John Wyndham
John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris[1]

(1903-07-10)10 July 1903
Dorridge, Warwickshire, England
Died11 March 1969(1969-03-11) (aged 65)
Petersfield, Hampshire, England
OccupationScience fiction writer
Grace Wilson
(m. 1963)
Wyndham's first published sf story, "Worlds to Barter", was published in the May 1931 issue of Wonder Stories, under his pen name John Beynon Harris.
Wyndham/Harris as pictured in the May 1931 Wonder Stories
Wyndham's second story, "The Lost Machine", was cover-featured on the April 1932 issue of Amazing Stories, also under his Harris pen name
Wyndham's 1934 novelette "The Moon Devils" was the cover story for the April issue of Wonder Stories, also under the Harris pen name
Wyndham's 1951 novelette "Tyrant and Slave-Girl on Planet Venus" was the cover story for the first and only issue of Ten Story Fantasy, under his pen name John Beynon.

John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris (/ˈwɪndəm/; 10 July 1903 – 11 March 1969)[2] was an English science fiction writer best known for his works published under the pen name John Wyndham, although he also used other combinations of his names, such as John Beynon and Lucas Parkes. Some of his works were set in post-apocalyptic landscapes. His best known works include The Day of the Triffids (1951), filmed in 1962, and The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), which was filmed in 1960 as Village of the Damned, in 1995 under the same title, and again in 2022 in Sky Max under its original title.

Wyndham was born in Dorridge, near Solihull, Warwickshire and was affected by his parents' divorce when he was eight, as well as their subsequent court case. He spent most of his childhood in private education in Birmingham, Devon and Hampshire. He tried several careers before publishing a novel and several short stories. He saw action during World War II and went back to writing afterwards, publishing several very successful novels, and influencing a number of other writers who followed him. On the plausibility of his writing, The Guardian states his "innocuously English backdrops are central to the power of his novels, implying that apocalypse could occur at any time — or, indeed, be happening in the next village at this moment", while The Times's reviewer of The Day of the Triffids described it as possessing "all the reality of a vividly realised nightmare."[3]

Wyndham married Grace Wilson in 1963; he had known her for more than 30 years. They lived in Petersfield, Hampshire, where he died in 1969.


Early life

Wyndham was born in the village of Dorridge near Knowle, Warwickshire (now West Midlands), England, the son of Gertrude Parkes, the daughter of the Birmingham ironmaster John Israel Parkes[a], and her second husband (after widowhood), George Beynon Harris, a barrister.[1][4]

From 1909 to 1911 the Harris family lived at 239 Hagley Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham[b][4] but when he was 8 years old his parents separated. His father then attempted to sue the Parkes family for "the custody, control and society" of his wife and two sons (including Wyndham's younger brother, the writer Vivian Beynon Harris), in an unusual and high-profile 1913 court case, which he lost.[4] The case, which re-exposed previous allegations of sexual impropriety, pre-dating his marriage, left Wyndham's father a broken man.[4] Gertrude moved with the children to a smaller house in Edgbaston and the brothers became estranged from their father.[4] Wyndham subsequently attended a private school in Edgbaston run by a Miss Mabel Woodward, and from 1914-1915 was at Edgbaston High School for Boys (he later said that while there he was bullied),[4] and Blundell's School in Tiverton, Devon, during the First World War.[citation needed] His longest and final stay was at Bedales School, near Petersfield in Hampshire (1918–1921), which he left at the age of 18.[4]

His mother left Birmingham to live in a series of boarding houses and spa hotels.[6] In Wyndham's self-penned biographical notes for his early Penguin Books publications, he claimed to have lived in Birmingham only from 1904 to 1911.[4]

