The Day of the Triffids

 

 

General Plot

PUBLISHED in 1951 The Day of the Triffids is a compelling story of multiple catastrophe. It's Wyndham’s first experiment in ‘Logical Fantasy’, where strange global disasters are seen from a local perspective. The Triffids embody the concept of the new genre. They are genetically modified mobile, carnivorous plants very much in the style of outlandish Sci-Fi. However triffids are not from another galaxy, but side-effects of the Cold War, and at first accepted by mankind due to their profitability. Triffids often form no more than a background noise, whilst the other plots develop. No mention is given to the plants in the following opening line, or any part of the first chapter.

‘WHEN a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere’.

Sudden blindness silences the World, but for Bill Masen, whose sight is preserved, it is a new beginning. The sighted attempt to set up their own societies be they benign dictatorships, austere Christian communes, or militaristic feudal states. Yet the Earth is not so easily inherited, and the genetically modified cash crops prove a more pressing long-term obstacle to survival in southern England.

 

 

 

Personal Opinion - Spoiler Alert

I always find describing Triffids to a 'Wyndham Virgin', a bit of a challenge. Ostensibily the triffids are a far-fetched concept, and, as Wyndham feared, the book is often dismissed as SF pulp. However Triffids is a cross-genre novel that deals with so many themes other than Science-Fiction (Horror, Apocalypse, Romance, Morality, Christianity, Human and Corporate Greed, Blindness, Survivalism, and Man v Nature, to name but a few) it can only truly be classed as a Logical Fantasy. I simply urge people to read it, and they are invariably hooked from the first compelling chapter. Ever since reading the novel I have looked at cities in a different light. I notice the small trees had have taken hold of unattended gutters or corners of masonry, or how easily weeds can take advantage of the smallest cracks in the road. I also regulary wonder whether I could make it to the nearest shop and back, without the use of my eyes. Another aspect to ponder, is the revelation that the triffids were probably a fifth column, an ingenious, if accidentally discovered Soviet superweapon. Wyndham hints at this early on in the first chapter:

'You'll find it in the records that on Tuesday, May 7, the Earth's orbit passed through a cloud of comet debris. You can even believe it, if you like-millions did. Maybe it was so. I can't prove anything either way. I was in no state to see what happened myself; but I do have my own ideas.'

Russia is also mentioned as the likely original source of triffids. The battered survivors of the 'Blinding' must also face a strange new disease, which Masen believes is also the result of Cold War experimentation.

I'm not sure if Day of the Triffids is Wyndham's best work, but it is the one that I have re-read most often.

 

 

 

Facts about Triffids

The word 'triffid' has entered the Oxford English Dictionary. The word pertains both to the fictional plant, or indeed any dangerous manmade creature. Colloquially it is also used to describe overgrown gardens.

Some say the collective noun/noun of assemblage for triffids is a 'blinding', but it is not mentioned in the book.

There is a 'Triffid' nebula (see above), which as all Wyndham fans know, is located in the Saggittarius constellation. Wyndham's starsign was Cancer.

The British Army has a radio communication system called 'Triffid'.

In 1962 a hammy film version of The Day of the Triffids was produced, and there have since been two BBC adaptations for the telly (see Vision).

A mischievous triffid features in the 1980s American comedy musical Little Shop of Horrors.

An alleyway in the Hampstead district of London was named 'Triffid Alley' in 2015. Hampstead and Swiss Cottage were Masen's scavenging 'patch', and where the protagonist first came into contact with Torrence's implacable methods. The one-man WyndhamWeb team travelled to the lane in question on an early Saturday evening, and was a little disappointed to discovered that a locked gate barred entry to the passage. There is however a plaque installed by the 'South End Green Association' with a short quotation from chapter eight, and it is apparently the very alley that Wyndham envisaged when crafting this particular looting scene (and yes triffids were involved).

 

 

 

In the animated children's programme Bananaman a book entitled Day of the Bananas can be viewed on the bedroom desk of Eric aka Bananaman in the episode Fog of Fear and Harbour of Lost Ships.

Though The Day of the Triffids was published six years before the 1957 launch of Sputnik, Wyndham was confident enough to predict the wide-spread use of satellites in the near future, and they feature in the story.

During the early 1950s an abridged, and partly illustrated version was published in Collier's magazine entitled Revolt of the Triffids.

Well known Down Under and briefly popular in Europe, the 80s Australian band The Triffids have produced several albums. To hear the sound of the Triffids go to: http://www.thetriffids.com/ . Alternatively Northern Irish Indie band Ash, have penned a song called The Day of the Triffids: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgXpJPrtEo8

Some dumbed-down US copies actually edit out over 10% of the text, how this possibly benefits the colonial reader is hard to say.

It appears that Wyndham briefly toyed with writing a sequel to Day of the Triffids set on an Indonesian island. The East Indian location was shielded from the 'meteorite' storm by a volcanic eruption, with the imagined action taking place centuries after the spooky, green lights brought darkness to so many.

A simple evening stroll planted the original idea for triffids in Wyndham's imagination, as he recorded in his sole televised interview in 1960: '....one night when I was walking along a dark lane in the country, and the hedges were only just distinguishable from the sky, and the higher things sticking up from the hedges became rather menacing, and one felt they might come over and strike down, or if they had stings, sting at one. So the whole thing eventually grew out of that. The moving vegetable would be a real menace.'

 

 

 

Passage from The Day of the Triffids

I wandered across to the window, and looked out. Quite consciously I began saying goodbye to it all. The sun was low. Towers, spires, façades, of Portland stone were white or pink against the dimming sky. More fires had broken out here and there. The smoke climbed in big black smudges, sometimes with a lick of flame at the bottom of them. Quite likely, I told myself, I would never in my life again see any of these familiar buildings after tomorrow. There might be a time when I'd be able to come back - but not to the same place. Fires and weather would have worked on it: it would be visibly dead and abandoned. But now, at a distance, it could still masquerade as a living city.

My father once told me that before Hitler's war he used to go around London with his eyes more widely open than ever before, seeing the beauties of buildings that he had never noticed before - and saying goodbye to them. And now I had a similar feeling. But this was something worse, much more than anyone could have hoped for had survived that war - but this was an enemy they would not survive. It was not wanton smashing and wilful burning that they waited for this time; it was simply the long, slow, inevitable course of decay and collapse.

Standing there, and at that time, my heart still resisted what my head was telling me. Even yet I had the feeling that it was all something too big, too unnatural really to happen. Yet I knew that it was by no means the first time that it had happened. The corpses of other great cities are lying buried in deserts, and obliterated by the jungles of Asia. Some of them fell so long ago that even their names have gone with them. But to those who lived there their dissolution can have seemed no more probable or possible than the necrosis of a great modern city seemed to me...

It must be, I thought, one of the race's most persistent and comforting hallucinations to trust that 'it can't happen here' - that one's own little time and place is beyond cataclysms. And now it was happening here. Unless there should be some miracle I was looking on the beginning of the end of London - and very likely, it seemed, there were other men, not unlike me, who were looking on the beginning of the end of New York, Paris, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Bombay, and all the rest of the cities that were destined to go the way of those others under the jungle.

 

 

 

How to Survive the Day of the Triffids

This article was originally published on the website Zombiephiles, and is reproduced with the kind permission of Josella Chrysalids-Harris-McCarthur and The Zombiephile.

One.

Hide from 'Comets'

Comets, or rather, previously unobserved celestial phenomena, ascribed as comets for want of a better word, have the capacity to blind. Accounts of strange green lights in the night sky, send seasoned Armageddon-dodgers to cellars, bunkers, or darkened rooms.

Two.

Reject Philanthropy

Rose-tinted glasses should be discarded forthwith. A Pan-continental loss of vision will render the tiny minority of sighted near-useless in their attempts to preserve the lives of all but a handful of the blinded billions. Concentrate on succouring close friends and family, as well as the attractive. Remember the two-eyed man/woman is king/queen.

Three.

Never Underestimate the Enemy

Even a 'docked' triffid can be lethal, since they are communicative beings, that will invariably hale their toxic brethren. Additionally, the slashing sting of these hunters is by no means indiscriminate. The green meat-eaters have an uncanny knack for aiming their stings at the face. Triffids are bred to blind.

Four.

