Book name: The Midwich Cuckoos
Author: John Wyndham
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Genre: Horror, science fiction
Publication Date: 1957
Star Rating: 5/5
John Wyndham was a popular science fiction and horror writer back in the Fifties and early Sixties.
The Midwich Cuckoos is one of John Wyndham’s novels which has attracted considerable interest over the years, being filmed twice as Village of the Damned and more recently adapted for TV by Sky Max.
Midwich is the archetypal sleepy English village. Generally, it is a fairly pleasant place to live, but there are the usual minor annoyances.
People are suspicious of other villages, even those just a few miles down the road. The rest of the world barely seems to figure in Midwich’s life. The place is almost entirely cut off from the real world by its attitudes.
Then something happens which takes the metaphor of isolated, sleepy village and makes it actual. Locals call this the Dayout: everyone in Midwich falls down and sleeps through an entire day.
When the authorities recognize that there is a problem, they rescue some of those affected by dragging them back over what turns out to be a real line. Inside it, you are paralysed and unconscious. Once back over the line, you recover almost immediately.
No one is too sure what to do to counter this invisible but real problem. Then the effect just vanishes and everyone in Midwich gets back to normal.
Except that some months later it becomes apparent that every woman in Midwich of childbearing age is now pregnant. That includes women who aren’t married, young women who are still of school age and women in relationships with each other.
The most disturbing element of all is that none of the women have any idea how it happened. They have simply been impregnated without their consent.
Nine months after the Dayout it is also clear that the married women who weren’t already pregnant have also been carrying babies identical to the ones carried by unmarried or young women.
Recent changes to the law in the US courtesy of Roe v Wade, and the struggle for women to obtain access to abortion in many other countries, mean that the fight for women to have a choice about pregnancy remains an ongoing battle.
The Midwich Cuckoos explores how an entire community feel about having no choice but to deliver babies the women there did not wish to conceive in the first place.
Reading The Midwich Cuckoos felt very topical and pressing given the current state of women’s reproductive rights in various parts of the world.
The Midwich Cuckoos is also about personal identity and individualism set against the notion of a collective, single identity.
As the Children (everyone refers to them with a capital C) grow up they become profoundly alike, although gender distinctions are preserved.
Villagers eventually discover that the Children are able to communicate between each other using some form of telepathy or shared consciousness. They are sometimes compared to a hive, having no personal identity of their own.
The Children are able to defend themselves because they have the power to coerce people into doing what they want. This culminates in an attempt to prevent anyone leaving Midwich. Worse is to come.
The dilemma for Midwich villagers and Military Intelligence is what to do about the threat the Children pose.
The Fifties was a time of profound suspicion of collective political systems under Communism. The Midwich Cuckoos could be read as a commentary on the lack of personal freedom and identity available under Communism.
John Wyndham was fairly hostile to any form of socialism. Russia is sometimes presented as the enemy (in The Day of the Triffids, the plants originate in Russia) or as our fellow victim (as here, in The Midwich Cuckoos). Their political system never offers a better alternative in John Wyndham’s fiction.
His heroes and heroines all prevail through a combination of basic good sense, a small amount of courage summoned under terrible circumstances and a strong sense of themselves as individuals. He is often wary of the state, even if his own country. In The Midwich Cuckoos, the authorities aren’t the solution to an alien problem any more than in his other books.
The Midwich Cuckoos is an interesting story with plenty of vibrant imagery. This is part explains why it continues to be adapted for film and TV. There is something particularly menacing about an unexplained pregnancy, or in this case many, I think driven by the fact that nothing definitive can be known for many months.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of My Work is Not Yet Done by Thomas Ligotti.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of Thirty Days of Night.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson.