Toby The Tram Engine
Review by J70
Toby is the last of the main seven characters introduced to the series. Nevertheless, he represents unique values in Rev. W. Awdry's ideals. In his named volume, Toby wins our affections, so I wish to share my whole perspective.
Awdry said of the inspiration for Toby, "My son and I first met a J70 tram-engine at Yarmouth in 1951. She was exceedingly dilapidated, but nevertheless there was a certain dignity about her as she trundled along the street ringing her bell." The same as Toby. Doing his job. Being cheerful to everyone. Being dependable. Year after year.
Time took its toll and progress sped on past like the buses and trucks by Toby's line. No matter how run-down and worn-out Toby had become, he just kept on working. Sadly, the old and trusted would be replaced by the new and expedient.
Toby was fortunate to make friends with the Fat Controller and his family, shortly before the line went out of business, in the story of "Toby and the Stout Gentleman". Sure, the youngest generation mistook him for a modern-day electric engine! But everyone enjoyed the experience of seeing a vintage engine in action, while they still could.
The closure is as sad a moment as any in the early Railway Series. The little engine was convinced that no one wanted him anymore, though many came to bid him farewell. Toby had been a staple in his region, and now he was being thrown away. Awdry describes this with few words, yet in great depth.
Just when it seemed our hero had lived his life and become useless, a letter from Sodor brought new hope. As we find out later, the Fat Controller had a place for Toby on his railway. Thus Awdry shares his belief that everyone has a place, and purpose, in the world. Again, a deep meaning is conveyed in so few words.
Meanwhile, back on Sodor... Thomas is labeled a "regular lawbreaker"! The new policeman at the end of the branch line takes the trouble to point out Thomas' lack of cowcatchers and side covers, a regulatory requirement in that location. This is a bit ridiculous, because they would make Thomas look like a tram engine, and because he'd been there hundreds of times and never had an accident.
This is yet another commentary on Awdry's part. Every day we can see the presence of intrusive government and onerous regulation. I will admit that I understand the idea of freedom so much better due to the views Awdry expressed in such stories as "Thomas in Trouble".
Regardless of the injustice to Thomas, Toby finds his place on Sodor, Thomas gains a partner on his branch line, and the policeman gets what was coming to him.
Toby is typically a supporting character. In "Dirty Objects", he is properly introduced to Sodor, but the main character is James. James shows arrogance in sneering at Toby's appearance, with pure contempt no less. Toby makes a sweet comeback, bringing up the incident with the bootlace. Even though Toby may seem good and perfect like Edward, he has a cool, sarcastic aspect of his character.
As soon as James gets what's coming to him, smashing into a train of tar wagons ("you never see my paint dirty"), Toby sees another chance to use biting sarcasm. While James is left with a coat of tar, Toby is rewarded with a coat of paint.
One of the few early Railway Series stories that was never adapted for television, the last story, "Mrs. Kindley's Christmas", sees Toby in a supporting role once again. It is a touching story. Thomas and Toby greet Mrs. Kyndley as they pass her house on every run. She returns the favor one day when danger lies ahead, alerting Thomas' crew and saving many lives. Of course, Toby is pleased to come and visit her that Christmas, after she'd saved his friend, Thomas. I think Mrs Kindley takes on the role of Toby, an old, faithful citizen willing to help any way one can, and is rewarded by the grace of friends.
This is the one book in particular I've read back and forth. It is empathethic and offers many life lessons to ponder. I hope I've shown why Toby the Tram Engine is an outstanding part of the Railway Series. Toby brings the past to life, and much as the whole Railway Series seeks to maintain timeless virtues, the quaint little tram engine embodies them.