Stockpile

Equip yourself with three things:

Supplies: Triffids are expert in the art of siege warfare; prepare yourself for a long stand off.

Triffid Guns: 'Spring-operated guns of various types. Most of them shoot spinning discs, crosses, or small boomerangs of thin steel. As a rule they are inaccurate above about twelve yards, though capable of slicing a triffid stem neatly at twenty-five if they hit it.

-Narration of Bill Masen, chapter two, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.

Flame Throwers: 'Very effective (against triffids). The one thing we've used them for'.

-Stephen Brennell, chapter twelve, The Day of the Triffids.

 

Five.

Avoid London

If you thought pre-apocalyptic London was an unfriendly place, envisage millions of recently-blinded, and hungry Cockneys squabbling over a few jars of jellied-eels. Even if you're not forced to become the 'eyes' of an Eastend Gang, things will soon turn squalid, and decidedly 'bang out of order'.

Six.

Forget the Yanks

Stephen Brennell's unnamed girlfriend, and a host of other incidental characters are convinced that the Statesiders are striding to the rescue. In fact due to their often substantial bulk, and resulting slowness, not to mention cacophonous dialect, US citizens are rendered highly susceptible to the wiles of sound-sensitive, carnivorous hybrids. Remember the Triffid is a Soviet invention. As Wilfred Coker implores 'Try to imagine a world where there are no Americans.'

Seven.

Avoid Brighton

See the last three chapters (namely; fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen) of The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.

Eight.

Befriend a Farmer

Scavenging on the addled corpse of civilisation will sustain your family for only so long. Eventually you will have to learn how to cultivate crops, and manage livestock. It is worth noting that the highly nutritious oils contained within a triffid stalk, are an excellent source of cattle fodder.

Nine.

Avoid Hollywood Disinformation

The early Sixties cinematic rendition of 'Triffids', portrays lead human Bill Masen, as an American naval officer, stranded in London at the time that alien creatures land alongside the 'comets'. Masen then journeys across Europe to find submariners. Don't bother watching this transatlantic rubbish. I'm surprised I made it through three-quarters of the film. The luckless Wyndham is said to have endured the whole thing in perplexed, yet disapproving silence.

It's not just the dated special effects, (the abridged 1981 BBC production is far easier on the pallet, despite its modest budget), more the wholesale rehashing of concepts. Triffids are not visitors from Space. Intergalactic machinations play no part in the rise of our vegetative protagonists. Instead they are a side-effect of the Cold War 'Science-Race'.

Ten.

Take it Easy

'There aren't any ambulances these days'.

- Coker, chapter twelve.

Eleven.

Always Fill Up

The horseless carriage is useful weapon against a triffid. Its poison can not penetrate windscreens, and the beasts can be effortlessly overrun. Nevertheless, when driving through a Blinding* of Triffids, the motorist would be prudent to remember the Triffid Highway Code:

Don't let your window down. Triffids will whip their poisoned whorls at moving objects, especially noisy, mechanical constructions such as cars, lorries, and quasi-military vehicles welded in Brighton.

Refrain from lowering the (passenger-free) passenger-side pane any more than a centimetre or inch.

NEVER RUN OUT OF PETROL

An insufficiently fuelled vehicle is an open invitation to the acute, predatory senses of a triffid, or indeed in the days just after a technological breakdown, the newly blinded. If your combustion engine splutters to a halt, alight immediately; a blind mob can open car doors, a triffid has patience.

* The unofficial collective noun for a Triffidian (Wyndham's word, chapter two) assembly is not a 'lash' as sometimes claimed, but a 'blinding'.

Twelve.

Move to a Small Island

Triffids lack aquatic prowess. Find an islet that is diminutive enough to be cleared of lanky, mobile weeds with the available manpower. Live out a frugal existence until your society, or perhaps another isolated community, discovers a biological remedy for this unnatural plague.

 

For more information on Wyndham's influence on the zombie subculture visit: http://www.zombiephiles.com/zombies-ate-my-brains/zombies-and-triffids

And you're even allowed to vote on who’d win in a fight between triffids and zombies: http://www.zombiephiles.com/zombie-showdowns/semi-weekly-zombie-poll-3-zombies-vs-triffids

 

 

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