Thoughts on The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Tags:
  1. Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2008
    Messages:
    3,566
    I recently re-read The Day of the Triffids for the first time for about 15 years. The setup is this: in order to produce high-grade vegetable oil, a new plant strain is engineered, probably using some animal DNA. Unfortunately, the plants – the triffids – also have poisonous stings and limited powers of movement, and in their natural state are dangerous, if rather slow and stupid. As a result they are kept tethered and docked in their farms, harvested for oil, and all is well.

    That is, until lights in the sky turn everybody blind. Whether these are natural or some sort of malfunctioning satellite weapon is never explained, but the next morning the human race is reduced to groping its way around. It’s not long before the triffids up sticks (literally) and go hunting. Mankind is no longer the top species, order breaks down, and the human world starts to decay as nature returns to claim the land.

    The story follows one man who did not witness the blinding lights, and his attempts to adapt and survive in the depopulated countryside. He, and a few others, struggle to remain alive and to keep up a reasonable standard of existence as civilisation rots around them.

    DOTT has been called a “cosy catastrophe”: the action is confined to England, the characters are all well-spoken and there are none of the graphic horrors of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But, like Geoffrey Household’s excellent thriller Rogue Male, a lot of the horror comes from understatement. The world needs order and repopulation, and there are hints of fascism and rape in the countryside. Most of humanity, basically, is starving to death, and the hero is stuck with the issue of whether to delay the inevitable by helping the afflicted. And the triffids too are subtly nasty. There is something particularly unpleasant in the image of a triffid sitting beside a corpse, waiting for it to decay sufficiently to be broken down for plant-food.

    It’s still an excellent book; one of the first SF apocalypses and, in the hordes of shuffling, idiotic triffids, perhaps an influence on the zombie films of George Romero. Its vision of genetic engineering gone wrong is also remarkably advanced and more telling now than ever, even if the plot is rather thin.

    The one thing that really dated it for me was the portrayal of the women. Now, Wyndham may be exaggerating slightly to show how important it is for people to become tough and self-sufficient in times of crisis, but the women in DOTT seem not just timid but dim and deeply immature: prone to incomprehensible rages and crying fits and liable to do anything, however selfish or dangerous, to be centre of attention (even when surrounded by killer mutant plants).

    It’s perhaps somewhat inevitable, but disappointing to find such weak characterisation in such a good book. Undoubtedly this is due to the time when it was written, but the impression I come away with is that the fault comes from attempting to write women as, basically, another species (a common flaw with male writers, I suspect. Eddings, anyone?).

    But otherwise DOTT is highly recommended. Powerful, subtle and interesting: an unusually organic apocalypse.
     
  2. David Gullen

    David Gullen Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    59
    Location:
    I like beer.
    I agree with Tobytwo in the main - this is a good book. I remember from DoTT that although Wyndham wrote of women in that light he didn't think much of a society that encouraged people to lack self-reliance. Yes, you can criticise him for writing narowly about the social class he was familiar with (his rough sorts are quite cliched), but in this book there were moments were he was quite vehement in his frustration at the way his world expected women to behave.

    The Kraken Wakes is also very good. Simialr in style and feel, still rooted in middle-class England, it has some very well thought out and original ideas. Wyndham kept his aliens very alien, their invasion and takeover plans are sinister and effective.
     
  3. Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2008
    Messages:
    3,566
    I agree: one way in which Wyndham is consistently original is the clever ways in which the alien invasions happen. There’s very little gunfighting with lasers in his work: both The Kraken Wakes and The Midwich Cuckoos involve clever ways of getting past Earth’s defences. In fact, Midwich even contains a passage saying that.

    I suppose one of the reasons some aspects of his writing seem so dated is that most of it is so innovative. It’s hard not to forget that DOTT was written in 1951: I always thought of it as later than that. The fact that some of the dialogue is of the “Dahling, I shall surely faint” Brief Encounter variety is hardly surprising.
     
  4. ChrisBfla

    ChrisBfla Chris Berman

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2008
    Messages:
    41
    Location:
    My first novel THE HIVE will be released in mid-Ja
    Hello:

    I read your post and you make some very insightful commnets. such as this one:

    "The one thing that really dated it for me was the portrayal of the women. Now, Wyndham may be exaggerating slightly to show how important it is for people to become tough and self-sufficient in times of crisis, but the women in DOTT seem not just timid but dim and deeply immature: prone to incomprehensible rages and crying fits and liable to do anything, however selfish or dangerous, to be centre of attention (even when surrounded by killer mutant plants)."

    I think science fiction, like all forms of literature as well as film, reflect the socail structure of the times in which they were writen. I've been watching a really interesting TV series here in the states called "Mad Men" about the lives of a group of advertising executives in teh early 1960s. Some of what is considered to be a cultureal norm, is quite absurd by our current standards. Tet, I hate to fall into the trap of judging historical actions by today's perceptions. This does a disservice to history. You can't expect a 17th century man to think in the same manner as a 21st century man. Also, you have very intersting cultural diferences as well.

    In the West, and the US, we are used to now of sharing our decision making with our wives and wanting to involve them with their opinions. My wife was born in the USSR and comes from a background (Russian-Ukrainian) where the man makes the decisions and the woman goes along with them. When I try to be too inclusive of saying, "what do you think? or what do you think we should do?" she feels I am being indecisive and that I don't care about the situation.

    Anyway, perhaps "Day of the Triffids" is ready for a remake with CGI high tech effects.

    I'd also live to see a remake of "Them"

    Chris
     
  5. BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2014
    Messages:
    12,135
    Read the book long time ago and found it quite enjoyable . The main advantage humans had over the Triffids was sight . Humans minus their sight table get turned and people become Triffid food .
     
Loading...

Share This Page

Loading...