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RS Reviews: Gordon the High Speed Engine - A Touch of Modernity

Gordon the High-Speed Engine

Reviewed by OldSquareWheels

I seem to have the monopoly on this book at the moment, as I also wrote the story summaries of this book for the Sodor Island Fansite some 12 years ago. Time may have passed but this still remains one of my favourite books by Christopher Awdry.

Christopher Awdry had rather a difficult task in taking over The Railway Series. He wanted to build on his Father’s legacy, but he was often constrained in doing so as the publishers wanted to take the series back to the style of the earlier books. I suspect, given more creative freedom, Christopher Awdry would’ve tried to bring Sodor up-to-date a little bit more – the most we really got were subtle mentions of new technology (radio control), or events on Sodor mirroring real life (Sir Handel going to the Talyllyn, and then Peter Sam).

This book was a good compromise between the two worlds – a book that allows modernity to enter Sodor without taking away from the charm of Awdry’s steam-powered world. I wouldn’t have minded seeing more books like this (James and the Diesel Engines is a similar one, though it feels more a continuation of the steam-diesel arc of The Rev. Awdry’s books; this book deals with engines more technologically advanced for the time).

I feel Gordon to be in character throughout. He still has the same sense of self-importance and belief that he has to prove himself amongst all the talk of new high-speed engines, though he isn’t as stubborn and argumentative as he was in the earlier volumes. In fact, when you think about it, the mistakes he makes are purely accidental; they just don’t reflect well on him as they all happen in succession.

High Speed Gordon sets the scene for the overarching story arc, whilst addressing an issue all too familiar for drivers of steam engines – wheel slips. Gordon should thank his lucky stars he didn’t end up like Blue Peter.

Smokescreen sees Gordon getting further into the Fat Controller’s bad books, whilst Fire Escape shows Gordon (with the help of his crew) proving his worth. Fire Escape is probably my favourite story of the lot. For me, one of the most resounding messages ever to come out of Thomas is that of forgiveness and redemption. The engines make mistakes, and there are consequences, but, for those who accept that they’ve done wrong, there is always a chance to fix their mistakes. It was a recurring theme throughout The Rev. Awdry’s books. Christopher did use it in small doses, though this is the only book I feel which uses this trope as a story arc throughout the book. And the message is still as timeless and inspiring as it was in his Father’s works.

This one also puts an interesting twist on the ‘forgiveness’ story arc, as The Fat Controller realises he was in the wrong too and apologises for blaming Gordon for something that wasn’t his fault. The Fat Controller was generally portrayed as infallible, God-like even, throughout Wilbert Awdry’s books, though this book shows that, as a human rather than a deity-like figure, he is just as capable of making mistakes and accepting he is in the wrong. Incidentally, the TV series have also tried to show his character flaws too, albeit by playing upon the comedic side of his character.

The fourth story provides a nice little twist to end the volume, with Gordon getting a chance to hold his own against the newer high-speed engines. That said, if I do have one criticism, I would’ve liked to have seen what happened to Gordon on his railtour – it seems odd that he’s more or less absent from the final story in his story arc. Perhaps he could’ve encountered Pip and Emma himself whilst on the mainland and saved the day from there. Just a thought.

Finally, I should acknowledge that I hold a fondness for the earlier Christopher Awdry books, as I believe they were some of the books that helped me learn how to read. My parents bought me a copy of “Thomas and the Twins” on cassette (read by the very warm storytelling voice of Ted Robbins), and before long I began asking for all the other cassettes and the books so I could read the stories along with them. This book stood out as a particular highlight – I can still remember the urgency of the ‘wheel slip’ story and the drama of Gordon’s struggle up the hill.

Overall, an interesting volume which helps to reinforce Sodor’s connection to the modern railway, whilst still staying true to what makes the series so special.


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