Early career

After leaving school, Wyndham tried several careers, including farming, law, commercial art and advertising; however, he mostly relied on an allowance from his family to survive. He eventually turned to writing for money in 1925. In 1927 he published a detective novel, The Curse of the Burdens, as by John B. Harris, and by 1931 he was selling short stories and serial fiction to American science fiction magazines.[7] His debut short story, "Worlds to Barter", appeared under the pen name John B. Harris in 1931. Subsequent stories were credited to 'John Beynon Harris' until mid-1935, when he began to use the pen name John Beynon. Three novels as by Beynon were published in 1935/36, two of them works of science fiction, the other a detective story. He also used the pen name Wyndham Parkes for one short story in the British Fantasy Magazine in 1939, as John Beynon had already been credited for another story in the same issue.[8] During these years he lived at the Penn Club, London, which had been opened in 1920 by the remaining members of the Friends Ambulance Unit, and which had been partly funded by the Quakers. The intellectual and political mixture of pacifists, socialists and communists continued to inform his views on social engineering and feminism. At the Penn Club he met his future wife, Grace Wilson, a teacher. They embarked on a long-lasting love affair, and obtained adjacent rooms in the club, but for many years did not marry, partly because of the marriage bar under which Wilson would have lost her position.[9][10]

Second World War

During the Second World War, Wyndham first served as a censor in the Ministry of Information.[11] He drew on his experiences as a firewatcher during the London Blitz and as a member of the Home Guard in The Day of the Triffids.

He then joined the British Army, serving as a corporal cipher operator in the Royal Corps of Signals.[12] He participated in the Normandy landings, landing a few days after D-Day.[1] He was attached to XXX Corps, which took part in some of the heaviest fighting, including surrounding the trapped German army in the Falaise Pocket.

His wartime letters to his long-time partner, Grace Wilson, are now held in the Archives of the University of Liverpool.[13] He wrote at length of his struggles with his conscience, his doubts about humanity and his fears of the inevitability of further war. He also wrote passionately about his love for her and his fears that he would be so tainted she would not be able to love him when he returned.[9]


After the war Wyndham returned to writing, still using the pen name John Beynon. Inspired by the success of his younger brother Vivian Beynon Harris, who had four novels published starting in 1948, he altered his writing style and by 1951, using the John Wyndham pen name for the first time, he wrote the novel The Day of the Triffids. His pre-war writing career was not mentioned in the book's publicity and people were allowed to assume that this was a first novel from an unknown writer.[7] The book had an enormous success and established Wyndham as an important exponent of science fiction.[11]

He wrote and published six more novels under the name John Wyndham, the name he used professionally from 1951. His novel The Outward Urge (1959) was credited to John Wyndham and Lucas Parkes but Lucas Parkes was another pseudonym for Wyndham. Two story collections, Jizzle and The Seeds of Time, were published in the 1950s under Wyndham's name but included several stories originally published as by John Beynon before 1951. Wyndham died in 1969, aged 65, at his home in Petersfield. He was outlived by his wife and his brother.[14]

Critical reception

John Wyndham's reputation rests mainly on the first four of the novels published in his life under that name.[c] The Day of the Triffids remains his best-known work, but some readers consider that The Chrysalids was really his best.[15][16][17] This is set in the far future of a post-nuclear dystopia where genetic stability is compromised and women are severely oppressed if they give birth to "mutants". David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, wrote of it: "One of the most thoughtful post-apocalypse novels ever written. Wyndham was a true English visionary, a William Blake with a science doctorate."[18]

The ideas in The Chrysalids are echoed in The Handmaid's Tale, whose author, Margaret Atwood, has acknowledged Wyndham's work as an influence. She wrote an introduction to a new edition of Chocky in which she states that the intelligent alien babies in The Midwich Cuckoos entered her dreams.[19]

Wyndham also wrote several short stories, ranging from hard science fiction to whimsical fantasy. Several have been filmed: "Consider Her Ways", "Random Quest", "Dumb Martian", "A Long Spoon", "Jizzle" (filmed as "Maria") and "Time to Rest" (filmed as No Place Like Earth).[20] There is also a radio version of "Survival".

