Fun with History: How Thomas the Tank Engine Arrived at His Home Land of Sodor

Thomas the Tank Engine

When the Vikings invaded the British Isles back in the Middle Ages, they divided the northern islands into two kingdoms.  Nordr, the northern kingdom, comprised the Shetland and the Orkneys. Sodor, the southern kingdom, included the Hebrides and the Isle of Man.

In 1266, the Vikings lost control. The Church, however, preserved the Southern Kingdom’s name in its already-established diocese of Sodor and Man. Seven centuries later, Rev. Wilbert Awdry visited the area on church business. He noted that, while there was an Isle of Man, there was no Sodor to be found.

Awdry was on the lookout for a fictional setting for his books, “The Railway Series.”  Thomas the Tank Engine was the subject of four stories in the second book of that series. Thomas was modeled after a wooden toy that Awdry had made from a piece of broomstick for his son Christopher. Awdry decided to use the name Sodor for the setting in the books.

Thomas was described as “a tank engine who lived at a Big Station. He had six small wheels, a short stumpy funnel, a short stumpy boiler and a short stumpy dome.  He was a fussy little engine, always pulling coaches about. … He was a cheeky little engine, too.” Kids loved Thomas, and he eventually became world-famous.

The Railway Series books were rediscovered in 1979 by British writer Britt Allcroft. The TV series “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends” began in 1984. Ringo Starr was the first narrator for the series.  The accompanying picture of Thomas appears on a British postage stamp.

That’s how the ancient Viking kingdom of Sodor came to be the home of Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends.

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