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Trivia / The Railway Series

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  • Artistic License – Geography: In the Reverend Awdry's world the Isle of Sodor is a substantial landmass squeezed between the north-west English coast and the Isle of Man, an island in the mid Irish Sea nearly equidistant between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Man exists in real life, but Sodor does not. However... in the Church of England there is a Bishop of Sodor & Man. This is an Artifact Title, deriving from the medieval Norwegian diocese of Sodor, which was formed in 1154 and stretched to cover the Hebrides and the other islands along the west coast of Scotland — as far south as Man.note  Norway controlled all these islands until 1266, when they were ceded to Scotland; the Isle of Man came under the suzerainty of the Kings of England in 1334 and was held by feudal lords until the lordship was purchased by the British Crown in 1765.
    The upshot of this history is that to this day there is an Anglican diocese of Sodor & Man, despite one of those places not actually existing. The Rev Awdry essentially chose to Defictionalise the name in order to create a setting for his stories.
Wilbert Awdry: "Everybody knew that there was an Isle of Man, but we decided to 'discover' another island – the Island of Sodor – and so give the poor deprived Bishop the other half of his diocese!"
  • Bilingual Bonus: In the introduction to Four Little Engines, the debut appearance for the engines of the Skarloey Railway, 'Skarloey' is stated by the Rev W Awdry to mean "lake in the woods". The line is based on the real preserved Talyllyn Railway in Wales, and Skarloey himself is based on its eponymous engine Talyllyn — which means, in Welsh, broadly "brow of the lake".
  • The Character Died with Him: Sir Charles Topham Hatt died in 1997, the same year as the Reverend Wilbert Awdry.
  • Creator's Apathy:
    • Part of the reason William Middleton's illustrations were so terrible is because Middleton believed children wouldn't be interested in a book about "dirty old locomotives", leading him to put no effort into his artwork.
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    • Downplayed with Reginald Dalby, but still present. While he certainly put more effort into his illustrations than Middleton, he wasn't particularly invested in Awdry's desire to keep the engines up to technical scale and only saw the job as one of many commissions that he had to do, seeing it as a way to fund family trips. The reason this is downplayed is because Dalby was still a professional, and thus did his job on that level.
  • Creator's Pest: Henry became a thorn in Awdry's side due to his similarities to Gordon and the illustrators doing a poor job differentiating his build after he was painted blue at the end of the first book.note  Awdry at one point considered quietly scrapping Henry, with his illness being tacit nods to his lingering fate, but publishers and fans obviously spoke against this, leading him to writing Henry's repaint to green in the fifth book and his rebuild in "The Flying Kipper", forcing a divergent redesign for the illustrators to follow.
  • Development Hell
    • Barry the Rescue Engine, first pitched by Christopher Awdry in the '80s, has yet to see the light of day (it was going to be released in 1986/95, but the publishers wanted even more stories starring Thomas). With Christopher now retired from writing the books, it seems likely to stay that way.
    • A live-action/CGI feature film by Shane Acker (9) to be set in World War II was teased in the early 2010s, but no further news was ever reported.
  • Executive Meddling: The success of Thomas & Friends led requests from the publishers for more "Thomas" volumes. Christopher occasionally worked around this by including Thomas in the title but only featuring him in one of the four stories.
    • Henry was twice planned to be written out of the series. In his initial story he was intended to remain bricked up in the tunnel and remain disconnected from Sodor. However, Kaye and Ward requested a happy ending for Henry that has him interact with the other engines of the book. Whether or not that was a good decision is up to you. Later, Awdry was frustrated with Henry's similarities to Gordon, so intended to silently 'kill him off' due to his failing health. Fans and publishers objected, so Awdry instead gave him an Emergency Transformation to establish a new distinctive design for the character (from a Frankenstein's creation mixing an LNER C1 and GNR A1 into an LMS Stanier Black 5).
    • According to Christopher Awdry, the story "Trouble on the Line" was based around railway safety, but was watered down by the publishers (apparently, the original reflected badly on crowd control at the National Railway Museum, so it presumably involved a member of the crowd falling onto the line, as opposed to a bag being thrown on). As a result, Christopher Awdry was prompted to write the railway safety books "Bad Days for Thomas and his Friends" and "More Bad Days for Thomas and his Friends".
  • Old Shame:
    • Christopher Awdry was unsatisfied with the novel "More About Thomas the Tank Engine". The Awdrys had been pushed to publish more stories starring Thomas to coincide with the TV show and give it more adaptation material. Christopher Awdry found the final result rushed and disliked the final story "Drip Tank" due to the use of now outdated slang as a plot pivot. Noticeably "Drip Tank" is the only story of the book not adapted into a TV episode.
