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Literature / The Spiderwick Chronicles

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Their world is closer than you think.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a series of children's books by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi. They chronicle the adventures of the Grace children, twins Simon and Jared and their older sister Mallory, after they move into Spiderwick Estate and discover a field guide, written by their great-great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick, detailing a world of faeries that they never knew existed.

It consists of the following books:

  1. The Field Guide (2002)
  2. The Seeing Stone (2003)
  3. Lucinda's Secret (2003)
  4. The Ironwood Tree (2004)
  5. The Wrath of Mulgarath (2004)

A sequel series, Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, has two step-siblings having to find a way to stop a rampage of fire breathing giants threatening the state of Florida.

Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles consists of:

  1. The Nixie's Song (2007)
  2. A Giant Problem (2008)
  3. The Wyrm King (2009)

There are also some companion books, including a reproduction of the Field Guide itself.

The original series has a 2008 film, with the twins played by Freddie Highmore. Disney has announced plans for a streaming series adaptation for Disney+.

DiTerlizzi has also written a separate fantasy series called WondLa that has its own page.

The Spiderwick Chronicles provides examples of:

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  • All Myths Are True: Alluded to by Arthur Spiderwick, who claims that there are faeries all over the world, but they vary by region, no doubt reflecting how different real-life cultures worldwide have their own versions of supernatural neighbors.
  • All There in the Manual: The Field Guide provides much information about the invisible world not covered in the series.
  • All Trolls Are Different: They're semi-aquatic with long floppy ears and point noses.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Trolls again. In contrast to other fairies who work under Blue-and-Orange Morality, trolls are always cruel and vile to everything and everyone around them. Even Arthur Spiderwick himself, a man who doesn’t believe In evil, can’t find anything good to say about trolls. Same applies to goblins, which are usually portrayed as unintelligent, yet highly aggressive thugs with a big appetite.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Field Guide. When Arthur constructed the book, he had no idea what he had done until it was too late.
  • Basilisk and Cockatrice: The cockatrice looks like a cross between a chicken and a frilled lizard. It turns any animals that see it to stone (which makes you wonder what they eat), and also has venomous saliva.
  • Big Bad: The ogre Mulgarath.
  • Binomium ridiculus: While they aren't straight up Dog Latin, some of the creatures have original genera, while others have genera that are ripped directly from existing taxonomies of creatures that couldn't possibly share any biological relation, from different families. Even putting the same genus in two families.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Even the most well-meaning fay don't quite understand mortals' morality and needs.
  • Bluff the Impostor: When Mulgareth pretends to be the kids' missing dad, Jared sees right through it and tests him.
  • Broken Masquerade: Mulgarath's plan, for when he decides to Take Over the World. It is broken for their mother, but narrowly averted in full at the end.
  • Call Reception Area: The Spiderwick Estate and its surrounding grounds, where many faerie still dwell.
  • Captive Push: In the last book, Mallory and Jared allow themselves to fake being captives. Their hands are loosely tied, and a rope connects each of them to each other, as they are pushed along by Hogsqueal.
  • Cutting the Knot: The Grace siblings do this on more than one occasion.
    • When Jared is held captive by the elves in exchange for the guide in Lucinda's Secret, rather than Mallory and Simon going through all the trouble of walking home, finding Thimbletack, cajoling him into giving them the guide, walking all the way back to the elves' realm in the woods, Jared just tricks them into agreeing to let him go with his siblings.
    • When Mallory is kidnapped by the dwarves in in exchange for the guide in The Ironwood Tree, the brothers don't even bother coming up with an excuse to their mom or go home to make a plan or find supplies. They just go straight to the quarry even though it's dark. When Simon accidentally drops the flashlight climbing down and suggests going back to get rope, Jared just jumps to the bottom of the quarry (scraping up his hands and knees in the process) so he can use the flashlight to help Simon climb the rest of the way down. Once they rescue her, they just keep walking in a straight line down the halls until they find the exit, not stopping to think of a plan or try to retrace their steps. Not glamorous, but it works.
  • Damsel in Distress:
    • In The Ironwood Tree, Mallory is held hostage by the dwarves.
    • In The Wrath of Mulgarath, the kids' mother is held hostage by Mulgarath.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The Chronicles, and the companion Field Guide, are claimed by Black and DiTerlizzi to be actual events, with the Graces having written to them and told their story. The Field Guide itself was apparently sent to them as well, with DiTerlizzi taking on the task of restoring Arthur Spiderwick's creature paintings within. The sequel trilogy, Beyond The Spiderwick Chronicles goes further with the protagonists having actually read the books and Field Guide, meeting up with the authors at a book signing for help in dealing with a problem with Giants as well as actually meeting Jared, who explains that their last names were changed in the books for privacy's sake.
