23 January 2011

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Thoughts and Reflections:
I only very recently heard about this book. I live near some large metal flower sculptures, which someone kept referring to as triffids. Naturally, this caught my curiosity, especially once I discovered it was a book! I still later discovered that it was written by John Wyndham. I had read The Crysalids long ago and remembered enjoying it. So, I requested The Day of the Triffids without further hesitation and dove in.

I was at first put off, discovering that the book was written early in the cold war era and certainly included an element of the evil and secretive Soviet Union. However, this element played a minimal role and in fact, by the story's close, all the world was to blame, not only the Soviets! The book explored a possible result that the cold war arms race could have lead to, which I found quite interesting.

The element I most appreciated was the discussion of how people survived and coped differently. Initially, a few sighted people were left among masses of now blinded people. The decision to temporarily help the blinded was pitched against the decision to take care of oneself. Later decisions came as to how to organise the surviving groups. Some lead militarily, others communally, other still holding onto traditional values. Survivors were faced with a number of horrors: death, disease, loneliness and isolation, as well as an increasing fear of others. The idea of losing everything, having the whole world pivot and become unknown, to slowly watch the world you knew become increasingly primitive, is an incredible and terrifying thought.

At one point Josella and Bill, married and with children, began to discuss how to instil a sense of hope in their children. Having participated in the world as it was, they continually reminisced, while the world around them became increasingly primitive. In many ways, nothing could be trusted, not nature, not people, nothing. However, somehow, the survivors survived, some even managed to do so with a degree of hope and humanity.

All in all, I enjoyed the novel. I found some of the ideas provoking. However, I dearly hope that I personally never, ever have to experience a situation anywhere close to the ones described in this book!

Brief Synopsis:
The triffids were a plant, which was able to walk and revealed some intelligence. Their seeds came out of the Soviet Union and dispersed globally. Initially, they were harnessed for their ability to be used to make fuels. They were harvested, but kept under strict control in the UK, where the story takes place. However, a turn of events, causing most of humanity to be blinded, gave the triffids the upper hand.  Humanity was further reduced to a few pockets of survivors, among whom were our protagonist, Bill Masen, and his small group of companions. The story continues to explore how different people coped with these apocalyptic events, how Bill Masen and group survived, and how the triffids affected everything.

About the Author:
John Wyndham is the pen name used by John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, who was born in 1903 in Warwickshire, England. Wyndham left school at the age of 18, attempting series of careers from farming to commercial art to law. He worked as a censor for the Ministry of Information during WWII, as well as working as an Corporal cipher in the Royal Corps of Signals. After WWII, he began writing novels, publishing The Day of the Triffids in 1951. He married in 1963 to Grace Wilson, though died shortly thereafter in 1969.

Things I Loved about This Novel:
1. The discussion about how different people responded to the tragedy.
2. The descriptions of the how such a developed part of the world began to sink into decline and back to its natural form.
3. The two main characters, Bill and Josella. Not sure why, but I enjoyed them. Most likely I enjoyed their ability to survive.

1 comment:

Mark, Cambridge UK said...

I remember reading this several year ago and it was a chilling read made all the more so by being so pastoral. A fascinating post.