Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
Lately, the world has been a bit topsy-turvy.
Maybe I am looking at it through a looking glass…
Maybe I traveled into an alternate reality, where Superman is the adopted son of undocumented migrant workers, and has a really, really close relationship with Zod, and Batman is literally backwards, and kind of sucks…
Well, actually no.
Not that I am knocking on any of the above, and wouldn’t be open to a little possible experimentation…
Although I could argue that Barry Allen and his ill-advised time travel has had some kind of effect on my reality…
After all, the Cubs are World Series champions!
Now, if only it had won me the lottery…
Or at least given me cool super powers!
Okay, back on topic…
I have actually traveled to alternate reality, even though that trip to Earth 2 is still on my bucket list.
In other words, I have read a book written by that Bachman fella…
Well, I am really not sure if those guys are one in the same, even if that whole story about death from cancer of the pseudonym is slightly suspicious…
Hey, you never know. If young boys and and middle-aged priests can “die” in one world, and be re-born into another (cooler) world, maybe writers can be stricken with cancer of the pseudonym, and end up being re-born on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower, where the writer in question takes a grisly sort of janitorial type of job, collecting macabre souvenirs as a form of payment…
Okay, again back on topic.
So, I read a Stephen King book.
Yeah, water is wet, the sun rises in the east, and Cheetos make terrible leaders of the free world…
So what else is new?
Well, this book is actually new, at least somewhat.
As most of us probably know, early in his career, The King of Horror decided that he would like to write non-horror stories, every now and again.
While King has actually written some fantastic books that can be classified as not horror (The Talisman, 11/22/63, Different Seasons and The Eyes of the Dragon all readily come to mind), early on his career, he was bound by some silly rules about how many books he could publish in a year.
Somebody thought that there was such a thing as too many Stephen King books! And they thought I was the crazy one!
So King did what any sensible King of Horror would do. He created a pseudonym.
As far as I know, this pseudonym did not come to life and murder people, forcing a flock of birds to be called, so they could carry him off, kicking and screaming.
(However, if he is employed by the friendly folks known as SAMCRO, all bets are off, as you gotta do what you gotta do to survive over there in the charming town of Charming, California.)
King named this pseudonym Richard Bachman. And for a while, that Bachman fella did pretty well for himself.
He wasn’t a horror writer, per se. No, Bachman explored the darkness of human nature. Man’s inhumanity to man, in other words.
And Bachman also wrote of our obsession with television, and our need to be constantly entertained, even at the expense of the feelings (and maybe even lives) of our fellow man.
In other words, I am currently reading The Running Man.
Dicky Bachman has come out to play.
So let’s indulge him, as we read and dissect The Running Man.
And, as always:
When one thinks of horror, often one thinks of horror movies.
These movies are fantastical in some ways. We all know that someone cannot possibly be shot 23,889,209 times and still get up to chase sexually precocious teenagers and kill them in inventive ways (although that is a good way to burn that free 100 or so minutes you may have that day. More if you watch the cut scenes on the “extras” menu.)
But often, real life can contain plenty of horror…
But seriously, just turn on the news any given night, and tell me that man’s inhumanity to man is not the most horrific thing out there?
And there is one guy who understands this very well, and who has written some compelling literature on the subject, as a matter of fact…
You guessed it, we are talking about Stephen King!
*insert shocked look right about here*
King has been called The Master of Modern Horror (but you can call him The Master for short), and for good reason.
A rabid St. Bernard that makes you want to avoid car trouble at all costs?
Check and mate!
While most of the above horrors are not actually “real horrors,” one of King’s greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to include elements of realism in his writing.
So we associate The Shining the famous phrase “Redrum” (spell it backwards, for the uninitiated), along with a haunted hotel and a scary lady who is a permanent residence of a room with a famous number
There is also the matter of the guy in the dog costume…
Well, back to my point.
Which is that King can insert reality into his works. The Shining is a great example of this, because it deals with alcoholism, unemployment, child abuse and the list goes on.
In other words, we can relate the above list, since we have all experienced at least one of those things in our lifetime.
And that is what makes the story so terrifying: since we can relate to those topics, it is not that far out of left field that there may be a haunted hotel somewhere out there, where we avoid room 217 (or 237), along with the hedge animals and fire extinguishers, because if it can happen to the seemingly normal Torrance family, it sure can happen to us.
King writes about people. These people may be placed into extraordinary situations, but they are still people, who could, at least theoretically, be any one of us.
And these people do not always fight supernatural monsters, Often, humans are the monsters, and what a human can do to a fellow human is far worse than what a haunted hotel or even a rabid St. Bernard can do to us.
One of King’s books that deals with man’s inhumanity to man (or, more appropriately, woman) is Gerald’s Game.
Gerald’s Game contains hardly any elements of the supernatural, but it is still a frightening read. The monsters in this book are human, so the scenario is one that is plausible for anyone.
So strap in (but don’t handcuff yourself), and get ready for the ride that is Gerald’s Game.
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.
Written last year, but re-blogging because I can!
Oh, and happy holidays, everyone!
Dear Constant Reader family,
I hope that you are doing well, and that your year has been happy and productive. I know mine certainly has!
And Molly is quite well, too. Although the evil grows stronger, day by day…
But enough about my blood family members. I love them to death (ha!) but let’s talk about my “other” family…
Yes, my “other” family…
I consider my characters to be my babies, so that makes them family, right?
And if killing off your main characters is a sign of love, well then, I love them to death as well!
So, where to start? Since so much is happening with these guys, it’s a little hard to keep track, but here goes nothing…
Let’s talk about my childe, Roland. With Roland, it begins and ends with him chasing an unknown male in dark clothing across an arid region. Gotta love Roland, although he can be a bit repetitive at times…
And then there are Roland’s friends…
In fact, I have trouble keeping track of them, it seems like he has a different group of friends each time…
Speaking of friends, those kids who live in Derry!
Poor Pennywise, always getting tripped up by those meddling kids!
But when I get tired of Derry, I take vacations to other scenic towns…
But I don’t get out nearly as often as I would like…I seem to be prone to car trouble!
Jack gets around, or so I hear. I don’t envy him though, especially when it comes to the houses he has to visit!
Although he does encounter some interesting folks along the way, I suppose.
Sometimes my children take it one step further and do some really crazy things…
Like traveling back in time, for instance. I hear November in 1963 is really nice, for instance, especially in the Dallas, TX area.
Every now and then I need to take a break. So I just stay in a remote hotel, because sometimes I need to get away from it all. Although I would advise against drinking anything suggested by the management at the hotel (and if Lloyd or Delbert offers to help you, my suggestion would be to run). I hear the red rum is a house specialty, though, so try it if you dare.
All in all, most of the family is doing quite well, health-wise at least. Well, except for Brady…I can never wake him up!
And then there is the matter of Annie…
She is a bit spoiled, always thinking she comes first. I don’t want to hobble her growth in any way, but I did have to take away the sharp objects from her, especially the axes. Cockadoodie children, I tell ya…what can you do but love them, right, Mr. Man?
I take care of my health too, so I can be in good shape to watch out for my family. I see my doctor on a regular basis (he is a little bald doctor, actually). I watch out for speeding vans now, when I am out walking. I avoid eating too much pie, especially if it’s a strawberry pie given to me by the white man from town. Most importantly, I get my flu shot every year! M- O- O- N, that spells good health, I’m told.
So, Constant Reader, I enjoyed this recap of my year, and I hope that yours has been a bloody good one as well. It is time for me to make my final Christmas preparations, I hear the bazaar will be closing soon, so I hope I don’t miss any good sales! I wish you a Happy Holidays, and may you get a bunch of
my books good books under the Christmas tree!
My life for you,
Little disclaimer: This letter was not actually written by The Master. It just comes from the imagination of one crazy nerd with too much time on her hands. But you knew that!
both all of my readers. Thanks for stopping by, and you guys are awesome, every single one of you. Peace out, and I hope your year has been a bloody good one!
Have you ever…
Lived with a person who the human version of a volcano, and you didn’t know if this person was the dormant kind of volcano, or the other kind?
Loved this person beyond all reason, but spent much of your time in fear of them, eventually fearing for your life?
Been isolated, through no fault of your own, with nowhere to turn?
Felt conflicted, not knowing whether to protect yourself, or devote yet more energy and resources to protect your loved one, from his or herself, in the hopes that this person would not self destruct, so that you guys could attempt to build a life together?
Spent untold hours blaming yourself for the awful situation, even though you were actually the reason for anything good in that situation, although you could not see it, because you were too mired in guilt, defending yourself from the attacks that you were sure that you caused?
Still felt sad, and even guilty, even after you escaped your situation? Not knowing how you would go on without this person who you loved so much, but somehow finding a way?
So, why are we talking about a domestic abuse situation?
After all, that’s what I just described right?
Someone who was in an abusive relationship, but somehow managed to escape, but still have survivor’s guilt?
Well, you would be correct. But as always, there is more to meet the eye…
And it is one of his most famous, maybe even his most famous, with a movie that is perhaps even more notorious?
Yes, in case you haven’t guessed, I am referring to The Shining.
And let’s take a moment to acknowledge the red-headed stepchild of the family, otherwise known as The Shinning. As we all know, all work and no play makes Homer something, something…
But yes, that The Shining. The same one that is such a huge part of our culture now.
The same one that is the subject of some pretty entertaining memes.
Admit, you have muttered “redrum” in *that voice.*
Or been petrified by blood coming out of the walls.
Or freaked out by people in animal costumes.
I could go on and on. The Shining is a frightening book and movie.
But The Shining is so much more than just being scary.
The Shining is about family, and just what we will do to protect the ones we love the most.
The Shining is also about addiction and abuse, and how those can destroy a family from the inside out, even without the help of a haunted hotel.
In other words, for most of us, family is central. And losing family is devastating, no matter the circumstances. Over and over, King drives this theme home in The Shining.
So, welcome to this month’s read and review, and as always:
The book begins with an introduction to the Torrance family, which consists of Jack, his wife Wendy and their five year old son Danny. It is revealed that Jack has recently become unemployed from his job as a schoolteacher, and is interviewing for a position as the caretaker at a hotel called The Overlook Hotel, in Sidewinder, Colorado.
It turns out that the interview is just a formality, and Jack is hired for the position, although the hotel’s manager, Stuart Ullman, is reluctant to hire Jack, as Jack has had past problems with alcoholism and controlling his temper. Jack assures Ullman that the alcoholism is no longer an issues, and that he and his family can handle the isolation that will come with the job, which will require Jack and his family to live at the hotel during the winter and be cut off from all civilization.
During a tour of the hotel, the maintenance man, Watson, shows Jack how to adjust the pressure of the boiler so that the hotel does not catch fire. Jack also learns that the previous caretaker, Delbert Grady, murdered his family during his stint as a caretaker. Watson also tells Jack that the hotel has had a few deaths, and one of those occurred during the previous summer. An older woman, Mrs. Massey, stayed at the hotel with her much younger suitor. When her suitor abandoned her, Mrs. Massey committed suicide in room 217, in the bathtub.
In the meantime, Danny and Wendy await Jack’s return. The Torrance family has relocated from Vermont to Colorado, due to Jack’s job loss, and Wendy has some concern that the move has not been easy for Danny. We also learn that Danny has been a victim of Jack’s temper, as Jack accidentally broke Danny’s arm a few years prior, due to Danny spilling beer on his school papers.
We also learn that Danny is gifted with some unusual abilities: he sometimes has knowledge of future events, or events in the present that he would otherwise have no knowledge. Danny sees these visions through his friend Tony, another boy only visible to Danny, and referred to as his “imaginary friend” by Jack and Wendy. We learn through Danny that Jack and Wendy’s marriage has been troubled, due to Jack’s alcoholism, and that Danny has feared that his parents will divorce.
Danny has another frightening vision brought to him by Tony as he is outside waiting for his father to get home: he sees himself in an unfamiliar place being chased by someone, and also sees the phrase “REDRUM.” Danny becomes frightened and has no idea what this vision could mean.
Finally, Jack arrives home. Danny is overjoyed to see his father and glad that his father got the job at The Overlook Hotel. However, Danny thinks that he sees a bloody mallet in the front seat of his father’s car. When he looks at the front seat again, Danny realizes that is just a bag of groceries.
Jack makes a trip with Danny to a pay phone, so that he call his friend Al Shockley, who helped him get the job at the Overlook Hotel. Jack recalls how, during one drunken night, Al hit a bicycle that was left in the middle of the road while driving himself and Jack home. It is this incident that prompted Wendy to ask for a divorce, but Jack is able to stop drinking, and Wendy decides to stay, as she loves her husband and son.
That night, Danny has yet another, and Tony warns him not to go to the Overlook for the winter. Danny is frightened, but does not say anything to his parents, as he knows how important this opportunity is for his family.
The Torrance family then arrives at The Overlook Hotel. Danny is still feeling uneasy, but does not tell his parents, as he is still aware how important this opportunity is for his family.
After his family arrives at The Overlook, Danny is introduced to the hotel’s chef, Dick Halloran. Danny and Halloran take a liking to each other immediately.
