For any fans of Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines quartet with an iota of respect for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (the extended versions of course), the news of the upcoming film adaption of the former by the director of the latter will be very, very exciting. After a gap of several years, I re-read the books quite recently, and was absolutely blown away. I had them marked down as teenage books, but coming across them again as an adult (albeit a young one), I found the stories had a depth and force that belied their association in my head with younger readers.
The story is set several thousand years in the future, after extended nuclear war. The physical geography has changed as a result of the conflict. America is a frozen wasteland, the Atlantic Ocean is dry, and a vast wall of mountains separate Asia from Europe and the Middle East. Cities in the latter areas have evolved into mobile monstrosities that go around on huge caterpillar tracks ‘eating’ smaller towns and settlements that scurry in their vast wakes. The magic of these books is the way the yawning stretches of time separates this strange new present from the irretrievable, mythologised and enigmatic past. America is referred to as a great empire with strange gods, and here and there tiny fragments of evidence like broken CD’s show up, and there are dark technological hangovers rediscovered. The characters’ explanations for these things are half-formed and ill-understood, but as the actual plot unfolds, a backstory emerges of how the arrogance and power of this ancient, forgotten civilisation got the better of it and plunged Earth into an irreversibly destructive war that waged for hundreds of years.
It’s a trip reading these books, and the inventiveness of Reeve’s saga is definitely substantial enough to grip younger and older readers alike. They really make you think about the actual present as well: the potential threat of nuclear annihilation, the destructive power of industrialised cities and how little we really know (if we’re being honest) about the past.
I always thought an animated TV series of the Mortal Engines books in the style of the cover illustrations would have done them the most justice, but I’m definitely happy that Peter Jackson is bring them to the big screen. The only worry comes from the tragedy that was the second half of the second, and all of the third, The Hobbit movies. That’s a post for another time, but I have a lot invested in these films, and am really hoping they live up to the books. Maybe Jackson won’t be so interested in maximising profit (The Hobbit trilogy made around $3 billion) and will be a bit more faithful to the original material.