The Tripods Attack!

The Young Chesterton Chronicles Book 1
John McNichol
933 184 265
Imagio Catholic Fiction (Sophia Institute Press)
Young Chesterton Chronicles
Number of pages: 
357 pages
Grade / Age level: 

I don’t much care for science fiction books or movies. One of my brothers loved them, spending every Saturday afternoon watching movies on television, checking out every sci-fi thriller from the library and spending his hard-earned dollars to watch, and re-watch, and re-watch the first Star Wars the summer of 1978. I took a pass on joining him (and to this day, don’t think I’ve ever seen any Star Wars movie all the way through!).

That said, The Tripods Attack by high school English teacher John McNichol, although of the sci-fi genre, was a great read! Set in futuristic late 1800s England, this book is basically a re-telling of H.G. Wells’ classic, War of the Worlds. McNichol recouches this classic from a Catholic view with a young G.K. Chesterton (aged 16) on the brink of embracing the Faith. H.G. Wells (a few years older and worldly-wise) befriends the young Gil and joins in the adventure.

A futuristic London is the opening setting. London is run through the use of “difference engines”, a computer system of sorts. The young Chesterton, an orphan in the story, works in the dead-end position (and not too successfully) as a punch-card maker, ensuring that the punch cards for the difference engines are punched properly. Suddenly, he is called to the Undersecretary of Operations, made a reporter for the company-owned London Times, and off on an adventure to Woking, England (the same town that H.G. Wells later uses in his War of the Worlds book).

On the way to Woking, Gil meets and is befriended by worldly-wise, 20-year-old, Herb Wells, a reporter for a rival paper. The young men are off to investigate strange happenings in Woking: the arrival of pulsing cylinders that are wreaking havoc on this London suburb. In Woking, Chesterton also meets Father Brown, a 60-year-old Catholic priest, and “the Doctor” who seems to know more about what’s going on than anyone else.

Superficially, the book is a sci-fi adventure race to rid England of the strange beings, a group of Martians who are angry! Added to this is the fictional mystery of Chesterton’s parentage and the apparent connection between his parents, the Doctor and the aliens. This plot makes for a rousing good story line for middle-school or high school readers.

However, on a deeper level, this book is young Chesterton's internal-debate between the secular world-view and modern attitudes of Wells and the Catholic world-view and morality of the priest. Wells and the Doctor spout platitudes and arguments trying to convince Chesterton that religion is silly, there is no God, and that the only thing to rely on is self. Further, that truth is what we experience and therefore different for each and every one of us. Father Brown, on the other hand, explains that God is love, that truth is Truth, and that sacrifice and love are the strongest tools for combating evil.

I liked this book on both levels. The sci-fi story-telling level is so improbable as to just be pure fun; well-written and well-plotted add to the pleasure of the reading. The philosophical level, the eternal debate between secular and faith world-views, is clever and a great example of apologetics. The scene where Gilbert and the Doctor are debating the morality of killing babies and the science-is-the-answer versus faith arguments is amazing!

I also liked that the author throws in bits of fact and fiction from literature – for instance there is a comment that a boy named Bartleby has just been made a scribe for the Company (a reference to Dickens’ short story, “Bartleby the Scrivner”). Even the use of a country-parish priest, unassuming in all but his statements and actions, named Father Brown is a great tool; Father Brown is the detective in the real Chesterton’s famous series. The obvious links to Wells’ classic are also interesting – twisting Wells’ anti-religious original into a great book about Catholic apologetics!

One thing I would have to say – don’t read the back-cover information. It’s misleading and inaccurate and doesn’t do justice to the finely tuned tale that McNichol has crafted!

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