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Literature / The Midwich Cuckoos

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The Midwich Cuckoos is a 1957 science fiction novel by John Wyndham.

All the women of childbearing age and capability in the Idyllic English Village of Midwich simultaneously become pregnant with alien children who all share the same uncanny appearance and have the ability to mentally manipulate people.

It has been filmed twice under the title Village of the Damned, first in 1960 and then in 1995. Sky has a series based on the novel premiering in 2022.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: The wifebeater father of one of the babies is forced to repeatedly punch himself in the face after striking his infant son hard enough to leave a bruise.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Angela's pregnancy. It's a human baby; she just happened to conceive at the worst possible time.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Children aren't being deliberately malicious as we would understand it—they simply put protecting themselves above literally everything else. They also don't hate humanity; they merely see conflict between the two species as inevitable and therefore intend to win.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Gordon Zellaby, the Children's school teacher and the only person they respect, decides that the Children are too dangerous to let live and uses a bomb to kill them all alongside himself inside the school.
  • Bizarre Baby Boom: When every woman of child-bearing age wakes up from a day they don't remember pregnant.
  • But I Can't Be Pregnant!: Virgins and a faithful wife whose husband has been away for several months are understandably perplexed. Rather horribly, at least one of the virgins is a "woman" in that she's started menstruating but is really little more than a child herself.
  • Creepy Child: Although, unlike the examples in both film adaptations, they don't stay that way, at least not physically. They are also capable of not being this, provided they like you enough—Gayford is stunned by how they act around Zellaby.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Any pain inflicted on the children is immediately met by the harshest retaliation they can muster, no matter whether it was an accident. Some of this is by simply not quite understanding their own strength or how humans work (the boy Child doesn't seem to understand that he's permanently damaged the Chief Inspector, for example). A lot, though, is because they understand the concept of the preemptive strike extremely well.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: The narrator, Richard Gayford, is a fairly uninspiring and relatively uninvolved observer. If the book can be said to have a protagonist, it would have to be Zellaby.
  • Hive Mind: At the very least, all of the male children and all of the female children are linked together. Zellaby suggests that they might not be individuals at all, but rather one male and one female example of their species with several bodies. Most of the other characters express skepticism and at one point one male child addresses he is sometimes just Joseph and sometimes all the boys which tends to suggest they are still individuals who link into the Hive Mind.
  • Idyllic English Village: Midwich matches this trope fairly well; the story then of course subverts it by making things rather less than idyllic.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure: An entire Russian village that has undergone a similar baby boom is nuked by the military. They can't even warn the innocent parties to leave, because if they did, the babies would be tipped off and do something about it...
  • Kids Are Cruel: A suggestion for why the response of the Children to any attack is so grossly disproportionate. Their powers allow them to act out the cruelty associated with this trope against adults and even the military.
  • Kill It with Fire: The villagers attempt to destroy the Grange with torches. It ends with them being forced to fight one another, in a few cases to the death.
  • May–December Romance: Zellaby is much older than his wife Angela who is closer in age to her teenage stepdaughter.
  • Mind Rape: Let's just say that if you're not afraid of the Children, and start yelling at one, you will soon learn exactly how afraid you ought to be. When they apply that fear by directly triggering the chemicals in your brain as hard as possible. This is supposed to be a temporary punishment, but Gayford and the psychologist realize that the psychological effect is going to last forever.
  • Mugging the Monster: The Chief Constable of the county, enraged by by the attitude of one of the Children, tries to cow him into submission by giving him a rage-filled dressing-down. He soon has cause to regret this.
  • Rapid Aging: The Children age almost twice as fast as normal humans. By the time they are chronologically 9 years old, they look about 16-17.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Several of the female researchers at the government facility up and leave, refusing to deal with the Children they gave birth to (one of them even threatens to sue if they try to make her come back). Ferralyn Zellaby also leaves, although it takes some convincing.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: When born, the alien babies seem human except for their uncanny gold eyes.
  • Would Hurt a Child: An adult intentionally harms one of the Children early in the book, while it is still a baby. This does not end well for him.