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Literature: A Prayer for Owen Meany
There are three things about Owen Meany that are unusual. The first is that even when he reaches adulthood he is under five feet tall. The second is his damaged voicebox, trapped in a permanent scream that alternately amuses and scares those around him. The third? He calls himself GOD'S INSTRUMENT, and he might be right.

Written by John Irving, A Prayer For Owen Meany (1989) is best described as intentional Glurge with an undercurrent of despairing Postmodernism. Critical reception has generally been positive, as has its reception by high school English teachers.


  • All Part of the Show: During the Nativity play, Owen (playing Jesus) stands up and addresses the audience, telling them they are not worthy and should be ashamed of themselves for even setting foot in a church. The audience sitting in the church assumes this is a sermon to them and part of the play; the reader knows that Owen was talking to his sacrilegious parents.
  • Anachronic Order
  • Anticlimax: Deliberately on multiple occasions.
  • Boarding School: Owen and Johnny go to one,though Owen is a day student and Johnny lives in a faculty apartment with his stepfather, and watch as a new headmaster begins to turn it into a Boarding School of Horrors. Owen gets expelled for his resistance, but in the process he gets the headmaster fired.
  • Break Her Heart To Save Her: Downplayed. Owen purposely makes jabs at Hester and picks fights with her in his letters to "help her fall out of love with him before he died".
  • Catch Phrase: Oh, lots.
    • Johnny: (in narration) "Remember that?" or "Remember him?" When talking about famous people/events from the past.
    • Owen: "THERE'S NO NEED TO BE CRUDE." Usually talking to Hester, and sometimes Johnny. And "I KNOW __ THINGS." Used in his diary. First he knows 3 things about himself (his voice never changes, when he's going to die, and that he's God's instrument), then 2 things in his dream about his own death, and then 4 things about himself (expand the above list to include how he's going to die).
    • Johnny and Owen both use "give me the shivers" often enough to be a catch phrase as well, though Owen first and Johnny more.
    • Harriet Wheelwright: "I would rather be murdered by a maniac/madman."
  • Character Development: Owen starts the novel vehemently prejudiced against Catholics. By the end of the novel he's eased up considerably and even dies in the arms of a nun.
  • Chaste Hero: Johnny actively tries to lose his virginity for years, but is never able to find a girl interested in taking it from him. Fuel for some comic moments when he's older: A colleague's husband refers to him as a "non-practicing homosexual" (which is a term the man apparently made up). Hester tells Johnny's students that he's still a virgin (in his forties), and the girls think it's a joke.
  • Chekhov's Armory: Owen's height, voice, and strange complexion are all necessary attributes for him to have in order to save the Vietnamese children.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Owen is too short to dunk a basketball, but he's developed a trick where he jumps into Johnny's arms and Johnny helps him dunk. He insists that "it's not for a game," and that what matters is getting it done in under three seconds. As mentioned below, he knows a bit of the future . . .
  • Conversational Troping: Owen discusses Film Tropes several times, generally mocking them. ("FIGHTING WITH SWORDS, IT'S STUPID TO WEAR LOOSE, BAGGY SHIRTS—OF COURSE YOUR SHIRTS ARE GOING TO GET ALL SLASHED TO PIECES!")
  • Creepy Child: Owen can activate this at will.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Guess who.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Owen sees his impending death over and over.
  • Easy Evangelism: Subverted, with multiple Author Filibusters on what it takes to get someone to believe in miracles.
  • The Fatalist: Owen, big-time.
  • Film of the Book: Simon Birch. An interesting comparison, as it starts out word-perfect to the source material and diverges further and further as the stories progress. It's as though the film was shot in sequence and the Executive Meddling was going on at the same time.
  • Fingore: Johnny is desperate to avoid the draft. The army won't draft people who're missing their trigger finger. Owen has access to a diamond saw.
  • The Fundamentalist: Dudley Wiggin, the Episcopalian minister.
  • God Is Evil: Johnny speculates on this, concluding that at the very least no good god would let Owen Meany die young. Interestingly, the events of the book actually increase his faith.
  • How We Got Here: Several decades after the fact as Johnny looks back on his friendship with Owen.
  • Innocent Prodigy: Owen.
  • Jumping on a Grenade: How Owen dies, saving a group of Vietnamese refugee children
  • Kids Are Cruel
  • Kissing Cousins: Johnny and Hester consider this.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Happens to older/narrating Johnny; his hair (which is already starting to go grey at the edges by this time) goes completely white after a shocking apparent beyond-the-grave encounter with Owen Meany.
  • Loveable Sex Maniac: Hester "the Molester" Eastman
  • Messianic Archetype: See above. The narrator is convinced that Owen is this.
  • Motif: Armlessness. The Indian chief's totem, Tabby's dressmaker's dummy, the clawless armadillo, Owen wrapped up in swaddling as baby Jesus, the vandalized statue of Mary Magdalen.
  • Oh, and X Dies: We're told on the very first page that Owen is going to kill Tabitha.
  • Older than They Look: People tend to assume Owen's a kid because of his size. Some women consider it a turn-on.
  • Painting the Medium: Owen's voice is represented in ALL CAPS. No Indoor Voice indeed.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Along with many parts of the book, Owen Meany tends to operate on this
  • Scholarship Student: Johnny, Owen and many nameless others. The town never built a public high school, having a standing arrangement with the Academy.
  • School Play: Acting in A Christmas Carol, Owen is a little too convincing as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Things go even worse when his small size gets him cast as Jesus in a Nativity play—midway through he sits up and calls out two audience members for alleged sacrilege.
  • Take That: To, among others:
  • Tell Me About My Father: Johnny's question, although Tabitha never answers it. When he finds out why, he's not exactly happy.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth
  • The Vietnam War: Opposed at length.
  • Waif Prophet: Owen. Usually (and that's usually) he doesn't actually see the future, but he's so good at predicting people's actions that he often seems omniscient anyway.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Alternately played straight and averted.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: And when the moment comes, Owen doesn't even try, despite knowing what will happen.

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alternative title(s): A Prayer For Owen Meany
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