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The Day of the Triffids as a White Survival Parable

3,795 words

The Day of the Triffids is a 1951 novel by the English science fiction writer John Wyndham. Prior to serving in the Second World War, Wyndham wrote short stories for pulp magazines, and The Day of the Triffids was his first book, published when he was 48. It launched his short but illustrious career as a science-fiction horror writer whose premises were simple enough that they could be easily grasped, yet were boldly original. Wyndham’s fiction was written under the long shadow of the Soviets. Cryptic satire recurs in his works; his stories attack social structures from unconventional angles, exposing to the reader how fragile their natural pattern of life is, and frequently making use of body horror and unabashed weirdness.

In The Chrysalids, the narrative follows a group of telepathic children born into a post-nuclear world of continual mutation, slyly insinuating that any normal survivors of a nuclear showdown could be quickly superseded. In The Trouble with Lichen, an explicitly feminist novel, a life-extending lichen implant literally infests the body and slows the aging process (its female, feminist inventor schemes to empower women against wealthy men, and specifically starts a life-extending cabal). In Chocky, Wyndham’s final and perhaps most revulsive offering, the telepathy takes an extraterrestrial turn and a small child becomes a vessel for an alien, parasitic consciousness. Chocky, the boys’ “imaginary friend,” is able to fully usurp the boy’s body, playing on the deep-seated fears of parents everywhere that their children are vulnerable to predators beyond their control and comprehension.

The Day of the Triffids has Wyndham’s most accessible and pedestrian premise: a strange, green meteor shower has blinded everyone in the world, and an artificial species of carnivorous, three-legged plants has gotten loose. In a world of sighted humans, the lethal Triffids were easily quarantined and harvested for their profitable plant oils, but the stumbling blind are easy prey, stricken down with whipping stings and digested. The Triffid seeds themselves are Soviet in origin and were released as the result of an aircraft accident; the book was published when Lysenkoism still had international Stalinist defenders, and an ominous new age of biological warfare seemed to be on the horizon.

The British experience of mustard gas in the First World War, which included blindness among its many horrific effects, may have also indirectly influenced Wyndham given his time spent in the military. The trauma of the chemical agents that were used in trench warfare has left a mark on the British psyche that has not been displaced even by the Holocaust mythos (a “memory” created in the 1960s, to borrow Jan Assmann’s term, for an “ongoing work of reconstructive imagination”)[1] – a fear of blindness, choking, and disfigurement by chemical or biological means.

This fear can be traced in English literature from Triffids in 1951 to another landmark piece of British literature, the 1972 rabbit-centric adventure, Watership Down by Richard Adams. Watership Down hypothesizes the rabbits’ gnawing fear of the “White Blindness,” or myxomatosis, a dehabilitating and blinding disease that first broke out in the United Kingdom in 1953 and was then deliberately spread as a method of pest control. The gassing of rabbit warrens provided for nightmarish memories.

The same primeval fear resurfaced again in the Cold War post-apocalyptic cult classic Threads, which first aired on the BBC in 1984, where English survivors of a global nuclear war must cope with radiation poisoning, nuclear winter, and outbreaks of cholera and typhoid, as well as the destruction of the ozone layer, which allows intensified ultraviolet light in sunlight to cause cancer and blinding cataracts.

Today, this phobia of international conflicts disfiguring the British and rendering Britain uninhabitable needs to be connected to the actuality of mass migration and globalization – a biological, ecological, and social catastrophe that is threatening the Brits with eventual genetic extinction.

From the perspective of 2018, Triffids is remarkably prescient, but for all the wrong reasons. Whereas H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds gave a Martian form to the shapeless anxiety and general fear of anarchism that permeated Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century, Wyndham’s invaders are not intelligent, mechanized armies descending from above, but a spore that takes root and usurps the native British from below. A real-life precedent for such spores arrived aboard the cruise liner Empire Windrush, which docked at a British port near London on June 22, 1948, a mere three years prior to Triffids‘ publication, discharging thousands of Caribbean coloreds onto the isle. Since then, the native British and those of European descent around the world have been in demographic crisis, and the politicking around the Windrush affair has been directed towards an amnesty for this imported foreign labor. Similarly, in Triffids industry feverishly wants to squeeze more profit out of the plants regardless of the implicit threat, and today the Brits are likewise afflicted by a racial blindness – an incapacity to recognize what is happening and organize beyond the blind leading the blind.

