Many people remember their teen years with some sort of fondness.
And that is understandable, to a point.
After all, many milestones are reached during adolescence…
First vehicles that you fall in love with, and said vehicle demands exclusivity almost immediately, and luuvvvs you soooo much that she (since cars always a she, after all) will not allow you to date anyone else, see your friends or hang out with your family…
Well, adolescence in the Stephen King universe is not normal adolescence, after all.
Last month, it was the prom that we reminisced about so fondly.
And this month, we are going to talk about the first love, along with the first vehicle.
In other words, we will be reading and dissecting King’s novel, Christine.
(Yeah, this is the part where I should tell you we are talking about a Stephen King book. Quit acting surprised, you knew it was coming!)
As always, King is one of the few writers who can capture childhood, along with adolescence.
And Christine is a book that has a lot to say on this subject.
So fasten your seat belts, and let’s hop into a certain bright red homicidal 1958 Plymouth Fury…you know you will be in one Hell (literally) of a ride!
And, as always:
The book begins by introducing us to a young man named Dennis Guilder. Dennis has just turned 17 and will be starting his senior year in high school. Dennis’ best friend is another young man named Arnold “Arnie” Cunningham, who has also just turned 17 and attends the same high school as Dennis.
Dennis is athletic and popular, and well liked by his peers. Arnie, however, is a loner and is constantly bullied. Despite the fact that they are polar opposites in so many ways, Dennis and Arnie remain best friends, even throughout junior high and high school.
One day, as Arnie and Dennis are returning home from their summer job, Arnie notices an old car for sale. The car is a 1958 Plymouth Fury and does appear to be in good condition.
Arnie speaks to the owner of the car, an old man named Roland LeBay. Almost immediately, Dennis dislikes the old man. Arnie, however, is determined to purchase the vehicle, and bargains with LeBay. Since it is not pay day, Arnie puts down $25 on the car, which LeBay sells to him for $250, with the expectation that Arnie will purchase the vehicle the next day. Dennis is upset and tries to talk Arnie out of the deal, but Arnie will not budge, and appears to be besotted with the vehicle, which LeBay refers to as “Christine.”
When Arnie returns home that night, he informs his strict parents that he purchased a car. They are upset, especially his mother, Regina, but Arnie still refuses to back down.
The next day, Arnie purchases Christine, and attempts to drive her home. Initially, Christine will not start, but Arnie somehow coaxes the vehicle into starting. Dennis sits in the car for a moment, and gets a very bad feeling about it. On the way home, the car gets a flat tire, and Arnie is forced to change the tire on a resident’s lawn, which very nearly results in a fight between Arnie and the resident.
Arnie makes the decision to temporarily house Christine at Darnell’s Garage. Darnell’s Garage is owned by Will Darnell, a common crook rumored to have dealings with organized crime, but really Arnie’s only choice if he wants to keep Christine. Arnie believes that he can fix up Christine and turn her into something special, although Dennis is skeptical, and even begins to have nightmares about Arnie’s vehicle.
Arnie begins to spend more and more time making repairs to Christine, and less time with Dennis and the rest of his family.
One night, Dennis and Arnie stop for pizza on the way home from work. Arnie has a black eye, and Dennis asks about it. Arnie tells Dennis that he got into a fight with Buddy Reperton, a local thug, at Darnell’s Garage. Reperton smashed a headlight on Christine, and this made Arnie furious. Arnie was also able to injure Reperton before Darnell stepped in. Dennis becomes worried, and does not want Arnie to continue to use Darnell’s Garage as a home for Christine.
One evening, Dennis gets the idea that Arnie can park Christine at LeBay’s house, possible in exchange for some minor chores and a little money. However, Dennis discovers that LeBay has died, so this may not be an option for Arnie.
Arnie is in shock over the death of LeBay, and insists on attending his funeral. Dennis accompanies Arnie, and meets George, LeBay’s brother. Dennis tries to talk George into letting Arnie park Christine at his deceased brother’s house, but George refuses, telling Dennis that Arnie should get rid of the car, as it is bad news. Dennis is curious, and agrees to meet with George later that evening so that he can obtain some more information on Christine’s history.
Later that evening, Dennis meets with George. George gives Dennis a background on Roland and his vehicle. Roland was always angry and bitter, even as a child. Roland joined the army as a young man and became a mechanic, and a brilliant one at that. However, Roland could not let go of his anger, as evidenced by the letters he sent to his family.
