BOOK (1951)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 November, 2010, 12:00am

The Day of the Triffids
by John Wyndham
Michael Joseph

Though more usually associated with beauty and Mother Nature's bounty, blooms and plant life become sinister and dangerous in this 20th-century sci-fi classic.

British author John Wyndham turns the tables on man's ultimate control of the earth and all that grows in it. The tale follows a farmer who becomes a victim of his own crop: triffids, supposedly rich in oil. The plant's name comes from its three base roots, which can both dig into the soil and be used as legs of sorts, for a plant that grows to some two metres tall.

Add to this a coiled fatal sting that is sprung at will from within its tulip-like flower, plus a carnivorous hunger, and the reader senses the real threat of what could happen when plants turn bad.

Simultaneously, the earth has another problem: bombardment by meteors so bright that they are blinding much of the population. Could these be linked to the triffids, so that they can more easily tuck into human flesh?

Although the prose still seems quite modern with its fresh first-person descriptions of events, unembellished narrative and often clipped sentences, language and circumstance remind the reader of the era. In an early example of this, our protagonist, who begins the story in a hospital bed, sensing something is awry, hops across the ward for a nerve-steadying smoke: 'There were some cigarettes still in the case. I lit one and began to get into the state of mind where, though everything was still undeniably queer, I could no longer understand why I had been quite so near panic ... When I did go to the door again and peered into the corridor I was forced to realise that, whatever bad happened, it was affecting a great deal more than the single inhabitant of Room 48.'

By today's graphic literary depictions there is a certain old-world charm in the restrained use of words when the protagonist is up against something disconcerting. Such as laying eyes on hapless victims: 'Two men in nightclothes lay on the floor. One was soaked in blood from an unhealed incision, the other looked as if some kind of congestion had seized him. They were both quite dead.'

Born John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, the author used a handful of pseudonyms for his fiction novels. Triffids was the first which he signed off with his first two given names.

The 1962 film adaptation of Triffids strays from the book in a significant way that is best not divulged here, but it kept the interest alive in an iconic piece of sci-fi horror that influenced many a future tale of unexpected objects turning nasty.

This is one type of flowering plant you might wish you could send - but you wouldn't want to be receiving.