Monday, June 01, 2009

The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham

(hb; 1957)

Review:

Narrated in a straightforward, first-person voice by Richard Gayford, a young happily-married man, the tale runs like this:

On September 26th of an unspecified year, the sleepy little English town of Midwich encounters what later is called the "Dayout": an invisible, immovable force-shield (not gas) encapsulates Midwich, causing any living creature, man or beast, to drop instantly into sleep, should they cross that position-fixed boundary.

On September 27th, that strange sleep-shield disappears, allowing its sleep-denizens to wake up, and those outside the sleep-shield to pass into Midwich, without falling into a deep slumber.

Two discoveries relating to the Dayout are made not long after: the ground in the Grange (near the center of Midwich) bears strange markings, as if something odd-shaped and heavy -- now gone -- had briefly occupied that previously empty space; and, all fertile women who were caught in Midwich during the Dayout are pregnant.

Aside from that, as far physical and mental health is concerned, the Midwich-folk seem to be fine, as if the Dayout never happened.

The resultant "Children", born nine months later, are notably not like other, non-"daytouched" children.

The Children all look alike. They have golden eyes, a certain "lucency" to their skin, blond hair. They learn and grow at an acelerated rate (at one year old, they know and do things that a two-year old would; at age nine, they appear to be sixteen or seventeen).

These xenogenetic Children have a hive-like mindset: teach or tell a "Composite Boy" or "Composite Girl" something, and you don't need to tell the rest of the Children. Threaten one of the Children, and you threaten them all, causing them to retaliate with their mostly-held-in-check wills -- wills that allow them to mentally and physically crush or kill their victim instantly, with little or no effort on their part.

As the Midwichians, and military and scientific experts wrangle over social, tactical and moral niceties and possibilities, the clock is ticking, louder and louder. It's only a matter of time before the Children (aka, the "Cuckoos", named after cuckoo chicks who usurp a chicken-hen's nest) live up to their nickname...

Wyndham's prose is, as usual, spare, efficiently-paced and intellectually gripping. The characters are well-sketched and -fleshed; the moral, scientific and social arguments (often voiced by smart, locquacious Gordon Zellaby) are sound and timeless.

Classic, succinct work, this.

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The resultant film, re-titled Village of the Damned, was released stateside on December 7, 1960.

George Sanders played Gordon Zellaby. Barbara Shelley played Anthea Zellaby. Martin Stephens played David Zellaby. Michael Gwynn played Alan Bernard. Laurence Naismith played Doctor Willers. Wolf Rilla directed, from a script he co-penned with George Barclay (aka, Stirling Silliphant) and Ronald Kinnoch.

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A sequel, Children of the Damned, illuminated stateside screens on January 29, 1964.

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A remake of Village of the Damned, bearing the same name, was released stateside on on April 28, 1995. Directed by John Carpenter, the updated screenplay built on the original film's screenplay, with additional input from David Himmelstein, Steven Siebert (who went uncredited) and Larry Sulkis (who also went uncredited).

In the remake, Christopher Reeve played Dr. Alan Chaffee. Kirstie Alley played Dr. Susan Verner. Linda Kozlowski played Jill McGowan. Michael Paré played Frank McGowan. Meredith Salenger played Melanie Roberts. Mark Hamil played Reverend George.

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