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The White Mountains (1967)

by John Christopher

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Tripods (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,397445,954 (3.92)62
Young Will Parker and his companions make a perilous journey toward an outpost of freedom where they hope to escape from the ruling Tripods, who capture mature human beings and make them docile, obedient servants.
  1. 30
    The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (mcenroeucsb)
  2. 10
    Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (mcenroeucsb)
  3. 00
    Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (KingRat)
    KingRat: The White Mountains contains issues similar to those of Uglies: secret control of a society, "mind control", induction into that society, and rebellion against it while pretending to be a member. There are obvious major differences too. Still, enough similarities in style and substance that I suspect people who enjoy one will enjoy the other.… (more)
  4. 00
    The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (Cecrow)
  5. 00
    The Expert System's Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky (espertus)
    espertus: Both books begin in a small low-tech village where people's lives are rules by mysterious technology.

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» See also 62 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
This review was also posted here - https://cavetothecross.com/blog/tripods-the-white-mountains/

Having an affinity for War Of The Worlds and alien invasion and dystopian novels and enjoying stories of one-man-against-the-system and escaping society this book probably does the best job of hitting all those marks.

While being a Young Adult Novel, being a story from 1967, this either feels more general because we've gotten less mature or the story holds up as generally good sci-fi. Taking place in a post-war with the Tripods, humanity lives in small villages in relative peace and functions just like any small town. In our initial setting there's mills and churches and homes and community centers. The only catch is that around everyone's 14th birthday a Tripod "caps" you and you become servants to them. The big catch is that no one knows, not even us as the readers, what the Tripods are or what capping even does. Aliens or robots or an unseen nation-state? Capping seems to quell any rebellious spirit against the Tripods but there is something mostly "off" about people that our main character Will seems to notice as his time of capping gets closer. Will's rebellious spirit causes him to want to run away and does so when he meets a fake capped person who tells him about a land of freedom. And it's off on the adventure we go.

Will is a whiney teenager but he's not without his redeeming qualities. Both sides of this swing make him a very believable character and adds some naivety we'd expect from a sheltered life. His adventure out into the world feels very My Side Of The Mountain/Hatch like with the looming danger of Tripods that are unknown and unrevealed.

Will's adventures out into the world and resolving to find freedom is a tale that speaks to a number of people. The setting is quickly established but mystery surrounds to much to uncover. Other than just sheer desire and the loss of one of his friends to capping, it would have been good to develop more of why Will wanted to rebel and run away. One could argue that this would limit in relating to Will, but the character is introduced well enough and it could be done with expanding out that desire for freedom and liberty or that reason why the Tripods should be distrusted when everyone else seems ok with it.

Will seems to grow and change and not always for the better; which, again, puts his character into the believable camp. He almost seems like a YA Holden Caulfield who wants to break free but also do it alone but then resents the isolation of being alone from his point of view. There are times when the author does a good job of showing a flourishing of understanding of striving for liberty. One line stands out well as a turning point, "I have traveled a long road since leaving the village, not only in hard reality but in my attitude towards people. More and more I had come to see the Capped as lacking what seemed to me the essence of humanity, the vital spark of defiance against the rulers of the world. And I had despised them for it." What a great line and a great moment of character growth - although the building to that moment seems to have lost some of the details along the way.

The unfolding of the world is done quite well. The description of old-world tech is there but sometimes the lack of detail or description that the character doesn't have makes it difficult to guess. The author doesn't come from an Ernest Cline authorship of revealing the answer to your reader and then shoving their nose in it again and again in case someone zoned out in your explaining everything to them. The different types of societies discovered are odd but also familiar. In post-apocalyptic worlds, you want to enjoy the journey to see what the world has become and reading this book some 50 years after publication you get more tones of an alien and changed world. With a YA novel, I don't expect long explanations about the loss of the human spirit or why religion is still practiced and clearly there would be a religion of the Tripods that would form. The world is built so that it's stable for believability but the imagination of explaining between the lines has a lot of freedom.

One of the biggest drawbacks, without spoilers, is the ending. From my understanding, there wasn't a whole trilogy planned, and the end - just happens. I enjoyed the mystery of a number of plot points still didn't have mind-blowing revelations but the abrupt and, frankly, borning nature that's less than half a page is disappointing.

