Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The White Mountains

by John Christopher

Two thumbs up!

This is the first installment in the classic Tripods trilogy written in the late '60's by British science fiction author Samuel Youd under the pseudonym, John Christopher.  This series for youth truly stands the test of time.  I enjoyed it in the late '80's, when I first read it as a child, and I enjoyed it now, as an adult.

The story begins quite like a coming of age tale.  We find Will, on the eve of his Capping ceremony, which will mark his entrance into adulthood.  He lives in a futuristic society in which everyone has been enslaved by the mysterious Tripods through mind control made possible by the implantation of metal Caps on the heads of 14 year old during a special celebration.  We slowly learn who the Tripods are as the story progresses, as the story is told from Will's point of view, and he isn't quite sure what they are or how they came to rule over man.

This thrilling science fiction adventure is captivating for so many reasons.  Certainly, the idea of a boy battling large, metallic creatures who are possibly alien beings is motivation enough for many kids to pick up the book.  But looking deeper, the thoughts of Will as he journeys toward a life of freedom from Capping and the Tripods are just as important.  We see struggles that many children his age face: a desire for true friendship, respect and his own place in the world.  We see a child who questions authority, and wants to think for himself.  We see his bravery, but also his fear.  We see him second guess himself in moments of weakness, yet prevail-----perhaps the same weaknesses which allowed this futuristic human race to become slaves to the Tripods long ago.

It is also interesting to hear these characters, who live in the future but with 19th century technology, give their views on "relics of the ancients" that they see remnants of.  Items like watches, subway systems, canned food, trains---are completely foreign concepts to Will and his companions.  They seem to know as little about what life had been like on Earth before the Tripods came as they do about the Tripods themselves.  One could speculate about how a society could be so physically, mentally and morally weak to have allowed themselves to be overcome so completely by the Tripods.

With rumors that this trilogy will soon be made into a movie, it's a great time to rediscover this classic contribution to children's literature.

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