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Literal Bookworm

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"A bookworm! A bookworm! I'm nothing but a bookworm! I'm full of science and philosophy (aw gee)! A bookworm! A bookworm! I'm nothing but a bookworm! Nothing ever happens to me!"
The Bookworm, The Bookworm

They're a common face in children's entertainment: literal bookworms, tubiform bugs that live inside or surrounded by books. Their default depiction is that of keepers of knowledge, which is followed closely by another portrayal of insatiable book munchers. At times, the two versions overlap when the bookworm has the power to acquire knowledge by eating books instead of reading them. The duality is reflected in the design choices. Purely destructive bookworms look like (stylized) regular insects, while it is a rarity for the knowledge-acquiring bookworm to not be an Accessory-Wearing Cartoon Animal. Nerd Glasses and neckties are the usual two attributes. Literal bookworms are Always Male, possibly because Boys Like Creepy Critters. They are prone to either having an Alliterative Name, or to simply be named "Bookworm".

Outside of fiction, "bookworm" is in use as an umbrella term for any and all bugs that eat materials that go into books, such as paper, cloth, leather or glue, or the mold that'll grow on improperly stored books. The bugs are more elusive than the damage they leave behind, so while it's not just one pest that's responsible, it is easy to imagine it is. Among the real-life bookworms are beetles, silverfishes, booklice, cockroaches, moths, and bugs that normally go after wood such as may be incorporated in a bookcase. None of the aforementioned creatures are wormly beyond the larval stage, so the literal bookworm has little in common with them in terms of appearance. That is, the designs of literal bookworms range from earthworms to caterpillars to larvae-as-adults to indeterminable snakelike bugs. By far the most common color for the creature is green and earthworm pink makes for a good second. Literal bookworms may have Prehensile Tails to hold their books but more likely are designed to have hands.

It's tempting to think that the "bookworm" as a literal book-devourer inspired the "bookworm" as metaphorical book-devourer, but the available evidence suggests it's the other way around. "Worm" has a long history of being in use as an insult, particularly in the Elizabethan era. The earliest known mention of the term "bookworm" is in Three Proper and Witty Familiar Letters from 1580, where it serves as a pejorative reference to people who read a lot. It takes about a century more, in the Micrographia of 1665, for "bookworm" to refer to a bug. An illustrated entry for "silver-colour'd book-worm" describes and depicts the silverfish.note  So it would be that the insult "worm" inspired the insult "bookworm" which became a term in its own right that was picked up when a word was needed for book-eating pests. The insult "bookworm" shifted to a neutral meaning during the 19th Century and it seems the reader and the bug found each other thereafter. A Phenomenal Fauna from 1901 is the first work known to depict a reading worm.

Sub-Trope of Bookworm (a literal bookworm is always wormly, so examples of other kinds of reading bugs go on the Super-Trope) and Pun-Based Creature. Depictions of real-life bookworms and the damage they do also don't qualify for this trope. Compare Termite Trouble, another destructive bug, and The Short Guy with Glasses, who also tends to be short and studious.


Examples

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     Advertising 
  • BW the Bookworm is the mascot of Half Price Books. He looks like a green alien caterpillar.
  • Ed Word the Bookworm is CapEd's Early Childhood Literacy Reading Ambassador. He's a blue-and-white muppet who visits schools and events to promote reading among children.
  • Og the Bookworm is one of the mascots of Primrose Schools. He's a green worm with glasses and a hat and he promotes reading.
  • An unnamed green worm with glasses is the mascot for the Bookworm Wednesdays program held by American movie theater chain Showcase Cinemas.
  • Boekhandel Huyser in Delft in the Netherlands has a bookworm of unusual design as store sign. The bookworm is a dapper human on top and a caterpillar below the waist. He's holding a book in his hands and a candle with his tail.

    Art 
  • Since 2018, a 4-piece statue of a bookworm has adorned the entrance to the Casey Township Library in Illinois. The four pieces are arranged so that it looks like the bookworm emerges from the ground as if it eating through it.