In the novel, the last sighted are just as flawed and foibled as before the catastrophe: obsessed with their overarching ambitions and moral imperatives, which drive them to petty factionalism even as their extinction looms. The novel is narrated by the protagonist Bill Masen, a competent everyman who had been a Triffid-farm operative, and it follows his struggle for racial survival. Audiences have been captivated by this idea of murderous weeds lurking in their vegetable patches, and the story has lodged itself firmly in the British imagination, spawning a movie and two television adaptations, the best of which is the 1981 BBC dramatization. It is completely faithful to the source material, unsentimental and uncompromising in its portrayal of the Triffids and their grisly toll on the helpless blind – which could today be seen as a series about white survival in ways that would not be possible in contemporary television.

Triffids begins with Bill missing “the end of the world” from his hospital bed, being unable to see due to his eyes being bandaged. Bill had been working at a Triffid station, tapping them for their oils. A particularly vicious sting caused a venom sac to burst and get poison into his eyes, and his friend’s quick thinking and doctoring saved his sight. He is unable to join the ranks of the blind due to his direct experience – rather like those whites who have been exposed firsthand to the reality of the malice of non-whites against us (whether it is black incompetence or crime, or Jewish subversion). Like contemporary normies, where willful blindness is a point of pride (“I don’t see race”), and unlike those liberals whose unnatural hair coloring signals that they are acutely sensitive to race, the blind in Triffids are unblemished victims: “There was nothing to show that he was blind. His eyes were wide open.”[2] It is this sole deficiency – the inability to recognize threats – that distinguishes between survivor and victim, subject and object. Race, and the Triffid, “sees” you, and like the stinging, preternaturally alert Triffids, the Jews’ method is to aim for the eyes and incapacitate.

Fully aware that they are the helpless victims of a calamity, the first instinct of the blind Bill initially encounters is to kill themselves: “Where’s the damned window?” . . . I didn’t look to see. After all, it was the fifth floor.” In 1951, the disconnection many whites feel from white self-consciousness is felt as an acute and tragic loss. In 2017’s Bird Box, the trope is subconsciously inverted, and seeing liberal humanism for the failure it is induces either a delirious madness (a caricature of White Nationalists) or immediate suicide. Having identified so strongly with an ideological trick, a white liberal cannot recognize the facts about race without giving up everything he has chosen to define himself. Unlike Wyndham’s Brits, the neurotic Americans of Bird Box believe it’s better not to see.

Upon rescuing the damsel in distress, the unconvincingly named Josella Playton, Bill and Josella get acquainted and team up for mutual assurance – like the lonely dissident, they both feel the pain of isolation of being sighted in a blind world. Wyndham’s portrait of Josella as an attractive socialite has aged badly: prior to the collapse, Playton made her name as the author of a book titled Sex is My Adventure, which in 1951 may have been risqué but to a contemporary audience sounds utterly banal. There are some things even prescient science fiction doesn’t account for, after all, and the saturation of everyday life by pornography is one of them. Likewise, Bill encounters period-specific musical tastes and practices; wandering the streets of London, he hears a blind girl singing a Byron ballad. Elsewhere, the phrase “coming out” is used in a confusing non-homosexual context by Josella. Nonetheless, in this white survival parable, feminism is one of the first things to go: Josella, upon going to pieces whilst being held captive and beaten by a desperate blind man, comments, “Shows you what a modern young woman can come to, doesn’t it?” She also has a naïvety and white altruism that would be out of place in a sexual abuse victim in modern London: “He wasn’t perhaps too bad a man really.” For an audience used to Lara Crofts and Ma-Rey Sues, Josella is much closer to a real woman.

Fractures immediately begin appearing between the groups of sighted that reflect the struggles we experience today. Bill makes first contact with a band of them which includes one desperate renegade imploring – and then violently demanding – that he and Josella assist him in helping the blind forage for food until “they” come. Like an acute liberal who sees the racial stratification of society, and yet is totally unable to accept that blacks and other non-hwhytes will never build up a high-trust society to stand alongside that of whites, the renegade condemns this “Beadley’s Lot” as inhumane: “God almighty, aren’t you people human?” Racial sightedness cuts both ways, and sets one to either self-preservation or to an ethnomasochism fuelled by a lethal cocktail of self-loathing mixed with a self-aggrandizing morality. Thankfully, Bill and the other practically-minded survivors aren’t taken in. He remarks – in a passage meant for the misguidedly charitable – that “the more obviously humane course is also, probably, the road to suicide. Should we spend our time in prolonging misery when we believe that there is no chance of saving the people in the end?”

