Book Name: Day of the Triffids
Author: John Wyndham
First Published: 1951
Born John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, Wyndham was born in the village of Dorridge, England. He was the son of a barrister. When he was eight years old, his parents separated and he and his brother, Vivian Beynon Harris, were sent away to boarding school. Both boys remained in various schools until they turned eighteen. Wyndham was happy at his last school, Bedales School near Petersfield in Hampshire and considered it home.
When he left school, he attempted several careers including farming, law, commercial art and advertising, but mainly lived off an allowance from his parents. In 1925, he decided to write for money and would sell short stories and series to American science fiction magazines. He used the pen names “John Beynon” or “John Beynon Harris”. He had moderate success, but when World War II arrived, he joined the army as many young men of his time did. He severed as a Corporal cipher operator in the Royal Corps of Signals and participated in the Normandy landings, although he was not one of the ones first on the beach.
When the war ended, Wyndham returned to writing, inspired by the success his brother had achieved with the publication of four novels. Wyndham changed his writing style and sought to improve his storytelling skills. In 1951, he used the pen name John Wyndham for the first time. He published The Day of the Triffids under this name and did not mention his pre-war writing career in the book’s publicity. Most people assumed that this was his first novel and that he was an unknown writer. The Day of the Triffids became a huge success and established Wyndham as a name in the science fiction community. He would go on to write six more novels under this pen name.
In 1963, Wyndham married Grace Wilson, a woman that he had dated for twenty years and the couple remained together until he passed away. They lived in a house in Petersfield, Hampshire, just outside the grounds of Bedales School where he had grown up. Wyndham died at the age of 65.
The Day of the Triffids begins when biologist Bill Masen lands in a hospital after having been splashed with droplets of poison from a strange plant known as a Triffid. These plants are aggressive and seem capable of intelligent behavior. They move about by walking on their roots and have a whip-like poisonous sting that allows them to kill their prey. Bill’s eyes are bandaged as he recovers and therefore misses seeing a beautiful green meteor shower that the entire world took time to watch. The next morning, Bill awakens to a silent hospital.
Fearful of his eyesight, Bill removes the bandages from his eyes and discovers that London is collapsing. All those that had viewed the meteor shower, have been rendered completely blind. Quickly, many fall dead to a subsequent plague and the population of the city is quickly decimated.
Bill Masen is one of the few people left who is still sighted. He meets a sighted woman, wealthy novelist Josella Playton, who is being used as a guide for a violet blind man. She and Bill gradually fall in love and decide to leave London together to find a better life for themselves. As they depart, they are lured by a light that they see at a London university building. They discover a group of sighted people led by a man named Beadley. This leader wants to save humanity by creating a colony of sighted men who would each take several sighted and blind women as wives. Feeling that there is safety in numbers, Bill and Josella join his group.
Due to the polygamous principals of the group and that it favors only the sighted, some of its members balk. Wilfred Coker takes it on himself to save as many of the blind from the wandering Triffids in the city. He starts a mock fire at the university and during the confusion, kidnaps several of the sighted people that are necessary for his plans. Two of those people are Bill and Josella. He chains each of the sighted people he has taken to a squad of the blind and forces them to wander through the city in search of food and other necessities. During one such search, Bill and his squad are attacked by triffids and a rival gang of scavengers led by a red haired man. They survive the attack, but later the blind scavengers begin dying of the plague.
When his squad is dead, Bill and a now repentant Coker, begin to search for Bill’s love. After a few dead ends, he remembers Josella mentioning a country home in Sussex. Coker does not wish to search further and Bill sets out alone. He is joined by a young sighted girl named Susan and with her help, they manage to locate Josella. The three bond into a family, with Bill and Josella as the married parents and Susan as their adopted daughter. Together they turn the Sussex farm into a small, self-sufficient colony. As the years go by, the Triffids grow more powerful and numerous. Their break-ins on the farm increase and endanger the human beings inside. Also the supplies of fuel from the city grow more difficult to obtain.
One day a helicopter pilot arrives as a representative of the colony that Beadley has established on the Isle of Wright. The Masens are invited to join them. The family is reluctant to leave their home, but when a squad of soldiers arrive, representing a new tyranical government that wishes to draft the adults to care for blind survivors and hold Susan hostage to guaranty their good behavior. The Masens flee the farm and leave with Beadley’s pilot. They join with the Wight colony, with the hope of destroying the triffids once and for all and reclaim Earth for human beings once again.
The Day of the Triffids was one of those books at the library that I read as a teenager. The style of writing was typical for its day and now would be considered a bit old fashioned. Yet this story about aggressive plants and the end of the world as we know it has stuck with popular culture since it was written. The novel has continued to be made into movies, radio plays and even a television series. It is still worth checking out even now, especially if you like science fiction with a touch of a horror element.