  • Dumbwaiter Ride: In the first book, the Grace siblings find a dumbwaiter in the kitchen of their old family home and use it to try to chase an animal they can hear scrabbling in the walls. Because Mallory is too big to fit inside, Jared rides it and discovers a Secret Room containing mysterious riddles.
  • Eaten Alive: What Hogsqueal does to Mulgarath's crow form. It isn't Swallowed Whole either; he tears him limb from limb and downs the pieces.
  • Evil Gloating: Ogres are prone to this, and Mulgarath is no exception.
  • The Fair Folk: The Grace children learn the hard way that the faeries of Arthur's field guide are dangerous.
    • Brownies, while kind and well-meaning, will turn into a boggart and trash your house if you piss them off.
    • Goblins and trolls will gladly eat you alive if given the chance, and it will be a very Family-Unfriendly Death.
    • Sprites, while well-meaning, will offer you food that will taste so heavenly sweet that you'll never be able to stand human food again, and you'll crave faerie food for the rest of your life. If you don't get it, you'll starve to death.
    • Aunt Lucinda learned the hard way that some fey will gladly kidnap and torture you, and give you a hunchback for the rest of your life.
    • Arthur Spiderwick learned the hard way that elves will abduct you into their realm where time moves more slowly, and when you leave all the time that didn't affect you while in there will rush at you all at once. He dies in his elderly daughter's arms as a result.
  • Fairytale Motifs: All over the place, per Word Of God.
    • The Grace kids were deliberately designed to look like the heroes of classic gothic fairy tales, with Raven Hair, Ivory Skin, and old-fashioned hair cuts and school uniforms that invoke a "classic American hero" look. Downplayed for Jared, who has more messy modern hair, and often wears jeans and hoodies.
    • The Spiderwick Estate looks like a classic Victorian mansion. Justified, in that there are many of those still around in New England.
    • In Lucinda's Secret, the kids get lost in the woods and come across as trickster phooka that speaks in riddles, which is very reminiscent of Alice encountering the Cheshire Cat in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
    • Invoked in The Ironwood Tree, where the dwarves put an unconscious Mallory in a glass coffin, and medieval white gossamer gown. They also give her makeup to emphasize her ebony-black hair, snow-white skin, and rose-red lips. The twins even wonder if they have to kiss her to wake her up. (Simon ends up slapping her awake instead.)
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Mulgarath. It doesn't take much to see that Hogsqueal doesn't just stuff his crow form down, he rapidly dismembers him and eats the pieces.
  • Fiery Salamander: The Field Guide details salamanders, portraying them as tiny, multi-limbed reptiles that ignite their bodies as a defense mechanism. Arthur Spiderwick speculates them to be actually infant dragons, but the kids disprove this after encountering actual baby dragons.
  • Food Chains: Lucinda Spiderwick had made the mistake of eating Faerie Food, and is no longer able to eat human food. But that wasn't in the Faerie Realm. This is clearly the "tastes like dust" or "Impossibly Delicious Food" variety, though - the mere sight of it is enough to make one of the other human characters go into a trance-like state and muse "What's the harm in a single bite?"
  • The Full Name Adventures: "The Spiderwick Chronicles".
  • Goggles Do Something Unusual: The Seeing Stone — a flat stone with a hole through its middle that allows humans to see magical beings — ends up being mounted in an eyepiece, so that the characters can see the creatures they interact with without constantly having to hold the stone up to their eye.
  • Hero of Another Story: Noseeum Jack.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Mulgarath, big time. After using his crow form against the protagonists again and again, he gets it used against himself - when Hogsqueal devours him, and kills what previously was an unkillable juggernaut.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every chapter begins with "In Which..."
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: All chapters of both series.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Chapter 7 of The Nixie's Song is titled "In Which We Nearly Break The Fourth Wall."
  • Loophole Abuse: In Lucinda's Secret, the elves hold Jared prisoner and threaten to keep him forever unless his siblings bring the guide, which they don't have. Jared tricks them into thinking he's Simon, and makes them swear to let Mallory and "Jared" go free. As soon as they're safely out of sight, Jared reveals that he's not Simon, so the elves are honor-bound to let him go. Which they do, very grudgingly.
    • This nearly comes back to bite the Grace kids in The Wrath of Mulgarath, in which the elves reveal that if the siblings hadn't brought the guide like they promised, the elves would have just held Simon prisoner to force their hand, since they never swore not to hold him prisoner.
    • In The Ironwood Tree, the dwarves kidnap Mallory to trade for the guide. The twins make them promise to give her back to them if they hand it over. The dwarves give her back... and then immediately proceed to lock all three up in a dungeon. What? They never said they'd let the kids go free after returning the sister to her brothers.
  • Mad-Lib Fantasy Title: The title of each chapter. "In which [something related to the fey activity of this chapter]"
  • Magic Kiss: Brought up in The Ironwood Tree, when the twins find an unconscious Mallory in a glass coffin. Simon wonders if they have to kiss her to wake her up. Jared protests "Gross," but tries kissing her cheek. It fails to do anything, and Simon slaps her awake instead.
  • Meaningful Name: Jack, who kills giants.
  • Missing Mom: Nick's mom died prior to the beginning of Beyond.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The faeries seen throughout the series borrow many traits from various plants and animals. Word Of God has said that, seeing as faeries are the spirits of nature, it would make sense for them to appear this way.
