Image Credit: Amazon
2005 saw the 60th Anniversary of Thomas the Tank Engine. In 1945 the very first of the Railway books by Rev. Wilbert Awdry were published. In fact the book, ‘Three Little Engines’ is about Gordon, Edward and Henry – Thomas himself actually first appeared in 1946.
Every year, new legions of little boys fall under Thomas’ spell. Whether they are drawn by the TV series, a wooden train set or by reading the original books, children – but mostly boys - the world over love the little blue engine with the big heart.
The stories of the original engines were told by Rev. Awdry to his son Christopher while he was laid up in bed with measles. Awdry had been fascinated by the steam trains that he heard and saw during his childhood, and so they were the obvious source for his tales. He was persuaded to write them down by his son and later to offer them to publishers by his wife.
More characters were added and the Island of Sodor, based on the Isle of Man, created for the engines to live on. Wilbert Awdry was a great steam enthusiast all his life and as well as building model railways he was involved in many Railway Preservation societies. He died aged 85 in 1997, having been awarded an OBE the previous year.
What is the reason for Thomas’ enduring popularity? Children are always fascinated by trains, especially old fashioned steam trains. In the original Thomas stories the engines are full of human flaws, cheeky, naughty, grumpy and proud. Thomas in particular is the naughty schoolboy of the gang, playing tricks and disobeying orders.
Britt Allcroft’s TV series, itself over 20 years old now, began with the original stories, full of 1930’s charm. Later stories, written for television are made to fit in with modern sensibilities. They have less edge, written as they are to emphasise teamwork and being ‘really useful’. They also have lost their ‘Englishness’ in the bid to appeal to international markets.
Of course, it could be said that Rev. Awdry’s stories are an allegory of the class system, with the Fat Controller representing the ruling classes, the engines as the hard working and honest middle classes with the crude, work-shy trucks as the working classes, always needing to be kept on order.
Whatever the story behind them, these engines are a perennial favourite, with their happy faces and happy endings, children will undoubtedly continue to love Thomas, Percy, James, Henry and the gang for decades to come.
For more information about Thomas visit Hit Entertainment’s official website for games, colouring, details of special Thomas days at steam railways in the UK, US, Canada and Australia and a special 60th Anniversary celebration.
About eParenting: eParenting was started by Jacqui O'Brien in 2004. At the time her kids were 1 and 4 and kept her nice and busy. Now they are teenagers and still keeping her pretty busy!