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Och, aye! Donald & Douglas have arrived!,
This review is from: The Railway Series No. 15 : The Twin Engines (Classic Thomas the Tank Engine) (Hardcover)
When looking back at the entirety of The Rev W. Awdry's work on his Railway Series, I really can't find fault. His work was simply perfect; his writing, his pacing, his real-life knowledge of railways and the way he could cater successfully to both child & adult readers was nothing short of remarkable. That, plus introducing & establishing his characters one-after-the-next, made for masterful storytelling.
The Twin Engines (No. 15 in the Railway Series) is another classic example, and also demonstrates Awdry developing his skills as a writer. Whereas previous volumes featured self-contained exploits of the Sodor engines (showcasing their versatility, usefulness, personalities & learning important lessons), The Twin Engines continued the (then) latest trend of Awdry's important story-arcs, with major-stakes, fine-plotting and all-the-more reason to care for these extraordinary steam engines.
At the time of The Twin Engines (first published in 1960!), life on the Island of Sodor is busier than ever, with the Fat Controller's railway growing from strength-to-strength. Not only has the increased trade & imports resulted in more goods work, but more tourists are visiting the Island too. With all the engines overworked, the Fat Controller orders a good engine from Scotland to help.
He's amazed (yet not impressed) to receive TWO engines instead! To complicate matters, Donald & Douglas are IDENTICAL twins who've BOTH lost their numbers! Despite the twins' feigning innocence, the Fat Controller immediately realizes that the Scottish engines are up-to-something, and he vows to find out what, and deal with it accordingly.
Immediately, the Rev W. Awdry scored points with the introduction of Donald & Douglas. Like Thomas, Edward, Gordon & all the characters who came before them, the Scottish Twins were infused with bags of charm and personality. You simply cannot dislike this wonderful pair, with both of them being jokers, yet also hard, reliable workers, friends to all-in-need and true loyalists to each other & the Fat Controller.
Aside from being colourful characters & well-written, Donald & Douglas's tale is one that's infused with great intrigue right from the get-go, ultimately becoming a plot of emotional high-stakes, misfortune & family. At the time this book was first published, British Railways were scrapping steam engines in favour of the diesel age. Awdry creatively alluded to this real-life threat as a genuine danger for the twins here, providing them with a deep rooted fear of scrapping, and a desperation to escape to the Fat Controller's railway. Neither Donald or Douglas wanted to be without the other, and their `accidental' joint-arrival to Sodor is soon revealed as a trial for their own survival. It's all-so clever & subtly done, and made perfectly understandable for kids & grown-ups alike.
After their excellent introduction in "Hullo, Twins!", Donald & Douglas (and their story) continue to be brilliantly developed in "The Missing Coach" (a tale which was understandably, yet unfortunately dropped from TV Adaptation) and "Break Van", which sees them both shine as characters, as they stand-up for each other, befriend the other engines and befall all manner of obstacles & bad luck which threatens their chances for a happy ending. As with the rest of Awdry's works, The Twin Engines is just an impeccable piece of literature, with the clarity of it all shining through, and by the time you read "The Deputation", the experience concludes with a real uplifting finale that sees all the Fat Controller's engines determined to have the Scottish Twins as a permanent part of the family.
And like any other artist in the Railway Series, the late John T. Kenney's illustrations are just beautiful. Kenney's style and flair for technical detail & realism were a perfect fit for this portion (books 12 to 17) of Awdry's Thomas stories, and the artwork is just as fab to look at today as it was when it was first published. This is simply a timeless volume in a timeless children's series.
The Twin Engines is (like the rest of the Railway Series) distinctive and essential. Donald & Douglas (like all the other Thomas characters) have only grown in prominence as time's gone on, but their debut still stands as their finest outing. Yet another perfect little book for fans of trains & literature. Suitable for all ages.