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The Little People

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The Little People was a story penned by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry for the Church of England Newspaper in 1960, beginning on February 5th in a series of chapters, each published on a Friday (save for Good Friday). It is interesting to note that while the characters are explicitly said to be toys, the layout in which they reside is Awdry's version of Ffarquhar.

Background

Awdry's success with the Railway Series and Our Child Begins to Pray led him to branch out into journalism and begin a long continuing association with the Church of England Newspaper. It was in November 1959 that the newspaper changed hands and Wilbert Awdry received a letter from the Reverend John King who, the following year, was to take over as editor. In it, Reverend King asks whether or not the Reverend Awdry would consider writing something along the lines of the Railway Series for the newspaper, something not necessarily religious. Awdry responded, showing interest, and he discovered to his delight that his story could be serialized in the new "Children's Page". King, informing Awdry that he would be paid three and a half gunieas per story or installment, wrote that "...perhaps a theme quite different from railway engines would commend itself to you." In the event, inspiration came not from railway engines, but from model railway engines.

Plot

A boy named Roger is allowed to help his father operate the model railway in the garden shed. One day, his father has to leave the room and Roger finds himself alone with the railway. He sits, waiting for his father's return, and begins admiring the wonderful layout. The room is warm and cozy, and Roger dozes off. He awakens at the sound of tiny shrill voices, complaining about a train that has stopped in a tunnel. Upon further investigation, Roger finds that the voices are coming from the tiny model people! Mr. Fryer, the stationmaster of Hackenbeck Halt, discovers that the train has stopped, and must enlist the help of the Kneetly family of getting down to the station. Mr. Kneetly claims to have fixed his car with 'a gadget' ("My own invention, too. It'll save us pounds - I'm going to patent it. Just smashing!"), only to have it break down, leaving Mr. Fryer to continue on foot. Meanwhile, a little fat man directs people to push and pull the train, but Roger gets so excited, he commands the people himself ("One, Two, Three, HEAVE!")! The little people, terribly frightened by Roger's loud voice, scatter away in fear. The little fat man attempts to explain away the voice as "an explosion" - however, he and his atomic friends must enlist the help of Roger when they discover that the train has been stopped by a gang of crooks, attempting to rob a famous jeweller on the train. The ventilating shaft of the tunnel is used as an escape route, and the Ffarquhar Branch bog is used as a hiding place for the valuable gems. Aided by Roger, the little people successfully frustrate the dastardly plans of the villains and order is restored - only seconds before Roger's father comes back into the shed.

Trivia

  • The story has multiple references to the Railway Series and Awdry's layouts. The 'little fat man' seems to be based on Sir Topham Hatt, while the locomotive stuck in the tunnel echoes the events of The Three Railway Engines.
  • When the story was completed, there was talk of Wilbert revising the story so that it might be published in book form by Edmund Ward. Managing Director Stanley Pickard even considered introducing an unusual form of illustration - photographs of Awdry's toy figures posed as the scene dictated, which would be drawn over! Unfortunately, the story remained locked away in the yellowing pages of the Church of England Newspaper, never to see any further glory, unlike the Reverend's other stories.

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