Eventually, Roland got married and became a father. He also finally purchased a vehicle of his own, a 1958 Plymouth Fury who named Christine. Roland became obsessed with the vehicle, devoting much of his time and money to it.
One day, Roland’s young daughter choked on a piece of hamburger while riding with her parents in the vehicle. Roland and his wife are unable to save their daughter, and she dies. Roland’s family begs him to give up the vehicle, but he refuses.
The vehicle also claimed another victim: Roland’s wife, who committed suicide in the vehicle, via the fumes from the exhaust hose. Roland still refuses to give up the vehicle, and spends the rest of days alone, only selling the vehicle to Arnie when it becomes evident that he will die soon.
The story makes Dennis uneasy, even when he returns home. Dennis also has an unsettling conversation with his father in regards to Will Darnell and his dealings, which confirms some of Dennis’ suspicions that Darnell may be more than a small time crook.
School begins, and Dennis becomes busy with the start of his senior year. Arnie is also busy, attempting to restore Christine to her former glory. Dennis notices that Arnie’s complexion begins to improve (he had previously had a terrible case of acne) and that Arnie also becomes more confident in himself.
One day, as Dennis and Arnie are eating lunch, they are confronted by Buddy Reperton and his band of friends. A fight breaks out, and a teacher is called in to stop the fight. The fight results in Buddy Reperton’s expulsion from the school, and the suspension of some of his friends. Dennis is shaken, but is again surprised to see Arnie fight back against the bully.
Arnie’s confidence continues to grow. He asks Leigh Cabot, a beautiful transfer student, out on a date, and she agrees to go out with him. Arnie and Leigh attend a football game together, and Leigh meets Dennis. Dennis is a little jealous of Arnie, as he also has a crush on Leigh, but is happy for his friend.
That afternoon, Dennis plays football, like normal. However, he is injured in the game. The injuries are severe, and Dennis spends several weeks in the hospital recovering. Thoughts of Arnie and Christine, along with Leigh, are never far from his mind.
The book then changes to the perspective of Arnie, Leigh and the other characters. Nearly everyone is concerned for Arnie, and they sense that his obsession with the car may be unhealthy. The relationship with Arnie and his mother becomes strained, and they fight constantly over the vehicle. Leigh also dislikes Arnie’s car intensely, and feels uncomfortable when she rides in it.
One night, Arnie’s father, Michael, takes a ride with Arnie in Christine, and has a serious conversation with his son. He suggests that Arnie park his vehicle at the airport, as opposed to Darnell’s Garage. At first, Arnie is not happy with this suggestion, but agrees to it, as sort of a truce between himself and his family.
In the meantime, Buddy Reperton and his friends seek revenge on Arnie, as they blame Arnie for Buddy’s expulsion from school. So one night, Buddy and his friends are able to sneak into the airport garage. Once in the garage, they find Christine and vandalize the vehicle.
One day after school, Arnie heads to the airport garage with Leigh, to show off his progress with his work on Christine. Arnie then discovers the vandalism to Christine, and becomes very upset.
Arnie argues with his parents over Christine and the vandalism. He is reluctant to report the incident, but his father insists on doing so. Arnie’s parents offer to replace Christine with a newer vehicle, but Arnie refuses, and states that he will restore Christine himself.
Christine seeks revenge on those who vandalized her. She begins with with Moochie Welch, who was involved in the prank. Christine chases down Moochie one night, running him over multiple times.
Arnie learns about Moochie’s death, and appears to be shocked. He denies any involvement to local police, and his parents also confirm his alibi. Arnie is also questioned by a state police officer. The officer does not believe Arnie’s story, but cannot take any action, as he has no concrete evidence that Arnie was involved in Moochie’s death. The officer also notices that Christine is nearly restored back to her prior condition, despite the fact that prior reports stated that she was damaged beyond repair.
One evening, Buddy and his friends are driving around town. Buddy is still angry over being expelled from school, and has no remorse over vandalizing Christine. Buddy and his friends then notice another vehicle which appears to following them. It does not take long for Buddy to realize that the vehicle is Christine, and she appears to be driving herself.