    Comic Books 
  • Alice New Adventures In Wonderland: In "Alice in Bugville", Alice finds a bookworm living in her dictionary. He introduces himself as Eustace R. Bookworm and invites her to come to Bugville with him to talk with the other bugs about the impending visit from the exterminator, shrinking her with his own insectisizer invention. With Bookworm's guidance, an agreement is reached that the exterminator will be called off and the bugs stop being pests.
  • Diddl: Merksmir Lettermampf ("Merksmir Lettermunch") is a yellow-and-purple striped bookworm who wears a fez with built-in booklight, a pince-nez, and a bow tie. He lives in the library of Professor DiddlDaddl Bubblebang in Cheesecakeland, having moved there from Bibliotheca some time prior. He's very knowledgeable due to all the books he's eaten and the one thing he doesn't know, his date of birth, is a sore spot.
  • Looney Tunes: One Mary Jane and Sniffles comic in Four Color Comics #402 sees the two protagonists come to the aid of a spelling bee and his hive, which is under attack by bumblebees. The trio escapes capture and finds sanctuary with a Queen's English-speaking bookworm, Chopper J. Binding, inside the M-volume of an encyclopedia. He buys them time to come up with a plan.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW): In "Ponies in Book Land", Twilight's library becomes infested by a bookworm resembling a fat green caterpillar, which begins eating its way through the stories in her books — not the physical books, but the stories themselves. Twilight, Rarity, Pinkie and Rainbow Dash use magic to pursue it into the books, where they discover that it's devouring stories because none exist about itself and it wants to create a new one by devouring older stories.
  • "The Old Swap Shop", a series published in Jingle Jangle Comics starting #25, has as protagonists Curly, a bespectacled bookworm with a grad cap who lives inside a book, and Ambrose, a living centauroid lampbase. Between them, Ambrose is the levelheaded one, while Curly is smart but impulsive and fond of eating. At night, they roam freely through the store and interact with the other living items and entities in the shop, going so far as to on occasion enter books and pictures, where Curly is at home too.
  • Shazam!: Pre-Crisis Mister Mind is one of the Marvel Family's greatest archfoes... and yet he's a Venusian worm whose initial design borne of this trope. He's a cartoonish green worm with spectacles and a voicebox around his neck. Though he's not directly linked to literature, as his name indicates, his greatest power is his mind in contrast to the Marvel Family of Physical Gods.
  • Spider-Ham: The Bookworm is villain appearing in "TV or Not TV, Or... Read a Good Book Lately?". He's an earthworm whose parents were librarians and instilled him with a deep love for books. He became a librarian himself, but had to close down the library when television sets became a household standard. Some time thereafter, a book fell on his head and The Bookworm became a low-key Reality Warper with the skill to summon literary figures into existence, order them around, and dismiss them out of existence. In order, he summons The Three Muskrateers, The Raven, and Quasidodo to ruin the Eggy Awards, destroy the state-of-the-art dish of a new television network, and kill Spider-Ham. Spider-Ham defeats The Bookworm by dropping another book on his head to remove his powers.

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney Fairies: In Secret of the Wings, Tinker Bell looks for information on why her wings sparkle in the Library. Specifically, she seeks out the book Wingology, but the pages relevant to her question have just been eaten by a bookworm. Said bookworm quickly makes itself scarce.
  • The Magic Voyage: Pico is a woodworm, but he also functions as a literal bookworm. As much as he eats wood, he eats books and this is why he's so knowledgeable. He meets Christopher Columbus when the latter wants to propose that the world is a cube rather than flat, at which point Pico jumps in to correct him that the world is an orb. It is the start of a beautiful friendship.
  • Strawinsky and the Mysterious House: The Globglogabgalab takes things to uncomfortable new heights. Not only does he sing about books, he also depends on them for sustenance, eating their thoughts and ideas by shrinking and absorbing himself into the books, and upon emerging, caresses himself and giggles with glee from these feeding sessions. He used to be a handsome elf, but exposure to books turned him into wormly humanoid blob.
  • Toy Story 3: One of Lotso's (possibly strong-armed) henchmen is Bookworm, a booklight in the shape of a bookworm. He's the keeper of a library of instruction manuals within Sunnyside Daycare and the one who gives Lotso and later Barbie the Buzz Lightyear instruction manual.

