I’ve long been a fan of John Wyndham’s apocalyptic science fiction novel Day of the Triffids. For such a ludicrous concept–giant carnivorous plants, possibly man-made, stalk the earth and leave humanity dead, wounded, or scrambling to fight them off–the book is a gripping read, mostly due to how Wyndham superbly delineates the power struggles between the different gangs of survivors in the waning twilight of civilization. The relatively mindless terror of the triffids is bad enough. But with the added pressure of argued, reasoned, collectivized tyranny enforced by a group of soldiers upon our protagonists, it’s difficult to decide what grim fate is worse.
Published in 1951, Wyndham’s novel has influenced everyone from George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland (28 Days Later), as well as spawning two direct screen adaptations. The first one was a 1962 version starring Howard Keel–sort of fun in a Saturday morning movie and cold cereal kind of way–and from what I can remember it’s not very faithful. The other version, made for British television back in the early 1980s, lacks the cinematic oomph! that the story demands, but its earnest acting and faithfulness to the source material make it essential viewing.
Here’s a clip from it:
Now, 57 years since its original publication, Wyndham’s monstrous veggies are getting a new chance at life with news that the BBC has commissioned a new mini-series from writer Patrick Harbinson (ER, Law & Order). The show won’t hit television screens until 2009, so if you’ve never read the book… you have plenty of time to rectify that.
I’m not sure if the majority of Americans truly understand how vibrant triffids are to the collective imagination of people hailing from England, Scotland, and Ireland. It’s sort of like the difference between Dr. Who in England (it’s part of the culture at large, not relegated to cult status) and Star Trek in the States (cult phenom). Triffids are part of the culture. Here in Ireland, hidden away in the wilds, I was more than amused hearing people toss out the word “triffid” to describe an overgrown plant or savage looking nettle. Thank the gods above and below that I haven’t seen any plant(s) actually move around in the jungle of weeds behind our cottage, but there is a rather large and intimidating looking beast of a plant nestled between the back door and the window that distresses me. The cat seems to like it, though, so I’m not completely ready to burn it down yet. But at the slightest sign of aggression… it’s broccoli.
You can read more about the allure of triffids and the perverse love of watching the end of the world in films here.