Thomas & Victoria
Reviewed by Ryan H
Around the time of Christopher Awdry’s titles for The Railway Series being given a print run around 2007, one of the SiF members posted a blurb for the repackaged books which hinted at the inclusion of a brand new Christopher Awdry title. Curious, I followed it up with Egmont, and unwittingly was given the first look at the first Railway Series book for over ten years.
Thomas & Victoria had been intended for publication in 1997 before the sale of the rights to Awdry characters from Heinemann Books to Britt Allcroft. When Britt Allcroft Company licensed the rights to the books to Egmont Books, the new publishers decided they wanted to ‘update’ the books and give them a ‘fresh’ look. This involved enlarging the text and butchering the illustrations in a rather ill-fitting fashion, as well as discontinuing the entire range of Railway Series books for several years in a bid to make their relaunch the definitive. It was not well-received by consumers, and the relaunch stalled entirely. Rather than return to the old style, Egmont felt that the books and the stories themselves were the issue – old fashioned and out of touch.
Thus, the Chris Awdry books in particular became much sought-after rarities. For me personally, Thomas and the Fat Controllers Engines was the holy grail of the Railway Series books – I believe I managed to get a hold of The Island of Sodor sooner! Around 2007, the good people at Egmont finally listened to the pleas from fans and reissued the Railway Series titles by Christopher Awdry in a brand new compendium, as well as a set of individually available books – which included Thomas & Victoria.
Reading Thomas & Victoria for the first time, it was as if the Railway Series books had never been away; possibly because it was meant to be a direct follow-up in the 1990s, as opposed to a delayed reaction. It was a superior book to that of New Little Engine, a better overall story throughout and far more engaging. Clive Spong’s illustrations were every bit as eye-catching and bold as they had ever been, there was humour throughout in stories like Eels on Wheels and Avalanche, along with some mild peril in Overloaded and Toby’s Vintage Train. It was a nice mix of stories.
Whilst it was a story set around Thomas’s Branch Line, it felt very natural and inspired. Christopher Awdry built a good book around Victoria’s restoration, where he was able to pull on real life influences and reference the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway – which would go on to be used in early Down At The Station segments for Thomas & Friends DVDs. Sadly though, we never got a true flavour of Victoria’s character, and sadly we never saw her developed further or how she has interacted with Toby and Henrietta since. Much like Ivo Hugh, we have fan-fiction and imagination to draw our own conclusions.
From what I’m led to believe, the book sold relatively well, however, Egmont chose not to follow it up the following year. However, it was nice to have some spotlight shone on Daisy again and see things from the perspective of the real Island of Sodor again – if only for a little while.
I’d hesitate to call it a personal favourite, but it evokes nice memories of the earlier years of the fandom. The majority of us were kids who grew up during the 1990s with the Railway Series books. The books as a whole were a bigger talking point at that time, the lament that they weren’t commercially available, Egmont’s reluctance to re-publish them, and which ones we’d adapt for audio adaptations next. These days, they’re a part of the history and still viewed with some affection, but not discussed as frequently as they used to be. There’s not the same demand for more books as there was back then.
Overall, it was nice to have another title added to the Railway Series again. It was nice to relive the joy of reading a new Awdry story for the first time in a long time. Most of all, it was nice to feel that the requests of fans and the Awdry family themselves had been answered by Egmont Books after so long. The best thing about it was the fact that the Awdry family were, at the time, running their own website and online shop – where Christopher was signing copies of books for fans who chose to purchase through their site.
Strange to think that it has been ten years now since the book was published. Reading it for the first time in a long time brings back a lot of good personal memories from that year, particularly among the Thomas fandom – our first SiF Holiday to Wales, trips to various Railways, the discussions on five year old SiF... was definitely a good year, and Thomas & Victoria was part of what made it good.