Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The White Mountains

Last month, I wrote a post about Boys' Life, to which I subscribed during the late '70s and early '80s. Of all the things I remember about the magazine, the one that is perhaps the most vivid is its comic adaptation of John Christopher's 1967 science fiction novel, The White Mountains, which ran May 1981 to July 1982. This period marked the very end of my association with the Boy Scouts, so I'm not 100% certain I read the entire run of the adaptation, but I can still see the early installments in my mind's eye, like the fantastic splash page that kicked off the whole series.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, The White Mountains is the first in a series commonly called "The Tripod Trilogy" (even though a fourth book, which I've never read, was published in 1988). The series takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth, after an alien invasion has reduced human civilization to roughly medieval technology. The invading aliens, known simply as the Masters, enforce their rule in several ways, most notably the eponymous Tripods, which are three-legged walking vehicles that patrol the world. The Masters also seek to suppress human creativity and curiosity by fitting humans over the age of 13 with a "cap," a technological implant of some sort that affects the proper functioning of the brain. As a kid, I remember being quite unnerved by the idea of the cap, influenced no doubt by this panel from the comic.

The panel shows the protagonist, Will, speaking with his friend, Jack, after he's been capped by the Masters. Jack's personality has changed and his previous curiosity about the world that existed before the coming of the Tripods is expunged. Even now, I find the idea of it sends shivers down my spine.

Whether or not I read the entirety of the comic, I was intrigued enough by it that I sought out the original novels from the library and read them with great enjoyment. The White Mountains remains my favorite of the three, mostly because few of the setting's mysteries are resolved (the existence of the Masters, for example, is unknown, with no one knowing who or what controls the Tripods). However, the revelations of the later books didn't destroy my affection for the whole series, as is often the case with such stories. Likewise, the melancholy resolution of the overall plot is perfect in my opinion and strikes the right balance between naïve optimism and bleak nihilism. Perhaps I should make a point of re-reading them in the coming months. 

14 comments:

  1. Why on earth hasn't someone made a movie of these books instead of yet another rendition of War of the Worlds? Totally agree with you on the Boys Life comic adaption. It was excellent, and I also never finished the series cause my subscription ran out about 3 issues in. I've only read the 1st 2 books of the trilogy; found the first one far better for exactly the reason you mention, that being the mystery of the setting.

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    1. Probably complications with getting approval from the author's estate (which presumably retains the rights) and perhaps something to do with the old BBC show as well. War of the Worlds is in public domain and doesn't have those kinds of drawbacks, which is a large part of why they keep beating that dead horse.

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    2. The BBC did a TV adaptation in 1984 that covered the first two books. I remember liking it enough to go out and buy the books, but I haven't seen it since then.

      Apparently Disney is sitting on the film rights, and hasn't managed to get a film made, despite a couple of attempts.

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  2. I remember reading the novels and the adaptation in Boys Life. “Tripod Masters” even made it into one of my sword & planet rpg campaigns.

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  3. I wasn't aware of this comics adaptation. I was a fan of the BBC TV series ("The Tripods") in the mid '80s, though sadly it only covered the first two books and ended on a cliffhanger. I later read the books (the original trilogy at least) and enjoyed them.

    I think as a 13 year old I really liked the idea of a ragtag gang of misfit kids hiking across a post-apocalyptic Europe for some reason.

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  4. I was never a Boy Scout, but I did flip through an issue of Boys' Life at the library that had an installment of this comic. It made me too seek out the books (I believe I checked out the first one that same trip).
    I remember the ending being one of the first times as an adolescent where a series finale was on the 'downer' side of things. As you say, the plot is resolved but it is hardly a "happily ever after" type of ending.

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  5. This post, for me, illustrates our difference in age: when I was a Scout the series in Boys Life was called "The City of Gold and Lead" (presumably having moved into the 2nd book) and I continue to think of the tripod series by that name. It wasn't until years later that I discovered the comics were actually based on trilogy of novels, and I'm sad to say I've never had the opportunity to read them. Some day.

    Like many other post-apocalyptic fictions of the 80s (and Reagan-era Cold War mania) I'm certain these comics contributed to my lifelong fascination with the PA genre.

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  6. Time to get my 10 year old the boxed set of these books ...

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  7. Those comics were definitely the high point of Boy's Life for me. The coin collecting column got old when they didn't print my contributions and send me $5.

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  8. Naive optimism, bleak nihilism and kid protagonists - reminds me of I Am the Cheese from 1977. In a good way!

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  9. I'm currently reading these novels for the first time after recently having a flashback to the 80s BBC adaptation!

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  10. please please please, if you are going all in on John Christopher, please read The Little People. Nothing can prepare you for that.

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    1. Is that the one that inspired that godawful Elves movie back in 1989? Nazi leprechauns or pixies or elves an all that? Think I'll pass, the movie was quite enough of that for several lifetimes.

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  11. I remember reading these comics, and I remember the books with the Brothers Hildebrandt covers.

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