Tuesday, September 14, 2010
"The way I came to miss the end of the world..."
I've been interested in carnivorous plants since I was a kid and heard of The Day of the Triffids many times. I thought it was just a cheesy sci-fi B movie - I didn't realize it was a book first. I'm not usually a fan of science fiction or horror, but was surprised by how much I enjoyed this story. The description of how the triffids came to be so widespread was fascinating and frightening, and I could imagine myself as a boy doing the same innocent and naive things as the main character. The story remains vague on their origin, speculating they were bred in the Soviet Union, and reflects the secrecy and mistrust developing in 1951 when this book was written and the Cold War was shifting into high gear. (The way the seeds blew around put a creepy twist on Weslandia, a favorite children's book at our house.)
But as an end-of-the-world story the social questions raised are particularly interesting. What is right and wrong when the social order breaks down? Is looting justified? Who should be in charge? What obligation do the sighted have to the sightless? And as groups and tribes begin to establish, what moral responsibilities do they have to others? The issue of polygamy is even raised to some objections, but not as many as you might expect. The characters also speculate on the nature of the meteor shower - was it an act of God, or maybe an accident involving the radioactive weapons then being developed? And as it becomes apparent just how serious of a threat the triffids are, they seem to be yet another obstacle to re-establishing a new civilization... or are they?
Another interesting facet, given that the book was written soon after World War II, was the frequent expectation that "someone" would come to save them, probably America and probably as a result of the large role the Marshall Plan had played in rebuilding Europe in the post-war years. But other characters advocate self-reliance as it was likely the US had experienced the same catastrophe. Some readers have complained of the antiquated view of womanhood in the book, but this is most likely a reflection of a time when women weren't so common in the workplace, although one character takes a stand for their untapped capabilities. I found it odd that there wasn't much discussion on why certain people missed the meteor showers - people always talk about "where" they were when disasters happen - but I guess that probably would have just added a lot of unecessary dialog.
I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Enough questions are left unanswered and explanations somewhat vague to make it a frightening consideration. It's a clever and insightful look at social conditions and evidently still very influential (I was reminded strongly of the new Gone series by Michael Grant as well as the older Lord of the Flies). I listened to the audio book read by Samuel West who does a very good job with the different accents, although his volume goes up and down excessively sometimes. But still, I recommend it as a more interesting alternative to that James Joyce and Jane Austen nonsense teachers made us read.