Relic (novel)

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Author Lincoln Child,
Douglas Preston
Country United States
Language English
Genre horror, Science fiction, thriller
Publisher Tor Books
Publication date
Media type Hardcover
Pages 480
ISBN 0-8125-4326-2
OCLC 34014907
Followed by Reliquary

Relic is a 1995 novel by Douglas J. Preston and Lincoln Child and is the first in the Special Agent Pendergast series.[1] It received critical praise, and was a New York Times Bestseller. As a techno-thriller, it commented on the possibilities inherent in genetic manipulation, while also being critical of museums and their role both in society and in the scientific community. It is the basis of the 1997 film The Relic.

Plot summary[edit]

In and around a fictionalized version of New York City's American Museum of Natural History, a few select characters must solve a string of brutal murders that take place inside the museum during the days preceding the opening of "Superstition", a spectacular blockbuster exhibition.

Evidence begins to point suspiciously to a doomed expedition undertaken by the museum several years earlier to the Brazilian rainforest in search of the lost Kothoga tribe. It becomes apparent that behind the murders is Mbwun (translation: "He Who Walks On All Fours")—the Kothoga's crazed lizard god, whose father happens to be a demon analogous to Satan, according to Kothoga legend. A relic depicting Mbwun is to be shown for the first time at the upcoming exhibition.

It also appears that several museum leaders had known about previous murders on the museum's premises and that they had conspired to keep these murders a secret so as not to damage the reputation of the museum.

Characters (novel)[edit]

Major Characters[edit]

  • NYPD Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta, a police officer working to solve the murders.
  • Margo Green, a graduate student working at the museum.
  • Dr. Frock, her advisor and department head at the museum.
  • William Smithback, Jr., an ambitious journalist who is writing a book about the exhibition for the museum.
  • Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast, a secretive and highly resourceful FBI Special Agent.

Minor Characters[edit]

  • Dr. Ian Cuthbert, deputy head of the museum; is aware that something is in the museum.
  • Gregory Kawakita, eventually discovers what/who Mbwun really is.
  • John Whittlesey, the anthropologist who goes looking for the lost Kothoga tribe; has not been heard of since he left for his expedition, although the crates containing his findings did make it to the museum, having been sent back before his disappearance.

Sequel novel[edit]

  • Relic was followed by the bestselling sequel, Reliquary in 1997.
  • Aloysius Pendergast, who is introduced in Relic, also appears in several of Preston's and Child's following novels, along with Smithback, Green, and D'Agosta.

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: The Relic (film)

A film based on the book was released in 1997, but changed several aspects of the book, omitting numerous characters and changing the setting to the Chicago Museum of Natural History rather than the New York Museum of Natural History (fictional but strongly based on the American Museum of Natural History). The film is directed by Peter Hyams and stars Penelope Ann Miller as Dr. Margo Green, Tom Sizemore as Lt. Vincent D'Agosta, and Linda Hunt as Dr. Ann Cuthbert. Key points of the plot are given away throughout the duration of the film. In the novel, the explanation is delivered in the last few pages, giving the novel a twist ending. The movie also has a similar twist during its climax.

Changes from the novel[edit]

Name Character description from the novel Character description from the film
Margo Green Is described as an introverted graduate student. Had an indirect role in the killing of the creature by assisting Pendergast. Is a Doctor of evolutionary biology. Is brownish blonde, feisty, and assertive. In addition, she kills the creature. Played by Penelope Ann Miller
Lt. Vincent D’Agosta Described as overweight, and approaching early middle age; disdainful of superstitions Is younger and more athletic. Also extremely superstitious. Played by Tom Sizemore.
Dr. Frock Survives by hiding in an office in his wheelchair while Margo and Pendergast run on ahead to get to a place where they are able to kill the creature. Is slain by the creature; character is played by James Whitmore.
Dr. Ian Cuthbert Survives a close encounter with the monster, at the expense of his sanity, his boss, and his public relations director. Changed to a female character, Dr. Ann Cuthbert, played by actress Linda Hunt.
Gregory Kawakita An intellectual loner, prefers to research on his own. Born in Japan, raised in Britain. It is shown in the epilogue that he figured out the origins of the creature. Is renamed Greg Lee; he is a Chinese-American and is depicted as obsequious and underhanded. He is played by Chi Moui Lo. Is killed by the monster.
Agent Pendergast Smooth-talking, urbane, and extremely clever FBI Agent from New Orleans He is completely written out; his role is combined with Lt. Vincent D’Agosta.
William "Bill" Smithback Entertaining but nosy journalist writing a book for the museum's "Superstition" exhibit; friend of Margo Green. Helps D'Agosta get a group of guests, including the Mayor of New York City, out of the Museum. Completely cut from film, no replacement.
The Museum Monster Named "Mbwun" (translation: "He Who Walks On All Fours"). It is worth noting that this translation matches the Navajo name for a Skinwalker (yee naaldlooshii) or, "With it, He goes on all fours." Description, at best, is a "scaly primate." Characterized by an unusual smell and glowing red eyes. The DNA of this creature includes gecko genes. Is described as being "as fast as a greyhound with the intelligence of a human." Was much stealthier than its movie counterpart. Received more sympathy in the novel; both Margo and Ian Cuthbert described it as "lonely" and "sad." Used to be archaeologist Julian Whittlesey. Transformation time may have been the same, but the time from arrival in New York to killing humans is measured in years rather than weeks, and begins with small animals. There is some evidence of the monster retained some sentimental feelings of his human life. The packing crate that contained the Mbwun plant the monster needed was stored for a time at the museum and allowed the monster to survive without killing. Only after the crate and dried plants were moved beyond its reach did it turn to killing.

The creature's skull and hide were durable enough that bullets fired at its head were deflected. It is finally killed by Agent Pendergast who shoots it through its eye socket with a large caliber handgun.

Named "Kothoga" (the name was used for the tribe worshipping/creating Mbwun in the novel). Is more massive and somewhat insect-like, it has large mandibles sprouting form the side of its face, similar to a stag beetle, resembles a reptilian tiger and walks and runs like a big cat. It had a hairy spine and a forked tongue, with long and curvy sharp teeth, it also has a long and flexible reptillian tail. Instead of red, its eyes are green. There was also very little sympathy towards it. Used to be archaeologist John Whitney, and it has subtle human features as it has wide shoulders, and a human like forehead. Began killing humans almost immediately upon arrival in Chicago and actually killed the crew of the ship that brought it to the city. The crate containing the plant was destroyed almost immediately upon arrival in the museum in Chicago as a precaution against possible biohazard.

NOTE: Actually, there are two museum monsters in the movie; the other is a bug which eats the Kothoga plant and, as a result, becomes a massive and hideous exaggeration of itself. Margo crushes it to death with a biochemistry textbook.


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