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Bridge to Terabithia | Study Guide

Katherine Paterson

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Bridge to Terabithia | Chapter 9 : The Evil Spell | Summary



Despite the constant rain Jess and Leslie go to Terabithia. As they look for coats and boots, Judy makes an appearance from her writing room, where she has been closeted away working on a book. She notices they're going out in the rain but doesn't seem particularly concerned; then she suddenly disappears to write again when inspiration strikes. Jess and Leslie decide to go barefoot and are soaked by the time they reach the stream, which is now raging, "a roaring eight-foot-wide sea."

Jess hesitates, but Leslie still wants to cross. She takes Prince Terrien under her raincoat and swings across effortlessly. Jess takes the leap, too, but lands clumsily in the mud on the other side. Throughout the week they visit Terabithia, despite the continued rain. "For Jess the fear of the crossing rose with the height of the creek," while Leslie continues to swing across fearlessly. The rain still pelts down, and a frustrated Leslie suggests "some evil being has put a curse on our beloved kingdom." They retreat to the pines where Leslie entreats the "Spirits of the grove" for the power to overcome this curse. Jess plays along, but in his mind he longs for the simple comfort of a cup of hot coffee in front of the TV, considering himself "obviously not worthy to be king of Terabithia."

Jess falls asleep that night feeling safe, as though "everything was going to be all right," but he wakes up in the middle of the night with a dreadful realization. He can't go to Terabithia anymore; the rain is too heavy, and he is too afraid to cross now. Jess loathes himself for this fear, especially compared to Leslie's daring: "No matter how high the creek came, Leslie would still want to cross it."


Judy is a successful, modern woman of the 1970s—but she is also something of an absentee mother. She is not fully present even when interacting with Leslie; her mind is always partly at her writing desk with her novel in progress. Judy emerges from her work only when she has writer's block, and she scurries off again when inspiration strikes. She is absorbed by her work; her child seems almost an afterthought. Readers may infer Judy believes that, given the way she and Bill have been raising their daughter, Leslie can take care of herself completely and without parental guidance or intervention. Up to a point they are correct. Leslie can take care of herself; she is smart, capable, and generally mature. However, she is 10 years old, and she sometimes behaves in ways that place herself in danger. In this chapter Jess and Leslie go out into the pouring rain without shoes, get soaking wet, and cross a dangerous stream. Judy sees them preparing to go but does not intervene nor give any parental precautions. She fails to safeguard her child because she is too absorbed in her work to notice that safeguarding may be needed, and a self-sufficient child is nevertheless a child.

Jess is Leslie's foil when it comes to fear and common sense. Jess evaluates the danger of the stream with a rational mind, and his fear rises appropriately with the height of the creek. The rising water doesn't concern Leslie, though; she seems to believe she is invincible and ignores reality. Jess may think himself fearful or cowardly, but the sentiment is more a sense of mature caution coming from a person who understands nature and the consequences of rash actions.

The chapter is ominous in its content and position, directly before disaster strikes. Just as Leslie ignores the danger of the raging stream, she reframes the rain as a magical force, rather than simply as rain. It is an "evil spell" or a "curse" that some wicked being has cast on their kingdom. The reader can almost feel Jess rolling his eyes discreetly as Leslie performs her ritual in the sacred grove. The rain is too real for Jess; all he wants is to be at home, safe and warm, like any sensible person. Although he tries to get into the spirit of the ritual, Jess feels disappointed in himself for being unable to overcome reality and buy into the magic Leslie is offering. He thinks he is "not worthy" to be king of Terabithia because he can't ignore reality in favor of fantasy. He has the self-awareness to know he cannot cross the stream anymore and will have to confront Leslie with this reality the next day, knowing she won't want to hear it. She will insist on remaining in her magical mindset; she will still want to cross the stream no matter what.

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