OCTOBER READ - SPOILERS - The Day of the Triffids

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OCTOBER READ - SPOILERS - The Day of the Triffids

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1Morphidae
Out 1, 2013, 7:26am

Here be spoilers!

2clamairy
Editado: Out 1, 2013, 4:27pm

I loved this one. I have been mulling over it for a couple of days trying to figure out why it struck such a chord with me and I haven't been having much success. It's aged pretty well, for one thing. Plus, my mental images weren't tainted by any of the movie or TV versions because I never saw any of them. Wyndham steered clear of hysterics and stuck to pragmatically reporting what was going on while injecting just a bit of sadness about the passing of so many things.

Did anyone else find themselves laughing at the bit in the beginning when the narrator describes how everyone was oooohing and aaaahing over the meteor shower/comet debris and he was unable to view any of it?

I'll be back!

(Edited for typo.)

3zjakkelien
Out 1, 2013, 4:06pm

2: that's exactly what I like about Wyndham: he starts with a premise, and then just lets it take him somewhere. His style is unemotional, but compelling somehow. I liked the bits where he describes having to leave behind old morals and habits: for instance in the beginning, with the paying for his drinks, and later when this one guy explains to a girl that she cannot refuse to technical things any longer, just because it would not be a female thing to do. Society has changed so much all of a sudden, that it has to reinvent itself, and old social rules just don't apply anymore. You see how different groups try to cope with it. As long as you take the premise and run with it, the rest is completely logical and realistic.

I very much liked the ending, by the way. How they think about what to tell their children, and how they don't want their children growing up continuously thinking that the old world was better. Again, it makes perfect sense, and I like that the main characters think this through.

4SylviaC
Out 1, 2013, 5:55pm

I can clearly recall the first time I read this book when I was only about 12 or so. The opening chapters in particular made a very strong impression on me, as Bill gradually discovers the enormity of the situation. I read it often enough over the next ten or fifteen years to know it almost by heart, but didn't pick it up again in the last twenty years. Looking, back, my most vivid memory of the book is of those first few chapters.

I've taken out my mother's old paperback copy, which is still miraculously intact, and have started my re-read. The first chapter is still awesome.

5Jarandel
Editado: Out 9, 2013, 11:12am

Finished last night, I read it long enough ago that my memory of detailed events was mostly gone but the atmosphere of a fair number of passages remained with me. The most memorable I think was when the "feudalists" swoop down to commandeer the protagonists, their adopted daughter and their farm, just as they're ready to join another larger and more organized community.

Wondering what the "not typhoid" disease that strikes most of the blind people after a few days, and that the narrator assumes the audience knows what it is, is supposed to be.
Cholera ? Radiations ? Neither would really explain why "sighted" persons seem to have some plot armor against it.

If it was cholera I guess sight would give them better control of what they're eating/drinking but barring more visible contamination germs don't show to the naked eye, and in the narrator's group he and those blind people live in the same general environment with the sighted directing the blind regarding what to pick.

If it was radiations, I don't think just having been out of direct sight of the "fireworks" would be sufficient protection against a level of radiations that causes sickness and death within days ? Plus other blinded people like those at Josella's farm were apparently unscathed.

6NorthernStar
Out 9, 2013, 11:51pm

This is a book that I first read (and enjoyed) many years ago, when I was a teenager. I thought that I owned a copy, but couldn't find it when I catalogued all my books on LibraryThing. So when I saw a second-hand copy a little over a year ago, I snapped it up. I enjoyed reading it again after so many years, and decided I should read it again last week. For me it still stands up very well, much better than many of the books I read in those days!

A good book, to me, is one I know I can re-read and continue to enjoy or find new things to like. This is one of those books. The protagonists' practicality in dealing with the sometimes harsh realities of survival seems very real to me, as are the ways other groups try to cope. I don't remember noticing the hints that the green flashes and the plague might have been human-caused before; or that Wyndham implies that humans may well be responsible for their own downfall, without actually coming right out with it. I did feel that people were pretty quick to despair over their blindness, even before the triffids were a real problem - after all, many blind people cope perfectly well and find ways to compensate for their sight. Of course, having so many more blind people than sighted would make a difference.