Halloran is able to ascertain that Danny possesses psychic abilities, to which he refers to as “the shining.” Halloran tells Danny that he is not alone in possessing this gift, as Halloran also possesses it, although his ability is not as strong as Danny’s. Before Halloran bids Danny goodbye for the winter, he warns Danny that he may see things in the hotel, as the Overlook is an old hotel and several unpleasant events have occurred there. Halloran tells Danny that what he sees are akin to pictures in a book, and that nothing should be able to harm him. Halloran warns Danny to stay out of room 217, as he may experience something unpleasant in that room.
Ullman gives the Torrance family a tour of the hotel shortly after Halloran and the other employees leave for the winter. True to Halloran’s statement, Danny sees what appears to be blood and brains on a wall. However, Danny looks away, and the vision soon vanishes.
Several weeks pass uneventfully for the Torrance family. Jack is finally able to work on his writing, and thinks that he may be able to finish the play he is working on. Jack and Wendy notice that Danny is a little withdrawn, but think nothing of it. Danny continues to push himself to learn how to read, so that he may be able to communicate with his friend Tony, who has shown him signs with written words in the past.
One day, Jack finds a wasp nest on the roof of the hotel. He kills the wasps with a bug bomb, and gives the nest to Danny as sort of a souvenir. Danny is thrilled with the nest, and puts it in his bedroom.
That night, Danny is getting ready for bed in the bathroom. When he does not come out of the bathroom, Jack and Wendy become anxious, and Jack breaks down the door. They find Danny in a trance, but are able to rouse him. Danny does not remember what happened, so Jack and Wendy put him to bed.
Later on, in the middle of the night, Jack and Wendy are awakened by Danny. Danny is being attacked by the wasps from the nest given to him by Jack earlier. Jack is able to kill the wasps, but cannot understand why the poison he used earlier did not work.
The next day, Wendy and Jack take Danny to see a doctor in town. The doctor examines Danny and is able to find nothing physically wrong with Danny.
The doctor asks Danny to try and summon Tony. Danny falls into a trance again, but is unable remember anything when he comes to. However, Danny tells the doctor that his mother had a sister who passed away as a child, which is information he did not previously have. Danny also tells the doctor that his parents had previously contemplated a divorce, but have since changed their minds. The doctor refuses to believe that there is anything unusual about Danny. and reassures Jack and Wendy that Danny is simply an imaginative child, and that he will eventually grow out of his unusual behavior.
While he is setting rat traps in the basement, Jack finds a scrapbook of sorts. When he opens up the scrapbook, Jack finds much information in regards to the history of the Overlook. It turns out that the Overlook has seen many changes in ownership and has also been the scene of some violent crimes. Jack becomes absorbed in this history, and also begins to exhibit behaviors that he exhibited when he was drinking, such as wiping his lips and dry swallowing Excedrin.
Danny also begins exploring the hotel, without the knowledge of his parents. He is again tempted by Room 217, despite Halloran’s warnings. Danny is able to resist the temptation, but thinks that he sees a fire extinguisher come to life, turning into a snake. However, once again, he does not tell his parents about this incident, as he understands how important the job at the hotel is for his family.
Jack makes a trip to the library to do more research on The Overlook Hotel. He places a phone call to Stuart Ullman, goading Ullman in regards to the history of the hotel, stating that he will one day write a book about the hotel. This angers Ullman, and Jack regrets his actions as well.
After speaking with Ullman, Jack receives a call from his friend Al Shockley. It turns out that Al owns part of the hotel, and is angry at Jack for making that phone call. Al forces Jack to promise not to call Ullman again, and to not write any books about the hotel. Jack is angered, but agrees, in order to keep his job.
Both Wendy and Danny become worried about Jack. They sense that Jack is having trouble coping with his alcoholism, but are unsure of how to help him. Wendy asks Danny if he would like to leave The Overlook, and Danny agrees that he would. However, Danny is not happy with the alternative option: staying with Wendy’s mother, as Wendy and her mother do not get along. Wendy agrees to stay at the hotel with Jack for the winter, and hopes that things will get better.
One day, as Jack is trimming the hedge animals in front of the hotel, he is badly frightened. He thinks that the hedge animals have moved. He tells himself that this is impossible, and likely a hallucination caused by his struggles to remain sober.
The weather worsens in Sidewinder, and the Torrance family begins to feel the hotel closing in on them. The only means of communication is a CB radio. They are otherwise cut off from the world, unable to leave the hotel.
One day, Danny finally gives in to temptation and visits room 217. When he opens the bathroom door, he encounters the ghost of Mrs. Massey. The ghost then attempts to strangle Danny.
While Danny is being attacked in Room 217, Jack and Wendy have dozed off in their quarters. However, Jack awakens to the voice of his dead father on the CB radio, warning him that Danny has broken the rules and visited room 217.
Once Wendy and Jack come to their senses, Danny appears at the top of the stairs. Danny is bruised and bleeding from his encounter with the ghost in room 217.
Almost immediately, Wendy blames Jack for Danny’s injuries, convinced that Jack tried to hurt Danny in his sleep. She chases Jack off and locks herself and Danny in the bedroom.
Jack is angered by Wendy’s treatment of him, and retreats to the empty bar at the hotel. Jack then begins to fantasize about drinking again.
The fantasies about drinking seem to become real as Jack strikes up a conversation with the bartender he believes would have been serving the hotel back in its prime. Jack refers to this man as Lloyd, and requests that Lloyd serve him 20 martinis. Lloyd also appears to commiserate with Jack over his troubles.
Finally, Jack realizes what he is doing and snaps out of his trance. Wendy appears with Danny at the bar, and Danny begins to have convulsions. Jack is able to bring Danny out of his catatonic state, and tries to find out what happened to Danny.
Danny tells his parents about what happened in room 2017, along with the other incidents that he has experienced during the family’s stay at the hotel. Wendy also tells Jack how worried she and Danny have been about him, as he appears to be struggling with his alcoholism. Jack heads to Room 217, to see if he can find anyone or anything there.
When Jack arrives at Room 217, he investigates it and does not find anything. However, when he leaves the room, he notices that someone or something is watching him. However, he tells his family that he did not find anything in the room.
Later that night, Jack and Wendy begin to argue over their situation. Jack reminds Wendy that they are snowed in, and that an escape attempt may kill them. However, Wendy remembers that the hotel has snow mobiles, and Jack reluctantly promises to test them out the next day, so that they may possibly escape the hotel.
That night, Jack struggles with his anger at his family, as he feels that he will have no other options if they leave the hotel. He dreams that he sees a ghost of one his students in Room 217, and that he attacks that ghost. However, the ghost then turns into his son. Jack awakens to find himself standing over Danny’s bed, and shocked by his behavior.
In the morning, Jack takes a look at the snow mobile and finds it in working order. However, he is unable to bear the idea of leaving the hotel for a fate unknown, and deliberately sabotages the snow mobile, so that his family will remain stranded at The Overlook.
The weeks pass without incident. Danny tells his mother that he still afraid of the hotel, but that he understands that his family has no other options.
One day, Danny is outside playing on the hotel’s playground. He is playing in the miniature version of the hotel when he begins to feel trapped inside, and very frightened. Danny makes his way out of the playhouse, and heads back to the hotel.
Danny also has a bad scare when he heads back to the hotel: he sees the hedge animals move, and they begin to chase him. However, Danny is able to make it back to the hotel, where he collapses on the porch from fright and exhaustion.
Danny tells his parents what happened. However, Jack does not believe him and tries to convince his son that the movement of the hedge animals was a figment of his imagination. Danny realizes that Jack is lying and that Jack has also seen the animals move. When he tries to tell his father this, Jack slaps him across the face, angering Wendy.
Jack and his family are awakened later that night by the sound of the elevator running. The elevator had not previously been in use. Jack gets up to investigate the noise, with Wendy and Danny in tow.
When he investigates the elevator, Jack does not find anyone or anything there. However, the Torrance family finds evidence of a party, which includes streamers and balloons. Wendy and Danny also hear noises associated with a party, such as people talking and music. Jack denies that anything unusual is happening, and chalks up the issues with the elevator to a short circuit.
A few days later, Danny comes across an old clock that no longer appears to be working. However, the clock comes to life, and the figures in it commit lewd acts. The clock then stops, and Danny has another vision. He sees the word REDRUM again, and realizes that it is murder spelled backwards. Danny is terrified, and sends a telepathic plea to Dick Halloran for help.
Hallorann is in Florida, working at his winter job. He receives Danny’s message, and realizes that the situation at The Overlook Hotel is serious, and that he must return to Colorado as soon as he can.
As Hallorann is looking for a flight to take him to Colorado, Wendy and Danny sense that the hotel is closing in on them.. The hotel is working through Jack, in order to get to Danny. When Danny tries to leave his quarters, he is accosted by a man in a dog costume, who tries to attack him. Danny continues to call to Hallorann for help, but the hotel senses what Danny is doing and puts a stop to it.
Finally, Hallorann is able to find a flight to Colorado, and heads to the hotel, hoping that he will not be too late.
Jack becomes convinced that the hotel wants him, and not Wendy or Danny. Jack encounters the ghosts of the hotel’s previous employees and guests, and is able to get drunk. One of the ghosts, the ghost of Delbert Grady (the previous caretaker of the hotel), alerts Jack to the fact that Danny is trying to escape from The Overlook, and tells Jack that he must do whatever he needs to do to correct Danny. Jack is also shown a vision in the clock: a man beating a little boy with a roque mallet. The clock then fills with blood, much to Jack’s disbelief.
Finally, Hallorann is able to find a flight to Colorado, and begins the trek to Sidewinder.
Wendy and Danny stay sequestered in their quarters, and are able to hear Jack in his drunken rage. Wendy ventures out of their quarters to find food for her and Danny, and finds Jack passed out at the bar. She realizes that Jack is somehow drunk, even though there is no alcohol anywhere in the hotel.
Jack regains consciousness, and begins to attack Wendy. Wendy realizes that he intends to kill her and Danny. Danny comes to the defense of his mother, and Jack also attacks Danny. Wendy is able to finally subdue Jack by hitting him on the head with a glass.
Wendy and Danny drag Jack to the pantry, intending to lock him in there, for his safety and theirs. Jack regains consciousness and fights them, but they are able to shut the door on him in the nick of time.
Even though they retreat to the their quarters, Wendy and Danny are still able to hear Jack’s protests, along with the elevator and other sounds that indicate that the hotel is coming to life.
The ghost of Delbert Grady finds Jack in the pantry. Jack promises to kill Wendy and Danny, in exchange for his freedom. The door is somehow unlocked, and Jack picks up a roque mallet, and looks to find his wife and son.
In the meantime, Hallorann continues to make his trek to The Overlook. The hotel realizes what he is doing, and sends him a message, in an attempt to scare him off. Hallorann fights it, and is determined to make his way to The Overlook.
Wendy begins to suspect that Jack has somehow escaped the pantry. She heads downstairs, but this proves to be a mistake, as Jack is waiting for her. Jack attacks her with the mallet, but Wendy defends herself with a knife. She heads back upstairs, but an angry, inhuman Jack follows her, determined to kill her.
Finally, Hallorann arrives at the hotel, but is attacked by one of the hedge animals.
Wendy is able to flee from Jack, and hides in the bathroom. She defends herself with a razor blade she finds in the medicine cabinet, all the while wondering where Danny is hiding, as she has been unable to find him. She also realizes that the hotel has completely possessed her husband, and that Jack is no longer in control of himself.
Hallorann is able to fend off the hedge animal by lighting it on fire and makes his way into the hotel. However, he is then attacked by Jack and loses consciousness.
Danny is in some kind of catatonic state. He is visited by Tony, and realizes that Tony is a future version of himself, Daniel Anthony Torrance. Tony tells Danny that his mother and Hallorann may be killed by Jack, unless Danny does something about it. Tony then reminds Danny that he will remember what his father forgot, and vanishes. Danny then returns to consciousness.
Finding himself in the attic on the third floor, Danny hears his father calling for him. Resisting the urge to obey his father, Danny attempts to hide from Jack.
Wendy regains consciousness, and finds Hallorann. She rouses him, and both hear the sounds of Jack on the prowl for his son.
Danny confronts the creature that had once been his father. He tells his father that the hotel is using him, and will discard him once he has served its purpose. Jack briefly makes an appearance, and tells Danny to run.
Danny then realizes that his father has not maintained the boiler, and that the hotel will go up in flames. He runs, searching for his mother and Hallorann, so that they may escape before it is too late.
Wendy, Hallorann and Danny are reunited. Halloran senses the urgency, and the three make their escape. The hotel catches on fire shortly aftewards and is completely destroyed.
Even after they escape, the hotel tries to urge Hallorann to hurt Danny. Hallorann fights the urge, and escapes with Wendy and Danny by using the snow mobile. Soon, they reach civilization, away from the hotel and the haunted grounds.
Several months later, Hallorann has found work at lodge in Maine. Danny and Wendy also stay at the lodge for the summer, but Wendy plans on relocating to Maryland, in favor of a new job and fresh start. Danny is still saddened over the death of his father, but Hallorann reassures him that he will always be there for him, and that Danny will eventually recover from his ordeal.
I have said it once, and I will say it again: I appear to be incapable of reading anything that does not make me its emotional bitch in the end.
