What happens when Civilisation Collapses

The Day of the Triffids (Fast Track Classics) - Pauline Francis, John Wyndham

Isn't it funny that even though you have read a book before the movie seems to dominate your mind, and I am not talking about the recent telemovie (which I haven't seen) but the older 1960s movie that basically makes a complete mockery of this book. Not only were the special effects in the movie really bad (which is not surprising considering when it was made) but what displeased me more was that it seemed to completely ignore some of the more important parts of the book, such as Josella (who simply does not appear, though Susan does) and the ideas that Wyndham explores in this post-apocalyptic nightmare.

For those who do not know, one night there is what is believed to be a meteor shower that ends up blinding everybody who looks at it, which pretty much encompasses a majority of the human population. This, however, is only part of the issue, though it is a major issue because it brings about the complete collapse of modern civilisation. What adds to the problem is the appearance of a carnivorous plant known as the Triffid. An entire chapter is devoted to the appearance of the Triffid, but the thing about them is that they can move and they can eat people. It also becomes apparent that they are also quite intelligent. However, Wyndham keeps the Triffids in the background until much later in the book when they develop into what is a very deadly threat to the remaining human population.

Day of the Triffids explores the possibilities of what would happen after a complete collapse of society, and Wyndham explores this quite well. As I have mentioned elsewhere, this and The Chrysalids are my favourite Wyndham books, and the only other one that I have read is The Kraken Wakes, which is nowhere near as good (though it also deals with an apocalypse in the making). Anyway, the main idea, as the main character Bill Masen explains, is that society is on a tightrope, one small slip can bring then entire system crashing down. Right at the beginning he points out that our society has become so specialised that if such a disaster were to happen our specialities would leave us in the lurch because we would not be able to function in any areas that our speciality does not encroach.

For instance, what good is a lawyer that specialises in corporate and securities law in a world where there is no law? Granted, they may be able to take the role of an arbiter and maybe a legislator, but that is where the lawyer's skills end. Even if they have time to potter around in the garden, the lawyer would be at a loss when it came to subsistence farming, or any mechanical activities. As Wyndham points repeatedly through the book, it is a major flaw in our society, especially at one point where they are at a loss because they have no doctor, or anybody with any discernible medical skills.

The other interesting thing that he explores is how humanity will devolve into savagery and one of the main challenges that the protagonists in this book face is to prevent that from happening. When Mason is in the compound with his wife, family, and others under his care, he is well aware that as supplies begin to dwindle they must look for alternatives, and when there are no alternatives, they begin to devolve into savagery. In one sense we see this already at the end when he is approached and asked to become 'the Lord of the Manor' despite not actually having any choice in the matter. However we are quickly told that this civilisation quickly collapses as they are unable to hold back the Triffids and are quickly over run. Further, as they spread their skills too thin, when disaster does strike they are completely unprepared.

What Wyndham does is that he paints a picture of a world straight after a holocaust and how it struggles to survive. Considering that this was written in the fifties, it is clear that Wyndham is using the Triffids and the blinding storm as allegories to the threat of the bomb that loomed over the world. We also have this false hope that help will arrive, and in fact some people simply do not want to begin to work to survive just in case this help arrives, but of course, the more time passes the less likely help will arrive, and as such the reality of this hope turns into blind faith. One sort of wonders if this is a little jab at religion where many of us wonder around and hide in little communities in the vain belief that Jesus will return and smite all of our enemies without actually understanding the implications of that desire. In fact, in one of the Old Testament books, one of the prophets rebukes Israel for this blind faith that God will spare them for no other reason than their belief that they deserve to be spared.

Finally I wish to finish off on the idea of the myth because this is also raised in this book as well. Bill and Josella speak about how they are going to tell their children about this apocalypse that changed the world. They raise the idea of a golden age that was destroyed, or the opposite, a sinful world that was purged by God. They equate that with the flood, in knowing that the only people who knew anything about the world before the flood was Noah and his family. Everybody who was born after the flood has only their word to go on as to what the world beforehand was like. They suggest that the idea of a golden age that was destroyed by nature is actually counter productive because they believe that people will only look back at that world rather than looking forward to the potential of a new world, and as such settle on the second idea, namely that it was a sinful world that was destroyed by God.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/728871191