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Literature: Mystery of the Witches' Bridge

A brooding, dark, and suspenseful children's novel by Barbee Oliver Carleton, originally published as simply The Witches' Bridge, this book tells the story of young Dan Pride, orphaned and sent to live at his old family home in the salt marshes of Massachusetts...a home of dark secrets, ancient feuds, long-lost treasure, a mysterious curse, and an unsolved mystery which threatens to ruin any future happiness for him and bring his family down.

Strange legends surround the family at Pride's Point—stories of a Puritan ancestor accused of witchcraft, and of a ghostly fiddler who still haunts the Witches' Bridge. People say a curse follows whoever hears the Fiddler. Now young Dan Pride has come to live at Pride's Point with his uncle. He believes the stories are just superstition—until he learns that years ago his grandfather died near the bridge as the Fiddler played. Then one night Dan, too, hears the music. Will he be able to escape the terror that hangs over the Witches' Bridge?


This book contains the following tropes:

  • Adults/Police Are Useless: Averted. Ann Bishop is convinced to help Pip spy on Billy Ben and prove Dan's innocence thanks to him being in trouble on their behalf, and while Johnny Lash and the other policemen are at first fooled by the Frameup, the minute the truth is revealed they apologize to Dan and go chasing after the real villain.
  • Affably Evil: Billy Ben.
  • Age-Appropriate Angst: Not only is Dan perfectly justified to be lonely, heartbroken, and suffering after losing his parents in a plane crash and suddenly thrust into unfamiliar, disturbing surroundings, but everything from the feud to being a jinx to being framed for arson are things any young man in his situation would find upsetting. His attempts to reach out to his uncle only to be stymied again and again are particularly painful and realistic.
  • Always Identical Twins: Pip and Gilly.
  • Androcles Lion: Rescuing Caliban from drowning in the marsh (which he wasn't even actually in danger of) is how Dan befriends the dog for life.
  • As the Good Book Says: Billy Ben quotes Exodus when he tells the story of Samuel and Elizabeth: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." He quotes it again later too, while almost saying the trope name.
  • Awful Truth/Dark Secret: The twins being Bishops, something which Dan would have picked up on much earlier (seeing as they weren't too good at hiding it) if he hadn't first been ignorant, then oblivious thanks to his growing prejudice.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Completely subverted. Gaunt, unfriendly, forbidding Uncle Julian turns out to be a lonely, sad, but ultimately good-hearted man who simply has been hurt far too much to know how to relate to other people, while the ugly, misshapen dog Caliban is in fact as good, loyal, and friendly as they come to those who treat him with kindness and love. Meanwhile the seemingly warm, friendly, harmless handyman, Billy Ben, is the Big Bad and secretly working to steal the briefcase, take over Pride's so as to sell the marsh for money, and do all he can to get rid of Dan when he gets in his way.
  • Beneath Suspicion: Both Billy Ben and Elder Corey are believed absolutely loyal, honest, and forthright, but the latter robbed Old Dan (and outright blamed the Bishops for it) while the former worked to find the briefcase for his own greedy ends and was willing to hurt the twins and Dan to make it happen.
  • Berserk Button: Dan hates being teased about his height.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Unlike most examples of this trope, the money itself isn't sought after (except by the Big Bad) or important—what matters is its presence or absence, since this will prove which of the Feuding Families was telling the truth about that fateful night.
  • Brutal Honesty: Gilly suffers from this.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: So much Dan could have made clear to his uncle, if he could just bring himself to say it. In his defense, however, his uncle's demeanor and the circumstances often made it very difficult to do so. This also applies to Pip and Gilly being unable to tell Dan their identities, albeit justified by the Feuding Families making them very wary of how he might respond (although if they'd told him early enough, before he started hating and irrationally distrusting the Bishops, he might have accepted it better).
  • Character Witness: Pip (and to a lesser extent, his mother Ann) acts as this to exonerate Dan of the arson charge at the climax. Thematically appropriate as a parallel to the initial false charge of witchcraft from a Bishop that started the whole feud, bringing things full circle.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The references to Bella and the other salt ponds. Pip's foxgrass. The Morse code signal lights. The triangle on the milestone. The numerous times the wind blows when the Fiddler is heard. Billy Ben's "fast, light" stride.
  • Clear Their Name: Appears in multiple ways—early in the story a desire to prove the Prides honest and in the right, and thus end the bad blood and dark talk about the family, motivates Dan to find the lost briefcase; then once he is able to get past his hatred and prejudice to realize the truth about the past may not be what people think it is, his quest becomes one to clear the Bishops' name of wrongdoing; and finally in the end, thanks to the Frameup, Dan ends up having to appeal to Pip to clear his own name.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Everyone thinks Lamie is this, but although he is eccentric and, in the words of Julian, simple, he is actually only an unusual Nature Lover who is very wise about the world around him.
  • Coming of Age Story: Ending the feud is how Dan makes it through his.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Once Dan realizes the twins did not deliberately lie to hurt him, and were his true friends, he is extremely torn between them and his uncle.
  • Conveniently an Orphan/Orphan's Ordeal: On the one hand, the deaths of Dan's parents merely act as a catalyst to get him to Pride's Point; on the other hand, it's this loss which strongly motivates Dan throughout the story to make friends, fit in, and ultimately prove himself a loyal Pride so he can connect with his uncle.
  • Curse: Samuel Pride pronounced one on the people of York who came to arrest and execute him and his wife for witchcraft. Although the first manifestation of it was an epidemic that hit the town, over the years the curse has actually limited itself to bad luck, danger, and various disasters which only came about due to people hearing the Fiddler.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Most notably the poor misunderstood dog, Caliban, who for most of the book Dan thinks is the Devil or one of his servants called by the Curse, then a vicious, bloodthirsty killer, until he learns the dog is actually kind, loving, and friendly, harmful only to those who have hurt and abused him. In an interesting thematic way, this also applies to the West Marsh, a place of danger, wildness, death and rot, and home to the Fiddler and his curse...but which in the end proves to be a better haven and protector for Dan than the sunny, safe, wide open East Marsh. In general the three parts of Samuel's curse end up becoming allies to Dan rather than signs of doom, and Samuel's example ends up saving his life.
  • Determinator: Samuel was this, being able to accept pressing by stones in order to save his family's lands, but by the end of the book it applies to Dan himself.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Literal example, where Caliban finally gets his revenge upon Billy Ben after having been beaten, abused, and partly disabled by him years ago. Laser-Guided Karma at its finest.
  • Doing in the Fiddler: The Fiddler turns out to be the east wind, blowing through the witches' passage when the tide is low. Dan also first thinks it may be a living person with a real-life fiddle—his own, or his grandfather's which was gifted to Lamie just before his death.
  • Driving Question: What happened to Old Dan and his lost briefcase?
  • Empathic Environment: Whether on his first night at Pride's or at various places throughout the story, the weather always seems to reflect the plot and/or Dan's moods, ranging from wild and tempestuous storms, to the Fiddler's fog, to nights of peaceful calm and moonlight. The end of the story, when all is well, naturally takes place on a beautiful sunny day.
  • Eureka Moment: A number of them, ranging from realizing Billy Ben was the true villain, to figuring out the identity of the briefcase's thief, to identifying the ruins under the causeway and the location of the witches' chamber.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: When Pip comes to visit Dan following the fire to try and make amends, he immediately has to hide in the next room when Uncle Julian comes home. So naturally he gets an earful, hearing the whole story of Julian and Ann and what happened the night Old Dan died, from Julian's skewed and prejudiced perspective. The result almost ends any chance for the twins to make up with Dan.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Played with. Upon first meeting the dour, distant, unapproachable Uncle Julian, both Dan and the reader are convinced he will be a terrible guardian who will forbid him anything and everything, making his life cold, empty, and friendless. But although Julian does have issues opening up and being a caring uncle, he actually encourages Dan to explore the marsh and make friends, as well as study and do chores. It's only being in the marsh on foggy nights that is forbidden—and later, being with the Bishops.
  • Feuding Families: With a vengeance—the Bishops and Prides have hated and distrusted each other for over three hundred years thanks to the accusation of witchcraft (motivated by both greed and religion) which led to the deaths of Samuel and Elizabeth. This has only been carried through the years, with the moment when it seemed the feud would end (thanks to Philip Bishop and Old Dan, as well as Julian and Ann) ruined by Dan's death and the disappearance of his briefcase. Only in the present, when Dan must learn the truth to save his friendship with the twins and reach out to his uncle, is the feud finally laid to rest.
  • Forgiveness: In the end the book is all about this, although it approaches the matter realistically, particularly after three hundred years of hate, suspicion, and prejudice.
