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Literature / Chain Letter

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Chain Letter is a horror novel by Christopher Pike written in 1986 about a group of kids and their Dark Secret. Alison, Fran, Brenda, Kipp, Tony, Joan, and Neil are driving back from a Beach Boys concert along a dark desert highway, more than a little buzzed, when a bout of horseplay leads to a moment of inattention and they hit someone on the road. After finding that the man they hit has no identification, and fearing what the accident could do to their futures, they agree to bury the man and never mention it again.

Then, one of them receives a letter. Signed "Your Caretaker", it's evident that the writer knows exactly what they did that night, and requests that the recipient perform what seems to be a fairly harmless, if embarrassing, prank, cross their name off, and then pass the letter to the next person, who will receive their instructions. They quickly find out it's not a joke when one of them refuses their task and barely survives a car crash after their brakes are cut. Further attempts to avoid the pranks similarly result in life-threatening incidents that they survive. Then, the next round of instructions starts, and the dying starts...

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A sequel, Chain Letter 2, was released in 1992 with the survivors of the first book facing down The Caretaker once more. As often happens with sequels, the body count is higher and things get really weird.


This book exhibits the following tropes:

  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Ironically enough, Neil's final request is to be buried on the lone prairie, specifically beside the grave in the desert the group dug before.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: The protagonists try getting rid of the eponymous chain letter, but once the letter is sent to you and you are on the list, the only way to free yourself from eternally being commanded to perform tasks (each task progressively becoming more malicious and difficult) is death.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Fran and Kipp's deaths in the sequel. Fran is decapitated in a car accident, and Kipp is soaked in gasoline and set on fire after refusing to burn his sister's arm.
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  • Darker and Edgier: The first book isn't light-hearted in the least, but there is a minimum of violence and most of the kids survive. The sequel kills several of them in pretty horrible ways. The Caretaker's tasks evolve from things like "flub your lines in the school play" or "spread the rumor that you're gay," to things like "drown your puppy" or "burn down your house." There's a lot more sex, too.
  • Dark Secret: The seven killed a man in the desert in a car accident, and buried him there without reporting it.
  • Disposing of a Body: Done via a desert burial a bit away from an isolated highway.
  • Faking the Dead: Neil, Kipp, and Fran aren't actually dead, Kipp and Fran having been abducted by Neil, the Caretaker.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Fran's task in Chain Letter 2 is to drown her puppy. Since she loves her puppy more than anything, she refuses, and is killed soon after. Kipp also counts, though he didn't actually take the threat seriously until his death.
  • Jerk Jock: Subverted with Tony. People are always telling him what an amazing football player he is and he's the best of Grant High's team, but he actually hates football and doesn't get along with his teammates because they have nothing in common. Unfortunately, he realizes that he does have something of an ego, and said ego blinded him to Neil's feelings because he's so used to enabling Neil's Hero Worship.
  • Kill It with Fire: Kipp's death in the sequel.
  • Never Found the Body: Two of the kids disappear with no body found 2/3 of the way through the book.
  • Secretly Dying: Neil's claimed diabetes and wrenched knee are actually a cover for the cancer he has in his leg, which has spread to his brain.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Brenda's tasks from the Caretaker involve insulting her teachers. Her first task has her telling the drama teacher he's the worst director in the world, and for the second she needs to tell every teacher to go to hell individually. Both times she gets a bit too into it, and during the second task she basically starts an in-class revolt against a particularly nasty English teacher.

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