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Literature / Tuck Everlasting

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Tuck Everlasting is a 1975 fantasy novel exploring immortality and whether it's worth it.

In the late 1800s, Winnie Foster's life is boring. Nothing exciting ever happens, and being in a family of strait-laced blue bloods has cramped her style. She goes out exploring in the woods one day and meets the Tucks. The Tucks became immortal after drinking water from a spring. She is fascinated by Jesse Tuck, a boy who's really 104 years old. The family shares with her the secrets of the spring. However, a man in a yellow suit is also after the secret behind the Tucks' immortality. The Tucks are threatened by the man in a yellow suit until they are in grave danger. Winnie must choose whether to live forever, and find how to save the Tucks.

The story has been adapted into a film twice: in 1981 by Office of Communications and in 2002 by Walt Disney Pictures. A musical adaptation was produced in 2013, and premiered on Broadway in 2015.

Tropes used by the novel and films:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Some filler is to be expected, as the book isn't very long. Also, the invincibility is only discussed in the book, without being shown in the actual story. The 2002 movie shows it directly: Jesse gets shot but is otherwise undeterred. A literal Wham Shot.
  • Adaptational Intelligence: In the book, Winnie tells Jesse to put her in Mae's place in the jail cell so that the sheriff won't get suspicious until the morning. This leads to her getting grounded for a long time by her family. In the film, Winnie goes to the sheriff screaming that the Tucks are coming after her and trying to kill her, so he'll go out and deal with the sons while she goes to free Angus and Mae. The sheriff runs away when he sees that Jesse and Miles are bulletproof, which means it's more plausible that the sons freed their mother and Winnie gets off scot-free.
  • Adaptational Villainy: The Man in the Yellow Suit is portrayed as a far more insidious and intelligent character in the 2002 film, with his obsession with the Tucks and the spring of immortality being more of an ideological pursuit in addition to a profit-making venture, and he has very predatory vibes towards Winnie in particular. In the books and 1981 film, he's more of a crooked businessman who wears a Mask of Sanity to conceal his psychotic nature and ruthlessness in what he's willing to do to obtain what he wants.
  • Age Lift: Winnie is ten years old in the book, but in the 2002 movie, she's in her mid teens. This is probably to make the romance between her and Jesse less squicky (she's still underaged, though at least they do nothing more than kiss).
  • An Aesop: You Only Live Once.
  • And Then What?: Jesse begs Winnie to run away with him and the Tucks when she frees his parents from jail and they prepare to leave. Angus vetoes the idea, telling Jesse that if they do that, they'll get caught again since Winnie's family would be searching for them. Winnie agrees to stay behind, and Jesse tells her to drink the water when she's ready to be immortal.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • A mild example. Winnie wishes to get away from her family. Then she's kidnapped. But the experience turns out to be not so bad after all.
    • There's also the obvious one about desiring immortality. The Tucks take care to see that Winnie understands how staying young forever isn't as great as it sounds with the troubles and pain that come with immortality physically and emotionally.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • In the movie, Jesse returns to the tree after a hundred years have passed to see if Winnie had taken the water and was waiting for him, only to find her tombstone instead, placed beneath it. Reading it, he finds out that she had a long and happy life with a husband and children. Jesse looks to the sky with a wistful smile.
    • In the book, Winnie is buried in the Treegap graveyard and Mae and Angus Tuck are the ones who find her headstone. They comment that Jesse's heart will be broken, and observe how the town has changed.
  • Bittersweet 17: Jesse Tuck is seventeen forever, and is carefree and adventurous... but the fact is, he's still a child who can never grow up, never achieve adulthood and never truly integrate with society because of his secret. He says his immortality is a blessing, but it's very clear he's Blessed with Suck.
  • Blessed with Suck: The Tucks cannot age, and cannot be killed by any means. This unfortunately has led them to become isolated from the world around them, with Miles watching his own family walk out on him when his wife believes him to be possessed. They will literally spend eternity watching every generation grow old and die, unable to make love or to have any part in society knowing what the consequences would be. As such, they are determined that nobody ever finds the spring that has made them this way.
  • Can't Grow Up: Jesse Tuck, frozen at age 17, will never become a fully adult man. He's apparently fine with this and claims to enjoy immortality, but his parents and brother have more mixed views on it.
  • Complete Immortality: The Tucks don't age and are near-impervious to damage, particularly demonstrated in the movie when Miles and Jesse get shot by the sheriff and are knocked down, but then casually get back up, shrugging off the bullets.
  • Deal with the Devil: Discussed. Miles's wife, upon realizing that he was not aging like she was, believed that he'd been possessed or made a deal with Satan for immortality and left him.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Winnie grows up and dies instead of becoming immortal with Jesse.
  • Dramatic Irony: The Tucks notice a toad in the way of their wagon, and muse that it probably thinks it'll live forever, not knowing it's the same toad Winnie gave up her immortality water for.
  • Due to the Dead: In both the book and the movie, the Tucks go to Winnie's grave and pay their respects to her. Jesse gives a wistful smile as he sits by her tombstone, while the Tucks stay for a few minutes and leave.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The first chapter of the book has the cows sensing something very wrong with the forest itself and quickly going around it.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: The bulk of the novel covers just over two days.
  • The Film of the Book: There are two different adaptations, in 1981 and 2002.
  • Friendless Background: Winnie, due to her family's strict upbringing.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: Winnie’s main reason for running away.
  • Immortality Seeker: The Man in the Yellow Suit wants the spring water for himself, but also desire to use it to make money by selling it to other people seeking immortality.
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: The Tucks don't age, they don't die. Mrs. Tuck was past childbearing age when she drank from the spring, so it isn't an issue for the elder Tucks. However, the eldest Tuck son got married in the years after they drank from the spring and before they realized its effects; he had children, but his wife eventually thought he'd made a Deal with the Devil and left him.
  • Inconspicuous Immortal: The Tuck family unknowingly drank from an Immortality Inducing spring, then settled into their home in the woods to live quietly and avoid attention. They have mixed feelings about their immortality and don't want the secret to get out.
  • The Jailbait Wait: Jesse gave Winnie some of the water, intending for her to use it when she was of marriageable age. She gave the water to a toad or a turtle instead in the book and the 1981 film adaptation. In the film, she always had access to the spring and considered drinking it, but never did as she aged and got married.
  • The Kindnapper: The Tucks do kidnap Winnie (even they admit it), but they did so in a panic when she learns their secret, and they mean no harm and fully intend on bringing her home the next day, once they've had time to explain everything and get her promise not to tell.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: The Tucks make the most out of their unwanted immortality. They're not happy about it, but why be miserable over something you can't control? While Angus and Mae safeguard the woods, their sons travel the world, exploring new technology, and bringing back souvenirs. In the present day in the film, Jesse has learned to ride a motorcycle and dress appropriately.
  • Magical Realism: The only fantastic element in the story is the spring, which itself is never really explained. The Tucks briefly speculate that it was probably from invokedan earlier plan for the world which didn't quite work out, but its possible origins aren't brought up again.
  • The Magic Goes Away: In the Distant Finale of the book, the immortality spring has been bulldozed over and destroyed. Averted in the film, where Jesse sees her buried in the woods.
  • Mama Bear:
    • Mae's usually very sweet, but she kills The Man in the Yellow Suit to protect her family. Not to mention kidnapping Winnie for the same reason, to avoid getting her caught up with the Man in the Yellow Suit.
    • She's also this to Winnie. That's the main reason she kills The Man in the Yellow Suit. She didn't want him to force Winnie to drink the spring water and condemn her to an eternity of loneliness.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Winnie (who is ten years old in the novel) wants to marry Jesse when she turns seventeen. (In the movie, they changed her to be fifteen.) He's also on board with the idea. But it doesn't come to pass, and she dies as an old woman, while he's still seventeen.
  • The Mourning After: In the Disney film, Miles still wears his wedding ring, despite years having passed since his wife and children died.
  • My Beloved Smother: Mrs. Foster is an example of this, trying to force Winnie to be ladylike and refined.
  • No Name Given: The Man in the Yellow Suit is only ever referred to as such and never named, even after his murder at Mae's hands, and her arrest for the same.
  • Of Corset Hurts: In the movie, Winnie is forced to wear a corset. Her mother tells her "You must suffer to be beautiful, so say the French", to which Winnie replies, "Well, the French are crazy!". When Winnie is staying with the Tucks, Mae helps her remove the corset, commenting on how she can't understand why women torture themselves with them. The Tucks teach her how to live a very natural and easy lifestyle.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Mae Tuck smacks The Man in the Yellow Suit with a shotgun, fracturing his skull.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: Winnie and Jesse in the 2002 movie, sort of. In the book, she has a crush on him and he suggests they marry when she's old enough, but nothing ever happens during the story since she's only ten. The movie ages her up, and they share a kiss.
  • Repulsive Ringmaster: The Man in the Yellow Suit's ultimate goal is to sell the magical spring water and turn the Tuck family into "freakshow" performers in order to demonstrate its power.
  • The Runaway: Winnie, tired of the stifling environment around her, runs off into the forest where she meets the Tucks.
  • Sadistic Choice: Die of old age and never get together with the boy you love, and aim for a fulfilling life, or drink the water that will stop your aging and resign yourself to outliving everyone else in your family and friend circle? Jesse makes it clear in the book and movie that it has to be Winnie's choice: he won't force her one way or the other, since his family didn't know any better when they drank the water. Winnie chooses to live; she marries someone else, has children, and lives a fulfilling life based on her tombstone's epitaph.
  • Sarcastic Confession: When Winnie first meets Jesse, she asks how old he is. He tells her the truth, and she asks him to be serious.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Winnie longs for a life outside her gates and her upper class lifestyle and learns to become a somewhat modern woman after her escapade with the Tuck family. The 2002 film takes this up by a greater degree. Said film also shows her trying her hand at playing baseball with a group of boys.
  • The Kindnapper: Winnie is technically kidnapped by the Tucks, but they didn't mean any harm by it.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Mrs. Foster softens up in the 2002 film adaptation over the course of the movie. She plays piano while her daughter is missing, takes in the Man With The Yellow Suit when Mae knocks him down and hears Winnie out when the latter explains that the Man was trying to hold her hostage at gunpoint.
  • Uptown Girl: Winnie hails from a rich family, but she makes friends with the Tucks and the 2002 movie gives her and Jesse an interclass romance.
  • Villain Ball: The Man in the Yellow Suit when he takes Winnie hostage on seeing that the Tucks won't willingly show him where the spring is or volunteer to be a part of his "freak show". He loudly tells them he's going to use Winnie, the girl he was supposed to rescue, as his guinea pig, seconds before the sheriff arrives and follows him. If Mae hadn't hit him with a shotgun, then the sheriff would have seen the Man's true character.
  • Wham Line: When Jesse explains the full nature of his immortality: "I've been seventeen for 107 years." He reveals that he wasn't joking, and Miles follows up by revealing his sad backstory.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?:
    • This is a major theme. Angus Tuck in particular dislikes his immortality and despite being sad over Winnie's passing, praises her in the book for choosing to not drink the water and live a normal life.
    • Miles describes how he outlived his children, and his wife. Immortality aside, parents and spouses have faced this fear. In the film, it's worse; his daughter died when she was a teen, and his wife was committed to an asylum.