Follow TV Tropes


Some Anvils Need To Be Dropped / Literature

Go To

Main: Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped

  • Carrie: Don't ever, ever, EVER laugh at the misfortune of others. And, don't actively pull pranks on those showing abundant signs of being really close to the edge. Seriously, don't.
  • 1984 and Animal Farm, both by George Orwell, with an anvil of, "Totalitarianism is bad." You have the villains doing the horrible things they do literally For the Evulz. The thing is, like all examples on this page, it works. The world of 1984 is insanely horrifying and bleak, and yet disturbingly credible at the same time, with parallels that can be drawn in the real world. Which means while the world of 1984 is ridiculous, we're too scared to laugh.
    • Orwell's message, like "Slavery is bad" from Harriet Beecher-Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin or "Hitler is bad" from Chaplin's Great Dictator, seems obvious today and saying so in an unsubtle way may seem somewhat silly. Not so at the time it was published. These were times that needed strong, effective propaganda against these very real evils. These unsubtle works may have done more real good than any great, subtle art. Though the point these novels were making may seem clearly obvious today, it's important to note that Animal Farm and 1984 were published in the 1940's, when Stalin was still regarded by a good deal of the general public in the West as a hero due to his support in World War II, and many members of the Western intelligentsia were enraptured by or at minimum genuinely sympathetic to the Communist Soviet political system. Animal Farm in particular was written during the War and initially had difficulty getting published because of pro-Soviet sentiment in Britain at the time. Also in Animal Farm, it's not very hard for one oppressive government to rise from the ashes of another.
  • Advertisement:
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has Huck's undisputed Moment of Awesome drop a much-needed anvil about standing up for what you believe and doing the right thing. Huck's friend, a runaway slave named Jim, has been captured. Huck intends to go save him, but - having grown up in a slave-owning society - he believes that helping Jim escape would be grand theft, and rescuing Jim would condemn his soul to Hell. Huck concludes, "All right, I'll go to Hell, then!" What's especially awesome about it, and what makes it such a powerful anvil? Huck honestly believed he would go to Hell for rescuing Jim. Huck does it anyway. In short, it's called the greatest phrase ever in American literature for a reason.
  • The Adventures of Pinocchio: Modern readers might find the misadventures and punishments Pinocchio goes through too dark for today's standards, but all the book is trying to make clear through Grimm Tales-like Scare 'Em Straight scenarios, is that unfortunately the world IS a dangerous place, especially for young unexperienced children that don't know better. The outcome of Pinocchio's misdeeds and poor judgement show the reader what happens when one refuses to build a constructive, responsible life from an early age and is a Horrible Judge of Character. Even the Disney movie didn't shy away from having Pinocchio get kidnapped and involved in horrible situations for being merely naive. It's sadly true to real life with most children gone missing.
  • Advertisement:
  • Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale — a sci-fi fable about patriarchal society and religious fundamentalism — is about as subtle as a high-velocity cinder block, but has a highly influential and important message.
  • Night by Elie Wiesel: The Holocaust happened, and we have to come to terms with that. It was a very dark mark on human history that should never be repeated. Real human beings with feelings were slaughtered for no reason other than the fact that they came from a different ethic group. Genocide is bad. It cannot happen again.
  • The Rising of The Moon by Flynn Connolly, in which an Irish woman returns to Ireland after having spent fifteen years in self-imposed exile so that she could teach actual Irish history instead of the redacted version authorized by the government. Anvils include, but are not limited to, "Freedom of Religion," "Freedom Isn't Free," "Equal Rights," "Sexism Works Both Ways," "One Person Can Make a Difference," "Those Who Cannot Remember the Past," etc.
  • Empire, by Orson Scott Card, is not the least bit subtle about the problems of the current political system in the United States. The bad guys aren't "the Democrats" or "the Republicans." It's not the right or the left, it's a few people at the top on both sides, with extremist views, who could pull everyone else along with them into a second civil war. (And the unanswered question posed by the ending is even creepier...)
    • Many readers fail to notice that the real villain is neither the political left nor the right, but the man behind the scenes manipulating them all. The rebels are liberals, but they have equally angry and irrational enemies on the right.
  • Ender's Game rejects subtlety and symbolism, and is all the better for it. Its message is clear: when a society is consumed by fear in wartime, the people at the top will cast morality and individual freedom to the winds, children will lose their innocence, and good people on both sides will die. In the end, we and our enemies are often more alike than we'd like to believe.
  • A lot of Charles Dickens falls under this heading. He gets away with his anvils because they're never based on the idea that Readers Are Morons and need lessons in basic decency, they are always motivated by genuine passion, fury against real injustices, and a need to increase word count. There is a particularly powerful one in A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas:
    "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."
    • Dickens' Oliver Twist is the book responsible for abolishing workhouses as a placeholder for orphans. Who can forget the iconic "Please, sir, I want some more!" scene?
  • Ben Elton's High Society makes some very important points about the harm created by drug prohibition and the power wielded by sensationalist tabloid media, and still manages to be a thoroughly entertaining read.
  • The novel Momo by Michael Ende. The book's message about how we need to make time for each other and all the things we love in our lives is really obvious — and you couldn't imagine the book being nearly as good without it.
  • Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein drops anvils about military service.
    • "If you want to participate as a citizen, you have to serve your country, up to and including being prepared to quite literally fight, even die, for the privilege. And it is a privilege, not a right."
    • Also, an all-volunteer army that's well trained, well equipped, and knows the value of the individuals that serve in it trumps an army that treats its infantry like so many potatoes to be thrown at enemies, even if the latter greatly outnumbers the former. Basically, if your idea of troop management is "let 'em die like pigs, We Have Reserves", then those "reserves" are going to run out a lot sooner than you think... and you are going to deserve to be screwed over once that happens.
