The Day of the Triffids

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The Day of the Triffids
Written by: John Wyndham
Central Theme:
Genre(s): After the End, Horror
First published: December 1951
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The Day of the Triffids is a 1951 science fiction novel by John Wyndham, arguably the most famous of the British author's so-called "cosy catastrophes".

The book's narrator is an Englishman named Bill Mason, who details how some years previously the eponymous carnivorous plants mysteriously began to appear all over the world, eventually proving to be capable of movement and possessing the ability to attack humans with their poisonous stings; Mason's own theory is that they were deliberately bioengineered in the Soviet Union and then accidentally released into the wild, but the truth is never revealed. Whatever their origin, the plants are also discovered to produce a high-quality vegetable oil, and so an entire industry grows up around farming them. Mason works as a researcher on a Triffid farm, and ends up in the hospital after a Triffid stings him on the face. His eyes thus bandaged, he misses a bizarre meteor shower that lights up the night skies all over the world.

Come morning, Mason learns that the shower has struck blind everyone who viewed it. (He later speculates that the shower was actually a malfunctioning orbital weapons system, but again no proof is to be found one way or the other.) Wandering through a disintegrating London, he meets and quickly falls in love with a sighted novelist named Josella Playton (who missed seeing the "meteor shower" because she was sleeping off an unfortunate party experience). While the Triffids rapidly break free of their farms and begin wiping out the blinded population, Mason and Playton become entangled in the squabbles of other sighted survivors leading to their unwilling separation. They are finally reunited at a small estate in the English countryside, taking up farming in an fenced enclave surrounded by hordes of Triffids. When a despotic new government appears on the scene, they join a colony of more freedom-minded individuals on the Isle of Wight, researching for the day they can defeat the Triffids and reclaim the Earth for humanity.

In 2001, the author Simon Clark wrote a sequel to the book entitled Night of the Triffids, which attempted to be a pastiche of Wyndham's style, and details the adventures of Bill and Josella's son.

The novel has been adapted for film three times: the first is a loosely-adapted 1962 feature film; the second is a 1981 BBC miniseries which, while low-budget, is quite faithful to the original work; and the third is another BBC adaptation in 2009, whose plot also deviated a great deal from the original.

