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Literature / A Monster Calls

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A Monster Calls is a novel written by Patrick Ness from the original idea by Siobhan Dowd, who passed away before the book was completed. Jim Kay illustrated the book, who used the more traditional ways of painting with beetles and breadboards, as opposed to the more modern marks and textures.

The Monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming... This monster is different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

Compare to I Kill Giants, another story about a troubled loner protagonist that gets tied up with a monster that may or may not exist, also accompanied by a similar Bittersweet Ending.

In 2016, director J.A. Baytona adapted the book into a film, starring Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson, and introducing Lewis MacDougal in his first film role. For that see A Monster Calls.


Tropes that associate with A Monster Calls.

  • Adult Fear: Losing the most important person to you to a disease that wastes them away slowly.
    • Another example is after the fourth story, where Conor's grandma says she looked for him for hours, so she had to face the possibility of losing both her daughter and her grandson on the same day.
  • An Aesop: Subverted, the monster mocks Conor for thinking he would go through the trouble of walking again just to teach him a lesson about being nice. However, the stories do encourage Conor to reflect on the nature of morality and selfishness, they pose questions more than giving answers.
  • Anti-Villain: The Monster. He's a monster, but he's there to help Conor.
  • Awful Truth: What the Monster wants and what Conor fears the most.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: In-universe, the prince murders his girlfriend to stir a riot from the people, frames his stepmother queen for the murder, and successfully overthrows her.
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  • Badass Boast: When the Monster describes his true nature.
  • Bittersweet Ending: It's inevitable Conor's mother is going to die. But Conor, with the Monster's help, has managed to come to terms with it, inasmuch as a boy his age can. There's also the fact that Conor has alienated himself from all his peers due to his beat down of Harry, but still has a kindred spirit in Lily.
  • Byronic Hero: Conor, at least until he can accept the fact that his mother's going to die.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Despite the fantastical themes, the story is ultimately about the brooding and cynical Conor coming to terms with not only the inevitability of his mother's death, but his guilt over his feelings about it. Specifically, Conor unconsciously wants his mother to die, because watching her die slowly is so painful to him, and he wants that pain (and hers) to end. But the end of that pain will only come with her death, which he doesn't really want. Part of what the Monster is ultimately trying to teach Conor is that it's OK to want to stop hurting so much, despite the only way it can do so, and it doesn't mean he doesn't love his mother or really wants her to be gone.
  • Cruel Mercy: Combined with Un-Person, this is what Harry eventually does to Conor.
  • Deconstructed Trope: Of happy endings, for the three stories. Conor thinks each story will work out fine. Instead, the characters get exactly what they deserve, even if they're a murderer or just plain nasty.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: It's quite clear from the beginning that Conor is very uncomfortable with the way the people around him, especially his teachers, treat him. The last third of the book implies that he doesn't believe he deserves it.
  • Exact Words: The Monster describes the stories before telling them. When, at the twist, Conor claims he's been cheated, the Monster repeats the description, that it's technically correct.
    • Also when he says that if Conor's mom can be healed, the yew tree medicine will do that. Turns out she cannot be healed
    • Minor example but early on the Monster warns against the words of men who justify murder. While at first one might think the Monster is against violence (he's not in some form, he destroys a house, helps Conor on two occasions destroy things) but of course he only said be wary of "justifying" it. Given that he calls himself a monster, he's not against it he just doesn't justify his actions as being anything other than what he truly felt like doing.
  • Foregone Conclusion: In-universe. The truth is that Conor always knew that his mom was not gonna make it.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Averted, the yew tree is the Monster's favorite form and has no qualms about scaring Conor with his form.
  • Friendless Background: Inverted, Conor used to have a few friends, but after his mom was diagnosed with cancer people started treating him differently and he grew isolated.
  • Full-Name Basis: The Monster always refers to Conor by his full name.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: All of the Monster's stories.
    Monster: Most people are neither good or bad guys. Most people are somewhere in between.
