The Tripods by John Christopher

This volume contains four short novels which are also available separately. It used to be regarded as a trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire), but the inclusion of a fourth book, entitled When the Tripods Came has changed things a little – for the worse, in my opinion, chiefly because it is referred to as book 1 of 4.

If you are new to this series, I insist that you ignore the prelude book and jump straight in at The White Mountains. The author originally wrote this as book 1, and that’s how it should stay. I’d better tell you why I feel so strongly about it. When you begin The White Mountains, you are presented with a strange world. It appears to be mankind’s past, a couple of centuries ago. People use a horse and cart to get around, work in mills, etc. Everything is as it should be, except for the presence of immense metal machines taller than houses, which stomp about the countryside commanding the worship of mankind. Strange artifacts from man’s past make an appearance, familiar to us but not to the people in the book, giving use a clue that this is perhaps not the past at all, but a very strange future, where most of our technological advancements have curiously disappeared. The mystery of the past is one of the things that makes The White Mountains such a great read. Deal with When the Tripods Came after you’ve read all the others, just to fill in the blanks.

I was first introduced to The Tripods through the BBC television series that was made in the mid-eighties. I absolutely loved it. Sadly the BBC only ever filmed, The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead, but I was glad to be able to read the final volume in print, to find out what became of the heroes and their world. I don’t want to say too much about The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire, in case I spoil anything. But I will say that this is the perfect adventure story, and despite the fantastical elements, it has a very mature and thought-provoking ending. Currently the most read book on my shelf.

8 thoughts on “The Tripods by John Christopher

  1. Ben says:

    I, for one, feel that the prequel “When The Tripods Came”, too often gets slighted in evaluation of this series.

    Your review is very misleading in it’s claim that the prequel destroys all the mystery of the “original trilogy”.

    I first read the prequel (in 1995, I would have been about 13) and then proceeded through the rest of the series chronologically.

    The prequel takes place at least a hundred years before the original trilogy and details the Tripod’s conquest of Earth… but so much is left unexplained…

    For instance, the exact nature of the aliens and the reason for their invasion are left unexplained, as is the process by which the Earth becomes so antiquarian – reading “The White Mountains” directly after “When The Tripods Came” is just as shocking as if you came to the series with “The White Mountains”… even though the reader knows from the outset that this is Earth, they are totally unaware of HOW and WHY it got to be this way… there is also an added poignancy to the scenes of rural idyll detailed in the main trilogy… having read the prequel you are always reminded of how many lives and dreams were destroyed to bring this about…

    I also felt an added sense of emotional investment in the characters’ quest… I had aleady followed one family who had the same dream, and the beginning of “The White Mountains” makes it abundantly clear that they never lived to see that dream come true in their lifetime… for this reason I was cheering on Will and the boys all the more, in the hope that they would live to see the dream become a reality.

    Also, the struggles of the prequel’s characters lend an extra layer of tragic irony to humanity’s “reversion” at the conclusion of “The Pool Of Fire”. Compare Laurie’s warily optimistic speech at the end of “When The Tripods Came” to Will’s lament at the end of “The Pool Of Fire”.

    I dunno, maybe I just have a sentimental attachment to the prequel on account of it being my introduction to the “Tripods” mythology (I had not even heard of the BBC TV series, which is strange, since it actually did quite well here in Australia) and because I read it when I was younger.

    I would urge new readers not to dismiss the prequel out of hand… wether they read it first or read it last it SHOULD be read to get a complete overview of the trilogy.

    One other review described it as “an invitation to the tilogy for younger readers” and I think that is a fairly apt description of it’s place in the mythology.

    For younger readers, not quite sure if the series fits with their reading level, it’s certainly a good litmus test to see if they can get a handle on the more downbeat aspects of the story.

  2. Darryl Sloan says:

    I’m not actually dismissing the prequel; I’ve read it as many times as I’ve read the trilogy. But what I question is the reading order. It should be noted that the trilogy stood alone and complete in the mind of the author (and his loyal readers) for decades before the prequel was even written.

    I have a fondness for stories that present with a very confusing scenario and provide mere hints about how the world came to be this way. That was the pleasure of reading The White Mountains. I think it would have detracted, rather than enhanced, the experience to know all the details of the original invasion.

    For me, When the Tripods Came will always be book four.

