- The Day of the Triffids
The Day of the Triffids
First edition hardback cover
Author(s) John Wyndham Country United Kingdom Language English Genre(s) Science fiction novel Publisher Michael Joseph Publication date December 1951 Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback) Pages 304 pp (first edition, hardback) ISBN ISBN 0-7181-0093-X (first edition, hardback) OCLC Number 152201380 Preceded by Planet Plane Followed by The Kraken Wakes
The Day of the Triffids is a post-apocalyptic novel published in 1951 by the English science fiction author John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, under the pen-name John Wyndham. Although Wyndham had already published other novels using other pen-name combinations drawn from his lengthy real name, this was the first published under the John Wyndham pen-name. It established him as an important writer, and remains his best known novel.
The protagonist is Bill Masen, who has made his living working with "triffids"—tall plants capable of aggressive and seemingly intelligent behaviour. They are able to move about on their three "legs", appear to communicate with each other, and possess a deadly whip-like poisonous sting that enables them to kill and feed on the rotting carcasses of their victims. Due to his background working with Triffids, Masen has developed a theory that they were bioengineered in the USSR and then accidentally released into the wild when a plane smuggling their seeds was shot down. Triffids begin sprouting all over the world, and their extracts prove to be superior to existing vegetable oils. The result is worldwide cultivation of triffids.
The narrative begins with Bill Masen in hospital, his eyes bandaged after having been splashed with droplets of triffid venom in a lab accident. During his convalescence he is told of the unexpected and beautiful green meteor shower that the entire world is watching. He awakes the next morning to a silent hospital and learns that the light from the unusual display has rendered any who watched it completely blind. (Later on in the book Masen again theorises that both the 'meteor shower' and subsequent plague may have been an orbiting government weapons' system that was triggered accidentally.)
After unbandaging his eyes, he wanders through an anarchic London full of almost entirely sightless inhabitants, and witnesses civilization collapsing around him. Masen meets a sighted woman, wealthy novelist Josella Playton, who was being forcibly used as a guide by a violent blind man. She and Masen begin to fall in love and decide to leave London. Lured by a single light that they see shining in an otherwise darkened city, Bill and Josella discover a group of sighted survivors at a London university building. The group is led by a man named Beadley, who plans to establish a colony in the countryside. Beadley wishes to take only sighted men who will take several wives, sighted or otherwise, to rapidly rebuild the human population. Bill and Josella decide to join the group.
The polygamous principles of this scheme appall one of the other leaders of the group, the religious Miss Durrant. Before this schism can be dealt with a man called Wilfred Coker takes it upon himself to save as many of the blind as possible. He stages a mock fire at the university and during the ensuing chaos kidnaps a number of sighted individuals including Bill and Josella. Each is chained to a squad of blind people and forced to lead them around London, collecting rapidly diminishing food and other supplies. Bill and his squad find themselves beset by escaped triffids as well as by an aggressive rival gang of scavengers led by a ruthless, red-haired man.
Masen nevertheless sticks with his squad until its members all begin dying of some unknown disease. He leaves and attempts to find Josella, but his only lead is an address left behind by the now-departed members of Beadley's group. Thrown together with a repentant Coker, he drives to the place, a country estate named Tynsham in Wiltshire, but neither Beadley nor Josella is there; Durrant has taken charge and organised the community along "Christian" lines. Masen and Coker fruitlessly search for Beadley and Josella for several days, before Bill remembers a chance comment Josella made about a country home in Sussex. He sets off in search of it, while Coker returns to Tynsham.
Bill is joined by a young sighted girl named Susan; they succeed in locating Josella, who is indeed at the Sussex house. Bill and Josella consider themselves to be married, and see Susan as their daughter. They attempt to make the Sussex farm into a self-sufficient colony, with reasonable success. The triffids grow ever more numerous, crowding in and surrounding their small island of civilization. Years pass, during which it becomes steadily harder to keep out the encroaching plants - at least two triffid break-ins are recorded during the novel.
One day a helicopter pilot representative of Beadley's faction lands at the farm and reports that the group has established a successful colony on the Isle of Wight, and that Coker survived to join them. Despite their ongoing struggles, the Masens are reluctant to leave their home, but their hand is forced by the arrival the next day of a squad of soldiers who represent a despotic new government which is setting up feudal enclaves across the country. Masen recognizes the leader, Torrence, as the redheaded man from London. Torrence announces his intention to place many more blind survivors under the Masens' care and to move Susan to another enclave. After feigning general agreement, the Masens disable the soldiers' vehicle and flee during the night. They join the Isle of Wight colony, and settle down to the long struggle ahead, determined to find a way to destroy the triffids and reclaim Earth for humanity.