But I'm cheating and know there are three other books which I, of course, am going to immediately read. For those actual young adults, the story is straightforward and hits on the themes of the human spirit and liberty. For the adults who haven't lost the desire to read books about running away and being the lone person standing up against the world, you can find yourself in this story as you try to escape - The Tripods!

Final Grade - B ( )
  agentx216 | Aug 27, 2023 |
Written for a younger audience than I was expecting, this is a good introduction to a range of dystopian and sci-fi concepts, with a pleasantly anti-authoritarian bent. I wish I'd known about these when I was younger.

The protagonist is a bit of a whiny brat, but many kids are, and I'm sure it'll be a coming of age story in which he stops being so useless by the end of the third book.

It is a little light on incident, and I could see how some would find it boring, but it's a charming little adventure so far. ( )
  3Oranges | Jun 24, 2023 |
This was more about the characters relationships that I remember. I liked that Will has to pair up with his enemy, and then the dynamic when there are three of them. Also like the use of language and learn some new words like murrain and hard for paved shoreline for beaching boats. ( )
  Castinet | Dec 10, 2022 |
One of the books that got me hooked onto science fiction when I was a young teenager
  Monty_Grover | Oct 18, 2022 |
review of
John Christopher's The White Mountains
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 30, 2020

I've mentioned before that H.G.Wells was an important writer to me as a young'un. His The Time Machine was particularly important but so was his The War of the Worlds. I've also mentioned that as a young teenager I had a picture of Wells & spouse sitting naked on the back porch of a cabin, presumably at a nudist camp. They were both a bit flabby, H.G. was wearing light-colored socks (probably white but the picture was black & white so I don't know) & sandals. I probably got that picture by picking it up at the side of a rural road where I lived, presumably left there torn out of a magazine, by a pervert possibly hoping to get somebody or another worked up. I was already a nudist so it just appealed to me that Wells was too. The point relevant to this review being that Wells established a mood of what one might call British 'pastoral' SciFi that I was very fond of. Tolkein's The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings trilogy & other things I was reading at the time did roughly the same thing in other genres. In other words, within a somewhat placid setting, some more or less honest simple folks are confronted w/ a hero's task & perform it staying true to their integrity &/or improving as a result of their hero's journey. What can I say? I'm a sucker for such a narrative, one so basic to my own ethical core.

The White Mountains fits right in, this is even the 1st book of a trilogy, like the The Lord of the Rings (but not as epic) & Gormenghast (another epic favorite), it's British & the setting is rural. It even seems to be targetted to a young adult readership, a demographic I generally avoid.

The 1st chapter is called "Capping Day", the meaning of wch is to become clear over time, the reader is just left to deduce that Capping Day is a sort of coming-of-age ceremony time. The 1st paragraph sets the setting:

"Apart from the one in the church tower, there were five clocks in the village that kept reasonable time, and my father owned one of them. It stood on the mantlepiece in the parlor, and every night before he went to bed he took the key from a vase and wound it up. Once a year the clockman came from Winchester, on an old jogging pack horse, to clean and oil it and put it right." - p 1

This identifies the human environment as being apparently without electricity. That's further developed:

6,600 VOLTS

"We had no idea what Volts had been, but the notion of danger, however far away and long ago, was exciting. There was more lettering, but for the most part the rust had destroyed it:

"LECT CITY" - p 9

Jack is a close friend of the main character, Will Parker. Will's life, despite our non-knowledge of what "capping" is, seems prosaic enough.

"Jack had always been around. It was strange, I thought, as we walked toward the village, that in just over a week's time I would be on my own. The Capping would have taken place, and Jack would be a boy no longer." - p 9

Christopher's writerly strategy is to put the reader in the midst of his environment & to gradually explain dribs & drabs of it as one might have them revealed if one lived there.

"What was known, though not discussed, was that the Vagrants were people for whom the Capping had proved a failure. They had caps, as normal people did, but they were not working properly. If this were going to happen, it usually showed itself in the first day or two following a Capping: the person who had been Capped showed distress, which increased as the days went by, turning at last into a fever of the brain. In this state they were clearly in much pain." - p 12

However, the Vagrants aren't always what they seem. Here's what one of them said to Will:

""I am the king of this land. My wife was the queen of a rainy country, but I left her weeping. My name is Ozymandias. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."" - p 24

"In antiquity, Ozymandias (Ὀσυμανδύας) was a Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II." - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozymandias

A related quote from the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem entitled "Ozymandias" is as follows:

"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
- https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46565/ozymandias

Horace Smith's poem of the same title is less related.

