Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Railway Series No. 42: Thomas and His Friends

A few days ago, I received Book 42: 'Thomas and His Friends' from Amazon UK (well, I received two, but the other's now been given away).  I have read it and now I shall review it.  So for those thinking about gettig it, this may make you want to get it even more, or it might put you off :P.  Just a quick note before I begin:

First Opinions
This new book was announced by Sodor Island Forums last year, and when I heard about it I was extremely excited.  The television series was going downhill plotwise and a new Railway Series book was definately something to be cheerful over.  However when the title was revealed, I was downhearted.  I remember thinking "HIT's obsession with the 'Thomas' name being on EVERYTHING really is going over the top".  But I was determined not to judge the book by its title.  And, as you will see, I'm glad I didn't.

Thomas and the Swan

Pip and Emma have been bought by the Fat Controller to take the high speed express train to London.  Meanwhile, Thomas, his driver and fireman rescue an injured swan.

I have read a lot of comments on YouTube that constantly get annoyed about the constant plots revolving around animals and children.  I don't thnk including animals is the problem.  I think that they need to make things railway smart and make sure the animals are properly taken care of.  And that is what this story does REALLY well.  The animal is clearly seen injured, and it's clearly seen struggling as it's not used to human contact.  But in the end it's healed and flies off quite happily.  A heart warming tale in my opinion.  And it all takes place when Thomas does his NORMAL JOBS, no "special specials" to be seen anywhere.

I also like how Pip and Emma are now a part of the Sudrian fleet of engines.  It shows that, although Sodor mostly uses steam power still, the Fat Controller can bring in more up-to-date engines.  And it also attacks one of Thomas' biggest issues with the 'nanny state': sexism.  Thomas has been attacked by "experts" (losers :P) for being "sexist" as most of the engines are 'male' and the coaches are 'female'.  But not only have Pip and Emma proved otherwise, but they've ALSO been given the most important job: the high speed express to London.  If THAT doesn't stick it to the 'nanny state' I don't know what will :P.

Buffer Bashing

Donald crashes into some buffers.  Three days later, Douglas crashes into the rebuilt buffers.

Yes, the plot isn't as enthralling as many of the others.  But let's face it, it IS nice to see Donald and Douglas again.  I know fans are moaning that the Scottish Twins have been absent from the TV Series for 3 years.  They have been absent from the Railway Series for SIXTEEN years, the last book they were featured in was Thomas and the Fat Controller's Engines which, coincidentally, celebrated another anniversary :P.  So before you complain about the Scottish Twins' absence from the TV Series, consider yourselves lucky they were being featured in the first place.

Going back to the plot.  I know it's not the best, but you CAN imagine something like that happening in reality.  You wouldn't, however, imagine engines going across a shaky bridge that an engine would fall off in reality.  You wouldn't imagine that an engine move off BY THEMSELF while workmen are trying to fix a broken whistle.  And you wouldn't imagine having two engines to take one truck, epecially if there's a balloon tied to it  It may be one of the worst RWS stories, but it's a hell of a lot better than something you'd see on Thomas and Friends.  And you also have to remember: the Railway Series has been going for 66 years.  Christopher will run out of plots eventually, so just enjoy the stories that are written now while they last.

Gordon's Fire Service

While taking his last passenger train of the day, Gordon helps to put out a fire

Kudos to Christopher Awdry.  This story puts the shambles that was "Fiery Flynn" to shame.  Then again, real firefighters put that episode to shame :P.  Again, this is an adventure that takes place while an engine's doing their normal jobs.  Take note, HIT, you don't need "special specials" to make a great story.  And I like how Gordon's character has matured over the years in the Railway Series.  No longer is he a pompous engine who is so obsessed with taking the express.  Now he's just grateful to have jobs to do and very happy to help others.

It's also really cool that Gordon got a medal for being a REAL hero.  Not like in Series 12's 'Saved You!' when the fireman got a medal for rescuing a cat from a tree...  SERIOUSLY?!  Firemen often rescue cats from trees and they don't get anything.  Besides, it's not exactly heroic if the cat climbs into the tree on its own accord...  Anyway, it was a great plot and a nice expansion of Gordon's personality.


