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Wheel of Pain
Round and round they go, which is really saying something.

Mandatory torment of ancient and fantasy slaves. It's a giant capstan to which slaves are chained and made to drive in order to power some unseen machinery. In Fictionland, it seems, every slave-holding culture has this device. The most notable exception are the slaves held on plantations in the antebellum South of the United States.

Can occasionally happen in a futuristic setting. These wheels often don't even do anything (or do some trivial little task); presumably they're only used because the bad guys are just dicks.

Has little or nothing to do with Painwheel but see in the Video Games folder below.

Examples:

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     Anime and Manga  

     Film  

  • Named for the device from Conan the Barbarian (1982), which turned the titular character from a scrawny kid into the musclebound Badass that rampaged across two films. (Indeed, Arnold Schwarzenegger buffed up so much for the movie, when he was being filmed pushing it along, the director had to have half the crew on the other side of the wheel pushing the opposite direction so it'd look like Arnie was actually exerting himself.) According to Word of God, it's a grain wheel.
  • Used on the sugar plantation the eponymous protagonist is chained to in Captain Blood.
  • Zombie slaves provide the motive power for a similar sugar-mill capstan in White Zombie (1932, and not connected with Rob Zombie beyond a A Good Name for a Rock Band).
    • There's a surprisingly grisly moment for the movie's era when one of the zombies falls into the mill and is mindlessly ground up by the rest.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest had the Kraken Hammer raised by a device of this sort.
    • The Black Pearl has a similar device... to raise and lower the anchor. Most ships of that age had one. (This is what a capstan is; several sea-shanties are paced to the rhythm ideal for pushing it, to keep everyone walking at the same pace.)
  • The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King had trolls turning huge wheels to open the gates of Mordor.
  • The film adaptation of the musical Oliver! briefly shows a variation on the theme, as detailed in Real Life below, during the opening scene.

     Literature  

  • A Mammoth-pushed variant is shown in The Way Things Work to power of Merry Go round, the Mammoths have Carrots dangling infront of them and are basically tricked into turning one wheel, which in is propped up against another, which has seats dangling off it.
  • The Great Wheel of Kharnabhar, in Brian W. Aldiss' Helliconia trilogy, is built inside a mountain, has only one door, and takes several years to make a turn. The locals believe the Wheel drives Helliconia's great year, so in the centuries-long winter when things are bad for humans, the Wheel is basically a monastery staffed by volunteers; in summer, it's a prison.
    • Which opens another question: How the hell was this thing built? And after it was finished, how was it put into move, since it's harder to make something move than keeping it moving?
  • Shows up a couple of times in Gor: the gate that one enters the Sardar Mountains at is powered by slaves, and in Guardsman of Gor the hero is captured and set to work one which opens and closes a water gate. Don't worry, he planned for that to happen.
  • A variant in Ranger's Apprentice - Skandian slaves turn the rack, which is a pair of paddles that aggravate the surface of the water in the well to prevent it freezing over in winter. It's such gruelling work that even the slave owners, who drive their slaves hard, recognise they can only work on it for two hours at a time.

     Live Action TV  

  • Doctor Who has the Christmas special "The Next Doctor", with orphans turning this this type of device to turn the machinery to start the Cyber King.
  • True Blood, but not before the second season. Actually, Eric has one in the basement of his bar.

     Religion  

  • Samson, after being captured by the Philistines and blinded, is set to work on one of these.

     Videogames  

  • In The Curse of Monkey Island, the player sees a horde of monkeys being enslaved this way.
  • One of the first missions in Brutal Legend involves freeing a bunch of Headbangers from a mine that features one of these.
  • In Dominions 3, Early Ulm has it as one of their national sites. Orphans are sent there, and those who survive are made into Steel Warriors, often called "Conans" by the fans.
  • A non-slavery example can be found in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Tingle's brothers are responsible for keeping his lighthouse spinning. They aren't all that happy about it though.
  • While it may be non-slavery example, Painwheel from Skullgirls has a giant wheel coming out of her spine. Part of her story deals with her breaking free from her master's control, playing on this trope.
  • An unoccupied one is seen in Cimmeria in Age of Conan. It might even be the same in the Trope Picture..

     Western Animation  

  • King Bumi's pet, Flopsy, was chained to one of these in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
  • Samurai Jack found his father chained to this device by Aku.
  • Spoofed on The Simpsons, where Homer is forced to work one, which turns a display wheel at the canteen.
    Lenny: Hmm, I wonder what makes the cupcakes turn.
    Carl: Who cares?
  • One of these showed up in an episode of Futurama.
  • Cobra from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero in many of its earlier episodes inexplicably kept haggard looking slaves wearing rags, turning wheels and pushing mining carts, despite that fact that Cobra prided itself on using the sorts of advanced technology that would have made it easier to mine via automation.
  • One episode of The Fairly Oddparents (the beauty pageant episode) had one of these in every character's fantasy of them becoming mayor for a day. In Vicky's fantasy, Timmy is the one turning the wheel. In Timmy's Mom's fantasy, it's a bunch of men turning the wheel. When Timmy's Dad actually wins the contest and becomes mayor for a day, he basically makes the fantasy come to life... only it's his hated neighbor, Mr. Dinkleberg turning the wheel.
    • At one point in Wishology, the fairies are forced to do this by the Eliminators. Cupid asks "What happens if we stop pushing this thing?" They decide to find out...and discover that it plays the melancholy background music.
  • In My Life as a Teenage Robot, when first informed about the Cluster, we see humans chained to this, apparently to power some kind of Ice Cream Parlor for robots.

     Real Life  

  • Something similar in principle was actually seriously proposed for use in workhouses in Victorian Britain, not for slaves, but for petty criminals and/or the long-term unemployed. (The two groups were treated pretty much the same back then.) It used a treadmill arrangement that resembled nothing so much as a very large hamster-wheel rather than the traditional capstan, which really isn't very much better, and rarely if ever served any practical purpose because steam power did the same job more effectively.
  • In the medieval period, there were pieces of construction machinery called treadle cranes, powered by people walking in, as in the example above, what amounted to a giant hamster wheel. They were basically the engines of the cranes used in castle and cathedral construction. They could also be powered by animals (a tiny version was found in kitchens, powered by a dog- so common that there was a specific breed of dog created for this)
  • The World's Strongest Man competition has this. As it is inspired by the Connan movie, its appropriately called Conan's Wheel. Its heavy to lift and going in circles gives you a higher score.
  • Sugar plantations used to have presses that would work on the same principle, the Americas was notorious for these machines being pushed by slaves, and horrific accidents were commonplace.

What Do You Mean, It's Phlebotinum?Applied PhlebotinumWhen Things Spin, Science Happens
What a DragA Tortured IndexWhip It Good
We Will Use Manual Labor in the FutureA Slave to the IndexWin Your Freedom
Conan the Barbarian (1982)ImageSource/Live-Action FilmsConan the Barbarian (2011)

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