Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls

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A Monster Calls Summary

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Originally conceived by Siobhan Dowd while she was terminally ill, A Monster Calls was written by Patrick Ness. It is about a boy whose mother is terminally ill; each night he is visited by a monster who tells stories. Dowd contracted with a publisher to create the book but died before she was able to write it. The project was passed to Patrick Ness and published in 2011.

Thirteen-year-old Conor O’Malley has a nightmare he cannot shake. Every night for the past few months, he has woken up screaming. One night at exactly 12:07 a.m., a voice calls him from the window. When Conor opens the window, he sees a monster formed from a twisted mass of branches and leaves, a yew tree. The monster is curious why the boy is not afraid of him. He tells Conor that Conor summoned him, and now that he has, the monster will tell him three true stories. After the stories, Conor must tell a true story of his own or the monster will eat him.

The monster visits him three nights, always at exactly 12:07 a.m., and each time the stories are about other times the monster was summoned. The circumstances escalate teach time. In the meantime, Conor’s mother is undergoing chemotherapy, his father is a flake, his grandmother provides no comfort to him, and he is bullied at school.

In the first story, a king marries a beautiful woman many claim is a witch. He dies before his son comes of age and can rule, and so the woman rules justly and well. When the time comes closer to turn over the kingdom, she begins plotting to retain power by marrying the prince. However, he prince has fallen in love, and he runs away with his chosen bride. They try to flee to the neighboring kingdom where they can be married, but they stop for the night at the base of a yew tree and sleep. In the morning, the prince wakes up covered in blood, and his bride-to-be is dead. The prince is devastated. He accuses the queen of committing this act. He reveals that she is a witch and vows to take revenge. He whispers something to the yew, bringing the monster to life. The villagers and the monster corner the queen, preparing to burn her, but the monster snatches her out of the fire and carries her away. It turns out the prince is the murderer and used this circumstance to incite the villagers to overthrow the queen.

The story is applied to Conor’s grandmother who, while a “witch,” has done nothing wrong. A person should be punished for their actions, not what they think, or what they are capable of doing in the future; people should be wide-eyed enough to avoid believing in lies about themselves and their motivations.

In the second story, an apothecary pesters a local parson for permission to cut down a yew tree for healing ingredients. Because the apothecary is an unlikable man, the parson continually turns him away. However, when a plague hits, and many people die, the parson goes to him begging to save his girls. The parson promises him the yew tree and that he will renounce his beliefs, but only if the apothecary saves the girls. The apothecary refuses him, saying he cannot help, and the parson’s girls die. The monster awakens and razes the parson’s house to the ground as punishment.

In this story, a man who accepts beliefs and morals when it suits him can be applied to Conor’s father. A person’s likeability and a person’s ability are two different things. The monster and Conor destroy the parson’s house together, and Conor wakens to discover that he has destroyed many precious things in his grandmother’s sitting room.

In the third story, an invisible man is tired of being invisible. He can change his circumstances only if people are willing to see him. He summons the monster to make him visible but discovers that there are far worse things when one is visible. After this story, the monster possesses Conor, and Conor puts his bully in the hospital after attacking him.

It is now Conor’s turn, and he tells the story of his nightmare. He is on a cliff holding his mother’s hand to keep her from falling to her death. In the end, his grip loosens, and she falls to her death. The truth of the dream is that he let go on purpose to avoid the pain of having to hold on.

The monster comforts him, saying that his purpose was to heal him; his job is done. Conor accepts that people are complicated, and must be judged on their actions, not on their thoughts or behaviors that might be possible. Placing value on truth is the most important, and yet most difficult, thing a person can do. At 12:07, Conor’s mother dies.

The book deals with the complex nature of humanity. The stories have no clear heroes or villains, and they mimic the way events play out in real life. Our judgments of others, and of ourselves, are based on what is true, and what we have actually done. This complexity must be accepted in order to move through life with our eyes open to the truth.