  • I Have Many Names: The Monster.
  • Humans Are Flawed: One of the main themes of the book, and particularly of the first story.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Conor's mom heaving out a horrible cough is one of the things that clues us in that something is wrong with her.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Subverted with the Apothecary. It's not that he was noble on the inside, it's just that the way to satisfy his greed was to heal people.
  • Karma Houdini: Played with Conor in the film. The fact that he didn't get punished for what he does seems to hurt him even more. The book makes it more clear that Conor wants to be punished, because being punished would be a normal thing to happen to him, and let him feel that his life is not horribly different. The principal has good intentions and is trying to make things easier on an emotionally suffering student, but getting special treatment just makes him feel worse.
  • Low Fantasy: Set in modern day, but is ultimately still a tale about a little boy and his interactions with a monstrous giant made from a yew tree who may or may not be real.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's never completely clear whether the Monster actually exists or not. Nothing happens that can't be explained by Conor's actions other than the leaves, the berries, and the sapling, and Conor gets rid of those before anybody else sees them, and when the Monster appears to him in school, no one else is able to see it. Not that a magical being can't be selectively invisible, but there's a lot of wiggle room to go either way, though the book doesn't really dwell on it.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: The Monster clearly has a code of action, but he's perfectly willing to let Conor destroy his grandmother's living room (or help him do it, it's not clear). The same thing happens when Harry is beaten to a pulp. The Monster's code seems more geared to telling the truth and acting how you really mean it regardless of how complex that feeling may be. So it may be that the Monster knows that what Conor is doing is not how he should be, but wants him to learn from the results.
    • As an example of who we are talking about here, the Monster saves the life of a witch who was accused to crimes she didn't commit but also destroyed the house of a parson who he found would change beliefs on a whim. The Monster also loves wordplay, while he certainly doesn't lie he will speak in ways that could mislead.
    • Further, Conor has very complex feelings to his mother's death. Wanting her pain to end, but not that he wants her dead. The Monster wants Conor to be able to act how he feels in his heart, his inner truth, but is not at all opposed to letting Conor act out as a way of venting. The Monster sees this is as better than bottling it in or forcing him to make it a simpler issue.
  • Never Say "Die": Ironically enough, "die" is only said once throughout the whole book, despite its themes.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Harry manages to strike a nerve in Conor and is in turn beaten down horrifically by the Monster. But it is later said that Conor himself was the one who beat down Harry.
  • No Name Given: Conor's mom, dad, and grandma are only ever referred as such.
  • Not So Different: Conor and his grandma are far from seeing eye to eye, they find common ground in the fact that Conor's mom is the most important person for both of them.
    • When Conor's grandma returns home after he's destroyed the sitting room, he's terrified that she'll be furious and ship him off to military school. Instead, she roars in anguish and knocks over the one piece of furniture that Conor left standing before retreating to her bedroom, making it clear just how much she's been holding in her own pain over the imminent death of her daughter.
  • Twist Ending: More or less the point of the Monster's stories, used for deconstructive purposes.
    • In the Monster's first story, the stepmother, who has become queen, was indeed a witch, but she did not poison the king like the villagers believed. Nor did she murder the farm girl the prince was dating. Rather, the prince was the murderer, who did so to inspire the villagers to overthrow the queen.
    • In the second story, the Apothecary's healing traditions are fueled by belief. When the Parson, a man of belief, promises to recant his beliefs even if it means getting his daughters back, the Apothecary loses his source of belief, and is unable to treat the two daughters because of it.
    • In the third story, an invisible man, tired of not being noticed, summons the Monster so everyone would see him. The people see... something grotesque.
  • Wham Line: From the Monster to Conor: "I didn't come to heal her, I came to heal you."
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: The main reason Conor realizes the Monster isn't a dream is the destruction of his grandmother's living room, but his hands are bloody so it could have been him, along with snapping and letting the Monster seriously hurt Harry, the students said they saw him do it, but he sees the Monster do it, but also feels himself do it. Zig-Zagged?

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