Henry & The Express
Reviewed by Alan B.
What I consider to be one of my favorite Christopher Awdry Railway Series books of all time is also the second to last Railway Series book I had ever bought. The last one being last year's Thomas and His Friends. However, the second to last one, which I loved even before actually purchasing it, is Henry and the Express.
Having lived in the United States of America for my entire life, I never really had any of Christopher Awdry's books when I was a kid. It wasn't until the age of fifteen that I received my first Christopher Awdry book. I then continued to look for the rest of them up until receiving Books 37 and 42 late last year.
Though it was the second to last one that I received, Henry and the Express was actually the first Chris Awdry book I was introduced to. In 2005, I stumbled across a website named Sodor Island Fansite. In September and October of that same year, Chris the Xelent, a member of the Sodor Island Forums, released a 2-part audio adaptation of Henry and the Express. Having since read the actual book, I can see why Chris the Xelent chose to make the audio a 2-parter instead of a 4-parter, as the first two stories work very well together as one, as do the last two. Right from the start, I found the story enjoyable. Not just the adaptation, but the story as whole. It really held my interest, and even made me chuckle at times.
A few years later (circa 2008), I was again looking around the Sodor Island Fansite, and saw that stories from a few Railway Series books had been put up. One of these narrations was of “Henry Sees Red”, the fourth and final story of Henry and the Express, narrated by Ted Robbins. I decided to take a listen to this, and Robbins' narration of the story made me laugh and kept me entertained almost as much as Chris the Xelent's adaptation had.
And, so, we move on to mid-summer 2011, when I finally saw Henry and the Express for a reasonable price on Amazon. I purchased it, and about a week later it came. Right from the word go, the story had me smiling. I simply love the way that Christopher worded the Foreword of this book. Both he and his father were good at putting humorous touches into their stories, which is one of the qualities I most enjoy from their works.
When I first read “Out of Puff”, I was wondering if we'd be going back to a similar situation that we had in Henry the Green Engine, in which Henry had to temporarily use a special type of coal. I'm not entirely sure why I had thought this, as I knew that Henry's problems had all been worked out once he was given a new shape. Staying true to the earlier stories, Henry, luckily, did not need another rebuild, more a bit of an overhaul. Which leads nicely onto the next story...
“Overhaul”, in which we see Henry's condition worsen slightly as James takes him to Crovan's Gate Works, though it is not named in the story. In my opinion, this story is a good example of James and Henry's attitudes towards each other. They've never been what you could call good friends, and they do argue and try to one-up each other whenever they appear together in a story as main characters. At first, I had my doubts about the authenticity of this story. However, I consulted my copy of Sodor: Reading Between the Lines, and found that this story was in fact based on an actual incident that occurred in 1924 when a tyre came off of an engine that was double-heading a train from Glasgow to London. Henry's incident happened somewhere near Killdane. I was very glad to be informed that this was indeed a real occurrence.
The third story, “Sliding Scales” is the one I was most interested in reading. This is mainly because it deals with the return of the famous (or possibly infamous) train: The Flying Kipper. Thankfully, this time, without any serious damage being done to the train or the engine pulling it. I thought it was rather nice having a Flying Kipper story without Henry in it as a main character. He had been the main character in the two previous stories about the train, “The Flying Kipper' and “Fish”. One could argue that Duck was the main character in “Fish”, as the accident actually happened to him. And, on that argument, they would be correct. However, this is the only time (to my knowledge) that we have a Flying Kipper story in which Henry is not the engine pulling the train. Again, a very nice change to have James pull it instead of Henry. I feel that one of the best parts of this story is the artwork. In the second and final pictures of this story, Clive Spong paints a beautiful portrayal of a sunrise. I've always loved Clive Spong's artwork since getting my first Christopher Awdry Railway Series book, Really Useful Engines, when I was fifteen. However, I feel that the artwork in this story, especially the two pieces that are mentioned above, are some of his best work.
If “Sliding Scales” was the story I most wanted to read, then “Henry Sees Red” is the story I most wanted to see. Ever since hearing Chris the Xelent's audio and Ted Robbins' narration, I had always had a hard time picturing Henry in anything other than green (or blue as he was from the ending of The Three Railway Engines to the Foreword in Troublesome Engines). However, this all changed after seeing the illustrations for this story. As mentioned above, I absolutely love Clive Spong's artwork. I've often thought that he possesses some of the best qualities of the earlier Railway Series illustrators. He has the colorful pictures of C. Reginald Dalby while still maintaining the realism of John T. Kenney and the Edwards team. Henry's front end being painted red was a joy to see and had me laughing throughout the story. The story itself was good, too, and showed Henry's determination to get through any situation, no matter how humiliated he was that he had to wear red instead of green.
Though it was one of the last of Christopher Awdry's Railway Series books that I physically received, from the time I heard Chris the Xelent's audio adaptations and Ted Robbins' narrations of the stories, Henry and the Express has been one of my favorite Railway Series books written by Christopher Awdry, as well as one of my favorite Railway Series books in general. The writing is superb, with both subtle and not-so-subtle humor put in throughout the book. The illustrations only help to compliment the story. I feel that this book contains some of Clive Spong's best work. Henry and the Express is, without doubt, one of my favorite Railway Series books, and I hope that it shall continue to be for a long time to come.