Although written in the 1950s during the Cold War, in “The Day of the
Triffids” John Wyndham raises relevant questions regarding the
manipulation of nature and proliferation of space armaments. He
weds the two concerns and creates an entertaining, thought-provoking
story based on a credible “what if”.
What if a new – perhaps man-made – form of life thrust itself forward
at the same time as a space catastrophe – also perhaps man-made –
The new form of life is a carnivorous and mobile plant called a triffid
which is cultivated for its valuable oil. It grows higher than a
man and has a stinger which delivers a venom which in small quantities
can blind but in larger quantities can kill. Because they can
“walk”, triffids are usually tethered. However, the oil for which
they are cultivated is of higher quality if the stinger is not removed,
so it is usually left intact.
The space catastrophe comes in the form of a comet shower which is
incredibly beautiful to watch but which causes blindness within several
hours. Because blindness is delayed, much of the planet wakes up
the morning after the comet shower unable to see. When most of
humanity is blind, it also becomes obvious that triffids not only can
move, but they also have some intelligence, or at least animal cunning.
The story follows Bill Mason, who is employed in the triffid industry
and misses the blinding comet shower because he is already hospitalized
with temporary blindness due to a triffid sting. He wakes up the
morning after the comet shower in hospital to discover the world has
gone silent, except for distant moans and screams.
eyes from the bandages which were, in any case, to have been removed
that day, he emerges into the street to discover the extent of the
tragedy; he also soon realises the extent of the danger to anyone who
is still sighted. Unable to find food, as sanitation and power
break down quickly without maintenance, the blind become desperate and
the cities fast become dangerous due to disease.
Bill joins up with Josella Playton, who also avoided blindness by
missing the comet display, and separately the two of them escape
London. Much of the story follows Bill’s quest to find Josella
again, after which the two of them hope to join a community.
By the end of the story, it is clear that overnight humanity has lost
control of its own planet. With most of the population blind, the
triffids control more territory than man. Humanity has to start
again. Inevitably, the survivors squabble about what kind of
society to establish and some refuse to live and let live, preferring
to dominate others and resort to violence.
Were the triffids genetically engineered by man? Were the comets
real or were they actually space weapons which proved
uncontrollable? The reader is left to decide for himself and to
ponder the “what ifs” arising from the answers.