The Tommyknockers – Aliens and Folklore

The Tommyknockers is a book by Stephen King right? One which was adapted into a two-part TV miniseries about the influence of an alien spaceship on the inhabitants of rural town.

For many years I assumed that Stephen King had invented the name Tommyknockers but I always wondered if the name came from somewhere else or had more meaning to it. So curiosity finally got the better of me and I looked it up. It turns out that there is some history behind the name:

The (Tommy) KnockersHistory and Folklore

Names: Knockers (Cornish/Welsh), Tommyknockers (US), Berggeister or Bergmännlien (Germany),  Brownie, leprechaun.


Image by Neal Dench via Flickr

Tommyknockers rather than being a creation of Stephen King’s inventive mind were spirits or mythological creatures associated with mining cultures. Some believe that they could be tricksters, believing that some could be trusted while others could not. There was often a knocking noise heard before a mine caved which was attributed to these spirits and many varying tales surround these mischievous creatures. Tales of them pinching a miner’s tools, tapping them on the shoulder in the dark, warning them of a cave-in and even warnings of them taking offense if someone whistled, swore or were spoken ill of.

They seemed to have started off more like leprechauns or gnomes and were even considered greenish in colour in some interpretations but soon evolved into being described as the spirits of deceased miners. Given the hazards of the job I can imagine a little superstition would bring some comfort in the dark mine shafts.

There is a good lesson here from Mr King about creative writing. Taking one explanation and changing it into another (or turning mining spirits into Aliens), and creating a new story and new set of characters around ancient folklore can work very well. There are many great books using Celtic history and mythology (Juliet Marillier is great at this), yet don’t forget the lesser known creatures and myths can inspire great stories too.

Further Reading

Legends of America – Tommy knockers – Knockers 
Wiki – Knocker Folklore

8 thoughts on “The Tommyknockers – Aliens and Folklore

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