pain, a task requiring hard work”. So no, using these books is not all laborious for me.

I also have The Oxford Library of English Usage which I really ought to read more than I do. It’s a box set of 3 volumes – Grammar, Spelling and A Dictionary of Modern Usage. I bought the set some years ago when I realised that my memory of English Grammar from school was fading fast (sorry Miss Orr).

More recently I bought Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, which I think makes grammar so much more interesting. I love her examples and the wrong use of the apostraphe in “its/it’s” infuriates me, although not quite as as much as it does her:

“No matter if you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, “Good food at it’s best”, you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.”

My typing is not always up to much and I cringe when I see I’ve typed “it’s” instead of its”.

I’m really good at reading writing guides in hope of improving my writing or to give me inspiration to actually write something creative, but I never do what they say. I have a few books on Creative Writing – my favourite is Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer. I’m encouraged by her analysis of the difficulties of writing, her practical approach to the business of writing and this sentence in particular strikes a chord:

“Writing calls on unused muscles and invloves solitude and immobility.”

Although not a writing guide in the usual sense I also love Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. She writes about what is a writer and how she became one; the drawbacks of being a female writer; and asks question such as, “For whom does the writer write?” and “Is there a self-identity for the writer that combines responsibility with artistic integrity? If there is, where might it be?” She quotes many other author, enticing me to read yet more and more books.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I seem to have been reading Eat, Pray, Love a very long time. That is because I only read short sections each morning. I’™d read quite a lot about the book on a number of blogs and some people loved it and others didn’™t and for a while I resisted reading it. Then a few months ago I found it sitting on the shelf in my local library and thought I’™d have a look at it. At first I found Elizabeth Gilbert’™s style irritating, so chatty and verbose, but after I’™d got beyond the sorry details of her marriage, divorce and disastrous relationship with the next man, and she took herself off to Italy I began to relax and enjoy the book. I’™m glad I finally did read this book as in the end I found it very entertaining.

She travelled to Italy (Eat), India (Pray) and Indonesia (Love) spending four months in each place, searching for pleasure in Italy, mainly through food, God in India at an ashram, and balance in Indonesia.

I’™ve written a bit about her time in Italy here and this was my favourite section of the book. Whatever Elizabeth Gilbert does it seems as though she throws herself into it 100% – so in Italy she put on weight, eating pizza and gelato. Well not just those two Italian basics, but loads of delicious sounding food. It made me feel happy just reading about her happiness in eating soft-boiled eggs, asparagus, olives, goat’™s cheese and salmon, followed by a fresh peach. By the end of her stay in Italy I wasn’™t surprised that none of the clothes she brought with her fitted – I found the same after two weeks! Needless to say I enjoyed reading ‘œEat’ and it made me want to visit Italy again.

On to India, where it was back to intense, emotional experiences; much soul-searching and naval- gazing too. (I also wrote a bit about this section here.)I have practised Yoga so I was looking forward to reading of her time in an ashram, but soon decided that I’™m glad I was never tempted to spend time in one myself. Elizabeth Gilbert was hoping for ‘œa dazzling encounter with God, maybe some blue lightning or a prophetic vision’, but for a while this eluded her. I was amused when I read that she wrote that she’™d been talking too much, not just at the ashram but all her life, so she decided she didn’™t want ‘œto waste the greatest spiritual opportunity of her life by being all social and chatty the whole time.’ She was going to become known as ‘œThat Quiet Girl’! Her hopes were dashed when she was asked to be ‘œKey Hostess”, looking after people coming to the ashram on retreat.

But it was during these retreats that she had her ‘œdazzling encounter’ with God. Elizabeth writes about God as though she’™s writing to a penfriend or is talking to a friend at the end of a telephone. She also writes about it in abstract terms ‘“ she ‘œstepped through time’œ and ‘œentered the void’; she


‘œwas the void ‘¦ the void was God, which means that I was inside God. But not in a gross, physical way ‘“ not like I was Liz Gilbert stuck inside a chunk of God’™s thigh muscle. I was just part of God. In addition to being God. I was both a tiny piece of the universe and exactly the same size as the universe.’ (p209)

My interpretation of this is that Elizabeth was experiencing a state of ‘œoneness’, where she was not aware of the limits of her own being. She says that it wasn’™t hallucinogenic or exiting or euphoric, even though she states “it was heaven”; maybe she is saying that she slowed down and experienced calm and tranquillity, a sort of blend of Christianity and Buddhism perhaps. At the beginning of the book Elizabeth writes that she is “culturally, though not theologically” a Christian, which goes some way to explaining her experience of “being God”. She explains her position thus:

‘œ’¦ while I do love that great teacher of peace who was called Jesus, and while I do reserve the right to ask myself in certain trying situations what indeed He would do, I can’™t swallow that one fixed rule of Christianity insisting that Christ is the only path to God. Strictly speaking then, I cannot call myself a Christian. Most of the Christians I know accept my feelings on this with grace and open-mindedness.’(p14)

In the final section of the book she travelled on to Bali in Indonesia where she had first met Ketut, the medicine man, who resembles Yoda from Star Wars. I have to admire Elizabeth Gilbert’™s confidence in travelling alone without even any idea of where she is going to live, and what she is going to do. She arrived in Bali not knowing Ketut’™s address or even the name of his village and when she did find it at first he did not recognise her. Life in Bali is very different from her time in India, much more relaxed and Ketut’™s methods of meditation were much less intense than those at the ashram.

