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.

The Eight Famous Engines – Rev. W. Awdry

More in the Series – 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: 2 out of 10.

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

In many ways this book is really just more of the same. Engines doing foolish things because they are silly or selfish or conceited and then learning the errors of their ways. Topham Hat being all patriarchal and whatnot. Meh.

Once again there’s not a female character or a person of colour to be seen – this despite this book containing four complete stories. It’s all white boys all the way.

The only thing I really have to say for it is that in the last story of the book (and the one from which it takes its title), it gets quite meta in fun ways, with the Fat Controller talking about how the children of England read books about the engines but don’t believe they’re real so he takes some on a tour to meet the “children of England”. I have a real weakness for this kind of fourth wall breaking meta stuff, and so I gave it a point for that.

But honestly, overall, this is a pretty weak offering in a series that I am still unconvinced deserves its hype. Skip it.

Percy the Small Engine – Rev. W. Awdry

More in the Series – 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.

Unsurprisingly, this book has no Bechdel pass, and no diversity whatsoever. Annie and Clarabel make an appearance, but they don’t get even the inane dialogue they usually get.

Still, in some ways this is the perfect “Railway Series” book – it’s pretty much all about engines playing tricks on each other, or getting jealous of new outsiders (in the from, this time, of Harold the helicopter. Percy is one of the better characters, in that he’s cheeky and mischievous but not quite as obnoxious about it as, say, James or Gordon. At base, he’s pretty good-humoured, and so the stories in this book reflect that.

But really that’s the best I can say about it. Mostly, it’s just more of the same. Sometimes the engines are good, and Topham Hat shows up to pat them on their metaphorical heads for their obedience; sometimes they are bad and don’t do as they’re told without complaining, and he shows up to scold and punish. Yawn. Next please?

I realise that the appeal is mostly just trains, but man I wish these had better actual stories. My kid still adores them though. So there must be something there. It just utterly eludes me.

Four Little Engines – Rev. W. Awdry

More in the Series – 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.

This one fails the Bechdel despite having a few female characters, which is a step up for these books. All the named ones are coaches though, and are really just kind of a homogenous mass rather than distinct characters. There’s also a Refreshment Lady (with the capitals) which is almost like having a name, I suppose. No. No it isn’t. *sigh*

Also, no variety of human experience going on here. Just a lot of male Britishness really.

It’s really just more of the same. There are some new engines in this book – we meet Skarloey, Sir Handel, Rheneas, and a couple of others. The stories are the same stuff though – things go wrong because of pride or laziness, engines are told off and learn the errors of their ways, blah blah.

C loved it, of course, because trains, but this isn’t even a very good one within the series. The stories take place on a totally different railway line (though they’ve been retconned into the Sodor ones in the modern versions, I happen to know), and it feels very much like the good Rev was phoning it in.

“Rev. Awdry, we need a new book in the Railway Series.”

“Oh, well, I have these totally unrelated stories….?”

“That’ll do.”

Meh. Don’t bother.

 

Edward the Blue Engine – Rev. W Awdry

More in the Series – 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 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  1 point
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points.

Well, in many ways, this is more of the same. No female characters. No people of colour. Just white British men and vehicles with white British characters as far as the eye can see.

I have a weird soft spot for Trevor the old tractor, and this book is his first appearance. I think I like him because he is saved from scrap, and because I have a soft spot for those actual machines in the world (I blame my farm-girl upbringing), and also because his favourite thing in the whole world is to give kids rides around the grounds of the vicarage, and I like people who give kids their time.

Edward, who the book is ostensibly about, (he saves Trevor by bringing him to the vicar’s attention) is also one of the better engines, character-wise. He tends towards good-natured and genuinely helpful (not sycophantly so, which most of them are). He seems to take genuine pleasure in doing a good job, just for its own sake, and has less inclination to get pouty and arrogant. There really is no job too small for Edward – he just gets on with it. And on that level, this book is better than most of them.

But all the stuff about these books is still there – the weird class issues, the total absence of anyone who isn’t a white man, the uncomfortable master-slave relationship between the engines and the Fat Controller.

C gave this a thumbs up, but it felt a bit like that was just habit on his part. He definitely wasn’t that focussed when I was reading it. Maybe – could it be? – he’s outgrowing these books, finally!

In any case, nothing special. If you can avoid it (and the series in general), I’d say do so.

Freight Train – Donald Crews

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points.

This book really has no characters, so it can’t pass any of the character based metrics. It does make me wonder a bit, not for the first time, about how the people who wrote this list worked out the age ranges. I’d say realistically this book would be great for much younger kids.

C liked it, because, well, trains, and he’s a fan, but it’s really about colours and simple illustrations. I’d say it would be awesome for a 2/3 year old rather than a 3-5.

It is super simple. A train on a track in rainbow colours. I mean it was kinda fun for us, because C tried to read it to me (which he is just learning to do now, which is SO NEAT YOU GUYS), but it was really a bit young for him.

No real story to speak of, so there’s not a lot I can say about it. I think he’d have LOVED it at a younger ago. From our point of view in this project though, there’s not much going on there. There is much to be said for simple books aimed at very young children, but there’s not a lot of discussion you can have about the ideology of a steam train in rainbow colours going through a tunnel.

I suppose if I wanted to, I could choose to interpret the rainbow in a LGBTQ way, but honestly I think it’s really more that kids like to learn colours. 😛

Good for what it is.

 

 

Gordon the Big Engine – Rev. W. Awdry

More in the Series – 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

This is the 8th book in the series, and we still don’t have a female engine. This one at least does have two female named characters, if Annie and Clarabel can be counted as two distinct characters (which is arguable, since they function pretty much as a single entity), but since their only “dialogue” is fretting over Thomas’ behaviour, they still fail the Bechdel.

As with the other books, there is no diversity at all – all the human characters (with the exception of the Queen) are white men, and the engines pretty much present that way too.

Ideologically, it’s on the same rocky ground that the previous books are on. Gordon is snobby and conceited and gets his come-uppance for his snobby behaviour, ending up in disgrace. The other engines relish in his misfortune until they have some of their own, and then they all learn their lesson (which is still something like “do what you’re told and be useful”) and as a result they get to meet the Queen.

This is a theme that comes up over and over in these books – that obedience is rewarded and disobedience punished. And while I get where that’s coming from, there’s something about it that I find somewhat distasteful. I mean, sure, Gordon is totally being a snob and thinking that certain kinds of hard work are not good enough for him, and that’s a bad attitude, but it isn’t really that that is being punished so much as something like “you didn’t do what you were told”.

And there is, of course, a timing thing here – this book was published in the 50s, and that was a different time. But I still feel like I need to tell my kid that just because someone is in a position of authority, that doesn’t mean they are always right or even that they should always be blindly obeyed. Which is really what I feel these books are pushing.

In any case, even C got a bit bored while we were reading this one. He gave it a thumbs up, but when we got to the last story he wanted to stop. We picked it up a bit later, and finished it. But nevertheless.

I’m not a fan, and this is, by now, no secret. But even by the standards of the series, this one is a little worse than usual.