Literature: The Day of the Triffids
"When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere..."The Day of the Triffids
—Opening line of The Day of the Triffids.
is a 1951 science fiction novel by John Wyndham
, arguably the most famous of the British author's so-called "cosy catastrophes
The book's narrator is an Englishman named Bill Masen, who details how some years previously the eponymous carnivorous plants mysteriously began to appear all over the world, eventually proving to be capable of movement and possessing the ability to attack humans with their poisonous stings; Masen's own theory is that they were deliberately bioengineered in the Soviet Union and then accidentally released into the wild, but the truth is never revealed
. Whatever their origin, the plants are also discovered to produce a high-quality vegetable oil, and so an entire industry grows up around farming them. Masen works as a researcher on a Triffid farm, and ends up in the hospital after a Triffid stings him on the face. His eyes thus bandaged, he misses a bizarre meteor shower that lights up the night skies all over the world.
Come morning, Masen learns that the shower has struck blind everyone who viewed it. (He later speculates that the shower was actually a malfunctioning orbital weapons system, but again no proof is to be found one way or the other.) Wandering through a disintegrating London, he meets and quickly falls in love with a sighted novelist named Josella Playton (who missed seeing the "meteor shower" because she was sleeping off an unfortunate party experience
While the Triffids rapidly break free of their farms and begin wiping out the blinded population, Masen and Playton become entangled in the squabbles of other sighted survivors leading to their unwilling separation. They are finally reunited at a small estate in the English countryside, taking up farming in an fenced enclave surrounded by hordes of Triffids. When a despotic new government appears on the scene, they join a colony of more freedom-minded individuals on the Isle of Wight, researching for the day they can defeat the Triffids and reclaim the Earth for humanity.
In 2001, the author Simon Clark wrote a sequel to the book entitled Night of the Triffids
, which attempted to be a pastiche of Wyndham's style, and details the adventures of Bill and Josella's son.
The novel has been adapted for film three times, the first being a loosely-adapted 1962 feature film, the second a 1981 BBC miniseries which, while low-budget, is quite faithful to the original work, and then once more by the BBC in 2009
; again the plot deviated a great deal from the original.
Examples specific to Simon Clark's sequel:
- Acquired Poison Immunity: the revelation of how humanity can take Earth back from the triffids. Small doses of triffid venom, combined with eating triffids, can help immunize people from the venom.
- America Saves the Day: The sequel completely subverts this. Partially Double Subverted when the Native Americans that live near a La Résistance base help David to discover the solution to how to take the planet back from the triffids.
- Baby Factory: a non-enforced version appears in the Isle of Wight, where blind and sighted women live in great houses together, having children with any man they choose, and taking care of the children communally. The New York community has women basically treated as slaves, forced to have many multiple pregnancies.
- Big Applesauce: seems to be an utopian community, protected from triffids thanks to blocked bridges. The utopia part is a lie: there is a segregation system between white sighted people and the rest and slavery runs rampant in northern Manhattan (where factories manned by blind people, those who made the mistake of complaining about the system and those who are too weak run 24/7) and some other places (where the workers are forced to work non-stop to cut trees for ethanol or to mine coal) and many women are forced to become a Baby Factory. Being the child of New York's leader won't save you, and in fact he will send you to that destiny because of his relation to you.
- Call Back: the beginning is a call back to the beginning of the original novel: both characters wake up unable to see anything, and think that when the situation is similar to what is going on then, something very bad is happening.
- Chekhov's Gunman: General Fielding, the leader of the New York community in the sequel, is mentioned about still having some red hair amongst the white hair, and a blind eye from being hit there by a triffid. He is actually Torrence, the Big Bad of the first book, who managed to survive the triffids' attack at the end of the first book.
- Foreshadowing: David finding Christine alive in the floating triffid island despite the fact that she has probably been living with triffids for most of her life. It is the signal that people can become immune to the venom.
- Kill It with Fire: there is a special anti-triffid squad armed with flamethrowers, always ready to go at the first signal of one or more triffids making their way to the Isle of Wight, or when there is an expedition to Britain.