    • To a lesser extent, Wilbert Awdry stated "James the Red Engine" to be his least favourite work due to being written hastily to meet a deadline.
    • The original text of "Henry's Sneeze" stated that Henry's "sneeze" of coal dust and soot, over some schoolboys dropping rocks on trains, left the boys running away "black as [n-word]s". In 1972 this sentence was reworded for future editions, for obvious reasons.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • Skarloey Railway locomotives sometimes visit the Talyllyn Railway, a move designed to write in the fact that Talyllyn locomotives are sometimes decorated to look like their Skarloey counterparts. (Notably, Sir Handel spends 1983 in Talyllyn.)
    • On a larger scale, the mass Dieselisation of the 60s was the basis for a number of books in the series. Duck and the Diesel Engine was essentially a setup for how the steam engines viewed diesels in later volumes. Books like The Twin Engines, Stepney The "Bluebell" Engine and Enterprising Engines, showed the severity of what happened to steam engines not lucky enough to be preserved. And The Little Old Engine, Branchline Engines, Mainline Engines, Tramway Engines, Jock The New Engine, James and the Diesel Engines and Gordon The High Speed Engine all introduced us to diesels that were very friendly (Rusty, Daisy, Boco, Mavis, Frank, The Works Diesel and Pip & Emma), along with Bear in the aforementioned Enterprising Engines. Indeed, the steam engine's changing attitude to diesels echoed the Awdrys' and the wider preservation movement's attitude to them - early on diesel traction was seen as an invasion of soulless boxes, but many diesel locomotives eventually became equally beloved (notably the Deltics, Westerns, and Hymeks like Bear).
    • Inversely, the updated safety regulations and limited traffic on the Snowdon Mountain Railway, the real-life basis for the Culdee Fell Railway, killed off any possibility for future mountain engine stories (hasn't stopped fans from writing their own CFR stories, though).
      • The elimination of steam from revenue service and the equally strict safety regulations that heritage railways must follow had a similar effect on the books in general from the 90s onward.
  • Serendipity Writes the Plot:
    • Henry's repaint back to green livery, plus his Emergency Transformation into a new build, were written due to problems distinguishing the character from Gordon, a similar large tender engine with blue livery (an especially egregious example can be found in Tank Engine Thomas Again, in which Henry has square buffers due to C. Reginald Dalby being a notoriously difficult illustrator to work with; Awdry later explained that Henry had these because there were no other spare buffers available).
    • The fourth story of "Three Railway Engines" was only created from a request by publishers, who wanted a happier outcome for Henry where he meets with Edward and Gordon. However, not only did this have significant effect on later novels' world building, but would play into the four story format for nearly every book afterwards.
  • Technology Marches On: Paradoxically averted on both Sodor and the other railway.
    • On Sodor, the Fat Controller is savvy enough to know both steam and diesel have their advantages and disadvantages, keeping steam power, enables versatility.
    • On the mainland, the diesels are always shown as largely arrogant and think themselves immune to scrapping, from newer, more powerful, more reliable, cheaper-to-run diesels or electric engines. Indeed, it seems the series never acknowledges they are neither immune to time or corrupt heartless controllers (though some trial runners are sent away for bad behaviour). Save for Pip and Emma, the High Speed Train engines, none of the other diesels shown in the books have counterparts still in revenue service on the Other Railway by the series' end - and the High Speed Trains aren't far behind.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends was not the first attempt to get a TV adaptation off the ground:
      • A 1953 adaptation made using model trains was planned for BBC Children's Hour, and even got as far as airing the pilot, The Sad Story of Henry. Due to being broadcast live, the execution was sloppy, with an engine even derailing after points were set incorrectly. Awdry was critical of the poor handling as well as the "freely adapted" script, leading to the series being cancelled.
      • In 1976, Andrew Lloyd Webber pitched the idea for a musical adaptation, labelled Thomas the Tank Engine much like the later approved series. Working with Brian Cosgrove, the show would have used a whimsical cut-out animation format reminiscent of Ivor the Engine. Despite Awdry being apprehensive of Webber's creative liberties, a contract was signed and a pilot was made, though since Thomas had not yet gained much interest from the international market, the project was cancelled.
    • In addition several later stories were in fact made primarily so Thomas and Friends had material to adapt, though were never made into episodes. "Thomas and the Evil Diesel" is a standout case, since despite the novel being repackaged under the show multiple times it has never been televised proper.


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