The Tripods

From Academic Kids

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Tripods title, one of the very first computer-generated titles

The Tripods is series of books written by John Christopher (alias for Samuel Youd) in the late 1960s which were also filmed as a science fiction TV-series, produced in the UK.

The story of the Tripods is post-apocalyptic: Humanity has fallen into an age of social stagnation, with technology in decay, and the population living in a society reminiscent of the 1700s, or even the Middle Ages. The humans live in total, na´ve and ecstatic adoration of the "Tripods", huge metallic-looking alien creatures, which they see as their saviours. They are kept under thought control from the age of 15 by brain implants called "caps", which leave them with a life of modesty and serenity by preventing curiosity and creativity, not to mention any traces of dissent.



The White Mountains (1967)

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A mind-controlling cap

The story begins in a small village in England. Will, the narrator, is a few months short of the time when he will be "capped". His cousin, Henry, is of a similar age. Feeling uncomfortable with the idea of losing their creativity, the two follow the advice of a mysterious vagrant who goes by the name of "Ozymandias", and undertake a long journey to some mysterious "White Mountains" (actually, the Mont Blanc, literally translated from the French). After crossing the Channel, they join forces with a young, inventive French boy, Jean-Paul (his name is Anglicized by the narrator as "Beanpole" and he is so referred to for the rest of the series), and head for the Alpine region. The boys go through the remains of Paris, abandoned and ravaged by some ancient war, and finally arrive to the General Quarters of the human resistance, having while en route, and mostly by sheer luck, destroyed a Tripod.

The City of Gold and Lead (1967)

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The City of Gold and Lead

The Resistance charges Will, Beanpole and a young German boy, Fritz, to infiltrate a Tripod city by competing in a sporting exhibition in which the winners of the events are to be offered to the Tripods "for service". Will, a boxer, and Fritz, a runner, win their respective contests, and are taken by a Tripod, which they discover to be a machine. The Tripod travels to the Tripod city, which is located in a sealed, pressurized dome which sits astride a river (presumably the Danube) somewhere in eastern Europe. Inside the city, the boys are confronted with the actual Aliens, which call themselves the Masters: three-legged, one-eyed, toxic gas breathing creatures from a planet which has a stronger gravitational field and a hotter ambient temperature, conditions re-created inside the city (hence the name of the book). The boys are treated as slaves and pets, but since the Masters are unaware that the boys are false-capped, they never consider the possibility of hostile behaviour. Thus the boys are able to spy unobtrusively on a significant portion of the city, and Will is able to develop an emotional bond with his Master that results in him learning that the stakes of the mission are much higher than anyone had foreseen: the Masters have initiated a project to replace the Earth's atmosphere with their own in preparation to colonize the planet, which will obliterate the human race in the process. The spaceship which carries the processing equipment is already on its way, and is due in a few years. Eventually Will's true status is discovered by his Master, but Will kills him and is able to flee the city.

The Pool of Fire (1968)

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A Tripod entering a City

Will returns to the headquarters of the Resistance, which has significantly grown and joined with similar movements in Asia and America. Will and his companions undertake tasks aimed at the destruction of the three alien cities which control all the caps and tripods on Earth. The first of these is the ambush of a Tripod and capture of a living specimen. Having discovered that alcohol has a very strong soporific effect on the Masters, the Resistance schedules simultaneous commando attacks on the cities. Will is one of the leaders of the attack on the European city. By introducing alcohol into the city water system, the raiding party is able to incapacitate all of the Masters and ultimately to destroy the integrity of the City's sealed environment, killing all the Masters. The attack on the second city, in eastern Asia, is likewise successful, but the attack on the last city, in Panama, is not. After aerial bombing attempts fail, because the Masters can disable motors from a distance, the third city in eventually destroyed in a kamikaze balloon attack. Technology is rediscovered at a vertiginous rate, and the Masters' spaceship finally arrives, only to launch nuclear devices which destroy the remains of the Cities, presumably to prevent the humans from reverse engineering the Masters' technology and using it to launch a retaliatory expedition against them. Humanity is saved, but the saga ends with the rebirth of nationalist sentiments. The reader is invited by Will's musings to wonder whether humans would have been better off with the Tripods in place after all.

When the Tripods Came (1988)

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When the Tripods Came is actually a prequel written twenty years after the publication of the original "trilogy", allegedly because science fiction author Brian Aldiss questioned the story of The Masters being able to overcome 20th century technology.

We learn that the Masters were afraid of the technological potential of Humanity and decided on a preemptive strike. Unable to defeat Humanity in a conventional war, the Masters use their superior mind-control technology to enslave part of Humanity through television, and rises factions against each other. They eventually land and use the caps to intellectually castrate the survivors.

Comic Books

Multiple adaptations to comic books form have been done, including one in the BBC Magazine, and one in Boys' Life magazine which was illustrated by Frank Bolle.

TV Series

Season one of the Tripods covers the first book, The White Mountains, and the second season covers The City of Gold and Lead. The project was cancelled before the third season went into production. The first season is available on DVD whereas the second is not, and hopes that it will become available in the future have faded.

The series features one of the very first computer-generated credits, as well as the very remarkable soundtrack by Ken Freeman. It can be noted that the series introduce several minor changes from the book, notably the shape of the Masters and Tripods, which have no tentacles; the introduction of "cognoscents", spiritual life-forms vastly superior to the Masters themelves; and more interesting main characters, notably on the sexual respect. The series is also notable for featuring outright non-humanoid aliens, which was uncommon at the time.

All the photographs on this page are taken from the BBC series.

A film adaptation was announced by Touchstone Pictures, to be directed by Gregor Jordan slated for release in 2007.

See also

External links


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