McNichol: The Tripods Attack!

March 10, 2009

The Tripods Attack!
John McNichol (Sophia Institute, 2007)
367 p.  First reading.

T   H   E   Y   A   R   E   C   O   M   I   N   G

Since I began to maintain a hebdomadal blog devoted to Chesterton I have felt a certain obligation to explore Chestertoniana wherever I discover it.  When I heard, therefore, about this book, the first volume in a new series called The Young Chesterton Chronicles, I ordered it.  (For some reason, which I cannot now explain, I thought it was a comic book, and I ordered it with a certain youthful nostalgia for the days when I collected comics.  When it arrived, though, I found that my expectations were wrong; it is a full-fledged novel.)

The premise of the book, and presumably also of the series, is appealing.  It takes place in an alternate universe at a time around the end of the nineteenth century.  In this world, the United States did not form, and America is divided into several different countries.  Technology has followed a different time line than in our history: trains are steam-driven, electric lights are a novelty, yet many machines make use of analytical engines that run on punch-cards.  The young G.K. Chesterton is a teenager of fifteen or sixteen.  The real Chesterton was English to his bones, but this Chesterton is a displaced American (from Minnesota) living and working in London as the story opens.

When young Chesterton is suddenly pulled out of his menial job in a newsroom — due to a processing error in a punch-card machine, we are led to believe — and asked to investigate several mysterious meteorite sightings in the English countryside, he cannot anticipate what he is getting into.  These meteorites, it turns out, are actually Martian landers, and giant tripods, straight out of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, stalk the countryside, laying it waste.  This homage to Wells is witty, for as Chesterton scrambles for safety, he falls in with a small group who will be his adventuring companions for the rest of the story, and one of them is a young Herb G. Wells.  They are also joined by a quiet, observant, round-faced priest named — surprise, surprise — Father Brown.  Their little entourage is rounded out by a mysterious character called “the Doctor”, who seems to know more than he should about these alien invaders. . .

It is an adventure story, then, with a science fiction frame.  The intended audience is probably teenaged boys, but I enjoyed reading it nonetheless, for it is well-written and the story is exciting.  I will keep an eye out for subsequent volumes in the series.

In what way is the Chesterton of this novel related to the real Chesterton?  There are certain similarities: his bantering friendship with Herb Wells mirrors the historical friendship of Chesterton and Wells, for instance.  Yet this young Chesterton does not really embody the Chestertonian spirit — the love of life, the wit and literary gift, the passion for paradox, the deep Englishness.  Perhaps McNichol intends to develop that character in later volumes.  For now, what we learn of the real Chesterton comes mainly from the brief quotes from his books that preface each chapter.  Maybe those short readings will provoke young readers to seek out Chesterton’s own body of work.

6 Responses to “McNichol: The Tripods Attack!”

  1. Janet Says:

    That book sounds like a lot of fun. I’ll get it in my spare time. At the moment, I’m thinking that I really ought to START studying for my English mid-term which is in about 24 hours.

    AMDG, Janet

  2. cburrell Says:

    “Fun” is the right word. I should have used it.

    Good luck on your exam!

  3. BrewsterBooster Says:

    …yes, the novel is great fun. McNichol is, BTW, a Toronto native currently living in the United States. A friend-of-a-friend of mine said she knew him back when they were in Students for Life together, picketing the Morgantaler clinics in the 80s.

    Seeing how most of his readers would be American (Sophia, who have published Tripods and other contemporary Catholic-oriented youth fiction is an American publishing house, IIRC), it made sense to me that he’d set Gilbert in an alternate timeline & transplanted into the USA, with an American spin on GKCs perspective and upbringing.

    To his credit, McNichol said on another blog somewhere that his biggest goal with the novel was to inspire younger readers to investigate GKC for themselves, or perhaps inspire other potential Catholic writers to take a jump into publishing similar themed fiction.

  4. cburrell Says:

    Thanks for filling in that background. I hope that the book has sold well enough to warrant publishing another volume.

    • BrewsterBooster Says:

      Hi! Cleaning up emails, and saw this older bit.

      Good news! The sequel to Tripods is out! It’s called “The Emperor of North America.” Gilbert goes to America, and fights against a whole bunch of folks, from an aging Huck Finn to the Emperor of North America himself!

      New publisher, called Bezalel books. Critics like it so far, at least on Amazon. I liked it, too.

      You can get it on Amazon, or over at

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