The Day of the Triffids is a post-apocalyptic novel written in 1951 by the English science fiction author John Wyndham. Although Wyndham had already written other novels, this was the first that he had written under this name and it appeared to be by a new author. It was this novel which established him as an important writer, and remains his best known.
200px-JohnWyndham TheDayOfTheTriffids

First edition hardback cover

Plot summary Edit

Triffids are fictional plants capable of animal-like behaviour: they feed on rotting meat, are able to uproot themselves and move about on their three "legs", possess a deadly whip-like poisonous sting, and appear to communicate with each other. The narrator and protagonist is Bill Masen, who has made his living working with Triffids. Being an expert on the subject, he speculates that they were deliberately bioengineered in the Soviet Union, and that Triffid seeds were spread worldwide when an attempt was made to smuggle them out of Russia; the escaping plane is presumed to have been shot down, literally scattering the seeds to the winds. Whatever their origin, Triffids began sprouting all over the world, and their extracts have proved to be radically superior to existing vegetable and animal oils. The result has been a worldwide slew of Triffid farms, where the penned plants' stings were left intact as docking impaired the quality of their oil. The narrative begins with Masen in hospital, his eyes bandaged after having been stung by a Triffid at one of the farms. He discovers that while he has been recovering, the light from an unusual meteor shower has rendered most people on Earth blind (Bill later muses that the shower may have been the misfiring of a space-based weapon system, though, as with the Triffids' origins, the truth is never revealed). After wandering aimlessly through London, watching civilization collapsing around him, Masen rescues a sighted woman who is being used as an unwilling pair of eyes by a blinded man. She is novelist Josella Playton, whose work has earned her a notorious and mostly undeserved reputation. She and Masen quickly fall in love. A signal draws them to a larger group of sighted survivors led by a man named Michael Beadley, who are planning to flee London before it becomes a disease-ridden death-trap, and establish a colony in the countryside. Beadley wishes to take only sighted men who will take several wives, both blind and sighted, to rapidly rebuild a sighted human population. The polygamous principles of this scheme appal the religious Miss Durrant. However, these distinctions become irrelevant after a man called Wilfred Coker takes it upon himself to save as many of the blind as possible; he stages a disturbance and kidnaps a number of sighted including Bill and Josella. Both are forcibly put to work leading squads of blind people around the rapidly-decaying city, attempting to collect food and supplies. Bill finds himself sandwiched between roving packs of Triffids and a rival gang of scavengers led by a sighted (and ruthless) red-haired man. Masen nevertheless sticks with his group out of a sense of responsibility, until the people in his charge begin dying of some unknown disease (possibly yet another military experiment gone awry). He leaves and attempts to find Josella, but his only immediate lead is an address left behind by the uncaptured and now-departed members of Beadley's group. Thrown together with a repentant Coker, he sets out for the address in Wiltshire. They find the place, a country estate named Tynsham, but the group has splintered and neither Beadley nor Josella are there; Durrant has taken charge and organised the community along monogamous "Christian" lines. Assuming that Josella went with the Beadley party, Masen and Coker search fruitlessly for several days, rounding up some more sighted survivors. Then, remembering a chance comment Josella made earlier about a certain country home in Sussex, Bill sets off in search of it, while Coker takes their new companions back to Tynsham. The Triffids quickly take full advantage of the edge over humanity that events have given them. Specimens in captivity break free, and growing numbers of them become bolder and more aggressive every day. Bill is joined by a young sighted girl named Susan, who had become a near-prisoner in her home due to the plants. They succeed in locating Josella, who is sheltering at the Sussex house with the blinded owners. Bill and Josella consider themselves to be married, and see Susan as their daughter. Learning that Tynsham has been abandoned, the group attempts to create a self-sufficient colony on the Sussex farm, but with only marginal 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 and more difficult to scavenge food. One day a helicopter-pilot representative of Beadley's faction lands at the farm and tells his hosts that the group has largely cleared the Isle of Wight of Triffids, and established a successful colony there (and that Coker survived to join them). Despite their on-going struggles, the Masens are reluctant to leave their home, but their hand is forced by the arrival the next day of a large armoured vehicle, operated by 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. When Torrence announces his intention to place many more blind survivors under the Masens' care, they are appalled. To ensure compliance with his scheme, Torrence suggests Susan will be moved to another enclave. After feigning general agreement, the Masens and their group disable the soldiers' vehicle and flee during the night. They join the Isle of Wight colony, and settle down to the long grim struggle ahead, determined to find a way to destroy the Triffids and reclaim Earth for humanity.

Publication history Edit

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.

Influences Edit

Wyndham was influenced by H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds in writing The Day of the Triffids and frequently acknowledged such. In regards to the Triffids' creation, some editions of the novel make brief mention of the theories of the would-be Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko; eventually thoroughly debunked, Lysenkoism at the time of the novel's creation was still being defended by some prominent international communists.

Themes Edit

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. In addition, there is a rather central theme to the book—the survival and rebuilding of humankind.

Critical reception Edit

The Day of the Triffids was cited by Karl Edward Wagner as one of the thirteen best science-fiction horror novels. Arthur C. Clarke called it an "immortal story". 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.

Allusions/references in other works Edit

The Triffids were an Australian rock group in the 1980s. 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. According to director Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later writer Alex Garland was inspired by the opening sequence to the book and film to write the film. The band Ash have a song titled "Day of the Triffids" as a b-side of "Kung Fu" TRIFFID is the name of the UK Hadley Centre's "dynamic vegetation" computer model of the terrestrial carbon cycle. Triffids are a plant-like enemy in Introversion's computer-game Darwinia.

Film, TV, radio or theatrical adaptations Edit

The novel was adapted to radio (readings) by the BBC as early as 1953. BBC radio series followed in 1957 and 1968 (Giles Cooper). The same year it was adopted in Germany by Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) Köln (Cologne), translator: Hein Bruehl (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. A film version was produced in the UK and released in 1962. In 1975, Marvel Comics adapted the story in the magazine Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction. A television version was produced by the BBC serial in 1981, repeated on BBC Four in 2006 and 2007. It starred John Duttine as Bill Masen. In November 2008, it was announced that the BBC are to film a new version of the story, written by "ER" and "Law & Order" writer Patrick Harbinson. It will be screened in 2009. It will star Dougray Scott as Bill Masen, Joely Richardson as Jo Playton, Brian Cox as Dennis Mason, Vanessa Redgrave as Durrant, Eddie Izzard as Torrence and Jason Priestley as Coker.

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