Pop Culture and other references that Philip Reeve made in the Mortal Engines series

Sunday, April 30, 2017
cultural references made in Mortal Engines

References to pop culture, rock and roll, real world history and other curious accounts found in Mortal Engines book series.

Philip Reeve makes some pretty cool references to our world in his world of the Mortal Engines. Taking a leaf from our modern times, Reeves inserts a whole lot of  references to pop culture, rock and roll, real world history and other curious people and places.

Often he makes puns and plays on words with song titles and names things for place names or animals. The Shrike is named after a bird for example.

It's amusing as there wouldn't be too many 14 year olds who reading the book today who would know that the 'My Shirona' airship was a very popular hit known as 'My Sharona' by a band called The Knack!

Here's a list of such references we've found in Mortal Engines.

We've probably missed a boat load... I actually started this list as I could have sworn he made a Beatles reference but I've yet to find it...

The real question is how many of these will make it into the movie?

This post will be a work in progress. I've probably missed many things!

The first novel, Mortal Engines


  • Let's start with the name of the novel. "Mortal Engines' is a reference to Shakespeare's Othello. It's about how the life of a man or woman obviously has its limits. It also ties into the novel's theme of Municipal Darwinism
  • Here's the full My Sharona reference "Now boarding at strut 7, My Shirona out bound for Arkangel". My Sharona was the biggest (and some might say only) hit for the band 'The Knack'. Indeed it was the biggest hit of 1979 around the world, when Philip Reeve was 13 years old (Page 95).
  • The name of the MEDUSA weapon is a reference to the famous Gorgon with the stony gaze which if anyone stared into it, they would be immediately turned to stone.
  • Disney's Mickey Mouse and Pluto are referred to as being some kind of venerated deity where statues are made of the mouse in his honour. It's a nice nod to the argument that commercialism is the real god in this modern era (Page 7).
  • The language Airsperanto is a playful reference to the 'made up' or constructed language known as Esperanto (page 179).
  • Valentine's '13th Floor Elevator' airship is a most likely a reference to the American band 'The 13th Floor Elevators' who were a popular psychedelic group in the late 1960s. Have a listen to this trippy song. Reminds me of The Troggs crossed with The Animals..... (Page 16)
  • Hester's mother is named Pandora. Pandora's Box is a tale from Greek mythology where all the evils of the world were kept in the box. When such box is opened, those evil's escape and wreak havoc. By using, the name Reeve is suggesting that the use of the MEDUSA weapon spells trouble for all involved. It's a moment of foreshadowing.
  • Doctor Twix, a researcher in the Guild of Engineers, is probably so named for the chocolate bar. 
  • The town known as "Dunroamin'" is a handy reference to houses that people often call when they retire. As in, they are done roaming. Like traction cities roam. 
  • Pete's Eats is a famous cafe in Wales where the mountaineering community frequent (page 154).
  • At page 155, Katherine notes a menu is offering a burger called a 'Happy Meal'. Sounds like the great Golden Arches of MacDonalds survived the 60 Minute War.
  • "Sea of Khazak" probably comes from the country Kazakhstan which is next to the Caspian Sea.
  • Lady of 'High Heavens' is an ironic name as Chudleigh Pomery's wife was certainly no angel. High Heavens is oft referred to as s place where angels live (Page 95).
  • At page 89, Motoropolis is a play on Metropolis in that it's a moving city. It's probably NOT a reference to Superman.
  • Beefeaters are the soldiers who act as the Mayor Chrome's personal body. In our more modern times, the 'Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London', known around the world as Beefeaters, are the official guardians of, yes you guessed it, The Tower of London in the UK. 
  • As Valentine leaves the city of London, as part of the pomp 'Rule Londinium' is played. It is a play on Rule Britannia. It is a famous patriotic British song so it makes sense in the context that London City was celebrating it's hero Valentine and wishing him well on his adventure...
  • While a young lad in the Guild Orphanage, Tom would pretend to be a Stalker and yell out things like "I-AM-A-STAL-KER!EX-TER-MIN-ATE!"  This is a reference to Doctor Who's Daleks who famously ran around telling anyone who would listen they were going to exterminate them!
  • Anna Fang uses the expression 'bat out of Hull' which is a playing on the expression like a 'bat out of hell' - an expression made famous in Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell album.
  • Anna Fang is also based on Han Solo from Star Wars


