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"Late last night and the night before,
Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door.
I want to go out, don't know if I can,
Because I'm so afraid of the Tommyknocker man."
The Tommyknockers is an 1987 novel by Stephen King.
While walking in the woods near the small town of Haven, Maine, Roberta "Bobbi" Anderson, a writer of Westerns, stumbles upon a metal object which turns out to be the slightest portion of an alien spacecraft that crashed into Earth in prehistoric times. She begins to dig it out, and slowly becomes obsessed with it. Meanwhile her best friend, alcoholic poet Jim "Gard" Gardener, reaches the nadir of his life and decides to kill himself, but changes his mind when he feels that she is in trouble. He travels to Haven, and finds Bobbi at the point of complete exhaustion. While the spacecraft has no effect on him because of a steel plate in his head, he still decides to help her in unearthing it, hoping to change the world for the better with the power it holds. As more and more is exposed of the ship, the inhabitants of Haven begin to change (the process is called "becoming"), and they become like the aliens who built it (dubbed the "Tommyknockers" after a nursery rhyme); they gain telepathic abilities, and build futuristic devices from simple household appliances. Gardener, seeing that their intentions are far from his idealistic goals, starts to doubt himself, and thinks he should do something against them.
The story is influenced by H.P. Lovecraft's short story The Colour Out of Space and the British television serial Quatermass and the Pit. King wrote the book during a period of substance abuse, and has written that he realized later on that the novel was a metaphor for that addiction.
It was adapted into a 1993 miniseries starring Jimmy Smits, Marg Helgenberger, E.G. Marshall, Joanna Cassidy and Traci Lords.
The Tommyknockers provides examples of:
- The Alcoholic: Jim Gardner. Unfortunately, he's a mean drunk.
- All Women Are Prudes: Well, at least Becka Paulson is. At first, she's actually relieved when she suspects that her husband is having an affair, because this means he doesn't have sex with her anymore. To her, sex was "just as her mother had told her it would be, nasty, brutish, sometimes painful, always humiliating".
- Author Avatar: See The Alcoholic. Stephen King had substance abuse problems for years, and it sneaked into his writing a lot (much to his own surprise, after he sobered up enough to notice).
- Auto Erotica: Gardener remembers that he and Bobbi once had sex in her truck "during some stupid Ryan O'Neal picture".
- Badass Grandpa: Ev Hillman.
- Berserk Button: Don't praise nuclear power in front of Gardener.
- Better as Friends: Gardener and Bobbi used to be lovers, but by the time the book is set, they're just friends though they end up having sex once more.
- Bittersweet Ending: Gardener dies, but he manages to defeat the Tommyknockers and save David Brown.
- Body Horror: The process of "becoming". For most people, it's just teeth falling out, but a select few's skin becomes transparent, and tentacles appear in the place of their genitals.
- Celebrity Paradox: Stephen King himself is referenced in the book; the townspeople think that Bobbi writes good stories, "not all full of make-believe monsters and a bunch of dirty words, like the books that fellow who lived up Bangor way wrote". Also, when Gardener wants to get into the shed, he considers grabbing an ax "and make like Jack Nicholson in The Shining". However, events in The Dead Zone, IT and Firestarter are mentioned as fact or at least hearsay, not as fiction.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Ev Hillman first appears as a "garrulous-going-on-tiresome" old man. However, he proves to be very brave and heroic, when he tries to save his grandson.
- Disappearing Box: Played with. Hilly Brown made a machine that didn't make things disappear, but sent to Altair IV. However, he uses it with the intent of making things vanish under an ordinary cloth as a magic trick.
- Disproportionate Retribution: After gaining mind-reading abilities, Hank Buck, one of the Havenites discovers that a member of his poker circle, "Pits" Barfield regularly used to cheat. Hank teleports him to "Altair 4", a faraway, desolate planet that hardly has any air. This story is included to show the Tommyknockers' crazy temper.
- Doorstopper: Actually, many parts could be cut, as they don't really advance the plot.
- Drink Order: Late in the story, Bobbi's sister Anne shows up. Watch what happens when she orders a drink at a hotel on her way to Haven. (It's not so much the drink itself that's revealing, mostly the way she orders it.)
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Bobbi's dog, Peter is afraid of the spaceship from the very beginning. As more and more of the ship is unearthed, all animals disappear from the forest, even insects. Bobbi finds some animals killed by the ship's effect; it's unclear if they all died, or many of them just escaped.
- Flare Gun: Ev Hillman has one; he originally wants to use it to give an emergency signal, but he ends up killing one of the Havenites with it.
- Flashback Nightmare: Gardener regularly has them about his teenage skiing accident (after which he got the steel plate in his head).
- For Want of a Nail: All the events are triggered by Bobbie stumbling in a piece of metal. The book actually starts with this sentence: "For want of a nail the kingdom was lost - that's how the catechism goes when you boil it down."
- Go Out with a Smile: Gardener dies smiling, because, as he lies dying, he has a happy dream.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: The entire race of the Tommyknockers have it.
- The Hard Hat: Gardener and Ev Hillman are immune to the effects of the spaceship, because they have metal plates in their heads (Gardener bcause of a skiing accident, Ev because of a war wound). Anne Anderson is somewhat protected by extensive metal dental work.
- Hate Plague: Thanks to the bad tempers of the aliens transforming them, some of the citizens of Haven act this way and start killing anyone who has wronged them, regardless of whether that wrong was real or just perceived.
- Homicide Machines: The Havenites built several of these, to guard the city borders. One of them is a floating Coca-Cola vending machine which kills John Leandro.
