John Wyndham omnibus
The novel “The Day of the Triffids” by John Wyndham was published for the first time in 1951.
Bill Masen wakes up in the hospital where he was taken after he was poisoned by a triffid. He’s blindfolded because the poison came into contact with his eyes and the moment should have come to see if there’s any permanent damage but something’s very strange. There seems to be neither nurses nor doctors around and Bill is forced to take off the bandages on his own and when he goes to look for someone he realizes that something really bad happened.
Because of the bandages, Bill couldn’t see the strange meteor shower the night before but soon discovers that it blinded everyone who watched it. In London there’s total chaos with a majority of people who remained blind and a small minority of sighted people. The society disintegrated immediately after the catastrophe and the triffids have already started taking advantage. After meeting Josella, a young writer, Bill tries to organize the survival among many dangers.
“The Day of the Triffids” is the first novel published by John Wyndham with that pen name the one that made him famous. It’s still the best known among his novels, even if the author has written other ones even excellent in subsequent years. This novel has become a cornerstone of the post-apocalyptic genre with a reputation that has gone far beyond the science fiction genre.
In “The Day of the Triffids” the world is hit by a disaster when an out of the ordinary comets shower blinds whoever watched it. It was supposed to be a great show so the vast majority of human beings watched it and got blind, immediately causing chaos.
People react very differently to this disaster: someone is in shock, others seek help and others commit suicide because they see no hope for the future. The few who can see have a big advantage but the new world is in total chaos and there’s a new danger, the triffids.
“The Day of the Triffids” starts with a slow pace because the protagonist Bill Masen, who narrates it in first person, tells his story and especially his work in the field of triffids cultivation. These strange plants of which the origin isn’t clear are the source of an oil with extraordinary properties but also have a poisonous sting that can kill a human being. They’re very dangerous also because they can move around.
The triffids must be enclosed within sturdy fences by their growers to prevent them from becoming dangerous but after the disaster there’s no one watch over them and almost immediately they start finding their way out. Over time, they become a huge danger and the many blind people are helpless if no one can warn them that a triffid is approaching.
The triffids’ history isn’t just meant to give us some information about their origins and their characteristics but there’s also a deeper message. John Wyndham explains that through Bill Masen that the triffids were created artificially, it seems in the USSR, but spread out in the world because someone wanted to exploit them for their own greed and a smuggling attempt gone bad allowed them to start growing out of control.
The disaster that caused the blindness of most of human remains without a clear explanation but from some information that Bill Masen collects one possibility is that a military satellite fell down causing the unexpected use of a weapon that hit the world. In essence, for John Wyndham everything that happened is because of human beings with their arms race and their greed.
In this scenario, the mortality rate increases rapidly and the survivors must adapt. John Wyndham explores various possibilities for rebuilding the society and he does it very critically. Some people seek to build groups based on authoritarian ideas, of a religious or ideological type. There are some sighted people who believe it’s their duty to help the blind and they even kidnap other sighted people to force them to do so. There are some blind people who try to capture sighted people to enslave them and use them as eyes in order to survive.
In the course of the novel, various characters often discuss about the best way to build a new society in that situation, with a majority of blind people. John Wyndham’s ideas are very pragmatic so one of the few ideas that may work is based on the abandonment of old traditions to build a society that goes beyond the old gender roles and stereotypes and even beyond the old morality.
The novel alternates between episodes of action in which groups of humans fight other or have to defend themselves against the triffids with other episodes in which they try to organize themselves. The latter ones deal with the social aspects but also the practical aspects of survival. A key point is the restoration of food production because scavenging canned food from old cities can only work temporarily and is dangerous.
These ethical, moral and also practical elements make “The Day of the Triffids” much more than a post-apocalyptic adventure giving great depth to the novel. Even if they slow down the pace, they make the story much more interesting. Although it’s narrated in the first person, John Wyndham manages to make a lot of characters at least credible through Bill Masen’s eyes and this increases the involvement of the reader, which that way is also emotional.
Over the years, “The Day of the Triffids” was adapted for a movie, for various radio productions and a couple of TV shows. A tribute to this novel, with a protagonist who wakes up in a hospital at the beginning and finds out that there has been a catastrophe, is contained in the recent post-apocalyptic works “28 Days Later” and “The Walking Dead”.
For all these reasons, after more than 60 years, “The Day of the Triffids” remains a truly extraordinary novel that is considered John Wyndham’s greatest masterpiece. I think it’s a must-read novel, and not just for science fiction fans.