The Day of the Triffids  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Day of the Triffids is a post-apocalyptic novel about a plague of blindness which befalls the entire world, which allows for the rise of an aggressive species of plants, published in 1951 by the English science fiction author John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, under the pen-name John Wyndham. Although Wyndham had already published other novels using other pen-name combinations drawn from his lengthy real name, this was the first novel that was published under the John Wyndham pen-name. It established him as an important writer, and remains his best known novel. It has been made into one feature film (in 1962), three radio drama series (in 1957, 1968 and 2008), and two TV series (in 1981 and 2009). in 2003 the novel was listed on the BBC's survey The Big Read.

Plot summary

The protagonist is Bill Masen, who has made his living working with "triffids" – tall plants capable of aggressive and seemingly intelligent behaviour. They are able to move about by "walking" on their roots, appear to communicate with each other, and possess a deadly whip-like poisonous sting that enables them to kill their victims and feed on their rotting carcasses. Due to his background working with triffids, Masen has developed a theory that they were bioengineered in the USSR and then accidentally released into the wild when a plane smuggling their seeds was shot down. Triffids begin sprouting all over the world, and their extracts prove to be superior to existing fish or vegetable oils. The result is worldwide cultivation of triffids.

The narrative begins with Bill Masen in hospital, his eyes bandaged after having been splashed with droplets of triffid venom in an accident. During his convalescence he is told of the unexpected and beautiful green meteor shower that the entire world is watching. He awakes the next morning to a silent hospital and learns that the light from the unusual display has rendered any who watched it completely blind (later on in the book Masen again theorises that both the 'meteor shower' and subsequent plague may have been an orbiting government weapons system that was triggered accidentally.)

After unbandaging his eyes, he wanders through an anarchic London full of almost entirely blind inhabitants, and witnesses civilization collapsing around him. Masen meets a sighted woman, wealthy novelist Josella Playton, who was being forcibly used as a guide by a violent blind man. She and Masen begin to fall in love and decide to leave London. Lured by a single light that they see shining in an otherwise darkened city, Bill and Josella discover a group of sighted survivors at a London university building. The group is led by a man named Beadley, who plans to establish a colony in the countryside. Beadley wishes to take only sighted men who will take several wives, sighted or otherwise, to rapidly rebuild the human population. Bill and Josella decide to join the group.

The polygamous principles of this scheme appalls one of the other leaders of the group, the religious Miss Durrant. Before this schism can be dealt with a man called Wilfred Coker takes it upon himself to save as many of the blind as possible. He stages a mock fire at the university and during the ensuing chaos kidnaps a number of sighted individuals, including Bill and Josella. Each is chained to a squad of blind people and forced to lead them around London, collecting rapidly diminishing food and other supplies. Bill and his squad find themselves beset by escaped triffids as well as by an aggressive rival gang of scavengers led by a ruthless, red-haired man.

Masen nevertheless sticks with his squad until its members all begin dying of some unknown disease. He leaves and attempts to find Josella, but his only lead is an address left behind by the now-departed members of Beadley's group. Thrown together with a repentant Coker, he drives to the place, a country estate named Tynsham in Wiltshire, but neither Beadley nor Josella are there; Durrant has taken charge and organized the community along "Christian" lines. Masen and Coker fruitlessly search for Beadley and Josella for several days, before Bill remembers a chance comment Josella made about a country home in Sussex. He sets off in search of it, while Coker returns to Tynsham.

Bill is joined by a young sighted girl named Susan; they succeed in locating Josella, who is indeed at the Sussex house. Bill and Josella consider themselves to be married, and see Susan as their daughter. They attempt to make the Sussex farm into a largely self-sufficient colony, with reasonable success. The triffids grow ever more numerous, crowding in and surrounding their small island of civilisation. Years pass, during which it becomes steadily harder both to keep out the encroaching plants – at least two triffid break-ins are recorded during the novel – and to continue fetching essential supplies (such as oil) from the decaying cities.

One day a helicopter pilot representative of Beadley's faction lands at the farm and reports that the group has established a successful colony on the Isle of Wight, and that Coker survived to join them. Despite their ongoing struggles, the Masens are reluctant to leave their home but their hand is forced by the arrival of a squad of soldiers the next day who represent a despotic new government which is setting up feudal enclaves across the country. Masen recognizes the leader, Torrence, as the redheaded man from London. Torrence announces his intention to place many more blind survivors under the Masens' care and to move Susan to another enclave. After feigning general agreement, the Masens disable the soldiers' vehicle and flee during the night. They join the Isle of Wight colony, and settle down to the long struggle ahead, determined to find a way to destroy the triffids and reclaim Earth for humanity.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Day of the Triffids" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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