  3. Ben says:

    This week I re-read the Tripod books for the first time in seven years… and this time, as per your suggestion, I re-read the series in publication-order.

    Yes, there is a greater sense of “unfolding mystery” to the proceedings and this is probably the best way to experience this…

    …as you said there is a greater sense of mystery (although it certainly doesn’t destroy ALL the mystery of the trilogy, the prequel only explains “HOW” but not “WHY” – and for me the question of “WHY” is always more interesting than the “HOW”)

    And also because the prequel is the least of the four books – by having the alien invasion take place in the 1980s the book has dated in a way that the others haven’t.

    But I still feel your review is misleading in many ways…

    If you really thought the prequel was so good, if you’ve really read it as often as the main trilogy then why on earth didn’t you mention that in your review? Because I got the impression you were REALLY bagging it, and that you wished it didn’t exist because it’s muddied the waters of continuity too much.

    And there is one other way your review is misleading… all of those “spoilers” you complain about in your review… all of those things were revealed in the blurbs for each individual book long before the prequel was published.

    And really, don’t most people read the blurb before reading a book? The fact that this is Earth in the future, the fact that the Tripods are controlled by aliens… these things are not mysteries to anyone who has glanced at the back cover – the mystery is seeing how the characters will find out about these things.

    Sorry if I seem defensive, as I’ve said, re-reading the series in publication order has made me see that it’s probably the best way to do it…

    But I’d feel uneasy saying that to people… because I know I discovered the series through the prequel, and so did most of my friends, and we all love the stories anyway.

    Oh well… decisions, decisions…

  4. Darryl Sloan says:

    Hi, Ben.

    When I first encountered The White Mountains, it was through the TV series, which was a fairly honest adaptation. All the way through, I kept asking myself, “How the heck did the world get like this?” We were given an answer that was deliberately sketchy. This drew the viewer/reader closer to Will, Henry and Beanpole, because our heroes were in the same predicament, possessing only vague snippets of information about the past gained from Capped adults and ruined cities. What better way for an author to make his readers identify with his characters than to keep the readers as much in the dark as the characters?

    Regarding your comment of me “bagging” the prequel, I feel you’ve read a lot more into my review than I’ve actually said. I stand by my remarks. The prequel is an enjoyable read. I’m glad the author wrote it. But it is certainly the weaker brother of the four.

  5. Ben says:

    It’s alright, I see now your issue is with the marketing and not the nature of the books. And I see we’re agreeing more than I initially thought

    This is probably a “generational” thing more than anything… if you discovered “The Tripods” through the TV show then that explains a lot… the TV show didn’t come with a blurb after all.

    The first season of the TV show came out on DVD here in Australia a month ago and I finished watching that last week too…

    I still adore both the books and TV series, although with age I’ve noticed certain niggling things that I didn’t when I was younger:
    – the young actors give earnest, rather than polished performances in the TV show and the story has been padded out with a lot of digressions… some of which I feel were inserted to make the story seem more politically correct (the inclusion of more female characters, a ploy which seems to be crop up in a fair few Wells, Verne and Doyle adaptations too)
    – naturally I notice the “young-adult-reader” vocabulary of the books in a way I didn’t before
    – the ending of “The Pool Of Fire” does seem overly rushed for some reason. another reason to read “When The Tripods Came Last”… though “Pool Of Fire” is a better book overall, the prequel has a more thoughtful and considered ending and is a better (bittersweet) note to end the series on, IMHO.

  6. Sam Diaz says:

    I picked the book when the tripods came up in my school library in 2006. I read ten pages and returned it. The next year i saw the white mountains and did not make the connection that it was with the book i had before shunned. I read it in two days and loved it. It took priority over everything, including homework and eating. I read the other two and felt let down by the aliens. They seemed a little bit stupid when i saw them in my mind’s eye. Over all i loved the series. After finishing it i read when the tripods came and liked it. I need to see the television show. Where can i find it?

  7. Darryl Sloan says:

    Season 1 of the TV series has been available on DVD for some years. It’s now a deleted title, but you will have no problem picking up a second-hand copy on eBay. Season 2 has not yet been released on DVD, and season 3 sadly was never made. It’s well worth watching the TV adaptation. Although it deviates from the books in places, it has an incredible atmosphere. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched it over the years.

  8. Babiker Kuri says:

    tragedy of time and events

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