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Swan Song is a post-apocalyptic novel by Robert R. McCammon , starting just prior to World War III and following a large group of people through the following seven years. There are elements of fantasy woven throughout it, with certain bits of magic proven to be real.

It opens with several of the Loads and Loads of Characters just before the bombs go off—Sister Creep, later to be known as just "˜Sister", a quasi-crazy bag lady in New York City; Swan, a little girl who can make plants grow; Josh Hutchins, a retired wrestler; Roland Croninger, a boy whose parents have gone to hide out in what they believe to be a safe fortress, and Colonel Macklin, one of the people in charge of that fortress. Russia and America annihilate one another with nuclear weapons, leaving the country in ruins and many of those who survived wounded or disfigured.

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Sister finds a ring of glass, like a crown in the ruins of Tiffany's, that proves to have strange powers and which the Big Bad, a demonic figure known as the Man with the Scarlet Eye, is willing to hunt down and kill everyone for. Via Dreaming of Things to Come she knows she has to get it to Swan, who can use it to bring life back to the destroyed land or humanity may never recover. It's a long, exceptionally detailed book, beautiful in places and really squicky in others, and not for the weak of stomach. Often compared to Stephen King's The Stand, and vice versa.

Not to be confused with Edmund Crispin's detective novel of the same title.


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Provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: The Fat Man laughs some when Shiela sarcastically asks if he was a pig farmer before the war.
  • After the End: The book opens with the End.
  • Anyone Can Die: Can, and usually do.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 1.
  • Armies Are Evil: Zigzagged The War Hawk's at the beginning aren't portrayed psotiviely, and plenty of warlord types emerge from military survivors (with Swan wanting to discourage armies from forming and people acting like soldiers). There are some subversions. such as 1) an Army and Red Cross station in the town of Homewood where Sister, Paul, Artie and the others find, 2) Bud Ryoce (an ex-Arkansas National Guardsman who helps defend Mary's Rest) and 3) the "Underground boys" at the missile silo near PawPaw Briggs' gas station, who helped him dig a bomb shelter for if things went bad.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Secretary of Defense Hannan says a war could be won by either the good guys or the bad guys. The President has this to ask him.
    "Is there a difference anymore?" Hannan paused. He started to answer, and then he realized he could not.
  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: Only in retrospect; at the time the book was written, it was thought that nuclear winter would play out much like it does in the story.
  • Ax-Crazy: Macklin becomes this, Alvin Mangrim embodies it literally.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals:
    • Roland murdered a classmates pet gerbils with corrosive acid as a form of Revenge by Proxy and at the end of his first chapter, lets a butterfly land in his hand and then crushes it.
    • As part of his Insane Equals Violent character, Alvin mentions that when he was a boy, he crucified his dog to see if it would come back to life like Jesus (and its implied that he killed his family next).
  • Beautiful All Along: Sort of. Many survivors wind up with a condition called Job's Mask, where growths overtake their face where they were injured in the bombings. Once these growths fall off, they leave the person more attractive than they were before—if they're good people. The Job's Mask is said to bring forward the "true face", meaning the bad guys who get them wind up hideous when they fall off. Roland Croninger is so horrified by what he looks like once he loses his that he wears a mask he won't take off.
  • Beauty = Goodness: More like goodness eventually equals beauty.
  • Big Rotten Apple: Sister starts out here before the bombs fall.
  • Big Bad: The Man with the Scarlet Eye.
  • Big Scary Black Man: Josh Hutchins plays this up as part of his wrestling persona.
  • Bling of War: The Savior, head of American Allegiance, has lots of expensive looking crucifixes and rings.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Macklin wants the AOE to slaughter anyone with a Job's Mask even though he has a pretty prominent one himself.
  • Break the Cutie: Swan. It doesn't really work, though, and she winds up breaking the Big Bad.
  • The Caligula: Alvin Magrim to his "kingdom" of escaped asylum inmates, before joining the Army of Excellence.
  • Caring Gardener: Joey, on of the AOE's recreation Ladies has a single flower in a pot which she dotes on and has managed to keep alive. Later giving it to Swan after joining his group.
  • Cassandra Truth: Fortune teller Leona had a vision of JFK's death and sent a letter warning him not to go to Dallas. Obviously, he ignored her.
  • The Chains of Commanding:
    • The first scene of the book has the President terrified at being urged to make a decision which could start World War III and wishing he was still a senator.