Chrstine chases Buddy down, and runs him over, killing him. Before he dies, Buddy sees the ghost of an old man, which can only be Roland LeBay.
Arnie feels badly that he has been neglecting Leigh, and he takes her shopping and out for dinner one weekend. On the way home, Arnie and Leigh pick up a hitchhiker and drive him into town on their way home.
On the drive home, Leigh is eating a hamburger. She then begins to choke on the hamburger, but she is saved by the hitchhiker, who uses the Heimlich maneuver on her, over Arnie’s protests. Leigh is badly shaken by the incident, and realizes that she would have died if it had not been for the hitchhiker. When she is choking, Leigh believes that Christine’s dashboard lights turn into eyes, and that the car tried to kill her.
When Arnie drops Leigh off at home, Leigh demands that Arnie get rid of Christine, as she believes that the vehicle is evil. Arnie refuses, and the two argue. Arnie then storms off, leaving Leigh in tears.
Arnie is again questioned by Junkins, the state cop who questioned him in regards to Moochie’s death. Arnie provides an alibi for the night of Buddy Reperton’s death, and tells the state cop that there is no evidence that he was involved in Buddy’s death. Junkins does not believe Arnie, and vows that Arnie will one day face justice.
Arnie’s personality begins to change, and everyone notices, including Arnie. Arnie’s speech and mannerisms become similar to those of Roland LeBay, and Arnie even believes that he sees LeBay sitting in his vehicle.
One day, Arnie runs another errand for Will Darnell, his boss. The state cops, however, have closed in on Darnell, who is arrested. Arnie is also arrested, as the vehicle he was driving contains untaxed cigarettes. Arnie’s parents are shocked by the arrest, but Arnie is eventually released from jail, and will likely not have a mark on his permanent record, due to his age.
Christine then seeks revenge on Darnell when Arnie is out of town for the Christmas holidays. She traps Darnell inside of his house, and runs him over. Darnell’s death is news, due to his pending criminal charges, and most people assume that his death was related to his criminal dealings.
Leigh, however, makes the connection between Darnell’s death and a few others. She believes that Christine is the cause of those deaths, as does Dennis. Dennis and Leigh team together, and research Christine’s history. Dennis then begins to develop feelings for Leigh, but is hesitant, due to his friendship with Arnie.
Dennis spends New Year’s Eve with Arnie. He is struck by the changes in Arnie’s personality, which he realizes is actually LeBay’s personality. Dennis is unsettled, and becomes even more frightened for Arnie.
On the way home that night, Dennis witnesses Arnie transform into Roland LeBay. When he glances through Christine’s mirror, he also sees the ghosts of Christine’s victims. His town is also transformed into what it looked like in the 1950’s, when LeBay was still alive.
Christine then claims another victim: Junkins, the state cop who investigated Darnell, and who also set his sights on Arnie, hoping to charge him with the murders of Buddy Reperton and Christine’s other victims. Dennis and Leigh realize that they must destroy Christine.
Dennis speaks to LeBay’s brother, George. George reveals more of LeBay’s early life, and the picture painted is disturbing, as people who harmed LeBay were likely to become injured or even dead. George also states that the deaths of LeBay’s wife and child may not have been accidental. Dennis then informs LeBay that he intends to destroy Christine. After his conversation with LeBay, Dennis begins to make some phone calls.
One day, Dennis and Leigh are talking in Dennis’ car in the parking lot of a local restaurant. Arnie appears, and realizes that Dennis is in love with Leigh. This infuriates Arnie, who has fixated on Leigh, determined to make her love him again. Dennis is frightened for Leigh, as he realizes that it is actually the ghost of LeBay who has fixated on Leigh, and that LeBay will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
Dennis confronts Arnie one morning in the school parking lot. He tells Arnie that LeBay has possessed, but that he can fight him. Arnie tries to fight, but LeBay is stronger. Arnie and Dennis then get into a physical fight. Dennis challenges LeBay, telling him to meet him that night at Darnell’s garage, and to bring Christine.
Leigh and Dennis wait for Christine at Darnell’s garage. Christine soon appears, along with the body of Michael Cunningham, Arnie’s father. Dennis and Leigh battle Christine with a wrecking truck that Dennis had obtained earlier that day. They are able to destroy the car, but are injured in the process.
