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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 and communication, whose extracts are superior to fish or vegetable oils. 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. 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 wanders through an anarchic London full of blind inhabitants, and later becomes enamored of wealthy novelist Josella Playton, forcibly used as a guide by a blind man. Intrigued by a single light on top of Senate House in an otherwise darkened city, Bill and Josella discover a group of sighted survivors led by a man named Beadley, who plans to establish a colony in the countryside, and 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.
When Masen's followers are dying of an unknown disease he attempts 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, but finds neither Beadley nor Josella. After some days, Masen finds Josella at her friends' country home in Sussex, while Coker returns to Tynsham and later rejoins Beadley.
En route, Masen is joined by a young sighted girl named Susan. Along with other refugees, some of them blind, they attempt to establish a self-sufficient colony in Sussex, menaced chiefly by triffids. Years pass until a helicopter pilot representative of Beadley's faction reports that his group has established a colony on the Isle of Wight. Masen and his followers are reluctant to leave their own colony but are provoked to do so by soldiers of a despotic new government. After feigning agreement with the latter's plans, the Masens disable the soldiers' vehicle and flee to the Isle of Wight, determined to one day destroy the triffids and reclaim Earth.
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.