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Bridge to Terabithia is a novel by Katherine Paterson, and there are two film adaptations (a 1985 Made for TV Movie by the PBS and a 2007 theatrical film produced by Walden Media).

Jesse, the main character, is a young boy who lives in a small rural town. He practices running during the summer because he wants to be the fastest runner in his grade at school. A girl named Leslie moves in next door to Jesse and starts winning all the races; despite this, the two become best friends. They decide to find a place just for them in nearby woods, and spend many hours there, enjoying games of make-believe in their "kingdom" of Terabithia.

The story has a Bittersweet Ending. It has been banned on more than one occasion for Hot for Student Subtext and other non-existent sexual content[1]


Trope Examples

  • Adaptation Distillation: Because the setting is changed to the present day, there's less focus on Jesse wanting to be an artist, which was the main conflict between him and his father in the book. It also doesn't make a big deal about Leslie being a Tomboy.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Jess is one to Maybelle.
  • Alpha Bitch: Kind of subverted. Janice Avery is a female bully, but she's anything but the stereotypical blonde rich girl who relies on social manipulation. Instead, Janice is apparently rather unattractive and relies on physical intimidation, usually the realm of male bullies. She has a Freudian Excuse.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The theme song for the film is "To Be in Love" by MISIA in Japan.
  • Big Brother Worship: Maybelle to Jess
  • Bittersweet Ending: Very, very bittersweet.
  • Blithe Spirit: Leslie.
  • California Doubling: New Zealand as Virginia in the 2007 film.
  • The Cast Showoff: One of the reasons for casting Zooey Deschanel as the music teacher is that she can actually sing.
  • Cheerful Child: Leslie, especially in the most recent film.
  • Coming of Age Story
  • Creator Breakdown: The Bittersweet Ending is inspired by a real life event that happened to the author's son. That same son would become the producer and co-writer for the 2007 film.
    • In a 2009 radio interview, Paterson recalled that it took weeks to summon up the courage to write the ending, to kill off the girl she had brought back to life.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Jesse and Leslie both went barefoot (as is seen on the cover) partly because all the shoes they got were hand me downs and also it was not at all uncommon for kids in the 1970s to go barefoot, especially in the country.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Probably the Trope Codifier.
  • Evil Redhead: Gary Fulcher in the 2007 film, though he's more of a Jerk Jock than evil, he's highly antagonistic throughout.
  • Fake American: Everyone except the main cast of the movie.
  • First Love: In this Tear Jerker of a novel, this trope is subtly implied with the friendship between Jess and his friend Leslie, a girl who introduces him to the titular Terabithia, and this variety of the "special, sweet, innocent" type of first love, on both Jess and Leslie's parts.
  • Foreshadowing: There was a scene where the camera focuses on Jesse's arm becoming robotic and Jesse punching a Squoager. Near the last half of the film, Jesse confronts the Squoager's real life counterpart and punches him. Complete with the camera focusing on the arm, as if Jesse was pretending that it would become robotic.
    • There's also lots of shots of the water rising and the rope close to breaking.
  • It's All My Fault: Jesse doesn't invite Leslie to the museum in order to have some alone time with Ms. Edmunds; Leslie dies crossing the rope swing to Terabithia alone the same day.
  • Jerk Jock: Gary Fulcher, who in the 2007 film is split into two characters - himself and Scott Hoager. The latter seems to take the primary antagonistic role in the film.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jesse's father, Jack Aarons (Jesse Snr. in the novel). He is very strict towards his son and can seem as rather harsh at times, but it's understandable given the family's level of poverty. He's also shown to be a good parent in spite of it all, and the scene where he comforts his son after Leslie's death is one of the more poignant moments, especially in the film.
  • Longing for Fictionland: The main two characters create a fictional world called Terabithia to deal with their school troubles. They are aware that it is a fantasy and wish it were real, although this doesn't stop them for having fun.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Leslie
    • Subverted: the film casts MPDG queen Zooey Deschanel as Ms. Edmunds. The character she plays is one of her few roles not of this type.