Liberals, of course, do not believe in an eventual Wakanda, created and maintained by blacks alone. The endless admission of Africans to the West under the pretense that they are “refugees” is in itself an admission that their presence is punitive; it is also an acknowledgment that the worst possible thing that can happen to blacks is to allow them to continue living with other blacks in their own homelands. It is simply grandstanding to “make a moral gesture that can scarcely be more than a gesture.” Of course, in Triffids the blind are genuinely wretched, but in reality, blacks are comfortable with themselves, and only feel ill-at-ease in modern society when more is expected of them than they want or are able to offer. In a poignant line for anyone struggling to overcome their programming to endlessly elevate blacks as totemic equals, Bill states, “Would that be the best use of ourselves?”[3]

In typically white style, before the survivors have even safely evacuated the standing ruin of London, a Professor of Sociology (what else?) is wheeled out to attempt to form an ideological consensus. Like white South Africans wrangling about the colors of the flag of Orania whilst their genocide proceeds apace, the Professor violates the golden rule of Big Tent populism: “D.B.U.T.T. – Don’t Break Up The Team!”[4] He gives a meandering speech questioning forms of “absolute right”: “One community’s virtue may well be another community’s crime,”[5] which unexpectedly goes in a direction contrary to that of most academics when he begins throwing red meat to White Nationalists:

We can accept and retain only one primary prejudice, and that is that the race is worth preserving. We must look at all we do, with the question in mind: “Is this going to help our race survive, or will it hinder us?” (original emphasis)

Another hastily-drawn character, the “Colonel,” is full of bright ideas for Rightists of all ages, assembled presumably from Wyndham’s military background:

Self-pity and a sense of high tragedy are going to build nothing at all. So we had better throw them out at once, for it is builders we must become. Our aim must be to make ourselves as nearly independent of outside sources as possible. We should spend that period in virtually a state of siege.

Don’t just read Siege, read Triffids!

Nonetheless, the Professor’s premature radicalism sets off the church lady in the base who may otherwise have come along quietly: “The men must work – the women must have babies.” What he says is not essentially that extreme, but natural brainiacs can have a tendency towards being inflammatory and blasé. “’I am asking if [the Professor] suggests the abolition of marriage law?’ ‘Madam, the laws we knew have been abolished by circumstances.’”[6] After Wilfred Coker’s plan to force some kidnapped sighted to hang in there with the remaining blind falls through due to a mysterious plague and diminishing supplies, separating Bill from Josella, the Professor and Bill unite, make common cause, and set off from the university building in London’s center to the more rural Tynsham Manor (a real place, like most other locations in the book; a technique Wyndham borrowed from War of the Worlds). What they find is a deeply Christian community of the blind managed by this brittle troublemaker and a few sympathetic sighted girls.

Wyndham makes the correct assessment that those who are too fixated on the next world are dubious allies in this one: Miss Durrant and her entourage have split from the group and secured their own walled-off little Eden in the misguided notion that sinners can go hang, even if the country is nearly cleansed of mammalian life. In times when everyone needs to pull together, coloreds-blind Christians and other pearl-clutchers can often be trusted to pull apart and prove themselves a fifth column:

They have gone elsewhere. This is a clean, decent community with standards – Christian standards – and we intended to uphold them . . . they may work out their own damnation as they please.[7]

God help any homosexual who was too wasted at a circuit party to catch the meteor storm in Triffids, who then emerged only to find rabid natalists on one side and piously uncharitable pseudo-Semites on the other (you can’t choose who else is left sighted). Interestingly, not a single sighted man volunteers to remain with Miss Durrant’s lot, and Coker later reprimands one of the girls for sitting in the dark while a petrol generator lay untouched. He states, “Nor is ignorance going to be cute or funny anymore. It is going to be dangerous, very dangerous.”[8] Bill and Coker bail before the inevitable collapse of the disorganized community. Wistfully – and something with which a White Nationalist observing the lack of moral seriousness and maturity within the movement can sympathize – Coker says, “This thing hasn’t got home to these people yet. At the backs of their minds they’re all camping out, hanging on, and waiting for something or the other.”[9]

