RRS: The Midwich Cuckoos – John Wyndham

The Midwich Cuckoos is Book #481 on the 1001 Book List and this review was first published in June 2012.

I had the good fortune of reviewing The Day of the Triffids for the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die blog a short while ago.  I enjoyed that simple story and the no frills style of telling it.  So much so that when I was looking for a relaxing small book I was more than happy to pick another Wyndham.  I chose to listen to The Midwich Cuckoos, and at a little over three hours long, it was a quick and pleasant listen.  The language, as read, was the same pithy, easy to follow, style.

The basic plot of the story is very straightforward.  The little village of Midwich experiences a “visitation” of some kind.  For a two mile radius there is no entry to the village, and those crossing it fall into immediate slumber.    Despite the sinister overtones of an entire sleeping village, there appears to be no after effects when victims are pulled back from the edges.  And on the day that the narrator, Richard Gayford and his wife Janet, return from London to Midwich, the slumber zone disappears.

Naturally this event, which becomes known as the Midwich Day Out or just the Day Out, attracts the attention of Military Intelligence.  Bernard Westcott, the liaison officer, requests that Gayford and his wife send reports to him on village life.  After initially rejecting his request, they decide that it is in the best interests of their neighbours and friends for them to do so.  Hence we have access to all of the key events that follow.

The only real visible after effect of the Day Out is subtle, until between the Vicar and the local Doctor, the scale of the unexpected and unplanned pregnancies of the women of the village becomes known.  Every woman of childbearing age is about to bear one.  Quite a shocking idea in 1957, when this book was published, I imagine.

One of the leading local men, Gordon Zellaby, and his wife Angela start to become prominent at this point.  They, along with the Doctor and the Vicar, work to normalise what is going on to the women while Bernard and Military Intelligence work to keep it out of the headlines.  Although there is obvious palpable fear in wondering just what will be born, in the end all 61 of the babies are born healthy and normal.  With the exception of one startling feature – golden eyes.

As they grow, and are watched by the intelligent and insightful Gordon Zellaby, they begin to show signs of telepathic control and eventually an interconnectedness between individuals.  This latter point is rather like the precursor of our modern day Borg from another science fiction setting.  Things eventually come to a head when the children are nine chronological years old (but much older in appearance and behaviour) and show just how powerful they may eventually become.

Although I did not find the story menacing, there are lots of ideas to consider here.  How would we handle an invasion by stealth?  What would we do if we suspected, or could prove, that we were being made to be mother hens to unwanted cuckoos?  The theme behind the story is coping with a moral dilemma again, just as it was in The Day of the Triffids.   Wyndham lays this out in the dialogues of Gordon Zellaby.   It does make you wonder about your own reaction to such a subtle threat.  Would you be inclined to eliminate the threat as early as possible, or would you struggle with that and let the threat grow and grow until either drastic measures were needed to ensure your survival or you were simply unable to offer any resistance to annihilation at all?

On the surface this is a very simple plot and very neatly executed.  But you can read more in to the dilemma this sort of fictitious event could provoke in humanity.  I can recommend it for either – a quick, light read, or something to ponder on when you are done.

For those who may be interested, the book has been made into a movie twice, first in 1960 and then again in 1995.  The title of both being Village of the Damned.  Be warned the links to the movies contain spoilers if you plan to read the book.

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