One hundred and ten years ago, today, John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris was born, and the world would never look at meteor showers or blonde-haired children in quite the same way again.
Prior to the Second World War, he wrote and published under a bewildering array of pen names – John Beynon, Wyndham Parkes and Lucas Parkes to name but a few – but it is for his extraordinary post-war novels, published under the name John Wyndham, that he is best known. And once you hear the name ‘John Wyndham‘, the famous titles start to rattle out automatically: The Midwich Cuckoos, The Chrysalids, Chocky, The Kraken Wakes and, of course, there can scarcely be a reader alive who hasn’t at least heard of The Day of the Triffids, if not read it.
I’m trying to remember how I first discovered John Wyndham, but there are two possibilities and I’m afraid I can’t collapse the memory waveform:
The first possibility is a source I’ve already mentioned here: the short-lived ’70s SF anthology comic Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction, wherein I discovered the work of Bob Shaw, thanks to Tony Isabella and Gene Colan’s adaptation of his wonderful Slow Glass story ‘Light of Other Days’; for this also included an adaptation of The Day of the Triffids, by Gerry Conway and Ross Andru. The second possible entry point was a compendium of four great SF books I was given at the age of eleven or twelve. This was a mock-leather-bound hardback containing Isaac Asimov‘s I, Robot, Arthur C. Clarke‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Day of the Triffids and Robert Silverberg‘s A Time of Changes (definitely my first exposure to Robert Silverberg).
However I started, my first exposure to John Wyndham resulted in a concentrated orgy of backlist reading (a pattern that would repeat itself throughout my next two decades with Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe and Guy Gavriel Kay among others – not to mention any number of musicians). To my great delight, I found John Wyndham‘s work quite easy to find in the Australian bookshops of the late ’70s/early ’80s – not always the case when I’d discovered a new writer – and before long I’d enjoyed all of the titles listed above, as well as Web, Trouble with Lichen, The Seeds of Time and Consider Her Ways and Others. As a young boy, entranced by The Tomorrow People, who desperately wanted to be telepathic, The Chrysalids was definitely my favourite – although The Midwich Cuckoos is the book that remains most strongly in my mind.
I’ve not re-read John Wyndham in all the intervening years, so his books remain an integral part of my childhood – locked away in the Vault of Formative Influences – and I wonder how I would view his work today. I have regretted re-reading or re-watching some old favourites – as I’m sure many of us have – but I’ve also been thrilled to rediscover the odd gem that is every bit as shiny and multi-faceted as it was back when the world was newer and more mysterious. In those cases, I’ve found that the sense of nostalgia is nicely complemented by a mature appreciation of the work in question, and I strongly suspect that would be the case with Wyndham.
But there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?