Friday, July 04, 2008

Preparing for the U.K.

To start preparing for my trip to the U.K. to visit my dear friends Billy, Susan and their new and dearest little girl (whom our li'l E has yet even to meet!...), I am starting "at home," so to speak, namely Thomas the Tank Engine.

Our Li'l E has tons of Thomas stuff. Our house is crowded with it. Li'l E loves Thomas OnDemand. He can name every single engine on the island of Sodor.

On all Thomas books, movies and paraphernalia credit is given, "Based upon the works of Rev. W. Awdry."

There is something ominous about the reference to me, because the Reverend Awdry is not really known to me or others in the U.S., like Milne or Barrie might be. Is he real or some strange moral foil?

The Thomas works are remarkably bland, uniquely unimaginative and purposefully pedantic and repetitive -- promoting usefulness over all other virtues. The language is terse and full of strange, onomatopoeic verbs like "chuffing." The trains are always chuffing.

It's O.K., though. I've actually become inured to Thomas and even quite like the Alec Baldwin narrated ones.

Having read a little bit of Orwell and being half-English myself, I figure that, if this Reverend Awdry is real, he has to be English.

So I called the innernetz and found that he is, in fact, real...or was. And he was, in fact, English.

In fact the English are great admirers of both Wilbert Vere Awdry, OBE, (15 June 1911 – 21 March 1997) and his brother George, pictured here together "chuff, chuff, chuffing along."

Since much is now known about Wilbert, a.k.a. "Rev Awdry" or "the Thin Clergyman," through his collected works and their progeny, the passage below, crafted by Martin Clutterbuck, tells a bit more about his brother George.

The Reverend's younger sibling, George Edward Vere Awdry (1916-1994) made significant contributions to the 'Sudrian' Mythos. Over the decades since the 1950's, George and Wilbert defined (and refined) Sodor's geography, history and industry. This research culminated in 1987 with the publishing of their book (albeit abridged for affordability), The Island of Sodor, Its People, History and Railways.

Aside from being an avid model railway and steam enthusiast, George's interests included being a member of the British Interplanetary Society, for which he authored a paper on the practicalities and challenges of colonizing the moon (you can read it here). George was also a prominent Ricardian which provides me with a perfect introduction to the following...

...Clutterbuck goes on to present an essay by John Saunders on George Edward Vere Awdry's significance. George was a great admirer and proponent of Richard III. He "refounded" the Fellowship of the White Boar. And George composed the aforementioned The Island of Sodor, Its People, History and Railways derived "from the knowledge he gained through his many years working in both the Institute of Mining and the National Liberal Club." An spiral-bound edition of Map Island of Sodor - Reissue is discounted to over $500 on Amazon.

For an interesting essay exploring issues of Class and Gender in Rev. Awdry's works also crafted by Martin R. Clutterbuck click here.

Clutterbuck's treatment deals mainly with Thomas and not Starlight Express, the breakthrough work by Andrew Lloyd Weber that brought together rollerskating and the post-modern musical extravaganza.

There is a debate as to whether Lloyd Weber was inspired by the thin clergyman's Railway Series: what is suspected cannot be confirmed.

Now, I know absolutely nothing at all about Starlight Express except for the fact that it came out when I was younger and that it was acknowledged to be an overproduced failure. Perhaps it was ahead of its time...

...ahead of its time in exploring cyborg-based sexuality, a thing for which Lang's Metropolis is often given credit. The question may be how aware was Lloyd Weber when he made his lusty ladies of lead? His useful engines?

And is it just irony that Starlight Express seems only to live on in Germany and under the enduring tag line "Timing, Prazision und Perfection"?

This is not a joke, people. Some authorities claim that Humans could marry robots within the century. And consummate those vows.

Is Awdry's work somehow a liminal bridge between the Industrial Revolution and Bladerunner? A day when machines talk and the master-servant relationship is constantly in-flux? A probing explication of the base, psychic interplay of technology and sensuality like J.M.W. Turner's whirling, chuffing ethereal engines to so-called hentai floating through the dismal ether of on-line pornography?

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