The Birds: by Daphne Du Maurier

So what do you get if you remove Rod Taylor's dark amber, Tippi Hedren's time of the month, and some very bad back-projection from Hitchcock's film The Birds? You get Daphne Du Maurier's sad, forlorn little story, of course.

Coming in at just over 40 pages, The Birds barely qualifies as a novella. Nat Hocken works the land and keeps his family safe and well in a small house near the sea. A change in the seasons from Autumn to Winter appears to bring more than a change in the weather, as gigantic flocks of birds gather in cloud-like formations off the coast, and begin a systematic attack on human habitats. Hocken retreats to his home with his family, where they remain barricaded inside for the duration of the siege. But according to the radio, this is no mere siege; human organisation has succumbed to avian mobilisation. As the radio broadcasts cease forever, Hocken smokes his last cigarette, realising there will likely never be another.

The only real character in The Birds is the birds; whether wheeling or floating or murderous, they carry the story in talons and beaks and claws to where they want to take it; and Du Maurier lets them take it all the way into disaster territory. Like a piece of psychological profiling, Du Maurier turns the story on what you see when you look at something a certain way; in this case, it's what you see when you look up; Hocken has scratched his living from the land, so we trust him when he looks up and sees death in the sky, and he communicates the emergency to us in workmanlike manner as he gathers his family about him for the end. This is the story's gift to apocalypse literature - the instincts of craftsmen, artisans and farmers, as opposed to the literary scientists and curious aristocrats of Wells and M.P. Shiel.

What the birds do is not unexpected; like all disasters, as soon as it happens we knew it would happen all along. It also begs the question: What do you see when you look up?


  1. Saw your note about Van Greenaway over at curmudgeon's blog. Get in touch!

  2. Thanks for stopping by. I've been neglecting Mr Van Greenaway; I'm planning to look at a couple of his books as soon as I get a chance, but I don't want to work from memory so I'll re-read them.