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Thursday, April 25, 2019

#AtoZChallenge: W is for John Wyndham

John Wyndham - fair use 

Today we will be checking out British SF writer John Wyndham(1903-1969). He wrote some of his early work under the name John B Harris. His full name was John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris. He wrote some stories as John Beynon, some as John B Harris, and finally his books as John Wyndham. That’s the name under which he is best known. 

He wrote far more short stories than novels, mostly for science fiction magazines such as Amazing Stories(the one I’m sharing is the cover of an edition with his John B Harris name. But it’s him all right!) There are several collections of his short stories, including some published posthumously. 

Public Domain 

Two of his novels, The Day Of The Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos, were filmed, the latter under the title Village Of The Damned. That film featured George Sanders in one of his few non-villain roles. I can remember one of his short stories, but not the title, that also became a film, with Joan Collins playing one of her few non-bitch roles. It was a universe-hopping romance in which a man finds himself in an alternative universe in which he is married to a beautiful, decent woman, whom his other self has treated dreadfully. I read the story and when the film turned up on late-night TV I thought, hang on, I know this story! John Wyndham! 

John Wyndham’s novels tend to be about humanity faced with one monster or another. Triffids, for example, has a suddenly-blinded human race being stalked by genetically-modified plants created to be harvested for their oil. The hero is one of the few who wasn’t blinded by the meteor shower everyone was watching, because he was in hospital with his eyes bandaged. Triffids would not be out of place in Professor Sprout’s Hogwarts greenhouse. 

In The Midwich Cuckoos the scary things are a bunch of blonde children, all born at the same time in a small English village. The opening line is “One of the luckiest accidents of my wife’s life is that she happened to marry man who was born on the 26th of September.” Because of this they were off in London celebrating his birthday, so missed the weird goings-on at home in Midwich, after which all the women became pregnant with these scary kids. 

In The Kraken Wakes, it’s something from under the sea. 

Chocky is different again. A child’s imaginary friend turns out not to be imaginary after all, but an alien. I believe that one was made into a British TV serial, with Jeremy Bulloch playing a role - you probably know him as Boba Fett(Star Wars) or Edward of Wickham in Robin Of Sherwood

But my first encounter with Mr Wyndham’s work was a YA dystopian novel called The Chrysalids. Well, I consider it YA, anyway. We had to read it for English in Year 10. I read it in an evening and loved it. My English teacher was not happy with my speed, as he hadn’t prepared our assignment yet. 

The novel is set in a world where there has been a nuclear war which has left a lot of radiation behind. The descendants of the survivors are living in small rural communities on the edge of the badlands. They have rewritten their scriptures to fit in with their religious beliefs. 

Apparently God hates mutants. 

Children are examined at birth. Any child who doesn’t fit in with their idea of perfection is taken to the radiation-filled wastelands and left there. Some people manage to hide their children’s extra toes or whatever. 

And the teenaged heroes have a mutation that can’t be seen so easily. They’re telepaths. Eventually they have to go on the run. 

I reread it a while back and still loved it, though it might be a bit dated in style for today’s kids to read. Good readers who enjoy the classics might still enjoy it. 

All his books are still in print, including ebooks(both Kindle and ePub) and several in audiobook, from the usual online outlets. They are well worth following up.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - I certainly haven't read any of his books ... and as I'm not happy with 'nasties' (I get frightened!) - I know that I haven't seen any of his films; however I'm braver now - and perhaps should give them a try sometime. (Day of the Triffids and the Midwich Cuckoo -clever title!) - Cheers Hilary

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Hilary! I hope you do discover John Wyndham. They’re really easy and comfortable reading, nothing like the scarier fiction of today.

Melanie said...

I remember reading The Midwich Cuckoos when I was young and loving it. I've been meaning to read more of his works for years! So many books, so little time. XD

Sue Bursztynski said...

As you say, so many books, so little time! Wyndham is for when you’re tired and want some easy reading, except maybe the very serious Chrysalids, but even that I read in an evening...

AJ Blythe said...

My senior english teacher was absolutely awful. I don't think she really wanted to be a teacher. When we had a book we had to read for class, she wouldn't prepare lessons for the week, instead we had to read the book in class for our lesson. The problem was, like you Sue, I would have it finished the first night. I would get in trouble in class and be forced to either reread or sit and do nothing for all those english lessons. I wasn't allowed to read whichever book I had brought with me to school that day so I reread.

Sue Bursztynski said...

My Year 10 English teacher was a lovely man, just not a very good teacher. And we didn’t even read it in class, he just gave us copies to take home and expected to have three weeks to prepare the assignment.

I have to admit, I sort of fell into teaching and bluffed my way through. But I loved making a difference and I got hugs from kids last time I visited my old school. I must have been doing something right. 😏

Roland Clarke said...

John Wyndham is one of the SF writers that I've read avidly - plus seen many of the adaptations. Day of the Triffids always scares me on screen/TV, but blonde telepathic kids are scarier than clicking plants.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Agreed, Roland! There are so,e things that shouldn’t be scary, but are.