Are the Triffids A Uniquely British Monster?

James Bradley, author of The Deep Field, has just written a fascinating essay about Day of the Triffids. He calls the monster-plant novel a Darwinian end-of-the-world scenario, and then points out how it's very different from an American apocalypse story.

Bradley writes:

Just as much of the power of 28 Days Later comes from its often eerily beautiful images of an abandoned London, many of The Day of the Triffids' most enduring images are of the empty cities and towns of southern England, and, as time passes, of their gradual reclamation by the wild.

What's interesting, to my mind, is the manner in which these images are identifiably part of an English – or perhaps British – tradition. Since Wells at least, British speculative fiction has tended to imagine our end in similarly muted terms . . . This vision stands in stark contrast to American visions of world's end, and their apocalyptic fervour . . . Perhaps not surprisingly for a country in which religion looms so large, America is haunted by the apocalyptic imagination of fundamental Christianity, a cultural belief that has not been supplanted by science, but simply mutated into the sort of apocalyptic fantasies which are given shape in The Road or even Battlestar Galactica (if you're interested in this question I've posted an article I wrote for The Age back in 2007 here).

By contrast, novels such as [John] Wyndham's can be seen as part of a larger anxiety about the waning of British power from the beginning of the 20th century on. The end of the world, for Wyndham and his countrymen is more about a larger historical process than the more fervid, religious fantasies of the Americans. Like Ozymandias' statue in Shelley's antique land, the silent streets and cities of England speak to the folly of human ambition, and to the British sense of Imperial decline.

This is just one part of a really interesting essay about a book that deserves to be remembered as one of the great, disturbing science fiction works of the twentieth century. (And it's prescient too: If you'll recall, the human-eating triffids are being bred as biofuel.)

I also think that Bradley has hit on something here with his notion of how British SF handles apocalypse. It's something I've heard Charles Stross say too: That their history of imperialism gives the Brits a longer view, both of the future and of the decline of the human species.

via City of Tongues