SPOILERS AHEAD for those who have not read the book.
John Wyndham’s original novel was not about a botanical invasion from space. The novel’s triffids did not arrive via meteors. Rather, they were a completely human product of high-tech industry, developed for their oil which could be used in a fantastic number of applications. One daring air pirate, in attempting to smuggle triffid seeds from a triffid farm in Russia, is shot down. The plane explodes, the seeds are caught in air currents and are widely disseminated. Eventually the secret of triffid farming becomes well known. Triffid farms abound around the world, and many people keep de-stinged triffids as amusing “walking plant” pets. The protagonist, Mason, in fact, was stung as a youth by an early-blooming triffid growing in the trash heap of his own back yard. From this incident he develops a partial immunity to triffid venom.
Mason is not a merchant marine sailor as the film portrays him. He’s a triffid farmer who has a one-in-a-thousand times accident with a triffid sting, some of whose venom penetrates his protective mask, temporarily blinding him. It is while he is recovering in the hospital that the “Night of the Green Meteors” occurs. Mason awakes to a world mostly gone blind. When the triffids find that most humans are blind, they have a field day taking humans as easy prey – as in the movie.
However, unlike the movie, late in the novel, Wyndham’s characters speculate at the POSSIBLE HUMAN ORIGINS of the catastrophe that has befallen the world, namely:
1) The triffids are not alien plants. They are the product of human technology. Generally harmless when properly tethered and/or de-stinged, they become terribly dangerous only through the failure of human foresight, namely:
2) The meteor shower, which is not necessarily a meteor shower at all. The chilling speculation is given out that “all kinds of nasty things were circling over our heads in space” -i.e., nuclear and bio-weaponry. Why not a ring of “Classified” orbiting weapons designed to burn out the human retina? This is where the novel is at its most horrific, sardonic and prophetic best. The entire triffid catastrophe is strongly implied to have been entirely man-made. Mason speculates that a partial test – or a limited attack – of the “green meteor” weapons may have gotten out of control. Or – perhaps – a genuine swarm of green meteors came along and inadvertently knocked the orbiting retina-burners into the atmosphere, where they fell over the globe, willy-nelly and with no control or discrimination.
Wyndham’s novel is thus sci-fi/horror at its darkest (pun intended). Today’s superweaponry certainly matches, if not exceeds, Wyndham’s grim scenario. Wyndham didn’t imagine weapons any worse than those that have existed, do exist, and will be developed in the future. I would very much like to see Triffids filmed as Wyndham wrote it. Not as an invasion of space plants, but as a completely human-created catastrophe, an ecological horror fantasy that will knock smaller boats like Whitley Strieber’s The Day After Tomorrow clean out of the water.