Does anyone remember that fabulous yet disturbing kid’s show Chocky from the 1980s? It featured opening credits with a rotating pyramid and a kid who talked to a hovering blob. You don’t? Never mind…I have discovered the original Chocky, a novel by John Wyndham, author of Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (later made into the Village of the Damned movie). Now, let me give you a run down on this timeless sci-fi novel.
David Gore is concerned when he overhears his adopted son Matthew talking to an imaginary friend. At eleven years old, isn’t Matthew too old for such things? As Matthew’s behaviour becomes more erratic, affecting his schooling and family relationships, David and his wife Mary being to wonder if this passing phase is something sinister. Who is Matthew really talking to? They enlist the help of an acquaintance, psychologist Mr Landis, to talk to Matthew. This yields frightening results.
Could Chocky be real? And if so who is he/she, and why the communication with Matthew? Would Chocky harm Matthew, or is Chocky merely a figment of a disturbed pre-adolescent mind?
Comments and Analysis
What makes Chocky so readable is the mystery, combined with a likeable, if a little stuffy, first person narrator in David. His voice fits smoothly alongside a cast of similar characters. David is a loving father, though absent from the family home for the majority of the week, and fits the model of a 1960s male breadwinner: “It did not greatly surprise me that I had not encountered Matthew in the mood before. I saw little of the children during the week.’(p9) David is also, I suspect, a teeny bit sexist, (‘I don’t understand women. Nobody does. Least of all themselves.’ p15) and finds family life stifling: ‘When we had got rid of them [the children] I gave Mary the news of the day’ (p111). Never the less, his relationship with Matthew is tender and endearing. Here is a man who is old-fashioned in his outlook, trying to understand something new and complex.
Chocky is populated with characters sporting strong mid-20th century names: Janet, Colin, Mary, Kenneth, and a dialogue that feels queerly formal yet adorable to this generation X/Y reader, with phrases such as ‘old boy’, ‘oh golly gosh’, ‘a jolly cold’. David also has that nasty 20th century habit of smoking inside (cough, cough).
Wyndham’s writing style is straightforward, and while nothing incredibly original, it is economical and pacey. The true genius of Chocky lies in the subtle plot development and subject matter. Within a limited number of pages (153 in my edition), Wyndham makes his reader consider some very fundamental ideas around perception of self, reality and identity. He also successfully re-imagines possession and alien visitation in a unique way. This is while telling the story of a boy who must exist within the shadow of the unknown, who quietly insists that Chocky is not a figment of his imagination.
Published the year before the moon landing, Chocky captures the feeling of a society that is in awe of its progress, yet fearful of where this may lead. The novel also touches on many social issues of the time, including environmentalism, mental health treatment (hypnosis) and attitudes, women’s role in society and the power of the media. I think Wyndham (born in 1903) could not have conceived how connected we are now to the world media and the news cycle, despite his imaginative genius.
I would recommend Chocky as a quick read that would also be enjoyable for older children/young adults. A tender exploration of childhood and family life, whilst also an engaging work of science fiction.
ISBN: 978-0-141-04218-3. My edition published by Penguin Books 2009 (a re-issue from 1970).