An Overview of the "Tomorrow" Series
by John Marsden
For an overview of this site rather than the
series, hit the link to "Tomorrow Home"
on the left.
Set in the current day and told through the highly readable journal
of Ellie Linton, the very Australian daughter of sheep farmers,
the seven books of the "Tomorrow" series are
the story of how a group of Australian teenagers respond to the
surprise invasion of their country.
On the surface these are "action/adventure" novels, full
of well written and absorbing chases, evasions, attacks, escapes,
triumphs and disasters. These are very well done and the novels
can be thoroughly enjoyed at this level, but there is a lot more
to them than that. The true heart of these novels is to be found
in the characters, eight very ordinary young people, who could be
any of us, and how they cope with the nightmare their world has
A novel like Tom Clancy's "Red Storm Rising"
is a powerful book about a war and the characters in it exist to
support the story of the war. In "Tomorrow, When The War
Began" and its sequels, the people are the story, against
the stage of war. Ellie had a compulsion to write, to tell. The
reasons change, but the compulsion remains.
She puts it best herself in the last book:
"When I had set out to write what we'd done in the war, it
was like a public thing. We wanted to know that we'd made a difference
on a big scale. I wrote it because we wanted to be remembered, because
we wanted to believe our lives had some meaning. We wanted to know
we hadn't passed through the world unchanged, and that we hadn't
left the world unchanged. We didn't want to come and go from the
planet without leaving a mark.
As time went on, writing became my private thing, done for myself.
A habit, a compulsion, a way of remembering and understanding. Writing
it down made it real. But now I thought, standing at the fence,
that I had to put it on paper because that was how I could tell
other people about my friends, their lives and deaths."(1)
In her writing I found the poignant memiors of an imaginary person
- painted so vividly that she and her friends become real. These
stories remind me of E.B. Sledge's "With the Old Breed"
- the haunting (true) memiors of a Marine Rifleman fighting across
the Pacific in World War Two.(2) The
"Tomorrow" series and "With the Old
Breed" are vastly different to each other, but in their
"feel" there is a certain sameness, at least for me.
These memiors are powerful because the characters in these
books are not cardboard action heroes, they are intensely human.
Marsden pours himself into Ellie and she pours herself into her
diary, taking you with her as she and her friends ride a roller-coaster
of emotion through a terrible year. They experience elation and
crushing despair and all the emotions in between, sometimes within
seconds of each other. They struggle with love and with hate, with
compassion and indifference, with terror and with utter boredom,
with total, crushing, disabling exhaustion and complete exhilaration.
They are terribly alone. Betrayed repeatedly by the adults they
seek help from, they have to grow, to make their own decisions and
to be responsible for them. At times they are strong, at times they
can't deal with it. At times they can't stand being apart, at others,
they can't cope with being together. At times they are serious,
at times childish. They face challenge after challenge, some they
defeat, some defeat them. Ellie screams her defiance in the face
of death, but she also sucks her thumb. Each shows courage, but
each has their own limits and, at different times, each is pushed
One of the most powerful aspects of these novels - and something
that sets them apart from just about all others in this genre -
is how the characters change over time, without even being truly
conscious of it. These characters are carrying an immense burden
of stress and eventually this takes its toll. For the first three
novels, the kids are affected by what is happening but they are
coping. What happens at the end of “The Third Day, The
Frost” and through the first half of “Darkness,
Be My Friend” changes all that. The whole tone of the
series shifts as Ellie and her friends start to lose their battle
with their nightmares. They achieve extraordinary things throughout
these novels, but always at an emotional cost. They become highly
accomplished guerrilla fighters - the most successful team in the
war - but their very successes wear away at them inside. They are
each, slowly, relentlessly, being driven insane by the environment
they are trapped in. As they go into their last battle in "The
Other Side Of Dawn" they are emotional wrecks. The young
people who worried so much about the right and wrongs of resistance
in "Tomorrow, When The War Began" have become
people who kill for thrills, as a means of stress relief.
From the above you could be excused for thinking these are depressing
books, but they are nothing of the sort. These kids are magnificent.
They are terrified, they are alone, they are betrayed, their world
has collapsed around them, they are being driven steadily insane,
but give up ? No. They long for their nightmare to be over,
they dream of being free from the terrible burden of responsibility
they carry, they hanker for their carefree lives of old. But so
long as they live, so long as there is chance they can make a difference,
they continue. They walk into the valley of death, repeatedly and
alone. Time and again they leave friends there, but they kept returning.
This tale of eight children who fight, kill, suffer and die to protect
what they love has the power to inspire because, in the end, these
books are about the greatest of human virtues; Courage.
These books are fundamentally about courage. They are about the
heroism of ordinary people, who, when faced with a situation that
they could not have imagined, do not give up, do not give in.
Courage is one of the hardest of human virtues to characterise,
it comes and goes, it depends on the situation and the person. One
day a given person will be a hero, the next day someone else will
have to step into the breach. What we have know since World War
One, however, is that all courage runs out, that all people have
their limits. Thus it is in these novels. Some characters are more
heroic than others, but all are heroes at different times, while
none are heroes all the time. Instead they are humans struggling
to cope, people with the same flaws and virtues that we all have.
They are us. But when needed, they produce. When they fall, they
get up. When they fail, they try again. They die, but they do not
surrender. They are the people we might wish to be.
These novels ask some very basic questions:
"Who are you ?" "What do you believe in ?" "What
do you want to be ?" and "What price are you willing to
pay to be that way ?"
The characters give their answers and pay their price. Each of
us in turn as we live our lives will have to give ours. There is
a poem by Kipling that keep returning from "Darkness, Be
My Friend" on. It concerns a man lying dead on the battlefield
in World War One and ends:
"Let each man be judged by his deeds.
I have paid my price to live with myself on the terms that I willed".
These two lines of poetry are the foundation on which the series
One reader wrote "... I think what John Marsden has produced
with the Tomorrow Series is a collection of stories that in some
way reflect all of our lives, whether it be that we know a lot about
the town we live in and it's people, or whatever. In some way or
another it reflects something of who we are."
and another "... reading these books is like a self-image
and change within oneself occurs, it feels as if I was there and
it was real in a way"
What more can you ask for from a novel ?
These novels are classified as "Young Adult" fiction
and are well loved by this age group, but really they are timeless
stories about some very human people trying to deal with an impossible
situation. As such they are novels for people of all ages.
As you might have noticed this overview barely touches on the "action/adventure"
side of the novels, though not for want of trying. I have had a
dozen goes but can't get something I am happy with.
One problem is that someone else has covered that aspect much better
than I ever could. For Georges Dodds' beautifully crafted perspectives
on this series, please see : The SF Site Review of the Tomorrow
Series in two parts:
The War Began", "The Dead of the Night" and "The
Third Day, The Frost" and
"Darkness, Be My Friend", "Burning for Revenge"
and "The Night is for Hunting"
Catch your fancy? Check out some samples
of the writing, then find yourself a
copy and set off on a journey to remember.
(1) The Other Side of Dawn, Ch 13, p238
the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa, E.B. Sledge, Oxford University
This is the most haunting book I have ever read about combat. It
is stark, it is simple and it shakes you. Here is warfare as it
really is. If you can find a copy, read it.