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First edition hardback cover
|Genre||Science fiction, Post-apocalyptic science fiction|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||304 (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||0-7181-0093-X (first edition, hardback)|
|Preceded by||Planet Plane|
|Followed by||The Kraken Wakes|
The Day of the Triffids is a 1951 post-apocalyptic novel by the English science fiction author John Wyndham. After most people in the world are blinded by an apparent meteor shower, an aggressive species of plant starts killing people. Although Wyndham had already published other novels using other pen name combinations drawn from his real name, this was the first novel published as "John Wyndham". It established him as an important writer and remains his best-known novel.
The story has been made into the 1962 feature film of the same name, three radio drama series (in 1957, 1968, and 2008), and two TV series (in 1981 and 2009). It was nominated for the International Fantasy Award in 1952, and in 2003 the novel was listed on the BBC's survey The Big Read.
The protagonist is Bill Masen, a biologist who has made his living working with triffids – tall, venomous carnivorous plants capable of locomotion. Due to his background, Masen suspects they were bioengineered in the USSR and accidentally released into the wild. The result is worldwide cultivation of triffids.
The narrative begins with Bill Masen in hospital, his eyes bandaged after having been splashed with triffid poison from a stinger. During his convalescence he is told of an unexpected green meteor shower. The next morning, he learns that the light from the unusual display has rendered any who watched it completely blind (later in the book, Masen speculates that the "meteor shower" may have been orbiting satellite weapons, triggered accidentally). After unbandaging his eyes he finds the hospital in chaos, with staff and patients unsighted. He wanders through an anarchic London full of blind inhabitants, and slowly becomes enamoured of wealthy novelist Josella Playton, who he rescues when he discovers her being forcibly used as a guide by a blind man. Intrigued by a single light on top of Senate House in an otherwise darkened London, Bill and Josella discover a group of sighted survivors led by a man named Beadley, who plans to establish a colony in the countryside. They decide to join the group.
The polygamy implicit in Beadley's scheme appalls some group members, especially the religious Miss Durrant - but before this schism can be dealt with, a man called Wilfred Coker stages a fire at the university and kidnaps a number of sighted individuals, including Bill and Josella. They are each chained to a blind person and assigned to lead a squadron of the blind, collecting food and other supplies, while beset by escaped triffids and rival scavengers.
Soon Masen's followers begin to fall sick and die of an unknown disease. When he wakes one morning to find the survivors have left him, he returns to the University Tower in an attempt to find Josella, but his only lead is an address left behind by Beadley's group. Joined by a repentant Coker, Masen drives to the address, a country estate called Tynsham in Wiltshire. He finds part of the Beadley group, now led by Miss Durrant, whose eventually tells him that Beadley went to Beaminster a few days before he arrived. There has been no sign of Josella.
Masen and Coker decide to follow Beadley to Dorset. They find various small groups of blind and sighted people along the way, but without finding the slightest trace of Beadley. Eventually they decide to separate, Coker returning to help at Tynsham while Masen heads for the Sussex Downs after remembering a remark Josella made about friends she had there.
En route, Masen rescues a young sighted girl named Susan, who he finds trapped alone at home, while her young brother lies dead in the garden, killed by a triffid. He buries the boy and takes Susan with him. A few days later, during a night of heavy rain, they see a faint light in the distance. Upon reaching it, they finally discover Josella and her friends.
They attempt to establish a self-sufficient colony in Sussex with some success, but they are constantly under threat from the Triffids which mass around the fenced exterior. Several years pass until one day a representative of Beadley's faction lands a helicopter in their yard and reports that his group has established a colony on the Isle of Wight. Durrant's talk of Beaminster was a deliberate attempt to throw Masen off the scent. Whilst they are reluctant to leave their own settlement, the group decide to see the summer out in Sussex before relocating to the Isle of Wight.
