Percy the Small Engine
Reviewed by Chase (The Ferroequinologist)
The Railway Series cemented itself as a series with great major characters through the first seven it introduced and developed. Thomas (who learned how to manage coaches and trucks and got his own branch line), James (who overcame his vanity and bad temper to jump into action when no one else could), Henry (who tried tirelessly to keep working despite his illness, and finally ended up happy with his rebuild), Toby (who stood no one nonsense from anyone and managed to fit right in on Sodor), Gordon (who finally beat his ego and emerged a more humble, prestigious engine), and Edward (who proved he wasn't a hunk of "old iron" and he still had fight in him) went through great arcs in their original novels and other appearances. However, my favorite arc of them all in the early RWS, and what is my favorite Railway Series book, is Percy's arc in Percy the Small Engine.
Ever since his introduction in Troublesome Engines, Percy had always been the "little brother" character. Sure, he's cheeky, but he needs the other engines to keep an eye on him, as he'll often get into trouble. His naivety got him into trouble in Percy Runs Away when he forgets to whistle and is nearly hit by Gordon, causing him to run away and end up in a sandbank. He needs supervision, or he may have an accident. His cheeky side can get him into a few scrapes too, as Percy & The Trousers displays. His over-enthusiasm for playing games with the coaches caused him to once again, have an accident, due to his lack of supervision. Everyone, especially the big engines, know that he is young and can easily be fooled. Although they try to keep him out of trouble, they know it's relatively harmless to get back at him for his cheekiness.
This is where Percy & The Signal, the first story of the book comes into play. After playing tricks on Gordon and James, they decide to pay Percy out by playing a trick of their own; taking advantage of Percy's lack of knowledge of what lies outside the yard to mess with him. Percy has just been awarded a chance to prove himself; pulling a train down to Knapford! He's completely excited, and as a result, is willing to listen to Gordon and James about "backing signals". Percy, being the naive little engine he is, takes the bait, and ends up making a fool of himself, with Gordon there to witness the whole thing. He's upset, because he made a fool of himself on his chance to show the Fat Controller he's a mature engine ready for independence like Thomas was. He's still the "child", and needs a supervisor, or so he thinks. However, the Fat Controller seems ready to give him a chance.
So the Fat Controller brings Duck to help in Duck Takes Charge. Duck is everything Percy wants to be: he's mature, the big engines take him seriously, and he's clever. Despite Percy knowing that he will be moving on soon to the new harbour, he wants a chance to take a final stand against Henry, Gordon, and James, who all order him about and call him silly. However, he needs Duck to help him, further hammering home the point that Percy is not quite mature enough to be independent just yet. Although, by blocking the sheds, he gives the big engines what for, the Fat Controller is quite cross with him for following along with Duck; he's still a follower, not a leader. Percy has still not had a win in these first few stories, and he definitely feels it when he is sent to work at the harbour.
His anger continues through the beginning of Percy & Harold. Although Percy likes his work at the harbour, he still wants to not make a fool of himself. A completely unrelated annoyance is a noisy helicopter, Harold, that flies over the harbour, and has said that railways are slow and out of date. So, Percy, in an attempt to sustain his pride, decides to race Harold on his way back from the quarry, and, for once, he actually WINS. Percy loves this; he finally has a victory of his own! This is his first act of complete independence. No Edward, No Duck, no backing signals or sandbars; he earned this. Now all that's left for him is to prove himself as one of the "big boys".
And in Percy's Promise, that's exactly what he does. He agrees to help Thomas out by taking his passengers, even though he could be taking a well-earned rest. And when things go wrong and he gets stuck in the flood, he doesn't panic and powers on nonetheless, despite the difficulty. Sure, Harold gave him some supplies and the guard some firewood, but Percy made most of the journey on his own. He's a hero, and the Fat Controller is finally proud of him. Percy has finally risen out of the shadow of bigger, more experienced engines and has finally reached maturity.
Percy the Small Engine is my favorite Railway Series Book because of the emotional coming-of-age that Percy experiences throughout the book. In the beginning, the big engines take advantage of him and order him about, and he needs more mature engines like Duck to take care of him. However, he finally comes into his own and is on equal playing field with the others. In his debut book, Troublesome Engines, Percy stated that in the workshops he had to "wheesh loudly to make himself heard". Percy's journey in this book is him finally "making himself heard", and finally becoming a useful engine in his own right, and this is one of the most relatable arcs in the RWS, and why it's my complete favorite. Percy's story is about him growing up, much like we all do, and becoming his own engine. He doesn't need others to take care of him, because in Percy the Small Engine, Percy learns to care for himself, and be truly independent.