“The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier

I came to “The Birds” by the following convoluted path: I encountered the movie Psycho in two books at once (Body Toxic and Memento Mori), and made a note that I wanted to see it. I realized I’d not seen any Hitchcock, in fact, and he so famous! (You know I’m underexposed to movies.) I looked up Hitchcock and his long list of films, and noted a few that I’d like to see (and realized I have seen one, Strangers on a Train). The Birds made my list; so I thought I’d read it, first. I got my full-text version here (with only a few typos).

"The Birds" was first published in the 1952 collection The Apple Tree. Wiki image

“The Birds” was first published in the 1952 collection The Apple Tree. Wiki image

It’s been a while since I read Rebecca, but I felt like du Maurier’s tone here was more simply and straightforwardly narrative, like there was less sense of foreboding. Nat works part-time at a farm on the English coast, and receives a pension for a wartime disability. (Which war? I’m going with the First World War.) He and his wife and two small children live just nearby. They live a simple life which is simply described; although, the very first sentence does offer a note of warning.

On December third, the wind changed overnight and it was winter.

It is on that night that the birds first attack and, well, the story grows from there.

Nat’s family is isolated and ill-prepared for an unexpected but extraordinarily powerful enemy (and in this way, actually, parallels the zombie apocalypse story concept that’s so popular just now). Their world immediately shrinks to a very small area that they hope to secure against foes so numerous as to be irresistible, and this I think is what makes it terrifying – that, and the possibility that they are alone in the larger world as well. It is stark, sudden, and total; the situation beyond Nat’s line of sight is unknown to him, and his final fate is unknown to us, which is quite unsettling. I found it effective as a short story, and so austere. Also short: and that is the challenge for the movie, which I can only guess expands generously upon this story. I look forward to it. And acknowledge du Maurier’s skill, as ever.

Rating: 7 wrens.

One Response

  1. […] am continuing my studies of Hitchcock with The Birds, after reading the short story just the other day. As I anticipated, it changed a great deal in adapting for the screen: in fact, […]

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