The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Tell me if this sounds familiar. A man wakes up from a coma in a hospital bed. He soon realizes that the hospital is deserted. He goes outside and finds that he is the only “survivor” of a disaster that has left the streets of London empty and quiet. He is pursued by thoughtless killers who want nothing but to do him in and eat him. He finds a handful of other survivors and tries to escape London and find somewhere safe. The band of survivors have to avoid a militaristic group bent on forcing everyone to join their new feudal like colony. Many of them die, but they make it to a remote farmhouse where they can remain until help arrives.

To his credit, Alex Garland the screenwriter for 28 Days Later has stated that The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham inspired his script. Reading one and viewing the other is like seeing how two artist interpret the same basic story 50 years apart. If you liked one, there is a very good chance that you’ll like the other.

The set-up for The Day of the Triffids is extensive. The reader is given the back story in a series of flashbacks so it does not hinder the narrative much, but there is a lot to know before one can fully understand what is going on. Triffids, a new type of plant that may have been the result of Soviet biological experimentation, are accidentally released on the world when a large dose of their seeds is blown up. The seeds spread with the winds to all of the continents. The triffids produce an oil that is edible and highly useful so no one is concerned at first. After ten years, the plants reach maturity and begin to walk around. The have a sort of three legged root system that lets them move about like a man on crutches and enables them to hunt. They also have a ten foot long poisoned stinger capable of killing a man in a single dose. However fearful this may sound, the triffids are plants and can simply be cut, trimmed of their poisoned stingers, and safely kept within garden walls. Until a mysterious green comet appears and blinds everyone who looks at it. This is where the story opens–the hero and narrator, Bill Masen, wakes in a hospital bed and removes the bandages from his eyes which prevented him from looking at the comet and made him one of the very few sighted people left in London and the world.

Bill Masen delivers all of this back story while he wonders around London looking for food and for other sighted people. Even with such complex flashbacks, the story never becomes boring. In fact, by the end of the book I was hoping the author would give the characters a break. Like many end of civilization novels, The Day of the Triffids becomes a way to examine possible societies. What would you want the world to be like if you could start over from scratch? Bill Masen joins a group that intends to start a new community to repopulate the world by abandoning the blind and marrying three women to each man. He is soon forced to join a different group that refuses to abandon the blind by chaining one sighted person as a guide to small groups of blind people. Next he encounters a group that insists on living like Christians in a sort of monastery, caring for the blind and farming the land. In the end, he finds temporary safety on an isolated farm with a small group of sighted and blind people. Meantime, the triffids are growing in number every day.

If some of the particulars of The Day of the Triffids strike contemporary readers as far fetched, they are all handled so well that the result is an entertaining and believable thriller. Mr. Wyndham writes science fiction but he is concerned with character. So much so that the reader can identify with the people fighting blindness and carnivorous plants and is quickly drawn into the story. I’m not sure that The Day of the Triffids is better than Mr. Wyndham’s novel The Chrysalids, but it certainly is more epic. While Chrysalids dealt with one community, one possible society of the future, Triffids deals with several possible societies along with the end of the civilization. Both make for interesting reading.

On a side note: I finally got around to renting the sequel to 28 Days Later which I liked though it was basically a retread of the first movie, but in the opening scene the survivors of the apocalypse are hiding in a house eating dinner at a table lit by candles, lots of candles. Who keeps candles around? Lots of candles? If the civilization fell apart today, would you have enough candles in your house to light the place? I have an old bag of tea-candles I bought at a garage sale for a dollar, so I could keep my house lit for about an hour. Then I would have to go to bed.

 

This review first ran on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B., back in 2009. I’ve been migrating all of my old reviews to this new site, so I won’t lose them. I like having this record of my reading.  I’m pleased to see that this review is pretty good, much better than the last one I moved over here.  I’ve kept the John Wyndham books, both The Day of the Triffids and The Crysalids.  I think they’ll be worth a re-read someday.

Advertisements

4 Comments

  1. Rob says:

    I love John Wyndham. I’m slowly making my way through all of his books, and this was probably my favourite so far (although it’s been almost 20 years since I read The Crysalids, so that might take the top spot on re-read).

    1. He’s got a pretty dedicated group of fans. While I have not sought out his books, I have read all the ones I’ve come across. I’d probably come across a lot more of them if I lived in the U.K.

  2. Jeane says:

    I’d heard of this book but never read it yet. It sounds more complex and entertaining than I’d assumed.

    1. There really is a lot to it. While it’s not ‘great art’ it is a complex book with something to say.

Comments are closed.