I’m on a roll that began with Mr. Vertigo. A reading kick – clearing the titles from my shelf and giving them away once finished. Purge, baby, purge!
I read The Chrysalids in junior high school, and always had a bee in my literary bonnet about John Wyndham. He has an interesting perspective on the science fiction platform. So, for this reason, I decided to try The Midwich Cuckoos to see where the story would take me. (It was between The Midwich Cuckoos and The Kraken Wakes, but I chose Midwich because it was the inspiration for Village of the Damned. The concept is way freaky.)
I enjoyed the conversational tone of The Midwich Cuckoos, which began on a rather quiet note. The narrator, Gaylord, has just arrived home with his wife after a business trip to London, which is lucky for them. The couple has conveniently missed the weirdness unfolding in their town. A strange silver object has appeared over the village, rendering everyone unconscious. It disappears approximately twenty-four hours later, everyone wakes up from their slumber, and life proceeds as normal. Well, that is, until all the women of child-bearing age in the town discover they are pregnant.
Cue creepy music.
The children born are blonde and golden-eyed with a will of their own. It soon becomes apparent to everyone that the Children (capital ‘C’) are not of earth. They learn and grow quickly, are very stoic and unsentimental in their relationships with their so-called parents, and exert unprecedented mental prowess against anyone who poses a threat.
Wyndham’s approach to narration in this novel is a bit annoying, waffling from person to person, yet remaining with Gaylord in first person. We are often in the brain space of Mr. Zellaby, the philosopher and academic of Midwich, who endlessly debates the moral and ethical implications of the Children and their place in society. After some experimentation, he discovers that the group of boys is somehow mentally connected. When one learns a trick, all of them are immediately proficient in the exact trick without even trying. Soon after, the same is discovered about the girls. Mr. Zellaby eventually comes to the conclusion that they represent a composite Adam and Eve.
Unfortunately, as much as I was intrigued by the concept of The Midwich Cuckoos, much of the novel’s prose is spent on philosophical debate, mainly between Mr. Zellaby, Gaylord, and several other male authority figures, regarding the morality of self-defense against what no one names aloud (but assumes are) ‘aliens from another planet.’ These conversations, though interesting, last for pages and go in circles.
And still, amidst all the insanity, everyone is overly concerned with making certain Midwich appears normal to all who look from the outside. It is clear from the beginning that all the effort spent on ‘appearing normal’ could’ve been channeled into something more significant and worthwhile, and this becomes even more apparent as the Children grow more powerful.
Despite my mild irritations with the narrative and excessive philosophical debates, I continued to turn the pages out of genuine interest. What could this town do to save itself? When and where does violence play a role? Are the Children truly children, and what would it mean to end their lives for the greater good? All very captivating questions, but Wyndham allows the reader to contemplate the answers on his/her own.
I was also amused and somewhat horrified by the feminine perspective, which is frequently glossed over or relegated to the ‘hysterical.’ It’s hard to tell if this was purposeful on Wyndham’s part, or if the story actually reflects his personal beliefs on the subject of women’s reproduction. There were moments when I thought his characters were attempting to be progressive, while at other points they were outright dismissive. The strongest female voice was Mrs. Zellaby, but I never really understood her purpose in the novel as a whole, and what insight she was meant to provide. She was, however, the only one to discuss the notion of bodily invasion in direct relation to the unwanted pregnancies. Very rarely did The Midwich Cuckoos examine the experience from a woman’s perspective in a satisfying way.
I am, however, willing to forgive this glaring omission, mainly because the backbone of the story is so strong and, of course, because it was written in 1957.