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RS Reviews: The Three Railway Engines - The Book That Started It All

The Three Railway Engines

Reviewed by thomasandmatt

"Once upon a time there was a little engine named Edward.” The first line in a series of stories based on a fleet of engines that had been made famous in 1945, and spread out worldwide, and stayed famous for 70+ years.

As a child, and well into my late teens, I’ve been fascinated by the little blue engine and his friends, so much so, that it could be considered an obsession. One of the big factors that led to this obsession was the T.V. series, thanks to the convenient showings of the series on PBS on Sundays. I was introduced to the Seventh and Eighth seasons of the show, the bridge between the Classic series and the Dark Ages. Most of the episodes were often repeats, containing at least two Season 8 episodes, and the odd Season 7 episode thrown in. Not a great start for some fans, but to me, I was hooked.

What does any of this have to do with what my favorite Railway Series book is, you ask? Well, at some point in my life, my older brother, whose name is Chris by the way, went out and found the Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection by the Rev. W. Awdry, bought it, and gave it to me. What makes this incredibly special is what was inside was the first 26 books written by the Reverend. Here is when I was introduced to the Railway Series. I loved that book. Of course, at the time, I couldn’t have known about the Railway Series, because I was a child, and as children, we are ignorant of the outside world. Later on, as I got older, I read the book, often narrating it to myself, or to anyone that could hear.

Now, The Three Railway Engines is one of several of my favorite Railway Series books, with Thomas the Tank Engine, The Eight Famous Engines, and Enterprising Engines to name afew. As great as the three I’ve listed, they wouldn’t have been written without Awdry telling the stories to his son, who was sick with the measles at the time.

The first story, Edward’s Day Out, started off like all “Once upon a time…” stories, and introduced us to Edward, an engine who hadn’t been used for a very long time, until a kindly driver and fireman decided to take him out to work that morning. This, of course, made Edward very happy, much to the other engine’s chagrin! Edward had had a lovely day taking passengers around the railway, and was promised to be taken out again the next day. Already, we are introduced to a new character who has stuck on with the books, all the way into the T.V. show, and made a starring role in the ever-beloved The Adventure Begins. It was a brilliant way to start off a beloved book, and the entire franchise altogether.

The second story, Edward and Gordon, introduced us to the big blue express engine himself, Gordon. Everyone knows the story, Gordon puts Edward down, is given the most ironic of jobs, and gets his comeuppance, by getting stuck on his hill. This story helps us to see just how many engines are on the railway, and how fleshed out Awdry’s characters are becoming.

The third story, The Sad Story of Henry, starts off with a simple rhyme, “Once, an engine attached to a train, was afraid of a few drops of rain. He went into a tunnel, and squeaked through his funnel, and never came out again.” Henry gets his introduction in this story, and we learn about his character, which in this story, his explains to his driver why he doesn’t want to come out: “The rain will spoil my lovely green paint and red stripes.” This is also the episode where the Fat Director, later the Fat Controller, is introduced to the series. He tries all sorts of ways of getting the green engine out, from pulling, to pushing, even getting another engine to shunt him out, but neither didn’t work. Eventually, the Fat Director was forced to brick Henry up in the tunnel, and leave him there, “For always, and always, and always.” The Sad Story of Henry had memorable lines, showcased that the Fat Director won’t stand nonsense from his engines, and it showed a character trait to Henry; his selfishness.

The fourth and final story, Edward, Gordon, and Henry, picks up from where the last story left off, with Henry being left in the tunnel. This addition is Henry’s chance at redemption in the Fat Director’s eyes, as Gordon, pulling a heavy express, was racing along the line at top speed, broke down in front of the same tunnel. The Fat Director was made cross at this, and sent for Edward, who couldn’t pull the train. It eventually came down to Henry, who happily accepted the job. He helped Edward bring the train to the end of the line, and both engines helped Gordon home, and a friendship was formed between the three engines. EG&H was a brilliant story, and finisher to a beloved book, and a jump starter for the best series of books written by a Reverend for his son.

We all have our favorite books, and book series. We have a sense of connection to these engines, because like us, they have strengths and flaws, and they have the same kinds of issues that we face each day, though they are more railway-based than everyday problems, but that is why we love them so much. We can identify with the characters and their stories, and learn from the same exact lessons that they learned. Which is why The Three Railway Engines is my choice, because without it, we wouldn’t have our favorite railway-based series, the television series based on the books, and especially all of the friends we’ve made in real life through the show. Heck, the Sodor Island Forums wouldn’t exist with the Reverend Wilbert Awdry, so really, we should thank him for giving us something to both love and discuss amongst each other!

I’m going to close this post by finally adding this: thank you. Thank you, Wilbert Awdry, for writing The Three Railway Engines, and putting your love of railways, and bringing entertainment to children into the stories to make them all happen. Thank you, Christopher Awdry, for continuing the series after Tramway Engines was written by your father. Thank you, Britt Allcroft and David Mitton, for creating the T.V. series we’ve come to love and come back too every now and then. Thank you, Andrew Brenner, Sharon Miller, Ian McCue, and all of the writing and production staff at Nitrogen, Arc, and Jam Filled, for helping to make the switch over to CGI go as smoothly as it did, and producing some fantastic specials and episodes, and finding the right voices for the characters. We are, all of us, indebted to you for the creation of a beloved children’s icon, and sticking with it, through thick and thin, and continue to stick by it in the next 70 years.


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