    • Paul Thorsen is also disturbed by the hard choice about whether or not to take his group and follow Sister out of the cabin, feeling uneasy about how the others have trusted him with their lives.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The President is initially seemingly just used as a framing device and killed in the first fifth of the book but near the end turns out to have survived and is in the possession of some game changing stuff the AOE and Friend want.
  • Children Are Innocent: Played straight with Swan, most definitely averted with Roland Croninger, who even before the bombs fall shows signs of becoming a monster.
  • Church Militant: American Allegiance, a nation lead by a California preacher who battle with the Army of Excellence for domination, with one of their members having met the President in his bunker and mistaken him for God. The group is eventually defeated and largely slaughtered by the AOE.
  • Crapsack World: Even before the bombs fall, the world has gone to hell in a handbasket.
  • Crazy Homeless People: Sister, at the start of the book, as demonstrated with her thoughts on her encounter with a pair of other hostile homeless men she fought over a box with.
    Sister: The demons almsot got me! But glory be to Jesus, and when he arrives in his flyng saucer from the planet Jupiter Ill be there on the golden shore to kiss his hand.
  • Creepy Gas Station Attendant: PawPaw Briggs is a hunchbacked man with a sun-baked face and snakeskin hatband always talking about his "underground boys" nearby in a way that seems nonsensical. He ultimately turns out to be a well-meaning, fairly stable person though, and the "Underground boys" he's referring to are the soldiers at the local missile silo.
  • The Deadliest Mushroom: Lots of them, destroying the USA and Russia.
  • Deadline News: Macklin's bunker picks up various DJ's in cities like Saint Louis screaming about the fireballs before going off the air into static.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Alvin joins the AOE by presenting the severed head of Franklin Hayes, who he found and killed.
  • Defiant Captive: One of the first two American Allegiance members the AOE capture, although the other quickly folds.
  • Demoted to Dragon: The Army of Excellence leadership suffers this en masse when the Man with the Scarlet Eye waltzes in and takes it over.
  • Determinator: Sister and her first group, to get out of New York.
    Artie: If you want to stay here, that's your business, but Artie Wisco's got shoes on his feet, and Artie Wisco's walkin.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: When the Scarlet eyed man reaches Warwick Mountain, the President slaps him in the face, then spits in it.
  • Disappeared Dad: Swan's mother doesn't even know who her father is. It's implied that it might be some kind of god.
  • Doorstopper: The paperback edition is 956 pages.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: It gradually becomes obvious that Roland is this to Macklin, to the reader at first and then eventually to the characters.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Happens a lot, especially to people near the MacGuffin.
  • Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!: A young man kisses Swan while she's unconscious with a fever. She wakes up moments later and slaps him.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Assuming you live long enough to have one.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The world may not be entirely safe yet...Although he's last seen being seemingly beaten to death by mutinying AOE soldiers, it's heavily implied that the Man With The Scarlet Eye is still bicycling around the country.
  • Enfant Terrible: Roland Croninger.
  • Eldritch Abomination: When the Man with the Scarlet Eye reveals what he truly looks like.
  • End of the World as We Know It: Very, very much so.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: the source of its page quote.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly / Karmic Transformation: Downright hideous, in fact.
  • Expy: The Man with the Scarlet Eye for Randall Flagg.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Warner, Macklin's second in command at Earth House wears a patch over an eye lost in the Sudan.
  • Fat Bastard: Kempka (who is even called the Fat Man) the original AOE leade, and a nasty piece of work who tried to rape Roland.
  • Feral Child: Robin and his gang of highwaymen, who were in a Catholic orphanage before the war (all of the staff died or abandoned them).
  • Five-Man Band: The Army of Excellence leadership.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • At the start of the novel, the President and Secretary of Defense Hannan talk about how If God were watching and could destroy the world, Hannan thinks he'd wait to see whether the good guys or bad guys won. This provides an early hint to the president being the mysterious inhabitant of Warwick Mountain after the war, who shows up in the final act and is said to eb waiting for the same thing, and wa s likely the conversation that inspired him.
    • PawPaw Briggs mentions a circus that came through recently when he meets Josh, with it being possible that this was Rusty's circus, the remains of which they eventually stumble across.
  • Formerly Fit: Macklin, at the start of the novel, although it's not so much that he's out of shape as he is feeling the weight of various old injuries.
    He'd once broken the neck of a Libyan soldier in the crook of his arm; now he didn't feel as if he had the strength to crack a walnut with a sledgehammer.
