The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

So I recently finished the Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, which is a classic dystopian novel, and it was amazing. It was fabulous.

The novel is set in London sometime in the 1950s. It opens with the narrator, Bill Masen, waking up in hospital with a bandage around his eyes. He has been in the hospital for about a week, and has been unable to see for that week. When he wakes up it turns out he is the only one in the hospital who can see. The night before there was some sort of meteor shower with green lights and most of the population has been struck blind. Bill goes out in the world, finds more sighted people, and they have to try to make sense of this world of blind people. Meanwhile there are these plants that have been used for oils, that are suddenly attacking. They’re called triffids, and they can walk, and have these stingers. And the idea is that the one advantage people had over triffids were sight, and suddenly the triffids have the advantage. And what do we do now?

I basically knew everything that would happen in this book before I read it because the Norwegian Radio Theatre made a production of this and my family would listen to it pretty much every summer when I was a kid, and we drove somewhere for our holidays. So I knew the story, and some of the quotes. It did not matter, it’s fabulous.

To me it’s a really fascinating concept, because humanity has essentially created its own downfall. No one really knows where the triffids are from, where they came from, but it didn’t stop anyone exploiting the shit out of it, no matter how worrying it is. There are these creepy plants, that walk around and can attack people, and they have to pen them in and bolt them to the ground. And the plants sort of plan, just wait for their shot, and as soon as the humans are weak they seem to know, and they just attack.

There’s some really interesting, I guess, Cold War aspects. In the beginning there’s a lot of discussion of satellites and Russia and America and China trying to win the Space Race, and they don’t really know what’s up there. It’s not surprising, it was written not long after World War 2, and I understand how it probably sounded chilling in the 50s, but it might look a bit silly now. Anyway. It’s really cool. And it gives a good way out to sort of explain the comet.

I like Bill, the main character. He’s worked with triffids. He’s very capable and clever and since he’s worked with triffids he’s the only one to take them seriously. He is quite pragmatic, and it’s interesting to see how his conditioning and morality is in conflict with his survival instinct. As an anthropology major in University it made me really excited.

It was fascinating to see how some people felt like holding onto their principles was the only way to survive, and how they judged those that tried to be pragmatic. It was interesting to see how frantically they held onto principles and it led them to not trying anything new either. Holding onto principles like Christianity also led them to hold onto their old impressions of what men and women were meant to do, and didn’t try new things. Others decided to let go of their old principles so they could actually move on and make it. And these people were also more likely to change and take chances to achieve their goals, which feels very real.

It’s an interesting study in what’s right and wrong. It seems like it would be right for the people who are sighted to help all the people who are blind, because they have a privilege, and they have been blessed or saved, or whatever, so they have a duty to help those that haven’t been blessed. But that isn’t necessarily practical, and it might be crueler. So while the impulse is to help as many people as possible it might be worse than saving yourself.

I also like Josella, the other main character. There’s a bit of instant love there, but they’re in a difficult situation and think they’re the only people in the world, so I understand it. Josella is quite believable. She’s a socialite, so when she’s thrown into this new world she has sort of a breakdown, but she is pragmatic and tough. When she is faced with loneliness, and can’t depend on Bill she pulls herself together and takes responsibility and basically goes; fuck it, I can do this. So I like her.

I loved it. The writing is superb, and the story is fascinating. It’s amazing. And even though I knew the entire story I still loved it like it was completely new.