The Birds (story)
|Author||Daphne du Maurier|
|Genre(s)||Horror, thriller, novelette|
|Published in||The Apple Tree (1952); reprinted in 1963 as The Birds and Other Stories|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
"The Birds" is a novelette by British writer Daphne du Maurier, first published in her 1952 collection The Apple Tree. It is the story of a farmhand, his family, and his community that are attacked by flocks of seabirds in kamikaze missions. The story is set in du Maurier's native Cornwall shortly after the end of World War II. By the end of the story it has become clear that all of Britain is under aerial assault.
The author saw a man plowing a field while seagulls were wheeling and diving above him and composed a story of these birds growing hostile and attacking. The east wind is implicated in the birds' attack – a reference to the threat to England of Soviet and Chinese Communism and to the Cold War fought between East and West beginning towards the end of the 1940s. The author may also have been inspired by the short novel "The Terror," published by Arthur Machen in 1917, in which all animals, infected by a contagion of hatred generated by World War I, revolt against humankind.
Radio and TV dramatisations
The story has been dramatised for radio and TV on several occasions, including:
- Episode 838 of Lux Radio Theater on 20 July 1953 with Herbert Marshall
- Episode 217 of Escape on 10 July 1954 with Ben Wright and Virginia Gregg
- Episode 240 (final show in the series) of CBS-TV series Danger on 31 May 1955 with Michael Strong and Betty Lou Holland
- BBC Afternoon Theatre on 20 November 1974 with Howard Goorney, Chris Harris, and Elizabeth Boxer
- A three part BBC Radio 4 Extra adaptation, read by Charlie Barnecut, first broadcast 23 April 2008
- An adaptation by Melissa Murray, for BBC Radio 4's The Friday Play, first broadcast on 30 April 2010
Set in a small Cornish seaside town (possibly Cornwall, England) on December the third, there is a sudden change in weather from autumn to winter. A wounded war veteran on military pension, Nat Hocken, is working part time for a farm owner when he notices a large number of birds behaving strangely along the peninsula where his family lives. He attributes this to the sudden arrival of winter. That night, he hears a tapping on his bedroom window and encounters a bird. This bird has only drawn blood on Nat's hand, but as the night progresses he encounters more birds, especially flocking into his children's room. The birds are defeated by dawn. He reassures his wife that the birds were restless because of a sudden change in the weather.
The next day, Nat tells his fellow workers about the night's events, but they place no importance on his warning. As Nat later walks to the beach to dispose of the dead birds, he notices what appears to be the white of the waves on the sea, but is actually a great line of packed seagulls waiting for the tide to rise. When Nat arrives home, he and his family hear, over the radio, that birds are attacking all over Britain, presumably because of the unnatural weather. Nat decides to board up the windows and chimneys of his house. He notices more birds, including the gulls, above the sea waiting for the tide. He rushes to pick up his daughter, Jill, from the school bus stop to save her from the approaching attack. On his way back Nat spots his boss, Mr. Trigg, who has a car, and persuades him to give Jill a lift home. Mr. Trigg cheerfully professes to be unfazed by the announcements and plans on shooting at the birds for fun. He invites Nat to come along, but Nat rejects Mr. Trigg's offer and continues home, knowing that hunting them would be futile. Just before he reaches home, the gulls descend, attacking him with their beaks. A single gannet plunges from the sky, attacking Nat. Luckily, Nat manages to reach the cottage door with only minor injuries. His wife has jammed the door, so she is unable to open it for a few moments. She then opens it and brings Nat in. The gannet crashes against the door and dies.
Soon, massive flocks of birds attack. A national emergency is declared on the radio on the British Broadcasting Corporation, and people are told not to leave their homes. For safety, Nat brings the family into the kitchen for the night, and during their dinner they hear what sounds like gunfire from airplanes overhead, followed by the sound of the planes crashing. The attacks die down, and Nat calculates that the birds will only attack at high tide.
The next day, when the tide recedes, Nat sets out to obtain supplies from his neighbours. He finds piles of dead birds around the houses; those birds that are still alive peer at him from a distance. Nat walks to the farm where he is employed, only to find Mr. Trigg, Ms. Trigg and their workman, Jim, dead. Later he finds the postman's body by the road; soon he comes to the realization that his neighbors have all been killed by the birds.
Nat returns home with the supplies but soon the birds attack once again. Very much like his final request before facing a firing squad, Nat smokes his last cigarette. He throws the empty pack into the fire and watches it burn.
- The Birds at DuMaurier.org
- Machen Arthur (1917) Tales of Horror and the Supernatural. Pinnacle Books, New York.
- "Afternoon Theatre strand".
- Daphne du Maurier – The Birds from the BBC website
- The Birds from the BBC Radio 4 website
- "Danger" The Birds (1955) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Birds Study Guide – Daphne Du Maurier – eNotes.com