Day #176/365: The changing shadows of the fictions of John Wyndham…

  • Day Of The Triffids-1981 BBC television-A Year In The CountryFile under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways.
    Case #26/52.

    Well, while I was thinking about the work of John Wyndham (see Day #173/365)…

    As I think I’ve mentioned some of this before but at a young age, when I was living in a small country idyll – population approx. 300, attendance at school across all 7 years of infant and junior approx. 30 – I began to discover the work of John Wyndham… initially via The Midwich Cuckoos (the copy I read had the last page torn out and so for years I didn’t know what happened at the end of the story)…

    …this lead over the coming years to numerous readings (or attempted readings) of his fiction*, alongside various viewings of the flickering adaptations of his work; The Seeds Of Time, the hidden mutations of The Chrysalids, Trouble With Lichen, The Kraken Awakes… but the two that I’ve always been drawn back to are The Midwich Cuckoos and Day Of The Triffids and their tales of rural idylls overtaken and sown with eldritch children or of mankind struck down and left to fight amongst the soon to crumble ruins of civilisation and out in country compounds against vastly evolved nature…

    I like the way that when books which stay popular are reprinted over the years, their new artwork and cover designs often capture and reflect the spirit of the times in which they were commissioned. This seems to be particularly true in the cases of genre fiction (science fiction, crime, fantasy etc); the contents stay the same but the covers quotas of luridness, sleaze, paranoia, wayout-ness etc varies and changes…

    Along which lines here’s a selection of my favourites of The Midwich Cuckoos and Day Of The Triffids.

    John Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The CountryI love the way The Triffids appear set against a normal British house/street/street light here: they are in the very heart of a way of life…
     John Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The Country 2This one always reminds me of the Richard Allen pulp fiction books… here the respectable, nicely mannered middle class cuckoos (well, nicely mannered in a planning on usurping mankind and the world kind of way) are nearer to seventies or eighties young toughs or bovver boys. Definitely up to no good.
    John Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The Country 3And quite what’s going on here I’m not really sure. Particularly inappropriate psychedelic cover… but I quite like it as it’s so wrong and at first glance unconnected to the book.
     InJohn Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The Country 4 which the triffids wander in the very heart of the British capital… interesting how earlier versions of them were often pictured with more pronounced legs.
    John Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The Country 5A more exploitation, vigilante style cover… Quite rare this one, I’ve rarely seen it. It has that subtley unpleasant 1970s (?) atmosphere and there’s something particularly distressing about the young child on the back cover…
    Midwich Cuckoos-John Wyndham-A Year In The CountryThis one has made an appearance in the pages of A Year In The Country before… for some reason it makes me think of the seaside and sailors. I think it’s the stripey top and the bird in a cage could be thrown jauntily over the shoulder, a present for a beau…
    John Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The Country 6One of the stranger covers. A dustbin with the word blind on it, with just a few creepers/triffid trails… I can only assume it’s meant to imply that mankind is for the dumpster…
    John Wyndham-The Midwich Cuckoos-book cover-A Year In The CountryThe superbly superior, snotty Mr Stephens in the film…
    John Wyndham-The Day Of The Triffids-book cover-A Year In The Country 8As I was saying, cover art can reflect the era in which it is commissioned… I can but assume that this appeared as the optimism and progression of psychedelia curdled into something else; it looks like societies scream.
    The Day Of The Triffids-John Wyndham-book cover-A Year In The CountryAnother earlier edition with the triffids once again in the heart of the British capital, possibly reflecting the recent trauma that was visited upon it… this sense of them marauding through the metropolis is something which seems to disappear later. And what are the audio wave-like swirls? The hunting cries of the triffids? A sense of general disaster? The phenomena that strikes down the population?
    The Midwich Cuckoos-John Wyndham-book cover-A Year In The CountryThe first edition of The Midwich Cuckoos… although you can tell it’s from another era, it looks curiously fashionable and relevant to now. Rather hauntological indeed. This is a strange, otherly cover but subtly so. Good stuff. Something of a favourite.
    The Day Of The Triffids-John Wyndham-book cover-A Year In The Country 9I tend to think of this as the “classic” Day Of The Triffids cover. I’m not sure why but possibly it’s one of the ones I read in my younger days…

    While looking up the fictions of Mr John Wyndham, I also had a peruse of the 1981 BBC television adaptation… images from it genuinely gave me the heebie jeebies. I know it did when it was first broadcast but I don’t think it’s just a reflection of that. There’s something about the triffids in this version that is genuinely gruesome and unsettling. Yes, they don’t look “real” in the way that digital generated later versions may do but they do look part of the real world. You don’t want to be around them.

    There’s something about much of modern-day British television drama/genre programs that’s just terribly unconvincing. I tend to think of them as being like Children’s Film Foundation productions but not in a good way; adult programs without an adult spirit (characterisation? intelligence? lighting?).  I can’t quite say what it is but as Mark Fisher says in Ghost Of My Life, they don’t look lived in, though it’s not just a visual problem… hmmm.

    If you should plan on sleeping with the lights on, you can watch the intro to the earlier TV adaptation here. I suspect I may well return to such flickerings around these parts…

     

    *And as I also think I’ve mentioned before, a curious thing, the way that youngsters of a certain age are drawn to apocalyptic, dystopian, cataclysmic visions of the future; The Hunger Games would be a modern-day version of this I suppose… I know at the time I was drawn in part to some such stories as the idea of being left alone in the world meant I could raid the toyshops for all the LED electronic games and batteries I needed. You have to get your priorities right in a post-disaster world.

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