In the United States, the 1951 copyright was attained by Doubleday & Company, Inc. A 1951 condensed version of the book also appeared in Colliers Magazine. An unabridged paperback edition was published in the late 1960s in arrangement with Doubleday by Fawcett Publications World Library, under its Crest Book imprint.
In regards 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; eventually thoroughly debunked, Lysenkoism at the time of the novel's creation was still being defended by some prominent international Stalinists.
The novel contains many themes which are common in Wyndham's work: a depiction of the Soviet Union as an opaque, inscrutable menace, a central problem made worse by human greed and bickering, and a firm determination on the part of the author to not explicitly detail the origin of the threat faced by the protagonists. Other themes include the dissection of human nature from a range of standpoints, and male and female gender roles.
Wyndham's narrative also focuses on the pragmatic issues of self-sufficiency facing survivors of such a catastrophe. Simply living off of scavenged canned food from London shops is not a viable survival strategy on a scale of years. The enclaves that survivors set up in the countryside to attempt to rebuild civilization cannot simply use scavenged ploughs forever, but eventually need to develop the capacity to build their own.
In his book Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, Brian Aldiss coined the term 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 specifically singled out The Day of the Triffids as an example of this genre.
Boucher and 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 that Triffids "is extraordinarily well carried out, with the exception of a somewhat anticlimactic if perhaps inevitable conclusion."
However, Groff Conklin, reviewing the novel's initial book publication, characterized it as "a good run-of-the-mill affair" and "pleasant reading . . . provided you aren't out hunting science fiction masterpieces."
Allusions in other works
Triffids are referenced in the opening number of the stage/film musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show: "I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a triffid that spits poison and kills." Janette Scott played the role of Karen Goodwin in the 1962 film adaptation.
The novel was adapted to radio (readings) by the BBC as early as 1953. A six-part BBC radio series followed in 1957 produced by Giles Cooper. It was adopted in Germany by Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) Köln (Cologne), translated by Hein Bruehl and most recently re-broadcast as a four episode series on WDR5 in January 2008. Further BBC radio productions followed in 1971, 1973 and 1980. In 2001 writer Lance Dann adapted the series in two hour long episodes for the BBC World Service.
In 1975, Marvel Comics adapted the story in the magazine Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction.
In December 2009, the BBC broadcast a new version of the story, written by "ER" and "Law & Order" writer Patrick Harbinson. It stars Dougray Scott as Bill Masen, Joely Richardson as Jo Playton, Brian Cox as Dennis Masen, Vanessa Redgrave as Durrant, Eddie Izzard as Torrence and Jason Priestley as Coker. An estimated 6.1 million people viewed the first episode. The main element of sex and repopulating the Earth was overlooked in the 2009 BBC broadcast. Another difference to the plot was that the Earth was blinded by a solar flare.
- ^ John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids, paperback edition title page, Fawcett Crest Book #449-01322-075, 6th printing, April 1970
- ^ As described in Edmund Morris' 2003 introduction
- ^ N. G. Christakos, "Three By Thirteen: The Karl Edward Wagner Lists" in Black Prometheus: A Critical Study of Karl Edward Wagner, ed. Benjamin Szumskyj, Gothic Press 2007.
- ^ "Recommended Reading," F&SF, August 1951, p.83
- ^ "Book Reviews", Astounding Science Fiction, August 1951, p.142
- ^ "Galaxy's Five Star Shelf," Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1951, p.99.
- ^ Mark Kermode (2007-05-06). "A capital place for panic attacks". London: Guardian News and Media Limited. http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,,2073292,00.html. Retrieved 12 May 2007.
- ^ staff (November 27, 2008). "Coming to the BBC in 2009...The Day of the Triffids". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2008/11_november/27/triffids.shtml. Retrieved 2009-12-21.
- ^ "The Day Of The Triffids attracts all-star cast to BBC One". BBC Press Office. 11 February 2009. http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2009/02_february/11/triffids.shtml. Retrieved 11 February 2009.
- ^ Walker, Tim (2010-01-03). The Independent (London). http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/the-day-of-the-triffids-bbc-1brtsunami-caught-on-camera-channel-4-1855856.html. Retrieved 2010-05-25.
- ^ http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/tv/news/a193479/triffids-remake-brings-in-61-million.html
- ^ McNary, Dave (2010-09-23). "3D triumph for 'Triffids'?". Variety. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118024517?refCatId=13. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
Works by John Wyndham Novels Short stories Short story collections Film adaptations Radio adaptationsChocky · The Day of the Triffids · The Chrysalids · The Kraken Wakes · The Midwich Cuckoos · Survival TV adaptations Book adaptations
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