      • She comes off that way to Jesse, though, compared with the other adults in his life, hence his infatuation with her.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Jess gets a pretty bad deal out of this trope, since he's not only the very-middle child out of five, he's also the only boy. Not to mention his older sisters bully him, Maybelle worships him and the youngest daughter is a particularly bratty baby. Oh, and he's a "Well Done, Son" Guy to boot.
  • Mistaken for Gay: One of the plot points, and conflict between Jesse and his dad, revolved around this trope. Set in the 70s, Jesse was into art and only had a girl for a friend, so his parents were quite uncomfortable with him spending so much time with Leslie.
  • Mood Whiplash: OH YES.
  • The Namesake: The title "bridge" finally appears in the last chapter, when Jesse builds it.
  • Name's the Same: There is an island in The Chronicles of Narnia called Terebinthia; the author read the books as a child but asserts the connection was unconscious.
    • And also points out that C.S. Lewis probably took the name of said island from the terebinth tree, which is often mentioned in The Bible.
    • The fact that the kids constantly reference the Narnia books for inspiration in creating their own kingdom renders this argument moot.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Quite possibly the most baffling case in the history of cinema. The trailer for the 2007 film made it seem like a Narnia-esque fantasy movie where Terabithia was real.
    • Apparently, the filmmakers were none too pleased with the way the movie was marketed, either.
      • Especially since the key screenwriter was David Pattinson, the son of the original author and on whom Jesse is based.
  • Precocious Crush: Jesse has a crush on his music teacher, Ms. Edmunds.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The real-life inspiration for Leslie was Katherine Paterson's son's childhood friend, Lisa Hill who was killed by a lightning strike while climbing some rocks on a beach. The author originally intended to finish off Leslie the same way but ultimately changed it to a drowning because she felt it would be more believable. Probably right, but ironic.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: In the film when Jess punches a kid taunting him, the teacher talks to him about grieving the loss of a loved one when it appears he's about to be punished.
  • Snicket Warning Label
  • So My Kids Can Watch: Robert Patrick aka T-1000 described his reason for taking the part in the film with precisely these words.
  • Strange Girl: Leslie.
  • The Seventies: The early post-Vietnam War era, referenced throughout the book but abandoned by the movie, which exacerbates the Fridge Logic of the lack of consequences for the teacher taking Jesse on that trip, as well as there being such a rural, Deep South area within commuting distance of Washington DC.
    • Go an hour or so west on I-66. You'll find it.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Boy howdy.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Ms. Edmunds invites Jesse to come to the art museum with her, and Jesse doesn't invite Leslie, sealing her fate. Jesse knows this and regrets it.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Jesse's relationship with his father.
  • Write Who You Know: An interesting variant in the 2007 film, in that Jess and Leslie base the creatures and inhabitants of their imaginary world off of people they know. In particular, the Squoagers and Hairy Vultures are monsters based off the bullies Scott Hoager and Gary Fulcher and even resemble them to a degree. The troll is based off Janice Avery, and does a Heel Face Turn after Leslie comforts her, while the Dark Master is based off Jess's father, and disappears at the end, when the two of them finally understand one another. The wish-fulfillment of this arguably helps them both - but Jess in particular - to grow stronger in Real Life as well.
    • In the more traditional Meta sense, the characters and story are based off events and people from Katherine Pattinson's own life - Jesse off her son David, Leslie off his best friend Lisa Hill, etc., and Jesse's loneliness reflects Pattinson's own inability to fit in at school with others. Plus the poverty off the situation during the Seventies post the Vietnam War era. And the religious connotations off her own upbringing, since she learned from her father (a missionary who often travelled as part of his duties).

Notes

  1. Jesse has a crush on one of his teachers, something everyone who's reached the age of 12 can probably relate to. She invites him to the museum, and insists on paying on the grounds that she's a liberated woman and invited him (and, more practically, she's a teacher and can afford it better). That's literally as far as it goes -- there's zero evidence that said teacher has any inappropriate feelings or is aware of his crush. Once more, she invited Jesse and Leslie.
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