The Day of the Triffids

by John Wyndham has been a favorite book of mine for decades.  I have no idea how many times I’ve read it.  A week or so ago when I was browsing through an ebook sale at Amazon, I came across a version of the book for the Kindle and added it to my list (I think I bought five that day, for a total expenditure of about seven bucks).  I’m in the middle of reading, and enjoying, it for the umpteenth time.  From time to time I have reread a book I remembered loving years ago and thought “Why?”  Not in this case.  The triffids are as scary, and the characters as human (and British), as ever.

Most of Wyndham’s work is out of print today.  He is best remembered (he died in 1969) for a handful of novels published in the 1950s, although he had published short stories and pulp novels under a variety of pen names before World War II, and continued to write short stories through the 1950s and 60s.

I have been a science fiction reader since childhood, and I think my parents introduced me to Wyndham’s books; I know they were both great fans of his.  Most of his novels fell into the post-catastrophe genre popular in the decades after the war, and most were first-person narratives of survival and human response to the incomprehensible.  In The Day of the Triffids, most of humanity is struck blind and the survivors find themselves competing with mobile, carnivorous plants.  In Out of the Deeps (aka The Kraken Wakes), civilization is threatened by rising sea level, caused not by the Greenhouse Effect or Global Warming, but by aliens living in the depths of the oceans.  In The Midwich Cuckoos (filmed at least twice as The Village of the Damned), aliens invade through procreation, planting their strange, and eventually very frightening, children in an English country town.  Re-Birth (aka The Chrysalids) takes place well into the future, long after some catastrophe has left humanity subject to random mutations, with all the fear and bigotry such differences might produce.

The Day of the Triffids was published in 1951; my copy, an old Science Fiction Book Club edition, was probably printed in the 1970s.  I’m sure it replaced a battered old paperback.  My battered, yellowed copy of Out of the Deeps cost 35 cents; that may well be the oldest paperback on my shelves.  Re-Birth cost me 75 cents, The Midwich Cuckoos $1.25.  I found them on my science fiction keeper shelf next to a couple of books I have no memory of at all.

But Wyndham’s books I do remember.  The hardcover copy of Triffids is in reasonably good shape, but the paperbacks, with tiny print and yellowed paper, beg to be replaced.  Time to visit Half-Price Books, or Alibris.  One of the joys of the Internet is the availability of used books.

The Day of the Triffids has been filmed at least three times.  The first, a movie made in 1963, starring Howard Keel, is dreadful.  Avoid it.  It takes its title from Wyndham and its ending from The Wizard of Oz.  I have not seen the British movie version made in 2010.  I recommend the British TV version made in 1981.  I have an ancient videotape of this faithful, well cast and well acted adaptation, and when I discovered that it is now available on DVD, I snatched it up.  It doesn’t have fancy CGI effects, but it does have Wyndham’s story.

For many years my father, who was an accomplished gardener, kept a plant on the patio with a nursery tag reading triffidus americanus sticking slyly out of its pot.  Not many people got the joke, but we loved it.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl Bolen
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 22:52:53

    You buy old BBC TV series, too? I didn’t know that about you!



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