7Bookmarque
Editado: Out 10, 2013, 7:21am

Overall I liked it, but did not like the roles of women - drudge, dolt or dogmatist - and the opportunities they gave various men to hector or lecture or both. Even Josella had to be rescued because she got emotional and vulnerable...so like a woman, eh? In the Chrysalids, I felt the female characters were actually humans with brains and so this came as a surprise. At least they weren't herded into rape camps though.

There was less action and more pontification than I expected, but I thought the way various groups tried to handle things was fairly reasonable in context. I liked that Bill got taken prisoner early and was put in danger. I was sort of expecting an Earth Abides kind of vibe until that point. It wasn't dire, and as a reader, I knew it wouldn't last, but it did surprise me and I liked that.

8SylviaC
Editado: Out 10, 2013, 11:25am

I also had the feeling that everyone was giving up too quickly, but I guess that with the sheer number of people losing their sight all at once there would be a lot of panic. Then the plague and the triffids kicked in before everyone could adapt and organize. You would think that there would have been some attempt to get utilities and services up and running, since the infrastructure was still intact.

I'm not really bothered about the portrayal of women in this book. It is certainly more positive than most SF of the era. After the initial rescue, Josella was practical and independent, and Susan was a tough kid. I'm more bothered by the fact that Dennis is the only blind character that is portrayed as adaptable. In fact, for a book in which most of the world goes blind, there are remarkably few individual blind people.

Despite the odd weakness, I still think this is a fantastic book.

9Bookmarque
Out 10, 2013, 2:22pm

Another thing that bothered me was the complete and total serendipity of the blindness and the established presence of the triffids. I kept expecting Wyndam to connect the two. If I stopped thinking about it, I got into a groove with the story, but then I'd think that the triffids must be the advance team of some alien race that wants a nice, clean planet. I especially thought he'd head there when that mysterious plague that only the blind seemed to get even though the sighted lived with them side-by-side. It bugged me in the end.

10zjakkelien
Out 11, 2013, 2:42am

I don't think the reaction to blindness was unrealistic. Yes, there are plenty of people who are blind who cope well, but if you are not born blind, coping well doesn't happen from one moment to another. Even in our current society, if you were to be struck blind all of a sudden, it would take quite some effort to adapt, and you would have to learn a lot. In addition, your surroundings would have to be adjusted. In the book, all the people who were blind were in a panic, and there was no help. In addition, a complete blind society is something completely different from a sighted society with a few blind people. In our current society, blind people are only able to cope because most of the people around them are not blind. If it is possible to have a viable society made up of only blind people, it would look completely different from our own, and that would have to evolve. Something that the people in The day of the triffids had no time for...

11Sakerfalcon
Out 11, 2013, 7:11am

I agree with Sylvia that the women were considerably better characters and more varied in their roles than much SF of this period (I think of John Christopher's otherwise excellent Tripods trilogy, which has one small female role in the first book and no other women or girls in the other two).

I too thought at first that the newly-blind were giving up too quickly, commiting suicide before they'd even tried to adapt to their situation, and even before they had realised just how bad things really were. I do think that some individuals would react that way, but perhaps Wyndham showed us too many of this type of person. Obviously the majority did stick it out, at least for a while, as we are shown hordes of the blind struggling, but we didn't get as many close-ups of them as we did of the suicidal which I think skewed my perception of the proportions.

I also agree with Bookmarque's point about serendipity in post 9. It seemed too much of a coincidence that the blindness would strike just at the point where the triffids had developed to the stage where they could best take advantage of it. But apparently it really was just coincidence.

All that said, I really enjoyed the book. It kept me gripped, wanting to read just one more chapter. I liked the calm narrative voice which managed to convey tension and emotion without ever becoming angsty or histrionic. The different social structures which are formed in the aftermath are fascinating to compare, and any one could be used to base another novel on. Susan was a great character, and the triffids were always suitably menacing. The whole book felt unmistakeably British, with people keeping a stiff upper lip (or berating themselves for not) and having to overcome their gentlemanly instincts!

I enjoyed it so much that I have been persuaded to take The Midwich cuckoos off my shelf and read that too.

12Bookmarque
Out 11, 2013, 7:51am

I'm not put off Wyndam's works either. Am even tempted by a Folio society set of Triffids, Chrysalids and Cuckoos.