And The Shining is no different.
Well, now I can add The Shining to that list.
And I would not be alone in that sentiment. Out of all of King’s work, it seems like The Shining is the one that has had the biggest grip on popular culture.
Even non horror and non King fans get what “redrum” means.
Jack Torrance, you have failed your hotel!
(OK, that one was admittedly bad. Maybe Jack should have tried harder to save his
city hotel. OK, I will stop now before someone sends the ghosts of the Overlook or perhaps Damien Darhk after me for making these bad jokes!)
And there is a good reason why The Shining (both the book and movie) has the grip that it has on popular culture. Actually, there are a few good reasons.
The Shining is scary. Really scary. Really fucking scary. Fucking scary as hell, as a matter of fact.
OK, Captain Obvious is on board…
Stephen King wrote The Shining. He is the King of scary. So of course his books are scary, right?
Well, many times, King’s books are scary. King does a lot of things besides scary (which he also does in The Shining, and which we will talk about later), but if you mention his name, the first word that comes up is scary. That is what he is primarily known for: writing books that will scare his Constant Constant Readers into a change of pants.
(Or is that just me? OK, just checking, no judgement, right?)
Well, add The Shining to that list. And believe me, it has earned that spot on the list.
First of all, there is the setting. We have an isolated, abandoned hotel in the dead of winter. Forget about the ghosts for a minute, and think about that instead. Being trapped in the middle of nowhere is a real fear. And The Shining plays upon that fear almost right from the opening pages, before we even have the pleasure of making the acquaintance of those lovely, hospitable creatures that call The Overlook Hotel home.
In fact, I could even rightfully argue that the hotel is a character, in and of itself, in much the same way that Danny, Wendy, Jack and Dick Hallorann are characters.
I find this utterly fascinating: only King has the ability to turn an inanimate object, like an isolated hotel, into a compelling, fleshed out character. Much love for The Master!
But, I don’t want to forget about the ghosts. No, let’s not do that!
Now, the build up to the ghosts is a nice, slow burn. There are a couple of flashes here and there, like the blood and brains Danny sees in the one room on his first tour, along with the incident with the wasps. But King spends the first half of the book getting us invested in Danny and his parents, and even the hotel. So the ghosts take a back burner, at least at first.
But then King unleashes them. And good things (or is it really scary things?) come to those who wait. And the payoff is grand.
It had been many years since I read this book. And a few details may have escaped me. But lucky me, they came back to me on my re-read.
There is the ghost of Mrs. Massey. Now, thanks to Kubrik and his movie, I have never really forgotten about her. But she deserves mention here. I may make jokes and kid around with all The Shining references, but here is my confession: I do that to hide the fact that she still scares me into a change of pants, even to this day.
(Again, we cool and no judgement, right? Whew!)
Although Mrs. Massey scared me, and the guy in the dog costume scared me (who does that? Who wears a dog costume and makes the rounds at a party, greeting people by barking? Ew much?), along with the ghosts of Grady and Lloyd, I think the honor goes to…
You got it, the clock!
I know that a wind up clock is not what most people associate with this “redrum” of a book. However, that is one seriously scary scene. And it would actually be two scenes, as Danny sees the figures in the clock do some unspeakable things to each other after it comes to life, and then Jack also sees the same clock come to life, showing him a guy murder a kid with a roque mallet. And then the clock fills with blood. Nice touch, Sai King!
Okay, we have paid the ghosts their due.
So let’s take away the ghosts now. Let’s take away the spooky hotel. Let’s take away a little boy’s mysterious, PSI powers.
We are doing away with anything and everything supernatural.
With most horror stories, if you took away all the supernatural elements, you would not have a story. You would have the equivalent of a car with no engines, no tires, probably even no stereo to listen to the music on.
But this is where King separates himself from the pack, and shows us why he has earned the moniker “The Master.”
You can take away anything and everything supernatural in The Shining.
And you are not left with an empty vehicle that won’t go anywhere or play any music.
Rather, you have a vehicle that is functional. It may have no “extras”, like the fancy tires and state of the art stereo system.
But this vehicle will run. We can drive it, and it can still take us places and can be counted on for a journey.
In other words, The Shining is not just about ghosts.
The ghosts make the story fun, and provide some great scares (again, Mrs. Massey). But they are not what makes this story so memorable and so effective on so many levels.
At its core, The Shining explores familiar territory. Or familiar to anyone who has had to “adult” for more than thirty seconds of his/her life.
The Shining is about family.
The Shining is about addiction and the devastating effects it has on the addict and the addict’s loved ones.
The Shining is about unemployment, and how devastating it can be to lose one’s job and place in the world.
In fact, the Torrance family’s stay at The Overlook Hotel could be seen as metaphor for being trapped in an abusive relationship.
In an abusive relationship, the abuser will use isolation as a tactic. This is what my ex did to me: he cut me off from everyone and everything that I loved. And then the monsters were unleashed.
Like Danny, I lived in fear. I also constantly questioned myself and blamed myself, as Danny did, when his father and the hotel would do terrible things. I believed, like Danny, that I had caused those things.
Like Danny, I believed that there was something I could do to keep the monsters at bay, and prevent the terrible things from happening. I shouldered much responsibility for what happened, and looked for ways to prevent (like Danny avoiding certain parts of the hotel.)
But, like Danny, it became too much, and escape became necessary to save my life. Danny agonized over the escape, and so did I. Escaping from an abuser is never easy, as you are running from someone you love, sometimes a person you love beyond all reason.
And the recovery is not easy, as evidenced by the end of the book. Like Danny, I spent much time crying.
But, again, like Danny, I found the light. Light is never so beautiful as when you escape that darkness.
Well, that’s it for the roller coaster otherwise known as The Shining. Join me next month for a reunion of sorts, when we review and dissect the follow up to The Shining, aka Doctor Sleep!
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Even though The Shining is an early King work, it is still set squarely in the King universe, and shares some notable connections with other King books. Here are the connections I found:
-The most obvious connection to another book is to Doctor Sleep, which follows the adventures of Danny Torrance in adulthood.
-The town of Sidewinder is mentioned in the novel The Talisman.
-In the book The Drawing of the Three, Eddie recalls a movie that he has seen, titled The Shining. Even if Stephen King does not exist in every reality (or even most of them), apparently some version of The Shining does exist on more than one level of The Tower, and may even exist on all levels of The Tower.
-In the novel It, Dick Halloran makes a brief appearance in a story in a flashback regards to Derry’s history. Hallorann saves the life of Wil Hanlon, who would later go on to father Mike Hanlon, one of the members of the Losers Club.
Once upon a time, there was man known as Uncle Stevie.
Uncle Stevie liked to tell scary stories.
There were bad guys in Uncle Stevie’s stories. Lots of bad guys.
He told a story about a town that was invaded by vampires.
But Uncle Stevie was not a bad man. No, not at all.
In fact, Uncle Stevie had children of his own. But those children could not read his stories, because they were children, after all. Uncle Stevie did not know what to do. He couldn’t scare his own children, but he wanted to write something they would like and not be scared of. Uncle Stevie thought for a long time.
One day, Uncle Stevie got an idea. He decided to write a fairy tale of sorts, and dedicate it his daughter, Naomi. Excited, Uncle Stevie got to work right away and wrote his new story. It took him a long time, but he finally finished writing the story.
Uncle Stevie decided to call this new story The Eyes of the Dragon. And his children were happy, since he finally wrote a story that they could read, and they liked it.
The story was actually sort of a fairy tale, although it was kind of long for a fairy tale.
But it read like a good fairy tale: there were kings and queens. And princes. And even an evil sorcerer. And the story took place in a magical land, far, far away.
Although it was fairy tale, you could still tell that this story was written by Uncle Stevie. There were some parts that were kind of scary, but not as scary. And people did some bad things in the story, but never got punished like they would in a regular fairy tale.
In other words, The Eyes of the Dragon was a fairy tale, but you could tell it was written by the guy who writes scary stories.
And like Uncle Stevie’s other books, The Eyes of the Dragon would suck you right in to the land of princes and evil sorcerers, if you weren’t careful. So kids liked it, and so did the grown-ups.
This nerdy grown-up decided she wanted to feel like a kid again. So she read The Eyes of the Dragon this month. Once again, she was captivated. And enchanted.
Just like reading any other book written by Uncle Stevie.
So, here is her recap and review of The Eyes of the Dragon. As always, watch out for the fierce beasts known as Spoilers!
The book introduces us to man named Roland. Roland is the king of a land called Delain. Roland is not hated in Delain, although he is not loved either. Most people think that Roland is a competent king, and have no strong feelings towards him, one way or the other.
Roland is not a very bright man, and relies on the advice given to man by a man known as Flagg. Flagg is Roland’s trusted adviser, and is also a man familiar with magic and its various uses. There are many who do not quite trust Flagg, but no one dares to cross his path, as most people actually fear him.
At nearly 50 years old, Roland is still single, and this must be remedied, so that he can bear a son who will take over his royal duties one day. Flagg introduces Roland to many women, and eventually, a woman named Sasha marries Roland. Sasha is only 17 when she marries Roland, and is inexperienced in the ways of men.
Roland is also inexperienced in the ways of women, and has trouble bedding Sasha. However, she becomes pregnant with the couple’s first child, Peter. Peter is handsome and well liked, and takes after his mother. Peter’s favorite toy is a dollhouse that was a gift to his mother. The dollhouse is intricate and even has working parts, such as a small stove that heats up. Peter spends hours playing with this dollhouse, making up fantastical stories to go along with it. Peter also shows leadership skills at an early age, as he is able to exert his influence over people. One day, Peter is able to prevent the unnecessary death of a horse. Naturally, Flagg notices this and becomes uneasy.
Queen Sasha is well loved by the people of Delain, and is able to influence Roland when he makes certain decisions. She also insists upon making sure that Peter is taught manners and etiquette. Specifically, she makes sure that Peter uses his napkin, no matter the circumstances. This is a lifelong habit that becomes ingrained in Peter.
Eventually, Sasha becomes pregnant with the couple’s second child, Thomas. Flagg distrusts Sasha, and plots to kill her. He is successful in accomplishing this when Thomas is born, as he convinces Sasha’s midwife to sever a vital artery, so that Sasha dies from blood loss.
As Peter grows older, Flagg distrusts him more and more. He realizes that if Peter were to become King, Flagg may be vanquished from Delain. After much thought, Flagg decides to kill King Roland and pin the death on Peter, so that Thomas will become King. Thomas lives in the shadow of his brother, as he is not handsome and smart like Peter, but is more like his father. Since Thomas is feeling neglected, this makes it easy for Flagg to exert his influence over Thomas.
One autumn night, Flagg poisons a glass of wine and gives it to King Roland, who drinks the wine, not suspecting that anything is amiss. While this is happening, Thomas is spying on his father by peeking through the head of Niner, a dragon slain by his father on a hunting expedition. Thomas feels that something is amiss, but does not say anything.
Flagg plants evidence in Peter’s room that will be found after his father’s death. Roland does not show any signs of illness for a few days, but dies a sudden, painful death.
Shortly after the death of Roland, preparations are made for the coronation of Peter as king of Delain. However, the preparations are halted after Dennis, the royal butler, finds the evidence planted by Flagg in Peter’s room. Peter is then tried and convicted for the murder of his father, and Thomas is crowned king of Delain.
Thomas is reluctant, but accepts his new title, but feels guilty for his complacence in his father’s death and the false accusations against his brother. In the meantime, Peter is imprisoned in a tower known as Needle. His cell is several stories off the ground.
Within a week of his imprisonment, Peter makes two demands: that his mother’s old dollhouse be brought to him, and that he receive a napkin with every meal. Peter sends a message to Anders Penya, the Judge General of Delain, with this demand. With the help of Ben Stadd, Peter’s best friend, Anders is able to grant these requests.
Ben Staad stands by Peter in claims of innocence, and refuses to to believe that his friend could have committed such as act. Even Anders Penya, who had questioned Peter in regards to the murders, begins to have his doubts in regards to Peter’s guilt.
The dollhouse is finally delivered to Peter, and he begins receiving his napkins at each meal. Peter then removes a few threads from each napkin, and begins to weave a rope using the miniature loom in the dollhouse. It is painstaking work, but Peter is patient, and spends the next five years making this rope so that he may escape his prison. Peter also finds an old locket and letter one day, and realizes that Flagg has been spreading his evil throughout the kingdom of Delain for several centuries.
In the meantime, Thomas attempts to rule over Delain as king. However, he is a very unpopular king, as he has raised taxes on the kingdom, due to advice from Flagg, whom he has become dependent on. Thomas is very unhappy and moody, due to the fact that he is not ready for the responsibilities as king, and the guilt over his father’s death.
One night, Thomas sleep-walks to his secret hiding spot, and re-enacts the night of his father’s death in his sleep. This is witnessed by Dennis, Thomas’ royal butler. Dennis is badly frightened by what he sees, and begins to question King Roland’s death.
A few days later, Dennis pays a visit to Anders Peyna, and tells his tale. Peyna becomes distressed, realizing that he has falsely imprisoned Peter, the true king of Delain.
