John Wyndham’s Work Remains Scary and Thought-provoking

I love discovering authors that were impactful in their era and whose work still holds up today. Wyndham is the kind of writer I truly enjoy–he writes the kind of unfussy, competent prose that is underrated and more supple than it first appears. His writing reminds me of the work of Walter Tevis, Theodore Sturgeon, and James Tiptree, Jr. where the first lines draw you in, and the characters are drawn swiftly in compelling details without overdoing it.

Wyndham wrote short, chilling novels that he called “logical fantasy” and what were alternately and perhaps dismissively called “cosy catastrophes.” He also knew how to draw you in from the first sentence and paragraph.

Here is the first sentence in The Day of the Triffids (1951): “When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like a Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”

The Day of the Triffids starts in a hospital. Bill Masen wakes up, his face bandaged from an accident, to a world altered. He discovers that a meteor shower the night before caused nearly everyone in the world who witnessed it to go blind. His quest for survival is thwarted by triffids, unusual plants that can walk and even kill. A film was made of the book in 1963.

The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) is a book told from the perspective of a young man from Midwich who returns with his wife after a night away to find their town cordoned off after some mysterious catastrophe. It turns out that the people of Midwich fell asleep and seemingly lost a day. Several weeks later, they learn that all of the women of childbearing age are now pregnant. The creepiness mounts and you meet the characters as they navigate their new predicament. And the ending is one you can’t forget. Some may have been introduced to this story with the film “Village of the Damned,” the original of which came out in 1960.

The Chrysalids (1955) is a post-apocalyptic novel set in a community where rooting out any aberration is paramount. Any child or animal born with any visible mutancy is killed for the good of community. David Strorm knows he is different, that he can communicate with select others with his mind, but his aberration is not visible and he wants to keep it that way. But in a community obsessed with purity, you can’t hide forever.

This is but a taste of the stories that Wyndham shared, stories that plumbed what-ifs and their psychological and emotional impact with a deft attunement to character and human nature. As Edmund Morris said in his Modern Library edition introduction: “…the influence of John Wyndham on such contemporary American writers as Stephen King and Michael Crichton is palpable.” It’s time to rediscover Wyndham’s dark, curious visions.

~posted by Misha S.

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