The Tripods first came to my attention a few years ago when I stumbled upon a picture of one of the titular crafts in some sort of memorabilia magazine; one that was full of garage model kits. As I recall, I had no idea that there was some sort of “sequel” to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and wondered why I had never heard of it. I was, of course, mistaken as the concept of these three-legged walking crafts is merely inspired by those similar Martian crafts, and have no relation otherwise.
The Tripods was actually a series of “young adult” novels (way before they were a cultural phenomenon) penned by John Christopher in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s. The series was a success and was eventually adapted into an awesome television show that I’ve seen the first season of. If this sounds fun, be sure to look for my reviews of that show on here. The production was a joint venture between the BBC and the Australian Seven network, and lasted two seasons. Sadly, a third season died before it went into production.
The White Mountains is immediately unsettling based solely on the realization that something is wrong. The book employs a great juxtaposition of little hints of lost technology and a primitive, medieval-ish, somewhat pastoral, setting. This sets up what I will be calling “The Reverse Shyamalan”- we have already seen the twist, something bad happened and this is a dystopian future – now let’s work backwards and find out why. Maybe it’s more like Memento? I’m sure I can figure out a better early 2000’s film reference to put here, but that’s beside the point.
Anyway…we know that something isn’t right: either these people are some sort of Anabaptist off-shoot that hates technology, or something bad has happened in the past. This is answered almost immediately as we meet the main characters on their way to a village celebration. It seems that Jack, a neighborhood boy, has reached the age at which everyone is considered an adult, and is to have his “capping ceremony”.
Will (and later his cousin Henry) are disturbed by this practice as everyone that gets “capped” comes back different. Capped individuals seem to lose any sort of creativity, drive, and imagination that made them who they were. “Adults” become bland worker drones that want no other past time than work and sing the praise of their “masters”. These masters are of course gigantic three legged monstrosities called “Tripods” and the Capping Ceremony can be surmised as a way of them controlling humans. At this point we have no idea what these creatures are or what they want with the human race, but one can see that it isn’t good.
Will strikes up a conversation with an eccentric “vagrant” named Ozymandias that talks of a land of free men in the White Mountains, a land outside of the influence of the Tripods. Vagrants are those that are seen as harmless by the Tripods and regular capped townspeople, but are not allowed to mingle with everyone else. Usually it is accepted that these people were “driven mad” by the capping process and are better to be not spoken about. Will is amazed by what Ozymandias has to say, and plans to escape to the European mainland to find this utopia of freedom.
Then a whole lot of shenanigans ensue – a third character named Beanpole joins up, and grenades get hurled at stuff. I will let you read to find out the rest.
I was struck with how different this book is to the television series. First and foremost – Will and Henry almost hate each other. Even coming to blows a few times. The show also has a LOT of “fluff” padding the main part of the story. Honestly, the book flows better and is very tightly paced. This is ostensibly a young adult book or some equivalent thereof and can be read very quickly, if you enjoy science fiction I would greatly recommend it.
I’m a big fan too. I think a major part of its attraction is that it plugs into that fear you have as a teenager, that when you enter the adult world of responsibility and work, a part of your personality dies.
In defence of the TV show, which was very slow, a lot of TV was very slow back in the 1980s. It’s only in the modern day that the rhythm of drama has speeded up so much.
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Wow wtf! I had totally forgotten about the TV show. Watched it as a kid in the 80s.
It holds up pretty well actually