The Midwich Cuckoos is a kind of sci-fi/ dystopian mix, and as such books generally do, it covers some fascinating themes. Compelling and inventive; for me it is not as dated as the publication date my lead one to expect. Wyndham’ s themes are woven seamlessly throughout this novel, questions of societal and parental responsibility, sit alongside the idea of a malign and collectively destructive will, and what, when threatened we might be prepared to do, in order to survive.
The laws evolved by one particular species, for the convenience of that species, are, by their nature, concerned only with the capacities of that species – against a species with different capacities they simply become inapplicable.
Midwich is a typical English village, events over the course of its 1000 year history have gone largely unremarked -until now. On the day the sleepy English village of Midwich undergoes a most peculiar and life changing event Richard Gayford and his wife are thankfully away from home for the evening. The following day as they try to return to their home, they find strange things have occurred in their absence. There is a two mile exclusion zone around their village, one necessitated by a strange and powerful force literally preventing anyone or anything from crossing its path. Unwary police officers, residents and livestock have been reduced to a state of temporary unconsciousness by this invisible force.
As the situation around Midwich remains uncertain, Richard and his wife Janet find they need to find alternative accommodation for the evening. Sheltering at a pub a few miles away Richard runs into Bernard Westcott who he had served with during the war. Now Bernard is with Military Intelligence, and Richard is immediately both puzzled and curious in Bernard’ s obvious interest in the events in Midwich. Both military and police officers surround the cut off village, an aircraft is sent up to try and see what is happening whereupon it is discovered the force field does not just extend to the ground, and the aircraft is lost. Lieutenant Alan Hughes, the fiance of one of the residents of Midwich decides to use canaries to test the limits of the coma inducing field around the village. Photographs taken by the stricken aircraft however reveal a strange silver object near the Abbey, an object no-one is able to account for.
The following day, before anyone can work out what has happened in Midwich, the peculiar force disappears as inexplicably as it came. The residents awake from their long sleep, chilled and dimly aware they have lost a day, but save for a few poor souls who left outside, died of exposure, seem at first non the worse for the experience. The missing day is thereafter known as the ‘dayout’ and initially everyone tries to return to normal. However in a few weeks it’s very apparent that things are very far from normal, for every woman of child bearing age in Midwich is pregnant, married women, single women, school girls and widows. Confusion and disbelief give way to horror as the truth of what is happening becomes clear; that the women of Midwich are hosting offspring not their own.
Midwich pulls together to support each other during its most testing time, as Military Intelligence surround the village in a wall of silence, ensuring nothing of the truth leaks out. When the time comes, sixty one babies are born within a very short space of time. Sixty-one children, who are not their parents, all of them blond haired and golden eyed. As the Children as they are known by everyone grow up, they exhibit characteristics that set them apart. They grow up at something like twice the rate of normal children by nine years old they look like teenagers of sixteen or seventeen. More worrying however is their uncanny ability to control others with their minds. The Children will not tolerate anyone going against their wishes, mothers are prevented from removing them from Midwich, no-one can subvert the collective will of the Children. With conflict within families increasing, the Children are moved in to The Grange a former science establishment, now reinvented as a kind of boarding school for the Children. Mr Zelleby, whose daughter had found herself pregnant too, following the ‘dayout’ is one of the Children’s greatest, maybe only friend, giving them film shows, remembering they are still only children he provides them with the sweets they like. However as conflict between the Children and the villagers increases and turns violent, even Mr Zelleby begins to question how things can possibly end well.
There is no conception more fallacious than the sense of cosiness implied by “Mother Nature”. Each species must strive to survive, and that it will do, by every means in its power, however foul -unless the instinct to survive is weakened by conflict with another instinct.
This novel was chosen by my book group for our sci-fi themed November read, we meet to discuss it this Thursday. John Wyndham is someone I have never read before, I don’t read much of a sci-fi or dystopian nature, but I was actually really looking forward to reading this book. As you can probably tell I wasn’t disappointed – I loved it. This is a slightly spine chilling story, there is after all a fairly horrific element to it but it is brilliantly written and quite unputdownable. So many things to think about after I had finished reading, I know I will continue to think about it for a while. It is surprising perhaps that the women – the mothers don’t feature more strongly than they do, decisions are largely made by men, and the extraordinary will of the Children overpower all the mothers entirely. This I think reflects very much the time this novel was written, and is possibly the one aspect which dates it very slightly. I seriously want to read more books by John Wyndham, and I’ll be honest I hadn’t expected to feel like that at all.