The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951)
Summary: Bill Masen, bandages over his wounded eyes, misses the most spectacular meteorite shower England has ever seen. Removing his bandages the next morning, he finds masses of sightless people wandering the city. He soon meets Josella, another lucky person who has retained her sight, and together they leave the city, aware that the safe, familiar world they knew a mere twenty-four hours before is gone forever.
But to survive in this post-apocalyptic world, one must survive the Triffids, strange plants that years before began appearing all over the world. The Triffids can grow to over seven feet tall, pull their roots from the ground to walk, and kill a man with one quick lash of their poisonous stingers. With society in shambles, they are now poised to prey on humankind. Wyndham chillingly anticipates bio-warfare and mass destruction, fifty years before their realization, in this prescient account of Cold War paranoia.
I heard about this book when it was reviewed by Kill Me If I Stop and knew I just had to read it. I’d never heard of it or the author, John Wyndham, even though he’s written quite a few science fiction books.
Let me just say that this book is amazing! It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read and not only is it an entertaining read, it’s also terrifying and very thought provoking. I don’t want to give away too much of what happens because it’s best if you discover it for yourself.
As I read I felt so aware of my eyes and ability to see. It’s something I take for granted and don’t even think about until forced to contemplate a life in the dark. This book makes you realize just how much you rely on sight and how helpless you could become if you were deprived of it.
Another thing this book really impressed upon me was how much people in the past had to overcome when building society as we know it today. When the people have to start from scratch they have the advantage of knowledge but they still have to work to create a new world. That alone made me realize just how fortunate I am to live in this era where many things have already been discovered, best practices already implemented, and technology already invented. All those things allow me to live a rather easy life full of leisure time and enjoyment versus a constant struggle to survive and find food, for example.
While the concept of plants that can walk around might sound outrageous, Wyndham’s writing deals with the idea so well that you find yourself imagining that it just might be possible. Not to mention we already have venus flytrap plants and mimosa pudica, a plant that shrinks back when touched. And then there’s Cleve Backster, a lie-detector expert who hooked up a plant to one of his machines and found it “reacted sharply when he merely thought about burning one of its leaves.”
The Triffid plants in the book are definitely dangerous but Wyndham doesn’t write them as horrific monsters. That doesn’t mean they aren’t that scary because they are. He just didn’t sensationalize them and I think that’s why this book comes across as so realistic and frightening.
As I read I imagined the Triffids to look something like a more sinister version of the pea shooters from Plants vs. Zombies:
Other people have different imaginings of the Triffids:
I was also happily surprised to learn that The Day of the Triffids has been adapted to film several times: in 1962 (Invasion of the Triffids), as a mini-series in 1981 and most recently in 2009, although IMDB also has a listing for it in 2013.
I decided to watch the most recent adaptation, a BBC two-part mini-series starring Dougray Scott and Joely Richardson.
However I only made it through the first part because the plot was significantly altered. The Triffids were portrayed as meat hungry monsters and there were more villains and other superfluous characters added to heighten the drama. I suppose it is a difficult book to adapt so I recommend skipping this version.
So, have you read any books similar to this? What about anything by Wyndham? Do you think there are things we still don’t know or understand about plants? And how dependent upon your sight are you? Would you be able to survive a Triffid attack?