The Three Railway Engines by Rev. W. Awdry
This is the very first title in the popular Railway Series and was originally published in 1945. There are 42 titles in the series, 26 of which were written by Rev. W. Awdry and a further 16 which were written by his son, Christopher.
Nearly all the stories within The Railway Series books were based on real-life events. Rev. Awdry was a lifelong railway enthusiast and he was keen that his stories should be as realistic as possible. The engine characters were generally based on real classes of locomotives and some of the railways were based upon real railway lines within the British Isles.
The first book in the series contains four short stories, the first of which is “Edward’s Day Out”. This story tells about Edward the Blue Engine who is allowed out of the shed for a day. The second story, “Edward and Gordon”, is again about Edward but also introduces Gordon the Big Engine. (Gordon was named after a child living on the same road who Christopher considered to be rather bossy!) Interestingly, the third story, “The Sad Story of Henry”, is based on a limerick of unknown origin and of which Christopher was rather fond:
Once, an engine attached to a train
Was afraid of a few drops of rain
It went into a tunnel,
And squeaked through its funnel
And never came out again.
This story introduces the popular characters Henry the Green Engine and the Fat Director (later called Fat Controller).
The fourth story, “Edward, Gordon and Henry” was specifically requested by the head of the children’s book division of Edmund Ward Publishers to bring the three engines together and thus redeem Henry, who in a previous story had been bricked up in a tunnel! Awdry had not actually intended that the three engines live on the same railway, but he did comply with this request.
I am always amazed at how much knowledge is acquired and required in the day to day running of a children’s book department in a second-hand bookshop. Until this book came into stock in November 2020 I did not realise that there were factors that needed to be considered when it came to identifying a true first edition of the book. For instance, the dust-wrapper of the first edition should have a price of 4/- and the character we know so well from The Railway Series “the Fat Controller” should be referred to as “the Fat Director”. This was changed in very early reprints and also, in the 1946 reprint, there was an advert page at the back of the book, so for the true first edition this should not be present. The first edition of this book was illustrated by William Middleton. Awdry was not particularly happy with the way Middleton portrayed the characters and when C. Reginald Dalby became the illustrator of The Railway Series in 1948, he redrew Middleton’s illustrations and it is Dalby’s version that remains in print today.
Of course, everybody knows the very next title in The Railway Series – “Thomas the Tank Engine”. Thomas, the little blue engine, remains extremely popular today with children of all sizes!
Contributed by Maria
Some information gleaned from Wikipedia
(Published 8th Dec 2020)