    Films — Live Action 
  • The Hugga Bunch: Bridget Severson seeks a youth medicine for her grandmother and visits the elderly Bookworm who resides within a mountain of giant books in Hugga Land because he is supposed to know everything. While not sympathetic to Bridget's plight, because aging is a part of life, he tells her about the Youngberry Tree in the Country of Shrugs, which one of his giant books is a gate to. If Bridget gives her grandmother one of the tree's fruits, she'll become young again. However, the Country of Shrugs is a dangerous place and the Bookworm is confident Bridget won't ever return from it.

    Literature 
  • Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship by Edward Hemingway has a worm named Will who likes to read. When he goes to live inside the apple Mac, he regularly reads him stories.
  • "Bookworm" is a poem about a worm who used to eat two books a day until he found that reading them was more fun.
  • "Bookworms: How to Kill" is a poem by by John Dovaston that describes bookworms as voracious vermin which only true enemy are the readers that take the books from them.
  • Discworld: There's a creature known as the 0.303" Bookworm. It evolved in magical libraries and can eat through a whole shelf of semi-sentient magical texts so quickly that they don't have a chance to respond. The ping and richochet of the 0.303" Bookworm is yet another thing that makes magical libraries a hazardous place to work.
  • Great Big Schoolhouse: The scene in the school library has Lowly Worm looking on from behind books on the bookshelf.
  • A Phenomenal Fauna: One entry is dedicated to bookworms. Its illustration depicts bookworms with booklights on their heads. The entry suggests that (early) reedbirds are their natural enemies.
  • The eponymous Word Eater is a worm born with both eyes to read with and the ability to eat words instead of dirt eventually named Fip. If he eats a noun it's subject is erased from existence, even extending to concepts like a dog training method, removing its results on all the dogs it was used on. This is highly dangerous so he spends most of the book being starved by necessity, and even when he does eat there's a limit to how much his tiny body can stomach.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Barney & Friends: There are two cases, one an instance in Season 1 and the other a recurring character starting Season 5.
    • In "Let's Help Mother Goose!", unseen bookworms are heard eating all the pages in Mother Goose's book. She asks Barney and the children to help her remember the rhymes which were in the book so she can write them all down (again).
    • Booker T. Bookworm, who debuts in "It's Time for Counting", is an orange worm with blue glasses and a green plaid bowtie that works as an imaginary librarian at the school library.
  • One of the residents of the Curiosity Shop is Professor S. I. Trivia, an animated bookworm who popped out of a dictionary to provide the definitions to certain words.
  • Hi-5 House: There are two puppet bookworms named Aristotle (yellow with a bowtie) and Horace (blue with glasses). They're part of the cast of The Chatterbox segment, which aims to teach the audience the English language.
  • Sing Me a Story With Belle features Lewis and Carol, a pair of bookworms named for Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland who inhabit Belle's library and listen to the stories that Belle tells them and the children who visit. Lewis has yellow and red stripes and wears glasses, while Carol has light green and dark green stripes.
  • Wielie Walie: One of the main characters is Bennie Boekwurm, an elderly bookworm who loves to read stories either in the quiet of his home or to others.
  • Your Child Can Discover: Benji the Bookworm is the show's earthworm mascot, and participates in various segments.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Cranium: One of the four main characters in the game is Word Worm, a bookish worm who wears glasses and a mortarboard. His card challenges are word problems such as anagrams, spelling words backwards, and word definitions.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Bookworms, described in the 1983 Monster Manual II, are tiny worms with Lamprey Mouths and Chameleon Camouflage. While harmless to people, bookworms can prove to be the undoing of anyone dependent on books and scrolls, such as magic users. The bookworms' own bane is ink, which they can't digest and which stacks up in their bodies until it poisons them. On the plus side, the ink stored inside their corpses is a potent ingredient for Anti-Magic.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Bookwurm depicts a wurm — a kind of limbless, snake- or worm-like dragon — bursting through a set of library shelves.
    "It it takes "devouring a book in one sitting" to a frightening extreme."