Brian Aldiss, another British science fiction writer, disparaged some of Wyndham's novels as "cosy catastrophes", especially The Day of the Triffids.[21] This became a cliche about his work, but it has been rebutted by many more recent critics. L.J. Hurst commented that in Triffids the main character witnesses several murders, suicides and misadventures, and is frequently in mortal danger.[22] Atwood wrote: " might as well call World War II—of which Wyndham was a veteran—a 'cozy' war because not everyone died in it."[19]

Many other writers have acknowledged Wyndham's work as an influence, including Alex Garland, whose screenplay for 28 Days Later draws heavily on The Day of the Triffids.[23]

Personal life

In 1963, he married Grace Isobel Wilson, whom he had known for more than thirty years, in a civil ceremony.[4] They lived near Petersfield, Hampshire, just outside the grounds of Bedales School. The couple remained married until he died, and were childless, as was his brother.[4]


After his death, some of Wyndham's unsold work was published and his earlier work was republished. His archive was acquired by the University of Liverpool.[24]

On 24 May 2015, an alley in Hampstead that appears in The Day of the Triffids was formally named Triffid Alley as a memorial to him.[25]


Early pseudonymous novels

Novels published in his lifetime as by John Wyndham

Posthumously published novels

Short story collections published in his lifetime

Posthumously published collections

Short stories

John Wyndham's many short stories have also appeared with later variant titles or pen names. The stories include:


Explanatory notes

  1. ^ John Israel Parkes owned the Eagle Works at Rolfe Street, Smethwick.[4] Parkes younger brother was Ebenezer Parkes, M.P.[4]
  2. ^ The house was demolished sometime between 2018 and 2023[5]
  3. ^ For example, around 2000 they were all reprinted as Penguin Modern Classics.


  1. ^ a b c Aldiss, Brian W (2004). "Harris, John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/33728. Retrieved 1 May 2010. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Online birth records show that the birth of a John Wyndham P. L. B. Harris was registered in Solihull in July–September 1903.
  3. ^ "John Wyndham (1903-1969)". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 October 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Ketterer, David (22 June 2005). "John Wyndham and the sins of his father: Damaging Disclosures in Court". Extrapolation. 46 (2): 163–189.
  5. ^ "Did the West Midlands inspire a sci-fi writer's sinister villages?". The Birmingham Dispatch. Retrieved 27 January 2024.
  6. ^ Binns 2019, pp. 30–32.
  7. ^ a b "John Wyndham & H G Wells". Christopher Priest. 1 December 2000. Archived from the original on 22 July 2019. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  8. ^ "Summary Bibliography: John Wyndham". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  9. ^ a b Binns 2019, pp. 65–77.
  10. ^ The Tablet, 5 September 2020, p. 15.
  11. ^ a b Liptak, Andrew (7 May 2015). "John Wyndham and the Global Expansion of Science Fiction". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  12. ^ "John Wyndham". The Guardian. 22 July 2008. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  13. ^ "John Wyndham Archive". University of Liverpool Special Collection Archive.
  14. ^ "John Wyndham". Literary Encyclopedia. 7 November 2006. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  15. ^ "The Chrysalids – Novel". h2g2. BBC. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  16. ^ Aldiss 1973, p. 254.
  17. ^ "Jo Walton's review of The Chrysalids". 27 October 2008.
  18. ^ "The Chrysalids by John Wyndham: 9781590172926 | Books". Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  19. ^ a b Atwood, Margaret (8 September 2015). "The Forgotten Sci-Fi Classic That Reads Like a Prequel to E.T." Slate Magazine. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  20. ^ "IMDb". IMDb.[unreliable source?]
  21. ^ Aldiss 1973, p. 293.
  22. ^ Hurst, L. J. (August–September 1986). "'We Are the Dead': The Day of the Triffids and Nineteen Eighty-Four". Vector. Pipex. 113: 4–5. Archived from the original on 10 August 2013.
  23. ^ Kaye, Don (28 April 2015). "Exclusive: Ex Machina writer/director Alex Garland on 'small' sci-fi films, sentient machines and going mainstream". Syfy Wire. Archived from the original on 15 February 2020. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  24. ^ "John Wyndham Archive". Archived from the original on 2 December 2015. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  25. ^ "Triffid Alley, Hampstead". Triffid Alley. Archived from the original on 29 May 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  26. ^ Beynon, John. "Tyrant and Slave-Girl on Planet Venus". 10 Story Fantasy (Spring 1951): 4–31. Retrieved 18 January 2021.

General and cited references