Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Pandemic Paperback: "The White Mountains" by John Christopher

Pandemic Paperback: The White Mountains by John Christopher, 1967 (2003 paper edition), 076714004993A.

My brother had Christopher's Tripods series. He probably purchased them from either a Scholastic book sale or the book store that used to be off Prospect in Champaign. I ended up reading the books and would periodically recall the stories over the years. So, I may as well reread them.

I'd classify this series as young adult but for younger readers. I remember a fair amount of the novel and misremember maybe as much. 

Plot: Aliens took over the earth a handful of generations ago. The aliens are never seen but when every person turns 14 they are fitted with a metal mesh cap. The cap changes behavior and allows control by the aliens. The aliens are represented by the "Tripods". Tripods are three legged metal machines 10 stories tall with a saucer shaped top and metal tentacles. Knowledge of science, math, history, etc. have all been cut off by the Tripods. No libraries are around. 

Will lives in a small English town - all cities have been abandoned after alien invasion and war - in an agrarian, pre Industrial Revolution style economy.  Will is not too keen on getting "capped". One day Will starts talking with a "Vagrant". Vagrants are the small part of the population whose capping was unsuccesful and left them brain damaged. Vagrants wander from town to town relying on charity and mindless work. This Vagrant is a fake and he tells Will The Truth: we are controlled by aliens. Skip the capping ceremony and live free. Join us in the White Mountains across the sea. After seeing his closest, best-est friend and cousin change from the capping Will figures, "Fuck yeah. I' leaving."

Things happen. Will has a hand drawn map from the Vagrant. He's ready to rebel and ready to hit the pavement. Henry is another cousin of Will's and the two have always fought. Henry blackmails his way into going along. Will wants to ditch Henry but continue their cross country foot journey. Stealing food or poaching along the way they sleep rough and in abandoned builings.

They cross the English Channel to France - you gotta figure the locations out from description because names have changed and been forgotten over the past 100 years or so. They meet up with a French kid wearing glasses. So on. So forth. Eventually reach the White Mountains and a group of people trying to fight the seemingly all powerful Tripods.


1. I've not much to say. The is teen rebellion. Will is a bit touchy and hotheaded. Will and Co. stay at a French castle for a time and Will is kinda gooey for the local Lord's daughter. Will considers staying at the Castle, I mean how bad can capping be, right?

2. I'm not sure if Christopher had a message behind these novels. Maybe: Hey, modern life is pretty sweet, kids. Or: Think for yourselves, stick it to The Man whose is trying to control your thinking. Maybe if I read Christopher's preface to this anniversary edition I would know. But, I won't do that.

3. French kid wears glasses which are very, very, very uncommon. French kid is super smart and figured out on his own how to make them. I recalled the glasses being described as a tortuous looking device. At first reading 40 years ago I did not initially understand Christopher's description of the glasses and I struggled to understand what was on the kid's head.