These books are precious to me. But not the type of precious that requires a little hobbit to come along to my lair in my misty mountain hideout and steal them away, take them across some deserts and throw them into some smoking volcanic mountain. No these are precious for childhood reasons.
I first discovered the pleasure of reading through the power of the Chronicles of Narnia. My mother had a small bookshelf on which was kept all her favourite childhood books and as I learnt to read those were the first books which interested me. After all before I could read I was drawn to fairytales, dragons, monsters and above all dinosaurs. It seemed that the mysterious, the unknown and the alien were part of my flights of fancy. Talking beasts were merely my next step.
I moved from Narnia to other classics. I devoured Little Women (and its phrases like that that remind me why I must always be careful with cases), Lord of the Rings and Peter Pan. I even believe I read some Judy Blume so careless was I in what I read. I just read anything that was around the house then. And that was when I stumbled on an old paperback that had been creased and darkened with age.
The paperback had the kind of old pulpy image that on a shelf of modern fancy book covers sticks out like a sore thumb and says 'I have a boring cover do not read' (okay sure a book is not at all like its cover but the cover conveys a lot to the reader). So I read the blurb and looked at the fact that the book had obviously been loved and read many times. I asked my mum about it and she told me that yes The White Mountains was a very good book.
So I decided to read it then and there on the prompting of my mum's advice. And I was certainly glad I did.
To any modern reader of science fiction the premise would seem dated and old fashioned. But this was one of the forerunners of the clichés, this was a creator of clichés. And when I read it (when I still read it) it was as accessible then as it likely had been when it was first released. Perhaps it lacked the poise of say War of the Worlds and the beauty of its language but it was a heap of fun to read. It was also most certainly a novel aimed at the younger generation but also readable for the older generation.
The White Mountains follows the adventures of a boy (I forget his name in all honesty) in a society dominated by the godlike tripods. These metallic creatures come around and 'cap' a boy once he reaches the age he will become a man. When this 'capping' happens a metal plate is put into the boy's head and his entire personality changes. And so the main protagonist discovers that he is a boy nearing the capping age in a world where all men are capped and he is afraid. Until he discovers one man who is free and who tells him a tale of the White Mountains and of the tripods who dominate mankind. And so the protagonist heads off to these mythical mountains in order to be free.
Ultimately this is a fun novel which I personally preferred and still prefer to the War of the Worlds for its plot. Certainly War of the Worlds is more sterilised and more prim, proper and literary powerful - not lacking in purple prose. Yet in opposition The White Mountains and the ensuing books in the trilogy is in my opinion far more down to earth and as a result more human. In that regard it does not act in a condescending manner to its audience but rather reminds them of the struggles we all face in life and so we join in celebrating how a courageous and very human protagonist struggles against mighty powers far greater than himself.