Review first published 11/01/2012
Following a visit by some gentlemen who take their father away under mysterious circumstances, three children – Bobbie, Phyllis and Peter – along with their mother move to a countryside cottage.
Once there, the children experience a whole host of adventures which surround the local railway, including a Russian exile and a landslide, and the friends they make there including Mr Perks, the station porter, and the friendly “Old Gentleman”.
The film version of The Railway Children is one of those staples of British cinema which usually gets shown on Bank Holidays and has enough within it to cheer even the unhappiest person up.
After seeing the theatrical production of The Railway Children in London, including a live steam train, I decided to give the original story by E. Nesbit a go. It is, with unadulterated pleasure, that I can say that this was a fantastic book and, in hindsight, it’s a shame that I didn’t decide this book a long time ago.
This story, along with stories such as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe or The Box of Delights, manages to transport the reader back to a less cynical and more innocent age. The three lead characters – Bobbie (although she is also referred to as Roberta), Phyllis and Peter are your typical Edwardian era characters who are brought up with good manners and, looking from today’s perspective, a stilted speaking manner. Don’t let that put you off as they are also naturalistic in the way that they want to have adventures, look after each other, their friends and their mother and, sometimes as in all families, squabble.
They are supported by a whole host of characters who add colour to the novel throughout amongst them the Station Master who befriends them, even though Peter decides to go “mining” for coal, Mr Perks who is the children’s main friend at the station and the initially mysterious but always friendly “Old Gentleman”.
One clever trick that I found with this book, and I imagine it was to partly act as a bridge between incidents and partly to break down what is theatrically known as the “fourth wall”, is that Nesbit directly talks to the reader at points, bordering on holding a one sided conversation and referring to the reader as “you”. This draws the reader in and feeds the imagination along with the prose which is very descriptive and makes you long for summer days to play out in.
If you’ve only seen the film or the play, you’ll find that there are extra scenes in the book to add further depth and characters into the story which do not appear in the film – most notably, a barge fire where the children rescue a baby.
This book is well worthy of the term “classic”, a term that is bandied about quite freely at present. But, if you would like a nice little read which will keep you entertained and transport you back to childhood from beginning to it’s famous climactic ending, this could be a nice little book to pick.