A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness was born in the U.S. in 1971. Growing up, he moved around often because his father was in the U.S. Army before his family ultimately settled down in Los Angeles. Ness studied English literature at the University of Southern California, and then worked as a corporate writer for a cable company. He was working on his first novel when he moved to London in 1999. His first novel, the Crash of Hennington, was published in 2003, followed soon after by a short story collection in 2004. Ness became a naturalized British citizen in 2005 and entered into a civil partnership in 2006. He then published a trilogy of young adult novels in 2008, 2009, and 2010. The following year, he wrote A Monster Calls, based on an idea of another writer, Siobhan Dowd. Ness continued to write both young adult and adult novels until 2015, when he began writing a spinoff of the television series Doctor Who called Class. His most recent book, Release, was published in 2017. Ness has also taught creative writing at Oxford and has worked as a journalist for several British and American newspapers.
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Historical Context of A Monster Calls

In the book, the monster says that it has been called many names in the past: Herne the Hunter, Cernunnos, and the Green Man. All of these are variations of pagan deities associated with nature. Herne the Hunter is a ghost in English folklore associated with Windsor forest. He is said to have antlers upon his head and ride a horse. Cernunnos is a Celtic horned god. Little is known about this deity other than the fact that it is depicted with the antlers of a stag and is also identified as a god of nature and life. “Herne” may be a cognate of “Cernunnos” and these two deities may have the same origins. The Green Man is a representation of a sculpture or other representation of a face surrounded by or made from leaves, which makes it an apt name for the monster, who takes the form of a yew tree. The Green Man is usually interpreted as a symbol of rebirth or the life cycle, and is often used as a representation of various horned gods (such as Cernunnos or the Greek god Pan). The Green Man is often viewed as a pagan symbol, and yet images of the Green Man frequently appear carved into churches. This fact is also fitting for the story, as the monster takes the form of a yew tree that is found next to a church.

Other Books Related to A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls draws on several literary traditions: first and most notably, contemporary children’s fantasy literature. Conor’s use of fantasy to understand the world around him and the pain that he is experiencing is very similar to that of the protagonist in Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia. Additionally, there are similarities between this book and Where the Wild Things Are, though the latter is about and is written for younger children. Where the Wild Things Are deals with similar themes of anger and isolation for a boy who is learning to grow up. The monster’s three tales also resemble folklore that stems from oral traditions, such as The Canterbury Tales or Grimms’ Fairy Tales, or J.K. Rowling’s The Tales of Beadle the Bard, for a modern example. It is worth noting that unlike these folk tale examples, the monster makes a point that its stories do not have explicit “lessons” or “morals,” and are instead meant to explore the complexity of the world and to help Conor understand human emotion, which distinguishes them from fairy tales.
Key Facts about A Monster Calls
  • Full Title: A Monster Calls
  • When Written: 2007-2011
  • Where Written: London, England
  • When Published: 2011
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Children’s fantasy
  • Setting: England
  • Climax: Conor tells the monster about his nightmare.
  • Antagonist: Conor’s nightmare; death
  • Point of View: Third-person limited (Conor’s perspective)

Extra Credit for A Monster Calls

A Melancholy Beginning. A Monster Calls was based on an idea by young adult novelist Siobhan Dowd. Dowd unfortunately did not have the chance to write the work herself, as she passed away from cancer. Dowd’s editor, Denise Johnstone-Burt, then arranged for Ness to complete the story.

A Tale of Two Medals. A Monster Calls is the only book to have won both the Carnegie Medal and the Greenaway Medal, which are awards that recognize outstanding writing and illustration, respectively.