Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Horns

Go To
Horns is a dark fantasy novel from 2010 and the second publication from American writer Joe Hill.

One morning, Ignatius "Ig" Martin Perrish awakes with a massive hangover. This is something that seems more and more common for him these days, especially since the anniversary for the night his girlfriend and the light of his life, Merrin Williams, was brutally raped and murdered and her disfigured body was found tied to a cherry tree, is rapidly approaching. To his own horror, Ig was arrested for the crime. Though the charge against him was dropped, his name was never cleared, and most of the citizens in his hometown still believe that his rich and influential family protected him against his rightfully deserved punishment. Left by most of his friends and held at a distance by his family, Ig has felt trapped in what can only be his own personal hell.

Maybe that is why, on this one particular morning, a pair of horns has sprouted from his temples.

While first assuming the horns to be a mere hallucination, simply his addled brain's way of expressing the torment and sorrow he has felt, Ig soon discovers that they are indeed real as other people acknowledge their existence. But for some reason, their reaction to the prominent growths is strangely casual. What is even more weird is that all the people Ig meets seem compelled to freely confess their most depraved, perverted and violent urges and wishes to him. He also finds out that he has the power to influence them to act upon these urges, and is capable of reading a person's innermost secrets through physical contact. Ig soon realizes these powers could help him find Merrin's killer...

A film adaptation made by Alexandre Aja, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Ig Perrish was released in 2014.

Provides examples of:

