Wednesday, May 13, 2015
The Thomas The Tank Engine Man
The Thomas The Tank Engine Man:
The Life Of Reverend W. Awdry
By Brian Sibley
Published by Lion Books, 15 May 2015
My daughters grew up with Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends; I read the books to them till they were old enough to read the stories themselves and played endless games of trains with them when they were small. Every train trip was a delight to us all, even though our trains weren't pulled by steam engines, I am sad to say!
I am thrilled and delighted to have been able to read and review this book about the life and work of the Reverend Wilbert Awdry who created the stories for the entertainment of his own son Christopher, when that young lad was confined to bed when ill with measles. Christopher's misfortune proved to be a blessing for countless children ever since. Wilbert Awdry had grown up in a family which loved trains and model train sets and he passed on this love to his own children, along with his precise, in-depth knowledge of railway workings, lore and minutiae.
His wife felt that the stories he made up for Christopher (and he also had to write them down to make sure that he told them exactly the same every time, or Christopher would correct him!) were infinitely superior to the children's books she saw in the shops. When published, they proved to be equally popular with many other children and their parents. Most of the stories were based on events which had really happened, which made them even more convincing and enjoyable. The crafting of the stories and their eventual publication makes for fascinating reading indeed as his attention to detail was legendary and the stories of his polite battles with his publisher over the illustrations which inaccurately portrayed engines and rolling stock will come as no real surprise to the reader.
As an extremely busy parish priest and father to a growing family, he had little spare time to devote to writing, yet he did so, and spent a huge amount of time replying to the questions posed to him by his eager young readers and their parents throughout the rest of his life. His younger brother George willingly acted as a sounding board to his mapping out of the fictional Island of Sodor, where the stories were set and soon they had produced a complete topography, geography and history of their own island. Family holidays revolved around railways, new ideas blossomed and soon Wilbert found that the writing of the stories acted as a tonic and a way of de-stressing from his parish work.
In 1950, some of the stories were translated and published in Welsh and eventually they would be translated into many other languages. By 1958, merchandise was also being produced, starting with a press- out model book, a map of the Island of Sodor, nursery wallpaper and even records of the Rev Awdry narrating some of the stories. By 1961, some two million books had been sold - a remarkable achievement, although the royalties he received were actually very small - and eventually Wilbert Awdry decided the time had come to give up being a parish priest and devote himself to his long-suffering wife and to the necessary in-depth research which his writing career made necessary. He continued to be an active priest, acting as a visiting priest to Gloucestershire parishes where the incumbent was on holiday or ill, and saw his writing as a specific ministry to children.
This is an absolute "Must Read" book for any "Thomas" fan; absorbing, engaging and altogether fascinating reading.