The Day of the Triffids
by John Wyndham
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
In my review of Wyndham's The Chrysalids, I mentioned an early review of that book by Damon Knight, wherein he called the author to task for including what he felt was a superfluous plot, the telepathic ability of the protagonist and others. I disagreed with that assessment, although I couldn't help thinking of that while recently re-reading The Day of the Triffids. There are three distinct plot-threads in this novel, at least one of which could have been eliminated without harming the overall story. I suppose the Triffids themselves have to stay because of the title, but the rest of the post-apocalyptic scenario would have played out much the same even if those carnivorous, ambling plants had not been around.
Again, it has been many, many years since I first read this, so I had forgotten a few details, the major one is that the Triffids had been around and had been cultivated and studied for several years before the cataclysmic event that begins the novel. The story opens with the first-person narrator, Bill Masen, recounting how he woke up in the hospital following eye surgery, only to find the hospital in chaos and the majority of other people having been struck blind, apparently after witnessing a freak meteor shower the night before. Masen's eye injury was caused by a Triffid sting, since the plants most often targeted the head and/or eyes of those careless enough to get close to them without proper protection. Luckily, his surgery was successful, so he finds he is one of the very few who can still see.
The Triffids make very infrequent appearances throughout the book, the majority of the story being more about the reaction of humans, both sighted and blind, to their predicament and the breakdown of government and societal structures. In this way, it resembles other post-apocalyptic tales, such as George R. Stewarts's Earth Abides, John Christopher's No Blade of Grass, Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon, along with the film The Quiet Earth and the two different television versions of Survivors. In turn, it directly influenced at least one other film in this sub-genre, as Danny Boyle has said the opening hospital scene in 28 Days Later was inspired by the novel, or maybe it was one of the film versions that influenced him. As in the majority of this type of story, there are those who retain their humanity and join others for mutual support and aid, while some are selfish and take advantage of those weaker than themselves. All of this could have played out the same without the Triffid sub-plot while retaining the disaster that caused the blinding, or the Triffid threat could have remained without the blinding sub-plot. After all, large carnivorous plants that can uproot themselves and walk across the countryside, and that have a debilitating, and at times lethal, sting, would have been foe enough for unsuspecting humans. There are several times in the book that Masen has difficulty convincing others of the danger from Triffid attacks. The in-story reason for the blinding is something he recalled a colleague saying, that if Triffids had sight and their prey didn't, they would be a most formidable menace.
This is the main reason I would rank The Day of the Triffids behind the other Wyndham books I have read. It doesn't have the emotional intimacy as exhibited in The Chrysalids, and the Triffids are too hokey to produce the horror generated by The Midwich Cuckoos. The plight of the humans to their society's crumbling is interesting enough without carnivorous plants murking up the story. I've been searching to see if Damon Knight might have said something like this about the book years ago, but no such luck, and since he's not around anymore I'll have to say it for him.
Oh, and that third plot element I referenced earlier? That would be the meteor shower, which might not have been a meteor shower after all, but something quite different. I'm not going to say what, so you'll have to read it yourself to find out. In spite of my negative comments, I did enjoy this re-read, mainly for a couple of the character interactions, so I'll recommend it for others who might not have a problem with the Triffids being part of the story.
My review of three different film versions of this book.
My review of Wyndham's The Chrysalids.
My review of The Midwich Cuckoos and the various film versions of that story.
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