The novel is set largely within the eponymous Midwich, Winshire, a typical small English village. A series of incidents near the village establishes that anybody who passes a certain boundary line while approaching the village falls instantly unconscious; this effect extends completely around a one mile radius of Midwich (thus affecting all of its inhabitants), with the unconsciousness vanishing as soon as a person re-crosses the boundary. Experimentation rules out any chemical or biological effect, while aerial photography reveals a peculiar silver object on the ground in the village itself. Police officers outside the boundary line use a canary in a cage to deduce the size and shape of the line, finding it to be perfectly circular, and, after further investigation, the shape of a hemisphere.
After a period of one day the effect vanishes, along with the object. The villagers wake, apparently with no ill-effects. Some months later a follow-up study reveals that every woman of child-bearing age is pregnant, with all indications that the pregnancies were initiated on the "Dayout."
When the children are born they appear normal, except that they all have blonde hair and unusual golden eyes, and their hair strands have one flat edge, rather like the letter "D." They also have very pale, almost silver, skin. There are sixty-one children resulting from the "Dayout" pregnancies: thirty-one boys and thirty girls. It is revealed that there were supposed to be equal numbers of males and females (with a total of sixty-two children), but one woman in the village had already been pregnant at the time of the "Dayout" and so was unable to be inseminated - this resulted in only thirty females. Later, one male and two females die of illnesses. 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, including the ability to psychically force their will on others and control their actions and organs and other parts of the body. Also, they share two distinct group minds, one for the boys, and one for the girls. When one boy learns something, all of the other boys learn that, but the girls do not learn what the boys learn. When a girl learns something, all other girls learn that as well. The children, who are now referred to with a capital "C", have accelerated growth, so when they are nine they look sixteen. The Children want to protect themselves as much as possible. One young boy accidentally hit a Child in the hip while driving. The Children then made the boy drive into a wall. A bull who chased the Children got sent by the children into a pond to drown. The villagers, obviously angry at the children, form a mob and try to burn down the Midwich Grange, where the Children are taught and live. It was no use, as the Children made the villagers attack themselves.
The Military Intelligence department learn that the same thing has taken place in four other parts of the world, including an Inuit settlement in the Canadian Arctic, a cattle station in Australia's Northern Territory, and a rural Siberian village. The Inuit instinctively killed the newborn Children, sensing they were not their own. The Australian babies had all died within a few weeks, suggesting that something may have gone wrong with their insemination process. At the border of Mongolia in Russia, it was assumed that the women were having affairs with devils, and all women and Children perished. In Siberia, the village was destroyed by the Soviet government, using long-range artillery, claiming it was an accident.
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 an M. I. , 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. It is revealed that the Children have put up an ultimatum. The Children want to migrate to a deserted island, where they can live unmolested. They demand aeroplanes from the government. An elderly Midwich citizen (Gordon Zellaby) realizes the Children must be killed as soon as possible. As he has a few weeks to live due to a heart condition, he feels an obligation to do something. So, one evening, he hides a bomb in his projection equipment, while showing the Children a film about Ancient Greece. At an unspecified moment, Zellaby sets off the bomb, killing the Children, and himself.
The title is a reference to the cuckoo bird, which lays its eggs in the nest of other birds in the hopes that they will raise the cuckoo's offspring as their own.
The book has been criticised for neglecting its female characters. Most notable is Angela Zellaby. She is also the first to grasp the realities of the situation. But it is fair to say that no female character takes a direct hand in changing matters or affecting the situation.
Wyndham's writing style is quite accessible and the novel remains popular.
A dramatisation for BBC World Service by William Ingram featured Charles Kay (Bernard Westcot), Manning Wilson (Gordon Zellaby), William Gaunt (Richard Gayford), and Pauline Yates(Angela Zellaby). In 2003, BBC Radio 4 aired a version by Dan Rebellato which starred Bill Nighy (Richard), Sarah Parish (Janet), and Clive Merrison (Zellaby). The latter version was released on CD by BBC Audiobooks in 2007.
Wyndham began work on a sequel novel, Midwich Main, which he abandoned after only a few chapters.
The Thai film Kawow Tee Bangpleng (Cuckoos at Bangpleng) is a localized take on the story, based on a book that is clearly based on unattributed wholesale borrowings from Wyndham's book. The Thai version contains intriguing differences due to the confrontation between the alien intelligences and Buddhist philosophy..
THE CRITICS: RADIO; Go on, Get on Your Knees and Grovel ; Classic Serial: The Midwich Cuckoos BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play: Spy Nozy and the Poets BBC Radio 4 Concrete Cow BBC Radio 4
Dec 14, 2003; Every radio critic should try it: leaving the metropolis, the interweb thingy, digital radios, satellite dishes, the works - and...
The Shape of Things to Come; the Future Beckons for Liverpool. So It Is Appropriate That the City Should Be an International Centre for Science Fiction Studies
Apr 27, 2004; Byline: David Charters IN A world, where so much changes so quickly and the innovative become the antique in the blinking of an...