Bingeing On John Christopher Books: A Combined Review of In The Beginning, Empty World, The Long Winter, and A Wrinkle in the Skin

When it comes to authors, there have been a few that have kept me reading book after book. I love mysteries and apocalyptic fiction. Long ago I read Nancy Drew, then Agatha Christie. Robin Cook’s medical mysteries and V.C. Andrews’ books were also favorites of mine as a teenager. As a teen and college student, I was a huge Stephen King fan. I read all of his early novels and The Stand was my favorite.

Then I went for years barely reading any fiction other than children’s Newbery honor books when I was homeschooling. Sonlight Curriculum provided a great list of good books. I also read other books aloud to my children for fun, including the Animorphs series and the Boxcar Children. When the kids were a little older I found Margaret Peterson Haddix’ Shadow Children series and gobbled those up. After that I started frequenting the YA book shelves at the library and read quite a few dystopian series. I also returned to The Giver by Lois Lowry and read the other books in the series. I guess I like series because I just want the story to keep going and going!

Being able to buy older books online has made it much easier to find books written by the same author when I happen upon one that I like. Our local library is very small and doesn’t keep a huge inventory. When books are no longer being checked out regularly, they get rid of them. I’m not a huge fan of reading on a device, but I have read a few series that way as well.

Over the past few years I discovered the WOOL compilation and the Arc of the Scythe series and bought all of the books used from ebay and Thriftbooks. In between a few other books, I have also read several older Michael Crichton books that I picked up at Goodwill, including Prey, State of Fear, and Next. His books are interesting as far as science and politics, but I don’t consider them that well-written as far as the plot development. I tried to read Rising Sun, but I had trouble getting into it.

Then in 2022 a friend recommended The Tripod Series which led me to become a John Christopher fan. Since reading that series, I sought out more of his books and decided to read The Death of Grass, which I purchased new. After the Death of Grass, I tried to read some books by Paul Kingsnorth, but I found them too much work. So I went back to John Christopher and I have read four of his books in the past month or so. Here are my reviews on those.

In the Beginning tells the story of two prehistoric tribes. One is a primitive hunter-gatherer tribe and the other has learned agriculture and using stone tools. The main characters are a boy from the hunter tribe and a girl from the other tribe. The hunters are violent and take over the small village of the farmers. The boy takes the girl and claims her. The story is how the primitive boy learns to become more like the girl, but only after treating her very badly. John Christopher’s style is to not hold back on realism. He describes what he thinks would actually happen when people are in survival situations, not some sugar-coated version. The story is disturbing to our modern beliefs, but I think he is correct in his depictions. Originally written in 1973, it’s definitely not something you would see in today’s children’s books. This book says it is for ages 10-14, but I would definitely recommend some parental discussion of the content.

Empty World. Written in 1977, the story is about a plague that causes people to age instantly and die of old age. He is very good at developing this type of storyline. In this one, almost everyone is dead. A few survivors meet up and have some difficulties. Also claimed to be for ages 10-14, but beware it contains lots of death and sad themes.

The Long Winter written in 1962. Wow. This one will blow your mind. An Ice Age freezes Europe and the people have to go to Africa to survive where they become the minority class amongst the people they have long oppressed. Great story! Also includes psychological themes relating to immorality, honesty, survival, patriarchal oppression, tribalism, loyalty, and sentimentality. This one is written for adults.

A Wrinkle in the Skin written in 1965. In this apocalyptic story, the world is violently altered by earthquakes. Most of the people die, but there are some left and this is about how different groups of people survive. It’s another brutal story like The Death of Grass. John Christopher definitely does not think people will retain their civilized morality in a survival situation. Maybe I was not paying close attention, or I simply had preconceived notions, but the main character was not who I thought he was. There is much disturbing violence and death. However, the main plot is actually about the personal transformation of the main character. This book is not for children either.

I recommend all of these books if you like psychodrama and apocalyptic stories.

3 comments

  1. I Like this blog. However, MICHAEL Crichton is rolling over in his grave for being called “John” in reference to one of his books. No one called him that except his mother. 😉

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