  • Ailment-Induced Cruelty: Merrin's older sister developed an aggressive type of breast cancer, and wasted away to almost nothing as the disease ravaged her body. Her father describes her to Ig as "barely eighty pounds, and seventy of that was hate." She viciously verbally abused both Merrin and him, hating Merrin for keeping her beauty and her intact body while she lost her hair and breasts and saying that her father loved Merrin more than her and was glad it was her that was dying.
  • Alcohol-Induced Bisexuality: Discussed. Ig's horns compel a cop harassing Ig to admit he's attracted to his male partner. When Ig asks the partner what he'd do about it, he says he'd beat the shit out of him "unless I was drunk, then I'd probably let him blow me." Ig turns them on each other as he leaves, hoping they'll end up fighting, and is very surprised later to see they've become a couple.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Lee Tourneau despises his mother and slowly tortures her as she dies of kidney failure.
  • Anti-Hero: Ig never loses the core goodness in his nature, but grows more and more demonic over the course of the story and more at ease with what he can do with the horns' powers.
  • Arc Number: Fittingly, the number six is mentioned throughout the book in many, many various ways.
  • Arc Words: The word "cherry" is brought up in various contexts - the cherry wood tree, cherry bombs, used to describe Merrin's hair color, Lee's obsession with younger, "ripe" girls, etc.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Sturtz and Posada, the two police officers harassing Ig, are actually both closeted homosexuals and, unbeknownst to themselves, deeply in love with each other. One of them confesses to Ig that he wants to blow the other while under the influence of the horns, and the other is very openly homophobic... so Ig tells the homophobe to beat on anyone that comes onto him and the other to just 'surprise' his partner. To Ig's surprise, instead of them getting into a fistfight, they're a couple when he next sees them.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: Ig grows horns, controls snakes, and literally brings out the worst in people, but he uses these to find and punish Merrin's killer, and helps a few innocent people along the way.
  • Big Red Devil: Ig is turning into the classic image of Satan, starting with the horns. In time he's bald, red-skinned, sports a goatee, and even finds a pitchfork to brandish.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ig is reunited with Merrin's spirit in some sort of afterlife, after avenging her death and clearing his own name. In the book, Ig removes Terry's memories of being involved in covering up Merrin's death, which had nearly driven him to suicide out of guilt. Terry plans to head to New York for a more fulfilling career, and shows mutual interest with Glenna.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The chapters from Lee Tourneau's viewpoint illustrate his psychopathy, his inability to understand those around him, and his efforts to feign humanity.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: When Ig sees the horns growing on his temples for the first time upon waking up, he wets himself in fear.
  • Childhood Brain Damage: Lee Tourneau got the back of his skull impaled by falling on a pitchfork as a child. It is heavily implied to be the reason why he is a remorseless psychopath.
  • Compelling Voice: Sort of. Ig can make people do something they already want to do, even if it's something horrible that they've convinced themselves they don't want. However, he can't make people do something they have no interest in; Father Mould doesn't want to kill himself, and Eric doesn't want to not beat up Ig. He can also make people forget things but, again, they have to want to forget. Terry thinks that Ig can offer a deal, but the other person has to accept.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: Most people in town believe that Ig is guilty of murdering Merrin. It's actually a somewhat justified case, since Ig's case ended in a mistrial when some evidence in the case was mysteriously lost, and people saw the event as Ig's family having arranged for the evidence to disappear to save him from his just punishment at the hands of the court. The public's perception is actually quite right. Ig's father did indeed arrange for the evidence to disappear, because he believed that Ig was guilty and to save the family from the embarrassment of having him convicted, but he did so without Ig's knowledge.
  • Creepy Souvenir: Merrin's true killer, Lee Tourneau, stole her cross necklace after brutally raping and murdering her. Conveniently for him, the cross also functions as as a Power Limiter on Ig and his horns.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Ig becomes a classic demon in appearance and powers, but he's a friendly, if impish, man who comes to accept people's darker traits as a sign Humans Are Special, as they really aren't that bad.
  • Excrement Statement: The night before Ig's horns appear, he drunkenly visits the tree where Merrin was found dead. Finding a statue of the Virgin Mary among the items left for Merrin's memory, he urinates on it in contempt. He believes at first that this blasphemous act is why the horns have appeared. In actuality, it was just the catalyst for the real reason.
  • Feed It with Fire:
    • Lee beats Ig to a pulp, locks him in his car and sets it on fire. In his beaten and broken state Ig manages to release the parking brake and the burning car rolls into the river. When Ig climbs out from the wreckage, he realizes that instead of burning him, being engulfed in flames actually healed all of his injuries, to the point where it even cured his asthma. It also turned his skin bright red.
    • Later on, after Lee nearly beats Ig to death, Ig sets himself on fire with the leftover gasoline from Lee's first attempt to kill him, which ends up healing his injuries again and turning his skin an even darker red.
  • Fiery Cover-Up: Ig's father asked a CSI he knew to do something about the evidence of Merrin's murder. The CSI didn't actually work on the case or at the facility where the evidence was stored, but he half-believes the CSI set it on fire at his request. Ironically, if the evidence had actually made to the court, it would in all likelihood have exonerated Ig.
  • Foreshadowing: Right at the start of the book, there's a show playing on TV blatantly called "My Best Friend is a Sociopath!" Hmmmm...
  • From Bad to Worse: After his horns have caused his grandmother, mother, and father to confess many horrible and very hurtful secrets to him, Ig already believes that he has heard the worst he could possibly hear from his family. When he then runs into his brother, Terry, he notices that Terry is starring at his horns and he very obviously has the face of a man about to make a very heavy confession. Ig doesn't believe that his brother will be able to blurt out anything worse than what he's already been subjected to and tells him to just get it over with. Terry then tearfully tells him that he knows that Lee Tourneau killed Merrin, which reduces Ig to a screaming mess for a couple of minutes.
  • A God Am I: Lee Tourneau believes that he once, for just a brief moment, held the power of God. It actually was the result of brain damage caused by being impaled through the head with a pitchfork.
  • God Is Evil: Ig concludes that the reason why God allowed Merrin to be raped and killed is because he is actually not very fond of humans, and detests women in particular, because they, like him, can create life and also because they can redefine love as they see fit. He also compares God to a gangster, only offering his protection in exchange for blind faith and worship.
  • Held Gaze: Merrin first catches Ig's attention in church by flashing light off her cross into his face so he'll look up and see her staring at him.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: How Lee loses most of the sight in one eye. He puts a cherry bomb on the windshield of a junked car and lights it, but it doesn't go off. When he moves closer to see what's gone wrong, it finally explodes and sends a piece of glass into his eye.
  • Important Haircut:
    • Exaggerated with Ig. His transformation after Lee tries to burn him to death solves his going Prematurely Bald by removing all the hair on his head, while leaving his goatee intact.
    • When Ig visits Merrin's father Dale and discovers Merrin's cancer diagnosis, Dale compliments Ig on his new look and mentions that he considered shaving his head a long time ago, but his wife said she'd leave him if he did. Considering the state of relations between Dale and his wife at this point, it's telling that near the end of the book, Glenna mentions that Dale showed up at the barbershop asking to get his head shaved.
  • Inconveniently Vanishing Exonerating Evidence: The DNA evidence from Merrin's body which would have cleared Ig of her murder was destroyed when the building where it was being stored burned down. When Ig's horns start compelling people to confess truths to him, his father confesses that he got a friend to destroy the evidence on the assumption that Ig was guilty.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Ig eventually finds a letter from Merrin explaining their breakup. She's dying of the same kind of cancer that killed her sister, and decided to push him away to spare him the pain of watching her die slowly and horribly. She hopes he'd find another girl and move on before realizing the truth.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Lee Tourneau
  • Karmic Death: Lee dies choking on a snake, similar to how he strangled Merrin.
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test: Towards the end of the novel, Glenna finds Ig and tries to convince him to come back home with her, going back to the way things were before the start of the novel. Ig realises that as long as he keeps wearing Merrin's cross, he can actually do just that... but instead, he gently tells her that not only did he hate the way things were, but she deserves much better than what he was giving her. Glenna leaves to make some changes in her life and try to be less of a perpetual Love Martyr, and Ig goes back to preparing for his final confrontation with Lee.
  • Living Lie Detector: Ig's horns compel people to confess their sins and their darkest thoughts once they see them. Lee Tourneau is the only person immune to their effect, because he has Merrin's cross. When Ig takes it, Lee can't shrug off Ig's power anymore.
  • Love Martyr: Glenna is generous to a fault and wants nothing so much as a chance to make someone happy. Unfortunately, this has led her to have a string of boyfriends who all treated her like a doormat — Ig was arguably the best of the lot, and he barely cared about her at all. The final chapter hints that her fortunes may be improving, though.
  • Maybe Ever After: It's strongly implied that Terry and Glenna will end up together.
  • Meaningful Name: Ignatius literally means "fiery one." Also, Ig's full name, Ignatius Martin Perrish, is mentioned about a grand total of twice in the whole book—the first being the very first three words of the novel and the second time in Chapter 11 during the narrative flashback to his Meet Cute with Merrin in Church. This makes it harder to catch that his initials spell "imp" as outside of those times he's only referred to as Ignatius Perrish when addressed formally.
  • Orifice Invasion: Ig sends a snake into Lee's open mouth during the climax.
