In 2016, if you want to read THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS, you can find it anywhere - as a first edition hardcover, as a Penguin or movie tie-in paperback, even as a digital download. But if you want to read THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT, and want to pay your gas and electric bill as well, you are just about out of luck. When I decided that it was high time I read it, I was frustrated to discover that - even with the global assistance of abebooks.com in locating a copy - used copies were not only scarce but priced extraordinarily high. $175 for a used hardcover was not an unusual going rate, and it seemed that most available copies would have to be sent from Australia, adding heavy postal rates to the cost as well as a weeks-long wait. But I can be persistent in my searches, and in this case, my persistence was rewarded when I found a Canadian seller offering the book for a reasonable price - reasonable, that is, in contrast to other prices I was seeing on parade.
I've now read the book, which is 191 pages, and thought that other admirers of the Losey film might like to know how the two works compare. The answer is that, while there is no mistaking THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT as the basis of THESE ARE THE DAMNED, they don't really compare. There is no way that the creative choices made by Evan Jones' screenplay adaptation don't improve upon the original, which is a masterful manipulation of human brutality and refinement, yet the original has a quality of its own that is hard to shake off.
|Shirley Anne Field surrounded by all of King's men.|
|Macdonald Carey meets the radioactive children raised by the government to inherit the earth.|
as. Of course, many books fail in their hopes to become perennials, but Lawrence's characterizations of the secret power figures behind the British government and military are so convincing and effective, unusually so for a 1960s novel, that I couldn't help wondering if this facet might have something to do with why the novel seems to have disappeared and is now so hard to find, even though the film based on it continues to win new audiences. Also, there is a brief throwaway line somewhere in the middle of the book that violently shifts gears on our perception of the story, when someone mentions that the first atomic bomb detonations took place generations ago - setting the story somewhat closer to the new millennium though everything about its descriptions of its world and its characters screams "present day" (1960)! Might this reflect an editorial change imposed on the manuscript by a publisher not wishing to ally itself with such political candor? In a strange way, Lawrence's THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT ultimately - if inadvertently - offers a chillingly accurate forecast of 21st century "secret government" paranoia.
Though it wouldn't quite be THESE ARE THE DAMNED, I'm going to surprise myself and say that I wouldn't mind seeing this novel republished and a more faithful film adaptation made. It is not a great novel, yet there is something about its cold slap that feels far-seeing, even seminal. H.L. Lawrence knew that our public servants were in charge and that there was no limit to the destruction they would cause to ensure the perpetuation of the human race - and the end of its troublesome diversity.