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YMMV / The Railway Series

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  • Accidental Innuendo: To the gutter-minded, Trevor's frequent whispering of "I like children..." can sound like he likes the children a bit too much.
  • Awesome Art: The paint and watercolor illustrations in the books are not only iconic, but they are downright gorgeous to look at as well, and it’s clear much time and care has been given to make them as rich and true to life as possible. Particularly the later illustrations done by John T. Kenny and Gunvor and Peter Edwards.
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  • "Common Knowledge": The illustrations of Thomas the Tank Engine are often misattributed to C. Reginald Dalby, when in reality, the illustrations were originally done by Reginald Payne, not Dalby. It doesn’t help that Payne is often uncredited for his work on the book and that Dalby did go back and revise the illustrations in later editions of the book.
  • Contested Sequel: Christopher Awdry's books get this in comparsion to Wilbert's. While many adored his stories and consider them to be worthy continuations of the original stories, others felt they were too bland, technical, and dry compared to Wilbert's and lack the charm and wit that his books had, seeming to just play it safe instead of attempting anything new. In Christopher's defense, Executive Meddling is partially to blame as his attempts to continue developing Sodor for the time period were shunted aside in favor of stories focusing on the original cast, particularly Thomas, due to the success of the TV show.
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  • Ensemble Dark Horse: While they've only appeared in one book. Culdee and the other Culdee Fell engines have certainly made an impression on readers due to their very unique designs and the interesting setting they inhabit. Unsurprisingly, they're amongst the most requested characters to appear in the TV show by fans and this is likely the reason why they got a good amount of merch dedicated to them under the show's branding, in spite of them never actually appearing in the TV show.
  • Fanfic Fuel:
    • Given the heavy real world influence of the series. It should come as no surprise that the series has become an absolute gold mine for fanworks, many of which often explore certain topics and ideas that were not explored in depth in the series proper or not touched by the series at all.
    • The Island of Sodor during World War 1 and World War 2 isn't explored much in depth in the books, so unsurprisingly, there are many fanworks based on the series that are set in those periods, showing and exploring how the island operated in times of violence and great war. Unsurprisingly, many of these works tend to frequently be Darker and Edgier due to the period they took place in.
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  • According to The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, the North Western Railway has a total of at least eighty locomotives.
  • Fanon: Thomas is interpreted by fans as being an experimental prototype based on the E2 basis as opposed to an actual E2, largely as a way to explain why Thomas seemingly lacks the problems his real life basis is infamous for havingnote . It helps that there is precedent for this in canon, as The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways reveals several engines as being experimental prototypes.
  • First Installment Wins:
    • The original 26 books by Wilbert Awdry are far more popular, widely-known and beloved than the later books by Christopher Awdry. So much so, that whereas Wilbert Awdry's books continue to see frequent rereleases and acknowledgement by the current owners of the Thomas & Friends IP, Christopher's books are largely completely ignored and forgotten about outside of the fandom. (This is partially due to the fact the TV series adapted the majority of Wilbert's work, with only a handful of Christopher's stories made into episodes.)
    • Also true within Wilbert's own run. While his later stories are still often beloved among fans of the series, it's his earliest books (especially The Three Railway Engines and Thomas The Tank Engine) that are the most renowned and commonly retold.
  • Growing the Beard: As beloved and iconic as the first five books are, the sixth book, "Henry the Green Engine" is regarded to be a turning point for the series, with the engines and world becoming more consistent and solidified than prior (particularly Henry, thanks to his redesign). It was also the point in which the real world and real world events truly began to seep into and influence the stories in a major way, which would result in many of the best stories in the series.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • In Old Faithful, it's quoted that Sir Handel thinks that Skarloey is the "best engine in the world". Yeah, try picturing that in your mind 15 books later...
      • While on the topic, in Very Old Engines, we see Peter Sam in a state of panic when he hears that engine dukes were scrapped. Skarloey seems to take this as a joke, and we don't know how Sir Handel took the whole thing. What had Sir Handel come to?
    • Small Railway Engines begins by explaining that the Fat Controller has obtained a new source of weed-killing ballast (for which the Small Railway was built): waste stone from a closed lead mine. Considering how toxic lead waste is, one wonders if the Fat Controller had a massive cleanup on his hands after a few years.
    • In Toby The Tram Engine, Henrietta barely escapes being a henhouse. Guess what Bulgy is made into in book 24...
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Mountain Engines involves an engine who has his name changed to his number which is six who is later renamed Patrick.