  • For Your Own Good: Julian believes sending Dan away, once he's heard the Fiddler and become a jinx and especially after the fire and his befriending the Bishops, is this as it will remove him from the feud, the hatred of York, and his own unloving, distant presence. Billy Ben tries to keep Dan and the twins apart, and reports him to his uncle when discovering them together again, for the same reason although it's actually for a more sinister, ulterior motive.
  • Frameup: Billy Ben sets up one of these against Dan, blaming him for a warehouse fire at the shipyard, to get him out of the way so he can search for the witches' chamber.
  • Generation Xerox/Dead Guy Junior: All over the place. Young Dan is named for his grandfather, plays the violin just as he did, is similarly determined to prove the Curse to be merely superstition (and, eventually, to end the feud), and is said by Lamie to have a great deal of his grandfather in him, if not actually looking like him. Billy Ben walks just the way his father does (an important plot point) while Gilly is the spitting image of her mother Ann. Uncle Julian, in his most unguarded moments of deepest emotion and human connection, is described as having the face, expression, laugh, or voice of Dan's father, but in appearance he is actually the mirror image of Samuel Pride, the accused witch.
  • Greed: Billy Ben's motive in seeking the lost briefcase, so he can get out of York, see the world, and then take over at Pride's.
  • Handy Man: Billy Ben. Subverted—he's the Big Bad.
  • Haunted House Historian: Both Billy Ben and Mrs. Corey act as this for the story of Samuel's curse and the story of Old Dan's mysterious death, respectively.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Aside from one reference to a "gay" quilt, the word "queer" turns up a great deal in reference to Julian, Lamie, and both Dans.
  • Hellhound: Thanks to the story of the curse, Dan believes Caliban to be one of these at first.
  • The Hermit: Lamie. Despite the rumors and beliefs that he is an insane, dangerous wild man, in the end he turns out to be a gentle, wise, and harmless Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold who also proves to be something of a Hermit Guru to Dan.
  • History Repeats: On the one hand, Dan is constantly aware of the comparisons between himself and his grandfather, and between hearing the Fiddler, his violin, and being thought a jinx by everyone in York (and even, to some degree, Uncle Julian) ends up believing that he will come to the same terrible end as his namesake, if not bringing about yet another iteration of the family Curse. Meanwhile, the curse itself is believed to repeat throughout generations, striking at anyone who hears the Fiddler play, and the reason for the curse is the continued treachery of the Bishops (or so it is believed), with the original accusation of witchcraft repeated through the treachery of Philip and Ann against Old Dan and Julian respectively, and then through Pip and Gilly's lies to Dan. The cycle is not broken until the truth about Old Dan's death is revealed...which in turn does not happen until Bishops, instead of bringing shame and hatred upon the Prides, testify to their innocence.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: If Billy Ben had just kept his mouth shut and not felt the need to cockily indulge in Evil Gloating, he never would have been exposed—Dan was so tired and traumatized by all that had happened he couldn't even speak up in his own defense and was ready to be taken away by the police, but hearing what he knew to be lies about Pip galvanized Dan to reveal the truth. Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The book actually begins with Dan arriving at Pride's at night, in the middle of a thunderstorm.
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: Poor Pip and Gilly.
  • Kindly Housekeeper: Mrs. Corey. She's more brusque and crustier than most examples due to the environment and Backstory, but her heart is good and she helps out a great deal despite her superstitions and prejudices.
  • Legacy of Service: The Coreys, to the Prides. Which, it seems, both Billy Ben and his father resented.
  • Leitmotif: Thanks to his name, Dan gets one of these in whistle form courtesy of Billy Ben, the old Irish ballad Londonderry Air ("Danny Boy"). This later becomes an Ironic Folk Song, and to some degree Soundtrack Dissonance, when Billy Ben, revealed as the Big Bad, uses it to mock and scorn him. Never has a song normally so wistful and sad been so ominous and disturbing.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Applies to both Dan and Julian, thus making him feel a kinship and sympathy for his uncle even when he has yet to find a way to reach him. Also thought to be the case for Lamie.
  • Lying to the Perp: Unintentional, and self-inflicted, but Gilly's Twin Switch with Pip and subsequent imprisonment is Billy Ben's undoing—because when he boldly asserts Pip must have broken free of his cottage (and thus couldn't have witnessed the Frameup), Dan is able to Pull the Thread and reveal he had the wrong twin, thus exposing his guilt.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
  • Meaningful Name: Just about everyone in the story has one of these. Dan Pride (and by extension his whole family), very much exhibiting that Fatal Flaw, just like his uncle, grandfather, and his ancestor Samuel. The Holier Than Thou Bishops who started the feud by accusing the Prides of witchcraft. Caliban, the evil (looking) dog, who like his namesake is beaten, treated like a pariah and slave, unfairly hated, and rejected to the point of turning on everyone around him. It is inverted, however, with the Coreys—the name itself is a reference to Giles Corey of the Salem witch trials, who proudly went to his death by pressing to keep his land from being confiscated...but Elder Corey was the traitorous thief, Billy Ben is an even worse liar, manipulator, arsonist, and attempted murderer, and it is Dan who instead stays silent to keep from incriminating himself.
