Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Bag of Bones

Go To
Sara Laughs. Just not on this cover image.

"...any good marriage is secret territory, a necessary white space on society's map. What others don't know about it is what makes it yours."

A 1998 novel by Stephen King. Michael Noonan is a popular novelist who is living an idyllic existence with his loving wife Johanna, until she unexpectedly dies one hot summer day. Losing Johanna leads directly to him losing his ability to write—grief has so crippled him that the mere act of writing causes severe panic attacks.

Haunted by memories of good times and by terrifying dreams taking place at their long-neglected summer home, Mike decides to finally attack the problem and see if returning there might help him get his life back on track. He returns to the summer home, named Sara Laughs after long-ago blues musician Sara Tidwell, to find it haunted with several different ghosts, which seem to have different agendas.

He makes immediate acquaintance with little Kyra Devore and her young mother, Mattie. They are the target of Mattie's extremely wealthy, extremely old, and extremely wicked father-in-law, who is determined to take Kyra away from Mattie. Michael's chance encounter with them draws him into the struggle. Charmed by the child, deeply attracted to her mother, and sitting on a few million dollars of his own, he decides to help Mattie fight back.

What Michael doesn't realize is that what appears to be a simple custody battle is really the final act of a vindictive ghost haunting the town, bent on avenging itself on the descendants of the men who murdered her a hundred years ago... and the seemingly nice country folks of this town are more than ready to let her finish.

