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RS Reviews: James the Red Engine

James The Red Engine

Reviewed by Knuckles

Ironically this write up is an appraisal of the book Wilbert Awdry deemed his worst, for all the errors he mentioned (and some he didn't!) it is never the less one of my favorites in the whole RWS series. I can't say this is a book that has been in my collection since early days and because of that when I came to read it for the first time was rather surprised at a few things the TV series omitted, the same goes for many other titles in the series.

As a youngster I was brought up on the 1st two seasons of Thomas The Tank Engine, a few Lady Bird books and a handful of RWS books, it literally was only a handful, 6 or so as a guess split between Wilbert and Christopher's offerings. As a young boy I always appreciated the TV series versions of the stories contained in this RWS book, it always felt very realistic and I could well relate to several of the scenes, it was a big surprise to me then, to find out that the RWS version of these stories, the 'proper' versions were significantly different in places. Much was omitted, probably to condense the screen time into the required bracket.

Scenes such as, "be careful with the coaches James...they don't like being bumped. Trucks are silly and noisy: they need to be bumped and taught to behave, but coaches get cross and will pay you out."

Reading such omissions for the first time created a stronger sense of reality and depth and made it clear to me that I had been missing out. There are a fair number of them, two of special note require James actually completely moving platforms before he can set off with his train and another with his crew picking up a woman’s parcels because James had hiccoughs.

To paraphrase Christopher Awdry and possibly Wilbert himself; "there is no loop on Sodor Island."  I would still hold that in debate personally, the story mentions Gordon returning on a loop and that's not the only time in the RWS the loop is mentioned, there is at least one other that I can recall. Without a loop or a logical replacement it makes these stories redundant, surely that would never do would it? While on perceived mistakes I'd like to point out a couple more, apparently Thomas left Knapford Junction and went into a tunnel, I have never seen this on the map so it is doubtful being there. Judging by the story chronology this would be the straight plat-formed Knapford Junction South of the river. Interestingly I think I've found out where the 'mystery' TV series station, 'Lower Tidmouth' is! It's actually in this book, albeit erroneously.

Shortly after leaving Tidmouth station, James and Edward with their double-headed train, "...didn't even want to stop at the first station. Edward tried to stop, but the two coaches in front were beyond the platform before they stopped, and they had to go back to let the passengers get out."

Then we read...

"...Presently they came to the junction where Thomas was waiting with his two coaches."

For those of you who possess a basic understanding of the geography of the Island, you will recognize the clear error here. From Tidmouth the first station is Knapford Juntion, so what station did James and Edward first stop at? Must have been 'Lower Tidmouth' of course! I would suggest ignoring the mention of the 'first station' and just rejig the text slightly.

Amalgamating the mension of the 'first station' with that of meeting Thomas and continuing the narrative still makes perfect sense, and offers a plausible correction for this geographical anomaly. The conversation they have with Thomas still flows ok and would give more reason for Thomas being in such a good mood, seeing James and Edward make such an elementary mistake would undoubtedly make the cheeky tank engine chuckle.

I’ve always liked the illustrations in this book, Reginald. C. Dalby has had a rifting from day one because of some illustrative mistakes but aside from those, I think he did a commendable job helping to give the series a warm light and veneering charm before the series took a darker turn. The quality of these stories aside from the above perceived errors surpasses that of many other books in the series I could mention and the technicality of the stories contained even compete with Christopher Awdry’s technical style. I wouldn’t be surprised if Christopher took a sizable chunk of style and basis from this very book; there is much to learn about the working methods and trials of railways by reading this particular volume, at least historic railways.

I’ve deliberately kept this write up small as I only wanted to make a handful of points in mild analysis, if I was to completely strip it down I’d have a lot to say indeed, as it happens, I haven’t. All in all a great book to the series.


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