    • In-story: The skiff Jinx is this, named by Dan to remind himself of the way people view the Prides as a motivator to expose the Bishops as the real source of ruin and blame. Of course he comes to regret that name when it ends up being viewed by the firemen, Billy Ben, and Julian at exactly the wrong time, reminding them of his having heard the Fiddler.
  • Mistaken Identity: Happens the first time Dan meets Gilly, thinking she's Pip.
  • Mood Motif/Ominous Fiddle: The Fiddler acts as background music of impending doom, yet also a certain sorrowful beauty, in several scenes in the marsh.
  • Must Make Amends: Initially, Dan feels a need to do this in order to make up for accidentally spurning his uncle's overture of friendship, and so begins to search for the lost briefcase. This only intensifies when he discovers he had inadvertently befriended Bishops and needs to prove his loyalty to Julian. Once he discovers the truth, however, Dan turns around and works to make it up to the twins and restore their friendship...and in the very end, once the briefcase is found, it is Julian who is determined to carry out this trope with Ann Bishop.
  • Mystery Fiction
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Dan, on the run from the law, slipping as quietly as he can through the pitch-black witches' passage, hoping he can find the chamber at the end, while Billy Ben pursues him inexorably, with chilling false cheer, ready to kill, unseen...
  • Not What It Looks Like: Extremely painful dramatic example where, after finding the twins' lost jackknife revealing their true heritage, Julian believes Dan knowingly befriended Bishops and Dan himself believes the twins lied so as to use him and continue the feud.
  • Old Dark House: The house at Prides, particularly the original old wing from Samuel's time.
  • Ominous Fog: Tends to form often in the marshes around Pride's Point, and thanks to the curse always viewed as a sign of impending doom and evil—such as when it precedes the accidental fire on the point and The Reveal about the twins. In the end, though, it helps Dan as much as it causes trouble for him.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Old Dan Pride believed this, and was determined to prove that Samuel and Elizabeth were not witches, there was no Curse, and the Fiddler wasn't real; dying for his troubles, after laughing at the Curse, playing a violin, and defying conventional wisdom by only using the old causeway over the Witches' Bridge and the West Marsh, convinced people all the more that the superstitions were true—even Julian. Young Dan has to follow in his grandfather's footsteps to prove his own innocence, as well as end the feud and earn his uncle's respect.
  • Overcome Their Differences: Dan and the twins need to do this in order to end the feud and find the lost briefcase—not only because of the feud but because of Billy Ben's lies turning them against each other.
  • Plot Device: The lost briefcase and its money, the search for which drives the whole narrative.
  • Poor Communication Kills: A great deal of the story would have been changed, and much heartache prevented, if the twins had told Dan the truth from the start and if Dan himself had been able to spit out his innermost thoughts and feelings, particularly to his uncle.
  • Portent of Doom: The strains of the Fiddler which are said to bring a curse of ill fortune down on anyone who hears them during foggy nights in the marsh.
  • Pride: The author gets incredible mileage out of every possible permutation of this trope, beginning with the family name. In the end it is this Fatal Flaw that caused the Bishops to first accuse Samuel of witchcraft, led the Prides to withdraw and reject the townsfolk, made Old Dan refuse to give up on ending the feud and the superstitions, kept Julian and anybody else from suspecting Billy Ben or Elder Corey of treachery, and for a long time caused young Dan to fall into the same hateful mindset as his uncle. Only when he lets this go and listens with an open mind to Lamie is Dan able to forgive the twins and work to set everything right between the families.
  • Rear Window Witness: Lamie happened to be fishing near the Witches' Bridge and thus knew Old Dan never made it to the Bishops with the money.
  • Religious Horror: Thanks to his grandfather's death in the vicinity, the chapel on the point acts as a form of this to Dan until he uncovers its true secret.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Samuel's curse:
    Out of the night, and the fog, and the marsh, these three
    Doom shall come for thee.