  • Fortune Teller: Leona, a companion of Josh and Swan for a good part of the novel, who seems to be a pretty accurate one.
  • Friendly Sniper: One saves Sister, Paul and their group from a pack of wolves outside of Homewood.
  • A God Am I: The President survives the initial holocaust and comes to think he literally is God, which becomes problematic when he decides he needs to wipe out the rest of humanity to prevent the victory of evil, and has the weapons with which to do it. Fortunately, the good guys get there first, even if only barely.
    • Good Samaritan: The President took care of and fed Brother Timothy while he was on the run from and injured by a gang of looters.
  • Green Thumb: Swan.
  • Harsher In Hind Sight: A militant cult is laid siege to. Their building burns down with them in it. This happens a few years later with the Branch Davidians.
  • Hearing Voices:
    • Macklin is constantly being egged to do the most selfish thing by a voice in his head he calls the Dark Soldier.
    • Shiela is constantly tormented by hearing the the crying of the baby whose head was bashed in due to said crying. Until Swan heals her of this.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Macklin, come the finish. Naturally he pays for it.
  • Hidden Depths: Roland's father might be the kind of guy who reads Soldier of Fortune Magazines and is obsessed with the idea of nuclear war, but he still tries to pick how and when he drives in a away to minimize greenhouse emissions.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: While Shiela doesn't really start out this way, Character Development eventually settles in.
  • Hyper-Awareness: Roland's mother is quick to pick up on the shoddy construction of the bunker.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: For the Evulz, the Scarlet Eyed Man convinces a group of survivors in Pittsburg that eating cooked flesh of those who died in the blast is a cure for radiation.
  • I Reject Your Reality:
    • Artie Wisco, a man who travels with Sister for a while briefly tries to shut out the death an d destruction around them and imagine his wife is still there to go home to.
    • Steve Buchanan, a member of Paul's group, insists that he heard a voice on the radio even though their obviously wasn't and suffers a Heroic BS Od when suggested otherwise.
  • I Want My Mommy!:
    • While trying to find someone to help free Macklin, the only person Warner found before Roland who wasn't either badly injured or suffering from Sanity Slippage was a little girl trying to find her parents who refused to go away from where she'd last seen them.
    • Roland himself is upset at being separated from his parents at first (more for their safety than his), calling out and trying to find them for a while.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Although she never voices or thinks this, Shiela is an example. When she first appears, Shiela is a Proud Beauty who is remarkably untouched by any signs of radiation or starvation. After the Time Skip and seven years of being prostituted out among the AOE, Hearing Voices and not eating that well, she's described as looking somewhat emanciated, with graying hair, sagging yellowish skin, shrunken gums and a constantly tired and haunted face.
  • Ignored Epiphany:
    • The scarlet eyed man almost responds to some overture of forgiveness Swan makes before stopping and feeling self loathing for this sentiment.
    • Swan pleads to the president that by destroying good with evil, he'd become part of evil but can't quite break through to him, although Friend seems to think she might have and thus kills the President so he can't change his mind.
    • Lawry has a short pause of hesitation when Macklin starts talking about killing everyone with Job's Masks (including two families who've just arrived outside) and briefly debates the strategy with him before following out his orders and seeming fully ruthless and committed after the Time Skip.
  • Infant Immortality: Not. At. All. A soldier cracks a baby's skull open because it won't stop crying, and in one very gruesome sequence in a shopping mall full of escaped mental patients who hunt and kill anyone who finds them, some of the protagonists find a rotting little girl who's been posed as a mannequin. Her head falls off when they bump into her.
  • Infernal Retaliation: "...in the embrace of a charred cowboy."
  • It's All My Fault: Shiela has a flash of this when Lawry kills the crying baby while forcing a family out of a tent that Macklin had bought with her drug stash.
  • Left for Dead: Macklin abandons Corporal Prados, one of the technicians in his Earth House command center because the man has a busted leg. This backfires when Schorr and some others find the guy still alive and hearing about this hardens them against Macklin.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: Macklin has to make this at the beginning of the novel.
  • Life Saving Misfortune: Shiela and her pimp/boyfriend survived the bombings due to being in a mountain cabin, hiding from the police.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Not that many of them survive.
  • MacGuffin: the glass crown, that allows people to "dreamwalk", see the future, speak to dead loved ones, and translate languages. Everybody and their brother wants the thing, too.
