First published back in December of 1951, British author John Wyndham’s novel ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ has become the authors most well-known and highly revered offering. The story has seen numerous radio, tv and film adaptations over the years and remains an absolute timeless masterpiece of post-apocalyptic fiction.
The novel was later followed on by Simon Clark’s sequel ‘The Night Of The Triffids’ (2001) which marked the 50th anniversary of Wyndham’s original.
Ever since the first triffiids started appearing over the world, Bill Masen has been heavily involved with their farming, and biological research. These tall plants that are believed to have been bioengineered by the Russians for their oil-giving properties have an aggressive nature unseen in any other plant life. Acutely aware of their surroundings, the triffids are capable of moving about by the use of their roots, can communicate with each other, and possess long stinging appendages that deliver a poisonous toxin into their victims, leaving them vulnerable to the carnivorous plants to attack. As such, the farming of these hostile plants has proven to be an increasingly difficult and potentially dangerous activity. A threat that Bill Masen is all too aware of.
Having fallen foul of a triffid attack to his eyes, Masen finds himself in hospital with his damaged eyes bandaged shut whilst he recovers. Whilst Masen is laid up in the care of the hospital, a strange green meteor shower takes place across the world, delivering a spectacular display which is witnessed by the entire world. However, unbeknown to the world’s population, the dazzling lights of the shower have a nasty side-effect for all those that were exposed to the astrological marvel. Within a matter of hours, all those that witnessed the meteor storm (which is in fact most of the world’s population) find that they have gone blind.
After realising that something is quite wrong in the hospital, Masen removes the bandages from his recovering eyes and goes in search of help. After leaving behind the hospital, Masen makes his way through the disturbingly chaotic streets of London, with the entire inhabitants of the city blindingly stumbling around, desperately crying out for assistance.
As Bill makes his way through the scenes of absolute anarchy, he encounters an aggressive blind man being guided by a sighted woman named Josella Playton. As Masen approaches the duo, he realises that Playton is being forced to guide this aggressive man about the city for food, under the threat of violence. After stepping in and rescuing the woman, Masen and Josellla hole-up in a plush London apartment, until they decide that they need to leave the once great city for a safer location. But that night, when they look out over the darkened expanse of the concrete jungle before them, they notice a gleaming light, shining out from a single point not too far away.
On a mission to locate the source of the light, Masen and Playton discover a fellow group of sighted survivors, all holed up in an inner-city university building. Led by a man named Beadley, the group are already beginning to get organised, with plans of setting up a new community outside of the city, already in their final stages of organisation.
But the group have a number of quite drastic views on how to set up a new community. Views that aren’t popular with everyone – Bill Masen included. Nevertheless, Masen and Playton decide to join the group. A decision that will hopefully take them out of the dangerous surroundings of the cramped inner-city and out into the open fields of the rural countryside. But not everyone in the group is in full support of Beadley’s leadership. Wilfred Coker has other ideas, and after taking some incredibly drastic and hostile measures, takes over many of the sighted amongst the group by sudden force.
Meanwhile, left unguarded, the triffids have found a way to break out of their farms, and are now steadily multiplying and spreading out across the landscape. Life is hard enough in a world full of the blind, without the additional threat of roaming hordes of triffids brought into the equation. A threat that many don’t take seriously until it’s upon them and too late...
From early on, Wyndham starts setting down the double-whammy that will hit the world, its combined effect bringing civilisation to its knees and near extinction. At first the reader feels faintly disorientated with the lack of any visual stimuli brought into the early pages, but as the situation slowly unfolds, the snowballing pace and mounting tension start to really come into play.
When the mass blindness hits and its outcome is suddenly thrust upon the reader, Wyndham masterfully ramps up the tension factor with nerve-tingling gusto, whilst painting a chaotic scene of anarchy and panic-fuelled chaos everywhere. On the streets of London all hell has broken loose. The starkness of Wyndham’s prose in depicting the desperate scenes of the helplessly blind stumbling around the streets without any idea of where they are or what to do, truly hammers home the impactful reality of such a massive scale catastrophe.
The usual despicable human elements start to show their unwanted faces, with those with purely selfish preservation on their mind creating further problems for everyone else. Those that start to get organised and bring together similarly-minded folk become a magnet for others seeking direction and leadership in such a crisis. Wyndham knows all of the key elements that are in our human nature in a traumatic catastrophe, and sees to incorporating these ingrained traits into the nail-biting and tense first quarter of the tale.
With the first signs of people banding together and planning forward, ideas of polygamous relationships and their immediate advantages start to creep into the headstrong self-elected leadership. Like with George R Stewart’s ‘Earth Abides’ (1949), and then later with the likes of Terry Nation’s ‘Survivors’ (1975-1977), these sudden changes to our fundamental way of living make for an instantly stand-offish notion, that forces the reader to think more about the changes that will need to happen in the face of such pivotal adversary.
Frictions soon start to develop in the group; not everyone is willing to follow one man’s ideas on the best course of action, and inevitably something snaps and the survivors have a whole new problem on their hands. Here this comes in the form of Beadley. Mass blindness is one thing, but now they have the formation of hostile groups to contend with.
And then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, Wyndham goes in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound and throws in the triffids as a final (and soon to become the dominating) threat. When the triffids start to make a presence in the novel, the plotline takes on a whole new level of terror, with the action, desperation and pace ramped up a good few notches in the space of just a few pages. Now the post-apocalyptic scenario is flung into an altogether frighteningly new territory.
It’s just adrenaline-pumping action and nail-biting suspense from here to the final conclusion. The triffid threat just keeps escalating, whilst the predicament that our group of survivors (both sighted and blind) find themselves in just gets worse and worse. There’s just no letting up in the novel, even when you think there’s a break in the danger level, it jumps back out at you with added vengeance.
Wyndham’s ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ is an undeniable post-apocalyptic masterpiece. It’s one of the greatest novels of the subgenre that has ever been written. It’s become so influential, so inspirational and so coveted over the years – there’s no avoiding the fact that, along with H.G. Well’s ‘War Of The Worlds’ (1898) that undoubtedly inspired it, the tale is perhaps one of the most important post-apocalyptic novels of all time. And rightly so. It’s an absolutely incredible read. And one you can’t help but return to time and time again.
The novel runs for a total of 304 pages.
© DLS Reviews