I recently joined a book club being run at my local comic books store (Close Encounters in Bedford) and our read for February (for our meeting on 6th March) was Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. Before I continue, this is the first time I’ve read it and I’ve never seen either the recentish movie nor the BBC TV series adaptations
Written in 1951, Day of the Triffids is a War of the Worlds-esque tale of a mans survival in a post-apocalyptic world that has become over-run by the titular Triffids, an “unnatural” plant that thrives after the majority of Britains (and possibly the Worlds) population are blinded by what is believed to be a meteor shower.
The vast majority of Day of the Triffids follows Bill Masen as he learns to adapt to the world he wakes up to whilst in Hospital, unlike most of the people around him he wasn’t blinded when the meteor shower as his eyes had been bandaged after he had received a whipping poisonous sting from a Triffid whilst cultivating them and thus finds initial survival to be much easier. We meet other characters along the way, most of whom have key roles throughout but it is ultimately his search for Josella that drives much of the story until he eventually finds her and events become more diary like until the book ends in what I felt was rather abruptly.
Its due to this ending that I ultimately found Wyndhams tale to be rather frustrating, I wanted to know more about the Triffids and the meteor shower and whether the two were linked or not. I wanted to know more about the new community on the Isle of Wight that is briefly mentioned near the end of the book. I understand that thats not really what Wyndham was trying to do here, he was sticking a fairly ordinary guy into a situation that tests him but unfortunately I don’t think it really quite works, it never really feels like Masen is ever in any real danger and his functionality means any obstacle is easily solved, he takes to being a leader rather naturally and whilst his beliefs regarding the threat of the Triffids are called into question by one individual early on, his methods and opinions are never really challenged beyond that.
What is interesting though is seeing how heavily other creations have been influenced by Day of the Triffids. The one that kept coming to mind was the TV adaptation of Robert Kirkmans The Walking Dead. In both there’s the relentless threat of unthinking flesh eating masses, in both the protagonist wakes up in hospital unaware of how the world around him has changed, in both people rally around said protagonist and their leadership is faultless (well, mostly in The Walking Dead), in both a distant group has a helicopter and there are different factions that have different approaches to surviving in the modern world.
Lastly, and this for me is the most difficult point to put across, but I think Day of the Triffids is a commentary on post-war immigration in Britain. Whilst Wyndham never really points out the appearance of any of the characters (as far as I recall anyway) I always pictured them as white but that may be my own bias showing. I couldn’t help getting the impression that the Triffids were supposed to be the immigrants, especially once the theory that they were communicating with each other was established, their growing numbers would seem to fit with that constant fear that so many people unfortunately have that they’re being over run by people that aren’t their own.