Danielle (Work in Progress) and I like to sometimes do some companion reading and this time around we decided on Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. Danielle has read a few other Wyndham books but this was my first.
The story, in case you don’t know, is a post-apocalyptic one. Strange but beautiful “green stars” appear in the sky. Is it a comet? No one knows for sure. But of course everyone has to go out and watch them. And then the next day they are all blind. For various reasons not everyone looked up at the sky and their sight remains intact. But for the majority of the world’s population, they can no longer see. If that isn’t bad enough, the triffids are now free to take advantage of humanity.
Triffids are an intelligent, walking carnivorous plant that escaped from a Russian lab. But the world has found them useful for making oil and pulping up for cattle food. Because of their usefulness, they have been farmed. Fields of triffids chained up so they can’t move. And some people even have them as novelties in their gardens, poisonous stingers removed. Without their human captors, the triffids break their chains and blind humans become triffid food.
Instead of a straightforward post, Danielle and I decided to have a conversation. Below is part of the conversation. You can find the other part on Danielle’s blog.
What would an apocalypse be without a love story? Does Bill and Josella’s relationship serve any purpose?
D– I always wonder about that–is a love story really necessary in any story? Does it serve the action or is it just a crowd pleaser? I suppose the ‘romance’ is necessary in thinking about the societies that begin sprouting and what they need to ‘accomplish’ if the human race is not going to die out entirely. Every story wants a happy ending (or maybe most readers) even if they may or may not get it, and often that happy ending means some happy pairing of characters. I think they serve as a good juxtaposition of the other options–sort of middle of the road. And then it moves the action of the story along, too, and adds to the drama since they are separated in the middle. Will they meet up again or not. Is it all a stretch of the imagination? Is a little suspension of disbelief needed? He does lay the groundwork of them finding each other.
S– I agree, when Bill and Josella get separated, it does serve to move the story along and provide a bit of tension other than who are the triffids going to kill next? And since it is a disaster novel, they end up being a sort of Adam and Eve. It was hard to find their romance convincing though; there wasn’t much emotion between them, no spark. Bill wasn’t exactly the last man on Earth, but I guess the end-of-the-world throws people together in odd ways.
D– It was pretty matter of fact, but maybe as they had made the initial connection and started off together in survival mode, they both felt compelled to go on together. To lose each other like that might have felt disorienting or even a little devastating, even though they both seemed to be able to get along just fine on their own. Solitude is one thing, but solitude at the end of the world might feel a little too final–lol.
Day of the Triffids is a classic in the science fiction genre. Is it still relevant or has it become too dated to have anything interesting to say?
D– I very much consider it a classic, and I think it actually has even more to say now than before. His books put me in mind of Ray Bradbury who also told a great story and he was sort of prescient in his thinking and writing. His predictions turned out to be pretty plausible. The story has some interesting things to say and certainly starts a conversation. If nothing else I thought it a pretty entertaining read. It was just unnerving enough for me to sort of not ‘want to look’ or be afraid of what would happen next, yet not so horribly catastrophic (well, yes, catastrophic, but probably the end of the world won’t happen in quite this way) that it made me feel dread!
S– So I shouldn’t send you a carnivorous plant for your birthday?
I think Wyndham may have originally wanted us to be upset about the event that caused the blindness rather than the triffids. But I think these days it’s the triffids that have more oomph behind them. I mean genetically engineered carnivorous plants run amok? With GMOs and CRISPR and all the other potentially hazardous gene manipulation experiments going on there is no telling what might escape from a lab accident and what the consequences might be!
D– Hah–not one that walks, or does more than tilt its ‘head’ (!) towards the sun. I may never look at my houseplants in the same way again. Yes, we live in the age of Frankenfood, right? Frankenplants–ambling about. I want to see how they are represented in the films that have been made!
S– Oh, that would be interesting to compare the representation of the triffids in the various movie versions!
There is a sequel written in 2002 called Night of the Triffids. It is not by John Wyndham and looks to be rather bad.
The original Triffids was published in 1951, and Danielle asked me, since I enjoy reading SF, how it compared to other SF books in the same vein. I think, in terms of classics, it has held up pretty well. It is considered to be a necessary read if you want to read historical SF. But in comparison to what is being written today, it is a bit thin and pulpy but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Danielle thought it didn’t really feel like a science fiction book, and maybe that’s good for people who don’t really read much in the genre but want to give it a try. So it is entirely possible that triffids are a gateway drug. Be careful out there!