Posts Tagged ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham ~ 1957. This edition: Penguin, 1971. Paperback. ISBN: 140014403. 220 pages.

Lutescent.

Isn’t that a great word? I hardly ever run into it in fiction reading, though it’s a relatively common descriptor in botany and entomology. “Of a yellowish colour” is the nuts and bolts definition, but in practice it is generally used to describe an overall golden glow, a tint rather than a deeper dye.

The children – perhaps that should be in quotations? – with whom this science fiction – horror? – novel are concerned are definitely lutescent, what with their glossily sheened skin and their beautiful golden eyes. (Though Wyndham might not actually use the term; I thought he did but I can’t find it on reexamination of the pertinent bits of text.)

Almost inhumanly beautiful, they are, which encompasses the whole point of this morally wrought tale. They’re not human. So, when it appears that the existence of the golden ones may threaten the existence of humankind-as-we-know-it, do all the normal rules of civilized behaviours apply?

That is the Big Question.

Let me back up.

Here’s the story.

Strange events in the peaceful English village of Midwich!

Within a defined circle of countryside, with Midwich roughly at the centre, at 10:17 P.M. on a mild-though-damp September evening, everything goes to sleep. Insects, birds, farm animals, and most definitely the humans. They drop where they stand, frozen in a sort of catatonic trance. (The lucky ones are caught indoors or in  bed; some of the people out in the elements – well – not so good.)

The first edition dust jacket depicts a clever idea dreamt up by some of the army people to define the edge of the Sleep Zone. Canary in a cage, long stick, bucket of whitewash to mark the point where the canary keels over. Very ingenious. Oh, later extended to the innovation of a cageful of ferrets hanging from a helicopter by a long cable, with a man on the ground with binoculars signalling where the danger point kicks in. Perfect. This is a great book, full of deliciously understated humour.

The outside world realizes something fishy is going on the next morning, as telephone lines don’t respond and buses mysteriously fail to continue on their post-Midwich routes.

Here comes the army! (Not to mention M.I.) A high-flying scout plane catches a glimpse of a strangely shaped dome in the epicentre of the sleep zone; a closer-flying plane crashes, pilot apparently overcome by whatever-it-is.

A nerve gas?? Could it be…possibly…The Russians?! (Or “the Ivans”, as they are referred to by one of the side characters, which I must confess amused me greatly for some strange reason. Oh, dear. Not sure what that says about me. Probably nothing good.)

Nope, it’s not the Russians. It’s – wait for it – ALIENS! (Hey, it’s Wyndham. Was this ever even a question?)

The “dome” vanishes.

Everyone wakes up. (Except for a few unlucky souls caught in burning houses, or overexposed to the elements.)

Life returns to normal. For a month or three, anyway.

Because quite suddenly, quite coincidentally (it at first appears) there are an astonishing number of pregnancies becoming evident in the population of Midwich. As in, every woman of child-bearing age. Virgin schoolgirls, sedate housewives, the younger partner of the local lesbian couple, the adult daughter of the local squire and her youngish stepmother. All of them. Sixty-plus expectant mothers, all at the same stage of gravidness, estimated date of conception…well…you figure it out.

How interesting! How strange. A press ban is imposed and – this being England in the 1950s, an apparently rule-abiding place – the press politely abides by the word from on high. Nothing happening at Midwich. Just a little conceptional anomaly. Move along. Nothing to see here…

The babies are born, all of them – aside from the few obviously “naturally” conceived – with perfectly formed limbs, silken skin, and those golden eyes. And strange powers of mind. For the babies appear to be able to compel their mothers to certain actions. Baby hungry? Mother stops in mid stride on the high street, plunks herself down on the curb, and hikes up her blouse. Baby poked by diaper pin? Mother turns pin on herself, stabbing and stabbing in self punishment. Little things like that.

Interesting.

The babies show astonishing growth, maturing roughly twice as fast as a normal child would. And there is a remarkable phenomenon becoming apparent: the children all communicate by thought. All of the girls are linked, as are all of the boys. When a special school is set up to a.) educate and b.) study, it becomes the norm for the lessons to be taught to only one representative of each sex, the others showing mastery of the skill or concept as soon as the representative learner masters it.

Where’s this all going, you ask?

In a sentence: Humanity-as-we-know-it is doomed.

These are our replacements, sent to colonize Earth by an alien super race.

Well, by George! This can’t be allowed to happen, can it?!

But…but…but…they’re children.

I am stopping here. This is a vintage science fiction book worth reading, for under all the clichés and stereotypes and era-expected maunderings, it’s rather clever and nicely thought-provoking and (to borrow a cliché myself) a rattling good read, in a well-mannered, deeply English sort of way.

(“The Ivans.” Ha! Still makes me laugh. Can’t you just hear the plummy yet deadpan way in which this is intoned, speaker with one eyebrow cocked? Gorgeous.)

8/10.

Oh, yes. The Midwich Cuckoos was used as the basis for the now-classic 1960 horror film Village of the Damned, as well as its deeply panned 1995 remake. Don’t let that put you off. The book is really jolly good.

 

 

 

 

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