One of the Best YA Series Is a Story of Failure

The Tripod Trilogy by John Christopher ended about 45 years ago. This is one of the few YA series that didn’t follow the formula. Noah Berlatsky, over at, discusses this series and the formula for YA books.

One of the great pleasures of young adult literature is that you get to imagine yourself as the most important person in the world. Harry Potter thinks he’s a despised orphan, only to learn he’s the only hope of an entire realm of magic and wonder. From even before his birth, Ender from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game is engineered to save earth from alien invasion. After she volunteers as tribute in The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen quickly becomes the key symbol of her world’s resistance movement against totalitarian oppression. In each of these cases, their powers and abilities — magic, intelligence, strength — are important, but even more important is how much each of them personally matters. Harry and Ender and Katniss aren’t just the stars of a book or a series; they’re the stars of everything. Their particular story is the story of history, and their world revolves around them.

The formula is simple, satisfying, and omnipresent — or almost omnipresent. John Christopher’s Tripods Trilogy, which concluded 45 years ago in 1968, is one of the few YA series that refuses to play the game, which is probably why it’s drifted in semi-obscurity. The series features a young English boy, Will, who works to save humanity from its enslavement by inhuman overlords. The alien tripods came to earth some hundred years before Will was born, and used their knowledge of mind control to conquer the earth. Now, in Will’s time, the population lives in medieval style villages, peaceful and subservient. All children are fitted with mind-control caps when they are 13, turning them into willing slaves. Will is contacted by a resistance movement shortly before his capping, and the three novels (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire) detail his efforts to fight the Tripods and restore Earth to humanity.

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