I liked Bill's canny calmness. Especially in one of the final scenes where he hatches a plan to escape the red-headed man's quest for feudalism. The old sugar in the gastank ploy. I'd love to have seen their faces.

13SylviaC
Out 11, 2013, 3:05pm

I have a hard time keeping in mind how short a period the first half of the book covers. It is not much more than a week from the disaster until Bill and Coker leave London, and in that time the Plague That Is Not Typhoid is already firmly established in London. Meanwhile the triffids immediately became more aggressive in less populous areas. So really, there was no time for people to adjust.

One of the things I like about the book is the way we are made aware of the horrors without graphic descriptions. We know that there are rotting corpses all over the place, but they are never described in detail. Bill describes the smell before he leaves London, but he doesn't spell out what it is.

14clamairy
Out 17, 2013, 7:58am

I agree with most of the bones people picked here, but I was able to overlook them easily enough. I did wish that he covered what/if there was a connection between the meteors and the triffids. I loved the tone and pacing of this book. I borrowed the old version of this movie and it was truly awful. They changed just about EVERYTHING. :o(

I too am reading The Midwich Cuckoos as my "it's almost Halloween" read. :o)

15SylviaC
Out 17, 2013, 8:47am

I don't think there was a direct connection between the triffids and the meteors, just that both were created by humans. Once the meteors were accidentally released, the triffids were just opportunistic. I'm not sure just where the plague fits in, although Bill suggests that it was man-made, too.

16clamairy
Out 17, 2013, 8:59am

Oh, right, I forgot the meteor was a weaponized thing. LOL Been a few weeks already and bits of it are slipping away.

Also, does anyone know if the triffids were being tapped for oil like a maple, or if they had to be destroyed to extract it. Because if they were being destroyed it changes the dynamic a bit.

17Bookmarque
Out 17, 2013, 9:15am

I don't think they were being destroyed. I think they were being farmed like cows for milk. Not sure what the production life span would have been, everything dies eventually, but I don't think it was intrinsic to the process.

18clamairy
Out 17, 2013, 9:16am

I was picturing a giant triffid press...
;o)

19Bookmarque
Out 17, 2013, 9:40am

I pictured a CAFO style lot with triffids chained and penned. Remember Bill seeing some triffids who had cut their chains and were dragging them?

20SylviaC
Editado: Out 17, 2013, 9:56am

There is mention of "tapping them for juice", but I don't see how that could produce oil. It also says that triffids are being used to "extract valuable oils and juices and to press highly nutritious oil cake for stock feeding." Oil cake is what is left after something has been pressed for oil, so at least some part of the plants must have been crushed. Most plant oils come from the seeds, but his description of "infinitely light", "gossamer slung" seeds doesn't imply something that is easy to extract oil from. And also he describes "triffid-seed time", when their pods burst, which implies that the pods aren't being harvested. So unless the plants were bred to have an oily sap, at least part of them must have been pressed. And if they do have oily sap, where does the oil cake come from?

I suspect this is one aspect of the story that doesn't bear over-analysis.

21infjsarah
Out 17, 2013, 5:06pm

#14 If you can get hold of it, there is an 1980s BBC series of the book which is very good. Starring John Duttine.

22infjsarah
Editado: Out 19, 2013, 11:27am

#15 I always thought too that Wyndham's point was that humanity had been hoist by its own petard of cleverness and aggression. The triffids were developed by humans as a food source - that they could walk and were carnivorous was an inconvenient but manageable side effect. Until suddenly humans were blind and the triffids were top species. He also suggests through Bill that the comet and the disease were a man made mistake - a weaponised satellite that fell accidently. He doesn't make a big deal of it at all but that is what I took from it. And that's why the Hollywood versions of triffids as invading aliens REALLY annoys me.
I never noticed that the disease only affect the blind - I never assumed that was so - just that it is the blind we see dead of it. In fact, I think at one point when Bill is searching for Josella, he does fear that she has died of the plague.
It remains one of my favourite books.