The next morning, Peyna sends Dennis back to Delain, advising him to be careful. Peyna then heads north to the camp of the exiles, where many have fled to escape the situation in Delain. Peyna plans to seek the help of Ben Staad, Peter’s old friend. The Staad family are among those who have fled Delain.
Since Dennis is able to read and write, Peyna tells him to send a note to Peter in secret. Dennis writes the note, and hides it among the napkins, in the hope that the note will reach Peter.
Peyna also speaks to Ben Staad, and sends Ben back to the kingdom of Delain to help Peter. Ben is accompanied by a woman named Naomi Reechul, who drives a sled pulled by Husky dogs. With Naomi’s help, Ben reaches the former home of Peyna. In order to track down Dennis, Naomi has Frisky, one of her dogs, track Dennis’ scent, in the hopes that they may find him.
In the meantime, Peter has finished weaving his rope and plans his escape from Needle. However, he has second thoughts when he receives Dennis’ letter, which states that Peyna does not believe Peter is guilty of murder and was in fact wrongfully imprisoned.
Peter re-thinks his plans to escape the next night, and uses his blood to write a note to Dennis. He bundles it in a napkin, in the hopes that Dennis will find it.
Dennis lurks outside The Needle and catches a glance of Peter. He also finds the note, and decides that he will do anything to help Peter.
Ben and Naomi are able to track down Dennis, with the help of Frisky. The three then exchange stories, and make plans to rescue Peter.
That night, Flagg finally realizes that Peter means to escape, and begins to head up the stairs of Needle, to Peter’s cell. Peter hears Flagg coming, and using his rope, begins to make his escape.
As he is making his escape, Peter’s rope breaks. However, his fall is cushioned by a pile of napkins, which were loaded into a cart by Ben, Naomi and Dennis. Peter falls, but survives, much to the anger of Flagg.
Flagg then chases Peter and his friends to the former chambers of King Roland. Flagg says that he will kill Peter. Peter then confronts Flagg with the knowledge of the murder of his father, along with Flagg’s past evil deeds.
Thomas then appears, with his father’s bow and arrow. Flagg believes Thomas to be the ghost of Roland, which makes him forget about his plans to murder Peter. This allows Thomas to shoot Flagg with his father’s bow and arrow. The arrow then hits Flagg in the eye. After he is hit by the arrow, Flagg vanishes, leaving only his clothes behind.
After the confrontation with Flagg, Peter is acquitted of his father’s murder. Peter invites Thomas to stay in Delain, but Thomas declines. Instead, Thomas says that he will spend his life tracking down Flagg, so that he may avenge his father and brother. Dennis offers to accompany Thomas, and Thomas gratefully accepts the offer.
Thomas leaves Delain, and it is not known if he ever returns, although he did have many strange adventures. Peter continues to rule in Delain as king, and Ben and Naomi eventually get married.
Well, I did say that I wanted a break from the scary stuff.
In other words, I needed a break from watching Indianapolis Colts football!
Haha, just joking! Even though the Colts are frightening to watch at the moment, I will still be loyal to them!
But seriously, The Eyes of the Dragon though…
The Eyes of the Dragon is a fairy tale. And it is a fairy tale written by the King of Horror.
And…wait for it…
It is actually a good fairy tale written by The Master! Who knew?
Ok, it’s confession time…I hope all
both of the readers of this blog have some tolerance and don’t judge me…
For many years, I put off reading this book. There was something that just did not sit right with me, in regards to this book.
In my little mind, Sai King was not supposed to write fantasy children’s stories (although this one does have some adult themes, more about that later.) He was supposed to write about the scary hotels, rabid St. Bernards, possessed vehicles, cursed burial grounds and all those other things that have kept me up at night over the years.
In other words, there was no room for princes, evil wizards and faraway kingdoms. Absolutely not allowed!
Well, as one might say in another faraway land created by King, “I cry your pardon.”
I finally read The Eyes of the Dragon a couple of years ago. And I enjoyed it then.
And when I re-read it this year, I was again reminded of what I had missed out on, due to my obstinate nature.
While The Eyes of the Dragon is not in my top 10 (too many others overshadow it), I still consider it to be one of King’s underrated gems.
The Eyes of the Dragon could be considered to be a children’s tale. And in many ways, it is. My parents read me fairy tales when I was child, and I was constantly reminded of those when I was reading this book.
There is land that is far, far away, aka the kingdom of Delain. King never specifies just where Delain is, but it is not on any map that exists in this world.
There are kings, queens and princesses. King Roland, Queen Sasha and Prince Peter are almost “textbook” fairy tale characters if you will. They are well loved by the people they rule over, and strive to the right thing.
And there is an evil wizard. Flagg fits the bill of evil wizard perfectly: he is a scheming, evil and ultimately prideful creature who does his best to wreak havoc wherever he goes (again, more about Flagg later.)
However, like almost all of King’s books, there is more than meets the eye (pun not intended) in The Eyes of the Dragon.
First of all, there is King Roland. Now, I am not calling King Roland necessarily a bad guy, because he does try to do what is right.
However, King Roland is DEFINITELY not a bright man. And time and time again, his actions remind of that fact. Usually, it is the bad guys in fairy tales that are bumbling buffoons, not the good kings who want to do what is right. But Roland is an exception in this book, and this actually makes the book more interesting, and adds a little depth to the story.
Then there is the character of Thomas, aka Thomas the Tax Bringer, whom I actually find to be one of King’s most fascinating characters.
On the one hand, Thomas appears to be a bad dude. When the narrator described how Thomas killed a dog because….well, just because, I immediately felt the need to go home and hug my dogs (luckily, they are the tolerant sort and don’t mind random hugs, unlike my cats, who revel in blood sport.)
But, on the other hand, I would agree with the narrator: Thomas is not a bad boy. Repeat: Thomas is not a bad boy.
Now, Thomas may have done some pretty bad things. Killing that dog, for instance. And watching Flagg murder his father and not saying a word about that to anyone.
However, some of Thomas’ actions are understandable.
Thomas was basically screwed from the moment he came into existence. When he was born, his mother died. Even though that was not his fault, Thomas (and possibly others) blamed his birth on the death of his mother. So he had to carry that guilt.
Then there is the fact that Thomas is the brother of Peter. Growing up, it was my brother who had friends and was the musician. I was just the awkward nerd that no one else noticed. So of course, this created resentment with me, just as Thomas resented his brother, even though he did love Peter, as I love my brother. Being in someone’s shadow and never being noticed for your accomplishments (and Thomas was actually a good archer) is difficult, and can be pretty depressing. Thomas only wanted the approval of his father, and not getting it made him understandably upset.
So, while some of Thomas’ actions were deplorable, at least they were understandable, given the context. I don’t think that Thomas was an inherently evil character. In fact, there is only one inherently evil character in this book. We will talk about him in a bit.
One thing I love about The Eyes of the Dragon is that it is a fairy tale. It tells of fantastical lands, kings and queens, magic, evil wizards and all that good stuff.
I also love that The Eyes of the Dragon is a Stephen King book.
So, Captain Obvious strikes again, right?
Well, let me explain a bit.
What I mean is that I love fantasy and fairy tales. When I was a child, my parents had to constantly read to me from various books of fairy tales and fantasy stories, as they were my favorite. We read Peter Pan. We read the non- Disney version of Pinocchio (seriously, my parents wonder where my horror obsession comes from. Read that one sometime. It is far more disturbing than most “horror” stories.)
So, I feel at home when I read those types of stories. They are my bread butter, you might say. George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey and Madeleine L’Engle are just a few of my favorite authors. The land of fantasy is my home.
But, despite the fact that The Eyes of the Dragon appears to be a fairy tale, it was written by the King of Horror. And throughout the book, we are constantly reminded of that fact.
For one, The Eyes of the Dragon has some gruesome deaths. Gruesome deaths are Sai King’s bread and butter, after all. The death of Queen Sasha definitely counts as gruesome, as a mid-wife used a knife to cut a vital organ so that Sasha would bleed to death. Not only is this gruesome, this is also one of the most tragic deaths I have ever come across in any book.
Speaking of gruesome, there is the death of King Roland. Roland is poisoned, but not with just any poison. No, only “Dragonsand” would do for Roland. This was a poison that burned someone from the inside out…shudder.
Most fairy tales end on “happily ever after.” The evil is defeated, and justice is somehow served. However, this is not the case in regards to The Eyes of the Dragon.
For one, Flagg is not defeated. Sure, he exits the kingdom of Delain, but he still alive! And read to make mischief wherever he can. Seriously, I wonder if he found the world of The Stand because he got evicted from Delain? Seems legit, right?
There is also Thomas. I did say that Thomas was not a bad guy. But he was also complicit in the murder of his father and imprisonment of his brother. However, Thomas never faces any consequences for his actions, and basically leaves the kingdom in shame, although he leaves under the guise of doing something noble, aka tracking down Flagg so that Flagg can answer for his actions (wish I could find out how that worked out, actually.)
In other words, Thomas did not get a happy ending. The only one who really got a happy ending was Peter, and maybe his friend Ben. And Peter probably spent years trying to clean up the mess made by Flagg and his brother, so I am really not sure how happy his ending really was.
Ok, I saved the best for last.
Or is it the worst for last? Maybe best of the worst for last?
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am talking about that bad guy that we all love to hate…
Can I get a round of loud booing for…
None other than Randall Flagg himself!
Now, Randall Flagg is ubiquitous in the Stephen King universe.
He shows up, in one way or another, in so many different books. And he seems to be the equivalent of the cockroach in the King universe: he just won’t go away!
Or perhaps the equivalent of Von Miller: a one man (or maybe one demon) wrecking crew who is impossible to game plan for. Instead of see “Miller, V,” we have see Flagg, R.
Flagg is perhaps most associated with the novel The Stand. A world has been ravaged by the super flu and trying to rebuild itself. Of course, with no help from Flagg, R.
The Stephen King cockroach also makes several appearances in the Dark Tower series (both the books and the comics.) In fact, he is part of the best opening line in history: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
(Again, see Flagg, R.)
And he is also a character in The Eyes of the Dragon.
Out of all the different flavors of Flagg (kind of gross if you think of it that way, actually), I think that his character in The Eyes of the Dragon is my favorite flavor. Not that I don’t think he’s great in all the other books, but there is just something about him in The Eyes of the Dragon that makes my heart go pitter-patter…
For one thing, he is pretty creative in this particular book. I mean, a poison called Dragonsand? Talk about a different, painful kind of death on the person you inflict it on!
He also has the old school, evil wizard feel to him in The Eyes of the Dragon.
He is crafty, cunning and enjoys evil for the sake of…well…evil. There is no other way to put it. We, as readers, tend to like to assign motivations to characters, to give them a reason for their actions.
Well, there is no reason for Flagg’s actions in The Eyes of Dragon. He is a bad guy who enjoys being a bad guy. He does evil things because he likes it. He only feels remorse when his plans fail and he is unable to unleash chaos like he wants to. He garners no sympathy from the reader. In fact, the reader roots for him to die, and is disappointed when he doesn’t (one of the perks of being an evil wizard includes the ability to perpetually exist and stir up trouble everywhere, even breaking the inter-dimensional barrier.)
So it’s refreshing, actually.
Almost as refreshing as glass of wine that includes that extra touch of Dragonsand…
So, that’s it for The Eyes of the Dragon!
Join me next month as we return to the “real world…”
In other words, I will be reviewing and dissecting an oldie but goodie, otherwise known as The Shining.
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Although it takes place in the “faraway” land of Delain, there are indications that The Eyes of the Dragon is indeed a part of the Stephen King universe. Here are some of the connections that I found:
-The most obvious connection to King’s other books is the character of Randall Flagg. Flagg appears in several other King works, including The Gunslinger, Wizard and Glass, The Dark Tower, The Stand, The Wastelands, The Wind Through the Keyhole and even in the title story of the collection Hearts in Atlantis. Flagg apparently possesses the ability to travel to other worlds, and can perhaps even travel through time.
–In The Drawing of the Three, Roland speaks of an encounter with Thomas and Dennis, while they are on a quest to find Flagg. It is not known if Thomas and Dennis are ever able to confront Flagg and force him to answer for his crimes against Delain. In fact, it is doubtful if their quest was ever successful, and it is more likely that this quest eventually results in the deaths of both Thomas and Dennis.
-King Roland shares a first name with with Roland Deschain, the main character in King’s Dark Tower series. However, this is all the two share, as Roland Deschain is clever and skilled, unlike his Delain counterpart.
-Peter’s time in The Needle can be said to be similar to Andy Dufresne’s imprisonment in Shawshank State Prison in the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (part of the collection Different Seasons), as Andy was also imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit. Like Peter, Andy Dufresne also spent years devising and ingenious escape plan, under the noses of his captors.
-Randall Flagg owns a two-headed parrot. Parkus, the man responsible for law and order in the Territories in the novels Black House and The Talisman, also owns a similar creature. It is unknown if these creatures are one in the same, or merely just similar.
-Mention is made of Rhea of the Coos. Rhea is a major character in the novel Wizard and Glass, as well as The Dark Tower comics.
My name is Leah and I have a confession to make.
No, not the nerd thing…you knew that!
Here goes nothing…
Gulp, I confess that…
I can’t stay away from Derry, Maine!
