1950s Classics Science Fiction

The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

I hadn’t read any Wyndham before, but everyone seems to talk about him fondly and so I decided that it was time I tried one of his classic science fiction books.

The Day of The Triffids begins with the central character, Bill, waking up in hospital to discover that everyone around him has gone blind. Bill was recovering from an eye operation and so had his eyes covered the previous night when a beautiful green meteor shower appeared in the sky. He had been upset that he’d missed out on the spectacle, but now realises that this is the reason he managed to retain his sight.

Bill heads out into the world and begins the difficult task of trying to survive now that almost everyone is blind. The basic infrastructure has collapsed so even basic things are difficult to achieve. On top of the blindness people also have to deal with large plants that have learnt to walk. These triffids are beginning to hunt people down. I was aware of the killer plants in The Day of the Triffids, but I hadn’t realised that people went blind too. The moment I read this I began to compare the book to Blindness by Jose Saramago (one of my all time favourites), but I think this initially put The Day of the Triffids at a disadvantage. They are very different books and the light, entertaining tone of The Day of the Triffids didn’t have the same impact on me as the darker Saramago novel.

As the book progressed the oppressive nature of the triffids began to creep in. I had initially thought they were quite comical, but I was impressed by the way Wyndham began to make me fear these mythical plants. By the end I was totally convinced by the events of the book: loving the plot, the characters and the many important observations of our society.

It must be, I thought, one of the race’s most persistent and comforting hallucinations to trust that “it can’t happen here” – that one’s own time and place is beyond cataclysm.

This book showed a realistic vision of a society struggling to survive, but all the darker, more gory elements were removed. I can see why it is a classic and why people love reading Wyndham. It is a perfect, cozy disaster story!

Highly recommended.

Which is your favourite John Wyndham book?

I was tempted to watch the recently released BBC adaptation of the book, but most of the reviews are terrible!

Have you seen it? Is it worth watching?

58 replies on “The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham”

I remember doing an essay on Wyndham’s novels for GCSE (a looong time ago…). Loved this one then, but I’m slightly afraid to revisit his books in case my new über-literary self hates them! 😉

Tony, I’m not sure anyone who once loved the Triffids could hate them. I think you should give it a try – I’m sure you’ll love the nostalgic re-read 🙂

I too was surprised by how enjoyable this was Jackie when I read it at the end of last year (review here). I don’t think Tony should worry about re-reading it, it’s a far more intelligent book than he may remember. I’m almost tempted to read some more Whyndham

William, Thanks for commenting on my blog for the first time 🙂

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one – I’m definitely going to read more Wyndham.

I also liked the fact that both of your posts mentioned The Road – I am feeling very left out as I haven’t read it yet. I’m sure I’ll love it so I’m going to make an effort to read it next month.

I love John Wyndham – my favourite is The Chrysalids – about human mutants who are ostracised and pushed to the edge of society – a classic theme.

I saw the recent TV series – it was a load of absolute tosh, but had star casting – Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave etc and Eddie Izzard playing Bad Eddie Izzard. It was stupid fun.

You may also like to read ‘The death of grass’ by John Christopher – same era and a superb dystopia about er – the death of grass – and the breakdown of society.

Annabel, I own The Chrysalids, so that is very convienient 🙂

I was wondering if the TV series was so bad that it would be amusing. I don’t think I’ll go to the effort of getting the DVD, but I hope that it will be repeated at some point and I can catch it then.

Thanks for mentioning The Death of Grass. It is already on my wishlist after I saw a wonderful review at anothercookiecrumbles. Hopefully I’ll get hold of a copy soon, but it is always nice to have a second person with positive thoughts on it. Thanks.

Me and Chris watched the lastest TV version when it first cam on and turned it off halfway through. It was really really boring. It put me off the book actually so now Im thinking I should give it ago.

Jessica, Oh no! Boring is one word I don’t like to see. 🙁 I love the reviews on Amazon. Everything from “a pile of poo” to “absolute tosh” So very British 🙂

A cozy disaster story. Hmmmm. I think you’re right about that. It’s also an obvious comparison with Blindness. Honestly, I prefer the Triffids. Both have basically the same message I suppose. I enjoyed both. But with Blindness there was always the lingering suspiscion that I was reading “literature.” With the Triffids I was simply engrossed in the story.

So, okay, it did have a race of intelligent walking plants that could spit poison.

Someday, you’ll have to read The Chrysalids. I think it’s better than Triffids and I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.

cbjames, LOL! Yes. Blindness is definitely literature, but I love it for that. I love his lack of punctuation and darker tones.

I will read The Chrysalids at some point and hope that I enjoy it as much as you did.

I have this one in my pile Jackie, so I just skimmed the plot-parts of your review. It does sound like this is a bit like Blindness, though I’m glad to hear the two books are actually quite different (in tone if not in scope as well)… I don’t think I could handle reading another book just like Blindness (it was good, but so intense!).