  • Motif: Spider motifs appear throughout the first series, the most obvious being the Spiderwick name. Other notables include the web-like design of the estate gate, and Arthur Spiderwhick's handwriting which is described as spidery.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Fighting the Giants in the second series resulted in the Wyrms being able to run rampant.
    • Jared reading the book in the first place.
  • Nipple and Dimed: Surprisingly averted in "Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles" where one of the mermaids has clearly visible nipples.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Thimbletack's boggart form and the troll's full out-of-water appearance are never shown in illustrations, nor fully described in the text. The Completely Fantastical Edition reveals that DiTerlizzi made complete sketches, but he and Holly Black felt that leaving it to the readers' imagination would be far scarier than any drawing or description they could make.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Mulgarath's dragons are serpentine, multi-legged and venomous. The Hydra is numerous wyrms combined like a rat king, rather than a single creature with numerous heads.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: Boy, are they ever! Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black explain in The Completely Fantastical Edition that they tried to make the faerie species all slightly different from the ones we've seen millions of times before, but still sound like they'd belong in a classic fairy tale.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: They're only vaguely humanoid, being hulking, troll-like and apelike beings with heads jutting directly forward from their shoulders and no brain capacity to speak of. They also have seven fingers and hibernate for long periods of time, during which grass and sod grow on their backs. They can also breathe fire, although they need to ingest salamanders or wyrms first.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: They are small monsters that look part toad, part angler-fish, and part bat. They're about the size of small dogs, but run and hunt in packs of ten or less. They're not particularly intelligent and prone to squabbling, but are adept at hunting small animals, particularly dogs, cats, and even human children. They don't have any teeth, and substitute with sharp rocks and bits of glass they find lying around. They're kind of the vermin of the faerie world, but unlike the rest of the fay they're able to thrive in our modern world by sorting through our refuse.
  • Our Gryphons Are Different: Byron follows the typical eared variant of the classical gryphon body design, but has a more slender build and a beak with teeth/tooth like serrations. The movie makes him a regular gryphon. Griffins are also quite large — Byron is around the size of a bus — and mortal enemies of horses; because of this, the rare hybrid hippogriffs are considered to be a symbol of undying love.
  • Our Kelpies Are Different: Kelpies are malign water spirits in the form of horses, with seal-like skin, cloven hooves and manes always dripping with water. They entice people into riding them in order to drown them, but can be controlled if a prospective rider manages to slip a bridle over their heads.
  • Shapeshifter Guilt Trip: Mulgarath takes the form of the kids' dad to try to trick them into giving him the book. Not quite a straight example, as they don't know it's him.
  • Shapeshifter Swan Song: Averted. Hogsqueal eats Mulgarath in bird form, and he doesn't change back to his native form — rather fortunately for Hogsqueal!
  • Shown Their Work: DiTerlizzi and Black's knowledge of fay for this series is textbook thorough.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Inverted. In The Wrath of Mulgarath, when the Grace siblings encounter their father imprisoned beside their mother, he declares that he never should have left and all he wants is to be a family again. Jared realizes it isn't his dad because, much as he wishes it were otherwise, he knows it's something his real dad would never say.
  • Storming the Castle: In the books. The movie has the fight arriving on the doorsteps of the house.
  • Super Spit: Fairy spit (or at least hobgoblin spit) applied to the eyes will give a person True Sight.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Averted, but Jared's mom is often tricked by the fay into thinking this of him. Particularly in The Field Guide, when she thinks Jared killed his brother's mice and froze his tadpoles in ice (it was really boggart Thimbletack), and in The Ironwood Tree, when Mulgarath tricks her and the school officials into thinking he pulled a knife on another student.
  • True Sight: Needed to see the hidden world, unless a fairy decides to reveal themself. Can be achieved through fairy spit, a stone with a natural hole through it, and sometimes naturally appears in the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or redheads.
  • Tuckerization: In this case, self-tuckerization (though not quite Self-Insert). The field guide briefly mentions a boggart troubling the Riggenbach family. "Riggenbach" is Holly Black's maiden name.
  • The Unreveal: The kids wonder at a few points why so many fay want the field guide so bad, and why Mulgarath in particular needs it to Take Over the World. They never really find out why by the end. A Lost Chapter reveals that while most fay know about their own strengths and weaknesses, they don't know much about each other's. However, since the fay often fight for dominance among each other, many would literally kill for that book. It's also why Mulgarath needs it to ensure his "enslave all other fay and mortals alike" scheme.
  • Urban Fantasy: The story takes place in a small, modern New England town, where some of the last batches of faeries still reside, hidden in plain sight.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: The elves' realm, much to Arthur and Lucinda's grief.