Yes, I know that particular town has its issues, and that I probably cannot fix those issues, even though it is my nature to try and fix things.
Yes, the presence of a certain homicidal clown is constantly felt, despite the fact that there were brave folks who tried to put that clown to bed (or is it Hell?)
I know that Derry attracts its share of…well…the unusual (and that’s putting it mildly.)
But still, I can’t stay away. I guess I just fall for bad…um…towns (not sure if fictional towns have a gender, so roll with me.)
Yes, I am talking about a fictional town in a Stephen King book…
I know, a Stephen King! Just humor me and pretend you are at least a little surprised, eh?
And obviously, The Master has a fetish for evil towns…
I mean, he keeps coming back to Derry, right? So that means its only sorta bad, right?
Well, as my aunt used to say: Leopards don’t change their spots!
The homicidal clown may have been sent to whatever Hell (or other ungodly realm) from whence It came, but that doesn’t mean that Derry is on the straight and narrow now.
Nope, not at all!
Luckily, Uncle Stevie realized that there were many more stories to tell about Derry, so he decided to tell them (duh.)
And the novel Dreamcatcher is one of those stories.
Dreamcatcher is an interesting mashup, so to speak.
On the one hand, it is a story about childhood and the friends we make as children (similar to It.)
On the other hand, it is also a science fiction novel, with elements of horror. Shit weasels, anyone?
So, with that being said, let’s take a trip back to Derry…
Hopefully, you see the line…
And, as always:
The book begins with an introduction of four men: Henry, Pete, Jonesy and Beaver. The four men have been friends since childhood, and are still friends in the present day. However, it is clear that the men are not ordinary, as all four seem to possess telepathic powers, which they usually use to accomplish every day tasks, such as finding lost car keys. A fifth friend by the name of Douglas is mentioned, but it seems that the men have fallen out of touch with Douglas. Once a year, all four friends gather at a cabin in the woods they call Hole in the Wall, where they go hunting and reminisce about their childhood.
One spring, Jonesy is hit by a car while crossing the street. The accident is almost fatal, but Jonesy is able to to make enough of a recovery by winter, and is still able to take his annual vacation with his friends.
The trip to Hole in the Wall starts off ordinarily enough, but things quickly become strange. One morning, Pete and Henry head to the grocery store to pick up supplies, while Beaver also heads out on an errand. Jonesy is left alone at the cabin, where he almost shoots what he first thinks to be a deer. However, Jonesy quickly discovers that his target is not a deer, but a man named Rick McCarthy. It turns out that Rick became lost in the woods, and has found his way to Hole in the Wall. Jonesy takes the stranger in, offering him food and shelter.
Jonesy then finds out that Rick is no ordinary lost traveler. Rick appears to have traveled 50 miles in the course of what he believes to be one day, and Jonesy later finds out that Rick thinks that the date is the date three days prior. Rick is also missing several teeth, and does not appear to notice that he is missing these teeth. Additionally, Rick appears to be extremely flatulent, and his burps and farts have an unusual smell.
Beaver returns, and Jonesy offers Rick the spare bedroom so he can get some rest. After Rick retires, Jonesy and Beaver discuss what to do about their guest, and agree that they need to get help for him, and quickly.
In the meantime, Henry and Pete are driving back to the cabin from the grocery store. We learn that Henry has been suffering depression, and is considering suicide. The men also discuss some rumors heard at the grocery store, which include stories about missing hunters and bright lights in the sky. However, the talk is interrupted when Henry swerves to avoid hitting a woman standing in the middle of the road, which causes the vehicle to crash, due to the serious weather conditions.
Pete and Henry survive the accident, although Pete is seriously injured and his leg is likely broken. Pete and Henry try to speak to the woman they narrowly missed hitting, but the woman appears to be almost comatose, although she does inquire about someone named Rick. And like Rick, she also suffers from extreme flatulence accompanied by an unusual odor.
As Henry attempts to help the woman, he and Pete see strange lights in the sky. The woman becomes hysterical, crying “they’re back.” Finally, Henry is able to call her down, and the three head off to find some sort of shelter from the impending blizzard. However, the woman collapses, and Henry is forced to carry her to shelter. While they are walking to shelter, Pete and Henry begin to discuss a fifth childhood friend, whom they refer to as “Duddits.” Duddits was afflicted with Down’s Syndrome, and the men have been thinking a lot about Duddits recently, for some reason.
Back at the cabin, Jonesy and Beaver play cards and wait for Henry and Pete to return. Their game is interrupted when Beaver steps outside, and notices what appears to be a large group of forest animals in mass exodus from the forest, along with strange lights. Things become stranger when they return to the cabin, and notice that Rick is no longer in bed. They also notice blood on the way to the bathroom, and discover that Rick is in the bathroom and in distress.
Outside, there are helicopters in the sky. Beaver tries to signal for help, but is told that the area is under quarantine, and that the situation will be resolved in 24-48 hours.
Henry attempts to walk back to Hole in the Wall to seek help. He leaves Pete with the woman they found on the side of the road. They believe the woman’s name to be Becky, although they are not entirely sure of that fact. Even though Pete is responsible for watching Becky, he decides to head back to the vehicle to retrieve the beer he purchased earlier. Both men begin to recall they day they met their friend Douglas Cavill, or Duddits, many years ago.
One day, when all four boys were in junior high, they walk home together from school. There is nothing unusual about the day, and the boys talk about the usual things that junior high boys talk about. However, their talk is interrupted when they hear the heartbreaking sounds of someone crying.
The boys find the source of the crying: a young man who is obviously mentally handicapped and being bullied by some of the students who attend the local high school. One of the bullies is Richie Grenedeau, who had played quarterback for the high school football team, but was allegedly removed from the position due to injury. The boys become angered by the bullying, and resolve to stand up for the young man.
Pete, Jonesy, Henry and Beaver take a stand against Richie Grenedeau and his friends, and the bullies back off. The four boys learn the name of the young man they rescued from the bullying: Douglas Cavill, who is nicknamed Duddits. Duddits is afflicted with Down’s Syndrome and attends a nearby special school. The boys return Duddits to his home and parents, and a friendship is begun. Nearly every day, for the remainder of their school years, the boys accompany Duddits on his walk to and from school, to protect him from the bullies. They also spend time with Duddits, and include him in their activities whenever possible. However, Pete, Jonesy, Henry and Beaver grow up, and become distanced from Duddits, who remains a perpetual child.
The story flashes back to the present. Jonesy and Beaver break down the door to the bathroom, and discover that McCarthy has fallen into the bathtub. McCarthy is now dead, with a large hole in his backside. There also appears to be something living in the toilet that has exited McCarthy. Beaver immediately sits down on the toilet to trap the creature, and Jonesy goes to look for tape in an attempt to contain the creature.
Beaver drops his toothpicks that he has the habit of chewing, especially when stressed. He reaches down to grab them, and this proves to be a fatal mistake. The creature escapes from the toilet, and immediately attacks Beaver.
Jonesy returns to the house and finds Beaver battling a creature resembling a parasite. Beaver loses the battle when the creature attacks and kills him. Jonesy tries to flee, but sees a creature that resembles an alien from a science fiction TV show standing in bathroom, along with the creature that killed Beaver. Jonesy is then possessed by the alien-like creature, and is unable to escape.
In the meantime, Beaver’s surviving friends receive a telepathic signal that Beaver is now dead. These friends include Duddits, who is still living with his mother in Derry, Maine, the boys’ childhood home. Duddits is also terminally ill with leukemia, and is distressed to find out that his friend is now dead.
The story switches to the point of view of two military men, Owen Underhill and Abraham Kurtz. Underhill and Kurtz’s unit has been dispatched to Maine to deal with the alien invasion. We learn that “the grays” are telepathic, and transmit a sort of fungus, that when inhaled by humans, also makes humans telepathic, at least temporarily. Underhill, Kurtz and the rest of the unit do battle with the aliens, even though the aliens claim to surrender.
Henry finally makes it back to Hole in the Wall. There, he discovers the body of his friend Beaver, along with the parasite-like creature that killed Beaver. Henry is forced to battle the creature, which is still alive, and sets fire to the cabin to destroy the creature, along with the eggs it has laid. While he is there, Henry somehow deduces that Pete is now dead (due to a battle with a similar creature) and that something has also happened to Jonesy.
After destroying the cabin, Henry heads back to the site of the vehicle accident. There, he discovers the body of the woman who he almost hit earlier. The woman also appears to have been attacked by the creature. Henry notices that she is covered by a reddish gold fungus, but that the fungus appears to be dying.
Henry decides to attempt to walk back to civilization. As he is walking, he again begins to think of his friend Duddits. However, as he attempts to reach civilization, Henry is accosted by the soldiers that have been dispatched to handle the crisis in Maine.
We learn that the body of Jonesy has been possessed by one of the aliens, whom Jonesy thinks of as Mr. Gray. Jonesy experiences a series of long flashbacks, which include the accident he suffered earlier that year, along with the time he spent in the hospital. Jonesy is able to recover some memories: he remembers that he thought that he saw Duddits that day, and that is why he was not paying attention when he crossed the street, along with the fact that he nearly died in the ambulance. Somehow, Jonesy’s accident relates to why the alien creature is able to take over his body. Mr. Gray is able to kidnap Pete, and force Pete to help him in his mission.
Henry arrives at the base that the military has set up. Kurtz is in charge of the operation, but appears to be mentally unstable. Kurtz tells Underhill of the cover story he will spin in regards to the alien invasion, but really intends to kill all the civilians being held captive at the compound, along with Underhill.
Jonesy, whose body has been stolen by Mr. Gray, steals a vehicle from an unsuspecting driver. Mr. Gray forces the driver to stab himself in the eye, even though he has already hijacked the man’s vehicle. Jonesy attempts to hide all of his memories of Derry and Duddits from Mr. Gray, as he suspects that the alien has a dangerous plan involving Derry.
Jonesy also recalls another incident from his childhood. Shortly after meeting Duddits, Jonesy and the rest of his friends make their first trip to Hole in the Wall, where they accompany Beaver’s father on a hunting expedition. One night, all four boys have the same disturbing dream: they dream that Richie Grenedeau has died in a car accident, and that they were responsible for the death. When the boys awaken, they try to convince themselves it was just a dream, but they are not successful. The boys place a telephone call to Duddits, who is also distressed because he experienced the same dream, which has actually come true. Even then, Jonesy and his friends realize that Duddits has somehow gifted them with the powers of telepathy.
Henry is able to pull Underhill aside, and tells Underhill that Kurtz has something sinister in mind, and begs Underhill to help him and the other civilians. Henry explains to Underhill that the aliens have passed on an organism known as “byrus”, and that there are different strains of the byrus. The worst strain is the one that afflicted McCarthy and his friend Becky, which is the case of symbiosis gone wrong. However, most strains of byrus are harmless, although they do result in the carrier experiencing low-grade telepathy. Henry tells Underhill that he is different, due to his childhood experiences, but that Jonesy is the most different of all four of them, and that is what poses a potential threat. Finally, Underhill agrees to help Henry, so that that Jonesy may be rescued from whatever has taken over his body.
Jonesy continues to struggle for control over his body from Mr. Gray. Finally, he comes to a sort of compromise with Mr. Gray and agrees to help him. Jonesy realizes that Mr. Gray has stolen another truck which contains a passenger: a dog infected with the byrus.
Back in Derry, Duddits has also sensed the death of his friend Pete, which upsets him. However, the next morning, Duddits’ mother Roberta finds him dressed, and demanding his old lunchbox, as if he is awaiting the arrival of his friends, as he had in the days of his childhood.
Henry and Underhill use their telepathic powers to awaken the other civilians, who are asleep in a barn that is part of a makeshift military base. They warn the other civilians of what Kurtz intends to do, and the civilians rebel against Kurtz and his soldiers. Some are killed, but some are able to escape. Henry and Underhill also escape, and head to Derry to meet up with Duddits, who can help them rescue Jonesy.
Underhill and Henry continue on their journey to Derry, stealing a vehicle from some young men. Henry recalls another incidence from his childhood, when he and his friends were able to find a missing girl, with the help of Duddits. Henry realizes that Duddits’ is a dreamcatcher of sorts, due to his telepathic abilities.
Henry then receives a telepathic communication from Jonesy. Jonesy is frightened, and warns Henry that Mr. Gray has something dangerous planned. Henry further realizes that Jonesy’s brain is different due to his accident and near death experience, which has allowed Mr. Gray to take over his body. Mr. Gray continues to behave erratically, murdering a state trooper.
Kurtz has discovered that Underhill is AWOL, and begins to look for him. Kurtz contacts Underhill on the radio to attempt to persuade him to abandon his mission with Henry, but Underhill refuses.
With the help of Duddits, Jonesy is able to trick Mr. Gray into consuming raw bacon, which makes him ill, buying more time for Henry, Underhill and Duddits. Mr. Gray continues his journey to Boston, where he plans on unleashing the byrus into the water supply, by using the infected dog as a vessel.
Eventually, Mr. Gray abandons the vehicle he is driving, and attempts to use the dog to contaminate the water supply in Boston. However, with the help of Duddits and Henry, Mr. Gray is defeated, and Jonesy is in possession of his body again. Duddits pays dearly for his efforts, dying shortly afterwards. Before he dies, Duddits tells Henry that he loves him.