Predator's Gold 

The second in the series and sets up a new adventure for Tom and Hester. 
  • Professor Pennyroyal tells the tale of an adventure aboard a ship called the Allan Quartermain. Quartermain was the main character of a series of novels where Quartermain was an adventurer who found King Solomon's mines. Sharon Stone was in the movie. It's an allusion of sorts to what Penny Royal himself has claimed to be - an adventurer, finding strange new lands having thrilling adventures along the way. Page 30.
  • Machine Wash Only and Allow Twelve Days for Delivery were names of people Pennyroyal supposedly met. They are of course lines commonly found on washing instruction tags and are standard delivery terms respectively. Page 32.
  • We all know what 'Zip Code' stands for right?
  • The traction city of Wolverinehampton is a playful reference to Wolverhampton, a city and metropolitan borough found in the West Midlands of England.
  • Phillip Reeve refers to 'Poskitt' as a god. He's actually referring to Kjartan Poskitt.  Reeve has illustrated his books previously.
  • On page 157 an airship is referred to as being named Smaug. This is, of course, the name of the dragon from JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit. 
  • The Lost Boys that work for Uncle are so named from Peter Pan's Lost Boys.
  • We suspect the character Windolene Pye's name comes from the popular window cleaning product.
  • The airship named Graculus is probably named for the bird. 


Infernal Devices


Pop culture references worth mentioning are few and far between in this third novel of the series.
  • Reeve's hilariously calls an airship, 'Visible Panty Line'. Such things are not generally not welcomed by fashion conscious women.
  • Another airship was called the Itsy Witsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Yellow Machiney which is a reference to the song about the bikini of the same description. 
  • A royal reference and pun are made to Lady Diana, Princess of Wales when Reeves mentions a song called Harpoon Aria from an opera called Diana, Princess of Whales. 
  • The Lost Boys and their belief in "Uncle Knows Best" is a reference to George Orwell's 1984 novel where 'Big Brother knows best'. Side note - Philip Reeve's confirmed for us that the first line of the original Mortal Engines novel was inspired by 1984.
  • Penny Royal's Airborne Park is called Cloud 9. Cloud Nine is often considered to be a happy state of emotion or experience of euphoria or a magical place. 
  • Nabisco Shkin's 'Shkin Corporation' is a play on words in the sense that they sell slaves i.e. they deal in human skin. 
  • The line " "..and wasn’t that the great P. P. Bellman, author of atheistic pop-up books for the trendy toddler??" is a reference to the Northern Lights novelist Phillip Pullman. 

A Darkling Plain


  • The title 'A Darkling' Plain is a reference to the poem Dover Beach.
  • The name of Ford Anglia must be a nod to the classic car made by Ford
  • At page 289 the clerk of the front desk of the hotel refers to himself as Lego while he contacts Duplo. Those both being brands of plastic brick toys for building.
  • Napster Varley, is the trader who buys Lady Naga and tries to sell her to the Traktionstadtsgesellschaft. His name is could be both a play on Napa Valley, a famous wine producing area of California and also a reference to Napster, the infamous file sharing service that Metallica got shut down. 
  • While discussing Stalker Anna Fang's state of mind with Fishcake, Popjoy refers to the 'ghost in the machine' as being Anna's lingering memory. The concept is a critique of the concept that the mind can exist without the body. Closer to Philip Reeve's heart is the fact that The Ghost in the Machine was the name of The Police's fourth album.
  • On page 487 a fellow aboard Wolf's Traction 'Borough' exclaims as they've fallen into Wren's trap, "What in the name of Thatcher has happened?' This is clearly a reference to the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher,  Prime Minister of England for a decade and one of the greatest leaders of the free world. Depending if you're of mining stock of course...

Concept art of the Medusa Weapon being opened above Saint Paul's Cathedral by artist Jaekyung Jaguar Lee.

1 comment:

  1. You did leave out what Wolf Kobold asks Tom's daughter (Wren?) when she boards his small raiding town, but it's such a funny line, maybe you wanted to keep that one on the down low?


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