Looking through my bookshelves recently, I came across John Christopher’s Tripod novels. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed them. Like H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, Christopher’s Tripod novels feature alien visitors who conquer the human race and move around the Earth in massive three-legged walking machines (Tripods).
Christopher’s Tripod novels, The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire, were some of the first science fiction books I read as a kid, They had a huge impact on my future reading choices. In fact, I think I can probably blame John Christopher for turning me into a science fiction fan, a cruel fate if ever there was one. Christopher also wrote a prequel to the trilogy in 1988 called When the Tripods Came.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, The Tripods Trilogy is an epic science fiction teenage adventure story, where mankind has been conquered and enslaved by the Tripods. The true nature of the creatures living inside the massive three-legged walking machines is unknown, and humans have reverted back to primitive farming communities where artefacts from previous human existence are still used, while the purpose of others remain a mystery. At the age of 15 every human is “capped” with a wire mesh that sits over your skull and controls behaviour. Some people whose minds can’t cope with being capped crack up and become vagrants who wander the countryside spouting nonsense.
Before being capped, 3 teenage boys leave their home on a mission to aid a rebellion to destroy the Tripods and their cities. In the first book, one of the wandering vagrants, Ozymandias, advises Will, the narrator of the first novel, to undertake a journey to “The White Mountains”.
You may remember the entertaining BBC TV-series The Tripods (1984/85). This was a comprehensive adaptation of the first two books in The Tripods Trilogy, featuring 25 episodes over 2 seasons, with a massive 120 speaking parts. The Tripods was one of the BBC’s longest TV adaptations ever, equalling War and Peace (1972/3). A script had been written for a third season, but because of a campaign against science fiction TV by Michael Grade, the Controller of the BBC at the time, it was never made. No wonder it took them so long to resurrect Doctor Who!
John Christopher is a pseudonym for Samuel Youd, who wrote 70 novels under seven different names. Apart from the three novels that make up The Tripods Trilogy, his other popular works include the teenage science fiction trilogy, The Prince in Waiting, as well as adult science fiction, The World in Winter, The Death of Grass, and The Year of the Comet.
They’re all worth a look, even if you’re no longer a teenager.