    • Another perspective taken is that Heinlein, who was not especially pro-military, took the morally-brightest example of a militarized society (the Terran Federation) and compared them to the worst example possible (the bugs). The anvil falls from the comparison between the two.
    • There's also the Anvil that "violence never solves anything" is wishful thinking. Yes, it is preferable and best that you look for a non-violent solution to any given problem. But at the same time, sometimes that simply isn't going to work. Insisting on avoiding any violence once it's clear that a compromise can't be reached is dangerous in itself.
    • Lastly, there are two aesops regarding sexism and racism. Johnny Rico is Juan Rico and his girlfriend Carmen is an officer and a pilot, trying to demonstrate an integrated service being the ideal.
      • Though not completely integrated: women don't serve in Rico's branch of the military (the Mobile Infantry.) It is made explicit that most of the best pilots in the Space Navy are women, and Heinlein evidently believed that women should be able to serve in roles that didn't require getting up close in the enemy's face: in another novel, he opines that there wasn't a single job in the US Navy that couldn't be done just as well by a woman (or a eunuch, for that matter.)
  • In response to Starship Troopers, Joe Haldeman wrote The Forever War, which is often seen its the polar opposite. The primary anvil dropped is that militarism is very bad, and that blind trust in/glorification of the military results in horrible things happening to society. It also drops a more subtle one about patriotism being terribly misguided.
    • But Heinlein did not see The Forever War as being in any way the opposite of Starship Troopers, and told Haldeman that he very much liked The Forever War. Heinlein went out of his way to do that publiclynote .
  • Brave New World wouldn't have been half as effective if Aldous Huxley had been even the least bit subtle.
  • Norman Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth drops the learning-is-fun anvil pretty early on, and keeps picking it up and dropping it again. This strategy would not work if the book were not also funny as hell — it reads like a combination of Shel Silverstein, James Thurber, and Douglas Adams. Kudos to Norton Juster for also throwing in enough Parental Bonus moments to keep the book funny and relevant.
    • It also has "see the wonder in the ordinary" towards the end when the main character considers going back through the titular Tollbooth but muses that he "has so much to do here." (paraphrased; it's been a while since I've read the book.)
  • Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.
    "Atticus, he was real nice..." His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me. "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them." He turned out the light and went into Jem's room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.
  • Terry Pratchett's Young Adult Discworld novels drop anvils labeled "take personal responsibility" so often you think you're being attacked by an anvil-wielding 82nd Airborne. But it works.
    • Hogfather drops the anvil that humans need to learn stories when they're young — that they need to believe in silly things like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, so that when they get older, they can believe in other things that don't exist without people believing in them and acting on them — like Justice, Mercy, Duty, and that sort of thing.
  • Though all of Ayn Rand's novels are Anvilicious, for some people the unsubtle political messages in We The Living come off more acceptably than those in her later works, because it targets Russian Communists rather than generic Strawman Political equivalents.
    • The same qualifies for Howard Roark's Author Tract at the end of The Fountainhead. Regardless of whether you agree with its content, it's passionately written, very moving, and completely devoid of subtlety. It helps that it appears in a context where one would expect to hear (and to listen respectfully) to a passionate speech appealing to universal principles and a sense of justice: the end of a criminal trial.
      • Unfortunately, it loses much of its Anvil impact due to repeatedly picking up and redropping the same Anvil, again and Again and AGAIN, until the reader is often either confused as to what the anvil really is, or simply tunes out the anvil because of annoyance. The extreme length of the speech results in it being more of a Lost Aesop for the audience, though, like all such things, YMMV.
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin basically consisted of Harriet Beecher Stowe gathering together a whole bunch of stories of actual people who were actually enslaved, then changing the names and adding in a plot to tie it together.
    • It drops another on the caring of children - if you expect a child to be wicked and immoral, that's exactly how they'll act.
  • Gulliver's Travels as a tract against human self-importance in general, and English society in particular. And, of course, the final anvil dropped in that book — that misanthropy isn't always a good attitude to take toward the failings of humankind.
  • A Modest Proposal, also by Jonathan Swift, took on the British policies and attitudes towards the Irish by proposing that the Irish sell their children to the aristocracy as food in a marvelously over-the-top detailed manifesto.
  • The Feminine Mystique dropped a big fat anvil of "society shouldn't pressure women to be housewives if they'd rather have careers." Seems too obvious to bother mentioning now, but it was quite controversial when it was published in 1963.
  • The Crucible, as well as almost any other leftist fiction written during the Second Red Scare, and the height of McCarthyism: pointing fingers is wrong.
  • The Jungle — sort of. The protagonist Jurgis goes through nearly every possible disaster a working-class citizen of his time can possibly suffer, with his child even drowning in the muddy streets, and Sinclair's intent becomes quite clear in the final chapters, which attempt to set up the Socialist party as saviors. But the anvil that actually got dropped, and to great effect, was the depiction of the then-standard meat production process. As Mr. Sinclair himself remarked, "I aimed for America's heart and I hit them in the stomach." The book was solely responsible for the Meat Inspection Act of 1919.
  • In Les Misérables, literacy is not just useful, but makes the difference between life and death for several different characters. The Power of Love changes Jean Valjean from a petty crook into a great philanthropist. Javert only cares about enforcing the law, and is driven to suicide when he finally realizes that Valjean is a more moral man than he is.
    • The musical drops one as well at the end, when almost all of the cast is dead, except for Cosette and Marius, who are Happily Married. All of the cast gathers on stage peacefully, for the final song:
    Do you hear the people sing/Lost in the valley of the night/It is the music of the people who are climbing to the light/For the wretched of the Earth/There is a flame that never dies/Even the darkest night shall end and the sun will rise!