  • Madness Mantra: Paul and the others in his cabin turn on his radio to listen for signals every day and whenever they don't hear anything Mona Ramsey keeps repaint to herself that it was because they broke the rules about when to turn int on and someone else is out there.
  • Meaningful Name: Swan.
  • Missing Mom: Swan's mother dies of radation poisoning when caught near a nuclear detonation.
  • Mountain Man: Paul Thorsen is a modern day one, which lets him survive the blast.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The President is mortified by the nuclear exchange in the opening chapters.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Army of Excellence—their leader even has some vintage SS uniforms.
    • Another minor warlord faction, Troop Hydra, is also mentioned as executing any minority faction they find.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: The Man With The Scarlet Eye seems to be this, if his comments in his Doyle Halland disguise hold any truth.
  • Non-Ironic Clown: Based on his description, Rusty Weathers and his friends (dead by the time Josh and Swan found Rusty) were this.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Sister and Swan. Swan's real name is Sue Wanda; Sister is justified in that she no longer remembers her real name.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Macklin.
  • The Remnant: Played with. Factions like the AOE, American Allegiance, Troop Hydra and Nolans' Raiders are all described as acting like military factions trying to forcibly establish dominance in the years after the nukes, and are described as having ex-military types, but it's unclear if any of them are actually led by active duty soldiers or holding themselves out as legitimate remnants of the U.S. government (the AOE and American Allegiance certainly aren't, which is a bit ironic considering that American Allegiance has partially based their mantra on one of their members encounter with the surviving President) while the one faction explicitly shown to be composed largely of surviving soldiers (and Red Cross doctors) is portrayed as benevolent and unambitious, taking in refugees rather than trying to seize territory.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Before the nuclear exchange, Roland murdered the pet hamsters of his school bully by dousing them in the science labs acid.
  • Safe Zone Hope Spot: Earth House serves as this to Roland and the others who fled there.
  • Satan: The Man with the Scarlet Eye is implied to be the Devil. Swan offers him an apple and it reminds him of an incident a long time ago.
  • Scavenger World: To the point where traveling salesmen sell old calendars for rubber bands.
  • Sextra Credit: Paul (a former college professor) was fired for sleeping with a student who wanted a higher grade.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Prior to the apocalypse, Macklin threatened to his employers, the owners of Earth House, that he would quit, regardless of his lucrative contract, unless they sent someone to fix the structural flaws, as he felt unfomfotrabel lying to people about its safety. This never amounted to anything though, as when the missiles flew his bosses were still stalling and he was still hoping they'd come around. And the "shadow Soldier" in his head is quick to remind him that he could have told people the bunker was unsafe or really made a stink to force the owners into action but didn't.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
    • The day before the nukes, movie theater employee Emiliano quits his job and runs away after a frightening encounter with the Man with the Scarlet Eyes.
    • As Earth House is being hit by the shock waves of a nearby nuke, Sergeant Schorr leaps out of his chair and goes running down the corridor. This proves to be a wise choice, as seconds later the roof caves in, killing or injuring everyone who stayed behind in the control room (including Macklin, who loses his hand as a result).
  • Self-Made Orphan: In Earth House, the underground fortress, the survivors end up breaking into several gangs after the nuclear war. Roland Croninger and his parents are separated and end up in different gangs. In a battle, Roland kills his father, and his mother burns to death in a fire started in that battle. Due to the psychotic break he's suffered during the nuclear war, Roland doesn't even remember who they are, just that they're vaguely familiar.
  • Self-Serving Memory: Sergeant Schorr (the greeter at Earth House) leads a group determined to kill Macklin for failing to warn them about the structural flaws even though he himself had noticed those flaws and focused more on just trying to hide them from the customers.
  • Serendipitous Survival: Sister and Artie's companion Beth, a secretary, talks about how her boss had cent her to to the drugstore for a prescription, away from the blast radius, and that she also avoided being caught in the open while crossing a street when the bomb went off because she'd lingered to flirt with a guy.
  • Shout-Out: The code words to activate the "Talons", a doomsday weapon, are quotes from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land.
  • Sleeps with Everyone but You: Sheila will sleep with anyone in the AOE camp for the right price, except for Lawry (something which he remains pissed about) due to the way he treated them when they first arrived the compound, and because of how he killed the baby.
  • Southern-Fried Private: Mississippi, one of Macklin's fellow Vietnam PO Ws And the last of the ones who he killed for the food.
