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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 published other novels, this was the first published under the John Wyndham pen-name. It established him as an important writer, and remains his best known novel.

Plot summary

The protagonist is Bill Masen, an Englishman who has made his living working with "Triffids," 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. The book implies they were bioengineered in the Soviet Unionmarker and then accidentally released into the wild when a plane carrying their seeds is 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 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. After unbandaging his eyes, he wanders through a largely sightless Londonmarker, watching civilization collapsing around him. Masen meets a sighted woman, novelist Josella Playton. She and Masen begin to fall in love and decide to leave London.

After being lured by a single light in an otherwise darkened city, Bill and Josella discover and join a group of sighted survivors at a London university led by a man named Beadley, who are planning to establish a colony in the countryside. Beadley wishes to take only sighted men who will take several wives to rapidly rebuild the human population. 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 supplies. Bill and his group finds themselves beset by escaped triffids and an aggressive rival gang of scavengers led by a ruthless red-haired man.

Masen nevertheless sticks with his group until the people in his charge 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 Wiltshiremarker, but neither Beadley nor Josella are there; Durrant has taken charge and organised the community along "Christian" lines. Masen and Coker fruitlessly search for Beadley and/or 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, but with only marginal success, as 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.

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 Wightmarker (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.

Publication history

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

  • Wyndham frequently acknowledged the influence of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds on The Day of the Triffids.
  • 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

The novel contains many themes which are common in Wyndham's work: a depiction of the Soviet Unionmarker 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.

Critical reception

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

  • 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.
  • The Fingus units in the Etherlords computer games closely resemble Triffids.
  • Three of the triffid props from the 1981 mini-series appeared in an episode of the sketch/monologue comedy series Alexei Sayle's Stuff. In the skit in question, a man gets roped into chatting to the triffids at a party, and learns that the creatures consider 'man-eating triffid' to be their job description. The triffids are provided with evil hissing voices for this skit.
  • An animated Triffid may be seen on the Gorillaz website in Murdoc Niccals' Winnebago.


Film, TV, radio or theatrical adaptations

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 UKmarker 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, 2007 and 2009. It starred John Duttine as Bill Masen.

In November 2008, it was announced that the BBC is 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.

References

External links




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