A Monster Calls

Monster Metaphors

Summary of Plot

A Monster Calls is about a boy struggling to cope with his mother's terminal cancer. Two very different monsters appear in the text. One haunts his nightmares, the other haunts his reality, which isn't pleasant to begin with. Conor, the boy, is forced to live with his stuffy grandmother and feels invisible to everyone but the bullies at school. The monster eventually helps Conor admit his feelings to himself and his mother.

The Monsters

The Tree Monster

The tree monster originated in Norse mythology. A yew tree by day, the monster arrives to help Conor heal. The monster says that Conor "is the reason I had come walking." The yew itself is known for having healing properties and has been used in many herbal remedies for cancer and other illnesses.


The monster itself represents truth. Hard and sometimes cruel, like truth, the monster forces Conor to acknowledge a darker side of the world through three parables, none of which turn out the way Conor expected them to. Kate Wheeler, a pediatric oncologist in London, says that "The monster's stories help Conor to understand the conflicting emotions of loving someone but also wishing them dead to stop the pain their illness is causing."


Having told Conor 3 stories, he asks Conor for a story in return. If Conor fails to tell the correct story (or truth), then he will be eaten by the monster.


Truth isn't pretty. Truth can eat us alive, or it can help us learn how to function in the world if we can process and accept it. Conor, especially at the beginning of the text, is in denial about his reality. He refuses to acknowledge his mother's wishes to see him, refuses to stand up for himself at school, and refuses to build a relationship with his grandmother, as all would force him to admit a truth that sickens even him: he can no longer deal with his mother's illness and wishes for her suffering to end.


By forcing Conor to admit his feelings (See text evidence under "Nightmare Monster"), he offers Conor a chance to by gaining a better understanding of his grief and his guilt. He even is able to gain a better understanding of the world, for Conor believes he deserves


While Conor get's frustrated with this monster, he isn't afraid of it because, as the Yew Monster says, "you have worse things to be frightened of."

The Nightmare Monster

The monster that plagues Conor in his dreams is very different from the yew monster.


Conor dreams each night that he is surrounded by a dark forest on the edge of a cliff. His mother stands on the cliff's edge calling to him. He repeatedly tries to drag himself towards her but doesn't have the strength. "A low sound from below the cliff" is heard. It is a "rumbling, booming noise." This noise is the sounds of the monster making its way up the side of the cliff. "A cloud of burning darkness lift(s) two giant fists" up and grab his mother. She is then yanked off of a cliff's edge. He grabs her hand but cannot hold on and she falls as he lets go of her.


The only way Conor can confront and defeat the Nightmare Monster is by telling "the fourth tale." The fourth tale is the truth that Conor denies himself throughout the entire story.


Revealed slowly throughout the text, this monster is "formed of cloud and ash and dark flames." It has muscle, red eyes, and "flashing teeth.


At the end of the revelation of the text, we learn that the monster is a physical manifestation of the guilt and loss Conor feels for wanting his mother to pass. The Yew Monster forces Conor to speak the truth so that he can free himself from the Nightmare Monster. As the Yew Monster says, "You could have held on for longer, but you let her fall." He even accuses Conor of wanting his mother to fall. Conor breaks under the verbal assault and finally admits, "I can't stand it anymore! I can't stand knowing that she'll go! I just want it to be over! I want it to be finished!" even though he is convinced that this truth will kill him. Kimberly Francisco, a blogger with Stacked Books, says that "the metaphor [of loss] is built throught the three stories," as each tales reveals a little bit more of the darkness Conor is dealing with.

A Monster Calls Official International Teaser Trailer #1 (2016) - Liam Neeson Drama HD

MLA Works Cited

Francisco, Kimberly. "A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness." Stackedbooks.org. Stacked, 24 Nov. 2011. Web. 9 May 2016.


Ness, Patrick. A Monster Calls. Candlewick Press: 2001. London. Print.


Wheeler, Kate. "The Heartbreaking Children's Book on Cancer That Every Adult Should Read." Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers, 08 Sept. 2012. Web. 5 May 2016.