Tony claims that these books are meant for a younger audience and that he read all of Wyndham’s books when he was a child… have you heard of this? I had never had the impression he was a children’s/YA author…

Steph, I think that many people enjoyed Wyndham as a teenager. I don’t think they are aimed at a younger audience, but the text isn’t hard to read and there is no real sex/language to discourage them. I guess boys love the thought of reading about man-eating plants? I’m sure you’ll love Wyndham and enjoy the lighter tone 🙂

Although I read his books when I was a teenager, I never claimed he was a writer for teenagers. His books were a staple on secondary-school reading lists back in the UK in my day. I was more concerned that my tastes have changed dramatically since then!

During my two years of English GCSE, I remember having to read ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, and our teacher gave us a surprise test on the first five chapters. I made the whole thing up (I thought Bathsheba was a man…) because I hadn’t manged to get past page 7, and my teacher went mental. That would come as a huge surprise to anyone who regularly reads my classically top-heavy blog, yet I loved all of Wyndham’s books!

The point is that I am loath to revisit books I loved when I was a teenager as I fear that I may be disappointed. 🙂

Tony, I know exactly what you mean. I am scared to re-read books that I enjoyed as a teenager too. I loved Duncton Wood, but I worry I wouldn’t like it now. The added problem is that I never see adults reading and enjoying it now. I think Wyndham might be different. Adults that enjoy the kind of books that you enjoy now are still loving Wyndham. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

PS. I think that Steph was talking about her husband, Tony, but I’m not sure 🙂

rhapsodyinbooks, I think there have been several movies over the years. I do love the thought of some over-the-top man eating plant action though 😉 If I spot any of them on TV I’ll be ensuring I watch them!

Jackie, do NOT watch the recent adaptation – it is hours of your life you will never get back! It really was dreadful despite the stellar cast.

I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this; I loved it. I also enjoyed The Midwich Cuckoos and The Trouble With Lichen last year and intend to leave The Chrysalids to last. I love Wyndham and can see myself rereading him often once I have exhausted his small back catalogue.

I saw the comparisons to Blindness even without having read it at the time of reading Triffids but now having read both I love how completely different their tones where despite the similarities in basis premise.

Claire, You can’t say things like that – it intrigues me too much! Now I want to watch it just to see how bad it really can be 🙂

I own The Trouble with Lichen and The Chrysalids, but I like your idea of saving the best until last. I might have to do that too!

I have never read this, although I remembered James bringing it up when we reviewed the book and the movie Blindness (the book also knocked my socks off). The idea of murderous plants is pretty wacky, but knowing your skepticism and the fact that you enjoyed the book anyway is convincing.

Sandy, It is hard not to compare the two books if you’ve read them both as they follow almost exactly the same story line. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one – as you say if I can believe in murderous plants then almost anyone can 🙂

I haven’t seen the most recent adaptation, Jackie, but we like the 1981 BBC mini series directed by Ken Hannam with John Duttine.
The 1963 movie with Howard Keel isn’t like the book…

I love that you loved this book – it is on my all time favourite books list (and I have read A LOT in 50 odd years!). I have enjoyed most of Wyndham’s books and I am not really a science fiction lover particularly – just love his style I guess.

Jacqui, I’m not a massive science fiction fan either, but for some reason this really clicked with me. I’d love to know which other books stood out after 50 years of reading – I’ve sent an email to you 🙂

Oooh! I haven’t read this or any other of his books, but this sounds like an interesting find. I was thinking the Triffids sounded a bit cheesy, but I’m glad to see that you found them believable by book’s end. I will be teaching a sci-fi class at some point in the near future, and this might just be on the menu.

While reading your review I immediately thought of Blindness as well. This sounds interesting and it’s always fabulous when you can find an author that makes something absurd like giant human hunting plants terrifying and real. I think I shall have to put this on my tbr, asap!

I think I would enjoy this one but it really sounds like something my son would like even better. I’m going to tell him about it and see if he might not want to fit it in before school starts next week.

“a perfect, cozy disaster story!” Isn’t that an oxymoron???

The whole plant things sounds laughable … but I could see that a good writer could make it frightening.

I am always finding this book in catalogues when I’m looking for my favorite diarist Joan Wyndham. Maybe I should just read it–I love the premise of his being the only sighted person left!–and then when the libraries I visit inevitably don’t have Joan Wyndham’s books, I’d at least feel companionable about John. :p

I read this when I was at school, although not for school, and I remember ealy enjoying it. I totally missed the similarity to Blindness tough when I rea that recently. It seems obvious now you mention it though!
I loved The Chrysalids though.

Ah, John Wyndham! It’s been many many years since I’ve read anything by him – The Chrysalids was an assigned reading when I was in secondary school in Singapore. And from there, I went on to devour whatever else I could find in the school library like The Day of the Triffids and Chocky. Thanks for reminding me of Wyndham, it’s been too long since I’ve read his books.

I read this last year and loved it! I’m glad you did too. I have yet to read any of his other books but I recently bought a copy of The Chrysalids, which I’m looking forward to reading.

Dominique, People are saying that The Chrysalids is his best so I’m going to try a few of his other books and save the best until last. I hope you enjoy some more Wyndham.

I read my first Wyndham recently (The Chrysalids) and thought it was really good, so I’m happy to see this review – Day of the Triffids and Midwich Cuckoos are next on my Wyndham to-read list, so looking forward to this one now!

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