Thursday, November 29, 2012

Discuss: Tripods

Karen: John Christopher's Tripods series just popped into my mind the other day and I thought I'd see if there's any love for it out there in BAB-land. It may be more familiar to our British contingent than our other pals. The three books in the trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire) were favorites of mine as a youngster, right there with Andre Norton. Cracking good adventure with some very solid commentary on freedom, individuality, friendship, loyalty, etc. Just great stuff to read while growing up. A few years ago I discovered that the books (the first two anyway) had been made into a TV show by the BBC, but other than a few clips on the internet, I've never seen it. I'd be interested in anything you might have to say on the subject!


humanbelly said...

This series would likely be an expansion on HGWells' War of the Worlds, I'm guessing? Also, I'll just bet that the titles of Tad Williams' OTHERLAND books were a quiet homage to this, as well-- very, very similar.

Your mention of Andre Norton is what mostly caught my eye, though, as I think I'm the only person I know who has read a HUGE amount of her work. Until recently, I'd hung onto upwards of 40 or so of her old paperbacks-- but am now passing them on to my young nephew.

*sigh*-- I'd probably be the only respondant, but I'd totally dive into a Norton posting. It would be jiggy (as my daughter insists the kids never, EVER say anymore. . . )


ZIRGAR said...

I remember The White Mountains from story time at school and I loved it. I remember how familiar yet utterly alien the world of living under the rule of the Tripods seemed; it was both thrilling and uncanny. Yet, it never really stuck in my brain like A Wrinkle in Time, or The Forgotten Door, or The Enormous Egg did. Neverthelesss, a few years ago, for some reason, it popped back into my brain and I toyed with the idea of buying a copy, along with the other two books in the series, but I just never got around to doing it. I still might.

Edo Bosnar said...

Wow, up until right this moment I'd never heard of the Tripods Trilogy - and here I thought was such an SF uber-geek. However, since HB brought her up, I thought I'd say I really love Andre Norton - although I only discovered her work as an adult (for some reason I passed over her books as a kid). Haven't read any of her many Witchworld books, but I have read about a dozen of her SF novels, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Also, Zirgar's mention of A Wrinkle In Time and The Forgotten Door really brought back memories. Those were also childhood favorites of mine. In the former case especially, I went through a phase where I really ripped through a whole bunch of Madeleine L'Engle's engrossing but somewhat flawed books.
Anyway, sorry, everyone go back to discussing Tripods...

Rick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick said...

Funny timing... I just came across these in a box in my basement. Loved them as a kid and plan on re-reading them now. Will be interesting to see if they live up to the memory.

Karen said...

Hmm, maybe some posts on favorite SF/Fantasy books might be in order? If there's enough interest I could see doing that. After all, that would be another part of the growing up in the 70s/80s experience.

HB, although this series definitely owes a lot to H.G. Well and the War of the Worlds, it's not really connected to it (IIRC). The aliens come and take over the planet fairly easily, then use devices ('caps') implanted on the head to keep everyone docile and compliant. These caps can't be installed until after puberty though, so the children are able to think freely, and with the help of a group of free adults, they are organized to fight against the aliens.

It's a well-written series and obviously I'd recommend it. I read that there was a fourth book, a prequel of sorts, but I haven't read it.

William Preston said...

The Tripods Trilogy is great. Partly because of the era and partly because it's written by a Brit, the level of writing is exceedingly high, which could be, for those raised on thinner prose, a bit of a shock in "children's" literature. The books expect that you know Christopher is riffing on War of the Worlds . . . as well as treating those events as historical.

I didn't encounter the series until I was in college, working as a janitor at an elementary school, having lunch in the school's library. Some time later, I ran across the prequel, which should be avoided. Not only is it less good, it undercuts the confusion you ought to experience on reading The White Mountains, the actual first part of the series.

I saw the TV show on PBS in the mid-80s. Clearly, it's a kids' show, and the budget is sub-Dr. Who, but the acting is great, and the writers did a nice job of breaking up the novels in an episodic way. Unfortunately, the producers ran out of money and stopped production at what is more or less the end of the second novel. Too bad. The books would make great films.

david_b said...

Never heard of these.

Steve Does Comics said...

I vaguely recall reading the books when I was a kid, though remember very little about them.

I also remember the TV show, which was shown on Saturday evenings in the Dr Who slot. Despite much boasting about them by the BBC, the effects were dreadful, and, sadly, the BBC's weird middle classness took over as it quickly degenerated into a show about wine growing in France, with the Tripods barely in sight.

The same thing happened with the original version of Survivors.It started off being about the nightmarish collapse of civilisation and quickly turned into a show about the joys of organic farming.

The BBC is a very strange organisation at times.

PS. I've said it before but if you want to see much better Bronze Age British TV childrens' sc-fi/fantasy, you're better off watching things like The Changes, Children of the Stones, Time Slip and Escape Into Night. They have a nightmarish quality that knocks the stuffing out of things like the BBC's attempt at The Tripods.

Matthew Craig said...

Good timing. I've been watching the series on DVD, having been a fan since I got the books through my primary school's Puffin catalogue.

The Tripods were a seminal part of my childhood - not to the extent of Spider-Man, perhaps, it's funny how these Parkers were having the opposite reaction to the thought of growing up. The notion that growing up was something to be deathly afraid of, that one day you would be free and larking about, and the very next working in a midden and wearing a terrible hat was truly chilling. Almost as much as that creepy space-horse skirl the Tripods used to announce themselves.

The second book excises the most conflicted character and replaces him with some new berk, and for the longest time, I couldn't work out why. But one of the broader themes of the trilogy, especially by the end of book 3, is the necessity, power and inherent fragility of solidarity. The thought that, while we might come together in common cause to overthrow some great evil, the selfish angels of our nature are never that far away, and must also be fought.

The true nature of the Tripods and what they represent is dealt with in just a little more clarity in the TV series, but just that last little bit in Book 3, where that threat is resolved, is a beautiful piece of writing.

Indeed, John Christopher/Sam Youd probably doesn't get the recognition he deserves as a writer. Few great villains epitomise the "Less Is More" ethos like The Tripods. I read his terrifying novel Empty World at secondary school, as well, and it was rough going.

The naivety of the actors in the TV adaptation really works, I think. Yes, they're awkward as all hell (except Jim Baker, who plays Henry, the most conflicted and interesting character), and yes, it's all very BBC and middle-class, but the trudging camaraderie really sells the bond, and the blind faith and determination of their journey. If adapted today, it might lose something in the transiition to faux-film and Foley sound effects, although I guess the CGI Tripods would look *really* alien and scary against the gentle rollling hills of (It'sReallyWales) The Tyrol.

It would be only a little lazy to describe Tripods - certainly the first act - as something like "Fellowship of the Ring" meets "War of the Worlds," but to me, it works. You have a pastoral setting, a great overarching (often hidden) evil of advanced technological means, and a quest for something sort of nebulous that could tear people apart as easily as it brings them together.

There's a weird thing in US sci-fi just now - games, TV, etc. - where technology is something to be rejected. No spoilers, but there are a couple of Big Damn Deals where people dive headlong into the pastoral life, or have it thrust upon them (And That's Okay). Tripods takes an opposite tack - the Tripods remove curiosity, conflict and invention, leaving us with a much more peaceful, but stale world. The Free Men curate and claw back that ingenuity - Beanpole being the avatar of same - but with it come many of the old sins. The TV show might have done a bit more to keep that idea of neutering humanity at the forefront (people are backstabby and practically murderous), but not much.

The Tripods trilogy (truncated as it might be in TV form, ahem) was gripping, inventive and complicated. I approached the publishers (at least, who I thought were the current publishers) re: the graphic novel rights, but never heard back. I really ought to try again.


Dougie said...

I read a few Andre Norton books as a kid. I'd be interested in a sci-fi/fantasy novel post. I read one Witch World novel "Trey of Swords" in the early 80s and it still has a kind of allure.

Rip Jagger said...

I saw this on television many many moons ago, in those olden times when any gram of sci-fi was to be soaked up with vigor. Enjoyed it immensely as a teenager.

Later I found the books soon after I got to college and absorbed them too. I think mine came in a handsome box sleeve, like lots of stuff did then. I could never figure out why the series did not get more attention in the sci-fi community, it never seemed to be mentioned.

In later years I've noticed it coming up a lot more.

Rip Off

Anonymous said...

Wow ... I remember reading these when I was in elementary school. Thanks to this article, I tracked down a set of these books in paperback on eBay. I'm looking forward to re-reading them!

Karen said...

It's comments like this that just make my day! I'm very happy we helped you re-connect with these books. You'll have to come back after you read them and let us know what you think.

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