Thomas the Tank Engine Is Ben’s Heritage

Ben’s favorite show is Thomas and Friends. He started watching it when we went to visit his cousin Oliver in Savannah last year, as Oliver is two years older than Ben and able to express opinions about TV shows in English. Ben expresses his opinion about Thomas by clapping enthusiastically when the theme song starts up, and grinning his fool head off when he sees the opening sequence. And as a TV show, aside from Sesame Street, Thomas is the only other program we let Ben watch. We don’t think he needs to watch very much TV, but Thomas and Sesame Street give us a nice mix for when we do need to park him in front of it.

Recently, Paul did a little research on Thomas and the books the TV show is based on. I always figured that the Island of Sodor, the setting for Thomas, was actually based on Guernsey or one of the Channel Islands. It turns out that it’s based on the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man is dead center between the two regions that 50% of my genetic material comes from, in Northern Ireland and south Scotland/Cumbria. “Sodor” is a Norse term used to refer to the diocese of the “South or Sodor Isles”of Scotland, or the ,a href=”http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/fulltext/em1903.htm” target=”_new”>Diocese of Sodor and Man. In order to explain all the ruins and old castles and legends on the island, the Rev. Awdry also created an entire history of the island of Sodor that parallels the history of Man and the surrounding region.

So we inadvertently gave Ben a favorite show to watch that is actually his heritage – at least, on my father’s side. The trains in Thomas & Friends are also models that my father would have been familiar with – they date to the 40s in northern England, a time when Dad was working in the local steel mill in Workington. And when I realized all that, it just made me cry, because Dad LOVED anything related to the era he grew up in, the end of the Industrial Revolution in northern England, including trains and coal mines. And he so would have enjoyed watching Thomas the Tank Engine with his grandson, with, no doubt, a running commentary on technical details that the Americanized version of the show got wrong. And the fact that Dad isn’t here to do that with Ben breaks my heart.

Still, learning all this about the story behind Thomas made me feel better about Ben watching it. Someday, we can explain all this to him. And for right now, I will have to ask my uncles, Dad’s brothers, if they have ever heard the word “Sodor” in the local Cumbrian dialect. I will see them in two weeks at Dad’s ashes-scattering event in BC, and if Sodor is a Norse term, then it may well have survived into the specific, unique dialect that my father and his brothers spoke until they moved to Canada.

Here is a map showing the Isle of Man, in relation to Workington, and to Barrow-in-Furness, the starting point of the Sodor railway:

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