Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Amulet

Go To

The Amulet is a 1979 horror novel by Michael McDowell.

When a rifle explodes in the face of Dean Howell, leaving him disfigured and in a vegetative state, his mother Jo blames everyone in the small town of Pine Cone, Alabama, where the rifle was manufactured, including Dean's wife Sarah, whose only contribution in the rifle manufacturing plant was affixing two screws to the stock.

When Jo gives a strange amulet to the man she believes most responsible, it sets off a gruesome series of events. Sarah must race against the amulet's malevolent influence to stop the tide of death, before Pine Cone is nothing but a bloodbath.


This novel contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear:
    • Friends and neighbors turning on each other for no apparent reason, and knowing your kids are in danger and being unable to do anything about it. There's also Audrey, who happens upon the amulet while babysitting...
    • Sarah's situation. Her husband comes home from fighting in a war, but he's been horrifically injured to the point he's really only alive in the technical sense. She's forced to care for not only this shell of a man, but also for his lazy, obese mother, who refuses to do anything for herself or to help her care for Dean. All she can do is wait and hope for Dean's benefit checks from the government.
  • Alliterative Name: Becca Blair, Sarah's best friend.
  • Artifact of Death: The amulet itself. Whomever possesses it is compelled to kill, and in turn is killed in an equally violent fashion.
  • Advertisement:
  • Asshole Victim: Dorothy is a rather unpleasant woman even before getting her hands on the amulet. In fact, the only reason she found it at all is because she was going through her dead sister-in-law's jewelry case (under the pretense of making sure Gussie didn't steal anything.)
  • Bandage Mummy: It's only his head that's been bandaged up, but Dean is outright compared to a mummy more than once.
  • Blatant Lies: Jo seems to have a different story every time she's asked where the amulet came from, fueling suspicions that none of them are true.
  • Blood from the Mouth: At the end when Sarah kills Dean by lacing his food with lye.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: Once latched around someone's neck, the amulet cannot be taken off until that person has been killed, after which it falls off of its own accord for the next victim to find.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: All the deaths throughout the novel. Lampshaded by one character who remarks on all the closed-casket funerals there are of late.
  • Daddy's Girl: Audrey Washington and her father are very close, and she keeps him from getting into trouble with the law and makes sure he spends his money wisely.
  • Death of a Child: By the end of the story, the total number of victims claimed by the amulet's power includes at least six children.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Jo blames all of Pine Cone for what happened to Dean, and she takes revenge by unleashing an Artifact of Death.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Often during the act of horribly killing someone, the person wearing the amulet is unnaturally calm.
  • Domestic Abuse: It's implied Becca's ex-husband was physically abusive to her.
  • Downer Ending: The amulet's presence at the factory leads to the factory's destruction and many casualties, including Becca. After returning home, Sarah kills Dean - an act which heavily implies that she's finally crossed the Despair Event Horizon and willingly put on the amulet herself.
  • The Faceless: Dean spends most of the novel with his ruined face swathed in bandages. He is killed on the day his bandages were supposed to come off.
  • Facial Horror: What happens to Dean when the rifle explodes in his face. Also what happens to Margaret when Becca kills her.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Under the influence of the amulet, Rachel Coppage appears to be completely unaware that her house is burning down around her, even when the baby she is soothing passes out from smoke inhalation and her older children are running around on fire.
  • Fat Bitch: Jo Howell is a very large and horribly unpleasant woman who seems to take delight in making Sarah's life as hellish as possible.
  • Flaying Alive: When the amulet is is Ruby's possession, she kills her friend Martha-Ann by scalping her.
  • Happily Married: Jack and Merle Weaver. She becomes a Lost Lenore to him after her death.
  • Harmful to Minors: Dorothy Sims bludgeons her husband Malcolm to death in full view of their nine-year-old niece.
  • Heroic BSoD: Poor Sarah gets hit with this after she and Becca discover the crime scene of yet another murder-accident. She gets better after some rest at Becca's house and much-needed time away from Jo and Dean.
  • Hope Spot: Boy howdy. Becca finds the amulet in her purse and has her daughter call in Sarah from the yard. Unfortunately, Sarah doesn't realize the urgency of the situation and opts to finish with the laundry first, and in that time Becca accidentally puts on the amulet and ends up killing Margaret. By the time Sarah answers the summons, Becca is fully under the influence of the amulet and acting as if nothing had happened.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Sarah is in her twenties and Becca is in her forties.
  • It Was a Gift: One of Jo's claims about the amulet's origins is that it was given to her by her cousin, and she gives it to Larry Coppage under the pretense of it being a gift for his wife Rachel. and several of its later victims are presented with it in this fashion as well.
  • Kill It with Fire: The amulet takes a lot of punishment over the course of the novel, but is ultimately melted over a vat of molten metal Or so Sarah claims.... The Coppage family, its first victims, were also killed this way.
  • Mama Bear: Jo thinks she's this.
  • Mammy: Gussie, the black maid who works for the Shirleys.
  • Man on Fire: Happens to the oldest Coppage child. Her mother is oblivious as she runs past the bedroom door with her pajamas on fire.
  • Mercy Kill: Sarah's murder of Dean could be considered this, if not for the method she chose for it.
  • Necro Non Sequitur: The amulet-wielders eventually die in horrible freak accidents.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Malcolm Sims is a pleasant and kind man, while his wife Dorothy is a hypocritical (and judgemental) shrew.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Of the supernaturally-influence variety, as a lot of machines (and workers) in the rifle factory go haywire when Sarah is trying to destroy the amulet once and for all.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Josephine Howell is lazy, condescending, and vindictive.
  • Off with Her Head!: Ruby the hairdresser, by way of a ceiling fan.
  • Offing the Offspring: Becca kills her daughter Margaret while under the amulet's influence.
  • Ouija Board: Sarah and Becca consult one to determine where the amulet is and how many more people are in danger of it.
  • Poor Communication Kills: A notable factor in the deaths of Margaret and Becca. See Hope Spot above.
  • Snooping Little Kid: Mary, James Shirley's young daughter, is first seen poking around the burnt remains of the Coppage house, blatantly ignoring her father's commands for her to stop. That's how she comes across the amulet, which she decides to give to her mother.
  • Southern Gothic: Set in Alabama, a few years after the United States got involved with the Vietnam War. Racial segregation is also present within Pine Cone's "black" and "white" communities.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Implied. Rachel Coppage locks the rest of the family out of the kitchen while preparing the evening meal, behavior that was noted as being unusual. Then everyone but her comes down with a mysterious case of intestinal cramps during dinner.
    • Played straight later when Sarah kills Dean with lye-tainted applesauce.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Everyone who picks up the amulet is almost immediately overcome by feelings of anger and resentment towards their soon-to-be-victims, lashing out in unexpectedly unpleasant ways.
  • The Unreveal: It is never revealed where the amulet actually came from. Or if Sarah was lying when she said she had destroyed it.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: The novel's opening focuses on Dean just before his accident.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: