Inspiration

 

 

Influences
H.G. Wells is perhaps the writer who has most obviously impressed on Wyndham. Wells is mentioned in passing during some of his best-known novels. In the penultimate chapter of The Midwich Cuckoo Zellaby wistfully observes that The Children make:
‘....one long for H.G.’s straightforward Martians ‘
While in Triffids Bill and Josella even discuss Wells’ work:
'In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king.'
"Oh yes-Wells said that, didn't he? Only in the story it turned out not to be true."
"The crux of the difference lies in what you mean by the word 'country'- patria in the original," I said. "Caecorum in patria luscus rex imperat omnis-a classical gentleman called Fullonius said that: it's all anyone seems to remember about him. But there's no organized patria, no state, here - only chaos, Wells imagined a people who had adapted themselves to blindness. I don't think that is going to happen here - I don't see how it can".

Additionally, the second published pre-war novel (as John Beynon) Stowaway to Mars contains a conversation in which pioneering voyagers to Mars speculate what the planet may hold, and briefly discuss the story First Men on the Moon. In fact Stowaway reads like a who's who of early influences on Wyndham. J.J. Astor's Journey to Other Worlds, a late nineteenth century interplanetary fantasy, is also mentioned, as is the work of fellow US writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, best known for creating jungle Lord Tarzan. Burroughs probably made more of an impression on Wyndham by penning the derring-do of adventurer John Carter whose Mars-bound spectaculars were popular in the first half of the twentieth century. The mention of promising talent Stanley G. Weinbaum, whose life was cut tragically short, once again attests to the impact of classic American Science Fiction. British philosopher-cum-novelist Olaf Stapledon is the last Sci-Fi heavyweight to be namechecked in Stowaway.

 

 

Although the term ‘genetic modification’ was unfamiliar to Mary Shelley, her work does deal with ‘unnaturalness’, and comparisons with Shelley are pertinent, since both writers are often dismissed by high-brow literary critics. Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus is much more than a horror story, if indeed it is horror at all, just as Wyndham’s novels are incorrectly pigeon-holed. Another pioneer of Science Fiction, namely Jules Verne, had clearly made his mark on Wyndham. The underground world of The Secret People, is not dissimilar that of Verne's creation Journey to the Centre of the Earth

A likely influence on The Kraken Wakes was the 1928 story Deluge. The novel is set in a dismal flooded Britain, and made a name for it's author S. Fowler Wright. A Hollywood film predictably set in New York, strayed far from the original plot, but Fowler Wright found solace in the paycheque. In a further twist to the story, a more recent, and critically acclaimed American picture The Abyss drew obvious inspiration from Kraken Wakes.

 

 

Contemporary writers such as J.G. Ballard, and Brian Aldiss, may well have provided Wyndham with food for thought, though the latter clearly has a chip on his shoulder about Wyndham's greater success (see Cosy Cliches). Ballard's novel The Drowned World is often considered a pastiche of The Kraken Wakes, in a tropical setting. Additionally, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World must surely have been read by him. There are echoes of it in Consider Her Ways, and The Midwich Cuckoo, although personally I find Huxley’s writing style very dry, and a poor match for his fertile imagination.

 

 

Some have also compared Wyndham with George Orwell, both men were born in 1903, though there are as many differences between the two men’s bleak futurism, as there are similarities. Wyndham and Orwell (or should that be Harris and Blair) shared a storytelling style that combined grand ideas, with day-to-day minutae, and the two men also shared an equal distaste for bigoted conservatism and communism. Co-incidently Wyndham and Orwell both worked for a time as propagandists during the Second World War.

 

 

The Outward Urge was published just before 2001 A Space Odyssey. The lonely and maddening emptiness of space is a theme of short stories like Survival and The Dumb Martian, and there is some common ground with 2001.