Dennis awakens in the hospital the next day and inquires about Arnie. A FBI agent named Mercer tells him that Arnie and his mother were killed in a car accident on the highway right after Christine was destroyed. Witnesses saw a third person in the vehicle, which could only be the ghost of Roland LeBay, who attempted to possess Arnie after Christine was destroyed. Dennis tells his story to the FBI agent, and Leigh corroborates it.
Dennis and Leigh graduate from high school and date for about two years. Eventually, they drift apart and Leigh moves to New Mexico. She marries and becomes the mother of twin girls.
Dennis becomes a junior high school history teacher. He recovers from his injuries, even though his leg still pains him at times. He sometimes experiences nightmares in regards to Christine, but they become less frequent.
One day, Dennis receives the news that a young man named Sandy was killed after being hit by a vehicle. Dennis begins to wonder if Christine has somehow regenerated, and if she will find him and seek revenge.
Well, that was quite a ride…
Okay, okay…I will brake from the bad car jokes…
But seriously, wow, this book was really quite the ride.
Now, Stephen King writes scary stuff. Duh, he is the King of Horror, and we all know this. And Christine has plenty of scary moments (more on that later.)
But really, King’s major strength as a writer is his ability to write about reality, as strange as that may seem to some.
In other words, King does not just write about monsters, like possessed cars, haunted hotels and evil clowns.
He writes about people.
And that’s why we love him. Once again, he is our literary Everyman.
And there are plenty of Everyman moments in Christine. When Christine is mentioned, most people think “Car bad. Very very bad. Arnie go crazy. I hate rock and roll.”
(Well, something like that. And yes, it may owe a little bit to the movie of the same name, thanks to John Carpenter, God love him.)
One of my favorite parts in this book was the description of the friendship between Arnie and Dennis.
There are some people, in the Hell otherwise known as high school, who are actually popular because they are…wait for it…genuinely nice people…gasp…
Dennis Guilder is proof of the above. His friendship with Arnie is an exception rather than a rule in the Hell known as high school (yes, I keep using that word. Hell. And yes, I do know what it means, aka the DMV and high school. Hell has less screaming, though, than either of those.)
But it is proof that there are some out there with actual character, who can see beyond the surface, and who is willing to dig for gold.
I loved the fact that Dennis and Arnie built ant farms as children. There is just something endearing in that. Maybe it’s because that is a project that requires investment and patience, much like being Arnie’s friend.
But, as I stated before, Christine is scary. And actually, it is a lot scarier than what I had previously given it credit for.
First of all, we have Christine herself. Notice how I say “herself,” and not “itself.”
In other words, Christine may technically be an “object”, but she (again, with the pronouns) is definitely a character in her own right.
And that is the genius of King: he writes wonderful characters who are people (and even animals.) However, he can turn anything into a character. In fact, I am sure a novel will be out one day that features a plastic Wal-Mart bag who we either end up rooting for, in its quest to not be replaced by paper bags, or perhaps we learn to fear Wal-Mart plastic bags because this one tries to take over a store in its anger over being replaced by the paper bags and ends up killing the customers in a totally gruesome manner…
(And yes, that book will be a “take my money now situation,” natch.)
Well, humor aside, Christine may be a vehicle, but she is a character in her own right. And a villain, to boot (King has written more than a few of those, both human and inhuman.)
And one scary character as well.
The scenes when Christine in on the rampage are some of the most frightening scenes that I have ever read in any book, let alone a King book.
In particular, the scene when Christine hunts down Buddy Reperton particularly stands out in my mind. Now, Buddy really did have that coming to him. He was an asshole, there is no other way around it. But still, being hunted by Christine and being toyed with in much the same manner as a cat toys with a mouse that it is about to kill…yikes is all I can say!
And the little touch at the end, when Buddy sees the ghost of Roland LeBay is just what the doctor (or is it writer?) ordered to scare us Constant Constant Readers into a change of pants!
Speaking of which, Roland LeBay…
Let’s talk about him for a bit.
Somehow, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Or, as a certain well-known and beloved character in the Dark Tower series may have stated: Coincidence has been cancelled!
The two share a name, but they could not be more different, right?
Well, they are pretty different. But there does seem to be an underlying theme.
And that theme would be obsession.
Think about that for a moment.
Roland Deschain is obsessed with his Tower.
In fact, he is so obsessed that he is willing to sacrifice his spiritual son so that he can progress in his quest.