    • People can change when given the chance. And being friendly towards those in need DOES make a difference to them. While putting a Cain's mark on former convicts under parole most surely will exclude them from honest work, thus leaving them not much choice than resorting to crime again. By expecting them to break parole and treating them as criminals in advance again you're making them into criminals. Or by treating an unmarried mother as a whore and firing her you force her to resort on prostitution to provide for her and her child.
    • Also he loved to ponder about whether wars and fights are justified or not - concluding that wars are always bad and should be avoided. Unless they are necessary to bring humanity along. Still, every death is regrettable, no matter which side.
    • In general Victor Hugo was the master of this. Another favourite anvil of his told how cruel the death sentence is, done in The Last Day of a Condemned Man. And it won't leave you for a long, long time.
  • Catch-22: War is insane. And the only people crazy enough to willingly participate in a war are the people far too crazy to be trusted to make their own decisions. Ostensibly about World War II, but there's a reason it was immensely popular during The Vietnam War.
    • The book also has a deeper anvil dropped about the individual's responsibility for the evils of the modern world. Almost every character death could have been prevented by Yossarian, had he actually done anything, and his friends continue to die around him until he finally balls up and sticks it to The Man.
  • The essay "Body Ritual Among the Nacirema" was a not-very-subtle jab at both anthropology and American culture.
  • Many of these in The Lord of the Rings.
    • This one in particular:
    Gandalf: Many that live deserve death, and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment, for not even the very wise can see all ends.
    • For the series in general: "There is good in the world. There is also bad in the world, but the good is worth fighting for."
    • "Never leave your friends behind."
    • One of the most powerful anvils dropped, yet oddly one of the most often missed, was how truly evil despair and defeatism are. All of the heroes keep pushing on despite apparent hopelessness, and eventually win through and defeat the Big Bad. By contrast, the secondary villains — Saruman and Denethor — are both corrupted by their own despair into joining the wrong side, or giving up and committing suicide while leaving family and friends to die; and are both eventually destroyed.
    • There's a rather lovely scene at the end of The Two Towers when Sam is talking about his very favourite stories, and how things go so bad that you wonder how anything could ever go back to the way it does before, and yet it does. Not only is it a not-so-subtle "This is what's happening right now to the person saying it" moment, but it perfectly encapsulates the anvil mentioned here.
    • And, of course, the obvious messages of the One Ring: "Power Corrupts", and "The End Does Not Justify The Means". If you start using your enemy's methods against them you'll become a villain yourself.
    • One of the most important and poignant Aesops in all of Tolkien's works is that times change and that all things, no matter how good or beautiful, will someday end. The First Age of Middle-earth, a time of immense beauty and magic when the gods walked the earth, ended without ever coming again. The whole race of the elves is a testament to this Aesop. Because of their immortality, the elves wither away from grief and longing of the Undying Lands if they stay on Middle-earth too long. They were only able to continue through the Second and Third Ages due to the rings Sauron showed them how to make. Once the rings lose their power the Elves depart. The mortality of humans is portrayed as a good thing, because man is able to pass to a new world freely. More so, the same applies to the Shire, in the Book at least. The Scouring of the Shire drops an anvil about the safety of Home and personal investment in a fight.
  • The Hobbit, especially what Thorin says to Bilbo near the end:
    "There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!"
  • Throughout "Tolkien's Legendarium" there is a continuing theme that being evil will end up destroying you, even if you started out with noble intentions. For example, Sauron began by wanting to bring order to the world and being one of the greatest Maia. However by joining Morgoth to do so he became more ruthless and cruel, ending up becoming the most evil being after Morgoth. Similarly Saruman starts out as the greatest of the Wizards, but after joining Sauron (with the intention of betraying him once he gets the ring), is cast from the Istari, loses most of his power, and ends up using his power to bully and oppress Hobbits For the Evulz.
    • The claim that "nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so." When Sam sees one of the Southrons who fought for Sauron die he wonders whether he was really evil and would have preferred to stay at home. Tolkien had himself criticised the way that during the war civilians were being killed in the enemy countries and found the idea of judging whole races bad horrific.
  • One Sherlock Holmes story (The Sign of Four) had Dr. Watson blatantly chastising Holmes for the dangers of his cocaine habit. Although it's often thought that having a character give this lecture was either prescient or a lucky guess, in reality, it was not: doctors already knew that cocaine was dangerous when used as a recreational drug, but the idea that drug sales could and/or should be restricted had not yet been imagined, let alone implemented. (When the idea was suggested some years later, Doyle was among its strongest supporters.) At this point in time, it was perfectly possible to buy arsenic or strychnine at the apothecary's without any formality greater than signing a book, and there was no doubt that both of those drugs were pure poisons.
    • The Adventure of the Yellow Face contains a remarkably progressive anti-racist message for its time. The client hires Holmes to find out why his wife keeps asking him for money and not revealing what it is for. He also spies her making visits to a cottage and spots someone with a hideous jaundiced and deformed face from the window. He suspects a blackmailing plot, but when Holmes enters the cottage and confronts the yellow-faced individual, it is revealed to be a young black child wearing a mask. Turns out the wife was previously in an interracial marriage before her husband died, and she has been hiding their child out of fear that her current husband will leave her if he finds out that she was married to a black man. The story ends with the client picking up the child, kissing the young girl, and saying "I am not a very good man, Effie, but I think that I am a better one than you have given me credit for being."
  • The New Testament. Jesus wasn't all parables and allegories. He said some pretty blunt things about hypocrisy and following the commandments. (The scene where he overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple comes to mind.)
    • His biggest Anvil that he dropped was his "The Reason You Suck" Speech leveled at the Pharisees (the religious leaders of his time), calling them out for their hypocrisy and how they were leading the people away from heaven and onto the road to hell.