  • Rule of Drama: Aside from the simple fact of Dan befriending Bishops (without knowing that's who they were) right before Julian forbids him to have anything to do with them, the twins lose their jackknife during the fire which just so happens to have their family name on it—and naturally, it's Uncle Julian, the worst person possible, who finds it after they fruitlessly searched for it.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Caliban's Meaningful Name and his Not So Different status with regards to Julian, the motif of Beauty Equals Goodness vs. Dark Is Not Evil, the Witches' Bridge as both a barrier and a link between the families, the Bishops vs. the Prides, the feud beginning with a Bishop's lie and ending with a Bishop testifying to the truth...the book is steeped in it.
  • Rule of Three: The three "dooms" of Samuel's curse. Also, the three arches of the Witches' Bridge, the three windows in the chapel, the triangle mark on the milestone, and the three fates (referenced in the ship in York, The Three Sisters).
  • Secret Underground Passage: Built by Hugh, son of Samuel, to lead from the witches' chamber to the river and thus help an accused witch escape to the sea. Hidden under the causeway and the chapel on the point.
  • Shout-Out/Historical In-Joke: Giles Corey, the accused Salem witch who was pressed to death rather than declare his guilt or innocence, is referenced through both the story of Samuel Pride and the Corey family that works for the Prides.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: As noted under Meaningful Name, the ugly, demonic-looking dog owned by Julian is named Caliban.
  • Shown Their Work: The author clearly did her research on Puritan times and the Salem witch trials (particularly in referencing hanging and pressing rather than burning). There's also detailed descriptions of the salt marsh and its wildlife, and a good, representative knowledge of the lives, backgrounds, and attitudes of New Englanders during the time period of the story.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang/Polar Opposite Twins: The difference isn't as pronounced as for most examples of the trope, but it's pretty clear that Pip is the calm, easygoing, laidback twin while Gilly is temperamental, loudmouthed, and a bit bossy.
  • Spooky Painting: Of Dan's Puritan ancestor Samuel, the accused witch. Subverted in that, after going almost the whole book being afraid of it and thinking it was sending him dark messages of doom and revenge, Dan eventually decides its eyes declare "Silence!" in the face of adversity, and uses this to help him stand up to the villain.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Julian and Ann Bishop were this.
  • Stock Aesops: Never judge a book by its cover—almost no one in this book is what they seem on the surface.
  • Swamps Are Evil: At least they are when a curse makes them part of a Portent of Doom.
  • Tell Me About My Grandfather: Dan is quite anxious to learn about his namesake even before he vows to find his lost briefcase; he gets told about him by Mrs. Corey, Uncle Julian, and especially Lamie.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Twice over by Samuel Pride—his curse worked to frighten people away from the bridge and the marsh, thus keeping them away from Pride's and ensuring their guilty consciences would be awoken, and his staying silent while being pressed to death saved the land and house for his family.
  • Twin Switch: Thinking fast, Gilly pulls this late in the story, taking the place of Pip so as to lead Billy Ben away and give Dan the chance to find the witches' passage.
  • Uncatty Resemblance: Although they don't physically look alike, Dan quite aptly notes the emotional and mental similarities between Julian and Caliban—both badly hurt once, and thus brooding, suspicious, distrusting and disliking people.
  • We Need a Distraction: Gilly, pretending to be Pip, claims to be at Pride's to see Dan, thus leading Billy Ben away from the causeway so Dan can get into the witches' passage.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: After revealing he'd heard the Fiddler to try and get a rise out of Julian, Dan learns from Mrs. Corey how badly the curse and its bad luck have plagued the Prides and Julian in particular. This, coupled with Julian having been the one to order his room be made comforting and welcoming, complete with a picture of Dan's dead father, makes him realize how cruel and thoughtless his actions had been, and he immediately berates himself for ruining their friendship before it could begin.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Thanks to the death of his parents, and his fairly extensive education in London and Europe, Dan is this. Pip and Gilly show signs of it too.
  • Witch Hunt: In Backstory a literal one was directed at Samuel Pride and his wife, led by the Bishops and other greedy, arrogant members of the community, culminating in their arrest and executions. In the present day, a more metaphorical one exists that continually holds the Prides to be a source of bad luck and responsible for all trouble in town, eventually making a target of young Dan.
  • You Meddling Kids: Although he never says the words, it's pretty clear Billy Ben is thinking this when Dan and Pip expose his guilt. Pip had in fact earlier suggested he didn't want kids snooping around and interfering in his search.

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