The Day of the Triffids

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The Day of the Triffids is a post-apocalyptic novel written in 1951 by the English science fiction author John Wyndham. Although Wyndham had already published other novels, this was the first published under the John Wyndham pen-name. It established him as an important writer, and remains his best known novel.


Plot summary

The protagonist is Bill Masen, an Englishman who has made his living working with "triffids"—tall plants capable of aggressive and seemingly intelligent behaviour. They are able to move about on their three "legs", appear to communicate with each other, and possess a deadly whip-like poisonous sting that enables them to kill and feed on the rotting carcasses of their victims. The book implies they were bioengineered in the Soviet Union and then accidentally released into the wild when a plane carrying their seeds was shot down. Triffids begin sprouting all over the world, and their extracts prove to be superior to existing 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 a lab 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. (It is later suggested, though never confirmed, that the 'meteor shower' 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 sightless 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 appall 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.

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