      • Another anvil Jesus dropped: Calamities happen because this is a fallen world. The people who die in accidents or from murder didn't die because they were worse sinners than you, but rather because it was their time to die. Therefore, don't imagine that a calamity can't happen to you, or that just because you die peacefully at a ripe old age that you won't go to Hell, but rather, get right with God and be ready to meet Him at a moment's notice, because that's all you may get.
    • The Old Testament is also pretty anvilicious in places, but it's hard to argue that "Thou Shalt Not Kill" is an anvil that didn't need dropping (and indeed, continues to need dropping).
  • The Bible is, pretty much by definition, preachy (especially when used by preachers), but some messages like "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." is about as blunt as you can get, but it's hard to argue against love for others. Jesus used plenty of parables, metaphors, and symbolic language, but there were times when something needed to be stated in simple and plain English (well, Aramaic).
    • The Passion episode alone is full of these, and these are shown rather than told: "What matters is not that you fall down, but that you get up again", "Herd mentality will lead to unfortunate consequences", "The ability to feel pain is a good thing", and most important of all, "Good will always triumph over evil".
      • This is also in turn equally applicable to the other two holy books of the Abrahamic faiths.
    • Book of Revelation: Evil will have its hour, but God will triumph in the end, and whoever holds fast to Him will live forever with Him, and the joys of Heaven will make the worst experiences on Earth fade like a bad dream forgotten and never to be remembered again. Therefore, keep your eyes on the prize- no matter how bad it is right now, this too shall pass.
  • Dr. Seuss's The Lorax. Seuss speaks against logging, environmental destruction, or greed and short-sightedness in general? Given that he himself removed the line "I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie" when informed that Erie was no longer a dead lake, the second and third seem probable.
    • Also from The Lorax: "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." It's particularly effective because this is spoken to a child, implying that kids must care about the future if they want to keep the world from being devastated.
    • And another from the same book: You cannot trust corporations to behave responsibly or with an eye toward long-term survival when there are short-term profits to be made.
    • Horton Hears a Who is just as anvilicious. And ridiculously necessary, considering the simplicity of the message: "A person's a person, no matter how small." Unfortunately for Dr. Seuss, the meaning turned out not to be ridiculously obvious, as he found to his horror when it was stolen by the pro-life movement - a movement that he utterly and completely loathed.
    • The Butter Battle Book is about both the pointlessness of war and the Cold War arms race, of all things. Two tribes called the Yooks and the Zooks are divided by a wall, and the societies can't get along because the Yooks eat their bread butter-side up, while the Zooks do the same butter-side down. Both groups start developing weapons to attack the other, a process which escalates until they independently develop the "Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo," a bomb capable of wiping out all life. The story ends with a child—the narrator—watching as his grandfather and the opposing side stand poised to drop their Boomeroos, begging for an answer: "Who'll drop it first?" It's a simple but powerful way of saying that wanting to kill someone or disliking a society simply because they're different from you is, for lack of a better term, completely stupid.
    • From How the Grinch Stole Christmas!!:
    "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."
    • And the anti-racism message of The Sneeches. The message here can be just as easily read as being a condemnation of class consciousness and fashion following, but either way, it's very effective. In fact, a great many of his books drop a pretty obvious anvil of some sort; but then, subtlety is not necessarily useful or effective when writing for children.
  • Frankenstein. Be careful toying with the natural order of things, because who knows what it'll lead to.
    • Also "Take responsibility for what you create."
    • "Projecting things onto your children is wrong."
    • Science is neither good nor evil, any more or less than fire. It depends who uses it and for what. Fire could be used to cook meals for the homeless, or to cook the homeless for meals.
    • "Men should not eliminate women from the process of creating life." - Mary Shelley's mother was essentially the grandmother of feminism, and unlike some movements within 20th-century feminism, 19th-century feminism believed women should have a public voice because they were different from men.
    • A fifth Anvil concerns how people treat others and how powerful that can be toward how they treat you. When Frankenstein's monster is abandoned by his creator and he (the monster) starts wandering about, he is at first a shy, gentle creature. It's only when he's treated with fear and revulsion by the townspeople he encounters that he starts to become a fearsome, ferocious, hateful creature.
  • On the Beach, by Nevil Shute. Threads and other films that depict horrors of nuclear holocaust are noted in the film section of this page as demanding strong nerves from the viewer... but compared to this book (and the films of it), they are downright optimistic. As one critic said: "Most novels of apocalypse posit at least a group of survivors and the semblance of hope. On the Beach allows nothing of the kind." You don't get any less subtle in telling exactly what an all-out nuclear war might mean for humanity.
  • In The Saint in New York, a scene where Simon Templar rescues the daughter of a Jewish financier is followed by a paragraph in which anti-semitism and Nazism is denounced in the bluntest possible terms. It's totally out of place in the novel, but remains an extraordinary (for its time—the novel was written in 1935) and necessary warning of the evils of Nazi Germany.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has many examples of these. The best may be the lines '"Bread!" boomed a man behind her. "We want bread, bastard!" In a heartbeat, a thousand voices took up the chant. King Joffrey and King Robb and King Stannis were forgotten, and King Bread ruled alone.'
    • Whether it's the broken men in A Feast for Crows or Arya Stark's arc in A Clash of Kings, Martin wants to make it clear that War Is Hell and to say Take That! to people who romanticize the Middle Ages and aristocratic rule without considering how much such a society can suck for the 90% of the population who are poor. As Ser Jorah Mormont says in this Title Drop quote:
      Ser Jorah: The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are.
    • On a related note, Martin also repeatedly drops the anvil that a culture is deeply flawed at best when it scorns non-martial virtues and assumes that the best warriors must also make the best rulers.
    • After Tyrion learns about how his siblings were almost married into the Martell family and how King Aerys spurned friend/hand Tywin Lannister by not marrying Cersei to Rhaegar. At that moment, Martin makes explicit just how much of the strife and trauma our current characters are going through is due to the actions of those generations before and often long dead.:
    "It all goes back and back, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance in our steads."
