Reviewed by Steven H Silver
If you only know about The Day of the Triffids from watching the 1963, Steve Sekely film, you are definitely missing something by ignoring the novel. Unlike the movie (as is nearly always the case), the novel has a chance to flesh out both characters and situations. Triffids, mobile carnivorous plants, have been known for several years by the time the novel opens. Kept in gardens around the world for their exoticness, most triffids are kept without their attack frond, which is capable of blinding and killing an human.
Attacked by a triffid in his youth, Bill Masen has acquired a slight immunity to the plants as well as an interest in them. He worked at a triffid oil processing farm until a triffid attack left him blind. The novel opens with Masen in hospital the night before his bandages are to come off. During the night, he hears people exclaming about the most incredible meteor shower ever seen. A once in a lifetime event which he misses because he can't take off his bandages yet. The next morning, when Masen awakes, the world is strangely silent. When no one comes to remove his bandages, Masen does so himself. He discovers that somehow almost the entire world has gone blind.
Although Wyndham never exactly explains why the meteor shower has left everyone blind, he gives enough clues to allow the reader to make a reasonable judgment. Wyndham also exposes the saying "In the Kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king" to be false. Although Masen and others have their vision, they are also objects of desire for the blind. On several occassions, Masen finds himself captured, or nearly captured, by roving bands of blind men who need a sighted slave in order to survive.
Wyndham's novel, much more than the film which was based on it, is concerned with how humans would react to a catastrophe and attempt to rebuild society. After the initial panic, the sighted people try different, and competing forms of government. Some feel that the sighted should try to help those less fortunate. Others believe that there is no way to help the blind in the long-term and focus should be set on rebuilding a society for those who could see. Others, still, believe sighted and blind can live together, helping each other. Although Wyndham has definite views on which of these types of society would work better, he acknowledges that within each group there are different ways to achieve the goal of retaining civilization, and, in many cases, more than one can be successful.
Although Wyndham succeeds on a political level, his story is not nearly as strong on the character level. In the course of the novel, Masen meets another sighted person, Josella. Through the course of the book, they fall in love. However, its never clear if they fall in love because of who they are or simply because she is the only major female character. There are several other females who figure in minor roles with whom Masen seems to have a lot more in common than with Josella.
Marshall Tymn once wrote that The Days of the Triffids was "an effective revival of the catastrophe theme in which H.G. Wells had been so successful. . . ". In fact, several times while I was reading the novel, particularly near the beginning, I felt as if I could have been reading War of the Worlds or even The Time Machine. Wyndham very successfully managed to write in a voice and style similar to Wells. He even manages to have a slight argument with Wells during the book in the form of a debate over whether the catastrophe which has occurs mandates a need for free love or whether the Judaeo-Christian marriage form should still be observed.
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