If you haven’t read The Day of the Triffids, then firstly I envy you as you can read it for the first time, but secondly, I bet you know what a Triffid is. The book turns seventy this year and is the perfect example of the sci-fi sub-genre Post-Apocalyptic. You may have seen one of the two BBC adaptations, the first made in 1981 starring John Duttine was great, the second made in 2009 starring Eddie Izzard was mediocre at best. The 1962 film starring Howard Keel has the same name but it didn’t seem to be based on the book I’ve read!
I digress, back to the book. It takes the form of a first-person memoir by Bill Masen and you only know what he knows; any further information is told to Bill and recounted by him. It starts with him in hospital with his eyes bandaged after a Triffid sting nearly killed him. During the previous night what was described by the news as a comet storm lit up the night sky and was a worldwide phenomenon. Bill, however, later suggests a different cause for the lights. Everyone who watched the display is now blind. You quickly learn that he has no dependents or relatives alive and is in a unique position to tell us about the origin of the strange plant.
The novel follows his adventure through London where he meets his future partner Josella Playton, an infamous novelist who had written a Fifty Shades style of book. He battles with both the Triffids and the fact that most other people are now blind. An interesting minor character is Coker, an Orator – a voice for hire, who starts off as an enemy of Bill.
The author John Wyndham is almost prophetic in this work. The Cold War was only a few years old when he wrote it, yet he has it escalating to what it became in the sixties. The space race, satellites (Sputnik was launched seven years after it was written), a weapons defence system that sounded very much like the STAR WARS system proposed by Reagan in the eighties and genetically modified crops are all described perfectly.
A lot of classic sci-fi novels (Jules Verne and H. G. Wells etc) whilst still excellent have noticeably aged, whereas The Day of The Triffids with the exception of a couple of paragraphs (mainly describing News-reels at the cinema) could have been written yesterday
I’ve read most of Wyndham’s other novels. The Kraken Wakes runs this book a very close second. In 2009 a ‘lost’ novel of his, Plan For Chaos, was published posthumously. It was, for me as a lifetime Wyndham fan, a disappointment. Some critics described it as almost unreadable. I’ll remember him for the almost perfect novel The Day Of the Triffids.
Simon Elson is a Freelance Features Writer. His articles have appeared in numerous national magazines including Best of British, Derbyshire Life and Writing Magazine. He also writes for the popular cycling website Veloballs.com and has been a guest blogger on The Huffington Post.