The Trouble with Triffids

A few days ago I posted a review of the movie, and I promised to finish reading the book and give my take on it. Here it is, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham from 1951.

The first thing that strikes me about the movie and also the book is they seem to be mis-titled. Your first thought on seeing the title is this is going to be about one really bad day. It turns out the movie is about several bad days, and the book is about several bad years and with no resolution at the end.

Both plots involve like 95% of the world’s population being blinded by a meteoric display, creating a world-wide disaster of extinction significance. The second shared plot aspect is the triffids, which are plant-like creatures that can uproot themselves and travel about the countryside. And they kill people. So, that’s doubly whammy threatening human existence. And that ends the similarity between the two.

The movie involves a merchant marine officer undergoing eye treatment and having his eyes covered by bandages during the meteor display, thus escaping the blinding rays. The book features a character of the same name, William Masen, a biologist likewise under eye treatment and missing the meteors.

The problem with both plots is they seem to wander from point to point, the sole purpose being to interest the readers with the settling gloom of apocalypse. To illustrate, here is a synopsis of the plot.

  • William Masen (Bill) had prior experience with the triffids, which seem to have spawned by mistake from some sort of satellite-based biological attack.
  • Bill wakes up one day, blinded by his bandages, and the world has gone to shit. Almost all others are blind, and the human world has shut down.
  • Bill removes his bandages and wanders the streets of London, seeing only a few blind people groping about and a few sighted people taking advantage of the blind.
  • Bill meets Josella, who can see, as she is laboring under the forced servitude of a blind man. Bill gives the man a few whacks and rescues the woman. They bond for the remainder of the plot.
  • The two hole up in an empty apartment for the night, and Josella spots a light in the distance. They converge on the spot the next day and find a colony of survivalists barricaded inside the walls of a university.
  • Attacks by the triffids begin.
  • A rogue group breaches the defenses of the university, carting off Bill’s group in parcels to form up self-sufficient teams of scavengers. This separates Bill and Josella for much of the remainder of the story, which is told first person by Bill.
  • The various teams crash, and Bill frees himself from capture and goes looking for Josella.
  • His search takes him to another redoubt called Tynsham, west of London, and thence to one a few miles away, where he hooks up with another survivalist group.
  • That group decides to make alliance with the Tynsham group, but when they get there it has collapsed.
  • Bill goes on his own to look for Josella, and he goes to a place Josella once mentioned. He locates her there. It’s a country estate with three blind people, the sole survivors of triffid attacks.
  • There everybody settles down for a few years. They build fences to ward off the triffids, and they plant crops and have babies.
  • A helicopter arrives bringing word of a survivalist group that has holed up on the Isle of Wight, which the triffids have difficulty getting to. Everybody begins to make preparations to relocate to the Isle of Wight.
  • Bill leaves for a few hours, and when he returns a militant survivalist group has arrived and taken command of the estate. Their leader propose to force subjugation of Bill’s group into their grander alliance.
  • Bill hatches a plan to escape and to feed the interlopers to the triffids. As they motor away from the estate they watch the triffids attacking.

The story ends:

Our hopes all center here. It seems unlikely now that anything will come of Torrence’s neo-feudal plan, though a number of his seigneuries do still exist, with their inhabitants leading, so we hear, a life of squalid wretchedness behind their stockades. But there are not so many of them as there were. Every now and then Ivan reports that another has been overrun, and that the triffids which surrounded it have dispersed to join other sieges. So we must think of the task ahead as ours alone. We believe now that we can see our way, but there is still a lot of work and research to be done before the day when we, or our children, or their children, will cross the narrow straits on a great crusade to drive the triffids back and back with ceaseless destruction until we have wiped out the last one of them from the face of the land that they have usurped.

Wyndham, John. The Day of the Triffids . RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

It’s a drama without resolution, no victory, no defeat. We never learn the source of the blinding meteors, and there is no prospect of defeating the triffids. It’s a page lifted out of human history and set down in the middle of blank tarpaulin.

Beyond that, Wyndham is a good writer. He got started early in his life, writing short stories and such. Then he took time off to fight the Axis forces in WWII and then made a splash with this book. He is also famous for The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), which was turned into two films titled Village of the Damned. I’m sure I have that on on DVD, and I promise a review.

Here is a sample of Wyndham’s writing style:

To deprive a gregarious creature of companionship is to maim it, to outrage its nature. The prisoner and the cenobite are aware that the herd exists beyond their exile; they are an aspect of it. But when the herd no longer exists, there is, for the herd creature, no longer entity. He is a part of no whole, a freak without a place. If he cannot hold onto his reason, then he is lost indeed: most utterly and most fearfully lost, so that he becomes no more than the twitch in the limb of a corpse.

Wyndham, John. The Day of the Triffids . RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

A number of characters in the story express a fascination with America, the United States, somewhere on the other side of the ocean, poised and preparing to once again come to the rescue of Europe. I am guessing this was an echo left over after the recent events that involved masses of American soldiers and matériel the English so recently experienced.

“I’d got it wrong,” he repeated. “I thought I was the one who was taking it seriously—but I wasn’t taking it seriously enough. I couldn’t believe that it would last, or that some kind of help wouldn’t show up. But now look at it! And it must be like this everywhere. Europe, Asia, America—think of America smitten like this! But they must be. If they weren’t, they’d have been over here, helping out and getting the place straight—that’s the way it’d take them. No, I reckon your lot understood it better from the start.”

Wyndham, John. The Day of the Triffids . RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

I think those days are gone forever.

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About John Blanton

I'm a retired engineer living in San Antonio, Texas. I have served in the Navy, raced motorcycles, taken scads of photos and am usually a nice guy. I have political and religious opinions, and these opinions tend to be driven by an excess of observed stupidity. Gross stupidity is the supposed target of many of my posts.
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