A 1953 short story by Jerome Bixby.
The story is set in the small town of Peaksville. The town used to be in Ohio, but it has since been completely cut off from the outside world (assuming the outside world still exists) by the first manifestation of Anthony Fremont's powers.
Anthony Fremont is literally omnipotent
. He's also only three years old, and he's had his powers from birth, and he's not completely human.
The plot of the story shows a day in the life of the town. It does about as well as you would expect under the thrall of a being with the power of God and the moral understanding of a three-year-old who's never been disciplined in his life: pretty crappy.
This story has been adapted several times by The Twilight Zone
. The original series did a very faithful adaptation, with Bill Mumy as Anthony and Cloris Leachman as his mother; the only major change being that the character of Anthony was aged from three to six. The 2002 revival series had a sequel episode, "It's Still a Good Life", featuring a grown-up Anthony (played again by Bill Mumy) and his daughter (played by Mumy's real-life daughter
Liliana), who also has powers. Twilight Zone: The Movie
gave the story a Setting Update
to the 80's (with Anthony terrorizing a single mansion rather than an entire town) and the happiest ending that the premise would allow.
The TV series Johnny Bravo
and The Simpsons
both did episodes which are homages/parodies of this story.
Compare and contrast with minus
. Definitely not to be confused with It's a Wonderful Life
The original story provides examples of:
- Autocannibalism: The first scene of Anthony shows him making a rat eat its own body.
- The Bad Guy Wins: No, Anthony is the good guy! It's good that he wins!
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Don't ask Anthony for a favor, ever. Even when he's genuinely trying to help, the results can be horrific. One time he sensed that a woman missed her dead husband and tried to bring the husband back to life, causing the husband's decomposing body to dig itself out of the ground and walk to the wife's house.
- Berserk Button: For Anthony, it's singing. Any kind of singing, whether a capella or with music, seems to make him extremely angry.
- Body Horror: When Anthony gets angry at Dan Hollis, he turns Hollis into "something like nothing anyone would have believed possible".
- Children Are Innocent: No, really, he is. Anthony has the mental outlook of a normal three-year-old child, which is what makes him all the more terrifying. Anthony doesn't understand why the people of Peaksville fear him. He likes to go out to a clearing and enter the minds of the animals, who aren't smart enough to fear him.
- Closed Circle / Small Secluded World / World Limited to the Plot: Outside of Peaksville is only a gray nothingness where the rest of the world used to be. The people of Peaksville aren't sure if Anthony destroyed the rest of the world or took Peaksville to some alternate dimension. What is for sure is that the town is suffering for being isolated; the people are barely eking out an existence by growing their own food, and they pass certain material items around to each other as "presents" because that's all they have left.
- Crapsack World: No, it's a good world!
- Creepy Child: Anthony.
- Downer Ending: No, it's a good ending!
- Goo Goo Godlike: Practically the Trope Codifier.
- Happiness Is Mandatory: Everyone in Peaksville represses negative thoughts and emotions for fear that if Anthony senses unhappiness he will either lash out in anger at the thinker for being dissatisfied with the world he has made or make a misguided attempt to help.
- Humanoid Abomination: Anthony. There are hints that he does not look human though there are no details about what he does look like. He is described as having a "wet, purple gaze", that he has an "odd shadow", and he goes "smoothly" over a fence... he is weird-looking enough that when he was born the doctor screamed, dropped him and tried to kill him. Also, he is at one point referred to as a "goblin", suggesting he most likely doesn't look human.
- Karma Houdini: And it's good!
- Kids Are Cruel: The thing is, Anthony isn't any different from regular little children, as far as his mental and emotional states. The problem is that he has complete omnipotence over his environment and everyone in it, and that does not go well with the mood swings and lack of empathy common to every preschooler.
- Lost in the Maize: Where Anthony sends the bodies of his victims.
- Mind Rape: In the beginning, Aunt Amy was the only person who could exercise any control over Anthony, until she got upset with him for transforming the Fremonts' cat (in the Twilight Zone episode, she offended him by singing in his presence) and his mind "snapped" at her. She's left as a shell of her former self, smiling vacantly, and no longer watching how she acts or what she says around Anthony.
- Noodle Incident / Nothing Is Scarier: The fates of Anthony's victims are alluded to but rarely described in any detail.
- Obliviously Evil: Anthony wants everybody to be happy. Many of the horrible things he did stemmed from misguided attempts to help.
- The Omnipotent: As noted above, there appears to be no limit to what Anthony can do.
- Psychic Static: The residents of Peaksville try very hard to fill their heads with nothing in particular whenever they're tempted to think a negative thought, because there's always a chance that Anthony will choose that moment to listen in.
- Purple Eyes: ...well, as noted, there's one detail about what he looks like.
- Pushover Parents: Anthony's parents. How could they be anything else?
- Reality Warper
- Stepford Smiler: The only way to keep Anthony happy is to think happy thoughts and act like everything's okay.
- Stop Helping Me!: In-universe in the original short story, the townspeople apply the "real good" mantra to everything that happens, whether or not Anthony is directly responsible, for fear that he might sense unhappiness from someone he likes and cause damage with a poorly informed attempt to help. The television adaptation deemphasizes this element and focuses on the fear of Anthony deliberately using his powers in anger.
- Telepathy: Don't even think anything bad about Anthony. Really, don't.
- Villain Teleportation / Mobile Menace: Anthony is hard to avoid—not that he's any less dangerous when he's far away.
- What If God Was One of Us?: Specifically, what if God was a bratty, spoiled child. Obviously, the answer isn't pretty.
The various adaptations provide examples of:
- Be Careful What You Wish For: In the 2002 Twilight Zone sequel, Anthony himself learns this lesson after he decides just to send everyone to the cornfield, realizing how lonely it is with just him and his daughter as the last people on earth. Although his daughter is able to restore the world, it's ambiguous whether the lesson stuck enough to make him think twice before lashing out in the future.
- Deranged Animation: Played for nightmare fuel in The Movie: Anthony is obsessed with cartoons, so instead of "the cornfield" he sends his victims to "cartoonland", depicted as a technicolor nightmare. And brought a Tazmanian Devil-like toon character into the real world.
- Hair-Raising Hare: A rabbit turns into a snarling hellbeast in The Movie.
- Psychic Static: Dan Hollis tries to invoke this by distracting Anthony, and he begs the others to kill Anthony while Anthony's attention is focused on his outburst. Unfortunately for Dan, everyone is still too afraid to raise a hand against Anthony.
- Scary Jack In The Box: In the original Twilight Zone episode, this is what Anthony transforms his one on-screen victim into.
- The Simpsons version has a similar scene where Bart turns Homer into a jack-in-the-box after Homer comes home from being transported into the TV during a football game.
It's good that we have a recap of this episode, it's real good