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Literature / Inside the Worm

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Inside the Worm is a 1994 novel by Robert Swindells.

As the small town of Elsworth nears its thousandth anniversary of the martyrdom of resident Saint Ceridwen, Mr Hepworth tasks Year Eight to stage a re-enactment of the Saint's banishment of the Elsworth Worm, and subsequent martyrdom by vikings. As the class arranges a cast of villagers and vikings, with Fliss Morgan in the role of Ceridwen, David "Trot" Trotter, Lisa Watmaugh, Ellie May Sutherland and Gary Bazzard begin work on a costume replica of the legendary dragon.

The ease of its construction amazes all involved. While Fliss reflects uneasily on the fatalistic appearance of this, the Worm's builders thrill at the remarkable ease with which they inhabit and operate it. Their shared thrall spurs them to acts of mounting hooliganism. The thrill is so intoxicating that their strangely shared view through only two eyeholes hardly seems to matter...

This novel provides examples of:

  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Under the malign influence of the Worm, its operators burn to death several kept pigeons.
  • Breath Weapon: The Worm breathes fire.
  • Buried Alive: The night before the festival, Fliss has a brutally realistic such dream.
  • Cardboard Box Home: Homeless drunk Ronnie Milhouse sleeps in the park balistrand, with newspapers for bedsheets.
  • Continuity Reboot: Possibly. While the story revisits the main cast of Room 13, the class is referred to as Year Eight rather than Second Year, and no obvious mention is made of the previous book's vampiric adventure.
  • The Cuckoo Lander Was Right: Local drunk Ronnie Millhouse, prone to hallucination, suddenly sees, instead of small pink lizards, a gigantic green one...
  • Dragons Are Demonic: This particular dragon gradually retains corporeality by stirring hatred in those who inhabit its papier mache likeness.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Ellie May specifically compares her Worm-induced hooliganism to Ronnie's alcoholism.
  • Evil Feels Good: The thrill of building the Worm is followed by exhilaration at the remarkable ease in piloting it, and then an exultancy in using it to terrorise and destroy.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Invoked by Year Eight's decision to depict Ceridwen's martyrdom in serene silence.
  • Fun-Hating Confiscating Adult: Park-keeper Percy Waterhouse fervently rebukes any pubescent user of the swings or roundabout.
  • Grammar Nazi: Mrs Evans chides Trot for saying "ta" as opposed to "thank you."
  • Go Through Me: On the final day of the festival, Fliss throws herself at the Worm, which frustrates its target range.
  • Hate Plague: The operators of the Worm find themselves irresistibly drawn to acts of vandalism, hooliganism and animal cruelty.
  • Holy Burns Evil:
    • The faith of Saint Ceridwen rendered the Worm docile, whereupon it retreated to the fen.
    • This may also be the case with Fliss protectively throwing herself into the Worm's path, whereupon it loses its hold on the costume and operators.
  • Home Base: The Worm operators meet in Trot's parents' garage.
  • A FĂȘte Worse than Death: At the eventual town festival, following the start of Year Eight's re-enactment, a suddenly very real dragon goes on a brief, potentially lethal rampage.
  • Legend: While the martyrdom of Ceridwen is (in the story) historically accepted, the Worm is thought to be legend.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Once the thrill of a nightly rampage wears off, Ellie May sadly reflects on the senseless cruelty of trampling the parkkeeper's prize tulips.
  • Not Too Dead to Save the Day: On the Worm's furious emergence from the marquee, Fliss finds herself compelled by a strange urge to distract it from its intended victims. This is implied to be instilled by the spirit of Ceridwen.
  • Our Were Beasts Are Different: Construction and habitation of a papier mache-headed dragon costume under deliberately beneficial circumstances instils in its thirteen-year-old operators a love of violence, pursuit of which briefly imbues both them and the costume with the attributes of an actual dragon.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Mr Hepworth can be a bit strict, but has a sense of humour, and lends a kindly ear to Fliss's worries.
    • The Reverend Toby East calmly chastises an act of hooliganism by citing the potential fatalities.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Invoked by a pair of car reflectors which serve as the Worm's eyes.
  • Regularly Scheduled Evil:
    • A thousand years following the banishment of the Worm, it awaits opportunity to rampage once more via the corrupted minds and possessed bodies of several adolescents.
    • Inverted with a sudden instinctive resolve of Fliss, implied to have been instilled by the spirit of Ceridwen, to confront the beast.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The terrorising of a medieval village by a serpentine dragon recalls The Lambton Worm, while its banishment by the faith of a latterly martyred hero somewhat evokes Beowulf.
    • The mounting aggression of several adolescents, roused by a bestial emblem (albeit here, a genuinely supernatural one) recalls Lord of the Flies.
  • Tank Goodness: Ultimately subverted. On the last day of the festival, several soldiers in charge of a displayed armoured personnel carrier attempt to ram the rampaging Worm. The narration notes this to be a good idea, but two terrified civilians drive off with it.
  • There Are No Coincidences: The ease of the Worm's construction, which includes acquisition of car reflectors for eyes and a green cinema curtain for a body, seems ominously deliberate.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Lisa, in thrall to the spell of the Worm, and angered by report of her sudden tendency to bullying, coldly renounces her friendship with Fliss. They all make up eventually.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: The crafters and operators of the Worm are rather taken aback by the ease and effectiveness of their efforts. When rampaging in it, all four operators see through its eyes, and leave giant saurian footprints.