Duck and the Diesel Engine – The Rev. W Awdry

More in the Series – Thomas/The Railway Series
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 1 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  1 point
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

Okay so, I know Christopher loves these books and so do millions of children, but I still can’t find much to recommend them. And here, with the introduction of Diesel, my ire becomes stronger.

Every story needs a villain, and, you know, it took the good Reverend a long time to figure this out – many books in fact – but figure it out he did, and so we are introduced to Diesel, who is a slimy, lying, conceited prat, basically.

Let me backtrack a little. The very first Thomas book C ever had was one involving Diesel – not this one, a later one. In that book, basically all the engines were really mean to him and set him up to fail, which he did, and then everyone nodded sagely about what a horrid engine Diesel is and how it was his own damned fault. The thing is though, without the context of the wider series, it wasn’t clear to me from the one book that Diesel was actually that horrible.

In this book, he definitely is. He is conceited, unwilling to learn, and he makes an effort to bad mouth Duck (who is actually, legitimately, one of the nicer engines). He is the classic poisonous gossip, who spreads malicious stories about others until eventually he gets tangled in his own bullshit and ends up getting his come-uppance (in this case, with the Fat Controller “sending him packing”). As a character he is every bit the villain, and deserves what he gets.

But, and here’s the thing I have an issue with, I can’t help but feel that portraying Diesel in this way is some sort of overly-nostalgic Luddite anti-tech thing. Because of course steam engines are soooo much prettier and nicer and better than Diesel engines. They have class and style, and while I don’t exactly disagree, I think the anti-tech thing is problematic. I also object to the idea that “the old ways are better” JUST BECAUSE they are the old ways, and it seems to me that there is some of this ideology going on here.

Of course I am over-thinking it, but that is what I do. 😉

C loved it, as always. It failed basically every metric, as all these books have done thus far (and I don’t really expect that to change).

Me? I remain unmoved by the whole Thomas phenomenon.

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2 thoughts on “Duck and the Diesel Engine – The Rev. W Awdry

  1. As well as being a bit “new tech is bad”, doesn’t making Diesel the bad guy kind of make it “different people are bad people” since he is the only diesel engine and everyone else is united in their common steam-engine-ness? (assuming he is the only diesel engine)

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    1. Yeah, definitely! In the TV shows, Diesel is the only engine portrayed as kinda cockney too, which gives the whole thing a dodgy classist vibe that’s hard to ignore.

      He doesn’t stay the only diesel, and some of the later ones seem to be portrayed more positively, but it has still always felt to me like the character of Diesel is indicative of some unexamined prejudice.

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