Wednesday 21 November 2018

The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham

Bill Masen is hospitalized after a triffid attack, meaning he misses the meteor show that everyone else enjoys. His disgruntlement at having missed out soon proves misplaced as he discovers the widespread blindness that has occurred as a result. As he wanders the streets trying to work out what has happened he rescues another sighted person, Josella Playton, from her violent captor. It quickly becomes apparent that their sight puts them in danger and they make the difficult decision not to reveal their ability on grounds of self-preservation. All around are despairing, many preferring death to a life spent in darkness.

Other groups reveal themselves, each with their own ideas of how they should proceed, causing factions and separations. They try their best to survive with ever decreasing supplies and increasingly numerous triffids. There’s also a mysterious illness wiping out large swathes of the population that nobody is qualified to treat.

The book raises a lot of questions about humanity and our imagined superiority over nature. Previous to the disaster Bill had a colleague who believed triffids would take over if human sight was lost. It was our only advantage, and with the triffids already adapted to a sightless life they would have the upper hand. He was dismissed as having absurd ideas – imagine if the triffids had agency. The novel proves that they do, raising the question of how moral their treatment had been. It also leaves us with a sense that nature will survive long after humanity has exhausted itself, and that we will bring destruction on ourselves. Although written in 1951 this is a message that feels particularly pertinent today.

The writing is very much of its time and allusions to the Soviet Union as a place of mystery and secrecy play into the concerns of the day. The inevitable power struggle and attempts to give survivors something to believe in feels timeless however, and it is clear why this book continues to capture the imagination of its audiences.

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