In the meantime, Underhill shoots the weasel-like creature that emerges from the dog, killing it. Underhill is then shot by Kurtz, who has caught up to Henry and his friends. Henry then defeats the Kurtz and the remaining soldiers, rescuing Jonesy from certain death.
Several months later, Henry is visiting Jonesy at Jonesy’s summer cottage. Both men have recovered from their ordeal, physically at least. Duddits’ mother grieves the loss of her son but has moved on with her life. The men muse about their experience, even though they feel lucky to have survived it, along with wondering when the planet will again be visited by extraterrestrial beings.
Ok, let me get one thing out of my system…
Actually, I probably don’t want to get this one one thing out of my system, since that means certain death, along with the WORST FLATULENCE EVER!
In case you haven’t figured it out, I am referring to the shit weasels.
(In case you can’t tell, I had to work the “shit weasels” into the title of this review. It just wouldn’t be right other wise. You’re welcome!)
Shit weasels. How much more eloquent can you get? Where on Earth (or is it in Hell?) does The Master come with up with this stuff?
King has said that he is not too proud to go for the gross out. And we are reminded this in Dreamcatcher. Again and again, we are reminded.
While I am not that much of a fan of the gross-out in the horror story, it does have its place. Mostly, the gross out is funny. And Dreamcatcher is also a book with a lot of funny.
And the shit weasels are just one of the funny things in Dreamcatcher. I know that King was on LOTS of drugs when he wrote this one (more on that later), so often I wonder if one of the side effects of those drugs were “Caution: taking this and writing a novel about aliens will likely make the user write about farts, burps and other bodily functions not discussed in polite society?”
Speaking of funny, let’s talk about the Beave for a moment…
Beaver isn’t described as being particularly attractive, at least in the physical sense. But when I evaluate my book boyfriends, I try not to be so superficial, you know? Otherwise, I might miss out on a really great romance!
Yes, Beaver is the man in this book. He is killed off pretty quickly, but still manages to make quite the impression.
First off, Beaver is funny. Any book boyfriend of mine must have a sense of humor. That is a prerequisite for all of my literary relationships, no exceptions.
And Beaver does have quite the sense of humor. And he’s not afraid to sprinkle
a copious a fair amount of profanity to get his point across. “Kiss my bender.” “Fuck me Freddy.” “Fuck-a-row.” “Fuck-a-ree.” All Beaver-isms. And I unabashedly use them as part of my vocabulary. After all, there is nothing like a good swear fest, Beaver style, after a frustrating day at work. Or sitting in traffic. Or standing in line at a crowded restaurant. Or sitting. Or standing…well, you get the point!
But perhaps, most importantly, Beaver has a good heart. There was truly a beautiful soul behind the glasses and the potty mouth that would make a drunk sailor blush. He stood up for someone who was helpless and being bullied. And he comforted that someone by singing him a lullaby…swoon!
I think that’s when Beaver had my heart: after he rescued Duddits (with the help of his friends) and sung to him. And “fit neek” (fixed Duddie’s sneaker, in case your Duddits-to-English dictionary is not working.)
My only complaint about Beaver is that he left so fast…damn you, errant toothpicks and shit weasels that can’t stay in the toilet like a good shit weasel!
I also loved the not so subtle jab at Dubbya, aka Okefenokee. The description of Okefenokee and his actions after the alien invasion of Maine was eerily similar to what happened right after 9/11. I know that this book was written before the 9/11 tragedy, but The Master’s description of The Leader (well, the leader at time, anyway) was so close to what happened after 9/11, it made me wonder if all those painkillers had perhaps given him some kind of clairvoyance…hey, anything is possible, right?
As stated before, Dreamcatcher was the first book that King wrote after his vehicle accident.
And it shows…
Not that this a bad thing. Dreamcatcher is still an enjoyable book. But, it gets a bit un-wieldly in spots. It’s almost as if the painkillers took over in those spots. And the painkillers do not have an eighth of the talent possessed by The Master!
I did think that this book dragged at parts, especially in the “present day” setting. And the ending was a bit anti-climactic. Really, the best the alien could come up with was to use a dog to contaminate the water supply? And that alien seems like he kind of sucked at being an alien, since Jonesy and Henry were able to defeat it so quickly, practically with their eyes closed…
However, this book was saved by the good parts. One of these parts was the flashbacks to the boys’ childhood.
I loved the description of the friendship between the four (later to be five boys). The way King described, I felt like I was right there, in the thick of it. Even the mundane details, like how the boys get out of school one fateful afternoon, and are eager to catch a glimpse of *a kitty cat*, aka female nether regions. That made me laugh, and it brought me back to my own childhood, when things seemed to be so much simpler.
Speaking of nostalgia, part of Dreamcatcher is set in Derry.
Yes, that would be the same Derry that boasts a homicidal clown as a tourist attraction. The same Derry where a bad ass man named Ralph Roberts saved the universe single handed-ly, but did not even receive a lousy t-shirt. That Derry!
I loved how King was able to work in elements of his books set in Derry (It, mainly) but was still able to tell an entirely new story.
Dreamcatcher and It are similar tales, at least on the surface: both deal with friendship, small towns and bullying. However, that is about all the two books have in common. In one, the friendship is formed because an outside force uses the children (and later the adults) to defeat an evil monster. In the other, the friends are drawn together first, because they have common interests and so forth, and then later used to defeat evil (Richie Grenedeau as children, alien invaders as adults.) In Dreamcatcher, the friendship really is lifelong, unlike in It, where the friendship is so brief and only serves the purpose of defeating Pennywise the Clown.
In Dreamcatcher, the threat of Pennywise the Clown never really seems to be far away. Henry and his friends may not have had the misfortune of being children during one of the “cycles”, but Pennywise and the town of Derry were a constant presence in this book. I loved the references to the missing children in Derry, and how it was a bigger problem in Derry than most other places. I also loved Jonesy’s recollection of the big storm in 1985. As any King fan knows, that was the year that the Losers Club laid waste to Pennywise (maybe.) It was such a funny feeling to get the perspective of someone who was not involved in that battle, but was still a part of Derry.
Oh, and “Pennywise Lives.” Did anyone else shudder when Jonesy found that graffiti, or was that just me? Someone in Derry has a sick sense of humor! Or there is the alternative: Pennywise really does live! Both of these are pretty scary, actually.
And before I wrap this review up, let’s give someone his due…
Yes, that someone would be Duddits. And I cannot give enough accolades to poor Duddits.
There was so much to love about Duddits in this book.
First of all, there was Duddits himself. I have a friend who refer’s to those with Down’s Syndrome as beautiful souls, and she could not be more right in that statement. Like Henry, Jonesy, Pete and Beaver, I felt that all was right in the world when Duddits showed up on the page. How could anyone not be happy when he/she was in the presence of Duddits? Just reading about Duddits made my day much better.
It is no secret that King writes about man’s inhumanity to man. Books such as It, Under the Dome, Hearts in Atlantis and even the Dark Tower series are filled with examples of this.
So, the uninitiated may be surprised to learn that King is equally adept at writing about the opposite: his characters can also treat each other wonderfully, and go above and beyond in the name love and friendship.
Duddits and his friendship with Henry, Beaver, Jonesy and Pete is a prime example of King’s ability to write about the good that some are capable of.
Very early on in the book, we get a glimpse of a good deed: four adolescent boys do an extremely brave thing and stand up to the neighborhood bully on behalf of someone who appears to be much weaker. This is not something we would think of most adolescents as capable of, not even Henry and his friends. After all, before the encounter with Richie Grenedeau, Henry and his friends are focused on viewing certain parts of the female anatomy, not confronting a bully who turns out to be a coward. But just like that, the tone of the story changes, and I knew that these guys were something special.
And I was right: all five were something special. The boys continue their friendship with Duddits. In junior high and high school, all that matters to most is fitting in and peer acceptance. However, the friendship with Duddits transcends those barriers, and enriches the life of Duddits, who experiences something he was previously lacking in his life: acceptance. Henry, Beaver, Pete and Jonesy all have their lives enriched by the friendship with Duddits as well, referring to Duddits as their “finest hour.” Their friendship with Duddits is the glue that holds them together even into adulthood, when most childhood friendships slowly fade away.
Even in adulthood, Duddits is still…well, Duddits. The others grew up and moved on, but Duddits remained a child. However, Henry is able to pick up right where he left off, so to speak, and the old bond is renewed. In fact, Duddits is overjoyed to reunite with Henry and have one last adventure with him, while Henry is overcome with guilt for not staying in touch. But that doesn’t matter to Duddits, as Duddits does not think in those terms and seems to be incapable of anger or resentment.
Duddits is truly the hero of the book. He makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to help his friends one last time. He saves the lives of his friends Jonesy and Henry, along with (potentially) the lives of thousands of others. And there is no resentment or anger. Only love. After all, that is what drives a hero: love.
So that’s it for Dreamcatcher. Join me next month as we take a trip next door…well, maybe not literally next door, but to a world nearby on The Tower when I review and dissect The Eyes of the Dragon!
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Like all of King’s books, Dreamcatcher is set squarely in the King universe. Here are some of the connections I noticed:
-Jonesy finds graffiti on a statue stating “Pennywise lives.” Pennywise the Clown was the monster faced by the Losers Club in the novel It, and was supposedly defeated in 1985.
-The storm of 1985 is mentioned. This storm took place when the Losers Club faced the monster It in final battle.
-Duddits possesses PSI abilities. Several novels and short stories deal with this topic and contain characters who possess these abilities, including Carrie, Low Men in Yellow Coats (of the collection Hearts in Atlantis), Everything’s Eventual (part of a collection of the same name), Firestarter and the Dark Tower series.
By nature, most human beings possess dual natures.
It makes sense if you think about it, actually.
We have our public selves. That’s the self that we present to the world. That self is polite. That self observes “social mores.” That self knows not to cut in line, for example. Or it knows that we use eating utensils to eat, and not our fingers. Our Sunday best self, in other words.
And then there is the private self. That self has no problem eating with its fingers. Or maybe cursing at someone to get out of its way already. Some may call this the “id”, per Sigmund Freud. Or, if we want to be kinder, the casual Friday self.
Often, being creative requires one to get in touch with that darker side. Some of the best art is born from darkness, actually. Art can be a good outlet for that darkness, allowing the artist to express those dark desires. At the very least, people may admire the end result. Or perhaps the artist can even make a viable living by expressing that dark side.
Usually, that dark side is kept under wraps. Artist does his/her thing, perhaps gets praised for it in some way, lets off steam, and it’s done, right?
Well, most of the time…
However, (wait for it) if you are a character in a…you guessed it…Stephen King book, its not that simple. No, nothing in a Stephen King book is ever that simple, is it?
(In case you forgot which blog you were reading.)
One of my favorite novels by The Master is The Dark Half. On the surface, it is a horror novel. After all, someone’s pseudonym comes to life and does horrible things. And don’t get me started on sparrows…
But, as with most of King’s work, The Dark Half is much more that what it seems to be on the surface. This is a novel that has much to say about the creative process, and the effect that process can have on the writer and the writer’s loved ones.
Plus, it takes place in one of my favorite King towns, aka Castle Rock. And it has Alan Pangborn as a character…Pangborn has long been one of my favorite King book boos!
In other words, what’s not to love about The Dark Half? It has a fascinating villain, along with some creepy imagery. It’s perfect, in other words.
So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of The Dark Half.
And, as always:
The book begins in 1960, and we are introduced to a young boy named Thad Beaumont. Thad is an aspiring writer, and already receiving recognition for his writing. Thad has also begun to suffer from serious migraines, but his doctor is unable to find a cause. Along with the migraines, Tad hears the sound of birds.
One day, Thad collapses at the bus stop. He is rushed to the hospital, and his doctors believe that he may have a brain tumor. However, the doctors do not find a brain tumor when they operate on Thad. Instead, they find eyes, teeth and other body parts in Thad’s brain. The doctors believe that they have found an unformed twin that was digested by Thad in the womb. The doctors elect not to tell Thad’s parents the full truth in regards to their discovery, and Thad’s parents are led to believe that the doctors have found a brain tumor. The surgery is successful, and Thad is soon released and goes back to living a normal life.
We are again introduced to Thad, twenty five years later. Thad is married to a woman named Liz, and is the father of fraternal twins named Wendy and William. Thad is also a writer, but has only found success using the pseudonym of “George Stark.” Under George Stark, Thad has written crime novels that have achieved commercial success. The novels written under Thad’s own name have not been nearly as successful, commercially or critically.
Eventually, a man named Frederick Clawson discovers that Thad Beaumont and George Stark are the same man. Clawson attempts to blackmail Thad, but Thad discloses the fact that he is also George Stark in a People Magazine interview, and even holds a mock “funeral” for George Stark. Thad then decides that he will attempt to write a “serious” novel under his own name, and is even glad that George Stark is “dead”, as Stark appears to be a violent, insane man.
Shorty after the “death” of George Stark, strange things begin to happen. Homer Ganache, Tad Beamont’s caretaker, is beaten to death with his prosthetic arm. Frederick Clawson is also murdered. Thad’s fingerprints are somehow found at the scene of both crimes.
