Title: The Day of the Triffids
Author: John Wyndham
Page Count: 233
Originally Published: 1951
Favourite Quote: “Some quotations are greatly improved by lack of context.”
Opening Sentence: When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.
The Day of the Triffids was not what I expected.
When I saw the book at the shop I smiled and thought about that old, 1962, black-and-white movie with the shuffling plants that killed people and I handed over my money without pause. I’m a sucker for killer plants apparently (Little Shop of Horrors is one of my all time favourite movies). Little did I know the movie was a VERY loose adaptation of John Wyndham’s story and I was in for a pleasant surprise.
Once I started reading, the story became about so much more than just bizzare killer plants. It became a story about humanities survival. About the dark choices people make due to fear or greed, and the repercussions of those choices. And about the difficult reality that if something we rely on for survival is removed, society crumbles, but humanity survives at any cost.
“It was some little time later that the first Triffid picked up its roots, and walked.”
The story begins with our hero Bill Masen awakening blindfolded after eye surgery. He soon discovers that the mysterious meteor shower he missed due to the surgery blinded everyone who witnessed it. As one of the few individuals who can see, he is burdened with a difficult decision: does he help the masses of helpless blind find food and shelter even though ultimately the food will run out, and the people will die? Or, does he save himself and prolong the survival of only those with the capacity to help themselves?
Bill chooses the practical, long-term survival route and joins a group of like-minded people who plan to leave the highly populated city to begin life again. This decision weighs on Bill and his new companion Josella, who he saved from a blind man who had captured and beaten her so she would feed and protect him.
Unfortunately, before they can leave the city a man named Cocker tricks them into helping him feed large groups of blind and house them in hotels across the city. Bill and Josella are separeted, and with no other choice Bill embraces his new life as a prisoner, helping the blind survive. This does not last long, however, as a mysterious disease beings to spread through the city, killing everyone infected.
Bill flees the city in search of Josella, and ends up befriending Cocker who guiltily accepts that he was wrong, and that trying to save the blind was near pointless. During their travels across the country they encounter groups of survivours all attempting to recreate some kind of society which fits with their new circumstances.
“When almost half a lifetime has been spent in one conception of order, reorientation is no five-minute business.”
The main priority is increasing the population – and groups of three women (blind and not) are paired to one man. This concept disturbed me as blind women were rounded up as breeders and offered shelter and food in return for babies. Many women were grateful for this opportunity because it ensured their survival.
The second priority was gathering non-perishable food and beginning to grow crops for when the packaged food ran out.
Ultimately, the Triffids didn’t pose much of a threat to anyone except the blind. Until they began to unite. In numbers, Triffids became fierce, intelligent, strategic, deadly creatures which were to be avoided or killed.
The history of the Triffids is fascinating because their existence was never really explained. It was presumed that they were genetic hybrids created by the government for the purposes of creating a superior vegetable oil. As the vegetable oil became more popular Triffids were farmed all over the globe.
Then, when the meteor shower blinded the majority of humans on earth, suddenly the Triffids had the perfect circumstances to poison and feed on the flesh of defenceless, blind humans. Coincience? Or was it planned?
Then the mysterious disease rapidly spreads and kills. Was it all just bad luck? Or was it a series of events which should never have occured in sequence?
“It must be, I thought, one of the race’s most persistent and comforting hallucinations to trust that “it can’t happen here” — that one’s own time and place is beyond cataclysm.”
I won’t say any more as I don’t want to spoil too much. Does Bill find Josella? Do they live happily ever after? Or do the Triffids succeed? You shall have to read the book to find out (or watch the 1981 TV mini-series which is VERY true to the book).
I loved this book. It surprised me, and made me think about how I would react, and the decisions I would make, if such an unlikely situation occured. The characters were flawed, and generally very unlikable, but you wanted them to succeed anyway. Of course the writing was brilliant and almost poetic on occasion. It was refreshing to read an action adventure novel written over 60 years ago which still managed to be exciting and relevnt to todays society.
In short, if you have free time and want to read something short, and thought-provoking, pick up a copy of The Day of the Triffids.
“I suppose a book is still a book, even if no one but the author and his wife reads it.”