Art Interlude: The White Mountains by John Christopher

As I’ve discussed before, many science fiction works don’t have a long shelf life.  There are some exceptions, of course.  John Christopher’s The Tripods  trilogy is one of the best examples.  This classic science fiction series for kids about a future in which aliens have seized control of the earth continues to be reprinted for new generations to encounter.  Since The White Mountains (book one in the series) came out in 1967, it has continued  to be a staple on library shelves.

For today’s Art Interlude I thought I’d  look at some of the covers The White Mountains has had over the decades.

The original Simon & Schuster publication from 1967. It has a certain psychedelic flair to it, but definitely portrays a sense of danger and young boys on the run.  Th actual drawings of the boys on the cover seems a little creepy if I study it for any length of time.  The heads don’t exactly fit the bodies.  The depiction of the tripods, however, is suitably menacing and evocative.

In this Knight Books, 1970 publication, readers actually glimpse a mountainous terrain (the White Mountains of the title?)  Three silhouetted figures indicate our protagonists, but the tripods look a tad bit like clumsy land-bound jellyfish.  The cover doesn’t quite capture the sense of danger, and comes across as static.

I think this 1976, Beaver publication is delightfully different.   Sort of cowboys vs. aliens, or a medieval  world meets mechanical monsters feel.  It’s the only cover  out of the various U.S. covers I found to show this kind of vivid and earthy detail.  Honestly it’s a fascinating cover, with clear and present danger for our protagonist who is in a desperate bid to escape.  

This Simon Pulse cover (which appears to be from 1988)  just doesn’t do it for me.  The human characters aren’t immediately visible in the foreground shadow, and the Tripod could be mistaken for a piece of futuristic mining equipment if you don’t look more closely.  It does provide viewers with a glimpse of some white mountains in the background.

Another cover that appears to be from 1988, this Turtleback cover gives the whole thing a sort of Hardy Boys meet the Tripods tone.    While it’s interesting to have some actual realistic kids faces in contemporary hair and glasses, they look a tad too contemporary to fit this futuristic story.  That said, this cover definitely conveys danger, as the Tripod grabs one of the boys and we see the fire down below.  And it’s got the white mountains too!  If I was to pick between the Turtleback and the above Simon Pulse cover, I’d go with this one.

For the 35th anniversary of the book, Simon & Schuster  released this cover in 2002.  I couldn’t get a good picture of it  to tell for certain, but if memory serves, this cover also came with a kind of slick reflective silver background.  The menacing tripod is featured front and center–though it may be difficult to tell what it is if you aren’t familiar with the storyline.  Still, for a Spartan cover treatment it’s not bad.

This 2003 Simon Pulse cover is one of my favorites.  It is science fiction with no apologies or avoidance.    Menacing metal  “hand” reaching out with eerie green lights to snare the viewer.   It’s a nicely modern treatment, and I think it gives the entire series a needed overhaul to feel relevant to this generation of readers.  

So there you have it!  What cover is your favorite? Comments welcome.

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on July 15, 2013, in Art Interlude, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I loved these when I was a kid. Not sure what you mean by “shelf life”? Of course the technical content of an older novel can be out of date but the human concerns, the emotion, etc does not suddenly evaporate as something relatable and enjoyable…. As for prose, we still read older “classic” novels despite changes in modern writing styles…

  1. Pingback: Flashback Fridays: In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined/ On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind. . . | Views From the Tesseract

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