In the meantime, Thad writes a mysterious sentence in the novel he is working on. The sentence is “The sparrows are flying.” This sentence is also written in blood on the walls of Frederick Clawson’s apartment. Tad also begins to hear the sound of birds again.
The fingerprints are traced back to Thad, and Thad is questioned by Sheriff Alan Pangborn, who is certain that Thad is guilty of both murders. However, Pangborn becomes less convinced once he speaks to Thad, and everyone is mystified by the murders.
Thad visits his doctor and undergoes a CAT scan, as he has been hearing the bird sounds again. At his office at the university, he appears to go into a trance, where he writes some seemingly random words on a piece of paper. This incident frightens Thad, and he burns the piece of paper.
In New York City, a woman named Miriam is attacked by a blonde man who calls himself George Stark. The man forces Miriam to place a call to Thad, and Miriam tells Thad that she is being attacked. Miriam turns out to be the ex-wife of Thad’s agent, Rick.
Thad is frantic, and finally reaches Sheriff Pangborn. He has Pangborn check on Miriam in New York, and tells Pangborn that Miriam’s attacker is calling himself George Stark. Thad also gives Pangborn the names of everyone associated with the People magazine article on himself and George Stark. Thad gives Pangborn a description of Stark, and tells him that he will fill him on the rest of the details in person.
In the meantime, in New York, the man calling himself George Stark murders three more people associated with the People magazine article in gruesome fashion, along with two police officers. One of the murdered people is Rick, the ex-husband to Miriam. While the murders occur, Thad dreams of them in his home in Maine.
The next morning, Thad tells Sheriff Pangborn everything, including the headaches he experienced as a child, and of how George Stark came to be. Thad is convinced that George Stark has come to life, and is seeking revenge for his “death.” Pangborn is skeptical, but says that he will speak to Thad’s doctors, including the doctor who operated on Thad as a child, to see if he can get any more leads.
The authorities wire-tap Thad’s phone, in an attempt to track down Stark. Shortly after the phone is tapped, Stark calls back, and says that he has killed more people. Later, it is discovered that Thad’s voice print and Stark’s voice print are nearly identical.
Pangborn also places a call to the doctor who operated on Thad as a child, and leaves a message for the man to call him back.
Thad also speculates that he knows exactly what George Stark wants: for Thad to write another novel under Stark’s name. Thad contemplates doing just that, if it will put an end to Stark’s violent rampage.
One day, Thad makes a trip to the local grocery store and receives a phone call from George Stark while he is shopping. This call confirms Thad’s suspicions: Stark does indeed want Thad to write another novel under the Stark name. Stark threatens to hurt Thad’s family if Thad does not comply.
Over the next few days, Thad and his family are on edge, as they wait for Stark to make another appearance. One afternoon, Thad and Liz’s infant daughter, Wendy, takes a tumble from the stairs and receives a bruise. Later that evening, Wendy’s twin brother, William, also receives a bruise in the same place on his body, even though he was not physically injured. This gives Thad some insight into George Stark and his relationship with Stark, even though he is still not sure what to do about Stark.
Thad attempts to communicate with Stark in his study one afternoon. When he does so, he finds out that Stark needs him to write another book because Stark is dying and will only live if Thad writes another book. Thad also sees a large group of sparrows outside of his house, and is forced to stab himself in the hand with a pencil, courtesy of George Stark.
In the meantime, in New York City, George Stark experiences what Thad is experiencing, and also stabs himself in the hand with a pencil. We also learn that Stark’s body is deteriorating, presumably because Thad has not written any George Stark novels. Stark leaves New York City, and makes his way to Maine and Thad.
One day, Thad goes to his office at the university where he is employed during the school year, under the guise of doing some work. However, Thad is really attempting to get in touch with Stark again. Stark contacts him on the phone of one of Thad’s colleagues, and again demands that Thad begin work on a new novel. Thad also finds out that Stark is calling from Thad’s house, and also sees a large group of sparrows again.
Thad’s colleague Rawlie explains the significance of sparrows in folklore: sparrows are psychopomps, or harbringers between the living and the dead. The job of the sparrows is to guide lost souls back into the land of the living.
After speaking to Stark, Thad agrees to meet him at his and Liz’s summer home in Castle Rock. Stark tells Thad that his wife and children are unharmed, but he has killed the two police officers who were supposed to protect Liz and the twins.
On the way to his summer home, Thad calls his colleague, Rawlie, and requests his help. He meets Rawlie, and takes Rawlie’s car, so that he can drive it to his summer home. While he is talking to Rawlie, Thad sees another large group of sparrows.
Sheriff Pangborn is finally able to speak to the doctor who operated on young Thad. The doctor tells Pangborn that he did not actually remove a tumor from Thad’s brain. Rather, he removed body parts of an unformed twin which had been consumed by Thad while he was still in the womb. The doctor also tells Pangborn that a large group of sparrows was seen outside of the hospital during the operation.
Pangborn also receives a report of a stolen vehicle. The stolen vehicle is an Oldsmobile Toranado, which happens to be the vehicle that Thad described George Stark as driving. After receiving the report of the officers killed at Thad’s home, Pangborn deduces that Thad may be headed to his summer home, and follows him there.
Stark arrives at the summer home with Liz and the children. He ties Liz up after discovering a pair of sewing scissors that she had hidden on her skirt. Pangborn also arrives at the summer home, but Stark also captures him and ties him up.
Soon, Thad also arrives at the summer home, and sees that Stark is holding Pangborn and his family hostage. Thad also notices the large group of sparrows, which Stark does not appear to see.
Stark demands that he and Thad begin writing a new novel, and Thad complies. Stark holds Thad’s children as hostages, using them as a collateral of sorts. Liz and Pangborn are forced into another part of the house.
For a time, Stark and Thad work on the new novel. Previously, Stark had literally been deteriorating, but his wounds begin to heal. Suddenly, the sparrow descend upon the house.
The sparrows invade the house and head for Stark. Stark attacks Thad and tries to run from the sparrows but is unsuccessful. The large group of sparrows descend upon Stark, and literally carry him away from Thad and his family.
Some time later, Thad meets with Sheriff Pangborn at his summer house, which has nearly been destroyed by the incident with Stark and the sparrows. Pangborn is still having trouble believing what happened, but knows that he has witnessed something unbelievable. With Pangborn’s blessing, Thad sets fire to the house.
For a time, Thad watches the flames, and then leaves with his family. Pangborn wonders what will become of Thad’s marriage, as Liz has witnessed what Thad is capable of creating.
The Dark Half.
In other words, never a more appropriate title. Especially the second word in the title.
Stephen King has been known, obviously, for his dark subject matter (no pun intended.)
Novels like Pet Sematary, Thinner, The Long Walk, The Dead Zone, Roadwork and quite are few others are books are known to be especially bleak. The Dark Half is another one that it bleak. And I think that The Dark Half may be one of his bleakest, possibly almost as bleak as Pet Sematary.
One of the things I noticed about The Dark Half is the character development. King is known for creating likable characters. I mean, who doesn’t love a Stu Redman, Eddie Dean, Beverly Marsh or even ole long tall and ugly himself?
However, I cannot say the same thing about the characters in The Dark Half. In fact, I would have to say that my favorite character in The Dark Half is the minor character, aka Sheriff Alan Pangborn.
This isn’t to say that I actively disliked Thad Beaumont, who is the protagonist and so-called “good guy.” I just found little to like about him, and thought that he was more of a prop for the bad guy, George Stark.
I would characterize The Dark Half as a book that is more plot driven than character driven. There is nothing wrong with this, either. I actually find the premise of this book fascinating, and yet another underrated Stephen King book.
One of the things I find fascinating about The Dark Half is actually George Stark himself. And there are a few reasons why I find him so interesting.
For one, he is just evil. Pure evil.
With some of King’s bad guys (Jack Torrance comes to mind), sympathy can be summoned. Sure, the person is bad, but they are human underneath it all, and may actually have reasons for being bad, even if we don’t necessarily understand or agree with those reasons.
Not so with George Stark. There is nothing good about George Stark. Nothing good at all. The man (and I use that word loosely, more on that later) is just evil incarnate.
He’s ruthless. He’s vindictive. And creative. He may not be able to write a story by himself, but he sure comes up with inventive, horrible ways to kill people.
In fact, I did think a bit of this guy when I read about Stark:
It’s true that this guy may be a little more humane than Stark, but still, the comparison stands.
And there is just some about a guy who is evil simply for the sake of being evil…in other words, I love it!
Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog…
So what the hell is Goofy?
Or, in this case, what the hell is George Stark?
The Master does tease a bit about Stark, but trying to determine his true origin is almost as difficult as trying to determine Goofy’s true species.
We know that Thad had an un-formed twin that he absorbed as an infant. And that parts of that un-formed twin were found in Thad’s brain, of all places.
Somehow, this un-formed twin became an issue right when Thad hit puberty, and developed his writing talent. The doctors removed it. And there was nothing unusual then, other than a large flock of sparrows that invaded the hospital where Thad was staying.
Then, years later, Thad’s wife miscarries. She was pregnant with…twins. Not coincidentally, George Stark comes into being. And Thad starts becoming somewhat successful as writer, using the George Stark pseudonym.
Then, Stark “dies” again, although he refuses to stay dead, and makes life miserable for a lot of people, including the man who is either his creator, or maybe just his brother, aka Thad. And then the sparrows come back, although Stark cannot see them. However, Thad is aware of their presence.
My theory is that Thad has the ability to create twins. After all, he fathered twins twice. He himself was a twin.
So did he create Stark? I think that he did, actually. I think Thad was perhaps blessed (or maybe cursed) with that ability to create and harbor other personalities, much like Susannah Dean of the Dark Tower series. And Thad’s ability to create and harbor these other personalities seems to be directly linked to his creative ability. In fact, maybe Thad’s ability to create other personalities is an extreme manifestation of his writing talent, similar to how Edgar Freemantle (Duma Key) is able to alter reality with his paintings.
Another reason why I love The Dark Half is because this is a book that has a lot to say about the subject of creativity.
Additionally, many of King’s characters happen to be writers, or artists of some kind at, at the very least. Mike Noonan, Bill Denbrough, Ben Mears and Jake Epping are all King characters that dabble in writing of some form. Even poor Jack Torrance (The Shining) was an aspiring writer. Writing is something that King is familiar with (for obvious reasons), so it often gets incorporated into his stories.
However, King is not merely content to incorporate writers as characters into his stories. Since he is The Master, he needs to take an extra step or four.
In other words, King often writes about writing, not just the writer. In fact, the art of writing is a major plot point to several of his stories, including Bag of Bones, Misery and even The Dark Tower.
The effect of fiction on both the writer and the reader is another major theme in many of King’s works. Again, Misery, The Dark Tower, Finders Keepers and Bag of Bones, along with several other stories, also address this theme.
And it could be argued that The Dark Half addresses all of these themes in one fell swoop.
We have the main character, Thad Beaumont, who is a writer. Thad struggles to obtain the kind of success he wants, since the “literary” books that he writes do not sell well, and he is forced to rely on the “pulp” books about Alexis Machine to pay the bills. This is a struggle, and causes Thad to question where he fits in as a writer.
Obviously, The Dark Half deals with the effect of fiction on the reader. When he wrote as George Stark, Thad found a rabid fan base. When Thad writes as himself and not George Stark, his fans (although they could really be considered Stark’s fans) are disappointed, and refer to his work as “terrible.” Often, fans of a particular offer become entitled, and grow angry when the author does not “deliver.”
The effect of fiction on the writer is also addressed in The Dark Half. Thad claims to want to write a “serious” novel, but it seems his heart is never in it. He blames the distraction of George Stark on not being able to write his “serious” novel, However, Thad gets enjoyment when he starts writing the novel that Stark demands of him. Again, this causes Thad to question just where he fits in as a writer, and just what success means. Does success include writing something that he himself is satisfied with? Does it include pleasing his fans? Does include “critical” success?
As most Constant Readers know, Stephen King, for a time, wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. In King’s mind, writing under the Bachman name would allow him to step outside his “genre,” or write works that were not “just horror.” King had become typecast as a horror writer, and feared that he would be unable to explore any other type of writing, as people had come to expect him to write horror stories, and nothing else.
Of course, anyone who pays attention to King should know that he is a great writer, period. He does write scary stories, but there is so much more to King than “horror.” The Dark Tower series is an epic fantasy series, much like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. 11/22/63 is a story about time travel and King’s feelings in regards to the Vietnam War. The collections Hearts in Atlantis and Different Seasons both contain stories that cannot be classified as horror stories. In fact, it can be argued that King’s strength is writing about ordinary people faced with extraordinary situations. This is evident even in his books that are horror stories, in characters such as Danny Torrance, the members of The Losers Club, Jack Sawyer (The Talisman and Black House) and so forth. King’s writing is so effective because people can relate to it, and the situations become that much more believable,
But early on in King’s career, he likely felt compelled to write horror fiction, at least under his own name. People had come to expect that, after all, and wouldn’t read something outside the horror genre, something that dealt with “real life situations.” Even today, there are people who are still prejudiced in regards to King: they either still think he “only writes scary stories” or have no interest in the non-horror works written by King. I have known more than a few people who have complained about that Dr. Sleep is not a direct sequel to The Shining, despite the fact that The Shining was written when King was much younger and in the beginning stages of his problems with drugs and alcohol. Their reactions are similar to a fan’s reaction to Thad’s work not written under the George Stark name: they are unable to read it, because it is not the formula they had grown used to.
