June 17, 2006
The Day Of The Triffids - John Wyndham
I saw the TV adaptation of The Day Of The Triffids when I was young and all I remember is that it was terrifying (there's a couple of clips here on the BBC cult site). I thought it was about time I read the book by John Wyndham, especially since I discovered a third edition hardback at my parent's house.
The packaging of the book is interesting in itself, it's a paperback sized hardback, printed in 1963 by what seems to be an educational imprint. It also has a stamp in it from a secondary school, which I've learnt was the school that my Aunt went to. Not sure if she nicked it or it was sold off! The book also contains black and white line drawings interspersed throughout the text, some of which are amusing. All very charming. It was also nice to be able to hold a hardback in one hand!
Anyway, onto the story. Everyone probably knows it, a meteor storm (or was it?) blinds humanity and the sighted are left to pick up the pieces. To increase the danger the deadly walking plants, Triffids, get loose and start hunting humans in packs. It sounds cheesey, maybe even cliched, but it was written in 1951, and everything since has stolen and twisted its plot. I'd heard that 28 Days Later (which also terrified me) had borrowed huge chunks of Wyndham's plot and only now do I realise how much (I'll forgive it because it's stylish and entertaining and scary).
I have to confess that I am a sucker for the apocalypse. Whether it be by zombies, plague, bombs or walking plants. Trying to work out a plan in that situation is something that I find fascinating and horrifying. What's clever about The Day Of The Triffids is that it is a combination of the blindness and the Triffids which racks up the tension. The examination of how society would react to a sudden dehabilitation by blindness brilliantly done, and seems as relevant today as it was in 1951. For many stories that may have been enough, but the presence of the Triffids prevents complacency and adds some extra danger to the plot.
I was surprised at how much the plot drove on. Every time I thought that there was a moment of rest, a pause, something else happened to disturb the balance. It kept me turning the pages. Being true SF the story also points out lessons that could be learnt, to prevent a fall and after the fall, from organisation of the survivors to messing with nature and producing the Triffids.
All in all, absolutely wonderful. Why did it take me so long to read it? I'm now inspired to plough on through my SF Masterworks pile!