The White Mountains by John Christopher (1922 – 2012) was first published in 1967 and is the first in the Tripods series written by Christopher. There are four small books in the series, which was written as juvenile fiction or young adult fiction. My copy has 195 pages and they are fast-turning pages.
The story takes place in a sort of pseudo-post-apocalyptic timeline. The reader is kept in the dark regarding the past history, just like the main character, Will Parker. Humanity is under the guardianship/control of the Tripods. In one sense they are distant masters because they do not seem to play an active role in the daily life of humans, but in another sense, via the “caps” that humans are forced to wear, they are in absolute direct contact with humanity. Based on Will Parker’s narrative, the reader learns that various artefacts remain from a previous time that show humanity has backslid from technological advances. Will’s father possesses a wristwatch that particularly fascinates Will.
Chance brings a falsely-capped man through Will’s town of Wherton. Wherton is basically a rural community that keeps itself fairly isolated. This falsely-capped man shares a number of insights with Will that leads Will to understand “capping” as no more than enslavement. Luckily, the man also tells Will about the White Mountains – a land far away in which men live free and independent without the control of the Tripods. Will realizes that knowing what he knows (though, at this point, its just the belief in what the man has told him) he can no longer remain in Wherton. Will’s adventure begins as he departs the only life he has ever known in search of the White Mountains.
Overall, this is quite an interesting novel. A variety of challenges and adventures for the characters to overcome. I enjoyed it and I think that if I had read it as a youth, I would have enjoyed it a great deal more. I particularly liked how the young characters in the novel were intrepid and resourceful. They were not perfect and they made choices that might seem reckless or foolish under the light of a mature wisdom, but for teenagers, the choices seem legit. It is important to remember that these characters are teenagers – I think the main character can become infuriatingly annoying and toxic at times, but especially so when the reader forgets that Will is but a teenager from a rural community. So, sometimes he can seem impulsive, stubborn, and petty.
The most unsatisfying part of this novel is that Christopher shies away from giving the reader much information. There is a sparsity of information in the novel that is somewhat off-putting. It is perfectly fine to limit the perspective of the world to the perceptions of three young boys on an adventure, but at the same time, the novel lacks any answers or definitiveness that embeds the reader into the storyline or setting. The ending is particularly weak; it is a bit of hand-waving vagueness and the reader just sort of accepts that things were manageable for the boys from that point on. Somehow. No details, of course. Just the understanding that their adventure had rather ended.
I will read the rest of the series eventually, they are very short books so this should not be an issue. I am glad I read this one, the writing is smooth and suits the story. I think a lot of readers today will be impatient with this sort of writing/novel.