Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 415
John Wyndham acknowledged that the most fundamental influence on his work was H. G. Wells, particularly works such as The Time Machine (1895) and The War of the Worlds (1898). The influence of the latter on The Day of the Triffids is easy to see. Each story is told in the first person by a man who reports the disaster as a piece of recent history. Both stories take place in or near London, and Wyndham, like Wells, grounds his fantasy in everyday reality by emphasizing exact topographical details. The disaster itself, an unusual cosmic event in which no one senses any danger, is common to both stories, and both Wells and Wyndham emphasize how the catastrophe shatters human complacency and its naïve faith in the durability and invincibility of its own civilization.
Several of Wyndham’s characters resemble those in Wells’s story of Martian invasion. Those who cling to old rules of thought and behavior meet with disaster, including the curate in The War of the Worlds and the moralistic Miss Denning and the postdisaster community she attempts to found in The Day of the Triffids. The prototypes of Wyndham’s visionaries, such as Coker and Beadley, are reminiscent of Wells’s artilleryman, who quickly grasps the new situation and makes plans for the survival of humanity.
Like Wells’s novel, The Day of the Triffids is a pessimistic view of evolution and natural selection. Because of its new blindness, humankind is no longer adapted to survive, and mastery passes to the triffids, who previously were inferior to humans only because humans could see and triffids could not. After the human calamity, the triffids are in a superior position because they are adapted to sightlessness.
Unlike in Wells’s story, however, Wyndham attributes the catastrophe to human folly. The meteor shower was not a naturally occurring event but the result of a malfunctioning satellite that was equipped to wage biological warfare, and the triffids themselves resulted from human manipulation of nature.
Wyndham’s novel ends on a note of hope. Even though science allied to human recklessness has created the catastrophe, science may yet devise a way to triumph over the triffids. The Beadley community, founded on rational and scientific principles, offers more hope for a future resurgence of humanity than the feudal, authoritarian, or religious systems that other groups of survivors attempt.
Some critics prefer the revised British version of The Day of the Triffids, also published in 1951. The story was filmed in 1963.
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