LETTER: Reading between the railway lines

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The Independent Online
From Mr Barney Jeffries

Sir: I feel I must reply to your attack on my hero Thomas the Tank Engine. As one who has read and re-read the stories many times, I hope I will be able to put you straight on a few points.

You suggest that the morality which Thomas and friends offer is nothing more than Old Testament retribution. In fact, the message is that if you say you are sorry, you will be given "another chance" (and probably end up pulling the special train). This surely represents a New Testament ethic of a loving Fat Controller who forgives all them that truly repent. And there are plenty of rewards for being good: a new coat of paint, the chance to pull the express or, the accolade, a branch line all to yourself.

The Fat Controller is not some distant, unapproachable ruler. He listens to the petitions of the engines (see Thomas and Gordon's alliance in Gordon the Big Engine and Percy's deputation in The Twin Engines). The books also make us re-examine our prejudices; the likes of Daisy and Boco show that diesels are not all bad, and "sinners" can often prove to be heroes.

I can't agree with Thomas Sutcliffe's assertion that "there's no altruism here". Throughout the books, Thomas and friends continually work for the greater good of mankind (or, alternatively, enginekind). Often, the Fat Controller knows nothing of these deeds as the engines, being blessed with free will, make their own decisions. A good example of this is Douglas's heroic rescue of Oliver in Enterprising Engines.

The value system nurtured in my impressionable mind (as a child born the year before Mrs Thatcher came to power) was obviously very different from Mr Sutcliffe's son's. My favourite engine was always Toby the Tram Engine, perfectly content with his one faithful coach, Henrietta, rather than proud possessors of many coaches like Gordon and Henry. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit their own stretch of branch line.

Personally, I would like to wish Thomas and his friends a very happy 50th birthday, and best wishes for the next half century.

Yours faithfully,


West Grinstead,