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March 2003
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The Birds by Frank Baker (1936)

London-born Frank Baker (1908-1982) wrote The Birds, an unjustly neglected "Ohmigod, we're living between two World Wars!" fable, published a few years after Brave New World and The Shape of Things to Come." It shares little more than a basic premise with Daphne du Maurier's same-titled 1952 short story, or the 1963 Hitchcock film adaptation.

Anna, the heroine, is told about the Days Before the Birds Came Fifty Years Ago by her dying father, who had watched the first mass bird attack on human beings. In Trafalgar Square, London, where the avian menace usually comes from panhandling pigeons. He recalls feeling "a dread sense of the mock-world we had set up in place of the real world which was out heritage."

Baker shows how the birds, red in beak and claw, rectify what G. S. Gilbert called Nature's sole mistake—Man. But don't expect too much blood and guts. The Birds is an angst-ridden, episodic, idea-as-hero novel in which the meekest people survive to inherit a born-again Earth.

He had some thirty-years-after thoughts, which might have been written this very afternoon: "[The world of 1935] differs little from ours of today, except that now there are many more people and the rat-race is swifter. But the birds are too swift. If they came today they would, I hope, be even more alert to the horrors which devil our present society."

But The Birds isn't all neurasthenic plume and doom. Spot the dictator: ". . . a small bird flew over his head, casting his load with a gentle plop on to the carefully brushed black hair."

—Graham Andrews

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