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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.
    • Said Bishopnote  was even sent a copy of Kenney's 1958 map of Sodor, with a note from the good Reverend explaining that he had found the 'lost half' of his diocese!
    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".
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  • The Character Died with Him: Sir Charles Topham Hatt died in 1997, the same year as the Reverend Wilbert Awdry.
  • Creator's Apathy:
  • Creator Backlash:
    • Wilbert Awdry was incredibly disappointed by the illustrations by William Middleton, due to how poorly done they were and the lack of overall accuracy. Unsurprisingly, Middleton would not stay on after The Three Railway Engines and he would be replaced with Reginald Payne for the next book.
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    • Wilbert also disliked the illustrations of C. Reginald Dalby due to their lack of accuracy, culimating in him remarking negatively that his Percy looked like "a green caterpillar with red stripes", resulting in his departure and John T. Kenney taking his place shortly thereafter.
    • As a result of the show's popularity, the Awdrys were pressured to write more Thomas-centric stories, especially in earlier points where the show was mandated to adapt stories from the novels only. Christopher Awdry mentioned being unsatisfied with several of the stories he made under this agreement.
    • Christopher Awdry, like the fans, heavily opposed the reformat under Egmont in the late 90s.
  • Creator's Favorite: Christopher has stated that Toby is his favorite character.
  • Creator's Favorite Episode: According to Sodor: Reading Between the Lines. Christopher considers Thomas Goes Fishing, Dirty Objects, Thomas Comes to Breakfast and Peter Sam and the Refreshment Lady to be his favorite stories. He also has stated that Thomas Goes Fishing and Thomas Comes to Breakfast were amongst Wilbert’s favorite stories as well.
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  • Creator's Pest: Henry became a thorn in Wilbert’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.
    Awdry: I was so annoyed about [the artist’s] treatment of Henry that I endeavoured to kill Henry off. That’s why in Thomas the Tank Engine Henry only appears once or twice as a Very Sick Engine. After that, I got inquiries from children about Henry’s health, so I had to bring him back again. We had Henry painted green again, but in the end the only thing to do was to be ruthless, and Henry had to have an accident and be rebuilt differently.
  • Development Gag: During Henry's section on The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, Sir Topham Hatt angrily complains about the engine he got, as he wanted an Atlantic, only to receive the flawed Henry I instead. This was a nod to how Awdry originally wanted Henry to be an 4-4-2 Atlantic, only for illustrators to depict him as being similar to Gordon instead.
  • 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.
    • Thomas & Victoria was originally planned to release in 1997. however, due to publisher Egmont putting the series on hiatus due to negative backlash towards their poorly received reformat, the book would not see a release til 2007. 10 years after its original planned release.
  • 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".
    • After the death of Wilbert, Britt Allcroft obtained the copyright for the books and sold them to Egmont Books, who redesigned the book format and republished the books with cropped images, whilst also putting the original versions out-of-print. This was not well-received and was the main reason for the hiatus put on the stories, hence why only two more books were published after 1996.
  • Fan Nickname: The red engine that briefly appears in "The Sad Story of Henry" has no name officiallynote . However, the Extended Railway Series fan project has decided to give him the name "Eagle", which quickly took off and spread like wildfire in the fandom shortly after. Nowadays, even those who are otherwise unfamiliar with the Extended Railway Series stories will often call him Eagle as it's become that ingrained into the community.
  • Inspiration for the Work: The genesis for the series came when Rev. Awdry would listen to the train noises outside his window and imagine that the engines were having conversations.
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes:
    • While the original books by Wilbert Awdry are easy to find, the later books by Christopher Awdry are notably more difficult and expensive these days by comparsion, and copies of his books can frequently go up into the hundreds or even thousands. This is likely due to his books having been out of print and not seeing many rereleases beyond their original printing unlike Wilbert's, which have seen numerous rereleases since their original release. The one compilation featuring his stories is also notoriously hard to find as well.
    • The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways. The guidebook by Wilbert Awdry, has not recieved any kind of rerelease since 1992, making it incredibly difficult to find and expensive to obtain. Christopher attempted to get it republished in the 2000s, even offering to buy it and release it himself, however all plans have failed, leading him to make a new guidebook known as Sodor: Reading Between the Lines in its place instead.
    • Multiple audiobooks of the series have been made, while some have been re-released digitally (mostly those made under the TV series label), you'll be lucky to find many others besides old vinyls and cassettes. Narrations include the likes of Johnny Morris, Willie Rushton, Sir John Gielgud and Ted Robbins.
  • Milestone Celebration: ​
    • Thomas and the Fat Controller's Engines was released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Railway Series and the overarching narrative in the book is centered around hosting a golden jubilee to celebrate it.
    • Sodor: Reading Between the Lines was created and published in honor of the 60th anniversary of The Railway Series after Christopher's attempts to get The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways reprinted have all failed.
    • The Grand Finale, Thomas and his Friends, was published in honor of the centennial anniversary of Wilbert Awdry.
  • 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.
  • Pop Culture Urban Legends: The Guardian has spread false rumors that Christopher Awdry assisted in the murder of a transgender woman named Christine Chappel, who allegedly wrote Thomas and Victoria while Chris was busy. It's also alleged that Awdry had an affair with her, despite being married to Diana Scott at the time.
  • 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.
  • Sequel Gap: There was an 11 year gap between New Little Engine (1996) and Thomas and Victoria (2007). This was due to publisher Egmont putting the series on an enforced hiatus due to the poor reception of their reformat of the books.
  • 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 & 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.
    • Considering the Executive Meddling for more Thomas stories versus Christopher's intentions to develop Sodor as a modern heritage network, as seen with the rejected Barry the Rescue Engine, it does make one wonder what stories he had in mind had the books not been overshadowed by the television series and put on enforced hiatus.
    • Both the original toy train and early sketches of Thomas by Awdry featured a very different design for Thomas compared to the one featured in the books proper, as he was originally based off of an Class J50 tank engine as opposed to the E2 Tank Engine that would ultimately be used as the basis for Thomas' final design thanks to illustrator Reginald Payne.
    • Henry was originally intended by Awdry to be an 4-4-2 Atlantic and was depicted as such in Awdry's original sketches, however, William Middleton decided to depict him similar to Gordon, which other authors would follow suit, much to Awdry's dismay.
    • Due to a distaste towards the character, Awdry originally wanted to write Henry off entirely and have him leave, however due to finding out that kids loved the character, he decided to keep him around, but have him redesigned In-Universe to be a Black 5 instead.
    • Reginald Payne was originally due to be asked to come back to do James the Red Engine, however a nervous breakdown he had due to issues in the Admiralty made him unable to do anymore art, leading him to get replaced by C. Reginald Dalby for the book instead.
    • If it wasn't for the success of Thomas the Tank Engine and kids sending in letters wanting more, the Railway Series would have consisted of only 2 books instead of 42, as Awdry initially wanted to end the series after Thomas the Tank Engine, only deciding to continue onwards due to the book's great reception.
  • Written for My Kids: The series were invented by Rev. Awdry to entertain his son Christopher during a bout of measles.


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