  • Iconic Character, Forgotten Title: Commonly called "Thomas the Tank Engine" after the show became popular. It doesn't help the merchandising between the two products sometimes interchanges and some versions of the original novels are even released officially with the Thomas moniker. That said, this is a slight case of Older Than They Think as some pre-TV show material were released under the Thomas the Tank Engine moniker, such as the annuals from 1979 and 1980.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Many of the books about scrapping, even Edward the Blue Engine, seem to traumatize steam lovers.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Many of the minor background and one-off engines tend to frequently be this amongst the fandom. Notable examples include the Red Engine in the Sad Story of Henry, Big City Engine in Gordon Goes Foreign, and especially the Flying Scotsman in Tenders for Henry, amongst other characters.
  • Ron the Death Eater: An example for a character that didn't appear much, 98462 was stated by Reverend Awdry to have been sent away because he was rude and nasty. In Trainz-based Thomas fan videos, 98462 is often derailed into an Ax-Crazy Blood Knight named Alfred who murders (or tries to murder) other engines.
  • Sacred Cow: The original 26 books by Wilbert Awdry have this status amongst the greater Thomas fandom and are beloved to the point of being worshipped by many. Unsurprisingly, any criticism made towards them is very likely gonna be met with some level of backlash.
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: After Egmont bought the rights to the books in 1998, they began to rerelease them under a new format, which was heavily poorly received by both fans and even Christopher Awdry himself, due to the updated versions heavily cropping, modifying and even outright removing the original artwork. The negative feedback would cause Egmont to not only scrap the new format, but put the series on hiatus altogether. Egmont would eventually rerelease the books again under their original format in 2004, with the series properly resuming in 2007.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot:
    • The original run of the books ended when Wilbert Awdry felt like he was scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas, owing to a sudden lack of steam-engine based incidents with modernization. However, as this post brings up, the upcoming Standardization process and preservation movement kicking into high gear still offered quite a bit of material to draw upon and could've continued the arc that seemed to have ended in Enterprising Engines, perhaps bringing the Steam vs. Diesel conflict to a proper end as both sides are shown to be similar. By the time the series resumed under Christopher's pen, that opportunity was lost, and the one book that could've explored this, Barry the Rescue Engine, was not accepted by the publishers simply because it didn't star Thomas.
    • In general, the Christopher Awdry run can feel like this, though to be fair to him, this was primarily due to Executive Meddling shooting down his more original suggestions. In short, Christopher was moving to develop Sodor as a rail network reflecting the change in times as his father had done, but for every book that seemed to touch on this plot point and how the characters had changed in-between the Time Skip, two more focusing on Thomas would be written and not develop any greater sense of change compared to the second half of Wilbert's run. Because of this, the second half of the books can feel very bland and dry, playing it a bit too safe.
    • There were never any stories about the electric engines of the Peel Godred Branch Line, a sad waste as the rivalry between steam and diesel could be overshadowed by the arrival of these trains, until one day a particularly haughty electric locomotive comes unstuck as their pantograph strikes the overhead lines leaving them immobilized.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • The boys who made James become a Runaway Train are described as being "soundly walloped" by their parents when they are caught.
    • This trope was partly why Christopher Awdry didn't like the story "Drip Tank" due to it involving an outdated phrase, and for this reason, remained unadapted in the TV series (in a book that was created specifically to adapt stories into episodes).
    • "Henry's Sneeze" originally described the schoolboys covered in soot as "black as"...a word beginning with the letter "N". Thankfully this was changed in later editions and Awdry gave a public apology for including the slur.
  • Villain Decay / Time Marches On:
    • In the 1960s, books like Stepney the Bluebell Engine and Enterprising Engines dealt with the subject of Modernisation; in the former, Percy goes as far as to demonize controllers on the mainland, only for Awdry to set the record straight in the foreword by saying British Railways officials are not cruel, and are in fact supportive of the preservation movement (though he also assures the reader that Percy's views are out of kind-hearted naivety, rather than malice). Examples are shown in Enterprising Engines among the controllers who helped keep Oliver, Toad, and Isabel safe. In James and the Diesel Engines, published in 1984, a visiting diesel notes that on BR, "steam engines are kept in their proper places, and aren't allowed out on the mainline without special permission". (referring to the red tape surrounding steam-hauled railtours that has only become stricter as the years passed, due to evolving railway safety standards and environmental laws.)
    • Additionally, even before the end of the Reverend Awdry's run as author, many of the diesels that brought about the end of steam were often finding themselves prematurely retired owing to mechanical faults and standardization. Class 35 "Hymeks" like Bear were retired starting in 1971, three years after his introduction in Enterprising Engines, while Class 28 diesels like BoCo were retired just over a year after his debut in "Main Line Engines". By the end of the Christopher Awdry run, even the venerable High Speed Trains like Pip and Emma were themselves approaching retirement.


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