Tell me the end or I’ll feed you to the triffids!

Who wrote this book and when?
This apocalyptic novel was penned in 1951 by John Wyndham.

Has there been a film made of it?
Several film versions, actually. The BBC made it into a radio series in 1960, a movie in 1962, and a miniseries in 1981.

Who are the main characters?
Bill Masen – a man who escaped the mostly planet-wide blindness who is struggling to survive in a post apocalyptic society
Josella Playton – a young author who also escaped blindness and who joines up with Bill to evade the triffids and other dangers of the society
Coker – a singularly resourceful individual who first kidnaps then assists Bill in his quest to reunite with Josella and start a new society.

What’s it about?
The book begins as Bill wakes up in a hospital. He was injured in an accident which caused temporary blindness and to his dismay, discovers the majority of the world (he lives in London) has gone blind due to a strange meteor shower. Everyone who looked at the beautiful green meteors is now completely blind.

Bill gives us a background in triffid history. Triffids are plants which have appeared on earth very recently from some strange spores that showed up mysteriously. Through a series of accidents, the triffid seeds were spread all over the world where they have flourished. The triffids have three strange leg-like extensions which allow them to walk. They also are equipped with a long prehensile stinger which can be deadly on a full grown triffid. They communicate through clicking noises produced by several stick like extensions near the base of the stinger.

In the present, Bill comes across thousands of blind people after removing his own eye bandages. The first person he encounters is a blind doctor who commits suicide by jumping out a window. There are hundreds of blind people stuck in the lobby of the hospital. He wanders around town, meeting drunk people, hearing about those who have killed themselves, and seeing how people are dealing with almost planet-wide blindness. Most men he encounter are drunk, and most women he encounter are trying to take care of their children, many of whom can still see because they were asleep when the meteor shower hit.

Bill travels to Piccadilly Circus, where he sees a man who has sight leading around many blind people. It doesn’t take him long to discover that those with sight are in a great amount of danger from those without. Men are taking advantage of the few women with sight by tying their wrists and forcing them to lead them around and find them food. It is in this way Bill meets Josella. He saves her from her “master” who is beating her because she is refusing to take him to another bar. After taking refuge in an empty and (so far) undiscovered pub, they make their introductions and share their past experiences. Josella begs Bill to help her return to her home to check up on her family. It is now they discover an even greater threat – the triffids. Without the humans’ ability of sight, they are walking meals for the triffids, who can somehow sense movement and even stalk, herd, and then harvest humans. Bill and Josella must now decide where to go and what to do – stay in London and risk capture by blind gangs, plague, or slaughter by triffids? Or face other dangers out in the countryside where supplies may be scarce?

Why is this book a classic?
This novel is continuously compared to HG Wells “War of the Worlds” because of its alien-invasion type plot. In fact, it is only assumed the triffids are from outer space and that the comets were actually comets. Several times during the book, it is suggested the comets are actually space weapons accidently set off and the triffids were genetically bred by man. This novel is a classic because it was written well in a time period full of alien-invasion-apocalypse-now stories.

Why should I read this book?
If you’re looking for an alien invasion book, it would probably be better to read “The War of the Worlds.” This book is sadly disappointing in its involvement of the title characters, the triffids. They end up being the big bad, but for 3/4 the book they are very rarely encountered.

Has it won any awards?
No, but in 2001 a sequel was published called “The Night of the Triffids.” What a creative title.

Favorite quotes:
“It was some little time later that the first one picked up its roots, and walked. That improbably achievement must, of course, have been known for some time in Russia where it was doubtless classsified as a state secret, but as far as I have been able to confirm its first occurrence in the outside world took place in Indo-China – which meant that people went on taking practically no notice. Indo-China was one of those regions from which such curious and unlikely yarns might be expected to drift in, and frequently did – the kind of thing an editor might conceivably use if news were scarce and a touch of the ‘mysterious East’ would liven the paper up a bit.” – p 42

Anything else?
If you watch the movie, consider the plotline is significantly different from that of the book.

Personal thoughts:
I didn’t particularly like this book. I was disappointed at the small part the triffids themselves played. I felt like it was false advertising. And there were too many unanswered questions. Wyndham seemed to just give up on writing the story and tried to find a quick ending.