23sandragon
Out 31, 2013, 1:23am

I found the story line interesting, and loved reading about the triffids, but I found myself frustrated with Bill. Emotionless seems a good word for him. It bothered me how the blinded were instantly the 'other' to him, and there was this US vs THEM feeling about it. It doesn't occur to him at all to try and help the blinded, not until he is forced to. I didn't warm up to him until near the end.

I was expecting more of a connection between the green comet and triffids as well. Like maybe the green lights were actually glowing spores developed by the triffids and expelled into the air by them in one great effort to blind everyone. And they would have coordinated all this with their ominous tap tap tapping.

24Morphidae
Out 31, 2013, 8:05am

There is a connection between the triffids and the "comet" - they are all man-made. Triffids were created in Russia and the "comet" was debris from bio-warfare satellites, as was the plague.

25sandragon
Out 31, 2013, 10:18am

I got that they were all man-made. I meant I thought the comet and plague would end up being triffid-caused. I was attributing a lot more smarts to the triffids than there actually was.

26streamsong
Nov 4, 2013, 9:12am

I just finished. I hadn't read it before and really enjoyed it. It is interesting how well the story stood up; how the author foresees genetically modified plants and diseases (since the molecular structure of DNA was worked out in the early 50's , I'm guessing that DNA stuff was very new and exciting) and the satellite weapons.

I'm not crazy about the women's roles, but on the other hand, the book would pass the Bechdel test. And thinking of women as breeding machines is not an unheard of male aberration even today.

I've added the DVD's to my Netflix queue. Thanks for mentioning them.

27SylviaC
Nov 9, 2013, 1:41pm

A minor continuity point in my undated Fawcett Crest paperback lead me to suspect that it may have been abridged, so I found a Penguin Classics edition from 2000. I was thoroughly disgusted to discover that the equivalent of about 20 pages had been deleted from the Fawcett edition. The deletions aren't minor things, either. In chapter one, the very first appearance of a blind character has been removed. In the complete edition, Bill interacts with him for a page and then the character commits suicide. That seems like a pretty major development. It is the first clear indication of what is going on, and the suicide certainly helps set the mood. Then in chapter two, six whole pages of background on how the triffid seeds got out of Russia have been deleted. In all, 10 of the 17 chapters have significant deletions.

It's funny how you don't actually know what you're missing. I always loved the story in the Fawcett version, and it seemed complete to me, but now that I've read the Penguin edition, I feel like I was cheated for all those years.

28zjakkelien
Nov 9, 2013, 2:20pm

I'm shocked! Didn't it say somewhere that they cut out pages? And why would they do that? It doesn't make sense...

29SylviaC
Nov 9, 2013, 9:09pm

Nope, no mention of it being altered in any way from the original—and the only date it gives is the original copyright date.

30Morphidae
Editado: Nov 11, 2013, 7:20am

31Morphidae
Nov 11, 2013, 7:21am

My micro-review:

A good precursor to many of my favorite "end of the world" stories I love so much today. Wyndham did it before it became all the rage. I felt a little distant from the characters though and found it hard to root for them. Probably because of the British "stiff-upper-lipness" of it all. I would have liked to have learned more about the colony they joined at the end, too. Otherwise a solid SF story.

32Sakerfalcon
Editado: Nov 11, 2013, 7:56am

>30 Morphidae:: I was just looking at that site today! It's excellent.

>27 SylviaC:: It seems ridiculous that they would cut what is already quite a short novel. Presumably they were worried that some of the content might be offensive?

33SylviaC
Nov 11, 2013, 10:00am

Very little of what was removed could be considered offensive by any stretch of the imagination. Even the political stuff about Russia would have been relevant at the time that paperback was published, around 1970. A few of the cuts were philosophical discussions, which they might have decided didn't have enough action--but it's not really an action book anyway.

34Morphidae
Dez 23, 2013, 8:56am

We watched the BBC version and it was decent. The triffids were laughable but otherwise it was rather faithful to the book. Obviously low budget though.

35clamairy
Dez 23, 2013, 9:11am

I have to wonder, would there be any way to make the triffids look like their desorption and not have them be laughable?

36Morphidae
Dez 23, 2013, 10:16am

With CGI today, sure.

37clamairy
Dez 24, 2013, 8:43am

I'm not sure. They'll still look like evil Christmas Trees from a Far Side cartoon.