A bust celebrating the Thin Clergyman is revealed, but not before a landslide near Henry's Tunnel

 Let's face it, thiis was the main story of the entire book, made especially for the centenery of Christopher's father, the Rev. W. Awdry.  It was a fantastic story, one that the Reverend himself would be extremely proud of.  I did however, find it a bit weird that the word "dead" was put in the story.  But I also like that because Christopher's not pussy-footing around.  He knows that Wilbert sadly died, and I think kids should be taught that Thomas' creator died as well.  Death shouldn't be treated as a taboo subject, it's an inevitability.  People are born, live and die.  The three constants of the universe.

Moving on, it's cool that it was said the "engines duties would be altered so they could make it to the ceremony", unlike HIT's series where engines go around holding parties everywhere without sparing a though as to who'd do their normal jobs.  And it's also very nice how, when Henry's Tunnel's blocked off, Sodor is cut off from England via railway.  That's one of the things I hate about the Vicarstown Dieselworks, it just seems as though Sodor ends when the engines get there, when as we know, from reading the Railway Series, the tracks go past Vicarstown, over a viaduct and to Barrow-in-Furness and beyond.

Finally, I like how the prince said he enjoyed the books when his father read them to him as a child.  I know it isn't real, but it just shows that the Railway Series has universal popularity.  From childhood to the teenage years all the way to adulthood, these stories have captivated a nation, and a whole fanbase.

Final Thoughts
The title of this book may be a bit misleading, as Thomas is only majorly featured in one story, but that's more of a complaint that should be taken up with HIT Entertainment and Egmont since, as I say, they're obsessed with Thomas being in the title of every new book.  Which is a huge disappointent since the Railway Series first featured Edward, Gordon and Henry, with Thomas nowhere in sight.

But, title aside, the book is absolutely fantastic and a breath of fresh air for any Thomas fan, especially after the disaster that was Series 15.  Clive Spong's illustrations were stupendous as always.  He really is one of the best, if not THE best, Railway Series illustrator there's ever been.

The Railway Series always gives Thomas fans joy, as we know that even if the TV series is absolutely farcical, the RWS can always provide us with fantastic stories, railway knowledge and some REAL entertainment.  And the pictures etc. can really make kids and adults use their imaginations to bring the adventures to life, rather than everything being presented on screen with Thomas, regardless of whether Nitrogen's CGI is an awe-inspiring sight.

I would actually go out on a whim and say if Railway Series stories were adapted for TV with the CGI, the series would as good as it was during Series 1 and 2.  And since the new book has been really hard to get a hold of over the past 2 weeks because it's sold out more often than not, it seems like this timeless gem called the Railway Series will be popular until the end of time, even if (God forbid) this was the end of it all.

Title - 2/10
Thomas and the Swan - 8/10
Buffer Bashing - 6/10
Gordon's Fire Service - 9/10
Centenery - 10/10
Illustrations - 10/10

Buy YOUR copy of the Railway Series No. 42 below:


  1. Thanks so much for your brilliant review on the new book! My local Waterstones had said to my Mum that a batch of Thomas And His Friends's books and that they will give notice on when it's arrived. So I am excited! It will be the first ever RWS Book that I have in the "Small Books For Small Hands" format (I have the Thomas And Friends-The Complete Collection book)!
    So on that bombshell,
    until next time...

  2. I feel sad that this book ended with "The End". It seems this is the last book. As you mentioned, Christopher will eventually run out of stories, but considering this one ended with the ACTUAL caption of "The End"... it just makes me sad to think what started it all may come to a close, as they say, all good things must come to an end, but still, it'll be like losing part of my childhood for me. I grew up on the TV Series, true, but because of the show it got me interested in the vast history of the books. And losing the books, in my opinion, would be the true way Thomas finally disconnects himself from his classic age in history.

  3. A very nice review, Chris. I've always enjoyed your reviews. :) Although basically I think Gunvor & Peter Edwards were the best RWS illustrators, but then again, It's your opinion after all. Nothing I can do.

    My thought on the review: 9/10