- Insufficiently Advanced Alien: The Tommyknockers. They don't even begin to understand the technology they somehow managed to figure out how to
- Interrupted Suicide: Gardener is about to jump into the sea when he has an intuition that Bobbi is in trouble; that's why he doesn't do it, not because he wants to live (though later, he's grateful that he didn't do it).
- Intrepid Reporter: A young reporter, John Leandro starts to see that something is wrong with Haven, so he goes there to find out what it is. His colleague, David Bright, ridicules him for it: "And - TA-DA! No One Will Believe This Heroic Young News-Hawk! Robert Redford Stars as John Leandro in This Nail-Biting Saga of..."
- It Tastes Like Feet: After the owner dies, the food at the Haven Lunch gets crappy: a character thinks the fried eggs look like "broiled assholes" and taste that way too "although he'd never actually eaten an asshole, broiled or any other way."
- I Want My Mommy: Leandro's last thought, right before he's killed is "Mama!"
- Jerkass: Bobbi's sister, complete with introductory Kick the Dog moment (she reduces an airline stewardess to tears, seemingly for the hell of it). When she was younger, she bullied her own parents. (One such incident involved her habit of grinding her teeth until she had to get dental work done. She tried to force a guilt trip on them for not stopping a habit that she herself refused to give up). When she tells her mother that she called Bobbi to tell her that their father was dead, she said that Bobbi laughed (untrue). Then she goes to Haven and tries to pull this on the locals. BIG mistake. She ends up as a Brain In a Jar.
- Also Joe from the TV miniseries who not only cheats on his wife, but he throws her lunch for him and his sons, laughs evilly after making his wife feel bad for herself and abandon a search for a lost kid to have an affair again knowing that his wife would be more concerned about the search than him.
- Last-Name Basis: Jim Gardener is called "Gard" by Bobbi, his best friend. The narration also refers to him as "Gardener" or "Gard".
- Living Battery: The people in Bobbi's shed. The ship also worked with power drained from aliens.
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Mercy Kill: Gardener does it to Bobbi, and later to the people (and the dog) in Bobbi's shed.
- Most Writers Are Writers: Bobbi and Gardener.
- Mundane Utility: Bobbi uses her technical abilities to power up her water heater by creating a small sun in it, making a tractor that can fly, and a typewriter that can read thoughts. Other Havenites create similar things.
- My Beloved Smother: John Leandro's mother.
- Never Live It Down: The only thing that anyone can ever remember about Gardener is that he shot his wife. Never mind that it was non-fatal, she didn't press charges, or any other thing he's ever done, all that important is that he shot his wife.
- Next Sunday AD: The book is set in 1988.
- No Periods, Period: Averted. Practically all the women in town wind up with theirs at the same time when the Tommyknockers show up, to the point that the stores run out of tampons. Even Ruth winds up with one, despite the fact that she'd hit menopause years ago.
- Parasol of Pain: At the beginning of the novel, Gardener gets into an argument with a guy at a party about the safety of nuclear power. Eventually, it deteriorates into Gardener beating the guy up with an umbrella. He notes to himself that this is the only part people will remember.
- Also, the energy weapon that Gardener uses to kill several Havenites, which is specifically noted to look like a parasol.
- People Jars: The people in Bobbi's shed.
- Psychic Static: Ruth McCausland thinks of tongue-twisters to hide her thoughts, playing them constantly in the back of her mind. Gardener (who has it much easier because of the steel plate in his head) uses "old addresses, bits of poems, snatches of songs", or just repeats the word "shield".
- Random Teleportation: The Tommyknockers are able to teleport things, but they can't determine where they go, so for traveling, they use spaceships.
- Reality Subtext: King's cocaine addiction was at its worst when he was writing this. In On Writing he said he would be up late at night writing it with his pulse going a hundred beats a minute and cotton balls and Q-Tips stuffed in his nose to stanch the blood. The idea of Bobbi finding an alien technology which makes her writing become almost automatic while slowly trashing her body was, he realized later, as much a metaphor for the addiction as Annie Wilkes was in Misery (also written during that period).
- The Reveal: When Gardener goes into Bobbi's shed, and finds out what's in there.
- Shur Fine Guns: When Gardener drops a gun, it goes off, and the bullet breaks his ankle. It might be justified, since it's an old .45 from World War II. It's especially ironic, because earlier, when he tried to shoot Bobbi with it, it misfired.
- Sickly Green Glow: The alien power has it.
- Smoldering Shoes: Two cops are almost completely disintegrated with a Tommyknocker weapon. All that remains is a single smoking shoe. With a foot still in it.
- Stage Magician: Hilly Brown, a Child Prodigy, wants to be one; when he gains technical abilities, he builds a machine that sends things to a faraway planet (referred as Altair IV), then brings them back, and uses it for magic tricks. However, when he sends away his little brother, David, he can't bring him back; rescuing him later becomes a major plot thread.
- Town with a Dark Secret: Haven becomes this.
- Touched by Vorlons: Everyone in Haven (except Gardener).
- Understatement: When Gardener gives a rant against nuclear power at a party, he mentions that before the opening of the power plant at Three Mile Island, it was discovered that the plumbers accidentally hooked a tank for liquid radioactive waste to the drinking fountains instead of the scuts. The people investigating wrote in their report that hooking up radioactive waste-coolant pipes to the ones feeding water to the drinking fountains was a "generally inadvisable practice".
- What Did I Do Last Night?: Before the start of the novel, Gardener shot his wife in the face during a binge (she survived). He woke up in a prison cell, not remembering it; when he asked the deputy what did he do, he answered: "Shot your wife. That's what you did. Good fucking deal, uh?"
- Year Outside, Hour Inside: Time is a lot slower on Altair 4; that's why David Brown can be brought back alive about a month later he was sent there, despite the fact that the planet hardly has any air.