The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

[Originally posted on 4.12.2008 on my old readthisyet.blogspot.com site]

triffids

Its a great time for british Sci-Fi at the moment, Steven Moffat ( the fantastic writer behind Coupling) is taking over the reigns of Doctor Who, I’ve been enjoying the excellent remake of 70’s post apocalyptic drama Survivors and the Alex Garland, Danny Boyle team have brought us the dark and chilling films 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Even across the pond a remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still is about to be released.

Best of all though the BBC have announced a new TV series based on one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors.

The Day of the Triffids is an absolute classic. Its paranoid cold war tinged story has truly become a part of British culture, yet i feel its a little misunderstood. Perhaps its the fault of the ridiculous monster movie 1962 film version, which focuses far more on the horror aspects of the triffids than the book. It also provides a complete cop out ending where it is discovered salt water kills them, this is completely at odds with the complex and ambiguous ending to the book.

The Book starts with Bill Masen, a botanist in charge of a gentically engineered species of plant used to produce oil, waking up in a hospital with his eyes in bandages after recieving a mild sting from his specimens. Much to his annoyance whilst temporarily blinded the vast majority of the rest of the world was witness to incredible meteor showers and light shows in the sky. Bill soon discovers that anyone who saw the light show has been blinded and that as he was unable to watch it is one of the small number of people who can still see.

The book really concerns itself with the in depth problems that would be thrown up if the entire population of britain were to be blinded at once. Civilization falls, most people kill themselves, others starve to death, groups of survivors are formed, radical politicals, criminals out to capitalise, the sighted become a commodity and morality becomes outdated.

Contrary to the title of the book, and many peoples ideas, the Triffids themselves are far less of a danger in the beginning, they start as mere occasional pests whom humans used to control but are not let loose. It is only towards the middle of the book when there numbers begin to rise significantly that the survivors begin to realise the real threat they pose.

What i love about the book is its fantastic realism and the way it constantly suggests new theories to the reader always making them try to think about what has really happened, what its consequences will be and why they happened.

Although some parts may seem far fetched at first they are always backed up with solid truths and ask deep questions about real life, the Triffids seem to suggest the danger of genetic modification, the virus that effects many of the survivors may be the result of biological warfare and the blinding lights are heavily suggested to be a type of cold war weaponry gone horribly wrong. All of which were ideas that were fantastically ahead of their time for 1951.

Its still extremely influential as well, the first few scenes of 28 days later are incredibly similar to the first chapters of the ‘Triffids, and Survivors definately has a slight hint of it about it to.

Its still just the best book ever to approach the post-apocalytic genre.

If you want to check out some other Wyndham stories i recommend The Chrysalids, his tale of religious persecution and genetic mutation in a post nuclear holocaust world. Also if like me you cant wait for the BBC adaptation, its worth trying to find the BBC version of one of Wyndhams short stories, Random Quest, starring Sam West, its a curiously romantic tale of love in a parallel universe.


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