The three books compromising the trilogy – The White Mountains (1967), The City of Gold and Lead (1967), The Pool of Fire (1968) - tell a post-apocalyptic tale in which humans have been enslaved by enormous three-legged walking machines referred to as Tripods piloted by aliens known only as the Masters. In the books, human civilization has reverted back to pre-industrial levels with most people living pastoral lifestyles in small villages. What little industry does exist is meticulously controlled by the ubiquitous presence of the Tripods, which stride over the landscape keeping close watch over everything humans do. Though some artefacts and remnants from the twentieth century still exist, such as watches, humans have essentially lost all memory of their former technologies and are often befuddled when they encounter ruins of high voltage electrical transformers and the like.
Despite being omnipresent in the landscape, the Tripods are not the primary means of control the Masters exert. The real population control happens with the metallic mesh-like skullcaps the Masters affix to each and every fourteen-year-old human in a ritualistic ceremony known as capping. The implants kill all curiosity and creativity, and the Masters render the human populace docile through what essentially amounts to mind control. Once a person is capped, he or she never questions anything or raises any doubts against the status quo.
The essential plot of the story revolves around three young teenagers who escape their homes before their respective capping ceremonies and eventually encounter fake-capped individuals and a secretive world beyond the Masters' control. These uncapped kids eventually join the resistance and fight to defeat the Masters and free humanity.
I don’t know what started me thinking about this sci-fi series I had read as a child, but my recollection of the capping ceremony and the thought control the alien masters implement in the novels struck me as an eerie analogy of our modern world. Modern people wear no cranial implants today, but they largely act exactly like the hypnotized majority in John Christopher’s Tripod novels. When I look out at the world I encounter the same utter lack of curiosity and creativity; the same moribund and apathetic acceptance of anything and everything our contemporary masters force upon us. Unlike the hapless individuals in the Tripod novels, modern people are not physically forced into surrendering their individuality and thinking – they give it away.
Freely. Gladly. Gratefully.
If he had not written them in the 1960s, I wonder if John Christopher would write the novels today. If he did, I wonder what, if anything, he would change. One thing that springs to mind is the capping ceremony itself. In the original novels, the newer version of the cap is fused onto the scalp, presumably because the device’s proximity to the brain is crucial for effective mind control.
I surmise John Christopher would have to reimagine this concept if he wrote the novels today. To begin with, capping modern peoples’ skulls would not put the device anywhere near their brains. As everyone knows, the brains of most contemporary people are located firmly in the gluteus maximus.
Thus, any mind control device in that region would probably function best if it were some cylindrical gadget, one that could be lubricated and rectally inserted.
Instead of capping, the contemporary initiation ritual would be referred to as corking, probing, or plugging. In certain American inner-city environments, the phrase “pop a cap in your ass” would take on a deeper and far more significant meaning.
Mind control aside, the procedure would have other visible side effects, the most obvious being a rather rigid, forced, and chronic penguin-like walk. But on the plus side, watching people waddle around Times Square at rush hour would be frightfully amusing. Furthermore, flatulence would be practically eliminated the world over.
And since everyone would be docile and happy, no human being in the world would ever accuse his fellow of having a “bug up his ass.” It would be a silly question to ask in the first place. The only possible answer would be, “Of course I do! And so do you!”
And I better stop there. I believe I have made my point. No need to wade farther into the Vulgar Swamp.
To return to the Tripods Trilogy for a moment – I no longer have my original copies, but I will certainly order the series for my son when he is old enough to read it and enjoy it. If you have never read this wonderful sci-fi trilogy, I highly recommend it. In fact, I am going to make a point of rereading it myself. I might just order the books sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, if this post has any other take-home message, it’s this – don’t allow yourself to get capped, on the skull or anywhere else. And if you feel you may have already been capped, don’t be afraid to remove the cap yourself.
Removing your cap in John Christopher’s novels meant either depression or instant death; removing your cap in the real world might just be your only chance at possible happiness and everlasting life.