Chocky by John Wyndham

John Wyndham was quite a proflic author, and Chocky is considered to be one of his major works, although it is less well-known than the likes of The Day of the Triffids. I suspect that most people presently seeking out the novel are doing so because of their memories of the ITV children’s television adaptation from the 1980s. My own nostalgia of that six-part drama has been prodding me for many years to read the original novel. Finally I have.

The story is told entirely from the perspective of the father of eleven-year-old Matthew Gore. We begin with Dad overhearing Matthew speaking to what appears to be an imaginary friend. It’s a little worrying that a boy so old should be indulging in such a fantasy, but what’s even more worrying is the bizarre subject matter of the conversation. Matthew is attempting to form answers to questions like “Why are there seven days in a week?” and “Why 31 days in a month?” Later, Matthew learns to count in binary, using the symbols Y and N for positive and negative. If he had read it in a book he would certainly be using 1 and 0. This imaginary friend also seems to have no concept of the time of day, insisting on quizzing Matthew at various hours of the day and night. When confronted by his parents, Matthew tells them about Chocky. Matthew’s father is uncertain about dismissing Matthew’s fantasy, so he calls in the help of a psychiatrist, Dr. Landis. As a reader, I have a pet hate for the kind of stories where a child has something fantastic happen to him, and all the adults refuse to believe him, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence. To my delight, Chocky does not go down this road. The adults realise that Chocky is objectively real. But who is this entity and what is his/her/its purpose? Is it friend or foe? The real threat, however, comes not from an alien presence, but from ordinary men willing to exploit a young boy in the pursuit of knowledge.

The book is very male-centred, which makes it a product of its time (the 1960s), but story also contains an environmental message so relevant to today’s ever-growing awareness that it makes you think the book was written in the present. It’s to John Wyndham’s credit that way back then he was so clued into how much we’re polluting the planet. Chocky is actually the very last book that Wyndham ever published, just one year before his death in 1969 (although the Wyndham Estate later published Web posthumously). I can think of no finer way to finish a life of writing than with the theme of Chocky.

The television series is also notable. I chased it up after reading the novel. It’s a very faithful adaptation, and according to an interview with series creator Anthony Read, the Wyndham Estate said that out of all the adaptations of Wyndham’s work, Chocky was the only one they were delighted with. The series spawned two sequels, Chocky’s Children and Chocky’s Challenge. I enjoyed the former; it was the perfect sequel in many ways. But by the third series, the story is clearly losing its way, stretched to the point where it contradicts the original ending.

But this is a review of the novel, and it’s excellent. Wyndham on top form.

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4 thoughts on “Chocky by John Wyndham

  1. Mark Stevens says:

    The Chocky TV series was actually shown on ITV, although the BBC have produced a couple of faithful radio adaptations, first in 1967 and then again in 1998. Somewhat annoyingly, the 1998 version is only available on CD in an abridged form, although the full version is repeated on BBC 7 every now and then.

  2. Darryl Sloan says:

    Thanks for the correction, Mark.

  3. Alistair Kewish says:

    May I suggest that as 2009 marks the fortieth year since the death of John Wyndham, a screenplay could be written based closely on his novel The Chrysalids, as it could be achieved through a low budget. Requiring few major props and even less special effects, the impact of the core of the novel would translate into a very special film, and remains in one sense timeless even though it is set in a post-nuclear world where life is basic but totally bigoted. Worth devoting some thoughts on?

  4. Darryl Sloan says:

    The Chrysalids is wonderful – one of my favourite books. It has been in my mind for some time to re-read it. I didn’t pick up on the significance of the religious theme when I read it in my teens, but I sure do now. Boy, do I!

    It would be fantastic to see a movie version. I wonder who owns the film rights? In an interview with Anthony Read, the creator of the Chocky series, he says he picked that one because it was the only Wyndham book left where the film rights hadn’t been already snapped up!

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