Contains the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Subverted. The main allegation against Mattie Devore in Max Devore's custody case is that Mattie is abusive and neglectful towards her daughter. The charges are ridiculously false, but money has a way of making people ignore this.
  • The Ace: John Storrow, who quickly and smoothly turns the custody hearings around in Mike's favor after being retained, is fairly open-minded about everything and even has Mattie developing a slight crush on him.
  • Adaptation Deviation: In the miniseries after Sara Tidwell's daughter Kyra is murdered she curses her murderers to murder their daughters instead of just their children.
  • Alliterative Family: Through a whole town. Ever since the murder of Kito Tidwell, the townspeople seem compelled to name their children with hard K names. Many of these children fall victim to Sara's curse.
    • The trope is lampshaded and discussed as "some people think it's cute" to name their kids on a theme. This is foreshadowing the true identity of Rogette Whitmore, sibling to Roger Devore.
  • Arc Number: "Go Down 19". 19 is Stephen King's Arc Number.
  • Arc Words: "Well, that's all right, isn't it?"
    • The main title, "Bag of Bones".
    • "You funny little man, said Strickland."
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Though Mike describes himself as more-or-less normal, Mattie is very beautiful. Max Devore and Rogette Whitmore, the villains, are both the scary-looking variety of old people.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: In one of Noonan's Imagine Spots, his dead wife visits him as one. Said to be her burial shroud and he's supremely unenthused to see what's under it, although it mercifully ends before that point.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Max Devore and the vengeful ghost of Sara Tidwell
  • Bigger on the Inside: In a dream/living projection, Mike and Kyra are chased into a county fair's haunted house which is much bigger than it looks from outside.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Mike not only loses his wife at the outset, he also loses Mattie to an act of post-mortem revenge, the stupid brutality of which turns him off writing. All he has left in the world is Kyra, and at the end of the story, Mike is equally optimistic and frustrated about the process which will allow him to adopt her.
  • Black-and-White Insanity: How Sara Tidwell acts. It's not enough that she revenges herself on the men that killed her and her son; she wants to make sure none of their descendants can make it past adulthood.
  • The Cameo: Ralph Roberts and Norris Ridgewick. A few other King characters are mentioned in passing (Bill Denbrough for example).
  • Canon Welding: It's a Stephen King novel. What did you expect? Several of his works are referenced, including IT, The Dark Half, and cameos by the main character of Insomnia and Norris Ridgewick, who appeared in several Castle Rock stories in various capacities.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Stenomask and bottle of lye.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Also Max Devore, though his business in TR-90 is strictly personal.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: It is implied that the intervention of an "outsider" is what caused the ghost of Dark Score Lake to become vindictive, though its nature or origin is never explored.
  • Covers Always Lie: The American paperback version depicts a lake, which is the extent of its accuracy. The naked woman in the badly-done CG of the lake and the little shack in the distance bear no resemblance to anything in the story, and the denuded trees seem a bit unlikely considering that the part of the story set on the lakeside takes place in July.
  • Creepy Child: A few of the ghosts haunting Sara Laughs are that of a crying child and a drowned boy. They appear to disturb Mike more than the other ghosts.
  • Damsel in Distress: Mattie Devore all over the place.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Though, by this point, John Storrow was no longer in the running.
  • Dirty Cop: George Footman.
  • The Dragon: Rogette Whitmore is one of the more unlikely examples in literature.
  • Driven to Suicide: The fate of most of Jared Devore's accomplices, though not Jared himself. Instead, it's his descendant Max who commits suicide. Mike's narration also off-handedly mentions that one of his fellow authors, Thad Beaumont, has since killed himself, though he doesn't know what led to it.
  • Drop the Hammer: How Mike decides to eliminate the threat of an armed George Footman.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Mattie Devore's murder is sudden, brutal, and completely senseless. Michael later realizes he has written many fictional murders of this type, and is so disgusted with himself that he gives up on his writing career.
  • Due to the Dead: Defied, and then tentatively attempted with Sara Tidwell's remains — burying them properly doesn't do a thing to ease her fury. Mike finally has to pour lye all over her bones to destroy her ghost.
  • Erotic Dream: Mike has an explosive and disturbing three-way orgy with Jo, Mattie and Sara Tidwell in one of his dreams.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Max Devore provided well for his children and truly seemed to love his youngest son, Lance, though even that love had its limits.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: The car from which George Footman and his fellow shooter attack Mattie's trailer catches fire and explodes after George Kennedy shoots a bullet in the fuel tank.
  • Exposition Dump: The first 100 pages of the novel are essentially all backstory.
  • Face–Heel Turn: The result of certain individuals becoming a Living Bodysuit. Max Devore appears to pull one of these late in the book, in the opposite direction.
  • Fair-Weather Friend: The townspeople were this to the Tidwell family, being fairly welcoming of them for a long time but then Brutally closing ranks rather than help them bring the killers of Sara and her son to justice.
  • Fauxshadow: Mike lives in the town of Derry, which will lead the savvy King reader to assume that its dark history will play a role. All of the creepy, supernatural stuff only starts to happen after he leaves, however, and he never goes back once he's gone.
  • Forced to Watch: A black woman have to watch as her new neighbors murder her son in front of her, rape and then murder her in turn due to onset racism in the neighborhood.
  • Gender Flip: Sara's child is changed to a daughter in the miniseries.
  • Genre Savvy: Mike is a novelist, so he knows a good trope and frequently identifies them when he comes across one in his life.
  • Happily Married: Mike and Johanna; Mattie and Lance.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: The men who killed Sara Tidwell and her son or who were witnesses to the murder started realizing that they may have created a monster when they in turn start to murder their children. They try to bury her remains in a more suitable resting ground but find that it doesn't assuage her spirit.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Frank Arlen seems to want this kind of relationship with brother-in-law Mike, but Mike's too much of a loner for it to really work out.
  • Hive Mind: The residents of TR-90 fall into this near the end.