Along the way she also made friends with Wayan, a poverty stricken woman healer and spent the mornings with her ‘œlaughing and eating’, the afternoons with Ketut ‘œtalking and drinking coffee’ and the evenings relaxing in her garden, either by herself or with another friend, Yudhi who came over and played his guitar. She decided to raise money from friends in America to buy Wayan a house and this nearly ended in disaster when Wayan kept finding more and more difficulties with purchasing land and said she needed more money. Fortunately Elizabeth had met a charming Brazilian man, with whom she fell in love and he explained that that is the way of life for people there ‘“ to try to get the most money they can out of visitors.

So, it all ended happily as Elizabeth sailed


‘œto this pretty little tropical island with my Brazilian lover. Which is ‘“ I admit it!- an almost ludicrously fairy-tale ending to this story, like the page out of a housewife’™s dream. ‘¦ Yet what keeps me from dissolving right now into a complete fairy-tale shimmer is this solid truth, a truth which has veritably built my bones over the last few years ‘“ I was not rescued by a prince: I was the administrator of my own rescue.’ (p 344)

I found an on-line video of Elizabeth Gilbert talking about this book at

Sunday Salon – This Week’s Reading

I’m late coming to the Sunday Salon today, because just as I was finishing writing this post we had a power cut, which lasted nearly four hours and when it came back on I found that I hadn’t saved all of it! Last Sunday the heavy rain that had been forecast held off for our walk among the bluebells, in fact it was a warm sunny afternoon and there were still lots of bluebells in the woods. It’s been a mixed week weather wise – we’ve had sunshine and torrential rain, coming down like stair rods as my father used to say. But it has meant that everything in the garden is growing like mad. I love this time of year when the leaves are still small enough to see the branches. We have two small apple trees and a cherry tree which have now blossomed – promise of fruit later in the year.

On the reading front for some of the week I’ve been in the company of Dalziel and Pascoe, but mostly Pascoe as the book is The Death of Dalziel by Reginald Hill. Because I watched the BBC series before I read any Dalziel books in my mind I see Warren Clarke as Dalziel and Colin Buchanan as Pascoe. It’s a complicated plot with all the sub-plots intricately interwoven. The characters are so believable and the mystery so absorbing that I just had to read it through to the end. It was a while ago that I watched this on TV so, even though I knew what the outcome was I couldn’t remember the details. What I don’t remember from the TV are the episodes describing what is going on inside Dalziel as he lies in hospital unconscious (he was caught in the blast of a hugh Semtex explosion).

This is a nice example. Dalziel is

floating uneasily above Mid-Yorkshire. His unease derives not from his ability to defy gravity, which seems quite natural, but his fear that someone below might mistake him for a zeppelin and shoot him down.

Because he is Dalziel he breaks wind and his

… relief is huge and more than physical.
‘Dead men don’t fart!’ he cries triumphantly.
Dalziel breaks wind again, this time with such force he gets lift-off and accelerates into the bright blue yonder like a Cape Canaveral rocket. Soon the startled starling is nothing more than a distant mote, high above which an overweight, middle-aged detective superintendent at last realises the Peter Pan fantasy of his early childhood and laughs with sheer delight as he tumbles and soars between the scudding clouds of a Mid-Yorkshire sky.
In complete contrast I’m in the middle of The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. Some years ago I read and thoroughly enjoyed Pilgrim at Tinker Creek which won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 1975. In that book I was fascinated by the detail and description of the natural world that Dillard saw at the Creek and I expected her novel would much in the same vein. But for me it is too sparsely written, too economical. The Maytrees is about a couple, Toby and Lou who marry and have a son Petie, living out their seemingly non-eventful lives at Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod. After 14 years of marriage Maytree just ups and leaves with Deary Hightoe, which is as far as I have read. Part of me loves this book for the descriptions of the setting and characters, but part of me struggles with prose that seems so detached from emotion.
I always like to have more than one book on the go, so although I’m only progressing slowly with Les Miserables I’ve also started to read Our Longest Days, diary entries of people living during the Second World War. It’s fascinating reading about the war as it was experienced by the people left at home, enduring the bombing of Britain and the threat of invasion. I’m up to December 1940 – Herbert Brush, then aged 71 was living in London, described what he had done to make staying in the dugout more comfortable, with a paraffin stove, a curtain across the entrance and shields to keep the draught off the bunks on each side of the dugout:

It is quite a comfortable place now, when one gets used to the cramped space and the inability to turn over without falling off the bunk, for folk of my size.