However, their plans are accelerated by the arrival of the militaristic representatives of a new despotic and self-appointed government, who arrive in a heavily-armoured car. Masen recognises the leader as a ruthless young man he encountered on a scavenging expedition in London, who he watched cold-bloodedly execute one of his own party who had fallen ill.
After feigning agreement with the latter's plans, which include taking Susan as hostage while Masen is given a large number of blind people to use on the farm as slave labour, Masen's group throw a party, during which they encourage the visitors to get drunk.
Creeping out of the house whilst the visitors are fast asleep, they disable the armoured car by pouring honey into the fuel tank and drive through the gates, leaving them open for the triffids to pour in.
The novel ends with Masen's group having reached the Isle of Wight, determined to one day destroy the triffids and reclaim their world.
In the United States, Doubleday & Company holds the 1951 copyright. A 1961 condensed version of the book also appeared in Colliers Magazine. An unabridged paperback edition was published in the late 1960s, in arrangement with Doubleday, under the Crest Book imprint of Fawcett Publications World Library.
In regard to the triffids' creation, some editions of the novel make brief mention of the theories of the Soviet agronomist and would-be biologist Trofim Lysenko, who eventually was thoroughly debunked. "In the days when information was still exchanged Russia had reported some successes. Later, however, a cleavage of methods and views had caused biology there, under a man called Lysenko, to take a different course" (Chapter 2). Lysenkoism at the time of the novel's creation was still being defended by some prominent international Stalinists.
The book has been praised by other science fiction writers. Karl Edward Wagner cited The Day of the Triffids as one of the 13 best science-fiction horror novels. Arthur C. Clarke called it an "immortal story". Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas praised it, saying "rarely have the details of [the] collapse been treated with such detailed plausibility and human immediacy, and never has the collapse been attributed to such an unusual and terrifying source." Forrest J Ackerman wrote in Astounding Science Fiction that Triffids "is extraordinarily well carried out, with the exception of a somewhat anticlimactic if perhaps inevitable conclusion."
However, another science fiction writer, Brian Aldiss, coined the disparaging phrase "cosy catastrophe" to describe the subgenre of post-war apocalyptic fiction in which society is destroyed save for a handful of survivors, who are able to enjoy a relatively comfortable existence. He singled out The Day of the Triffids as an example, and described Triffids as "totally devoid of ideas". John Clute commented that the book was regularly chosen for school syllabuses as it was "safe". Robert M. Philmus called it derivative of better books by H. G. Wells. Groff Conklin, reviewing the novel's initial book publication, characterised it as "a good run-of-the-mill affair" and "pleasant reading... provided you aren't out hunting science fiction masterpieces."
The short story "How to Make a Triffid" by Kelly Lagor includes discussions of the possible genetic pathways that could be manipulated to engineer the triffids from Wyndham's story.
|Bill Masen||Patrick Barr||Gary Watson||Jamie Glover|
|Josella Playton||Monica Grey||Barbara Shelley||Tracy Ann Oberman|
|Coker||Malcolm Hayes||Peter Sallis||Lee Ingleby|
|Col. Jacques||Arthur Young||Anthony Vicars||Geoffrey Whitehead|
|Michael Beadley||John Sharplin||Michael McClain|
|Ms. Durrant||Molly Lumley||Hilda Krisemon||Richenda Carey|
|Dr. Vorless||Duncan McIntyre||Victor Lucas|
|Susan||Gabrielle Blunt||Jill Carey||Lucy Tricket|
|Denis Brent||Richard Martin||David Brierly|
|Mary Brent||Shelia Manahan||Freda Dowie|
|Joyce Tailor||Margot Macalister||Margaret Robinson|
|Torrence||Trevor Martin||Hayden Jones|
Another writer that I knew very well was John Benyon Harris, better known as John Wyndham, whose 1951 The Day of the Triffids seems an immortal story. It's often being revived in some form or another. John was a very nice guy, but unfortunately suffered from an almost fatal defect for a fiction writer: he had a private income. If he hadn't, I'm sure he'd have written much more.