Chocky by John Wyndham
It’s been too long since I read or re-read any John Wyndham novels. I’m sure I have read Chocky before, but to be honest it must have been decades ago and I couldn’t remember anything that wasn’t in the blurb, so I started afresh with this short novel in its latest edition with a foreword by the late great Brian Aldiss.
Mary and her husband, who as our narrator is never named, are unable to have children so adopt Matthew, and are later blessed a few years later with a natural daughter, Molly. It is with consternation that our narrator goes to talk to his wife having noticed the eleven-year-old Matthew having conversations – quite technical ones – with thin air:
‘You’re not worried about him?’ I asked.
‘Oh, good gracious, no. He’s perfectly well. What I am more 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.
When around five years old, Molly had had an imaginary friend, Piff, (surely the model for Soren Lorenson in Lauren Child’s Charlie & Lola books!). A classic imaginary friend who had to be made room for everywhere and not sat upon. However Matthew’s imaginary friend shows no signs of needing to be accommodated in this way. His schoolwork begins to suffer though, and his teachers are confused by some advanced ideas which he can’t express properly himself appearing in his work. His parents talk to him, and discover his imaginary friend is an alien called Chocky and they’re learning about each other’s lives and worlds.
Chocky shows no signs of disappearing though, and Matthew’s parents are starting to get a little worried, so his dad uses a contact to engineer a friendly visit from a psychiatrist contact. Landis is convinced and fascinated by Matthew’s friend, and this is where things really start to escalate.
*** Warning – Things will get spoilery from this point ***
Literature is rich with imaginary friends, from the aforementioned Soren Lorenson, to cartoon Calvin’s tiger Hobbes who are true companions. Then there are those invented as an excuse like Wilde’s Bunbury and, of course I had to get her in Simon, Frank Baker’s wonderful Miss Hargreaves. I think it’s fair to say that as modern readers, au fait with similar stories, are not taken in by the imaginary friend argument – it’s obvious that Chocky is real and living inside Matthew’s head.
We then ask the question, is Matthew possessed? This word is imbued with such negative emotion, that when Landis suggests Matthew is indeed ‘possessed’, his mother immediately becomes irrational, but not to the point of booking an exorcism – she looks to science to rid her son of his demon. We also know that Matthew is adopted, and can’t help but wonder if he is a modern changeling – but Wyndham chooses not to sensationalise the story in this way. This is because Chocky is not malign, quite the contrary as we’ll find out nearer the end of the story.
Funnily enough, I’ve recently read Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke. A novel of first contact, in which an alien race takes over the Earth as benign dictators, their job being to shepherd mankind until we begin to evolve further and can join the galactic milieu. Childhood’s End was originally published in 1954, fourteen years before Chocky – so I guess it’s possible that Wyndham was aware of it, and then put his own spin on the first contact theme – for Chocky is not a shepherd, s/he has another purpose – still benign, but I won’t spoil things completely.
*** End of spoilers ***
I could carry on to discuss other aspects of the story, like the relationship between Matthew’s parents – which of course we only see through his father’s eyes. But my primary interest was the SF elements, so I shall leave it there. If you do decide to read this edition, leave Aldiss’s (witty) foreword to the end, for he does rather give things away. Chocky is a charming story, with a rather good bite in its tail. Loved it. (9/10)
Source: Own copy
John Wyndham, Chocky (Penguin Modern Classics) paperback, 164 pages.