  • Our Demons Are Different: The catalyst for the plot is Ig spontaneously mutating into what appears to be a classic Christian devil with More than Mind Control.
  • Out of the Inferno: After being locked inside a burning car, Ig finds out that not only does fire not harm him, he is actively healed by it. His clothes do, however, react to high temperatures in the way you would expect.
  • Pensieve Flashback: When Ig finds Terry asleep and touches his arm, he experiences the events of the night of Merrin's murder from Terry's perspective, including Lee blackmailing him into staying quiet about what happened.
  • Poke the Poodle: Ig frequently forbids people affected by the horns from doing the really bad things they're thinking about, inciting them into performing lesser sins instead, in many cases ones that are likely to improve their lives. For instance, he tells a store clerk that he may not kill his Alzheimer-suffering wife and go off and live with his mistress. Instead, he is to put his Alzheimer-suffering wife in a nursing home and go off and live with his mistress.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Lee Tourneau frequently expresses racist and sexist thoughts in his narration, and internally refers to all Asians as 'slants'.
  • Power Limiter: Merrin's cross necklace shuts off the influence of Ig's horns. Ig also discovers that when he wears the cross, people can no longer see his horns or the other physical alterations he acquires over the course of the story.
  • Red Right Hand: Lee Tourneau has a damaged, filmy eye from a childhood accident.
  • Satan Is Good: Along with his God Is Evil moment, Ig argues that the devil is the only higher being who really accepts and loves humans for what they are, despite their flaws.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Everybody, including Ig's parents and grandmother, believes Ig killed Merrin and that his family's money saved him from justice. His father bribed someone to destroy evidence, not realizing it actually would have proven Ig's innocence.
  • Secretly Dying: Merrin had late-stage breast cancer when she was murdered. The real irony was that she was rather hoping God would surprise her with a quick death, so she wouldn't have to choose between a slow death and suicide. Be Careful What You Wish For, indeed.
  • Shout-Out: To The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want", to the point where the final part is entitled "the Gospel According to Mick and Keith".
  • The Sociopath: Lee Tourneau. It's evident from his conversations with Ig when they were teenagers that there's something fundamentally broken in him, and the chapters told from his perspective make it abundantly clear. In his mother's one moment of lucidity, she calls him a package with nothing inside.
  • Southern Gothic Satan: Subverted, parodied, zigzagged, and even played for heroics: Ig Perrish is a once-promising young man accused of the brutal rape/murder of his girlfriend, and is innocent but has no way to prove it. One morning he wakes up to find a pair of horns growing from his forehead and everyone he meets confesses their darkest sins and impulses to him. Ig returns to his hometown and uses his power to hunt the real killer, stirring up a vipers' nest of sin, which ironically improves some peoples' lives, and he also evolves slowly into the red-skinned, bearded tempter we all know and love. In the end he's quite happy to ascend to the throne of Hell itself, with his dead girlfriend at his side and everything on fire.
  • Took a Level in Badass: As Ig learns to control his new powers, he becomes almost unrecognizable compared with the pathetic mess he was at the start of the book.
  • The Unfavorite: Ig is very well aware that his parents don't like him as much as Terry, and knows that his father in particular is disappointed in him because he was unable to uphold the family tradition of playing the trumpet, but he first realizes the full extent of their dislike when his horns start working on them. Most damningly, his father arranged for the biological evidence in the case against Ig to disappear (when said evidence would actually most likely have exonerated Ig entirely), because he had a low enough opinion of his son to fear that he might actually have raped and killed his girlfriend.
  • Together in Death: Ig and Merrin.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Due to brain damage and the resultant sociopathy, Lee Tourneau constantly misunderstands the actions of others, and has a vivid hallucination of becoming god-like. The worst instance of his misunderstanding is believing that Merrin was continuously coming on to him and indicating that she was leaving Ig for him. When he finally tries to act on this and she rebuffs him in horrified disgust, he murders her.
  • Voice Changeling: One of Ig's later powers is mimicking the voices of others. He can do a perfectly convincing impersonation, even of someone whose voice he's never heard before, and even over the phone to someone well outside of his horns' normal range.
  • Where da White Women At?: As he waits outside the doctor's office, Ig comes into physical contact with an upper-middle class white woman, who is cheating on her husband with her black golf trainer. Ig also learns that the woman, for all her put-on sophistication, is quite a boorish racist, who thinks black people are uncultured and stupid, but happens to make an exception with her golf trainer, because he is "well-educated" and "speaks like a white person", and because Black Is Bigger in Bed.
  • The Worm That Walks: As part of his plan to kill Lee, Ig has hundreds of snakes gather inside an old coat and form a rough shape of a human, thinking that Lee would try to kill Glenna and be attacked by the snakes. Unfortunately, it's not Lee that discovers the ruse.