“The law of evolution is that the strongest survives!”
“Yes; and the strongest, in the existence of any social species, are the most social. In human terms, most ethical … There is no strength to be found by hurting each other. Only weakness.”The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin.
The village of Midwich blacks out. In the height of the Cold War, the military fear a Russian chemical weapon, but no evidence can be found. Then, with as little fuss as they slept, Midwich wakes. Every woman of child-bearing age is pregnant.
Confusion, conversation and confession follow, until the babies are kept and born. Their eyes shine. Their hair is golden. And they grow faster than any child would. Appearing sixteen when only nine years old, there seem to be only two children in Midwich. Every boy and every girl looks the same.
Dismissed as a ‘cosy catastrophe‘ by fellow science-fiction author, Brian Aldiss, The Midwich Cuckoos imagines humanity’s response to the threat of a superior being: to being knocked off the top of the evolutionary chain.
The Children, brought from beyond Earth and implanted into human hosts, possess telepathic abilities: they can will humans into anything, even suicide.
Yet, they are only nine years old, emotionally juvenile, and looking only to grow up in peace. Every bad action the Children have taken has simply been one of emotional naivety: a retaliation to the cruelty of man.
When the village attempts to burn down the school in which the Children are housed, their only natural reaction is to have them turn on each other. Though they are vastly intellectually superior, taking only a day to learn even the most complex of subjects, they are, after all, just kids.
Thus arises the mayor, Gordon Zellaby’s, dilemma. If he allows the Children to continue to develop, humanity will lose its only advantage: they are physically more powerful. But can he accept the murder of sixty-one children, born within England and thus accepted under its laws?
It is only because of the wartime mantra to ‘keep calm and carry on‘ that Zellaby and the village have allowed the Children to develop for their nine years, ignoring the threat and strangeness they have wrought.
He likens the Children to cuckoos, birds which lay their eggs in another species’ nest, and, when born, destroy the offspring of their hosts: brood parasites. All species are ugly, he considers, humanity included. All succumb to their baser instincts:
‘I wonder if a sillier and more ignorant catachresis than “Mother Nature” was ever perpetrated? It is because Nature is ruthless, hideous, and cruel beyond belief that it was necessary to invent civilisation. One thinks of wild animals as savage, but the fiercest of them begins to look almost domesticated when one considers the viciousness required of a survivor in the sea; as for the insects, their lives are sustained only by intricate processes of fantastic horror. There is no conception more fallacious than the sense of cosiness implied by “Mother Nature”. Each species must strive to survive, and that it will do, by every means in its power, however foul.’The Midwich Cuckoos, John Wyndham.
Adopting a different belief to that of Le Guin, Zellaby chooses humanity’s survival to be more important than any philosophy. Zellaby enters the Children’s school under the pretence of showing them a film, and then kills all of them and himself with a bomb. The threat has been extinguished. Another species extinct. All so humanity can continue to survive.