  • Adapted Out: Several characters, including Korting, the river trolls and the dragons.
  • Adaptational Badass:
    • Most if not all of Mallory's Damsel in Distress moments are adapted out, making her come across as an even more competent Action Girl than in the book.
    • Helen also is not kidnapped by the goblins like she is in the last book, and helps her children fight them as they defend the house.
  • Adaptational Dumbass: Minor example. Thimbletack pulls the switch trick with the Field Guide much earlier in the books when the Graces visit Aunt Lucinda. In the film he believes them when they say they'll leave the book in the house, only to discover the switch and then pull it on them when they fly to find Arthur.
  • Adaptational Heroism: While far from a villain in the books, the hobgoblin Hogsqueal was still at best a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk who only helps the heroes when forced to. In the movie however he's a selfless vengeance seeker who happily helps Jared fight Mulgarath.
  • Age Lift: The Grace siblings appear to have been aged by a couple of years. Jared and Simon were nine in the book, and played by the fourteen-year-old Freddie Highmore (though he's possibly playing as young as eleven or twelve). Mallory was thirteen and played by the sixteen-year-old Sarah Bolger.
  • Alien Blood: Mulgarath's blood appears to be green.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The film uses "Checkmate" by Yuugin as its theme song in Japan.
  • Angel Face, Demon Face: Thimbletack is normally a brownie, which is a small, pink little thing. He turns into a more muscular, green, mini-troll like thing, known as a boggart, when he's mad.
  • Ascended Extra: Red Cap was originally just a Goblin that appeared in the final book of the original, who looked important, and gave only a few orders to the captured protagonist. In the movie he's The Dragon, given intelligence by the Big Bad.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Thimbletack, thanks to his love of honey, is easily distracted from anger. Hogsqueal and birds too.
  • Bad Boss: The Ogre is always berating and slapping around Red Cap and his other minions.
  • Big Brother Bully: Mallory constantly picks up on Jared and belittles him, but is considerably kinder to Simon. She starts to mellow after everything she witnesses.
  • Brick Joke: Hogsqueal and his appetite for birds. It gets dropped on crow!Mulgarath's head like a ten-ton anvil.
  • Brooklyn Rage: The "New Yorkers are tough" variant. When preparing to Hold the Line at the end of the movie, Jared gives his mother two kitchen knives to fight with.
    Jared: "Steel. Cuts and burns."
    Helen (still rather confused): "Well, thank goodness we're New Yorkers."
  • Car Fu: The troll chasing Jared and Mallory gets run over by a truck.
  • Curse Cut Short: Red Cap the lead goblin mumbles "Oh, sh-" as the stove full of tomato sauce explodes, reducing him and his lackeys to green puddles of goo.
  • Desperate Object Catch: Jared throws Mallory the rock "lens" so she can see what she's fending off with her fencing blade.
  • Disappeared Dad:
    • The dad in question not only left the family, but is lying to Jared about coming to see him. He can't, because he's found another woman.
    • The same applies to Lucinda Spiderwick's father, Arthur Spiderwick, the creator of the book. She witnessed him being carried away by fairies after she wandered outside of the protective circle around their house and was attacked by goblins. No one believed her when she told people about what happened to him for obvious reasons.
  • Evil Old Folks: The ogre's first human guise is a creepy old man.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Mallory slashes Red Cap's right eye with her saber, leaving a scar on it. Later on, Red Cap is now blind in one eye.
    • Jared jabs a pipe right into the mole troll's left eye. The troll tears the pipe out, but in the process loses its eye.
