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RS Reviews: Great Little Engines - Great Little Memories

Great Little Engines

Reviewed by Ryan H

One of my earliest childhood memories is going on a family / friends holiday down to Wales in the early 1990s, when I was around four years old.  It was here that I received my first Railway Series books, and among them was Great Little Engines by Christopher Awdry.  On the same trip, I recall we had a postcard with four photos on it – and in the bottom right-hand corner, there was a photograph of Sir Handel standing at Tywyn Wharf station.  Not being old enough to know any better, I was convinced that this was the real engine from the Island of Sodor, which made the stories all the more special.


When I began building my Railway Series library later on, I developed something of a fascination with the Skarloey Railway characters, which stemmed from reading these stories.  Whilst I would argue that Christopher Awdry wrote better material in other books, there was a unique charm about the setting here which interested me.  Probably the fact that I had latched onto the fact that these engines were real, and there was a place to visit them, which was referenced in numerous volumes I collected.  Thus began a life-long appreciation for everything narrow gauge, which developed throughout my teenage and adult years.


The stories are simple, gentle and work on a level which sustain interest, and they don’t suffer from the level of technical detail that Christopher would place into his stories later on.  But at the same time, he had a great subject matter here, and following in his father’s footsteps, he cultivated a book which promoted the Talyllyn Railway in its time of need.  The presence of No.3 in a Corris Railway livery, but mocked up on occasion as Sir Handel, had rejuvenated the Talyllyn Railway’s fortunes following a slight decline.  But it provided Christopher Awdry with a great means of inspiration – with one of the stories from the book, where Sir Handel hits the tree at Nant Gwernol taking place during the period that ‘Sir Handel’ was running on the Talyllyn between 1982 and 1984.


It’s from these books that I developed an appreciation of Clive Spong’s artwork.  The images were bold, they were bright and they had so much detail and technical accuracy, which a curious child craves.  In addition to that, there are some scenes depicted from the Talyllyn which are easily identifiable such as Pendre and Nant Gwernol.


I would struggle to say that I appreciate Christopher Awdry’s work in the way that I do his father’s more engaging style of writing.  However, this particular book stands out in my mind as a significant part of my early childhood, and has had a significant impact on my interests in later life.  And for that, I am appreciative.


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