Literature: Horns

Horns is a dark fantasy novel from 2010 and the second publication from American writer Joe Hill.

One morning, Ignatius "Ig" Martin Perrish awakes with a massive hangover. Something that seems more and more common for him these days. Especially since the anniversary for the night his girlfriend and the light of his life, Merrin Williams, was brutally raped and murdered and her disfigured body was tied to a cherry tree, is rapidly approaching. To his own horror, Ig was arrested for the crime. Though the charge against him was dropped, his name was never cleared, and most of the citizens in his hometown still believes that his rich and influential family protected him against his rightfully deserved punishment. Left by most of his friends and held at a distance by his family, Ig has felt trapped in what can only be his own personal hell.

Maybe that is why, on this one particular morning, a pair of horns has sprouted from his temples.

While first assuming the horns to be a mere hallucination, simply his addled brain's way of expressing the torment and sorrow he has felt, Ig soon discovers that they are indeed real as other people acknowledge their existence. But for some reason, their reaction to the prominent growths is strangely casual. What is even more weird is that all the people Ig meets seem compelled to freely confess their most depraved, perverted and violent urges and wishes to him. He also finds out that he has the power to influence them to act upon these urges, and are capable of reading a person's innermost secrets through psychical contact. These powers could help him find Merrin's killer.

A film adaptation made by Alexandre Aja, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Ig Perrish was released in 2014.


Tropes shown in the novel include:

  • Anti-Hero: Ig
  • Bad Powers, Good People: Ig grows horns, controls snakes, and literally brings out the worst in people, but he uses these to find and punish Merrin's killer.
  • Big Red Devil: Ig is turning into the classic image of Satan, starting with the horns. In time he's bald, sports a goatee, red-skinned, and even finds a pitchfork to brandish.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ig is reunited with Merrin's spirit in some sort of afterlife, after clearing his own name. In the book, Ig removes Terry's memories of covering up Merrin's death. Terry plans to head to New York for a more fulfilling gig career, and shows mutual interest with Glenna.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The chapters from Lee Tourneau's viewpoint illustrate his psychopathy, his inability to understand those around him, and efforts to feign humanity.
  • Childhood Brain Damage: It is heavily implied to be the reason why Lee Tourneau is a remorseless psychopath.
  • Consummate Liar: Lee Tourneau
  • Detective Mole: A variant. In the movie, Lee is Ig's lawyer.
  • Feed It with Fire: Lee beats Ig to a pulp, locks him in his car and sets it on fire. Ig manages to release the parking brake and the car rolls into the river. When he climbs from the wreckage, he realizes that instead of burning him, being engulfed in flames actually healed him, to the point where it even cured his asthma.
  • Fiery Coverup: Ig's father believed that Ig was Merrin's killer, and he paid to have the evidence destroyed. Evidence which would have cleared Ig. Leaving everybody in town to suspect he was guilty and that his father's money protected him.
  • From Bad to Worse: After his horns have caused his grandmother, mother, and father to confess many horrible secrets to him, Ig already believes that he has heard the worst, and when he runs into his brother, Terry, he doesn't believe that he will be able to blurt out anything worse than what he just heard, and tells him to get it over with. Terry then tearfully tells him that he knows that Lee Tourneau killed Merrin, which reduces Ig to a screaming mess for a couple of minutes.
  • A God Am I: Lee Tourneau believes that he once, for just a brief moment, held the power of God, when it actually was the result of a light case of brain damage from landing on a pitchfork with the back of his head.
  • God Is Evil: Ig concludes that the reason why God allowed Merrin to be raped and killed is because he is actually not very fond of humans, and detests women in particular, because they, like him, can create life and also because they can redefine love as they see fit. He also compares him to a gangster, only offering his protection in exchange for blind faith and worship.
  • Held Gaze: Merrin first catches Ig's attention in church by flashing light in his face so he'll look up and see her staring at him.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Ig eventually finds a letter from Merrin explaining their breakup. She's dying of the same kind of cancer that killed her sister, and decided to push him away to spare him the pain of watching her die slowly and horribly. She hopes he'd find another girl and move on before realizing the truth..
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Lee Tourneau
  • Karmic Death: Lee dies choking on a snake, similar to how he strangled Merrin.
  • Living Lie Detector: Ig compels people to confess their sins and their innermost thoughts.
  • Maybe Ever After: It's strongly implied that Terry and Glenna will end up together.
  • Mommy Issues: Lee Tourneau despises his mother and slowly tortures her as she dies of kidney failure.
  • Out of the Inferno: After being locked inside a burning car, Ig finds out that not only does fire not harm him, he is actively healed by it. His clothes do, however, react to high temperatures in the way you would expect.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Lee Tourneau frequently expresses racist and misogynistic thoughts in his narration, and internally refers to all Asians as 'slants'.
  • Prongs of Poseidon: Ig hears a nearby commotion, and grabs the first weapon-like object in the ruined foundry without really seeing what it was. It turns out he grabbed a pitchfork.
  • Red Right Hand: Lee Tourneau has a damaged, filmy eye from a childhood accident.
  • Satan Is Good: Along with his God Is Evil moment, Ig argues that the devil is the only higher being who really loves humans for what they are, despite their flaws.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Everybody believes Ig killed Merrin and that his family's money saved him from justice. Including his family, who paid to "save" him from justice.
  • Secretly Dying: Merrin had late-stage breast cancer when she was murdered. The real irony was that she was rather hoping God would surprise her with a quick death, so she wouldn't have to choose between a slow death and suicide.
  • Shout-Out: To The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want". To the point where the final part is entitled "the Gospel According to Mick and Keith".
  • The Sociopath: Lee Tourneau
  • Took a Level in Badass: As Ig learns to control his new powers, he becomes almost unrecognizable compared to the pathetic mess he was at the start of the book.
  • The Unfavorite: Ig is very well aware that his parents don't like him as much as Terry, and knows that his father in particular is disappointed in him because he was unable to uphold the family tradition of playing the trumpet, but he first realizes the full extent of their dislike when his horns start working on them.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Lee Tourneau constantly misunderstands the actions of others, and has a vivid hallucination of becoming god-like.
  • Voice Changeling: One of Ig's later powers is mimicking the voices of others. He can do a perfectly convincing impersonation, even of someone whose voice he's never heard before.