John Wyndham is by right considered a leading British science-fiction writer of our day. Born in 1903, he tried various careers including farming, law, commercial art, and advertising, and he first started writing short stories in 1925. From !930 to I939 he wrote stories of various kinds under different names, published mostly in the USA. He also wrote detective novels. During the war he was in thc Civil Service and afterwards in the Army. In 1946 he went back to writing stories and decided to try a modified form of what is known as science fiction. He wrote The Day of Truffids, translated into many languages, including Russian. It is a fantastic, frightening, but entirely plausable story of the future when thc world is dominated by triffids, grotesque and dangerous plants over seven feet tall. This was followed by The Kraken Waves, a book telling of the awakening and rise to power of forces of cruelly terrifying consequence from beneath the surface of the sea. Next came The Crysalids, a thrilling and realistic account of the world beset by genetic mutations, The seeds of Time, a collection of short stories acknowledged by their author as `experiments in adapting the SF motif to various styles of short story’, and The Midwich Cuckoos, believed to be Wyndham’s most disturbing story set in a quiet little English village. Then appeared The Trouble with Lichen.
Chocky is the last book written by J. Wyndham, who died in 1969. It was also translated into Russian a few years ago. Here the author is not concerned with the panoramic views of world destruction, like, for instance, in The Day of the Triffids. The stage is small, the cast are few, the setting is familiar – yet, into the most uneventual lives, the unexpected can disquietingly intrude.
Once you begin reading this book you start living with the Gores – a plain middle class English family of our days. But then the unexpected happens: a new and seemingly fantastic element appears within the Gores. Now you see adults’ rear and hostility towards things not fully understood and difficult to cope with. The situation goes out of thc Gores’ control and a group of people intrudes whose basic motive is their own profit,
This book is intended for the students of Teachers’ Training Colleges. The language is fairly simple yet idiomatic, and one will find here quite a few phrases and terms important for the future teachers of English.
Chocky has been slightly abridged and commented so as to fit the knowledge of the first-year student. In the book the reader will also find a list of names which pronunciation may present some difficulty.
It was in the spring of the year that Matthew reached twelve that I first became aware of Chocky. Late April, I think, or possibly May; anyway I am sure it was the spring because on that Saturday afternoon I was out in the garden shed unenthusiastically oiling the mower for labours to come (*) when I heard Matthew’s voice outside the window. It surprised me; I had no idea he was anywhere about until I heard him say, on a note of distinct irritation, and, apparently, of nothing:
`I don’t know why It’s just the way things are.’
I assumed that he had brought one of his friends into the garden to play, and that the question which prompted his remark had been asked out of earshot. I listened for the reply, but there was none. Presently, after a pause, Matthew went on, rather more patiently:
`Well, the time the world takes to turn round is a day, and that’s twenty-four hours, and…’
He broke off, as if at some interruption, though it was quite inaudible to me. Then he repeated:
`I don’t know why. And I don’t see why thirtytwo hours would be more sensible. Anyway, twenty-four hours do make a day, (*) everybody knows that, and seven days make a week…’ Again he appeared to be cut short. (*) Once more he protested. `I don’t see why seven is a sillier number than eight…’
Evidently there was another inaudible interruption, then he went on: `Well who wants to divide a week into halves and quarters, anyway? What would be the point of it? A week just is seven days. and four weeks ought to make a month, only usually it’s thirty days or thirty-one days…’ – `No, it’s never thirtytwo days…’ – `Yes, I can see that, but we don’t want a week of eight days. Besides, the world goes round the sun in three hundred and sixty-five days, and nobody can do anything that will make that turn into proper halves and quarters.’
At that point the peculiarity of this one-sided conversation aroused my curiosity so much that I put my head cautiously out of the open window. The garden was sunny, and that side of the shed was she1tered and warm. Matthew was seated on an upturned seed-tray, 1eaning back against the brick wall of the shed just under the window, so that I was looking down on the top of his fair-haired head. He seemed to be gazing straight across the lawn and into the bushes beyond. There was no sign of a companion, nor of any place one could be hidden.
Matthew, however, went on:
`There are twelve of these months in a year, so…’ He broke off again, his head a little ti1ted as though he were listening. I listened, too, but there was not a whisper of any other voice to be heard.
`It’s not just stupid,’ he objected. `It’s like that because no kind of same-sized months would fit into a year properly, even if…’
He broke off once more, but this time the source of the interruption was far from inaudible. Colin, the neighbour’s boy, had shouted from the next garden. Matthew jumped up with a friendly answering whoop, and ran off across the lawn towards the gap in the dividing hedge.
I turned back to my oiling, puzzled, but reassured by the sound of normal boyish voices next door.
I put the incident out of my mind for the time being, but it recurred to me that evening when the children had both gone upstairs to bed, and I found myself vaguely troubled by it. Not so much by the conversation – for, after all, there is nothing unusual in any child talking to lim, or her, self – as by the form of it: the consistency of its assumption that a second party was involved, (*) and the improbable subject for argument. I was prompted after a time to ask:
`Darling, have you noticed anything odd – no, I don’t exactly mean odd – anything unusual, about Matthew lately?’
Mary lowered her knitting, and looked at me over it.
`Oh, so you have, have you? Though I agree “odd” isn’t exactly the word. Was he listening to nothing or talking to himself?’
`Talking – well, both, really,’ I said. `How long has this been going on?’
`The first time I noticed it would be – oh� I suppose about two or three weeks ago. It didn’t seem worth bothering about. Just another of those crazes children get� you know. Like the time when he was being a car� and had to steer himself round corners� and change gear on hills� and put on the brake whenever he stopped. Fortunately� it wore off quite soon. Probably this will � too. �
There was more hope than conviction in her tone.
`You �re not worried about him?� I asked.
`Oh, good gracious, no. He�s perfectly well. What I am worried about is us.’
`Well, it begins to look to me rather as if we may have got another Piff, or something like her � in the family.’
I felt, and probably looked, dismayed. I shook my head.
`Oh, no! Don’t say it. Not another Piff!’ I protested.
Piff was a small, or supposedly small� invisible friend that Polly. Our daughter, had acquired when she was about five. And while she lasted she was a great nuisance.
When one tried to sit down upon a conveniently empty chair he would often be stopped by a cry of anguish from Polly; (*) one had, it seemed, been about to sit on Piff who would then be embraced and comforted by a lot of sympathetic mutterings about careless and brutal daddies.
Frequently, and more likely than not when the television play was really thrilling, there would come an urgent call from Polly’s bedroom above; the cause had to be investigated although one could be almost sure that it would concern Piff’s need of a drink of water. We would sit down at a table for four in a cafe, and Polly would ask the mystified waitress for an extra chair for Piff. I could be starting the car when a yell would inform me that Piff was not yet with us, and the car door had to be opened to let her aboard. Once I testily refused to wa it for her. It was not worth it; my heart1essness had clouded our whole day.