Just as much of the power of 28 Days Later comes from its often eerily beautiful images of an abandoned London, many of The Day of the Triffids’ most enduring images are of the empty cities and towns of southern England, and, as time passes, of their gradual reclamation by the wild.
What’s interesting, to my mind, is the manner in which these images are identifiably part of an English – or perhaps British – tradition. Since Wells at least, British speculative fiction has tended to imagine our end in similarly muted terms. Indeed the image of an abandoned London has recurred repeatedly, perhaps no more powerfully (or deliberately) than in Ronald Wright’s delightful riff on Wyndham and Wells, A Scientific Romance, and its vision of a St Paul’s over taken by water and the wild:
“Wren’s temple is whole except for the dome, scalped like a boiled egg. Aesthetically this is not disastrous. Light spills in, splashing on marble and mosaic. The smoked colours and gold tesserae; the angels; Christ in his majesty above the vanished altar – even in decay these give the place a Byzantine glow I had forgotten, as if this were St Sophia’s, and not St Paul’s”.
This vision stands in stark contrast to American visions of world’s end, and their apocalyptic fervour. Whether in the long tradition of post-apocalyptic novels such as The Road, A Canticle for Leibowitz and Z for Zachariah, with their images of a ruined world, or in the destructive spectacles of films such as Cloverfield, or Spielberg’s uneven but often extraordinary and beautiful War of the Worlds, American popular culture and literature has preferred to imagine conflagration and destruction, rather than the gradual ebbing away of human supremacy.
Part of this may be a function of the different media in which each national imagination tends to operate. Hollywood, with its bigger budgets and technological prowess, not surprisingly tends toward the spectacular, just as American pulp fiction tended towards the sensational and the titillating.
But I also suspect it reflects something more fundamental about the culture of the two countries. Perhaps not surprisingly for a country in which religion looms so large, America is haunted by the apocalyptic imagination of fundamental Christianity, a cultural belief that has not been supplanted by science, but simply mutated into the sort of apocalyptic fantasies which are given shape in The Road or even Battlestar Galactica (if you’re interested in this question you can read an article I wrote on the subject for The Age back in 2007 here).