The Walking Plants

Currently listening to John Wyndham’s excellent novel The Day Of The Triffids, narrated by Graeme Malcolm, who does a fine job, a very matter-of-fact, practical delivery that really suits the material.

It’s a post-apocalyptic survival story.  A freak meteor shower renders the overwhelming majority of the human race blind overnight–one of the most disturbing apocalypses ever written.  The narrator is one of the few who escaped blindness, due to his eyes being bandaged during the event.  He wakes up in a hospital in which civilization has totally broken down and must learn to survive in a drastically changed world.

The titular “Triffids” are large plants which possess both the power of locomotion and a fatal stinger that use to kill large animals, in order to draw nutrients from the flesh as it decays. Civilized humans cultivated them for their oil–against humans who are panicked by their sudden loss of sight, it’s the triffids who do the harvesting.

Listening to the story unfold I have been struck by similarities to the current television show, The Walking Dead. In both the focus is not on the implacable and seemingly endless swarms of mindless shambling hazards, but on the human element.

The difference is that the survivors that Wyndham posits are, well, a lot more believable characters than the ones on the TV show. I stopped watching TWD a few seasons back, and what I have heard about the program since hasn’t encouraged me to pick it back up.

The groups of survivors that gather in TDOTT have their conflicts, sometimes violent ones, but they aren’t manic cartoon villains. They have a plan for rebuilding a civilization, and while it’s clear that some of the plans are unworkable, Wyndham shows them as sympathetic–they may be wrong, but they aren’t evil.

Wynham’s hero Bill Mason knows that stores of food and fuel won’t last forever, and that running from supermarket to supermarket looking for unlooted shelves of canned goods isn’t a long term plan.  After a few false starts he finds a farm which can be fortified against the triffid threat and begins to learn to be a farmer.  He and another sighted survivor settle down and begin to raise a family, along with a few other survivors they have encountered.

The dangers that Wyndham’s survivors encounter, both human and non-,  are just as potentially lethal as anything on The Walking Dead, but they are far more reasonable and, hence, more exciting to me. There is a logic to the triffid apocalypse that, sadly, is lacking in the zombie apocalypse.

I strongly recommend this novel.  It was published in 1951, but I feel that it stands up well to the test of time.  A true classic.


About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Writing, pulp revival and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Walking Plants

  1. feralplum says:

    I especially liked the British take on how to survive. It wasn’t really better or worse, but it was interestingly alien.

  2. Dave Higgins says:

    For me, the farm in Day of the Triffids symbolises the key difference between the two survivor narratives: people in DotT learn and improve; whereas – from what I understand of Walking Dead, the characters are still making all the same mistakes they made in the first season.

  3. John E. Boyle says:

    Maybe his best novel, although he did write a number of others that are quite good. The Midwich Cuckoos was filmed as the Village of the Damned (twice). The Kraken Wakes and Trouble with Lichen are worth a look.

  4. JonM says:

    There’s some intimation that the blindness wasn’t caused by a freak meteor, but by strange chemical or bio-weapons launched by the major powers of the day. The fact that the right answer is never spelled out is a subtle, yet powerful trick. The protagonist has no way of knowing, and whether it was aliens or commies makes no difference in the day to day struggle for survival. But it does add one more piece of uncertainty to the situation and make the whole thing at once more believable and more disconcerting.

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  6. marzaat says:

    Second the recommendation. I think the hero’s plan for long term survival owes something to Wyndham’s practical education at Bedales School which included managing livestock and gardening. (

    The Kraken Awakes is another good Wyndham disaster novel.

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