Old Favorite: The White Mountains

Earlier this month, author John Christopher died. He was 89 years old, and wrote one of my favorite science fiction trilogies.  The White Mountains was the first book of the Tripods trilogy (which became a quartet 19 years after the first book was published) about a world taken over by aliens, with little hope for the humans still living.  Books like The Giver and The Hunger Games and owe a lot to the success of John Christopher’s post-apocalyptic world of the Tripods.

* * *

Will Parker has grown up in a world controlled by alien masters…where humans are complacent, and their lives are simple.  No one knows what the masters look like, only that they move about in giant machines on three legs, called “tripods” by almost everyone. Thirteen is the last year of childhood;  at fourteen, every child goes through their Capping Ceremony, where they acheive adulthood through the implantation of a metal cap on their head. After that, even the most rebellious children turn into functional adults, unquestioning their need to obey their masters.

Will’s best friend Jack, a year older,  is about to be capped. Both Will and Jack are happily anticipating his crossover into adulthood.  Both boys are extremely intelligent, and have managed to roam around the country surrounding their tiny village, exploring the artifacts left over from before the Tripods.  When they’re adults, they hope to solve some of the mysteries left over from that time. Things like how is metal made, or what is a volt, and why is it dangerous? But after Jack’s capping ceremony, he tells Will that it’s time to put away the thoughts of foolish children. Jack the adult has no curiosity, no sense of exploration or fun. Will finds himself both angry and afraid, and alone in the village.

When he meets a mysterious Vagrant named Ozymandias, Will begins to question the ways of the Tripods.  Along the way, he is saddled with a younger cousin, Henry, who also questions their future.  The boys start looking for answers, and soon finds himself in terrible danger.  When the Tripods come for them, Will and Henry flee their home. Together, they narrowly evade capture and seek out others with the goal of bringing down the “masters”. Along the way, they find a French boy who they nickname Beanpole who joins their cause. With the spider-like Tripods on their trail, can three boys manage to survive long enough to find people like themselves and save their world?

And that’s just the first book!  The others are just as suspenseful and exciting.

* * *

I found the whole Tripods trilogy thrilling to read, back when I read it as a fifth grader and now, as an adult. They’re relatively short by today’s Harry Potter book standard, but there’s a lot of action, adventure and emotions packed into these concise stories.  Every word counts, and chapters end leaving you wanting to turn the page to see what happens next.

John Christopher wrote other science fiction novels. both under this name and under other pseudonyms. I also liked The Lotus Caves and Wild Jack. Nothing though, will live up to The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool or Fire which were definitely his most memorable books. When the Tripods Came, which came out 20 years after the original three books were published, is a prequel, telling how humankind fell to these strange alien invaders.  It adds some interesting back-story is now said to be the first book of the series. However, I think that the three originals are stronger on their own, and that the prequel should be read last…or maybe second. (It does give some interesting back-story on things that Will, Henry and Beanpole discover, but personally, I think it ruins some of the twists and turns of The White Mountains.) Because of that, The White Mountains is definitely is the best way to establish the history of the Tripod universe.

I would recommend these books to boys who like science-fiction adventure, or for readers who want to read The Hunger Games but aren’t quite ready for a 400 page book. (The White Mountains is just under 200 pages.)  The White Mountains is accessible for kids in fourth grade and up, but the later books do have some tough concepts for younger readers. They might be better for fifth and sixth graders, if they can get over the “shortness” of them.  They’re a must for anyone who likes science fiction.

So try The White Mountains today, and check out When the Tripods Came, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire.  And let me know what you think!



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