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Saturday, May 20, 2017

The first line of Mortal Engines was inspired by the novel '1984'

pencil sketch of London City in Mortal Engines

I had an idea on the possible inspiration the first line of the Mortal Engines novel and asked the author Philio Reeve about it and eventually got a surprising answer!

Update Two:

Philip Reeve followed up again to my question with an awesome thought:

"I guess it's really based (though not consciously) on the opening line of 1984 (It was a..cold day in April & the clocks were striking 13')."



I read 1984 in one sitting the first time I read it and I will never forget the last line where the character is happy for he 'loves Big Brother' but could I remember the first line? No, and it turns out to be amazingly clever.

Big thanks to Mr Reeve for being so forthcoming!

Update One:

I asked the author himself and with a single word he shot down my theory! I love how in the modern world, I can create a fan theory and then hours later, Mr Reeve kindly shoots it down!


Original piece:

Here's the first sentence of the novel Mortal Engines:

It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.


When I first read it, it was immediately captivated. I'd heard the novel was about giant mechanical cities and some kind of 'Mad Max style' adventure for kids but I had no idea of what the book was really about. This line was brilliant as it pulls the reader into exactly was is happening, to whom and gives a sense of time in that the North Sea has dried out.

What happened there? Philip Reeve has got me hooked with the first line. That hasn't happened I don't think since I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Great stuff.

But the line seemed immediate familiar to me, as if I'd read it before. I couldn't place it and I moved on, keen to see what this chase was all about as I'd heard it was some crazy Mad Max style adventure for kids... 

And then the other week at work, we did the daily quiz that comes with the newspaper. It's a team thing we do each day. It's great fun.

But to my point, one of the questions was, what is the famous opening line of  Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel Paul Clifford?

I took a stab in the dark and said "it was a dark and stormy night" and I was right!

Kind of.

Curious I looked up the book and saw this was the whole famous opening sentence:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."


Purple prose indeed.

And then it struck me. And, as if you didn't already perhaps know yourself - I realized it's VERY similar to Reeve's line in Mortal Engines. Did Reeve borrow it for inspiration?

Let's break it down:

ME: "It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring"
Paul Clifford: "It was a dark and stormy night"

Well the first four letters are the same and the sentence is describing the weather. So it's fair to wonder if Reeve was inspired by this line which has become such a cliche that this writer can use it to correctly guess a quiz answer!

Philip Reeve does plenty of name dropping and puns and references in his books, so it's with no real surprise he's cleverly done this but if you're not convinced, re-read the words again. The subject of each sentence is the city of London!

Now, this is just a theory I have. I can't find any discussion about this idea on the internet anywhere, so it's just an idea.

It's a shame that this line probably won't be used in the actual movie. Unless there's a narrator who explains what's going on we will most likely only be treated to the visual version of London city chasing some hapless prey.

I personally can't wait to see how the city looks.

I think given it's gonna be up there on silver screen with Peter Jackson's name attached it's going to have to be HUGE, way bigger than it's usually depicted in fan art - the perspective will need to be established quite well.

Fun Fact: Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the phrase ""the pen is mightier than the sword" which is funny because if any one had asked I would have said it was Shakespeare. Speaking of the Great Bard, it blew my mind when I learned  that Shakespeare used the words 'mortal engines' in Othello....

City of London drawing care of Callum Gillies

1 comment:

  1. I reckon you were more on the money.

    ReplyDelete