    • The novels also aren't very subtle in the way the hellish treatment of women is depicted. But, given that many of the same things happen in our world to this very day, this is the kind of thing many readers probably need to see.
    • Another anvil that gets viewed in several ways is "don't try swooping in with overwhelming martial force and/or awesome cosmic power unless you also have a detailed game plan on what to do about the inevitable clean up events afterwards". Dragons may not plant trees, but Aegon I, Viseneya and Rhaenys had long-thought-out plans about planting more than trees on the resulting ash-fields when they eventually launched their invasion from Dragonstone after decades of the family brainstorming the whole thing. Daenarys certainly shows what happens when you don't know enough about how to plan around the nukes — or, just governing in general. Other, more mundane conquests also have a habit of going just as sideways when the question "And Then What?" doesn't get addressed before the conquest — like with Robert's Rebellion (the consequences of the whole seat-of-our-pants aspect of it = the whole damned series), the Sack of Winterfell or the Shield Islands, among others (each and every time people have taken King's Landing by force has sprouted whole mushroom fields of clean-up problems). And, then there's the Golden Company (and whoever is working with them) and how that's playing out: long, drawn-out plans constructed over years that maybe don't take the full reality of the place you're trying to retake totally in mind and is primarily so you can score "ha ha: beat you!" points? Maybe not so good for the long term, yeah? Yeah: proper reconstruction is harder than bulldozers.
  • Candide was essentially an anvil dropped on the philosophy that everything that happens is a good thing and that we 'live in the best of all possible worlds.'
  • Jennifer Government is set in a world where the government has very little power at all, but it's as dystopic as 1984 and Brave New World: a girl gets killed in order to increase the street cred for some new shoes, 911 won't send an ambulance unless they can confirm whether the girl can afford it, and the government can barely afford to bring those responsible to justice. Basically, "unchecked capitalism is very bad."
  • Atlas Shrugged is a deconstruction of the Marxist slogan "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need". In story, this takes the form of the 20th Century Motor Company which functions as a microcosm of a Stalinist police state, such as the Soviet Union (which Rand fled from after her family’s business was seized by the new Bolshevik government).
  • The main, undisguised message of Jane Austen's novel Emma is about the evils, dangers, and folly of a practice we now know as Shipping. note  If there was ever an anvil that desperately needed to be dropped...
  • Harry Potter on The Power of Love. Not only is it a message that seems to be lost all too often (seriously, look up how many fanfictions there are about how Harry ought to have been a dark vigilante who beat up the Dursleys and trusted no one), Rowling puts far more emphasis on how important the love of family and friends are instead of love interests. Seriously, how often does that happen?
    • Another one is that just because you made terrible choices in the past does not mean you are an inherently horrible person — you can change if you truly want to.
    • Death is inevitable; respect it, know it, and you will live a happy life.
    • Pretty much every poignant sounding line said by Dumbledore resumes some important anvil from the books:
    "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
    "To the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."
    "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that."
    "Fear of a name increases fear of a thing itself."
    "You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."
    "It is important to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then can evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated."
    "Do not pity the dead. Pity the living, and above all, pity those who live without love."
    • The hatred against Muggle-borns is as close as you can get to racism without actual racism. Hermione is the smartest kid in her year—possibly the whole school—but "purebloods" still treat her like an inferior and call her hateful slurs because of her birth. In Deathly Hallows, Bellatrix chooses Hermione to torture first out of the trio because she's a Muggle-born.
    • Rowling's use of Fantastic Racism to make a point about prejudice is nothing truly "new", but she's unique among fantasy authors in that she actually fleshes out a fictional universe with a long, sordid history of societal prejudice that goes beyond one villain, making a point about how people like Lord Voldemort don't arise in a cultural or historical vacuum. Salazar Slytherin committed atrocities in the name of blood purity centuries before the start of the series, and Gellert Grindelwald was advocating the murder of Muggles before the world had ever heard of Voldemort. As in Real Life, bigots are dangerous because they feed on the prejudices of the masses, and it takes years for those prejudices to become ingrained in the minds of the people.
    • In the later books, there's the explicit message "You can't rely on your elders to have all the answers." As wise as they might seem, your parents and your mentors have probably made more mistakes than they'd like to admit, and not all of your teachers can be trusted to handle power responsibly. Even Dumbledore makes mistakes, and when he sees Harry for the last time, he says "I have known, for some time now, that you are the better man." In the end, you can only rely on your own conscience.
  • The Wicked Lovely series — "There are always choices."
    • Ink Exchange in particular— "Sometimes love means letting go when you want to hold on tighter" and one which doesn't actually get spoken, which is that no-one (Niall and Leslie, in context) is Defiled Forever; you can survive, and that's what matters.
  • "The Manhattan Telephone Book (Abridged)" is based on the premise that America's phone books are lists of people who will all be dead if a nuclear war occurs. The anvil is that such a war is not survivable, much less winnable, and that science fiction "after the bomb" stories are just stories. John Varley drops it in gut-wrenching fashion by detailing a number of horrible ways that people who survive the first detonations will suffer and die in the hours and days after the attack.
  • David Gemmell: All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
  • Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Yes, the book is incredibly depressing, leading the main character from one bad situation to an even worse ones. But, at its time, it was very different and controversial, making the main character, who wasn't a virgin via rape, very sympathetic and, ultimately, more morally good than many of the other supposedly "pure" and pious characters rather than some harlot that the society of the time would have deemed her.
  • Chris Crutcher's young adult novels (Running Loose, Stotan!, The Crazy Horse Electric Game, Chinese Handcuffs, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Ironman, Whale Talk, The Sledding Hill, and Deadline) all drop anvils, but the one that appears in all these books? Child abuse is bad. Not just beatings, but verbal and emotional abuse is also given a lot of attention, especially in Ironman and Whale Talk. Given how prevalent parental abuse is in Real Life, not only does this anvil need to be dropped, one could argue that it isn't being dropped anywhere near enough.
