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Literature / The Unholy Three

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"Surely we shall fare well in the world, for where else can you find such a Mind, such a Voice, and such a Body?"

Although people are more likely to remember the two Lon Chaney movie adaptations, Tod Robbins's 1917 novel, The Unholy Three, started it all. It tells the story of three carnival workers who make the fateful decision to leave the midway behind and become a band of wandering murderers.

This Book Contains Exaples Of:

  • Antagonist Title: Due to Hector replacing the Three as the protagonist after chapter 4.
  • Anti-Hero: Hector, Type II. Echo is a Type I.
  • Asshole Victim: Hector's Uncle.
  • Companion Cube: Echo's dummy.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Tweedledee.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Hector. Deconstructed in that something he said as a joke winds up making Dorothy believe - for a time - that he tried to kill her little brother.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The Unholy Three themselves. Hector is the main character from 5th chapter onward.
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  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Dorothy's father.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The incident with Tweedledee's dog-driven chariot.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Hector, when he grants interviews after his arrest. He's so confident that the witnesses testimonies will acquit him that he plays up his guilt in the meantime so that his notoriety will make people want to buy his short stories. When he realizes that the witnesses have vanished, this leads to a rather epic Oh, Crap!.
  • Disproportionate Retribution
  • Dramatic Irony: The majority of this book is an example of the first main use.
  • Evil Genius: Tweedledee, the "Brain" of the three.
  • Fallen Hero: Tweedledee's back-story.
  • Foreshadowing: Hector's joke. Doubles as Tempting Fate.
  • Freudian Excuse: Tweedledee.
  • Imaginary Friend: Echo copes with the spectres he sees by giving them voices and personalties. That way, they don't seem as scary.
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  • Kill 'Em All: All three title characters are dead by the end of the novel; in the movie, Echo manages to survive.
  • Lemony Narrator
  • The Napoleon: Tweedledee, just like in the movies.
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: In-Universe. Hector finally gets his short stories published by milking his notoriety as a (falsely-accused) murderer for all it's worth. This eventually gets deconstructed though. See "Digging Yourself Deeper" above for more details.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Tweedledee. When you have someone like Hercules, there's no need to get your own hands dirty.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Only the barest details are given in Hercules' and Tweedledee's execution scene, but they're arguably enough for the reader to figure out all the left-out details for themselves.
  • Oh, Crap!
  • Pride: Tweedledee; he keeps a detailed account of his murders so that, long after he's gone, future generations will read it and marvel at what he was capable of; this winds up getting him arrested, and later executed, when the police get their hands on it and realize that he was the real killer. In the end, he sort of gets what he wants because Hector - out of apparent pity - decides to publish the diary and share Tweedledee's tragic story with the rest of the world.
  • Purple Prose: Both the book itself and the newspaper article that Hector reads near the end.
  • Serial Killer
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Hector.
  • Sole Survivor: Rather cruelly subverted with Echo. He outlives the other two, but - due to his own carelessness (and his madness) - drowns in the second-to-last chapter.
  • Spanner in the Works: In a complete inversion of the movie adaptations, Echo is this to Tweedledee and Hercules rather than the other way around.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Hector may be our POV character, but Tweedledee and Echo are the ones who actually drive the plot.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Echo's POV chapter near the end.
  • Token Good Teammate: Echo. Unlike his movie counterpart, Echo objects to the idea of committing crimes and only complies because the other two basically force him to. Eventually, his conscience wins out over his survival instinct, and he brings them to justice.
  • Villain Protagonist: Subverted. Tweedledee is the main character at first, but then the POV switches to Hector after chapter 4 and - for the most part - stays with him. And since Hector can't really qualify as a villain, the trope ceases being applicable altogether.
  • Who's Laughing Now?: The Three's motive for becoming criminals with the exception of Echo.


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