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  • Writer's pictureCatharine Riggs

The Birds

This is the second post in my new blog thread—FROM SETTING TO SCENE—featuring novels with plots that are inseparable from nature. It’s a product of my recent participation in the California Naturalist Marine Intensive where we were tasked with completing a capstone project “designed to provide a bridge from class to service.”

As the intensive was held in Bodega Bay—the infamous setting for Hitchcock’s, THE BIRDS—I’ve decided to showcase the short story behind the adaptation. Daphne du Maurier’s dystopian tale, THE BIRDS, was not set in Bodega Bay but along Cornwall’s bleak and rugged coast. It tells the story of a lowly farm worker who struggles to protect his family from coordinated attacks by thousands of vengeful birds. Du Maurier’s masterpiece opens with the protagonist observing an abrupt change in the weather causing the avian locals to act oddly. “Oyster-catchers, redshank, sanderling, and curlew watched by the water's edge; as the slow sea sucked at the shore and withdrew leaving the strip of seaweed bare and the shingle churned.”

I’d give Hitchcock’s adaptation a C- versus an A + for the complexity of du Maurier’s original work. The author builds on a longtime theme of man versus nature where she questions the notion that humans are superior to ‘beasts’ and demonstrates humankind’s vulnerability when faced with nature’s wrath.

“Then he saw them. The gulls. Out there, riding the seas. What he had thought at first to be the white caps of the waves were gulls. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands... They rose and fell in the trough of the seas, heads to the wind, like a mighty fleet at anchor, waiting on the tide. To eastward, and to the west, the gulls were there. They stretched as far as his eye could reach, in close formation, line upon line. Had the sea been still they would have covered the bay like a white cloud, head to head, body packed to body. Only the east wind, whipping the sea to breakers, hid them from the shore.” Daphne du Maurier, The Birds

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