SEAL and Scholarship students: Personal Response

Several students in Years 7 and 8 that I’ve tutored have told me that John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids is the best book they have ever read. Whilst I’m always pleased when students really enjoy the studies we do, in such situations I smile to the students and curse to myself that they have lived over a dozen years without reading a better book! It is a great read for students of this age group, and opens up a range of ideas that they are more than ready to encounter and deal with.

After reading a good book the practice of my business in tuition is to create and write a personal response. It bothers me greatly that (most) early secondary school students are so bad at responding to their reading. Students of reading don’t always enjoy their studies. Even if they enjoy some reading, they are not used to enjoying studying and discussing what they’ve read. Reading is far too often a passive activity for teenagers, in the same way as television is a passive activity. It really doesn’t need to be so. Unfortunately, when students switch from passive reading to active reading they have been taught to switch into “school mode”, an objective and analytical framework of thought, and subsequently and unfortunately they tend to write like automatons. The art of writing a personal response is not the same as writing a book review, because it deliberately recognises thoughts, ideas and imaginations that are subjective.

I have a word document version of much better presentation and formatting than what is shown here if interested parties wish to email me at

Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham – Personal Response
When I was very, very young (and I don’t remember all the details) my father had to take me with him to his secretary’s house for an evening during which they together prepared their tax returns. In those days I loved television, and though I was often banned from watching TV somebody in that strange house happened to be watching the film version of this novel. I remember images from an early scene in the film in which a young child was stung by a triffid (see p.40) – I was probably frightened by the scene, and spent the rest of the night firmly concentrating on a hand-held basketball computer game and deliberately NOT watching the film.
Why was I frightened? The concept of a plant killing a person was alien to me, and fairly confronting. Even in our concrete society we are surrounded by plants – could they really be so dangerous? And the child in the film was so obviously innocent and unsuspecting – could that child have been me? Please keep in mind that I was barely six, in a strange house, and it was dark and well past my bed-time!
When, many years later, I finally discovered and read the novel by John Wyndham my position in response to these questions was much better defined. Firstly, I concluded the described triffids were not native to the planet, but were part of a biological weapon constructed by a hostile government. There are suggestions in Chapter 2 that the plants were a genetically modified species, and in Chapter 15 the theory presented by the narrator is that an unfortunate satellite accident has realised their purpose. Nevertheless, I prefer a theory in which the triffids are in fact martians, and the comet is a deliberate part of their plan to colonise and overtake the planet. (The best parallel to this plot that I’m familiar with is that of the musical-comedy “Little Shop of Horrors”, which I love!)
Secondly, by the time I read the novel I was no longer an innocent child. Even if my ignorance had advanced little by that time, my personal capacity to defend, survive, and destroy was greater than that of a six-year old in a stranger’s home dressed in his pyjamas and scared of a 1960’s B-grade horror flick.
Nevertheless, there remains something very frightening as presented in the film and novel. It is displayed as a major theme in the first third of the novel – it is the idea of our vulnerability should we lose our capacity for sight, both as individuals and as a society. I would manage if I were blinded, I would survive. However, would I truly want to survive if suddenly everybody lost their senses? Triffids don’t scare me anymore, but I am sometimes concerned for the frailties of civilisation.

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