    Theme Parks 
  • In 1996, Alton Towers opened Storybook Land, in the middle of which stood a large animatronic bookworm emerging from a storybook. Visitors could press the button on a normal-sized bookstand to make the bookworm speak and move. Storybook Land was closed to be rebuilt into Cbeebies Land at the end of 2013 and the bookworm was sold into individual ownership.

    Toys 
  • Professor B. Wormington is a bookworm plushie (knitting pattern) created by Alan Dart. He's an earthworm dressed in a tweed jacket, glasses, and graduate cap, and holding a book.
  • The Laugh & Learn Storybook Rhymes by Fisher Price is an electronic book with a bookworm as spine. The bookworm can sing any of the six songs in the book and some more for numbers, the alphabet, and colors.

    Video Games 
  • The Berenstain Bears: In the Living Books adaptation of The Berenstain Bears in the Dark, clicking on one of the books in the library will cause a glasses-wearing bookworm to pop out, who rubs his tummy in satisfaction and says, "Mm! I love a good book."
  • Bookworm:
    • We have the titular bookworm Lex, who is an intelligent green bookworm with glasses and a red bowtie. The premise of the game is to feed Lex by creating words with the tiles given to you.
    • The sequel, Bookworm Adventures, introduces Mirage Xel. Mirage Xel is an Evil Counterpart version of Lex (although Xel says Lex is the evil version) and also is real as a Hollywood Mirage. Xel is purple, wears a black tie and black pointy glasses, and he's the boss of Chapter 7 of Book 2 as the guardian of the Robe of the Unseen.
  • Brain Dead 13: If accessed from the right entrance, the library is infested with bookworms. Lance can either escape the lot of them or get eaten.
  • Crayon Chronicles: Among the many pun-based enemies in the library are Arrogant Book Worms. They're green worms with glasses and a grad cap sticking out of an apple.
  • Culdcept Second: Book Worm is a water-type monster with an item limit for scrolls. It looks like a fleshy worm with a Lamprey Mouth and is the bane of magic users whose spell books and scrolls it consumes.
  • Epic Battle Fantasy 5: Book Worms belong to the Worm species, a class of low level foes and summons. Book Worms are orange worms that wear glasses and they are at home in the Greenwood Library. They're highly intelligent critters that memorize the contents of every book they ever eat, but they can only recite it in worm language. Book Worms attack physically and have access to supportive magic, most of which relates to status effects. They are vulnerable to bio and ice attacks.
  • King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow has Alexander meeting a green, bespectacled bookworm on the Isle of Wonder, where pretty much everything is based on a pun. He lives in a junkyard of books and acts a bit rude at first, but when Alexander returns his "Dangling Participle", he gives him a special, rare book.
  • Pok√©mon: Blipbug is based off a bookworm. Its eyes don't have pupils and have the appearance of glasses and its neck has pieces that resemble a bow tie. According to Pokedex entries, Blipbug is a constant collector of information and is very intelligent.
  • Psychonauts 2: Some bookworms appear in the library level of "Cassie's Collection" in Cassiopeia's Mind. Like a lot of cartoon versions, they wear glasses and academic caps.
    Raz: Maybe instead of eating books, you should try reading them?
    Pinky Worm: Read books?
    Slinky Worm: What is that? Some new fad diet?! Oy.
    Pinky Worm: Sounds like a good way to starve to death.
  • Tibia: Enraged Bookworms are enemies encountered in Yalahar Library during the Shadows of Yalahar Quest. They're fairly weak and turn into fishing bait upon defeat.
  • Word Rescue has a green, bespectacled worm named Benny Bookworm as one of the protagonists. The player character has to help him steal back all the words stolen by the Gruzzles and return them to their books. In the sequel, Math Rescue, he becomes Benny Butterfly, meaning Benny was a caterpillar in the first game.

