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Literature / Winter's Tale

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Winter's Tale (alternatively titled A New York Winter's Tale in the UK and some other markets) is a 1983 novel by Mark Helprin. It's usually described as belonging to the school of Magic Realism, incorporating elements of fantasy, romance, and historical fiction. It follows a burglar named Peter Lake, who meets a dying young woman, Beverly, when robbing her father's fortress-like home in New York in The Edwardian Era, and his subsequent efforts to save her life, which end up having unexpected results decades down the line.

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The Film of the Book was released on Valentine's Day in 2014, starring Colin Farrell as Peter Lake, Jessica Brown Findlay as Beverly Penn, and Russell Crowe as Pearly Soames.

Not to be confused with the play The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare.


Tropes in both the book and the film:

  • Ill Girl: Beverly, who is dying from consumption.
  • Victorian Novel Disease: Beverly suffers from consumption (tuberculosis), which is the physical illness associated with this trope, since it allows the heroine to die tragically while retaining her beauty right up until the end.note  Averted in the novel in that she's often flushed bright red as a side-effect of her symptoms, and when she eventually dies Peter Lake describes her as ranting mad and horribly emaciated. Played Straight in the film adaptation, though.
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  • White Stallion / Cool Horse: Athansor.

Tropes in the book:

  • Brother–Sister Incest: A common, one might even call it traditional, practice among the adolescents in the community of Baymen who raise Peter. Peter himself practices it with his foster sister Anarinda, though because they aren't blood relatives, it's actually frowned upon by the community.
  • Full-Name Basis: Peter Lake is always called by both his names, first in order to differentiate him from the other Bayman children named Peter, and later simply because he's used to it.
  • Values Dissonance: In-Universe. One of the reasons Peter is sent to New York City after twelve years on the marshes is that he'll never be able to fully participate in the Bayman community since, as a foundling, he can never engage in a truly incestuous relationship, which is considered a rite of passage.
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Tropes in the film:

  • Adapted Out: Due to the difficulties of turning an 800-page novel into a two-hour film, a great many important characters from the book are entirely absent, including most of the Baymen and the Short Tails, Reverend Mootfowl, Jackson Mead, Beverly and Willa's two brothers, Hardesty Marratta and Martin Gamely (Virginia's husband and son from her first marriage, respectively), Virginia's mother, Harry's daughter Jessica, Jessica's fiancé Praeger de Pinto, and Asbury and Christiana (friends and co-workers of the Penns, Marrattas and Praeger, and later of Peter Lake as well). Peter's childhood friend Cecil Mature, a.k.a. Cecil Wooley, makes it into the film, but his role is greatly reduced, not to mention changed so much that all the two characters have in common is their name and their broad function as Peter's maybe-guardian angel. Basically, the only main characters from the exclusively modern-day sections of the book to make it into the film are Virginia and Abby, with the consequence that the Gamelys are no longer old family friends of the Penns, but just a couple of people Peter meets in the present day through sheer coincidence - though a sharp viewer will notice that Beverly's father does mention that their next-door neighbours are named the Gamelys at one point.
  • Age Lift:
    • A very minor one: Beverly is aged up to 21 from 18 in the book.
    • Willa is aged up from a three-year-old toddler to a kid of six or seven (probably because toddler actors are rare-to-nonexistent).
  • Anachronism Stew: Deliberately with the Judge; he's wearing a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt and reading A Brief History of Time. In 1915.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Peter has one after the Time Skip (and, more importantly, Beverly's death) but loses it as he begins to remember his identity.
  • Canon Foreigner: Will Smith's character "The Judge" a.k.a. Lucifer is not an explicit presence in the novel.
  • Composite Character: Willa becomes the head of the Penn family's newspaper empire and a major character in the modern day parts of the film; in the book, it was her brother Harry who became editor and eventually reconnected with Peter.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Both the Judge and Pearly.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Both Pearly and the Judge.
  • God Is Evil: Pearly suggests that this is the reason why there's so much suffering in the world by way of taunting Peter after Beverly's death — that God likes to watch the endless, doomed struggle of good versus evil.
  • Improbable Age: Peter meets Beverly's young sister Willa in 1915, when she's about six years old. They meet again in 2014, with Willa being played by 90-year-old Eva Marie Saint (and very much not looking her actor's age); this despite the fact that she must be well over one hundred years old by this point.
  • Market-Based Title: The film was released as A New York Winter's Tale in the UK, presumably so audiences wouldn't confuse it with the Shakespeare play. The movie tie-in edition of the novel has also been released under this title.
  • Mind Screw: The plot is amazingly complicated, and any reviewer attempting to explain it tends to come across as insane.
  • Noodle Incident: What happened the last time Pearly was allowed out of the city.
  • Satan: Turns out to be The Judge, whom Pearly also addresses as either "Lucifer" or "Lu."
  • Scary Black Man: Will Smith as The Judge, complete with Voice of the Legion at certain points in his scenes.
  • Time Skip: Following Beverly's death, the movie skips forward ninety-nine years.
  • Voice of the Legion: The Judge.
  • Wicked Cultured: The first time we meet the Judge, he's calmly reading a book.

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