The Midwich Cuckoos

While I get some more new reviews written up, it’s time to look at John Wyndham, another author Science Fiction Ruminations brought up recently.

Raw Feed (1988); The Midwich Cuckoos, John Wyndham, 1957. 

Cover by Dean Ellis

To my knowledge, this is the first John Wyndham I’ve read. 

You could have fun finding a sort of feminist subtext in this novel which is to say it would be fun defending an essentially not quite valid premise., One of the central plot features is, of course, the sudden, unexplained, and unwanted pregnancies of most Midwich women, cosmic rape if you will. There are veiled references to abortion. Differences between men and women are discussed in passing. Zellaby talks of women’s arrogance in assuming their perpetual place on Earth. (This goes against feminist ideology, of course, but Zellaby discusses women as Mother.) Zellaby also bewails women not being more independent. 

The novel was surprisingly full of wry wit. The retired major (a minor character) was a bit like a Monty Python character. 

Surprisingly, the narrator was a bit character in the whole drama which gradually gains a sinister, foreboding air. In keeping with Wyndham’s reputation as a writer of “cozy disaster novels”,  there is little, if any, horror here, and I can’t see it rightly being marketed as a horror novel which, as I recall, when I first saw it on the rack many years ago as a child, it was. 

The theme of the story is simple:  to protect “civilization” it may mean compromising its values of peace and justice.  (Very reminiscent of arguments on how to fight terrorism.) Wyndham manages to bring up major questions in a skillful, naturalistic way. 

The novel ends with an almost whimsical than a literal and emotional bang. I thought, given the last chapter’s title (“Zellaby of Macedon”), that Zellaby was going to have a moderating influence on the Children like Aristotle is said to have had on Alexander the Great. 

I believe Aldiss referred, in his Billion Year Spree,  to the novel as a gothic. Is the sin committed forgetting man is engaged in the Darwinian struggle of life still? Certainly, H. G. Wells is paid homage to (in a wry commentary on other alien invasion stories) and his evolutionary concerns continue here.  Perhaps the best idea of book is that civilization and its values are biologically decadent. 

7 thoughts on “The Midwich Cuckoos

  1. Joachim Boaz June 27, 2021 / 6:10 pm

    Thanks for the review. I think I just need to buckle down and read his most famous work — The Day of the Triffids. Was not in love with The Chrysalids but found it function and somewhat involving.

    • marzaat June 27, 2021 / 6:14 pm

      I also didn’t like The Chrysalids as well as the others though, looking at my notes, you can’t tell that. But I suppose that’s because I’m not fond of mutant children stories.

      • Joachim Boaz June 27, 2021 / 6:29 pm

        Yeah, no fan of mutant children stories either. Although, per the discussion on my review of The Chyrsalids I think he’s a bit critical of the final society that they’ve created as little better than the one he left.

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