Plot: The tripods arrived about a hundred years ago. Some say that they came from outer space, other claim that they were invented by humans and turned on them. Either way, they currently rule over humanity. They consolidate control over the minds of men by “capping” them. When a person grows old enough, perhaps around their 14th birthday, they are taken into a tripod and a net of metal is enmeshed into their flesh.
Will Parker is an adolescent on the cusp of this rite of passage. The village in which Will lives, however, is altogether ignorant of the deleterious effects of the caps. It is but a way of life for them. As the date approaches, he receives information from a drifter that the caps are mind control devices. But there is hope. A group of people live in the White Mountains, far to the south. These people are uncapped, live in freedom, and fight against the tripods.
Stealing away from home, Will is determined to make it to the White Mountains. His cousin Henry Parker joins him and together the boys travel at night to avoid detection. Along the way they encounter clues as to the history of the tripods and how best to destroy them.
Personal Reaction: John Christopher’s death last year prompted me to revisit this book. I was perhaps 10 years old the last time that I read it. I loved it then and I still enjoy it 20 some years later. I love the juxtaposition of the low-tech feudal world that Will inhabits and the high tech tripods. It is a classic underdog, David vs. Goliath tale.
One troubling spot for me as a reader was an abrupt shift in the plot that occurs about halfway through the book. The boys are taken in by a Comte and Comtesse and taken to La Chateau de la Tour Rouge, essentially a tower and surrounding structures for knights and servants. What follows are scenes of high Medieval times reminiscent of something out of King Arthur. It lasts for a chapter or so and then our boys on their way again, dodging tripods and trying to make it to the White Mountains. The scenes are engaging, but they felt disjointed to me and seemed almost to exist as filler. Perhaps Christopher is merely laying groundwork for future plot points farther into the series.
Themes: dystopian future, mind control, free will, individual vs. society, side effects of technology, aliens