  • Spare a Messenger: This happened to Hugh when the AOE slaughtered his first settlement.
  • The Starscream: Lawry is quick to throw in with Roland and Macklin after his boss Kempka dies and occasionally entertains ideas about killing them and taking over.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The AOE are merciless in hunting down their enemies. Franklin Hayes, a mayor whose town has people with Masks of Job and thus was attacked without provocation, finds himself and the survivors of his town ruthlessly pursued and slaughtered no matter how far they run, just because Macklin and Roland see this as a "war" and him as their current Arch-Enemy and resistance leader when he and his people just want to be left alone.
  • Taking You with Me:
    • In the aftermath of the Battle of Mary's Rest, a mortally wounded Paul shoots Alvin as he stumbles across him while looting bodies.
    • This is Brother Timothy's plan after he's tortured into taking the AOE to Warwick Mountain. Both he and the President feel that they should bring down their weapons rather than let the AOE win.
  • Those Two Guys: Gene and Zachial, two of the first Mary's Rest residents to start interacting with Swan and Josh.
  • Tom the Dark Lord: Macklin's right-hand man inside the bunker, and in the chaos and recourse wars that follow, is called "Teddybear" Warner. Somewhat subverted though, given that the internal narration sometimes calls him by the more ominous moniker "the one-eyed hunchback".
  • Torture Technician: Roland enjoys serving this role for Macklin.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: The reason Sister no longer remembers her real name or much of her life before New York is that her daughter died in a car accident because she had been driving drunk. Her husband left her, and she eventually went crazy and became a homeless woman who endlessly preached on street corners. Her stability reasserts itself once the bombs have fallen, though she still can't remember her name.
  • Undying Loyalty: Warner to Macklin, saving his life (with some help form Roland) when he's injured in the collapse of the bunker, and sticking by his side even as much bigger gangs of people come trying to kill Macklin for shilling an unsafe survival bunker. Part of this may be due to Sanity Slippage though.
  • Vice-President Who?: The vice-president is described as a sly, nervous man who is too weak to commit himself to a position during the first strike debate.
  • Villain of Another Story: The white supremacist warlord faction Troop Hydra, which niether the AOE, nor the heroes ever seem to get around to fighting.
  • War Hawk: Several of the Presidents staff, especially secretary of Defense Hannan. Leona references their making things worse later on by saying she never voted for the President because he kept around the kind of men who'd worsen a terse situation.
    Leona:' "I thought he was the kind to let too many cooks stir the pot."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Quite a few cases.
    • There are still scattered survivors below on Earth House after things fall apart but its never revealed if they found there way up and out after Roland and Macklin leave.
    • It's never revealed if Artie made it back to Detroit and found his wife after parting ways with Sister and Paul, although the visions in the ring imply he did.
    • It's never revealed whether Emiliano and Cecily, the first characters to interact with the Scarlett Eyed Man, survived the destruction of New York.
    • Dr. Ryan describes how when the AOE attacked the town as he was shot he told his daughter to keep running, and he never saw her again, being unaware if she died out there or fled to somewhere else.
    • Josh has an ex-wife and two sons in Alabama. He never finds out if they survived the nukes; thinking about login to look for them a few times but never making it there.
    • Gene and Zachial go out hunting for the Man with The Scarlet Eyes and never come back. Gene's body is later found by Sister, but Zachial's fate is never confirmed, although he's written off as dead.
    • Many residents of Mary's Rest, such as Royce, Katie, Gallagher, T He Caidians and the Vulevic family aren't specifically mentioned among either the dead or the survivors after the battle with the AOE.
    • The President states that when he first found Warwick Mountain there were already two men living there who apparently took him in. One died some time later but the other just vanished and the president can't even remember what happened to him anymore.
    • Rusty mentions that the lion tamer and another member of the circus train went searching down the tracks before everyone left but him died of sickness, and he doesn't know if they found somewhere.
    • Leona's son Joe in Kansas City. It's stated once that just about every city in the country was nuked, but Kansas City is never specifically mentioned as being one of them, and Leona and her psychic powers don't seem to have foretold his death.
  • Who Wears Short Shorts?: Mona Ramsey, one of the refugees in Paul's cabin, is described as wearing cutoff jeans.
  • World War III: Opens the book.
  • Your Head Asplode: Lawry, although crushed is a better word. The narration says his head "was smashed into a misshapen mass of gore."

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