John Wyndham – The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) Review

the midwich cuckoos

7/10

In the quiet, unremarkable town of Midwich, all is calm. Until a mysterious silver object falls from the sky, and afterwards, all the women in the town are discovered to be pregnant. They all give birth to identical boys and girls with blond hair and golden eyes.

John Wyndham was a reasonably successful British science fiction writer in the 50s and has a handful of SF novels on his name that are considered classics and are still in print today: The Day of the Triffids (1951) in which everyone gets blinded and attacked by sunflowers, The Chrysalids (1955) in which mutant children fight for freedom in a post-apocalyptic world, and this one. All have gotten bad movie adaptations. Let’s take a look at The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), which has quite an interesting premise, wouldn’t you agree?

Cuckoo of course refers to the cuckoo bird, famous for laying its eggs in the nests of other birds. The cuckoo chick then pushes all the other eggs out of the nest like a parasite.

Wyndham sticks with his theme of a small English town by telling a very calm story about middle class citizens dealing with supernatural events. In a dry, eloquent manner Wyndham talks about Mr and Mrs so-and-so having cups of tea and police chief this and teacher that maintaining calm at the local pub. There is a lot of my-dear-fellow-ing; the book feels like a 19th century one, actually. Hard to believe that this was written in the same era of Alfred Bester and Philip K. Dick. It is short but very descriptive, with the author just telling in a cheery voice what happened.

It’s like a cozier version of H.P. Lovecraft.

This is a decade after the Roswell incident and the story has some familiar elements that we associate with alien paranoia, such as aliens messing with our reproduction and having lost time. At the same time, it is set during the cold war and at a time when fears existed about internal communist takeovers of society.  The creepy children may be seen in that light. As such, it is a complementary novel to Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (1955).

The book is rather dated in some respects. Once every woman in the village becomes pregnant, you’d say that their stories have the most immediacy and modern writers would likely have made one or more of those women the main characters, but in this story the women are all struck down by shame and indecision, until the “three wise men” of the village – meaning the doctor, the vicar and the writer – come together to make decisions and mostly to decide how much information they should give their wives. It is all quite patronising, but if small English villages truly operated that way in the 50s, then you could see this story as “set in the historical time of the 1950s”.

The writer and intellectual of the village, Mr. Gordon Zellaby, is also the author’s mouthpiece. Erudite to the point of exaggeration, Mr. Zellaby figures out everything before others do and explains every philosophical point that Wyndham could come up with. This makes the story very descriptive with lots of people talking a lot, but it is also what makes the novel deeper and more interesting. Wyndham gets a lot of mileage out of a rather simple story.

I found it hard going at times. It is slow and detached. I suspect this book felt dated even back in the 50s, and this Zellaby character is too obviously a stand-in for the author. I liked the philosophical questions of how a village should handle the arrival of 60 alien babies and whether a rural community of humans can stand up against outside infiltration, but I fear this book will not stand the test of time well.

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2 Responses to John Wyndham – The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) Review

  1. Bookstooge says:

    Attack of the Triffids was iffy for me, so I never tried any of his other works. Have to admit, this doesn’t inspire me to run out and grab it 😀

    Have you read his other books?

    Liked by 1 person

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