I know I’ve said this in the past, but I will continue saying it until the day I die. When it comes to science fiction, if like me you are a purist, Hollywood simply doesn’t have a clue. Look at what they did to H.G Wells’ classic science fiction tale The War of the Worlds.
Both cinematic versions – the original from 1953 starring Gene Barry and Anne Robinson, and the more recent effort in 2005 starring Tom Cruz veered so far away from Wells’ original vision that for anyone who has read the book in its two parts – The Coming of the Martians and Earth under the Martians, which first appeared in 1897 in serialised form before they were eventually published in 1898 as The War of the Worlds, would be forgiven for assuming that what they were watching bears little or no resemblance to H.G’s book. It’s a safe bet that were he still alive today he would be suing the pants of those responsible for tearing his work apart, merely to please a largely American audience.
Now we come to the next in my list of favourite writers – J.W.P.L.B Harris (pictured above), or if you prefer it – John Wyndham.
He was born on the 10th of July 1903 in the village of Dorridge in Warwickshire here in England. After leaving school, he tried several careers including farming, law, commercial art and advertising, but mostly relied on an allowance from his family. He eventually turned to writing for money in 1925, and by 1931 was selling short stories and serial fiction to American science fiction magazines, most under the pen names of ‘John Beynon’ or ‘John Beynon Harris’, in each case utilizing his other Christian names along with his family name. He also wrote some detective stories.
Without a doubt, every science fiction tale he ever produced is a classic. His titles include The Day of the Triffids (1951), also known as Revolt of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes (1953), published in the US as Out of the Deeps, The Chrysalids (1955), published in the US as Re-Birth, The Midwich cuckoos (1957) – filmed twice as Village of the Damned, first here in England in 1960 starring George Sanders, and later in 1995 by Hollywood, starring Christopher Reeve and Kirsty Alley. He also wrote The Outward Urge (1959), Trouble with Lichen (1960), and Chocky (1968).
During the Second World War he first served as a censor in the Ministry of Information then joined the army, serving as a Corporal cipher operator in the Royal Corps of Signals. He participated in the Normandy Landings. although he was not involved in the first days of the monumental military operation.
After the war, he returned to writing, inspired by the success of his brother who had had four novels published. He altered his writing style and by 1951 using the John Wyndham pen name for the first time, wrote his seminal work The Day of the Triffids. His pre-war writing career was not mentioned in the book’s publicity, and people were allowed to assume that it was a first novel from a previously unknown writer. The book proved to be an enormous success and established him as an important exponent of science fiction.
Fortunately the first film of the book was produced here in the UK in 1962, paying lip service to Hollwood by employing the American star Howard Keel in the lead role of Bill Masen, which meant the tale did not end up bastardised to the point where it bore no resemblance whatsoever to Wyndham’s original words.
For that we must all be truly thankful…
During his lifetime he wrote and published six more novels under the same pen name (see above). In 1963 he married Grace Wilson, whom he had known for more than 20 years; the couple remained married until he died on the 11th of March, 1969 aged sixty five.
Films are soon forgotten, transient in most people’s mind, gripping books like Wyndham’s are not…