The Day of the Triffids was first published in December 1951 and will soon be celebrating its 70 year anniversary. Although having previously published books under other names, this was the first book written under the pen name John Wyndham and is arguably the best and most memorable of all his books, for what is a classic, quintessentially British, science fiction novel.
The story is told from the point of view of biologist Bill Masen and begins when he wakes in a London hospital to find that the world is blind after everyone watched a meteorite shower the previous night before. This introduces one of the most evocative opening paragraphs of any book: When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.
Bill was hospitalised after being stung by a Triffid in a farm where there are cultivated for their precious high grade oil. Over seven feet tall, Triffids are sentient plants which can kill a human with their long whiplashing stings and, more importantly, they can up root and walk! With most of humanity now blind, the Triffids take advantage and break free from the farms to create even more havoc and danger to a civilization already on its knees.
Although essentially this is a post-apocalyptic story of killing, walking plants, you get a real sense that the science in the book could be fact rather than fiction and there is a credible relatability to the horrific situation into which the world is plunged.
Wyndham successfully leads us on a thrilling journey with Bill and his love interest (fellow sighted) Josella, as they try and survive the Triffids and create a future for humanity in a dangerous changed world. Being 70 years old, the period setting adds to the overall appeal to the story, as it feels as if you are reading an historical account of life in the 1950s – if it were taken over by plants that can walk and kill that is!
A testament to the brilliance of the story has been numerous TV, radio and film adaptations, the last of which was a contemporary interpretation for the BBC in 2019 staring Brian Cox, Joely Richardson and Eddie Izzard, which failed to capture the excitement of the book. Maybe it’s time for a new version that’s closely based on the book and set in the 1950s to give the book justice as an authentic period drama.
A compelling read for any lover of post-apocalyptic, science fiction or thriller novels, although you may not view your garden in the same light again! As John Wyndham said in an interview about the origins of the Triffids “The moving vegetable would be a real menace”.