  • Hope Spot: When Max Devore drops the case. Michael immediately recognizes it as such, and unfortunately, he's right.
  • I See Dead People: Both Mike and Kyra see them all over Sara Laughs near the end, and have been communicating with them less directly throughout most of the story beforehand.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Kyra Devore survives walking down the middle of the highway, a shoot-out at her home, a high-speed chase through a raging storm, and two supernaturally influenced attempts to drown her. Other children descended from Sara's murderers weren't so lucky.
  • Jerkass: Max Devore, again. Mike himself has a pretty cynical outlook, and his personal thoughts on people, even those he likes, have a tendency to be less than flattering.
  • Karma Houdini: Jared Devore, the instigator of the rape, who died entirely unrepentant and of natural causes.
  • Living Bodysuit: When Sara's rapists/murderers go crazy and murder their children, it is not because they thought of doing it themselves. This may have been averted by Max Devore, who is taking it upon himself to carry out the ritual, knowing he'd be forced to anyway.
  • Loophole Abuse: Based on Mattie's notes, one of the local descendants who felt compelled to give one of his children a name beginning with K adopted a kid who he gave a k name, when Sara's ghost only goes after blood relatives with k names (although its unclear if this was a conscious choice or a luck coincidence).
  • Love Triangle: Done with Mike, Mattie, and John Storrow.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: We eventually find out that Rogette Whitmore is Max Devore's daughter.
  • Made of Iron: George Kennedy gets shot in the leg during a scene of particular carnage, yet calmly gets to his feet and returns fire, ensuring that one of the two assailants dies and the other is brought to justice.
  • Magic Feather: Michael believes that it was discovering his old IBM typewriter which enabled him to start writing again. His superstition regarding the apparent defeat of writer's block is so strong that he's afraid to even take it out of his office, which has no air conditioner and is uncomfortably hot in mid-July.
  • Mama Bear:
    • Even death doesn't stop Johanna from protecting Michael and Kyra from Sara Tidwell.
    Johanna: LEAVE HIM ALONE!!!
    • Mattie is another one, alive and dead.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Max Devore is throwing around scads of money at the townspeople of TR-90 to buy their good opinion and grease the skids for his custody battle.
  • May–December Romance: Mike and Mattie. Almost.
  • Meaningful Name: Devore = devour.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Michael Noonan is a novelist.
  • Murder Into Malevolence: Sara Tidwell was a (black) blues musician who watched her son be viciously murdered due to racism, and then was raped and murdered herself. Her lingering spirit decides that it's not enough for the men responsible to pay for this crime: their descendants, including young children, all have to die as well. There's a vague line that outside forces might have caused Sara's ghost to become so nasty, but this is never confirmed in any way.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: Max Devore, unfortunately for everyone on Mattie's house.
  • Mythology Gag: In Mike's narration, he offhandedly mentions the names of a few of the characters in the book he starts writing while at Sara Laughs; one of them is named Ray Garratty — the same name as the main protagonist in The Long Walk, which Stephen King wrote using his Richard Bachman pseudonym.
  • New House, New Problems: Mike's life, none too good before coming to Sara Laughs, gets a whole lot more complicated once he does.
  • Offing the Offspring: How Sara punishes the men who murdered her and her son — her spirit makes them kill their own children in turn.
  • On One Condition: After Devore's death, Whitemore claims that he left Mattie 80 million dollars on the condition that she remains on the TR for one year. She is allowed to go on daytrips, but has to make sure she spends every single night on the TR. John Storrow assures Mike however that such a condition can never legally be enforced. In the end however, it turns out to be a lie. Devore left all his money to an organisation that promotes worldwide computer literacy.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted, there are 2 characters named George in the story; George Footman, the dirty cop who works for Devore, and George Kennedy, the private investigator hired by Mike Noonan's lawyer to find out information on Devore. Interestingly the two get into a shootout with each other at the end.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Sara and her son were murdered. She makes the murderer and his cronies kill their own children in turn.
  • Personal Effects Reveal: Much of what prompts Michael Noonan to suspect that his late wife was keeping secrets from him came from various personal effects of hers (a home pregnancy testing kit, plastic owls, desk calendar entries) he finds after her death. It turns out that not only was she pregnant with her and Mike's first child, she had discovered that Dark Score Lake, where she and Mike had a vacation home, was the site of a brutal rape and murder nearly a hundred years before, but never had the chance to tell her husband either of these things before she unexpectedly died of a brain aneurysm.
  • The Present Day: Set mostly in 1998, published the same year.
  • Rape as Backstory: Sara Tidwell, though she implies that it has happened to her before and it really is the least of her problems.
  • Relative Error: Mike learns that before his wife Jo's death she had been seen hanging around TR-90 with a man and being openly affectionate with him. He naturally assumes that his wife had been having an affair, until he eventually confesses his fears to Jo's brother Frank, who reveals he was the man Jo had been seen with.
  • Self-Deprecation: As with his other writer-characters, King uses Noonan to occasionally mock the habits and pretensions of writers.
  • Signature Laugh: Sara has one, which is why the lake is called "Sara Laughs". Later counts as Evil Laugh as well.
  • Speech Impediment: Lance Devore was a stutterer.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Mike has it for Sara even as the latter threatens Kyra.
  • Title Drop: Several times throughout the book and one literal Bag of Bones the bones of Sara Tidwell and her son
  • Town with a Dark Secret: TR-90. The resident's have spent 100 years covering up the racially motivated murder of Sara and Kito Tidwell.
  • Trapped in Another World: Michael fears that if he and Kyra can't make it out of their shared dream of the 1901 Fryeburg Fair, they'll be trapped in it forever. He even speculates about what he'd do for a living if it happened.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Mike's friendly relationship with his caretaker Bill Dean is greatly damaged by signs of Bill's previously-hidden racism and the two somewhat blaming each other for the curse getting stirred up.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Sara Tidwell, who returns as a spirit to avenge her and her son's deaths by manipulating their killers' families into killing their own children and ending their bloodlines.
  • Writer's Block: Michael Noonan suffers from it since the death of his wife.