Thomas is a talking tank engine. He lives on an island called Sodor and basically drives around having minor adventures with his friends and moving passengers and freight.

Are the Thomas stories on-topic for any other reason than the trains talk (in which case, these seem to fall foul of our rules about talking animals), or can we identify anything else that would bring these back in line?

  • Is there anything in the stories (I'm not really familiar with them) that indicates how the engines gained the ability to talk and/or whether there are non-talking engines in the story? If there is a backstory not unlike Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, where some "talking animals" have been enhanced by some SFnal phenomenon, we can confidently label it SFF. Commented May 9, 2022 at 11:11
  • @RobertColumbia - I don't think they've been uplifted and there aren't any non-speaking carriages or engines.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 12:35
  • Not a SFF regular, so no real opinion here but would Disney's Cars be on topic for the same reasons? Commented May 9, 2022 at 17:39
  • 1
    @JourneymanGeek - Disney Cars would likely be off-topic for much the same reason.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 17:52
  • I don't think the trains talk to humans? If they don't, then it's more in line w/ Watership Down I'd say. But I don't care enough to vote for it one way or another :D
    – NKCampbell
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 17:40
  • @NKCampbell - Depends on the continuity. In several of the cartoons, we see the trains (and other vehicles) conversing with humans; youtube.com/watch?v=DPErik8UfRQ
    – Valorum
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 17:52
  • For every post like this, we always seem to conclude that everything is on-topic here... We should focus on what genre the fiction belongs to, not about individual things mentioned in it. Otherwise every piece of child fiction there is would be on-topic here, pretty much.
    – Amarth
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 18:24
  • @Amarth - Actually we seem to have come to a small consensus that it's not on topic here.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 19:28
  • @Amarth: Either magical realism is on-topic, or it's off-topic. If it's off-topic, then we all have to spend a huge amount of time and energy drawing the line between urban fantasy and magical realism, and nobody wants to do that. The other side of the coin is, well, a lot of things have magical realist elements.
    – Kevin
    Commented May 22, 2022 at 6:07
  • @Kevin Classifying works by genre has worked well the past 3000 years or so. Did you ever find a library where the books are sorted after various elements contained in their stories? Do you expect to find Thomas The Tank below children's books, fantasy or "magical realism"?
    – Amarth
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 14:55

3 Answers 3


Only where SFFnal elements are concerned.

If we allow the basic conceit of sentient trains and other machines, the stories themselves are quite mundane. The same stories could be told with Thomas' role, and those of the other engines, replaced by their drivers, without it making much of a difference.

However, questions about the uplifting of the engines and the consequences of that, are on topic. Examples of this type of question can be found in this video by Tomska.

  • 2
    They walled Henry up and left him to rust to death
    – Valorum
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 15:31
  • 1
    I'm just imagining them telling the same story, but with his driver instead.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 23:00
  • Wouldn't put that past Sir Topham H.
    – SQB
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 13:16
  • 4
    He's dead too. This cartoon is a bloodbath.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 10, 2022 at 13:27
  • @valoram per the video, they walled henry up, then let him out later.
    – fectin
    Commented May 16, 2022 at 13:07

If fantastical elements beyond "in this universe vehicles and rolling stock are sapient and can talk" are required then I'd say no, the Railway Series would generally not be on topic. The one area I'd say you might consider it on topic is as to how the stories themselves affect the universe, if fourth wall breaking in that way can be considered fantastical.

The stories are mostly grounded in reality; in fact, many of them are factual events, transposed onto the Isle of Sodor. The engines are throughout treated as engines; the fact they can talk is not extraordinary in universe. This does sometimes bring up odd dissonances; people generally have no qualms scrapping engines, despite their sentience, just as people might have no qualms scrapping engines in our universe. (Though the books do claim it is "natural for an engine" to feel sad at the idea.)

Sodor itself of course does not exist in our regular universe; the series is set in a universe where there is a large island in between the Isle of Man and the British mainland. But other than this the history of the railway series follows our history exactly, and features visits from real life engines (such as Stepney and City of Truro) and people (such as Queen Elizabeth II).

One slightly fantastical thing is that the Railway Series itself exists within the world of the Railway Series. As the real life series became popular, the series also became just as popular within the world of the books; but, despite being in the same universe as the book series, the people of that universe also didn't believe the engines were real, just as the people in the real world don't.

"The people of England," he said, "read about Us in the Books; but they do not think we are real..." "Shame!" squeaked Percy. The Fat Controller glared. Percy subsided. "...so," he continued, "I am taking My Engines to England to show them."

The forewords by the author also generally keep up this melding of the alternate history with real world history, talking about how the engines might get conceited they have a book named after them, and similar.

  • Hmm. That's a fantastical element, but not enough I'd say, to make the books and shows fantastical in themselves.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 17, 2022 at 17:05

There are tales about Ghost Trains, wizards, like in one magazine story where Boco tells a story to Skarloey of a wizard turning a fast, arrogant shiny engine named Silver into the slow and dirty Tramp, and everything about Thomas and the Magic Railroad!

  • 5
    Hmm. The ghost train appears to be a fictional story within the Thomas universe rather than an actual, factual train that's a ghost. Similarly, the wizard is a morality story rather than an in-universe event.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 5, 2022 at 21:52
  • 2
    Thomas and the Magic Railroad seems firmly on-topic, but topical sequels don't make the original works on-topic.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 5, 2022 at 21:53
  • So I should close the question? Commented May 5, 2022 at 21:55
  • 4
    I'd wait to see what other people think. I'm very much on the fence with this one
    – Valorum
    Commented May 5, 2022 at 22:11
  • Hmm, very much up to you, but it looks like the general consensus is that Thomas the Tank Engine is off-topic, unless the question is about the science fictional elements of the show (or, presumably anything about the Thomas and the Magic Railroad film, since that was firmly on-topic)
    – Valorum
    Commented May 11, 2022 at 11:48

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