This is a “children’s” book that I would never, ever recommend to any child.
Written as a companion piece to Uncle Stevie’s The Waste Lands, this is an illustrated version of the story that Jake Chambers buys at The Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind from Calvin Tower. He had it when he was a boy. So did Susannah Dean. And so did Eddie Dean. And none of them liked it.
They all wondered if the illustrations of Charlie and Engineer Bob showed a happy train and driver pulling kids screaming with joy, or an insane duo, forcing children who were scared to death to ride along with them. LOOK AT THEM.
The story of Charlie and Engineer Bob is weird from the start. Engineer Bob knows that Charlie is no ordinary steam engine, but that Charlie is “really, really alive.” Charlie sings little songs to Engineer Bob, who doesn’t seem to think any of this is weird at all.
Don’t ask me silly questions, I won’t play silly games.
I’m just a simple choo-choo train, and I’ll always be the same.
I only want to race along, beneath the bright blue sky,
and be a happy choo-choo train, until the day I die.
Eventually, diesel engines come to the station to replace Charlie. Both he and Engineer Bob (who is demoted to become Wiper Bob) are put out to pasture. Charlie cries “dark, oily tears” and his headlight goes dark while he sits, depressed and alone. The last two lines of his song change to:
Now that I can’t race along, beneath the bright blue sky,
I guess that I’ll just sit right here, until I finally die.
Of course, eventually Charlie and Engineer Bob are needed to save the day. They have to get Susannah (the railway president’s daughter) to her piano recital, which is HUNDREDS OF MILES AWAY. The president of the railway is so impressed by Charlie and Bob.
This is some locomotive, Bob! I don’t know why we ever retired it! How do you keep the coal conveyer loaded at this speed?
Engineer Bob only smiled, because he knew Charlie was feeding himself.
This is the stuff of nightmares.