 

Finally, Welsh writer Howell Davies was a friend of John's, and his daughter Joan attended Bedales School, where Wyndham spent three contented years. It is thought that Hwyl and Bronwen Hughes, the couple from Chinese Puzzle, are based on Howell and his wife Becky. It is also interesting to note that in Davies' novel Minimum Man (published under his Sci-Fi pseudonym Andrew Marvell) the fictitious Prime Minister is called Gregory Jellaby, a name surely inspiring Professor Gordon Zellaby in Midwich.

 

The Influenced

 

 

Wyndham was one of the very first writers to effectively broach the subject of Armaegeddon, and may therefore have been a muse for novels like Doris Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor and Margaret Atwood’s Handmaiden’s Tale. In the realm of popular culture many early zombie films pay homage to the likes of Triffids and Kraken Wakes. Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later is essentially an unimaginative version of Day of the Triffids minus the triffids. The X-Men Comics might also be considered a dumbed-down hybrid of The Midwich Cuckoo and The Chrysalids. Also the 1970s BBC series Survivors (subject of a recent anodyne BBC remake) virtually copies passages from Day of the Triffids verbatim. I also think Wyndham has had a palpable influence on post-apocalyptic films such as Mad Max - minus the homoerotic Aussie punks of course.

 

 

Another of the many moving pictures that are Wyndham-influenced is the 2015 Stephen Fingleton production The Survivalist. Set in a chilling near-future Ulster it is a graphic, unglamourised, and disturbing vision of social breakdown. Wyndham seldom dwelled on the gritty details of the apocalypse preferring to allow the reader to imagine the horror, whereas The Survivalist has violence, prostitution, bodily functions, and unwashed/shaved actors. Perhaps the most Triffids-esque aspect is the flourishing of nature once the majority of mankind has been wiped out. This film is perhaps the finest example of its' genre.

 

 

Simon Clark's sequel The Night of the Triffids, released at the turn of the Millennium, may well interest Wyndham fans. It follows the triffid-battling adventures of the generation born after the worldwide breakdown. I have yet to read it but according to WyndhamWeb correspondent ‘Jackal’ (unfortunately spammers killed my comments page) it was:
‘....really disappointing, and seems to have little to do with the original. It’s probably written by a triffid fan who wanted to push ideas about what would happen to super evolving species like the triffids. I read it and felt like it devalued the original. It would’ve been ok if I hadn’t read DOTT’.
In 2014 an audio CD, and downloadable version of The Night of the Triffids was released.

A writer influenced heavily by Wyndham is the underrated Lancashire novelist John Christopher. His 1956 disaster story Death of Grass easily fits into the Logical Fantasy mould, and is a very worthwhile read. All forms of grass including edible types such as wheat are wiped out, leading to Wyndham-style cataclysm. Unfortunately Death of Grass lacks the strong female characters one associates with Wyndham books. Christopher went on to specialise in challenging children's stories such as The Guardians and Tripods, which was memorably dramatised in the 1980s.

 

 

José Saramago's Blindness is another example of Day of the Triffids without the triffids. I don't know whether he was deliberately or subconsciously plagiarising, or was just unlucky in independently thinking up the idea of sudden, global blindness. Either way it was published almost half a century after DOTT. To be fair to the Portuguese author, he is a nobel-prize winner; what a pity Wyndham never got the honour.

Stephen King a very successful writer more famous for Horror, has also dabbled in SF could classed as Horror is a fan of Wyndham's opining that he was 'perhaps the best writer of Science Fiction England has ever produced'. Triffids and Midwich are amongst the Wyndham tales that have an element of the horrific. Another renowned US writer who may have been influenced by Wyndham is Isaac Asimov. The reason for the hesitation in naming JW as a muse in this case, is that the work that reads most like an Asimov book is one of his least famous i.e. Stowaway to Mars. No other Wyndham novel explores the theme of robot intelligence more than this pre-war story with several pages expanding on the sentence 'the idea persists of the eventual conquest of man by the machine'. Robotic topics are discussed in depth by Isaac Asimov (though like Huxley he is a writer more at home with ideas than fine prose and dialogue). The Czech Karel Capek, who is credited with coining the term 'robot', (though it was probably his brother Josef) is also namechecked by Wyndham in Stowaway to Mars.