- Irony: Bill Masen comments with David about the irony of triffids being both their greatest enemy and their greatest source of fuel.
- Since all the fuel the Isle of Wight uses comes from triffids, it means that the anti-triffid squads' flamethrowers must be fed with triffid oil. So, they are killing triffids with the remains of their fellow triffids.
- Torrence, who hates blind people and the Masen for their role in leaving him half-blind, is finally toppled thanks to a march by blind people whose children are soldiers, and ends up being blinded by David Masen.
- La Résistance: a group with bases somewhere in the East Coast and in the Great Lakes is opposed to the semi-fascistic New York regime.
- Medieval Stasis: Bill Masen tells David that the Isle of Wight community has hardly changed in the thirty years since it was established, and that, apart from a few things, the only thing they are able to do is to restore old things. He predicts their community will die if something is not done soon.
- Nothing Is Scarier: at the start of the novel, it is completely dark, and David only has a lamp without mirrors to see the path. He can't see the triffids that he knows are coming, which adds to his nerves.
- Sequel Hook: at the end of the novel, a transmission is detected from somewhere else in the world, and an expedition is announced to find those people.
- The Night That Never Ends: the novel begins at 9 AM in summer, and when the main character awakens it is as dark as midnight in winter. A combination of very dense clouds and an asteroid cloud passing between the Sun and Earth is the cause. Later in the story, when the clouds leave, there is light, but the sun looks like it is dying.
- Universal Poison: the triffid venom is shown not to be this. A lecture in the first chapter tells that it is not an instant killer, but the antidote has to be injected into the carotid artery very soon.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: General Fielding (also known as Torrence) thinks this.
- Wild Child: Christine manages to survive surrounded by triffids for more than ten years, after her father died of cancer when she was four.
Examples specific to the 1962 film version:
- Moral Dissonance: Mason returns to the chateau to find sighted convicts holding the blind women at gunpoint and sexually assaulting them. He gets Christine Durrant and Susan into the truck and drives away, making no attempt to save the helpless women. Even Durrant - who earlier had vowed not to abandon the others - never mentions the chateau incident again.
- Plant Aliens: As noted, the original didn't establish where they came from (casually speculating on aliens and Soviet Super Science); the movie version explicitly made them into aliens.
- Promoted to Love Interest: After Josella was removed from the 1962 movie version for God knows what reason, they decided to replace her role in the story with Durrant of all people!
- Revised Ending: See Kill It with Water above.
- Screaming Woman: Janette Scott in the movie. And despite that famous line from "Science Fiction / Double Feature" in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, she doesn't actually do any fighting.
- Touch of the Monster: The movie version's advertising poster.
- Weaksauce Weakness: Again, the water thing (in the movie). Or maybe seawater; the narrative isn't very clear on this point, possibly because the whole subplot was allegedly added on rather late in production as quite literal filler because they needed additional run-time for a theatrical release. Try not to think about it too hard.
Examples specific to the 1981 Television Series:
- Adaptation Distillation: The slightly patronising depiction of Coker is done away with, as is the whole Sex Is My Adventure sub-plot with Josella.
- Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: Those orbiting KillSats that are mentioned so prominently in the original book never really came to pass, yet in the last episode Bill attributes the blindness plague and whatever mysterious sickness wiped out the survivors in London to some of them going off accidentally. Although it's downplayed significantly by the fact he's only speculating.
- Apocalyptic Logistics: Lampshaded by Coker.
- British Brevity
- Compressed Adaptation: Characters and sub-plots are ruthlessly pruned to fit the whole story into six hours. Arguably an improvement, as the novel had a tendency to meander a bit.
- Large Ham: John Duttine as Bill Masen, in noticeable contrast to every other version.
- Setting Update: It's not clear when the original novel is supposed to take place, but it was clearly Next Sunday A.D. from the perspective of The Fifties. The producers took the decision to set it very definitely in The Eighties instead, which was probably for the best.
- Trailers Always Lie: The anti-triffid guns showed up in a lot of publicity stills, but only ended up being fired once on-screen. This was probably because the firing effect had to be done with CGI, which looked extremely unconvincing.