  • H. Beam Piper's "Day of the Moron" delvers its message with all the grace and aplomb of a Thor strike: In fields that require educated, thoughtful workers, ignorance and thoughtlessness absolutely must not be tolerated in any degree.
    • "Day of the Moron" is also an early criticism of politically correct self-blindness. Bad Things Happen because society refuses to hold people responsible for their actions.
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day features the titular ten-year-old character having the "worst day of his life", though most of what happens are petty things like getting gum in his hair, not getting a window seat in the car, and not finding a prize in his cereal box. He gets so frustrated that he wants to run away to Australia, but his mom tells him that everyone has bad days, even in Australia. In short: shit happens; deal with it.
    • Although it should be noted that since the mother was comforting Alexander at the time, the anvil is phrased more along the lines of "some days are just like that, honey."
  • The Lottery shows us that just because something is "tradition" does not automatically make it good and right.
  • In The Lovely Bones, the main character is Susie Salmon, a young girl who was raped and murdered. Posthumously, she longs to have her life back. It isn't until she and her family accept things as they are that they can finally live in peace again. It really drives home the aesop that bad things will happen to you, but you must come to terms that it happened, and you must carry on as best you can, live in the moment, and not dwell on past grievances.
  • John Wyndham's The Chrysalids has some pretty non-subtle messages about nuclear war, and religious intolerance too. Most of his other books are quite damning of humanity's mob mentality, and how clever people can band together to become a stupid collective. Very much a "think for yourself" message.
  • Mark Twain's "The War Prayer" slams home the undiscussed side of war hard. But the real aesop, what makes it work, is how willingly people ignore the obvious because it doesn't fit in with their world view.
  • Twain's The Prince and the Pauper is so much shorter in all its film incarnations because the adaptations cut out a great number of instances of brutal medieval "justice" that the Prince encounters in his travels: the original book sends a powerful message about the insanity of a judicial system constructed entirely for the benefit of the wealthy.
  • Terry Pratchett's early Discworld novel Small Gods deals with the difference between believing in God and believing in church. The only character who still believes in Om at the novel's start is a naive young boy, while His church controls an entire nation. The anvil is illustrated in the comparison between simple, honest Brutha and Knight Templar Deacon Vorbis, who is ready to incite holy war with anyone and everyone, despite the fact that Om Himself states point blank that holy war was never His intention, even more so in the distant future of the ending: Vorbis dies when Brutha is just a boy, but without his "belief" to guide him, waits between the land of the living and the dead for nearly a century, until Brutha also dies and leads him to the afterlife. The overarching message seems to be that if one twists religious scripture to suit one's own selfish desire, it becomes a completely different body of work.
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut drops the War Is Hell anvil about once a page or so. It also really, really wants to the reader to know that enjoying (even vicariously) or glorifying war is foolish and wrong:
    I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.
    I have also told them not to work for companies that make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.
  • Similarly, from Curious Lives by Richard Bach, a species is on the edge of annihilation from their own internal conflicts. Then, one man takes a stand, and gives this heart-rending declaration:
    From this day forth, I withdraw my consent from evil. I withdraw my consent from war. I withdraw my consent from violence. From hatred. From malice. I withdraw my consent from these. In my actions. In my thoughts. in my choices. I withdraw my consent from evil. Forever.
    • What makes this really profound is that the framing of the story is the discovery of historical records of the declaration centuries later. The civilization now in existence finds it almost incomprehensible that they were so warlike, dropping the second major anvil: true devoted pacifism is possible on a large-scale level.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The nature of the Universe, including whether there's any creator or meaning behind it, is pretty much unknowable, and the best thing to do is not worry about it and do what makes you happy.
  • The Rules of Survival not only shows the horrors of child abuse but also makes a clear point; people need to step in and help rather than ignore it until it's too late.
  • Please Stop Laughing at Me. There is nothing "normal" about bullying, and the consequences for the recipients are serious. Author Jodee Blanco even states at the end of the preface that so many people see it as an exaggeration, and that the only ones who truly recognize it for what it is are those who've been through it. This book took only two days to become a bestseller, and is now a required part of many schools' curriculum.
  • The Sword of Truth is a Door Stopper twelve-book series of Author Filibuster from the fourth book on, about the evils of extreme Socialism and of the importance of individual rights and freedom. Although the D'Haran Empire under Richard is no less of an autocracy than the Imperial Order, it is one guided by a firm sense of individual liberty championing the idea that every individual should be the best that they can be, and should be free to benefit based on the effort they put in and the skills they possess, and how this benefits society as a whole. By contrast, people under the Imperial Order are living in absolute squalor, and there is a fear of being anything more than mediocre to avoid rising above anyone else and drawing undue attention and punishment from those in power, and how this drags down all of society with it.
  • Peter Pan (the original book, anyway) drops two anvils: first, when we grow up, if we forget our childhoods we'll forget important qualities along with them (like awe and wonder at the world, for example). But second, if we never grow up, we'll miss out on important adult pleasures, like the love between husband and wife that Peter Pan will never enjoy.
  • Both of the most popular Stratemeyer Syndicate series were victims to this:
    • Nancy Drew was feminism delivered with all the subtlety of a Mardi Gras float. Nancy has constantly been under scrutiny for her Mary Sue tendencies and general perfectness. However, when the series began in 1930, feminism was still only just picking up steam. The books went a long way to in helping create the idea of women being smart, tough, resourceful, and capable.
    • The Hardy Boys had a strong anti-authority message initially (easily summed up in the idea that the brothers never listened when the police told them to back off and leave the detective work to them.) This was deliberate on the part of primary ghostwriter Leslie McFarlane, who wanted to try to encourage independent thought in children, saying that cops and politicians can be just as crooked as anybody. Considering all the cases of political corruption and police brutality that have been reported on, it's not an entirely horrible belief to hold.