Bill and Coker part ways as Bill continues his search for Josella. Here, the novel has plenty to commend whites as his exploits follow a decade-long arc into crisis. Josella is holed up on the Sussex Downs with her family friends; a blind Dennis Brent and his partner, the pregnant Mary Brent; and her friend Joyce (left temporarily bedbound by a Triffid sting). Elsewhere around the country, the bamboozled Brits are waiting for “American fairy godmothers” to arrive like the Air Cav in Apocalypse Now, dropping napalm and Agent Orange on the hated Triffids and rappelling down from helicopters to distribute Hershey Bars and liberation lipstick. Only Beadley’s Lot, with their Professor sociologist, and Coker himself, who has learnt from direct experience, have the vision of building anew rather than waiting for inevitable death, like “sheep in their easy discouragement stood resignedly to die.”[10]

Bill is reunited with Josella, and together with a child, Susan, who Bill has rescued on his journey there, they settle into eking out an existence on foraged supplies and subsistence farming. Mary soon gives birth, and Josella follows. Dennis’ toughness and improvisation speaks to white men struggling against fearsome odds – despite blindness, he cobbles together thick protective gear, an efficient mesh helmet, and lengths of twine to brave a gauntlet of Triffid stings on a fumbling and possibly fatal excursion to the nearest village. Cast into a prison of darkness and embittered by his incapability, he longs for a braille typewriter.

Having survived the first of the troubles, Bill’s clan (the word is never used, but this is what it amounts to) lives like contemporary white South Africans, watching Triffids clamoring for their demise from behind the relative safety of electrified fences. Similarly, they are eventually forced to make a hasty escape. After Beadley’s Lot – now prospering in the relative security of the Isle of Wight – makes contact with them by helicopter, the smoke signal draws the attention of the ramshackle, self-important military. Torrence, a bully with three armed stooges, arrives at their compound and states plainly that he will take their adopted daughter Susan: “Those are the regulations.” He is the perhaps self-anointed “Chief Executive Officer of the Emergency Council for the South-Eastern Region of Britain,” and holding Susan hostage is a ploy to ensure their compliance with taking in twenty blind and leading a neo-feudal life largely spent feeding blind serfs mashed Triffid. Rightists of all stripes will be familiar with liberal authoritarian impulses to shackle the capable to those who are barely able to fend for themselves. In Torrence’s case, this “humanity” comes with the modern accessory of declaring adventurous wars to be mere police actions: “The first country to get on its feet again [will] have the chance of bringing order elsewhere . . . and discourage likely aggressors.”[11] The Triffids themselves are a vicious dissolving force, moving in to reclaim the homestead once Bill and his entourage flee. His narration reflects Hitler’s “gradually I began to hate them” remarks: “Somehow they had been bred . . . I began to loathe them now for more than their carrion-eating habits – they, more than anything else, seemed able to profit and flourish on our disaster . . .”[12]

With their fertile land saturated with Triffid seeds, the doom of the Brits is nearly assured. Bill’s struggle is one with which every White Nationalist can instinctively identify: to extract himself, the pretty girl Josella Playton (thus rescuing the opportunity to sire children), and maybe enough compatriots to form a fortified sanctuary where their progeny and a working prosperity can be secured. White Nationalists are keenly sighted to what the hapless crowds have yet to see: simple habitat loss. Neither predatory plant nor Pakistani can ever be anything except a controlled threat, and the contemporary Brits are similarly blind to their predicament; quite possibly their retinas are already burnt out, not by green meteors but from staring too long into a cathode-ray tube or flatscreen Televitz.

Triffids takes place over a decade, from Bill’s experience in the immediate aftermath of the disaster to struggling to eke out a sanctuary on the Isle of the Wight. The novel closes with his speculations about a future biological war against the Triffids to retake the country, and mentions a book called History of the Colony, implying that at least some future has been secured. The Triffids themselves are simply evolutionary opportunists, and the novel is an examination of a multi-generational struggle for survival – one that speaks to the experience of whites worldwide today.

