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The Midwich Cuckoos is a science fiction novel written by English author John Wyndham, published in 1957. It has been filmed twice as Village of the Damned, with releases during 1960 and 1995.

The Midwich Cuckoos
First edition
Author John Wyndham
Cover artist Dick Hart
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Michael Joseph
Publication date
Media type hardcover, softcover
Pages 239
OCLC 20458143
Preceded by The Chrysalids
Followed by The Outward Urge


Plot summaryEdit

Ambulances arrive at two traffic accidents blocking the only roads into the (fictional) British village of Midwich, Winshire. Attempting to approach the village, one ambulanceman becomes unconscious. Suspecting gas poisoning, the army is notified. They discover that a caged canary becomes unconscious upon entering the affected region, but regains consciousness when removed. Further experiments reveal the region to be a hemisphere with a diameter of 2 miles (3.2 km) around the village. Aerial photography shows an unidentifiable silvery object on the ground in the centre of the affected zone.

After one day the effect vanishes, along with the unidentified object, and the villagers wake with no apparent ill effects. Some months later they realise that every woman of child-bearing age is pregnant – even those who are single or not otherwise in relationships with men – with all indications that the pregnancies were caused by xenogenesis during the period of unconsciousness that has become to be referred to as the "Dayout".

When the 31 boys and 30 girls are born they appear normal except for their unusual, golden eyes and pale, silvery skin. These children have none of the genetic characteristics of their parents. As they grow up, it becomes increasingly apparent that they are, at least in some respects, not human. They possess telepathic abilities, and can control others' actions. The Children (they are referred to with a capital C) have two distinct group minds: one for the boys and another for the girls. Their physical development is accelerated compared with that of humans; upon reaching the age of nine, they appear to be sixteen-year-olds.

The Children protect themselves as much as possible using a form of mind control. One young man who accidentally hits a Child in the hip while driving a car is made to drive into a wall and kill himself. A bull which chased the Children is forced into a pond to drown. The villagers form a mob and try to burn down the Midwich Grange, where the Children are taught and live, but the Children make the villagers attack each other.

The Military Intelligence department learn that the same phenomenon has occurred in four other parts of the world, including an Inuit settlement in the Canadian Arctic, a small township in Australia's Northern Territory, a Mongolian village and the town of Gizhinsk in eastern Russia, northeast of Okhotsk. The Inuit killed the newborn Children, sensing they were not their own, and the Mongolians killed the Children and their mothers. The Australian babies had all died within a few weeks, suggesting that something may have gone wrong with the xenogenesis process. The Russian town was recently "accidentally" destroyed by the Soviet government, using an "atomic cannon" from a range of 50–60 miles.

The Children are aware of the threat against them, and use their power to prevent any aeroplanes from flying over the village. During an interview with a Military Intelligence officer the Children explain that to solve the problem they must be destroyed. They explain it is not possible to kill them unless the entire village is bombed, which results in civilian deaths. The Children present an ultimatum: they want to migrate to a secure location, where they can live unharmed. They demand aeroplanes from the government.

An elderly, educated Midwich resident (Gordon Zellaby) realises the Children must be killed as soon as possible. As he has only a few weeks left to live due to a heart condition, he feels an obligation to do something. He has acted as a teacher and mentor of the Children and they regard him with as much affection as they can have for any human, permitting him to approach them more closely than they allow others to. One evening, he – in effect abusing their trust – hides a bomb in his projection equipment, while showing the Children a movie about the Greek islands. Zellaby sets the timer on the bomb, killing himself and all of the Children.

Major charactersEdit

  • Gordon Zellaby – an academically-minded man
  • Richard Gayford – a published writer and the narrator
  • Bernard Westcott – the middle man between Midwich and the military


The "cuckoo" in the novel's title is in reference to the bird, of which nearly 60 species are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other birds.[1] These species are specifically obligate brood parasites, in that they only reproduce in this fashion, with the best-known example being the European common cuckoo. The cuckoo egg hatches earlier than the host's, and the cuckoo chick grows faster; in most cases the chick evicts the eggs or young of the host species, while encouraging the host to keep pace with its high growth rate.[2][3]

Critical receptionEdit

Damon Knight wrote that Wyndham's novelistic treatment "is deadly serious, and I'm sorry to say, deadly dull ... about page 90 the story begins to bog down under layers of polite restraint, sentimentality, lethargy and women's-magazine masochism, and it never lifts its head long again."[4] Galaxy columnist Floyd C. Gale, reviewing the original issue, praised the novel as "a most off-trail and well-written invasion yarn."[5] Thomas M. Wagner of concludes that the novel "remains a cracking good read despite some obviously dated elements."[6]



Wyndham began work on a sequel novel, Midwich Main, which he abandoned after only a few chapters.[7]



Character 1982 2003
Bernard Westcott Charles Kay
Richard Gayford William Gaunt Bill Nighy
Janet Gayford Rosalynd Adams Sarah Parish
Gordon Zellaby Manning Wilson Clive Merrison
Angela Zellaby Pauline Yates Mariella Brown
Ferelleyn Zellaby Jenny Quayle Katherine Tozer
Alan Hughes Gordon Dulieu Nicholas R. Bailey
William Casey O'Brien

The novel was adapted by William Ingram in three 30-minute episodes for the BBC World Service, first broadcast between 9 and 23 December 1982. It was directed by Gordon House, with music by Roger Limb of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It is regularly repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra. An adaptation by Dan Rebellato in two 60-minute episodes for BBC Radio 4 was broadcast first between 30 November and 7 December 2003. It was directed by Polly Thomas, with music by Chris Madin. A CD version of this set was released by BBC Audiobooks in 2007. A new radio adaptation by Graeae Theatre Company was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 31 December 2017 and 7 January 2018. [12]


  1. ^ Payne R.B. (1997) "Family Cuculidae (Cuckoos)", pp. 508–45 in del Hoyo J, Elliott A, Sargatal J (eds) (1997). Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 4; Sandgrouse to Cuckoos Lynx Edicions:Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-22-9
  2. ^ Adams, Stephen (2009-01-04). "Cuckoo chicks dupe foster parents from the moment they hatch". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2010-04-30. Cuckoo chicks start to mimic the cries that their foster parents' young make from the moment they hatch, a scientist has proved. 
  3. ^ Biology (4th edition) NA Campbell, p. 117 'Fixed Action Patterns' (Benjamin Cummings NY, 1996) ISBN 0-8053-1957-3
  4. ^ Knight, Damon (1967). In Search of Wonder. Chicago: Advent. ISBN 0-911682-31-7. 
  5. ^ Gale, Floyd C. (October 1958). "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. p. 130. 
  6. ^ Wagner, Thomas M. (2004). "The Midwich Cuckoos". SF 
  7. ^ "Vivisection": Schoolboy "John Wyndham's" FirstPublication? by David Ketterer, Science Fiction Studies #78, Volume 26, Part 2, July 1999. Retrieved February 26, 2015
  8. ^ "Movie is Cuckoo". Windsor Star. 9 April 1981. p. 29. 
  9. ^ "Future Projects". Film Bulletin. Philadelphia: Wax Publications. 49: 20. July 1981. 
  10. ^ Movie review Archived December 30, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. at You Call Yourself a Scientist, retrieved on 2007-03-02.
  11. ^ "Cuckoos at Bangpleng (1994)". And You Call Yourself a Scientist!. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  12. ^ Graeae's Midwich Cuckoos