  • "The Echo" by J. Nagibin hammers in its anti-bullying message ("Bullying is bad. Siding with bullies is bad. Betraying trust is despicable") with the subtlety of an avalanche. Yet this is also what makes this story so important and standing out.
  • The Hunger Games: War Is Hell, and there are no winners, only losers. Mockingjay in particular makes it so ridiculously anvilicious that it's a wonder you don't get brain damage just from reading it.
    Katniss: I think Peeta was onto something about us destroying one another and letting some decent species take over. Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children's lives to settle its differences. You can spin it any way you like. Snow thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control. Coin thought the parachutes would expedite the war. But in the end, who does it benefit? No one. The truth is, no one benefits in a world where these things happen.
    • Also, to a lesser extent, "stand up for what you believe in".
    • And, of course, watching violence for entertainment is fucked up. Now a major motion picture!
  • The Black Company:
    • Glen Cook's novels have a lot to say about warfare and human nature, particularly as depicted in High Fantasy. The first book strongly implies that most Black-and-White Morality shown in High Fantasy is actually the result of history being written by the winners (who them portray themselves as the purest light, and their foes as blackest darkness). The Lady is a story of redemption, but also of Grey-and-Gray Morality, as it is repeatedly emphasized that, while she may be evil, she is not nearly as evil as her husband.
    • The setting's strong aversion to Squishy Wizard is a treatise on the notion of individual power and the corruption of morality it engenders. Almost without exception, the powerful wizards of the setting are shown to be self-important monsters who have lost the ability to empathize with normal mortals; (the exceptions being low-powered casters like Goblin, One-Eye, Silent, and perhaps even Bomans) many of them even conducted wholesale slaughter in ages past to prevent the loss of their powers through invocation of their true name. They use their magics to make themselves Nigh Invulnerable, and The Limper spends most of book 5 illustrating how just how badly a Not Quite Dead Omnicidal Maniac can ruin things when given actual supernatural power. The Lady's redemption is coupled to her loss of her magical powers as a contrast to The Limper's rampage, and it all comes off as a big anvil, etched with the words "With Great Power Comes Great Insanity."
  • Pretty much the entire point of Max Havelaar. In the end, the author comes in and dismisses his characters and says his message (the exploitation in colonial Indonesia) out loud. He admits he didn't care about the style of the book, as long as it was read.
  • The final arc of Animorphs makes its War Is Hell message very clear, to the point where that Aesop was the entire point of the final book. In it, Jake had gotten PTSD from his experiences, Rachel was dead, Tobias had shut himself off from the world, and while Marco and Cassie were better off, neither were really happy.
    • What makes this particularly effective is that K.A. Applegate deliberately didn't have a grand, glorious final battle with the Animorphs finally triumphing—Rachel's death was done with a quick blow, the Yeerks surrender and peace is declared through negotiation, and Jake's PTSD results in his choosing to kill nearly 18,000 defenseless Yeerks. When some readers complained that the ending wasn't "cool" enough, Applegate took them to task by saying that the whole point of the books was the war isn't something to venerate or find fun—it's something that tears families apart, kills innocents, and destroys lives forever.
    • The Departure also makes it overly-clear that the Yeerks aren't truly the bad guys - they're just doing what's necessary to survive.
  • Tamora Pierce writes her books, particularly in the Tortall Universe, as very Feminist Fantasy. Each series has at least one example of gender inequality and how it's terrible; two of the quartets are essentially about that with a You Go, Girl! plot. However... gender inequality is terrible, and not just because it keeps women from having awesome adventures. It does all sorts of destructive things to their lives and to men's lives too. Pierce also goes out of her way to deconstruct the Real Women Don't Wear Dresses trope by having many sympathetic female characters be maids, mothers, seamstresses, etcetera, treated with just as much respect as the Action Girl protagonists, and a major part of the first protagonist's Character Development is learning that dressing up and being in love doesn't conflict with being a knight.
  • From the end of Babylon Steel, the ordinary people to their fallen God Emperors: "We don't want glories! We want decent treatment and enough to eat!"
  • The Lost Fleet forsakes any subtlety in its message about why war crimes are never, ever a good idea and that breaking the rules "just this once because it's important" will always come back to bite you sooner or later.
  • Black Beauty has several monologues and conversations from the characters about bearing reins, careless riders, blinkers and in general how horses can be mistreated. This was exactly the point: Ms. Sewell wanted everyone who read her book to be hit hard with the many cruel practices that were endorsed due to fashion or just not caring. And it worked very well, creating a new era in animal welfare and inspiring anti-cruelty legislature.
  • The Stormlight Archive features the First Ideal, the oath that all Radiants swear: "Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination."
    • Life before death: The Radiant values and protects life, always. If he kills, it is only because there is no other choice.
    • Strength before weakness: The Radiant uses his strength to protect and serve the weak, not to rule over them. All men are weak sometimes, so respect the weakness of others.
    • Journey before destination: The Ends Don't Justify The Means. What is truly important is not the goal that you strive towards, but what you will or won't do to reach it. The wrong thing done for the right reason is still the wrong thing done. Also, do not let yourself be so blinded by your goals that you don't see more immediate concerns.
    • The third book also brings us the Third Ideal of the Bondsmiths, "I will accept responsibility for what I have done, if I must fall I will rise again a better man.".
  • Dale Brown's books, particular Starfire, don't shy from demonstrating the dangers of appeasement and Chamberlainian giving ground to aggressors. Made explicit in this response of Brown's to a reader's letter.