    Web Animation 
  • Om Nom Stories: Om Nom and Om Nelle visit the library in "Bookworm". Om Nom is enthusiastic about getting to read a particular book, but upon opening it finds that it is mostly consumed by a pesky purple worm. Said worm proceeds to openly antagonize Om Nom and eat even more books until Om Nelle freezes the both of them.

    Webcomics 
  • Awful Hospital: Professor Lexicovermus is a hyperdimensional bookworm who lives in a book who was once a man.
  • Socrates The Housefly: Socrates's main friend is Bookworm, who's always with his nose in the books and a tad haughty. Socrates regularly asks him for advice.

    Western Animation 
  • Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy: In "It's a Worm Day", Auggie has befriended Irving at the public library. Irving is a bookworm with vast knowledge and Doggie Daddy doesn't like that Auggie now goes to him for help with his homework. As such, he tries to kill Irving, but is so incompetent neither Auggie nor Irving take offense. Doggie Daddy's antics get him arrested and Auggie gets him Irving as his lawyer.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Debuting in the short "Sniffles and the Bookworm", a worm with glasses is occasionally seen as a companion to Sniffles the Mouse.
    • Tiny Toon Adventures: The original Bookworm from the "Sniffles" shorts returns as the librarian of the Looniversity. There's also a student counterpart of him who shares his name. This Bookworm is a small, cute, green, bespectacled bookworm who loves reading books as well as eating them as they are his primary food source. Sweetie regularly attempts to eat him, but always fails one way or another.
  • MGM Oneshot Cartoons: Two cartoons feature a literal bookworm, whose vast knowledge comes from him literally devouring books and who wishes his life was more exciting. His friends and adversaries are the characters written about in books that are capable of stepping out of the pages.
    • In "The Bookworm", the witches from Macbeth want a bookworm to add to their brew, seemingly as the "blind-worm's sting" ingredient. They enlist the raven from "The Raven" to catch the bookworm and are additionally assisted by the other villains of literature. However, the bookworm outsmarts the raven and when by luck the villains get the upper hand, the heroes of literature come to save the bookworm.
    • In "The Bookworm Turns", the raven is convinced by Jekyll and Hyde from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that he needs the bookworm's brain for an intelligence transplant. He captures him relatively easily this time and the transplant is a success, but Hyde wants to experiment further with the bookworm and makes him bigger. With new strength, the bookworm escapes to get revenge on the raven. Jekyll fixes Hyde's mistake by capturing both test subjects through a process that undoes the transplant. The raven settles for being tutored by the bookworm.
  • The Owl House: Bookworms are mentioned to exist on the Boiling Isles, though they're never seen. The context in which they're mentioned (plus the fact that the Boiling Isles in general is a Death World) leads Luz to assume that they're probably some sort of "unholy, blood-sucking snake monster" and point out the contrast with what the term usually means on Earth.
  • Plasmo: "Plasmo and the Bookworm" features a large bookworm that has bored through various books at the library, in an attempt to gain their knowledge. All he's gained instead is a bad case of indigestion, and has trouble using the books to learn how to read, as he's now forced to use "the abridged version".
  • Strawberry Shortcake: Bosley Bookworm of Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures is a bookworm and assistant of Blueberry Muffin at Blueberry Books, a book store and library located in Berry Bitty City. Whenever she needs advice, she knows to ask Bosley.
  • Timon & Pumbaa: In "Library Brouhaha", Timon and Pumbaa visit the library with the express purpose of dining on a bookworm. The resident bookworm defends itself by coaxing the duo into making noise time and time again, for which the librarian kicks them out. Another attempt sees all three be crushed by a bookcase, causing them to temporarily be transported to book land and thereafter be sent to the hospital. While all bandaged up, Timon and Pumbaa attack the bookworm and finally eat it.

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