We lived in Fort Worth, Texas for two years in the early 1960s. It was a temporary relocation for my dad's job. I attended kindergarten and first grade at Westcliff Elementary School. But the thing I remember the most about those years in Fort Worth were the entertainments I was exposed to for the very first time in my young life. I saw and experienced things that made an indelible impression on me, things that, in many ways, shaped my life forever and always.
When I got home from school every afternoon I watched a program called SLAM BANG THEATER on KTVT Channel 11. This was a local kids' show, hosted by a fright wigged character named "Icky Twerp". One of the staples of SLAM BANG were Three Stooges shorts. I saw Moe, Larry and Curly for the first time and loved them. I still do. After SLAM BANG, Channel 11 ran episodes of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. Again, this was my first exposure to the Man of Steel (I had yet to even see, much less own and read a real Superman comic book) and it was love at first sight. I love that show to this day and Superman still ranks as my all-time favorite super-hero.
On Friday nights at 10:30 p.m., Channel 11 ran horror/science movies on a program entitled NIGHTMARE. Like hundreds of similar shows on television stations across the nation in the 1960s, NIGHTMARE had a host, this one named "Gorgon". Both "Gorgon" and "Icky Twerp", of SLAM BANG, were played by a gentleman named Bill Camfield. He was one helluva busy guy!
I remember staying up late with my dad a couple of times to watch THEM! (1954) and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953). These films, along with a telecast of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) on NBC's SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES, were my very first exposure to the cinema of the fantastic and you better believe that that needle went in hard and deep.
The very first science fiction film I saw in a theater was THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962). It played on a double bill with TARZAN GOES TO INDIA (1962) at the, if I recall correctly, Camp Bowie Theater. I was permitted to attend this double feature with some of the kids from the neighborhood. Someone's mom or dad accompanied us. TARZAN thrilled me. TRIFFIDS petrified me.
Cut to a few years later. We'd moved back to Austin where my dad assumed his new position as general manager of the newly minted Hancock Shopping Center. I used to go to his office regularly after school and he allowed me to pretty much have the run of the entire center. There was a two-story Dillards department store back then and on the second floor, there was a small book department. It was there that I discovered the paperback copy of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS pictured above. I vividly recalled how much the film had frightened me but nonetheless, I sure wanted to read this book. The cover art was fantastic and I was a fairly advanced reader at a young age (I was probably eight years old at the time). My dad bought the book for me but alas, my young eyes were bigger than my literary stomach was at the time. I never read the book.
I don't know what ever became of that original copy. It's long gone. But at some point over the years, I acquired another copy of that oh-so-seductive looking science fiction paperback book. The other day, I watched CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED (and blogged about it). The film was a semi-sequel to VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, which was based on the novel, THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS by British author John Wyndam. I checked the science fiction shelves in the man cave and found that the only book I had by Wyndham was THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1951). I decided that, after fifty years, it was time I finally read this acknowledged sf classic.
I finished reading the book yesterday and I must say, it is vastly different from the film. If anything, it's even scarier in its' depiction of a world gone almost totally blind due to a vast, worldwide meteor shower which caused everyone who looked directly at it to be blinded overnight. Waking up in a hospital ward, his eyes bandaged from an accident, our hero Bill Masen, finds himself one of a handful of sighted survivors in a London plunged into chaos and upheaval as blind people stagger helplessly through the streets.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the triffids are also moving about. These enormous, ambulatory plants (created in a laboratory prior to the meteor shower and, ironically, the instrument of Bill's bandaged eyes) possess whip-like, toxin coated stingers that lash out at humans causing severe injuries and death.
Bill soon finds a lovely young woman, Josella, who is also sighted. Together they try to survive and escape from London, searching for other sighted people. They meet several different factions, some espousing mutual co-operation, others forcing a kind of slave labor in order to care for both the sighted and the blind. At one point, Bill and Josella become separated and Bill, along with a no-nonsense companion named Coker, set out to find her. Along the way, Bill rescues Susan, a young sighted girl, whose brother has been killed by the triffids. Bill and Susan eventually find Josella and several bind people in a remote farm house where they set about making a new life for themselves. The have to continually guard against the triffids who appear to have the ability to hear as well as move.
Several years pass before the small group is contacted by an emissary from another colony established on an island just off the British coast. Bill and the others make plans to join this new colony but before they can depart, they are waylaid by gun-toting "soldiers" who demand that they work for the feudal government the men have created.
The climax is a bit rushed and the story ends on an abrupt, albeit hopeful, note. THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. is a terrific post-apocalyptic novel which posits a terrifying new world. The narrative, told by Bill, is gripping and thought provoking, detailing what an average man and woman must do to survive and begin to rebuild a shattered society. It's grim stuff that taps directly into the post war anxieties of the Cold War and the nascent atomic age. Add in the brilliantly conceived triffids and you have a genuine science fiction classic.
It took me a long time to finally read this unsettling and disturbing work but I'm glad I did. It's not everyone's cup of tea but it is very well done. Highly recommended.