  • The Last Herald-Mage trilogy had a gay protagonist. Much of his character arc was devoted towards overcoming the homophobia of his abusive family, accepting his sexuality, and realizing that it did not make him 'wrong' or 'bad' in any way. To present-day readers, the trilogy probably seems a little overwrought. But the books were published in 1989, a time when homophobia was much worse than it is now, and openly gay characters in fantasy were rare. LHM's social commentary was necessary at the time.
  • Unwind: When a group of boys are discussing unwinding (where children between the ages of 13 and 18 can be taken apart and their parts donated to others, thus allowing life to continue) and whether or not life begins at conception or birth, one of them admits he doesn't know. Another boy points out that it's a legitimate answer and that if people could admit that as easily there wouldn't have been a war that led to the law being passed.
  • The Obituary Writer, understandably, gets unsubtle about the need to move on after a great tragedy, such as the death of a loved one. But considering how easy it would be to cross the Despair Event Horizon and lose what's left of one's life, it's a fair point to make.
    Vivian: I wasted thirteen years hoping he was alive somewhere. Thirteen years holding onto a dream.
    Claire: But shouldn’t we hold onto our dreams?
    Vivian: Not when they keep us from moving forward.
  • The Secret Garden: The book takes several Author Tracts towards the end to smack the idea of "Go outside and run around in the fresh air, and if you think you're ill it'll make you ill and if you think you're healthy it'll make you healthy, and believe in the Magic!" But then again, who can wholeheartedly argue with that kind of Aesop?
  • In the Amelia's Notebook installment "Oh Boy Amelia", Carly drops a nice one on classmate Clarisse (paraphrased):
    There's no such thing as a boy thing or a girl thing. What you mean is it's not your thing.
  • Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly has a number of Aesops: Drugs Are Bad; creating a Sinister Surveillance State in the pursuit of a War on Drugs that results in no one trusting anyone else enough to form genuine attachments is just as bad; preying on the weak and powerless in order to profit from them is equally reprehensible. These are all delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but given that these problems continue in our society to this very day, they're a message that needs to be heard.
  • Former Child Star Mara Wilson dropped two big ones in her autobiography:
    • The Chapter The C-Word details how women are objectified for their looks in the media, and how Mara being constantly referred to as 'cute' made her feel small and insignificant. She takes time to note that her character in Miracle on 34th Street was originally an interesting and complex child - but the inexperienced director kept dropping those traits to turn her into a caricature, emphasising her cuteness over substance.
    "So the next time someone hiding behind a username decides to tell me what would make me prettier, I’m going to propose the following: I will meet them in person and ask them to listen. I will tell them about going through puberty in the public eye after my mother died of cancer. I will tell them how it feels to find a website advertising nude photos of yourself as a 12‑year‑old. I will tell them I’ve looked at “cute” from both sides now, and in both cases it just made me miserable. I will tell them how fitting it is that the only real acting I do these days is voiceover, where no one can see me. I will tell them how my mother wanted me to prove myself through my actions and skills, rather than my looks. Now I believe I have, and I am happier than ever. After all that, if they still insist on telling me how I should look, I will consider taking them on as my stylist."
    • The National En-Choirer chapter sums up the politics and backstabbing of cliques in high school - and how girls can be utterly horrible to each other for no good reason. Mara notes that real life Alpha Bitches come in many different varieties - and at the end of the day, all they want is power, and they get it by putting other people down.
    "Anyone can play the game, but the only way to win is to not play at all..."
  • The story of Icarus is an obvious listen to your elders aesop but the story can be reimagined as showing the dangers of imbalancing hubris and compliance. If you think too highly of yourself then your actions will backfire with heavy consequences (crash and burn) and if you think too little of yourself then you will have problems with independence and confidence.
  • Amoridere:
    • Though rather subtle (as it calls attention to an issue, instead of a moral), the poem A Sadistic Choice brings up the idea that, for many, having to choose between two needed things with no middle ground is a reality.
    • This is more obvious with the poem $900, as, from what's implied, the Downer Ending comes from the subject being too poor to afford an ambulance trip (which probably would have saved her life).
    Amoridere's description: "Health insurance or, rather, money can be a nice thing. Some people have one, some people have the other, and some have neither."
  • Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen Is a labyrinthine, complex, and at some parts overly confusing fantasy epic that in the very, very end settles on An Aesop usually reserved for kindergarten: Compassion is important, and should always be given. Even to someone as monstrous as the Crippled God.
  • "The Wolf and the Man" by The Brothers Grimm: The most obvious lesson of the story is to never lie about experiences you never had. But, there's another lesson that's not often talked about. While it's good to challenge yourself now and again, always remember your weaknesses before throwing yourself into a situation that you don't know how to handle or cope with. You also shouldn't set expectations on people for that same reason.
  • All Quiet on the Western Front: War Is Hell. The author basically could have said, "Allow me to spend every page of my next book tearing every damn fool idea otherwise out of your head. Let me show you utter dehumanization and depersonalization and horrible acts to make your skin crawl as I reduce human beings to numb robots with animal drives to survive. Everyone dies. Every meaningful ideal the young had is gassed, shot, and shelled to hell. Even family comes to mean nothing after too much war. And then let me unceremoniously kill everyone the protagonist cares about, leave him alone among masses of kids dying for a country that has already lost the war, and leave him to die a meaningless death. Oh, yeah, that was my life."
  • The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum: Journalists have a responsibility to report events fairly and ethically, and failure to do so can lead to tragedy. The title character is an innocent housekeeper who sees her life ruined by a scandal-obsessed tabloid reporter who makes up quotes and distorts the facts to make her life fit a salacious narrative, causing her to lose most of her friends and eventually lash out against said reporter. Considering how often people have seen their lives ruined by this kind of irresponsible reporting in real life, that's a pretty heavy anvil.
  • Heroin Story makes a number of incredibly important points about functional drug use and America's pathetic rehab industry.

Return to Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: