Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The day the earth went blind and got overran by three-legged plants

John Wyndham's wonderful post-apocalyptic novel, The Day of the Triffids, was first published in 1951, which was considered part of the golden age of science fiction. It is also perhaps the most well known of Wyndham's novel, followed by The Chrysalids, which I also enjoyed immensely.

Wyndham's hero is one Bill Masen, who has been working with a unique breed of plants called triffids. The appearance of these plants are so otherworldly that it begs the reader to really suspend his or her disbelief. For starters, when they get to about 7 feet tall, they develop the ability to walk using their leg-like roots. Also, they have the predatory ability to lash out a whip-like structure with poisonous stingers at the end. This they can do with spectacular accuracy, often aiming for the person's eyes.

So why would Bill be working with these creatures? Well, it turns out that triffids actually give out oil that is more pure and more useful than existing forms. But Bill Masen also has a triffid to thank for not going blind. One day, while out in the triffid fields, Bill gets stung by a triffid, which leads to him being confined to the hospital with bandages covering all of his head.

Then an astrological phenomenon happens one night while Masen is still in the hospital. A green-ish comet has passed by close to Earth, causing beautiful displays of green light in the night sky due to the comet's debris. Everyone has gone out to witness the event. By morning, everyone who has done so has gone completely blind.

Wyndham's illustrations of triffids

Masen stumbles out of the hospital after discovering this fact. In London, people are still trying to come to grips regarding their unfortunate situation. Pretty soon, the city becomes chaotic as people starve and the ones who can see organize gangs. There are groups who abduct people who can still see and then assign them several blind people to lead. It's a futile effort though, as many people who can still see escape and leave behind the blind to fend for themselves.

To cap it all, the triffids are now roaming the streets and then stinging the blind left and right. The triffids have developed a taste for human flesh. If you think about it, it is the triffids that are preventing humanity from rising above their lot.

Masen escapes the city to look for Josella Playton, a woman who also isn't blind. Masen and Playton got separated when they were abducted and assigned different groups of the blind. He finds her in a secluded farm way out of the country with three blind persons. Masen also has brought with him a girl whom he found while searching for Playton. This rag-tag band of survivors make a home for themselves in the farm, constructing barricades to keep those triffids out. Masen and Playton get married and have two children. They manage. They adapt. They survive.

But The Day of the Triffids does not end with this. Something has to f--k it up. Masen's group is eventually found by some people who want to make a fresh start. Masen and the rest have decided to go with them after the summer season. But another group stumbles upon Masen's extended family, and it's a group that isn't as friendly as the earlier one. This group, which has a military aspect to it, gives Masen an order -- take in more blind people in his farm. Masen knows that it's impossible with their limited resources. As night comes, Masen escapes with his family to join the people who have nobler, more realistic intentions.

Another artistic interpretation of a triffid

I'm not really into giving detailed summaries of the books that I've read, but I think that The Day of the Triffids deserves the extra paragraphs. As a science fiction novel, Wyndham clearly knows the phenomena that pertain to natural selection and astronomy (i.e., how meteor showers are created). As a post-apocalyptic novel, The Day of the Triffids and the themes that go with it are alarming.

Wyndham throws several questions to the reader. What if people continue to tinker with different organism breeds? How will these new human-influenced organisms interact with the environment? It's as if that Wyndham has the ability of foresight -- how else could he have touched on the concept of genetically modified organisms in the 1950s?

So far, I've read two novels by Wyndham this year and I have never been disappointed. Wyndham's novels are not just a study of the science fiction genre but they also manage to focus on different aspects of society. In The Chrysalids, there are several references to our concept of race and religion. In The Day of the Triffids, Wyndham tackles the idea of a society without laws and the thought that humans shouldn't interfere with nature. As we can see in the novel, the results may be terrifying.

Read this book if:
  1. You like post-apocalyptic novels.
  2. You know that plants aren't as defenseless as they seem to be.
  3. You want to read everything from the golden age of science fiction.


Stepford Mum said...

I read this book for school ages ago, and then again last year when I acquired a vintage copy out of nostalgia. Loved it both times. Don't the Triffids remind you of Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors? :)

The Chrysalids is on my Christmas wishlist.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Stepford Mum! Thanks for recommending this book to me! I enjoyed it immensely. Oddly enough, yes, some parts of the book did remind me of Little Shop of Horrors! Audrey 2!

ram said...

buenas noche,kyusireader!

Peter S. said...

Hey, ram!