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Literature / The Haunting

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The Haunting is a 1982 Low Fantasy children's novel by Margaret Mahy. Barney Palmer is an eight-year-old boy who lives with two older sisters, Tabitha and Troy, his father, and his pregnant step-mother. He also has had several imaginary friends who weren't very imaginary, and are probably ghosts. Then, one day, a child in old-fashioned garb appears, plaintively declares that "Barney is dead. I'll miss him terribly!" and then disappears. Barney learns that a great-uncle he'd never met, his mother's sister, also named Barney, has passed away, and the family secret that his great-uncle had kept for many decades about Great Uncle Cole, the brother who drowned at an early age, is about to be revealed.

The book was the 1982 Carnegie winner as the year's best children's book by a British subject.

No relation to either of the films by that name, nor is it related to the web series but it did receive a television film adaption called The Haunting Of Barney Palmer, which was made in New Zealand and featured Ned Beatty as Great Uncle Cole.

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This work exhibits the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Barney’s great-grandmother was this to Cole, but also to her other children, forcing them to be exactly as she wished them to be. They’re explicitly compared to chess pieces.
  • Affably Evil: Cole is a genuinely nice and kind man with what he thinks are Barney’s best interests at heart... too bad he wants to help him by taking him away whether he wants to or not. At the end of the book he didn’t do it, not because he realized that would be wrong and cruel but because Troy comes voluntary. It’s made worse in the adaptation; whereas in the book they all talk it out, (although Cole is on the edge of letting loose a inner hurricane, according to Barney), in the movie He floods the house.
  • Death by Childbirth: Barney's mother died having him. He lives in guilt that he killed her, but he later learns that she had a heart defect and was aware of the danger of childbirth, but chose to do it anyway. Also, no one actually blames him for it, not even her family.
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  • Evil Matriarch: Barney's great-grandmother is a crotchety old woman who strongly contrasts against her more friendly children. It's revealed that she attempted to eradicate Great Uncle Cole's talent because of her fear of her own talents.
  • Good Parents: A foundation of the plot is that, no matter what happens, Barney's parents are always there for him, ready to fight for him.
  • I See Dead People: This seems to be part of Barney's talent and curse. In actuality, there's a double subversion. There are no ghosts, only illusions, and Barney's childhood friends were the product of Troy attempting to keep him amused.
  • I Know What You Fear: Cole shows Claire her worst nightmare to convince her he is a magician. Later, with a variation of that power, he brings her (unborn daughter’s) nice dream to life.
  • Low Fantasy: Magic exists, and runs in Barney's mother's family, but it's rare and most people refuse to believe, finding other explanations.
  • New Parent Nomenclature Problem: Barney always calls his step-mother by her given name. He loves her deeply but just doesn't see her as his mother.
  • No Social Skills: Cole appears to think that showing up as a kids mirror image is a friendly gesture to get the kid to calm down about his impending and announced arrival. Also he seems to think it’s comforting to know that someone could be there to take him away within a couple of seconds, but is instead approaching slower to ‘give [Barney] time to get used to him’. Basically anything that involves him.
  • Parental Neglect: One of the tactics that Cole's mother tried to use to dissuade him from his talent was acting like he didn't exist and destroying any documents of his existence.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Barney spends the better part of the book worrying about Claire, because no-one told him exactly why his mother died in childbirth: She had a weak heart and knew the risk of having children and did it anyway, which isn’t a problem for Claire, as her heart is fine.
  • Secret-Keeper: Tabitha, of all people, is this for a while to Barney, who is *terrified* Claire finds out he’s haunted, as he thinks that knowledge could complicate her pregnancy and result in her death.
  • The Reveal: The magical energy that drew Cole to Barney turned out to be not from him, but from Troy.

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