What is the meaning of 'Mortal Engines' book title?

02 March 2023
Author Philip Reeve is referencing the Great Bard himself.

The title of the book and movie Mortal Engines is a reference to a quote from William Shakespeare's play Othello.

The full quote from Act III, scene iii is said by Othello himself: "And O you mortal engines whose rude throats / Th'immortal Jove's dread clamors counterfeit..."

Philip Reeve, the author of the book, uses this phrase as a commentary on the book's concept of 'Municipal Darwinism,' which is the technological ecosystem by which most of the world of Mortal Engines works.

mortal engines

In Municipal Darwinism, the larger predator cities consume smaller cities for their resources, and humans living on the captured cities can be enslaved or eaten. This concept is based on Charles Darwin's survival of the fittest concept from his natural selection theory. However, this predator and prey cycle is a zero-sum game and not a sustainable means of living in the long term.

The title's thematic reference to 'mortal engines' refers to the fact that all the cities' engines are indeed mortal, as eventually there will be nothing left to consume and they will fail and die. 

The book also explores the perspective of whether characters like Shrike, who is hundreds of years old and arguably more machine than man, are mortal or immortal. 

In summary, the title Mortal Engines reflects the concept of Municipal Darwinism and the finite lifespan of the cities and their engines.


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My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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