  • Face Palm: Helen when at her new job sees Jared and Mallory walking down the street, the latter with her sword in hand and both looking dishevelled from running through the sewers. She buries her face in her hand, and her co-worker assumes it's because she finds the training hard.
  • Familial Foe: Eighty years ago, the evil ogre Mulgarath menaced Arthur Spiderwick and his daughter Lucinda while trying to steal Arthur's research about the magical world. Decades later, he menaces the great-grandchildren of Arthur's brother.
  • Fingore: While being chased by Mulgarath, Jared escapes into the dumbwaiter. Mulgarath tries to stop him, only to lose three fingers on his right hand. Of course, he transforms into a large snake to slide into the shaft.
  • Forbidden Fruit: In the words of Mallory, "you found a book that says 'do not read', and you read it?"
  • Good Samaritan: A small moment, but the tow truck driver who runs over the invisible troll stops, looks around and worriedly asks if he hit anyone.
  • Hold the Line: The Grace family defends their house against Mulgarath and the Goblins.
  • Mood Whiplash: the Ogre's attempt to seize the book being foiled by Hogsqueal.
  • No-Sell: Jared attempts to burn the Field Guide in a fire, but thanks to the wards around the house, it doesn't work.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: British Joan Plowright as the older Lucinda Spiderwick. Especially notable since we hear her 8-year-old self speaking with an American accent.
  • Our Pixies Are Different: Pixies, also called piskies, are one of the various types of humanoid fairies present in the setting, being diminutive winged humanoids with clothing made out of leaves and seed pods. They range in size from two feet high to the size of a child, separating them from the much smaller brownies, sprites, and stray sods and the taller elves. They're highly mischievous beings, and enjoy playing mean-spirited tricks on humans (such as knotting their hair, or pinching skin black and blue) and making off with small objects. Due to their attraction to humans, they typically live in green areas close to human settlements, such as farmlands, parks, and suburban gardens.
  • Related Differently in the Adaptation: The Grace siblings are Arthur's great-great grandchildren in the book (through a sibling of Lucinda's), but the film implies they're descended from a sibling of Arthur and Lucinda is Arthur's only child.
  • Signature Headgear: Red Cap is distinguishable from other goblins by the tricorne hat he wears. When he and the Mooks get melted by the tomato sauce bombs, that's the only thing left.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • In the books, Arthur dies at the end. In the movie, he stays with the Sylphs, but his daughter also comes with him, and reverts to the same age she was when he was taken away.
    • The final book also opens with the Graces discovering their house has been destroyed. In the film, the climax now happens at the house, which remains intact.
  • Tricking the Shapeshifter: Jared throws the book into the air, forcing Mulgarath to take on a crow form to grab it. Shortly thereafter he runs into a very hungry Hogsqueal, much to his detriment.
  • Unicorns Prefer Virgins: In Lucinda's Secret, a unicorn grants Mallory a vision of one of its fellows being hunted by being lured by a young girl. When the animal-loving Simon is peeved that the unicorn is more interested in Mallory than himself, she points out that it's because she's a girl. The spinoff book Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You subverts this, however. It claims that the idea that unicorns are specifically attracted to virgins is a myth, and they will only approach those who are truly innocent with pure spirits, regardless of their gender.
  • Weaksauce Weakness:
    • Tomato Sauce, vinegar and salt are effective at hurting goblins.
    • Mulgarath, it turns out, has one of these too. In bird form, he's just as fragile as a real bird, and Hogsqueal happily demonstrates how easily killed they are.