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Literature / It's a Good Life

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A 1953 short story — er — a very good short story by Jerome Bixby, set in the small town of Peaksville. The town used to be in Ohio, but it has since been completely cut off from the outside world (assuming the outside world still exists) by the first manifestation of Anthony Fremont's powers.

Anthony Fremont is literally omnipotent. He's also only three years old and had his powers from birth. He's not completely human.

The plot of the story shows a day in the life of the town. It does about as well as you would expect under the thrall of a being with the power of God and the moral understanding of a three-year-old who's never been disciplined in his life, i.e. pretty crappy.

...wait, no! Meant to say it's good! It's a very good life!

This story has been adapted several times by The Twilight Zone. The original series did a very faithful adaptation, with Bill Mumy as Anthony and Cloris Leachman as his mother Agnes; the only major change being that the character of Anthony was aged up to six. The 2002 revival series had a sequel episode, "It's Still a Good Life", featuring a grown-up Anthony (played again by Bill Mumy) and his daughter Audrey (played by Mumy's real-life daughter Liliana Mumy), who also has powers. Cloris Leachman also returned as Agnes. Twilight Zone: The Movie gave the story a Setting Update to the 1980s (with Anthony terrorizing a single mansion rather than an entire town) and the happiest ending that the premise would allow.

For The Twilight Zone (1959) episode and other adaptations, see The Twilight Zone (1959) S3E8: "It's a Good Life".

The TV series Johnny Bravo and The Simpsons both also did episodes which are homages/parodies of this story.

Compare and contrast with minus.. Definitely not to be confused with It's a Wonderful Life. It's still a good life, though. Yes, a very good life indeed.

The original story provides very good examples of:

  • Almighty Idiot: Anthony may have literal godlike power but he still has all of the intelligence and understanding of a normal kid his age.
  • Ambiguous Innocence: Anthony is not a malelovent person, but his young age means he has a very hazy understanding of right and wrong and lacks the ability to understand other people's feelings. That being said, he can switch from helping to hurting living things on a dime. And when he hurts them, he's disturbingly creative.
  • And I Must Scream: Anthony's mother briefly considers at the end that while Anthony could "wish away" any of them one day, he also may not let them die, and they'll have to be with him forever. It's not a good thought and dangerous, so she mumbles until it goes away.
  • Autocannibalism: The first scene of Anthony shows him making a rat eat its own body.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Kid with omnipotent powers and no one able to contradict him. Of course Anthony wins.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Don't ask Anthony for a favor, ever. Even when he's genuinely trying to help, the results can be horrific. One time he sensed that a woman missed her dead husband and tried to bring the husband back to life, causing (evidently) the husband's decomposing body to dig itself out of the ground and walk to the wife's house.
  • Berserk Button: For Anthony, it's singing. Any kind of singing, whether a capella or with music, seems to make him extremely angry.
  • Beware the Mind Reader: Anthony is a mind reader with a child-like outlook who doesn't care for bad thoughts. He's also a Reality Warper, which makes for a horrific combination.
  • Body Horror: When Anthony gets angry at Dan Hollis, he turns Hollis into "something like nothing anyone would have believed possible."
  • Carnivore Confusion: Anthony disappears a weasel for trying to kill a smaller animal, but happily delivers flies to a spider. He's vaguely aware that the two situations are related, but he seems to make all his decisions based on which creatures he's currently taking an interest in.
  • Children Are Innocent: No, really, he is. Anthony has the mental outlook of a normal three-year-old child, which is what makes him all the more terrifying. Anthony doesn't understand why the people of Peaksville fear him. He likes to go out to a clearing and enter the minds of the animals, who aren't smart enough to fear him.
  • Closed Circle: Outside of Peaksville is only a gray nothingness where the rest of the world used to be. The people of Peaksville aren't sure if Anthony destroyed the rest of the world or took Peaksville to some alternate dimension. What is for sure is that the town is suffering for being isolated; the people are barely eking out an existence by growing their own food, and they pass certain material items around to each other as "presents" because that's all they have left.
  • Crapsack World: Kid with omnipotent powers and no one able to contradict him. When your entire life is run by a child, it's definitely a Crapsack World.
  • Creepy Child: Anthony. Unlike most examples of this trope, his behavior isn't that different from an ordinary child his age; his creepiness comes from how he causes trouble for everyone else with his powers because he lacks the wisdom to understand other people's wants and needs.
  • Downer Ending: Dan Hollis defies Anthony, so Anthony turns him into something horrible and sends it to the cornfield. Because his Aunt Amy complained about the heat earlier, Anthony makes it snow on the next day, which kills off half the crops.
  • The Dreaded: Fear of Anthony is the driving force behind most of the other characters' actions throughout the story.
  • Eldritch Location: The Fremont cornfield. It's full of corpses and malformed monsters that Anthony has created, so no one goes out there. They don't even use it for corn anymore as the whole area's started to weed. The Nothing outside of town is a lesser version of this, we don't get much of a description of what it is, but the villagers use it as a place to dump excess grain.
  • Goo-Goo-Godlike: Anthony is a three-year-old with reality warping powers, and he's had them since he was born.
  • Happiness Is Mandatory: Everyone in Peaksville represses negative thoughts and emotions for fear that if Anthony senses unhappiness, he will either lash out in anger at the thinker for being dissatisfied with the world he has made or make a misguided attempt to help.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Anthony. There are hints that he does not look human, though there are no details about what he does look like. He is described as having a "wet, purple gaze", an "odd shadow", and he's said to go "smoothly" over a fence. He is weird-looking enough that when he was born the doctor screamed, dropped him and tried to kill him, and he is at one point referred to as a "goblin".
  • Karma Houdini: Anthony gets no comeuppance for his bad deeds.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The thing is, Anthony isn't any different from regular little children, as far as his mental and emotional states. The problem is that he has complete omnipotence over his environment and everyone in it, and that does not go well with the mood swings and lack of empathy common to every preschooler. Especially since nobody dares to try to discipline him. Ironically, the other children aren't allowed to go near him after an unfortunate incident with another child. Apparently, Anthony doesn't get along with others his own age.
  • Lost in the Maize: Where Anthony sends the bodies of his victims.
  • Mind Rape: In the beginning, Aunt Amy was the only person who could exercise any control over Anthony, until she got upset with him for transforming the Fremonts' cat and his mind "snapped" at her. She's left as a shell of her former self, smiling vacantly, and no longer watching how she acts or what she says around Anthony.
  • Mutants: Anthony's parents are normal humans, but Anthony is some kind of undescribed monster with Reality Warper powers. In the adaptation in The Twilight Zone (1959), he looks normal, but the story suggests that he looks quite inhuman — he has a "purple gaze", an "odd shadow", and the doctor who delivered him tried to kill him after getting a good look at him.
  • No Ending: We're left with the impression that Peaksville and its remaining residents will continue to exist under Anthony's power indefinitely.
  • Noodle Incident: "What happened to the whole Terrace family" after someone had the bright idea that Anthony might be persuaded to create useful supplies. Also whatever happened to little Fred Smith who was dared to go play with Anthony.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The fates of Anthony's victims are alluded to but rarely described in any detail. Additionally, Anthony’s appearance is never fully shown, but from the passing details we’re given, its likely nothing human.
  • Obliviously Evil: Anthony wants everybody to be happy. Many of the horrible things he does stem from misguided attempts to help. Sometimes he's just needlessly cruel but doesn't seem to understand that his abilities affect others.
  • The Omnipotent: As noted above, there appears to be no limit to what Anthony can do.
  • Pet the Dog: Anthony likes to care for the animals in the grove behind his house, creating a small clearing and stream for them— though he sends a predatory weasel to the cornfield and inadvertently injures a small bird.
  • Psychic Static: The residents of Peaksville try very hard to fill their heads with nothing in particular whenever they're tempted to think a negative thought, because there's always a chance that Anthony will choose that moment to listen in. This is somewhat effective because it forces Anthony to go and play in the grove all day with animals who can't shield their thoughts.
  • Purple Is Powerful: While we don't know what he looks like, the one thing the story tells us is that Anthony's eyes are purple. When that purple gaze is on you, you'd best think good thoughts.
  • Pushover Parents: Anthony's parents. How could they be anything else?
  • Reality Warper: Anthony, seemingly without any limits.
  • Running Gag: Not a particularly funny one, but every time someone complains or gets unhappy with Anthony even slightly, the others are quick to assert that it's actually a good thing.
  • Spoiled Brat: Most of Anthony's reality warping power is used trying to help people, often in ways that are destructive to them or others. When he gets annoyed, however, he's quick to punish in horrible ways. Because of this, nobody has the courage to discipline him when he misbehaves, and as a result he's become accustomed to always getting his way.
  • Stepford Smiler: The only way to keep Anthony happy is to think happy thoughts and act like everything's okay.
  • Telepathy: Don't even think anything bad about Anthony. Really, don't.
  • Teleportation: One of Anthony's creepier powers. He likes to just appear in places when he doesn't feel like walking. While he mostly just does this in relation to his own house, he can almost certainly use this to visit all of the people in town.
  • Tragically Misguided Favor: The townspeople fear Anthony trying to help them as much as or more than his lashing out in anger. Since he's a small child and doesn't fully understand the adults' problems, his attempts to solve those problems are often disastrous. This is why the "real good" mantra is applied to everything that happens, whether or not Anthony is involved; no one wants him to sense their unhappiness and try to help them.
  • Unstable Powered Child: Anthony is pretty much the poster child for this trope. While Anthony sometimes gets angry or frustrated, he seems to fundamentally mean well—the narration points out the essential innocence of his thoughts—but he's a very young child, with a very young child's understanding of the world...and god-like powers capable of warping reality itself.
  • Villain Teleportation: Anthony is hard to avoid—not that he's any less dangerous when he's far away.
  • What If God Was One of Us?: Specifically, what if God had the mentality of a young child?
  • You Could Have Used Your Powers for Good!: An incidence of this in the past is alluded to, but it didn't go well. Suggesting that Anthony do anything other than what he wants to do is usually a bad idea. It's not that he doesn't want to help — but since he's three, his help is very likely to go wrong.

It's good that we have a page for this work, it's real good...


Video Example(s):


"You are a bad man."

Agnes finally tells her son the what for, omnipotent powers be damned, going as far as to say the very same words he uses before sending people to the "cornfield".

How well does it match the trope?

4.93 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheReasonYouSuckSpeech

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