Tag Archives: john whyndham

The Day of the Triffids – A guest review – Alan Judson

triffid, sci-fi
Seconds before triffid attack

Who would like this book?

  • people who like sci-fi, or surreal fiction
  • those who like post-apocalyptic themes mashed with 50’s social issues like feminism, sociology and secular humanism
  • botanists

Why I Chose This Book:

The Day of the Triffids by John Whyndham was an obvious choice for me, as a guest reviewer, because it would balance out all the chick-lit (actually, Elisha recommended this book to me, and she only makes brief forays into chick-lit).  A book, set in 1950s London, features a comet storm that blinds the whole world leaving them vulnerable to the Russian-designed, walking, meat-eating, plants-that-kill-people.  Exhale.

The Book:

It was written in the 50’s, and displays the new-found realization that the human race could be wiped out.   He wanders into a fine-looking, liberated woman, and they work out their escape plan.  Everyone they run into seems to think that his concerns about the triffids (the killer plants) are overblown.  They obviously didn’t read the title of the book they were in.   Can they escape the pestilence and violence in the city?  Will they help the blind, or do they have their eyes set on survival?   Reader beware – if you’ve ever felt a strange fear of leafy foliage, read no further.

Why read this book?  The subject matter is fun, but heavy at the same time.  Infotaining!  Everytime I read it, it makes me think of how fragile our society is, or how close we’ve come to self-destruction.   How fortunate that we’ve never been attacked by Soviet plants!  It is also endearing to read a narrative that, at the time, was shocking for its outward criticisms of society and social values, but now only elicits shrugs.  It is challenging things that are already tossed out the window by modern society: absolute values about family, religion and the roles of gender.

On one issue, assisted suicide, it is rather bluntly in favour, in the context of simply prolonging the lives of the blind people in the book.  He goes on several tangents about how in the new order of things, old social morals need to be tossed.  He passes by helpless people several times in the book and coldly reasons that they’re goners anyhow.

Bill Masen, a botanist that works with triffids, avoids being blinded by the comet shower (possibly from biological weapons in satellites, it is later revealed), by being stung by those lovable man-eating triffids.  One of the hazards of the job.  He meets a love interest, a woman who talks openly – for the fifties – about sex and polygamy, and the necessity of ridding themselves of social boundaries in the new world.   Wyndham almost pauses for dramatic effect when his characters say things matter-of-factly, challenging the social norms.  It’s funny what they though was shocking, but also caused me to think about our current society in a different light, and ponder how liberal we’ve become in the matter of decades.

On a purely entertainment level, though, it’s a blast.   It’s fun to imagine yourself in that spot of picking the essential items you’ll take with you from the big city before you go live off the land.   I know I’d make off with several beautiful musical instruments, silk suits and flame throwers.  Actually, the protagonist does take flame throwers with him to burn the carnivorous flora.

If you put yourself in his position, you’d be extremely depressed about all your dead friends and family, and the impossibility of giving your future children the world you knew.  Yet, our main characters endure what one critic called a cosy catastrophe.  An apocalypse-lite.  He finds a lovable woman, and has his choice of living with the “religious” society, the “militant” society, or the one the author obviously favours, the sociologically sound society.    Fortunately, for the reader, he battles disease, saves some blind people, kick some plant hiney before he saves the day.

Read it because it is simultaneously funny and thought-provoking.   And remember:  don’t fool around with nature because you’ll either end up with killer plants or an island overrun by dinosaurs.

P.S.  The 60’s-era movie-based-on-the-book is available at Hamilton Public Library, and it is hilarious.

If you liked this post, why not read some of these?

  1. Alan’s post on Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers
  2. Elisha’s post on