Roland LeBay is obsessed with his vehicle.
In fact, he is so obsessed that he is willing to let his daughter choke to death, and refuses to get rid of the vehicle even after her death.
So yeah, sounds pretty familiar, huh?
However, I think #teamLeBay wins the obsession contest over #teamDeschain.
#teamDeschain is at least capable of showing some humanity at certain points, and does try to redeem himself. So he loses this contest, although this is contest one probably does not want to win.
In fact, #teamLeBay is so obsessed with this vehicle, that it carries over to his death. The ghost of Roland LeBay is the other major player in this story, even though it gets overshadowed by the crazy vehicle.
But I need to give the ghost of LeBay its due.
After all, it is seen several times in the story.
The scene where Arnie is eating pizza in Christine, and sees LeBay sitting next to him, is tres creepy. I didn’t know whether to laugh at the piece of pizza that went MIA, or shudder even more.
What was even scarier was the fact that Arnie also saw himself in LeBay’s ghost (more on that later, though.)
I think the scariest scene in the book is the scene when Arnie drives Dennis home via Christine on New Year’s Eve.
Dennis sees the ghost of LeBay in the rear view mirror. Somehow, that’s gruesome right there. Just looking in the rear view mirror…
What do you see?
Oh, nothing, ghosts of dead, decaying, rotting bodies of evil guys and stuff…
And the fact that Christine was able to momentarily travel back in time, taking Arnie and Dennis back to the 1950’s…wow!
Suddenly the streets are not familiar, and Dennis can’t find his house, because it hasn’t been built yet.
Wow, wow and wow again.
There was a wonderful, dreamlike surreal quality to that scene that I just loved. You are pretty sure that Dennis is not hallucinating any of it, but you aren’t 100% sure. And that makes it even more frightening.
Another thing to love about this novel is the fact that it addresses a taboo topic: bullying.
Now, Christine is a scary book. It has ghosts and a possessed car. And those also make for a great story.
But at its heart, Christine is a novel about bullying, and how it affects people.
Too often, people tend to dismiss bullying. They will say it’s kid stuff. They will tell the victim to ignore it, and it will go away.
In other words, kids have no rights. I was bullied constantly as a child. But I was a child, and I had no rights. If I was an adult, I could file a police report for either harassment or assault, and start a paper trail.
But children don’t have that option. Children are forced to see the bullying as some twisted “rite of passage.”
And people wonder how we get a Carrie White, or Arnie Cunningham.
Again, it goes back to Laverne Cox: Hurt people hurt people.
And like Carrie White, Arnie was a hurt human being.
In the book, various characters, such as Dennis, talk about how Arnie has “changed.”
My question is: did Arnie really change?
My answer: no, he didn’t.
Sure, he may have hid his pain for a long time, and managed to convince everyone (his parents, Dennis, etc) that he was okay.
However, Arnie was actually pretty similar to the deceased Roland LeBay in a lot of ways.
LeBay was obviously an angry person throughout his life. He was a man who never really loved anyone or anything, other than Christine, his vehicle. They were a match made in hell.
Arnie Cunningham was also angry man. He may not have shown his anger in the way that LeBay did, but it was obvious that he was angry.
An ex of mine once told me that “depression is anger turned inwards.” I think this is actually a good description of Arnie Cunningham.
Arnie spent his life being marginalized.
He was bullied at school. Most of the other kids would not accept him. In the world of high school, Dennis Guilder is an exception, not a rule.
Even at home, he was marginalized by his parents. Arnie had talent as a mechanic, but his parents would not accept that, and put pressure on him to attend college, rather than pursuing his talent for working with cars.
So, is it any wonder that Christine and the ghost of Roland LeBay were able to exert their influence on Arnie? After all, kindred spirits.
The fact that when Arnie saw the ghost of LeBay in Christine, and then saw an older version of himself is telling. After all, the two really are cut from the same cloth: angry, never experienced any type of true love.
And that is the only antidote for an Arnie Cunningham or Carrie White: we must have a world where everyone, even the “ugly pizza faces,” can find love or acceptance.
There may not be possessed vehicles in our world which are capable of exacting revenge on bullies, but there are worse things, such as bombs and guns. Until we realize this, our Arnie Cunningham’s will remind us that bullying has unpleasant consequences.