Tropes used in The Day of the Triffids include:
  • America Saves the Day: Coldly subverted in the original.
  • Apocalypse How: Killer plants and blinding "meteors". Performs a relatively mild Class 1.
  • Attack of the Killer Whatever
  • Baby Factory: one of the most horrifying aspects of the plot's entire setup is that they cannot possibly help the vast majority of the population, who have been blinded. Eventually even the "Good" faction of people led by Beadley grudgingly concludes that all of the blinded men are a drain on resources and thus a complete write-off. Conversely, Beadley's openly stated position - grudgingly accepted even by the protagonist - is that blind women of childbearing age will be kept alive and in polygamous relationships with the remaining sighted men, to try to repopulate as quickly as possible.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Bill Mason is initially somewhat shocked at the pragmatic abandonment of most of the blind population in London by Beadley and the Institute group and sympathizes with Coker's more idealistic attempt to help them. Ultimately, he comes around to the Beadley position when Reality Ensues.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: the Evil Redhead who shoots at Bill's blind group later appears as a member of a new despotic government.
  • Cozy Catastrophe: As noted, perhaps the most famous example.
  • Depopulation Bomb
  • Evil Redhead: Torrence is first seen casually firing on Bill's blind group so they won't compete for resources. When we next see him he's posing as a member of a restored government (actually a feudal military dictatorship).
  • Gone Horribly Wrong
  • In Medias Res
  • It Can Think: The exact level of intelligence of the genetically-engineered triffids is a subject for debate, with the protagonist rubbishing the idea that they're intelligent —- after all, dissections haven't found anything remotely like a brain. Others are not so sure. One man points out that the triffids escaped from their farms within hours of everyone going blind. In another scene a triffid is waiting outside the very door which a person would run out of if they heard someone driving down the road. Much like the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park, they're also smart enough to avoid an electrified fence...and to force it down when the electrical power is off. They even have a crude form of communication by drumming their branches against their trunk, though whether this is a crude but effective "hunting call", or an actual complex "language" is unknown. Overall, they seem to have at least the same basic intelligence level as a pack of dogs.
  • Just Think of the Potential: Used both positively and negatively; the money to be made from the Triffids' oil, while pre-disaster one of Mason's colleagues speculates about Triffids' advantages over a blinded human.
  • Kill It with Fire: Flamethrowers prove to be the most effective anti-Triffid weapon, although a lack of fuel is a major problem.
  • The Last Man Heard a Knock
  • Man-Eating Plant: At least, after we've.. ripened.. a bit.
  • Never Live It Down: Josella and her "scandalous" novel Sex Is My Adventure.
  • Reality Ensues: One of the greatest and earliest examples of this trope in apocalyptic literature. The author takes the general "survive the Zombie Apocalypse" horror story (using plants instead of zombies or nuclear war), and extends it forward for several years. Quite simply...scavenging for canned food in the ruins of major cities is not a viable survival strategy on a long time scale. Crowds of blind people scavenge in the early days, but there's a finite supply of canned food and they run out eventually. Nor do the more lucky survivors simply flee to a pastoral existence raising their own crops in the countryside. The author repeatedly underlines the point that even those who survived long enough to plow their own fields, need to learn how to forge their own iron to make their own plows. If they're just scavenging old plows, they're not much better than the blind people scrabbling for cans in ruined shops. The entire set of interconnected relationships that are required for civilization are needed for long-term survival.
  • Slept Through the Apocalypse
  • When Trees Attack: And how.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Triffids aren't undead humanoids, but in terms of behavior and threat level they share more than a passing resemblance.
  • Zombie Gait: The blind, who are shuffling around mindlessly pawing at things and wailing -- they were sighted a few hours ago and with no experience in living without it or anyone to help, they're stumbling around in the dark. Possibly leads to Unfortunate Implications if it looks as if only sighted people can possibly think of ideas about working together. Subverted towards the end of the book by the original inhabitants of the farmhouse.

Examples specific to Simon Clark's sequel:

  • America Saves the Day: The sequel completely subverts this.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The leader of the New York community in the sequel is mentioned about still having some red hair amongst the white hair, and a blind eye from being hit there by a triffid. He is Torrence, who managed to survive the triffids' attack at the end of the first book.

Examples specific to the 1962 film version:

  • America Saves the Day: Embraced in the movie version.
  • Kill It with Water: Bizarrely used as the monster-killer in the first movie adaptation.
  • Moral Dissonance: Mason returns to the chateau the find sighted convicts holding the blind women at gunpoint and sexually assaulting them. He gets Christine Durrant and Susan into the truck and drives away, making no attempt to save the helpless women. Even Durrant - who earlier had vowed not to abandon the others - never mentions the chateau incident again.
  • Plant Aliens: As noted, the original didn't establish where they came from (casually speculating on aliens and Soviet Superscience); the movie version explicitly made them into aliens.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: After Josella was removed from the 1962 movie version for God knows what reason they decided to replace her role in the story with Durrant of all people!
  • Revised Ending: See Kill It with Water above.
  • Screaming Woman: Janette Scott in the movie. And despite that famous line from "Science Fiction / Double Feature" in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, she doesn't actually do any fighting.
  • Touch of the Monster: The movie version's advertising poster.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Again, the water thing (in the movie).

Examples specific to the 2009 remake:

  • Aerosol Flamethrower: Bill Mason uses one in the warehouse scene.
  • Animal Wrongs Group: The dangerous male Triffids (who can release spores, vastly increasing triffid numbers) are released by a plants' rights activist.
  • Apocalypse How: Killer plants and a solar storm. Performs a relatively mild Class 1.
  • Badass Adorable: Susan and Imogen -- two cute little girls in Cool Shades, helmet and red beret, packing automatic weapons.
  • Black Cloak: The triffids draw on the creepiness of this trope by having purple cowl-like hoods which they unfurl cobra-like before striking.
  • The Caligula: Torrence after he takes over London.
  • The Charmer: Torrence is a pretty charismatic leader though not quite the ladies' man he fancies himself to be.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The masks used by the tribesmen in Zaire are not to protect their eyes from Triffids, but are a means of making them immune to their sting. Also Bill's triffid recording makes itself useful on several occasions.
  • Chess Motifs: Chess pieces on a map of London show the expansion of Torrence's empire.
  • Combat Roots: These are used even more than the stingers.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executives: Triffoil conceals knowledge of how dangerous the triffids are.
  • Covered in Gunge: The bodies of those killed are covered in triffid venom.
  • Evil Brit: Averted, due to it being set in Britain. But also, kind of toyed with, given that the Evil Brit is Eddie Izzard.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Torrence cheerfully maintains his mask of polite normality whilst plotting everyone else's downfall.
  • Green Aesop: Exploited killer plants eat humans and Take Over the World - it's begging for it. Earlier adaptations came before mainstream environmentalism and avoided this, but the 2009 TV drama beats you over the head with it a few times.
  • Gun Accessories: The torches attached to the weapons wielded by Torrence's mooks are fully justified -- for those who still have their sight, being able to see an enemy that doesn't use sight is one of the few advantages they have.
  • Heel Face Turn: Troy
  • Hope Spot: Mason's father develops a Triffid which will produce sterile spores. It gets destroyed in an attempt to free him from its grasp.
  • Idiot Ball: Mason's father plays a recording of a wild Triffid in a room connected to his captured Triffid's cage. It reacts badly.
  • Immune to Bullets: Well difficult to kill at least, more so than in the TV series.
  • Kick the Dog: After Jo broadcasts a message warning people about Torrence's reign and does a bunk, Torrence empties his pistol into the guy manning the radio station.
    • Torrence's first scene where he's awake involves him realizing that everyone else on the place is blind, it's about to crash and then deciding to steal everyone's lifejackets so he can cushion himself from the impact with them.
  • Large Ham: Eddie Izzard plays Torrence with evil relish.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: the plant rights activist releases the triffids from the farms. And then gets eaten by them.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: We never discover Torrence's real name -- he took it from Torrence Lane, where the airliner he was in crashed.
  • Little Stowaway: Susan tags along on Bill's mission to bag a male triffid.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: When Torrence takes over Major Coker's organisation, he has The Dragon take Mason and Coker out to the woods to be fed to the triffids, then tells Jo they've been killed by a triffid attack.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Torrence, subverted however in that he always slightly overdoes his lies so Jo and Bill can see through him.
  • Parental Substitute: Susan and Imogen adopt Bill and Jo as mum and dad.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Jo tells Torrence that without the Triffids he's nothing. He yells at her to shut her face and threatens to shoot her.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Torrence loots a Saville Row suit and wears it from then on.
  • Sociopath: Guess who.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: Amusingly inverted -- Jo and Bill are doing a Dance of Romance after being apart for so long; the music they are dancing to contains the lines: "Mother Nature and me are the best of friends."
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The convent is protecting itself by sending out expendable members of the community to be eaten by triffids, thereby keeping them docile.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Several shots are almost identical to iconic scenes from 28 Days Later -- which itself, while not an official adaptation of tDofT, openly reused several plot-points.
    • Torrence in the airliner crash is probably a reference to a similar crash in the 1962 movie (though no-one survived that one). Likewise Susan's Sterling submachine gun is a modern version of the Sten gun wielded by Janette Scott in the movie's publicity material.
  • Vertical Kidnapping: An armed Mook feels triffid venom drop on his shoulder, then a triffid that's climbed a tree yanks him screaming into the air.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Torrence goes progressively more insane as the film progresses. He's completely gone by the last act.
  • While Rome Burns/Soundtrack Dissonance: A man is shown playing the violin while panicked policemen who've lost their sight fire blindly at civilians and fellow officers. After he's finished playing, the man calmly walks to the balcony and throws himself off.
  • Winston Churchill: Torrence is frequently shown admiring statues or paintings of the great man.