It would seem that the Vagrant might not just be free-associating or senselessly ranting.

""You are not a Vagrant!"

"He smiled. "It depends what meaning you give that word. I go from place to place, as you see. And I behave strangely."

""But to deceive people, not because you cannot help it. Your mind has not been changed."

""No. Not as the minds of the Vagrants are. Nor as your cousin Jack's was, either."

""But you have been Capped!"

"He touched the mesh of metal under his thatch of red hair.

""Agreed. But not by the Tripods. By men—free men."" - p 33

The Tripods! In Christopher's story the tripods that invaded Earth in Wells' The War of the Worlds have won. But the history of this invasion & the victory by the Martians has been forgotten by the Earthlings. Compare Wells' description of his protagonist seeing these tripods for the 1st time:

"And this Thing I saw! How can I describe it? A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder." - H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

This remaking or augmenting of Wells must be a 'thing' because I'd previously read Stephen Baxter's The Time Ships in which he changed Wells' The Time Machine. I admit to thoroughly enjoying both reworkings.

"["]And it may be that the Tripods came, in the first place, from one of those worlds. It may be that the Tripods themselves are only vehicles for creatures who travel inside them. We have never seen the inside of a Tripod, so we do not know."

""And the Caps?"

""Are the means by which they keep men docile and obedient to them."" - p 34

Now, I'm not giving too much away, we're only 34 pages into the novel so a reader would learn this fairly quickly.

Will has the misfortune to be captured by someone whose intent is to shanghai him.

""Now then, no trouble. Save your strength for the Black Swan."" - p 61

Me being the kindof guy that I am I decided that since I had 2 DVDs of movies laying around named "Black Swan" I might as well watch the one that this reference was to, the 1942 pirate movie (&/or to Sabatini's book that the movie was based on) directed by Henry King & starring Tyrone Power & Maureen O'Hara, AND the one that has nothing to do with Christopher's reference, Darren Aronofsky's 2010 movie about ballet. WTF? Can't be too thorough.

The successful conquering of Earth by the invaders in the Tripods has resulted in humanity's technological knowledge being dramatically set back. As our heroes, Will & friends, travel thru ruins they find cars w/o knowing them. One particularly clever human, however, is capable of surmising.

"He said, "Places for men to sit. And wheels. So, a carriage of some nature."

"Henry said, "It can't be. There's nowhere to harness the horse. Unless the shafts have rusted away."

""No," Beanpole said. "They are all the same. Look."

"I said. "Perhaps they were huts, for people to rest in when they were tired of walking."

""With wheels?" Beanpole asked. "No. They were carriages without horses. I am sure."" - p 86

If the word "car" is believed to originate from Latin carrus/carrum "wheeled vehicle" we could play with it a bit & say that since a car is a horseless carriage that, therefore, removing riage from carriage is what signifies its horselessness & that, therefore, horse = riage. Hence a marriage is a marred horse. Or something.

Alas, that enables me to make a joke about the doomed romance between Will & Eloise.

""When the tournament is over, the Queen goes to serve the Tripods. It is always done."

"I said stupidly, "Serve them where?"

""In their city."

""But for how long?"

""I have told you. Forever."" - p 147

Will was expecting to marry her. Instead she'll become a work horse of sorts. That's the only marriage that'll come out of this mess.

  tENTATIVELY | Apr 3, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Christopherprimary authorall editionscalculated
Burleson, JoeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hildebrandt, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hollander, LisaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Petrov, AntonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Jessica : this, and the rest, with love
First words
Apart from the one in the church tower, there were five clocks in the village that kept reasonable time, and my father owned one of them.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Young Will Parker and his companions make a perilous journey toward an outpost of freedom where they hope to escape from the ruling Tripods, who capture mature human beings and make them docile, obedient servants.

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Book description
This book is purely science fiction and is a great read for middle schoolers.  The book is about a trio of boys who escape their communities to avoid capping.  Capping is when they are made to be docile and obedient to Masters, an unknown controller.  This is a perfect book to get kids, especially boys since all three main characters are boys, into science fiction.  This is a great book to teach in English classes as the story and structure is strong enough to do analytical reading.  Here is the link to his obituary , who died earlier this year, for kids to read: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/...
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