Thomas and the Twins
Reviewed by Christopher
Throughout my youth, I recall the only real places I managed to find Christopher Awdry's books were through my visits to the various "Days Out With Thomas" events my parents would take me to - notable of all the Mid-Hants Railway. And I'm not sure which of these railways it was, but I most definitely recall my Mother buying for me Thomas and the Twins. And as I grew up, my affection and dedication to the books as a whole grew stronger. In a way, I feel two particular characters here share the same development with me...
While Thomas and the Twins may not be everyone's favourite Christopher Awdry book, to me I have a certain fondness of it. Mainly to the fact that, unlike the current TV Series, which sees characters being crane-shunted willy-nilly all across the Island, Christopher places a logical reason for Thomas to be sent on Edward's Branch - the river bridge on his own line needs repairs, and as Thomas is too heavy for it he is sent to Edward's for a spell. The concept of Thomas working on a different Branch Line seems interesting as are the use of characters that he interacts with there - Edward the Blue Engine, Trevor the Traction Engine and the China Clay Twins, Bill and Ben, the true "stars" of this book.
Ever since reading Main Line Engines, Bill and Ben have become an unforgettable pair; cheeky, playful, and with a sly sense of humour, discovered first-hand by Gordon himself! And they are the reason why I have chosen this as my personal favourite Christopher book, for they add a sense of fun into the stories. The first tale alone, which sees Thomas suffer an embarrassing accident with a dairy lorry, is perfect for the squat little engines to take advantage of - and Bill foiling an Enthusiast's hopes for a perfect photograph makes for excellent reading, too.
Of course, bar the absence of another fan favourite, BoCo the "Diseasel", Edward and Trevor play their roles nicely. Edward to act as peacemaker between the three tank engines, and Trevor in the third story where he "helps out" in an emergency. Some say the stories may seem uninspired and dull, but I've learnt that even a simple storyline, with the right amount of characters, inspiration and invention, can still fuel the interest of fans alike.
Clive Spong's illustrations are as fantastic as ever here. From the sight of Thomas approaching the lorry in the morning gloom, to the lush green hills of the China Clay Workings, to even the atmospheric scenes of Brendam Harbour, his illustrations have become another true staple in the Christopher Awdry era. It is most interesting to note, too, that he even manages to keep Bill and Ben in scale with their real-life counterparts, Alfred and Judy, when comparing to their original appearance in Main Line Engines. Seeing them one on each side of Thomas in several illustrations shows how well their child-like quirks suits their current statures.
But going back to Bill and Ben, as I had mentioned previously I feel that the clay twins share something that everyone experiences as we grow older - although still cheeky and mischievous, there is a sense of them slowly, ever so slowly, maturing. This is evident where, in the third story, they share with Thomas their knowledge of the different types of clay they have to transport from their workings - dry clay in "hooded" trucks, wet clay in tankers - and the previous story sees them literally pulling together when helping to guide a ship out to sea (one of the many real-life events experienced from a Driver of the Port of Par railway, which inspired Christopher to pen this book).
But the final story, "Down the Drain", the more thrilling out of the three, shows true gratitude and maturity from Bill and Ben. Thomas comes to Ben's aid after bad weather leaves him stranded in a flood, to which the Twins resolve to never tease Thomas again. "Maybe!" I hear you say...while that maybe true, I feel that a little character development (which actually sticks!) never did anyone any harm. Change is nature, after all, and I feel that perhaps that's what Bill and Ben have experienced during Thomas's temporary presence in their lives...so long as they don't forget to still have a little fun either!