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Literature: Swan Song
Swan Song is a post-apocalyptic novel by Robert McCammon, starting just prior to World War III and following a large group of people through the following seven years. There are elements of fantasy woven throughout it, with certain bits of magic proven to be real.

It opens with several of the Loads and Loads of Characters just before the bombs go off—Sister Creep, later to be known as just "ėSister", a quasi-crazy bag lady in New York City; Swan, a little girl who can make plants grow; Josh Hutchins, a retired wrestler; Roland Croninger, a boy whose parents have gone to hide out in what they believe to be a safe fortress, and Colonel Macklin, one of the people in charge of that fortress. Russia and America annihilate one another with nuclear weapons, leaving the country in ruins and many of those who survived wounded or disfigured.

Sister finds a ring of glass, like a crown in the ruins of Tiffany's, that proves to have strange powers and which the Big Bad, a demonic figure known as the Man with the Scarlet Eye, is willing to hunt down and kill everyone for. Via Dreaming of Things to Come she knows she has to get it to Swan, who can use it to bring life back to the destroyed land or humanity may never recover. It's a long, exceptionally detailed book, beautiful in places and really squicky in others, and not for the weak of stomach. Often compared to Stephen King's The Stand, and vice versa.


Provides examples of:

  • After the End: The book opens with the End.
  • Anyone Can Die: Can, and usually do.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 1.
  • Artistic License - Nuclear Physics: Only in retrospect; at the time the book was written, it was thought that nuclear winter would play out much like it does in the story.
  • Ax-Crazy: Macklin becomes this, Alvin Mangrim embodies it literally.
  • Beautiful All Along: Sort of. Many survivors wind up with a condition called Job's Mask, where growths overtake their face where they were injured in the bombings. Once these growths fall off, they leave the person more attractive than they were before—if they're good people. The Job's Mask is said to bring forward the "true face"Ě, meaning the bad guys who get them wind up hideous when they fall off. Roland Croninger is so horrified by what he looks like once he loses his that he wears a mask he won't take off.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: More like goodness eventually equals beauty.
  • Big Rotten Apple: Sister starts out here before the bombs fall.
  • Big Bad: The Man with the Scarlet Eye.
  • Big Scary Black Man: Josh Hutchins plays this up as part of his wrestling persona.
  • Break the Cutie: Swan. It doesn't really work, though, and she winds up breaking the Big Bad.
  • Children Are Innocent: Played straight with Swan, most definitely averted with Roland Croninger, who even before the bombs fall shows signs of becoming a monster.
  • Crapsack World: Even before the bombs fall, the world has gone to hell in a handbasket.
  • The Deadliest Mushroom: Lots of them, destroying the USA and Russia.
  • Demoted to Dragon: The Army of Excellence leadership suffers this en masse when the Man with the Scarlet Eye waltzes in and takes it over.
  • Disappeared Dad: Swan's mother doesn't even know who her father is. It's implied that it might be some kind of god.
  • Doorstopper: The paperback edition is 956 pages.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: It gradually becomes obvious that Roland is this to Macklin, to the reader at first and then eventually to the characters.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Happens a lot, especially to people near the MacGuffin.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Assuming you live long enough to have one.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The world may not be entirely safe yet...It's heavily implied that the Man With The Scarlet Eye is still bicycling around the country.
  • Enfant Terrible: Roland Croninger.
  • Eldritch Abomination: When the Man with the Scarlet Eye reveals what he truly looks like.
  • End of the World as We Know It: Very, very much so.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: the source of its page quote.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly / Karmic Transformation: Downright hideous, in fact.
  • Expy: The Man with the Scarlet Eye for Randall Flagg.
  • Five-Bad Band: The Army of Excellence leadership.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • A God Am I: The President survives the initial holocaust and comes to think he literally is God, which becomes problematic when he decides he needs to wipe out the rest of humanity, and has the weapons with which to do it. Fortunately, the good guys get there first, even if only barely.
  • Green Thumb: Swan.
  • Harsher In Hind Sight: A militant cult is laid siege to. Their building burns down with them in it. This happens a few years later with the Branch Davidians.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Macklin, come the finish. Naturally he pays for it.
  • Infant Immortality: Not. At. All. A soldier cracks a baby's skull open because it won't stop crying, and in one very gruesome sequence in a shopping mall full of escaped mental patients who hunt and kill anyone who finds them, some of the protagonists find a rotting little girl who's been posed as a mannequin. Her head falls off when they bump into her.
  • Infernal Retaliation: "...in the embrace of a charred cowboy."
  • Life or Limb Decision: Macklin has to make this at the beginning of the novel.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Not that many of them survive.
  • MacGuffin: the glass crown, that allows people to "dreamwalk"Ě, see the future, speak to dead loved ones, and translate languages. Everybody and their brother wants the thing, too.
  • Meaningful Name: Swan.
  • Missing Mom: Swan's mother dies of radation poisoning when caught near a nuclear detonation.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Army of Excellence—their leader even has some vintage SS uniforms.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: The Man With The Scarlet Eye seems to be this, if his comments in his Doyle Halland disguise hold any truth.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Sister and Swan. Swan's real name is Sue Wanda; Sister is justified in that she no longer remembers her real name.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Macklin.
  • Reds with Rockets: The nuclear exchange occurs between the USA and Russia; who pushes the button first is left deliberately vague.
  • Satan: The Man with the Scarlet Eye is implied to be the Devil. Swan offers him an apple and it reminds him of an incident a long time ago.
  • Scavenger World: To the point where traveling salesmen sell old calendars for rubber bands.
  • Self-Made Orphan: In Earth House, the underground fortress, the survivors end up breaking into several gangs after the nuclear war. Roland Croninger and his parents are separated and end up in different gangs. In a battle, Roland kills his father, and his mother burns to death in a fire started in that battle. Due to the psychotic break he's suffered during the nuclear war, Roland doesn't even remember who they are, just that they're vaguely familiar.
  • Shout-Out: The code words to activate the "Talons", a doomsday weapon, are quotes from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: The reason Sister no longer remembers her real name or much of her life before New York is that her daughter died in a car accident because she had been driving drunk. Her husband left her, and she eventually went crazy and became a homeless woman who endlessly preached on street corners. Her stability reasserts itself once the bombs have fallen, though she still can't remember her name.
  • World War III: Opens the book.

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