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Literature / The Wish List

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The Wish List is a novel by Eoin Colfer.

The novel begins with the protagonist, Meg Finn, dying horribly in a gas explosion after a break-in goes wrong and the guy she's helping (sort of) accidentally blows them both up. However, because she tried to do good just before she died - saving the life of the old man Lowrie she was stealing from - she gets sent back to tip the scales, so to speak, one way or the other, to heaven or hell. To do this she has to help Lowrie complete the items on his "wish list": a list of things that he feels will correct the many mistakes he made in his life. In the meantime, both heaven and hell are out for her soul.

Contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Affably Evil: Myishi generally comes off as friendly, but he's still a literally demonic Mad Scientist.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: The third item on Lowrie's list is "Burst Ball". Meg thinks it means he wants to make up for bursting someone else's ball, but Lowrie corrects her, saying that "Ball" refers to an old bully of his named Brendan Ball who he wants to get revenge on.
  • Ashes to Crashes: Lowrie throws a jar full of the ashes from Meg's mother at Franco. Since Belch was possessing him at the time, the blessed material traps Belch in Franco.
  • Asian and Nerdy: Myishi is one of Hell's top scientists and engineers, and was Japanese when he was alive.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: Meg dies with a perfect balance of good and bad deeds to her name, disqualifying her from both branches of the afterlife. She finds a way back to the mortal world and decides to help an old man fulfill his life's wishes in the hopes of earning enough karma to get into heaven.
  • Batman Gambit: Meg agrees to help Lowrie "burst Ball", knowing it will harm her celestial standing, because she doesn't think he'll go through with it. And she's right.
  • Big Bad: Satan is the ultimate mastermind of the plot, intending to collect Meg's soul and hence sending her to hell.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Meg gets to heaven and sees her mother again, but she doesn't get to stick around Lowrie like she planned. Of course, this being a universe where the afterlife is proven to exist, they'll meet up again. In the meantime, thanks to Meg healing him with the blue stones Lowrie has a bit more time left to do something with his life.
  • Blue Is Calm: When Meg first wakes up in the afterlife, she initially thinks she might be in a hospital because of all the blue, since hospitals use it for a calming effect.
    Her initial impression was blue. A lot of blue. Still, don't panic. You get blue in hospitals. A soothing colour.
  • Care-Bear Stare: Apparently, whenever an act of perfect good is performed, it sets off an explosion in the spiritual plane that leaves ghosts unaffected, but has the same effect as a nuclear bomb on demons, and it leaves a nice scent around them when they end up splattered back in Hell.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: The book features Saint Peter griping about how computer programmers never get past the Pearly Gates, so he has to do all of his records manually. The staff of Hell dread being reassigned to somewhere even worse than they already are.
  • Chekhov's Gun: After filling Meg in on her situation and what she has to do to get into heaven, Flit gives her a couple of blue stones she can use to recharge her aura in an emergency. In the end, she uses them to give Lowrie and Franco new leases on life, which saves both of them and helps her get into Heaven.
  • Dead to Begin With: Meg dies in chapter 1.
  • De-aged in Death: Saint Peter is introduced judging an Italian man who died in his eighties and looks it. When the man is let into heaven, he finds his youth regenerating with every step he takes.
  • Demon Lords and Archdevils: Beelzebub is one of Satan's highest-ranking minions. Of course, this doesn't stop him from getting threatened and demeaned by his boss.
  • Devil's Job Offer: Satan wants Meg's soul because she's cunning, imaginative and ruthless, and he thinks he could use someone like her. So if she ends up in Hell, he plans to give her a job that would entail spreading misery on Earth.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: St Peter and Beelzebub have a hotline that goes directly to each other and has been key to preventing the End of the World several times. This is very reminiscent of the famous Moscow-Washington hotline that saw a lot of use during the Cold War.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Meg's refusal to let Belch kill Lowrie during the burglary is enough to drag her Karma score up to a completely balanced neutral.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Satan is loud, emotional, and prone to melodramatic gestures like making his pinstripe suit catch fire to emphasize how angry he is. Lampshaded by Beelzebub's internal comments that his boss loves theatrics.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: Beelzebub tries to assuage Satan's anger at not getting Meg's soul by claiming a bus full of lawyers is due to fall into a canyon that afternoon, so they're expecting a bit of a glut. This just makes him angrier; as he points out, he doesn't need lawyers because it's not like anybody's going to sue him.
  • Fat Bastard: Franco is as fat as he is cruel.
  • Finger Poke of Doom: As things seem hopeless for team Evil, Elph manages to cause Lowrie to have a fatal heart attack by appearing on the visible spectra in front of him just before he can complete the final wish, exploiting his already failing heart.
  • Freudian Excuse: Meg's childhood, in her own words, was "no great shakes", and goes some way towards explaining her mean-streak, especially in comparison to the story's antagonists.
  • Girl Next Door Turned Superstar: Lowrie's first wish is a kiss from his childhood sweetheart, who's become a famous talk show host in the years since he last saw her.
  • Good Smells Good: An explosion of pure good according is noted to leave its demonic victims smelling like fresh-baked cookies, among other things. The other demons find this disgusting.
  • Grand Theft Me: Belch eventually takes over the body of Meg's father Franco.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Lowrie. Of course, considering the life he's led, he has valid reasons to be such a grouchy curmudgeon.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Belch's soul is combined with that of his dog after he dies, so he turns into a human-canine both physically and mentally.
  • Healthy in Heaven: An elderly man who has just been admitted into Heaven by St Peter gets visibly younger and healthier as he skips down the path towards the afterlife.
  • Heavenly Blue: Heaven is portrayed as being bright blue with Hell being red.
  • Heel–Face Turn: After seeing visions of Hell while possessed by Belch, Franco resolves to turn his life around and redeem himself.
  • A Hell of a Time: More evil people get luxury apartments, complete with lava hottubs.
  • High-Tech Heaven: Zig-zagged: Saint Peter laments that Hell gets all the computer programmers, and thus the better technology, so he has to rely on scrolls for his work while his Evil Counterpart Beelzebub gets a computer. By the end of the book, however, a computer programmer gets admitted into heaven and replaces Peter's scroll with a PC.
  • Hulk Speak: Belch is reduced to talking like this by the end, thanks to much of the human side of his mind being destroyed. He goes from talking in complete sentences to blurting out things like "Finn going down!"
  • Insufferable Genius: Elph is smart and flaunts it.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Both main characters. Meg can be a spiteful little horror, but quickly cottons on when she has gone too far (such as when she tells Lowrie that "it's a bit late for this life" and then immediately realises the full ramifications of what she has said) or when things are deadly serious (her reaction to Belch's pitbull savaging Lowrie, and her attempts to get Belch to stop the attack; an attempt which saves Lowrie and saves herself from hell.) Lowrie, for his part, is a grumpy old man, but is still sensitive enough to take Meg's issues in life and her desire for retribution against her abusive stepfather seriously. Both characters, in this way, demonstrate hidden sensibilities even if they are outwardly not particularly nice.
  • Judgement of the Dead: It's revealed that all souls who have recently died will have the good deeds and sins that they have performed in their life weighed upon each other to determine whether they will go to heaven or hell. The Protagonist Meg Finn is one of the rare cases where her soul is perfectly balanced between good and evil, so she gets sent back to Earth as a spirit in order to tip the scales one way or the other.
  • Karma Meter: Every human being has one, and its status at the end of their life determines what happens to them after they die. Meg saving Lowrie ended up making hers completely neutral, which means she's allowed to go back and try to earn herself a ticket to Heaven.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Before losing a good portion of his human side, Belch refers to Elph by names like "fairy" or "pixie".
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Satan wears a pinstripe suit in his first appearance.
  • Near-Villain Victory: At the climax, Lowrie is all but dead with his last wish still unfulfilled, and Meg is entering the tunnel. It seems like Belch and Elph have succeeded in damning her to Hell. Then Flit reminds her of the blue stones she still has...
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Lowrie find out that the bully he went to beat up in revenge is just as old, frail, and suffering from a failing organ like him. He also has grown up and regrets everything he did to Lowrie. They make up.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: The Devil forbids the use of God's name in Hell, to the point that his servant starts saying "God help..." and quickly corrects himself because somehow, the Devil always knows when someone lets the G word slip out.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Since Satan's not happy about people using the Lord's name in Hell, people use his name as a substitute.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: In the spirit, if not precisely this trope, considering both people involved are already dead. Meg Finn has earned her final reward and is on the fast track up the tunnel towards Heaven, but Belch attempts to drag her in the opposite direction, prompting (according to Saint Peter afterwards) the first instance of violence in the tunnel, accompanied by this:
    Meg: Belch, you can go to Hell! (kick to the face)
  • Race Against the Clock: Meg naturally loses life-force as time wears on, and Lowrie's heart condition begins to deteriorate as the stress of the stories events gets to him, turning the book into a race to fulfill all four wishes before the pair expire, condemning Lowrie to an unfulfilled life and Meg to the fire below.
  • Ramp Jump: Deconstructed. Belch tries to do a variation of this minus the ramp near the end, but the fence he tried to ramp simply ends up tangled around his bike. It wasn't even necessary, given that he could have just plowed through.
  • Reformed Bully: Brendan Ball, Lowrie's childhood bully, turns out to be this. Lowrie intended to face him again as an adult and clock him one good, but Brendan turned out to be friendly and remorseful for his past actions, and the two end up bonding.
  • Save the Villain: While he's not the villain, Meg's step-father is still brought back from the dead by her—and then vows to be a much better person, having caught a glimpse of Hell.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: An unintentional example. When Franco gets possessed by Belch, he gets glimpses into Belch's memories of Hell. Now that he knows eternal damnation is a possible fate for him, he resolves to change for the better.
  • Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: Brendan Ball. Lowrie wants to get him back for it, but didn't consider the "grown up" part — and it turns out he's grown up as a person as well, and Lowrie changes his mind, just as Meg knew he would.
  • Took a Level in Dumbass: Belch becomes more and more bestial as the book goes on. Justified, given the fact that he constantly suffers serious damage to his human side.
  • Villain Respect: Meg's not an unambiguous hero, but she gets a good deal of this from Elph. When it seems like the bad guys have won, Elph says she did a good job and expresses hope that they might work together at some point.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Franco starts out well-liked by the neighborhood, due to nobody knowing about his embarrassing habits or the way he treats his wife and stepdaughter. He loses this status after Meg tricks him into showing his friends a videotape detailing his unhealthy obsession with TV and abuse of her.