Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped/Literature

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Examples of Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped in Literature include:


  • 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.
  • 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.

The Lord of the Rings

  • One is literally a matter of life and death:

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.
  • Treebeard's comment when Merry and Pippin ask him about what side he's on. Considering that Tolkien wrote this before green anvils were being dropped like the Blitzkrieg, the message is pretty powerful:

"I am on nobody's side because nobody is on my side. Nobody cares for the woods anymore."

  • The movie follows up with a second anvil when Treebeard is prompted into choosing a side when he discovers that Saruman has been cutting down the trees, the lesson being: if you refuse to take a side because you have no personal stake in it, it will come back to bite you in the ass later.
  • And, of course, the obvious messages of the One Ring: "Power Corrupts", and "The End Does Not Justify The Means".
  • 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. 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!"

Starship Troopers

Other works

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: "All right. I'll go to hell, then." Called the greatest phrase ever in American literature for a reason.
  • Night by Elie Wiesel: The Holocaust happened, and we have to come to terms with that. It was a dark mark on human history that should never be repeated. Real human beings with feelings were slaughtered for no reason other than their heritage. Genocide is bad. It cannot happen again.
  • 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.
  • 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...)
    • Ender's Game also rejects subtlety and symbolism, and is all the better for it.
  • A lot of Dickens falls under this heading from A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. 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:

"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."

  • Charles Dickens's 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.
  • 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.
  • Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Enough said.

"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.

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, both by George Orwell. If these books weren't overblown, they wouldn't be nearly as effective in conveying how truly fragile and precious the ideal of freedom really is.
    • The chief Anvil in both is about individuality versus conformity and the important of holding onto the truth that's right in front of your eyes. As long as you have that, you are still free, no matter what anyone else does to you.
  • Though all of Ayn Rand's novels are Anvilicious, 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.
  • John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Lots of anvils, many of which needed dropping.[context?]
  • 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 marvellously 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. 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. Of course, it was the depiction of what goes into meat that ended up hitting the general public and sticking with us. 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.
  • Between the refugee camps and the "planet assassins," The Holy Land never even tries to be subtle with its satire. Whether it's a good book or not depends largely on your political stance.
  • 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 makes you crazy. Ostensibly about World War Two, 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.
  • 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 bowled over the businessmen's tables 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.
    • 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).
  • 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."
    • 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.

    • The Butter Battle Book, is about the Cold War arms race, of all things.
    • And the anti-racism message of The Sneeches. 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.
  • His Dark Materials‍'‍s condemnation of repressive institutions (Word of God says it isn't only condemning religion, although whether Pullman came up with that later after the backlash is debatable) and messages promoting secularism and the need to improve this world rather than hoping for paradise in an afterlife wouldn't have been nearly as effective if they had been subtle, mostly because these ideas weren't as widespread at the time (and especially not in young-adult books).
  • 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.
  • On the Beach, by Nevil Shute. Oh my God, On the Beach... Noted how Threads and other films depicting horrors of nuclear holocaust in the film section of this page demand strong nerves from the viewer? Well, 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) 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.'
    • Also the broken men in A Feast for Crows.
    • As well as Arya Stark's entire arc in Clash of Kings. Basically, Martin would like you to know that War Is Hell and that the common folk suffer the most during war.
    • 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."

  • 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 communist police state, such as the Soviet Union (which Rand fled from after her family’s business was seized by the new communist government).
    • In the story, we are also constantly reminded that the government has the privilege of a monopoly on force (something which is always overlooked in works like Jennifer Government), which private citizens and corporations lack, and so “political power” is the power to use force while “economic power” is the power to produce.
  • 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.[2] 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 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.
  • 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. He 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.
  • Black Beauty: "Treat animals kindly." Well, that's all well and good, but unless you've seen some of the true horrors people put their animals through (and not just horses, but also dogs, cats, birds, and anything that isn't a human being), you can't possibly appreciate how often this anvil needs to be dropped. (Anna Sewell also made the brilliant choice to make at least one of Beauty's owners not a bad guy, but ignorant about how to care for a horse. There's another much-needed anvil: "Learn how to care for an animal before you make it part of your life.")
  • 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 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, with the potential for loss of human life in the event of accident or carelessness, ignorance and thoughtlessness absolutely must not be tolerated in any degree.
  • 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 get 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.
  • 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 don't 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.
  • 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.

  1. Juan Rico's name was known to the reader from the beginning but its the final paragraph that drops a mention that his family's ancestral language, which they still speak at home on formal occasions, is Tagalog, which would mean that Juan Rico is from the Philippines.
  2. Called "matchmaking" in Austen's day, and "lovering" in Little Women.