The Earth has been invaded — conquered by aliens in huge walking, metal tripods. For generations the people of Earth have been kept under control by caps — metal mesh, implanted into the flesh of a person’s head when they turn 14 years of age. Once capped, people loose their curiosity and creativity, become docile and feel compelled to worship the Tripods. But not everyone is capped. There is a resistance movement of free people, hiding out in the White Mountains, gathering more to their cause and searching for a way to defeat the invaders.
I discovered John Christopher’s Tripods Trilogy when I was a teenager in the early 1980s. I fell in love with it. I read the three books — The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire — many times over. When the BBC turned the first two books into a television series in the mid-1980s, I watched it eagerly, recorded it on VHS and re-watched the tapes until they practically wore out. And then, in 1988, there was a new book — a prequel, When the Tripods Came. With all the recent talk of a new film based on the first book, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my teenage obsession.
I am very pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading the books. I still have the copies I bought in 1983 — a terrific set with covers that lined up to form a large picture — as well as several different editions. Like a true obsessive I went through a phase of collecting different editions of these books… and there have been many.
The original trilogy follows the adventures of an English boy, Will Parker, who teams up with two other boys to escape the capping and set off in search of the free men of the White Mountains. By the end of the first book, after a long and dangerous journey, they reach the mountains. In the second book, there is an undercover mission into one of the Tripod cities to discover the alien Masters that drive them and to look for weaknesses. And the third book is all about the defeat of the Masters and their Tripods.
Originally published in 1967/8, these books hold up pretty well by today’s standards. They are exciting, well plotted and thoughtfully conceived. The writing style is a little dry and dated, particularly when it comes to the dialogue, although somehow is seems to work just fine. An interesting thing to note is the almost complete lack of female characters, apart from an occasional love interest.
The prequel, When The Tripods Came, published in 1988, is quite a different kettle of fish, with several major female characters and a more easy-going writing style. The main character, however, is again an English teenage boy, Laurie. The story follows him and his family as they try to escape the mind-control being used by the aliens to subjugate the people of Earth. Given that this prequel is all about how the Earth came to be conquered, you could expect a dark and hopeless tale… but it’s not. The story of this family and their escape concludes with hope and sees the seeds of the resistance that will feature in the trilogy, being sown.
I’m now part-way through the 1984/5 BBC series, which has been released on DVD. The series made numerous changes (some that worked, others that didn’t) and although somewhat dated in its look and feel, it is still highly entertaining. The musical score by Ken Freeman is a particular highlight, and the effects (especially the close-up model work on the Tripods) better than the average BBC stuff from the same era. The big disappointment of the series, however, is that it was cancelled before the third book could be filmed, leaving the story incomplete and the characters facing a bleak future with a very down-beat conclusion.
Apparently, Disney acquired the film rights to the Tripods in 1997, and finally, in 2005, announced that pre-production would soon begin with Australian director Gregor Jordan at the helm. Jordan has said in interviews that the film will remain faithful to the books and that the only significant change he intends to make is to swap one of the main characters from a boy to a girl. The film is currently slated for shooting in 2011 and release in 2012. I can hardly wait!
Anyone else out there read the Tripods Trilogy? Or seen the series? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
And tune in next time to find out what my kids have been reading.
Catch ya later, George