It’s a touching account of the war years full of personal hopes and fears.

Finally I started to read John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids yesterday. So far I’m finding this an immensely satisfying book, easy to read, and full of suspense about a world where genetic variations are seen as Offences and Abominations that have to be rooted out and destroyed. Chillingly, when a baby is born it has to be inspected and if there is any deviation from what has been decided is normal, ie made in the image of God, even if there is the slightest blemish then it is taken away and never heard of again. My copy is an old second-hand Penguin book published in 1959 and I’m intrigued by the references on the cover to ‘what is unhappily known as – science fiction’, and again as writing that is ‘so unscientifically called Science Fiction‘. I must look up the history of sci-fi writing.

Dante Quiz

Reading So Many books blog, I found Dante’™s Inferno Test. This reminded me that I’d started to read Dante’s The Divine Comedy, but hadn’t got very far with it. Take the test and find out what circle of Dante’™s hell you can look forward to spending eternity in.

I took the test and found that I’™m going to the first level of Hell’“Limbo. The illustration below shows the different levels of hell, copied from the Oxford World Classics edition of The Divine Comedy. I’ve indicated the position of Limbo.

First Level of Hell – Limbo



Charon ushers you across the river Acheron, and you find yourself upon the brink of grief’s abysmal valley. You are in Limbo, a place of sorrow without torment. You encounter a seven-walled castle, and within those walls you find rolling fresh meadows illuminated by the light of reason, whereabout many shades dwell. These are the virtuous pagans, the great philosophers and authors, unbaptised children, and others unfit to enter the kingdom of heaven. You share company with Caesar, Homer, Virgil, Socrates, and Aristotle. There is no punishment here, and the atmosphere is peaceful, yet sad.

I had hoped for better, but it could have been much worse!

Mayday! – Booking Through Thursday

This week’s BTT question:

Quick! It’™s an emergency! You just got an urgent call about a family emergency and had to rush to the airport with barely time to grab your wallet and your passport. But now, you’™re stuck at the airport with nothing to read. What do you do??

And, no, you did NOT have time to grab your bookbag, or the book next to your bed. You were . . . grocery shopping when you got the call and have nothing with you but your wallet and your passport (which you fortuitously brought with you in case they asked for ID in the ethnic food aisle). This is hypothetical, remember’¦.

I rarely go anywhere without a book, so it’s most likely that I’d have a book in the car. But if I didn’t I’d buy one at the airport, or at least a magazine or newspaper, maybe a book of codewords or something.

I’d want to read something but I probably wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything as I’d be so nervous about catching the plane on time, worrying about the emergency and goodness knows what else …

Exploring Britain – In Books. A Thursday Thirteen

For a while now I’™ve been reading ‘œThursday Thirteen‘ posts on a number of blogs and wondering about writing one myself. Until last week there was no theme to Thursday Thirteen, it could be whatever you wanted it to be. They have now introduced a theme, but I’ve been writing this list on books on Britain, so I’m not following the theme and here is my first ‘œThursday Thirteen“.

These are books that explore different aspects of Britain ‘“ things that interest me, landscape, places, history, architecture, writers, cookery, walking and so on. They’™re books I own and enjoy looking at; some I’™ve read and others I’™ve only dipped into. They have all provided me with hours of delight. There are a number of books reflecting my fascination with history in its physical form ‘“ standing stones, castle, churches, stately homes ‘“ others my interest in Britain’™s geography and topography. The book that triggered this list is A Reader’™s Guide to Writers’™ Britain by Sally Varlow, which I bought this week in the library book sale.

From bottom to top they are:

1. English Landscapes ‘“ photography by Rob Talbot, text by Robin Whiteman (1995). The English countryside in full colour, explored region by region from Penzance to Penrith, landmarks, local architecture, social and historical surveys, literary and artistic connections, geography and local customs. An amazing collection exploring the byways of England. A book to sit and pore over planning where to go.

2. Yesterday’™s Britain published by the Reader’™s Digest. Full of photographs this book covers the period 1900 ‘“ 1979 and is ‘œthe story of how we lived, worked an played’ throughout the 20th century. It contains personal anecdotes, eyewitness accounts and intimate stories: a ‘œfamily scrapbook of the nation’.

