Study Guide

Mortal Engines Violence

By Philip Reeve


[Herbert] enjoyed picking on Tom, who was small and shy and had no friends to stick up for him. (1.23)

Hmm, Herbert is seen as a bully from the beginning of the story; however, this is exactly what the town of London does (it picks on smaller towns) in order to survive. Would Darwin approve of bullying?

Melliphant's fist hit him on the side of the face and Melliphant's knee crashed up hard between his legs. (1.40)

Okay, this isn't exactly fighting fair, but was Tom's sucker punch that started the fight any nobler? Is one form of violence worse than any other?

[Hester] suddenly sprang forward, whipping out a long, thin-bladed knife. (2.42)

This image of Hester is startling similar to the image of a snake springing forward with its fangs bared. In the animal kingdom, violence is often the only way to solve a problem. When was the last time you saw a tiger and a zebra talk out a problem? Perhaps violence gets us in touch with our primal roots.

[Hester] was riding a wave of memory and it was carrying her backward to the night, that room, and the blood that had spattered her mother's star charts like the map of a new constellation. (6.18)

Yikes. That's a potent memory. It's also strangely beautiful. As movies like Sin City and 300 have shown us, violence can be strangely beautiful, in a way.

"If they are alive, kill them. Bring their bodies to me." (7.22)

Magnus Crome is pretty cold. It's important to realize that he's talking about Tom and Hester here, who are barely older than fifteen. Why doesn't he go with a non-violent alternative to solve his problem?

[Hester] dragged a metal lever out of the winch and swung it at Wreyland. [...] Hester lurched forward and raised the bar again, but before she could bring it down on the old man's skull Tom grabbed her arm. "Stop! You'll kill him!" "So?" She swung toward him, snaggleteeth bared, looking like a demented monkey. (9.22)

This is a strong image, one that again equates violence with primal, animalistic behavior. Hester doesn't have a problem with violence, because her parents were killed right in front of her. To her, it seems to be the only way to solve a problem.

Mungo's first shot blew the monkey off the top of Peavey's head in a cloud of singed fur. The second and third went through his chest. He bowed his head, and the mud gulped him down with soft farting noises. (20.44)

Wow, this might just be the most undignified death ever. But it's fitting in that literary sort of way that a despicable pirate like Chrysler Peavey dies such an embarrassing, dirty death.

"If I had not [bombed Marseilles] it would have attacked the Hundred Islands, killing or enslaving hundreds more people than I drowned with my little bomb." (24.24)

Anna Fang seems to see violence as a numbers game. Fewer deaths are better than more deaths in her book... her book of death. Are any deaths actually justified?

They shot [Dog] anyway, the guns giving sharp little cracks and the impact of the bullets wrenching Dog away from [Katherine] and slamming him back against the wall with a yelp. (32.15)

In case you're one of those people who think violence against humans is okay but then gasp in terror whenever the dog is in danger, here you go: animal violence. Now you can get mad at the bad guys.

Chudleigh Pomeroy stepped forward, holding a blunderbuss. (32.31)

Finally, the cowardly old men stand up for something. However, it's surprising that the normally non-violent Historian bookworms are armed with deadly weapons. Could there possibly have been a non-violent solution to this problem?