Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Birds - Daphne Du Maurier

Du Maurier's most well known short story, The Birds (1952) is a nightmare brought convincingly to life. The story opens with the sudden onset of winter to the rugged Cornwall coast. Nat, a local farm worker, notices that the birds in the countryside are gathering in flocks much larger than usual. Out to sea he realises that what he thought were the whitecaps of the waves are in fact gulls: tens of thousands of gulls, riding the waves... waiting.

Within hours Nat's family is under attack, and soon the entire country is as well. Mr Trigg, Nat's employer, laughs off the threat of birds when Nat first tells him what he has seen. Trigg decides not to board his house up as suggested by Nat and the newsflashes on the wireless. As Nat and his family search for food supplies during the few hours when the birds stop their relentless attack, Nat finds the entire Trigg family dead: bitten and hacked to death by hundreds of hard, vicious beaks.

Nat returns home with his wife and young children. They have new supplies but already the birds have broken all the window panes, and have made an entry into an upstairs bedroom. Barricading themselves in the closed-off kitchen, they settle down to do the only thing they can - wait.

Daphne Du Maurier (1907 - 1989; pictured above) was born in London but spent most of her life in Cornwall. Her most famous novel, Rebecca (1938), was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock, an admirer of Du Maurier's, also filmed The Birds. Du Maurier was said to greatly dislike the film.

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