Reading & Literacy

The End of the Tripods, and of Author John Christopher

By Ross Brenneman — February 10, 2012 1 min read
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For those who knew “when the tripods came,” the Feb. 3 death of English author John Christopher hurt. Christopher, born Samuel Youd, was a prolific science fiction writer, penning over 50 books and several trilogies. He passed away at the age of 89.

While Christopher gained popularity with The Death of Grass in 1956, most kids would come to know him best from the Tripods trilogy, about an alien race that enslaves humankind sometime at the end of the 20th century. (Hopefully NASA is still on the lookout.) A young boy named Will, knowing no other life than one under Tripod control, stumbles upon a group of freedom fighters, whereupon adventures naturally ensue.

I read the first book in the trilogy, The White Mountains, due to a sixth-grade mandate. Our teacher narrated a lot of it out loud, which probably didn’t do much to advance our literacy, but he had oratorical skills made for books-on-tape, so no one really minded.

Until this point, the depth of my sci-fi reading was Animorphs (kids turn into animals to fight mind-control alien slugs led by a centaur-scorpion hybrid—really neat stuff!); that we got to experience sci-fi as part of the curriculum, though, was something out of this world.


When we finished the first book, I went out, bought the next two, and read them on my own. It was like reading was fun!

My public school district, probably like many others, didn’t put too much science-fiction in the curriculum. This, despite the commercial tastes of society: the excellent Charles Dickens might recently have celebrated his 200th birthday, but according to, six of the 10 highest grossing films in the U.S. are science fiction: Avatar, The Dark Knight, Star Wars, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Star Wars: Episode I, and Spider-Man. It’s not until you get to spot #24 on the list that a movie adapted from common school literature appears on the list, and that’s only if you count The Lion King as a faithful representation of Hamlet. (Although Timon and Pumbaa fared much better than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.)

So as an avid fan, I hope that when April 16, 2122, rolls around, we’re celebrating the 200th birthday of John Christopher. Unless, of course, the tripods were just a little late.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.