I just learned author John Christopher (pen name for Samuel Youd) passed away over the weekend at the age of 89. His books had a tremendous impact on my life. Indeed, were it not for him, I might not be nearly as involved with survivalism as I am today.
It was in about 1983 or so when I first discovered Christopher’s books. An English teacher had a stack of old Boy’s Life magazines at the back the room and one day I was leafing through them. At the back of the magazine, they were running a serialized comic strip from The White Mountains, the first book in the Tripods trilogy.
I was absolutely riveted by this story of three young men traveling through a future Earth, one that had been taken over by the mysterious Tripods. I quickly found all the issues of Boy’s Life that had this storyline and put them in order, devouring them all in a day or two. I found out this was only the first segment and the magazine had gone on to do the same thing with The City of Gold and Lead as well as The Pool of Fire. I was particularly fascinated by the depictions of the ruins of our world the characters came across in their travels.
Visiting the school library, I found they didn’t have a copy of The White Mountains available but the librarian, Mrs. Mayer, located in the stacks a copy of Empty World.
After reading this story about a young man traveling through a Great Britain ravaged by a plague, my own fate as a reader was sealed. I found I was enthralled with any stories involving the end of the world. It wasn’t too much later that I discovered Jerry Ahern’s The Survivalist series as well as Dr. Bruce Clayton’s Life After Doomsday.
I’ve read several of John Christopher’s novels over the years. Some, like No Blade of Grass (a.k.a. The Death of Grass) are written for the grown up crowd. Others, like The Sword of the Spirits trilogy, were written for young adults. There is not a dud in the bunch. Christopher was remarkably adept at weaving stories that kept you interested and at creating characters about whom you cared, who seemed real to the reader.
I had the incredibly good fortune to have a conversation or two with him via email a few years back. At that time, his health had already begun to deteriorate and I learned he wasn’t writing much any more because of it. I asked if he’d be willing to sign a book through the mail for me and he declined, saying traveling to and from the post office was difficult. He did however mail me a signed bookplate for my copy of Empty World, something I shall always consider one of my most treasured possessions.
Rest in peace, my friend. You had a great run and your work shall always live on.