3. British Isles: a Natural History by Alan Titchmarsh, accompanying the BBC1 series. Beginning in the mists of time, 3 billion years ago this book traces the evolution of Britain exploring everything from geology and geography to flora and fauna. It includes a section on Places to Visit, from Stone Age villages at Skara Brae, Orkney to the Centre for Alternative Technology, Powys, Wales. A beautifully illustrated and informative book.

4. Land of the Poets: Lake District, Photographs by David Lyons (1996). The English Lake District, that much visited area of Britain, is one of my favourite places. I’™d love to live there, even though it rains and is often full of tourists. This book illustrates the drama and beauty of the countryside, the grandeur of the crags and hills, complimented with poetry inspired by the mountain streams and lakes. The anthology is mainly drawn from William Wordsworth and his near contemporaries, with photographs relating directly to the poems ‘“ The Langdale Pikes, Home at Grasmere, (Wordsworth), Helvellyn (Walter Scott) to name but a few.

5. Mountain: exploring Britain’™s High Places by Griff Rhys Jones to accompany the BBC series. I was so impressed with Griff’™s fitness as well as his great sense of humour as he climbed Snowdon and the other High Peaks in England, Scotland and Wales. These are such spectacular places, also rough and arduous climbs. Amazingly he had never done any climbing before! One third of Britain is covered in mountains ‘“ I didn’™t know that before. There’™s a bit of history in this book too.

6. Great British Menu, the book that accompanied the first series on BBC2, when 14 chefs competed to decide who should cook for the Queen at the celebration lunch marking Her Majesty’™s 80th birthday. It contains recipes from the chefs representing the South East, the North, Wales, the South West, Northern Ireland, the Midlands and East Anglia, and Scotland ‘“ including Lancashire Hot Pot made with wild boar, Finnebroague Venison with Colcannon Pie and Wild Mushrooms (Northern Ireland) and Pan-Fried Cornish Lobster (South West). Delicious, mouth-watering recipes.

7. How We Built Britain by David Dimbleby, describing a journey through Britain and a thousand years of history seen through Britain’™s buildings and the people who built them. This is more than the book of the TV series, immensely detailed, reflecting Dimbleby’™s enthusiasm and delight in a hugh span of British history from 1066 to the modern day.

8. Sacred Britain: a guide to the sacred sites and pilgrim routes of England, Scotland and Wales by Martin Palmer and Nigel Palmer. This gives information about ancient stone circles and tombs, Christian and pre-Christian shrines, medieval synagogues, churches, cathedrals, holy wells and rivers, ancient yew trees and symbolic plants. It also describes 13 traditional pilgrimage routes eg the Canterbury Pilgrimage from Winchester to Canterbury (129 miles). Illustrated with colour photographs and coloured sketch plans of the routes.

9. A Reader’™s Guide to Writers’™ Britain by Sally Varlow (2000). This is a beautiful book containing maps and photographs, and giving a guide to places to visit linked with writers and books, from all parts of the British Isles. There’™s an index of authors and places with anecdotes and fascinating facts. Hours of endless pleasure reading about where to visit.

10. In Search of Stones:a pilgrimage of faith, reason and discovery by M Scott Peck. Scott Peck’™s account of the trip he and his wife took through the countryside of Wales, England and Scotland looking for ancient megalithic stones. It covers travel, history, archaeology, as well as Scott Peck’™s meditations on spirituality and mysticism. Illustrated with drawings by Christopher Peck. I’™ve read this book twice so far and have visited some of the sites he describes.

11. Mysterious Wales by Chris Barber looks at beautiful and magical places in Wales. It’™s a guide to prehistoric megaliths, holy wells, magic trees, secret caves, lonely lakes, bottomless pools and sites associated with legends concerning King Arthur, Merlin and the Devil. Illustrated with photographs and drawings. Absolutely fascinating.

12. The Hidden Places of England edited by Joanna Billing is a travel guide to some of the less well known places of interest to visit (together with other less “hidden’ places eg Stratford-upon-Avon, Bath and Oxford), with short descriptions accompanied by line drawings and coloured maps. It also has information about places to stay and eat, many in out-of-the way places. My edition was published in 1997 but it is still a useful book to find out about the history of villages and towns, churches, pubs, restaurants, cafes, tearooms, and numerous other attractions.

13. A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells: The Central Fells by A Wainwright. This is one in a series of the Wainwright walking guides to the Lakeland Fells, reproduced from the original handwritten pages and intricate pen and ink sketches of the routes and the landscape. Alfred Wainwright was born in 1907, fell in love with the Lake District and moved to Kendal in 1941. The guides describe the fell walks as they were in the 1950s and 1960s; the footpaths, cairns and other waymarks may not all be the same now and you do need to take an up-to-date map with you but, as the BBC series ‘œWainwright Walks’ have shown, the routes are very much as Wainwright knew them.