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Literature / Killing Mr. Griffin

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Killing Mr. Griffin is a 1978 novel written by Lois Duncan. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, Brian Griffinnote  is an English Literature teacher at Del Norte High School who is unpopular with the students due to his strict demeanor and harsh grading policies that severely penalize any mistake. Eventually, a charismatic yet depraved student named Mark Kinney, who was humiliated after being forced to beg for readmission to Mr. Griffin's class after plagiarizing an assignment, convinces his friends and School Idols Jeff Garret, Betsy Cline, and David Ruggles to join him in a plot to kidnap Mr. Griffin and scare him as a means of retribution.

The group manipulates Susan McConnell into aiding them due to her crush on David and her relatively high grades compared to the rest of Mr. Griffin's students. Susan meets with Mr. Griffin after school to discuss the assignments so that the teachers will have left by the time the students kidnap Mr. Griffin. The plan is successful and the students, except Susan, take a blindfolded and tied-up Mr. Griffin to the mountains, where Mark decides to leave him behind until midnight when Mr. Griffin refuses to beg to be freed.

Susan and David decide to check on Mr. Griffin a few hours early. When they examine him, they realize that he is dead. From then on, the group of students attempt to keep his death secret, a feat that proves difficult as time goes on with Susan considering confessing to the police and Mr. Griffin's wife, Kathy, investigating her husband's disappearance.

Killing Mr. Griffin was critically successful and received several awards. It was also controversial, with many schools objecting its inclusion in their libraries. The novel received a television movie adaptation in April 7, 1997. A new edition was released in 2010, which added changes to the narrative to match modern lifestyle and technology. The 1999 film Teaching Mrs. Tingle is often mistaken for an adaptation (and was originally titled "Killing Mrs. Tingle"), though it has no official connection to the book despite a very similar plot.

Killing Mr. Griffin contains examples of:

  • Big Bad: Mark Kinney is responsible for the plan to kidnap Mr. Griffin, wanting revenge for when Mr. Griffin forced Mark to beg in front of his class for readmission. The kidnapping leads to Mr. Griffin's death. Mark conspires with the students to bury Mr. Griffin's body and take his car to the airport for it to be stolen in order to prevent Mr. Griffin's death from being known. Though he eventually gains the trust of Susan, when Susan finds out that Mark killed David's grandmother to obtain Mr. Griffin's stolen ring, Susan threatens to confess Mr. Griffin's death to the police. This leads to Mark to tie up Susan, set her house on fire, and leave her to die.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Susan has survived Mark's murder attempt and is likely to be off the hook in the upcoming trial if she testifies. However, the experience has clearly traumatized her, as she has stayed in her room for ten days. Also, the fates of Jeff, Betsy, and David are left ambiguous with the only hint being that they might have their charges reduced to second-degree murder.
  • Hate Sink: Brian Griffin is introduced as a strict and rather unpleasant teacher that none of the students like due to the difficulty of his assignments and him having No Sympathy toward his students' struggles. It is for this reason that the students plan to kidnap Mr. Griffin and scare him. This trope is subverted once the narrative shifts to Kathy Griffin's point of view, revealing Mr. Griffin to be caring toward his wife and having an understandable reason for his difficulty: he wants the students to have knowledge about displined work in preparation for college.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Susanís desire to have friends is what leads to her being manipulated into helping the kidnapping plot in the first place.
  • Pregnant Badass: Though downplayed, as she does not engage in physical fights, Kathy's pregnancy doesn't stop her from investigating the disappearance of her husband and interrogating Susan when Kathy suspects. She ultimately saves Susan at the end when she manages to reach her house just as Mark is leaving her to die.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Just before the students bag Mr. Griffin in his own car, he tells Susan to run. This leads Susan to express guilt at participating in the plan to kidnap him and is the reason she doesn't join them when Mr. Griffin is taken to the mountains.
  • The Sociopath: Mark Kinney is depraved and vindictive, yet charismatic in the eyes of his friends and observant of their personalities, allowing him to manipulate them into joining his nefarious schemes. He is diagnosed as a psychopath at the end of the novel.
  • Stern Teacher: Brian Griffin has some rather strict teaching method. He criticizes students, even the best students, harshly for any mistake they make and does not accept late assignments and redos, even if the student had a legitimate reason to miss or fail the assignment. However, deep down, he cares for his students, especially the most accomplished ones. The reason he is strict is to prepare his students for disciplined learning when they go to college.
  • Would Harm a Senior: Mark kills David's grandmother, Irma, to obtain Mr. Griffin's ring. Susan realizing this is what ultimately leads her to betray Mark.