If there are any flaws, it is that the Triffids are too conveniently lethal to be believable. The book is also – à la Heinlein – heavy on exposition, some of which is contradictory. There is extensive handwringing about the superficiality of a civilization built on the specialization of labor, a somewhat boring convention of apocalypse fiction. Later on, characters gravely intone about the risk of their agricultural society sliding into primitivism for lack of leisure time. Wyndham’s subtexts also mark Triffids as a product of its time: his concerns about satellite weaponry and food shortages seem quaint and misplaced; few care about Third World food shortages today, and even fewer whites actually experience them. Wyndham also buys into a sort of premature, post-war liberalism that reflexively blames a “militant five percent” for disrupting the harmony of “ninety five percent” of humans who “want to live in peace.” The Soviets are responsible for the Triffid outbreak in Wyndham’s fiction, but the reality has been Israel, which has sent “flotillas of peace” consisting of unwanted refuse to Europe as a biological agent. The pre-catastrophe world is also laughably peaceable outside of the Soviet menace: “You could go just as you were to wherever you wished safely and in comfort, with nothing to hinder you – other than forms and regulations . . . it was so over five sixths of the globe.”

Such a utopia is only possible in a world where white civilization has been brought to five-sixths of it; where the white man has established useful and convenient utilities like airports, hotels, and cruise liners; and more importantly, eliminated racial terrorism against us. Triffids is, as Langford correctly observes, “Like other Wyndham novels The Chrysalids and The Midwich Cuckoos . . . a strict Darwinian parable,” yet without essential racial sightedness, Triffids is an incomplete commentary. Constrained by a default secular humanism, with no mention of ethnicity and making use of the gloss-over term “human race,” Wyndham’s novel reflects a white racial consciousness that became submerged in the post-war era in a permissible area of cultural dissent: science fiction. But science fiction has more often than not championed whites starting or serving a racially inclusive and humanistic space society (Starship Troopers being one of them).

Today, The Day of the Triffids is only a meaningful critique when viewed from the position of a racially aware, J-woke white advocate. Without the metaphor of willed ideological blindness – the spectacle of the multicultural paradise being as blinding to the population as Wyndham’s green meteors – Wyndham’s Triffids are just weird plants. However, with its clear view of the risk of extinction, Triffids is a valuable provocation, an all-too-real nightmare, and a cautionary tale that demands white vigilance.

Notes

[1] Jan Assmann, Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), “The Aims of Mnemohistory,” p. 14.

[2] The Day of the Triffids (London: Penguin Books, 1951), p. 10.

[3] Ibid., p. 85.

[4] Carlson & Peeters, p. 823.

[5] The Day of the Triffids, p. 98.

[6] Ibid., p. 101.

[7] Ibid., p. 144.

[8] Ibid., p. 150.

[9] Ibid., p. 155.

[10] Ibid., p. 167.

[11] Ibid., p. 228.

[12] Ibid., p. 167.

4 Comments

  1. The real John Smith
    Posted February 13, 2019 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    Just a correction on H.G. Wells and War of the Worlds.
    Wells was an anti-imperialist and the story was an allegory on the evils he saw in colonialism: ruthless invaders with superior weapons, the implantation of strange new plants, the hopeless despair of the invaded, and finally the invaders succumbing to some unexpected disease.

  2. nineofclubs
    Posted February 13, 2019 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Yep. Great review. The themes of (1) blindness to threat and (2) danger from accepted social conventions are entirely relevant to our positions today.

    Wyndham’s techno pessimism and anti Soviet hysterics can be seen as products of his time, with A-bomb and Cold War fears prominent in the day. We face different and much more real threats today.

    .

  3. Labrador
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    What do you think of John Christopher? His The Possessors (1964) is a good Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type novel that can be read as an allegory for all sorts of situations, including falling for multiculturalism and diversity. His real name was Sam Youd, and Wikipedia says Youd is a Yorkshire name. I don’t know, seems pretty non-English to me, but I’m no expert.

  4. Juliana
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    I do like the early movie but I realise it is quite different from the book which was a school literature text back in the day. At the time I suppose we thought of it as a nuclear war/acid rain type parable. Both views still apply to this reading as a biological/ human error scenario. Lots to think about. I will look up the 1981 beeb version but I still like the redemptive view of the earlier movie with the drunkard white scientist finally manning up and saving his wife (and lineage) and the world. Thanks.

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