Roots of Fear: Tommy Taffy


The Third Parent –

His Name was Tommy Taffy –

Tommy Taffy’s Twins –

The Night I Met Tommy Taffy –

The stories of Tommy Taffy are ones that touch on some of the most sensitive and terrifying aspects of our lives. The first story, the only one that’s required reading before this article is The Third Parent. In the midst of a quiet, happy family comes Tommy Taffy. He barged his way into their home, and the parents, who know him from their own childhood allow the monster to remain til he is satisfied. In both appearance and intent, he is about as evil as horrors get.

Author Elias Witherow describes him as follows:

He was about six foot and had a shock of golden hair cut tight along his scalp. He wore khaki shorts and a white T-shirt that said “HI!” in red cartoon font.
But that wasn’t what caught my eye. It was his skin…it was completely devoid of pores, a perfectly smooth, creamy texture that looked almost like soft plastic. His face was a pool of gentle pink, his mouth a cheerful cut along his cheeks revealing a white strip of teeth…but they weren’t teeth. It was just a smooth, edgeless row, like he had a mouth guard on. His nose was just a slight rise out of his face, like a doll, void of nostrils.
And his eyes…
His eyes were twin puddles of sparkling blue, shining out at us from his flawless, eerie face. They were wide, like he was in a constant state of surprise, and they shifted around the room to look at us in quick, jarring motion.
His smile widened, and he raised a flawless hand to us at the table, “Hi! I’m Tommy Taffy! It’s good to meet you!”
I noticed he didn’t have any fingernails or skin defects. No wrinkles or bruises, nothing. It was like he was a living, talking, human sized doll.

Tommy plays right into the concept of The Uncanny Valley. If you’re not familiar, The Uncanny Valley is a theory of aesthetics that posits human replicas that appear almost, but not precisely, like a real person will evoke a very primal uneasy and fear of actual humans. This theory has been a part of the development of humanoid robots with the idea that one day they will need to avoid the Uncanny Valley if they are to be integrated into daily life. Recently, audiences brought up the idea in reaction to the computer-generated effects used to resurrect Peter Cushing in Rogue One. While many hours of work went into making textures appear real and map features onto a stand-in actor’s face, there were still small aspects that drew viewers out of the story’s reality. While filmmakers try to disguise the artifice, with Tommy Taffy, the artifice only serves to heighten the horror. Tommy is arguably attractive based on the description; in the same way, you might view a Ken doll as appealing on an elementary level. But a Ken doesn’t walk and talk. A plastic man that moves around and does harm to your family members begins to lose anything that once might have been appealing.

While the mysterious nature of Tommy’s appearance sets the stage for the horrors to come, it’s the actions he takes that are all the more chilling. He systematically breaks down every family member first through psychological intimidation and, if that fails, will physically and sexually assault them until he has a complete submission. Tommy is finished when Tommy decides to be finished. What’s even more chilling is when a family member emerges from their punishment, minimal physical signs of abuse show. Exactly what he does to the mother in the basement is left ambiguous. All we know is that she remains passive until the end and carries deep psychological scars.

It’s estimated that over 10 million men and women are physically abused every year in the United States by an intimate partner. 1 in 15 children are exposed to some aspect of this violence, and 90% witness it firsthand. (Source: Almost 2,000 children a day in the United States are victims of abuse. Four children die every day from the results of this chronic abuse (Source:

Tommy Taffy touches on something incredibly personal and intimate to almost every person in America and the world. And with his abuse come threats. The parents beg their children to never speak about Tommy to anyone outside the home. The idea of calling the police for help is verboten. The fictional reasons behind this are revealed in later stories when the father recounts his childhood experience with Tommy. But this parallels the experiences of the abused; they are more often than not threatened into silence. Worse will happen to them if they don’t comply fully with their abuser and, if the abuser is a close member or friend of the family, even parents will encourage silence in place of the messiness that could follow if revealed.

The final piece that makes Tommy Taffy such a figure of pure horror, in my opinion, is his invulnerability. So many times, the monster as an unstoppable killing machine ends up corny and cliche. I believe that what keeps Tommy from becoming a cartoon is that he rarely kills. In only a few instances, after months and months of abuse, if a victim still believes they can stop him, does Tommy kill someone. And when he does, it is with such brutality and defiance of the limits of the human body that it is a pure shock to the system of onlookers. Tommy is unkillable, and he prefers not to kill you. He gets so much more pleasure out of your suffering and submission. A scene between Tommy and the narrator of The Third Parent probably the most revealing about the character, where Tommy attempts to arouse him. He finally gives up when he realizes he is having no effect on the young boy. Tommy needs you to cross over with him at some point; he needs to know he is corrupting you, and then later you feel the remorse and shame.

We grow up with the belief that our parents will protect us from whatever might do us harm, but Tommy Taffy preys on those fears we have in the back of our heads that our parents can’t protect us from everyone. No matter the details of his appearance, his seeming inability to be stopped, or his vile actions, the scariest thing about this demon is that no one can protect you.

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