In order to write other types of fiction, King developed the pseudonym of Richard Bachman early on in his career. Under the Bachman pseudonym, he was finally free to write other types of fiction, i.e. not horror fiction. And with the exception of Thinner, most of the Bachman books do not contain supernatural themes. Roadwork, The Long Walk, Rage and The Running Man are all disturbing on some level, but they are disturbing because they deal with “real life horrors,” such as the exploitation of our youth, corporate greed and our need to be entertained via television. In other words, Bachman’s work may be a little more mainstream, even though the Bachman books could still be considered to be in the horror category, although not the supernatural or fantastical horror category.
For several years, Bachman, like George Stark did for Thad, provided King an outlet to explore other types of writing. However, all good things must come to end. Like Thad, King was forced to kill off his “twin” when it was discovered that Richard Bachman and Stephen King were in fact the same person. And, like Thad, King went about the “murder” in humorous fashion, even saying that Bachman passed away from “cancer of the pseudonym.”
(Side note: Bachman never died. He just works on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower, helping Jax and his friends dispose of dead bodies, demanding to listen to music when he works.)
But, like George Stark, Richard Bachman will not stay dead. Eventually, Bachman emerged in other King works, like the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, Misery and Cujo, which are all books that contain themes of real life horror, as opposed to supernatural horror. Dicky Bachman even managed to publish posthumous works, such as The Regulators and Blaze.
In other words, an artist’s “dark side” can never truly be killed. Richard Bachman is still alive and well, manifesting himself through the works of Stephen King. And George Stark may have been carried off to parts unknown by an unimaginably large group of sparrows, but do we really believe that was the end of him?
Darkness lives in all of us. And like it or not, it is a vital part of the creative process. And any attempts to bury that darkness will backfire on us. Eventually, the darkness will be unleashed. And the world is not usually able to accept or handle that darkness.
Well, that’s it for The Dark Half! Join me next month, when I review and dissect Black House.
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Like of all of King’s work, The Dark Half is set squarely in the King universe and is connected to several other King books. Here are some of the connections I found:
-Part of The Dark Half is set in the town of Castle Rock. Castle Rock is the setting for several King books and short stories, including The Dead Zone, The Body (Different Seasons), Needful Things and Cujo.
-Thad Beaumont is mentioned by Mike Noonan in the book Bag of Bones. It is revealed that Thad commits suicide several years after the events in The Dark Half.
-Alan Pangborn is a major character in the book Needful Things. Pangborn also alludes to Thad’s suicide and the fact that his wife divorces him shortly after the events in The Dark Half.
-The town of Ludlow is mentioned. Ludlow is the setting for the novel Pet Sematary.
-The town of Harlow is also mentioned. Part of the novel Revival takes place in Harlow.
As I have stated before, one of Stephen King’s strengths as a writer is that he writes about “real life”, and is able to write about it very well.
And this is a good thing for a few reasons.
For one, it makes the stories more believable. The Shining is a good example of this. We may know the book for the scary hotel and the lecherous ghost in a certain famous room, but much of the book centers around the Torrance family and their problems, which include financial issues, abuse and substance abuse. These are all topics we are familiar with, so when the familiar is juxtaposed with the supernatural, it makes the supernatural that much more believable.
In other words, seeing Jack’s struggles with addiction and his need to provide for his family adds an element of credibility, and suddenly we can believe that an old hotel is really haunted by angry ghosts that want to use you as a human battery of sorts, because you really do have those psychic abilities.
(Ok, maybe a stretch on the psychic abilities part. But, still you never know.)
King also creates great characters. These characters also add to the story, allowing one to emphasize with the horrible situations they are put in.
In fact, King has the ability to create a sympathetic “good guy” and a great bad guy. Both of these are essential to any good story.
Actually, bad guys are unfortunately a part of real life…
Coincidentally (or maybe not), one of King’s most iconic bad guys is, in fact, a politician.
Again, real life can actually be much scarier than a clown in the sewers or a haunted hotel.
With it being an election year that has proved to be horror show that scares even motherfuckers like Stephen King, there was only one thing to do.
That’s right: a read and review of The Dead Zone! Makes perfect sense!
So join me, if you will, on my recap and dissection of The Dead Zone…hope you don’t scare easily!
Oh, as always:
The prologue of the book features two people. One is a young boy by the name of Johnny Smith. Johnny suffers a head injury as a child due to an ice-skating accident. This accident is not serious, but it does briefly render Johnny with precognitive abilities. However, these abilities soon become dormant, and the rest of Johnny’s childhood is normal.
The other person is a man named Greg Stillson. In the beginning of the book, Stillson is a young man who does door-to-door sales, but aspires for something better for himself. However, there is something not quite right about Stillson, as he is shown to be a cruel man. On one of his stops, Stillson kicks a dog to death out of anger, and proceeds to cover the act up so that he will not be caught.
Several years later, Johnny has graduated from college and secured a job as a teacher. He is also dating a young woman named Sarah Bracknell. One fall night, Johnny and Sarah attend a fair. Johnny wins big in one of the gambling games and plans to consummate his relationship with Sarah. However, Sarah becomes ill, and Johnny takes a cab back to his apartment.
Tragedy strikes on the cab ride back to Johnny’s apartment: the cab collides with another vehicle. The driver of the cab is killed, along with the passengers in the other vehicle. Johnny survives the accident, but suffers from severe brain damage and falls into a coma.
For nearly five years, Johnny remains in the coma. His parents, Herb and Vera Smith, are grief-stricken. However, Herb is able to cope with the accident a little better than Vera, who succumbs to a sort of religious mania, and begins to subscribe to beliefs that can only be described as “fringe science.” Sarah is also grief-stricken, but falls in love with a man named Walt Hazlett and has a son by him.
While Johnny is in the coma, a killer that becomes known as the Castle Rock begins to terrorize the town of Castle Rock. Several women are murdered, but the murders go unsolved.
One day, Johnny awakens from his coma. His mobility is limited, and he lacks control over certain bodily functions, but he is coherent and remembers his name, his parents, etc. Johnny is also devastated to find out that Sarah has re-married, but holds no ill will against her.
Almost as soon as he awakens from his coma, Johnny begins to manifest precognitive abilities. When Sarah visits him in the hospital, he is able to touch her and tell her where she lost her wedding ring. He is also able to touch one of his doctors, Dr. Weizak, and determine that Weizak’s mother did not die in the Holocaust, after all, and is living in California. Both of premonitions are subsequently verified, and bring attention to Johnny.
Johnny continues with his physical therapy and rehabilitation, even though it is painful for him. One day, he touches his physical therapist, and has a premonition that the woman’s house has caught on fire. Luckily, the fire department catches the fire on time, and no serious damage is done to the woman’s house. However, this incident continues to bring more unwanted attention upon Johnny, in the form of curious reporters.
Shortly after the incident with his physical therapist, Johnny is hounded by news reporters who are curious about his abilities. With Dr. Weizak at his side, Johnny attempts to answer some of their questions. When he touches one reporter, Johnny is able to obtain some information about the reporter’s deceased sister, and there is no explanation as to how Johnny could have obtained this information. The reporter becomes angry and calls Johnny a charlatan, even though the information is not false.
However, Johnny is distracted from the reporters when he finds out that his mother is in the hospital, as she has suffered a stroke. Vera passes away shortly after Johnny’s arrival at the hospital, and Johnny and his father are devastated.
While Johnny is recovering from his accident, Greg Still becomes the mayor of a small town in New Hampshire and is on a rise to power. However, his methods of keeping order in his city are unorthodox, to say the least, and some question his legitimacy.
After the death of his mother, Johnny moves back into his childhood home with his father. Shortly after he moves back home, Johnny is approached by a man named Richard Dees. Richard Dees works for a tabloid magazine called The Inside View, and offers Johnny a job at the magazine that promises to be quite lucrative. Johnny becomes angry, and chases the reporter off his property, threatening to hurt Dees if he ever returns.
Sarah visits Johnny a few days after the incident with Richard Dees. Even though she is happily married to Walt, Sarah consummates her relationship with Johnny, reminding Johnny on what he has missed. Sarah then leaves, and she and Johnny agree not to contact each other again.
The weeks and months pass by, and Johnny struggles to return to a normal life. An article accusing him to be a charlatan is published in The Inside View, in retribution for his refusal to work for the tabloid. However, Johnny ignores the article, and the publicity surrounding him begins to die off.
One day, Johnny receives a call from Sheriff George Banner in regards to the Castle Rock Strangler murders. Sheriff Bannerman requests Johnny help in solving the case, as the case has remained unsolved for several years and quite a few women have fallen victim to the murderer. Initially, Johnny refuses to help, as he feels that he is being mocked.
However, when Johnny watches a news report on the murders, he changes his mind and agrees to meet with Sheriff Banner. He meets with Sheriff Bannerman in a local diner, and finds out that the latest victim of The Castle Rock Strangler was a nine year old girl. Johnny heads back to the police station with Bannerman, so that he can touch something that may have belonged to the killer, and hopefully get some information on the murderer.
When Johnny touches the cigarette carton that may have belonged to the murderer, he does not get any information. However, Johnny heads to the site where the murder occurred, in the hopes that he will be able to obtain some information from the area. And Johnny is successful in making this visit, and reveals the murderer to be Frank Dodd, who is actually one of Sheriff Bannerman’s deputies. When Johnny makes this revelation, Sheriff Bannerman is angered, but agrees to at least investigate the possibility that Frank was involved in these murders.
The sheriff and Johnny then head to Frank’s house to confront him in regards to the murders. When they arrive, they find that Frank has somehow figured out that he has been caught, and has committed suicide by slitting his throat with a razor. He has also written “I confess” on his bedroom mirror in red lipstick.
After The Castle Rock Strangler has been caught, Johnny’s life has been turned upside down. He is hounded by the press, and loses a teaching contract that he had previously secured.
The years pass, and Johnny eventually moves to a nearby town and obtains a job tutoring a high school boy named Chuck. Johnny is quite good at his job, and helps Chuck overcome his difficulties with reading.
Greg Stillson continues to gain popularity as a politician, and runs for a seat in The House of Representatives. Johnny is somewhat skeptical of Stillson, but does not pay him much mind, as he continues to try to live a normal life.
One afternoon, Johnny attends a rally to hear Greg Stillson speak. Johnny is able to shake Stillson’s hand, and has one of his premonitions: he sees Stillson being elected president and wreaking havoc on the United States and the rest of the world. This frightens Johnny badly, causing him to faint. When he awakens, he is questioned by the police, but released, as they cannot charge him with a crime.
Johnny continues to work with Chuck, and to live his life. However, Greg Stillson is never far from his mind, and Johnny decides that something needs to be done about him, although he does not like the idea of killing, even a psychopath like Stillson. Johnny begins to keep obsessive notes on Stillson, and wonders just what he can do.
One night, Chuck gives Johnny a hug, thanking him for his help. Johnny has another premonition. He sees the restaurant that is hosting a graduation party that Chuck is planning on attending get struck by lightening, killing several students. One of these students may be Chuck. Johnny convinces Chuck not to attend the party, and Chuck agrees, hosting a party of his own at his parent’s house. Later that night, Johnny hears a radio broadcast that there has been a fire at that restaurant, and that 75 people were killed in the fire, which was caused by a lightening strike.
After the incident at the restaurant, Johnny flees New England and heads to Florida. He is determined to stop Stillson at any cost, and purchases a gun. He then heads back north, in the hopes of catching Stillson at a town hall meeting in Jackson, New Hampshire.
At the meeting, Johnny fires his gun at Stillson. In order to defend himself, Stillson grabs an infant and uses the boy as a human shield. A nearby reporter takes a picture of Stillson’s act of cowardice. In the meantime, Johnny is shot by Stillson’s bodyguards and dies almost instantly, but knows that even though he was unable to shoot Stillson, he has still completed his mission.
Once the picture of Greg Stillson’s act of cowardice is brought to the public’s attention, his political career is killed, and the world is safe from the nuclear war that otherwise would have occurred. It is also discovered that Johnny Smith was suffering from a brain tumor and had only months to live. His letters to his father and Sarah indicate that he was of clear mind in his decision to stop Stillson.
Sarah visits Johnny’s grave, and feels distressed. However, she feels a ghostly, gentle hand on her cheek, and knows that Johnny is not truly gone.
The Dead Zone. Many know Stephen King as the guy who writes scary stories. And they would not be wrong, some of King’s material can scare someone right into a change of pants.
But then, you have the underrated gem otherwise known as The Dead Zone. In other words, the other Stephen King. And people often forget that King does indeed have another side. And this side is not the one that can scare you into a change of pants.
No, one of the things that the other Stephen King is good at is feelsies.
Yes, the guy that can (literally) scare the crap out of you can also reduce you to tears, and not the kind of tears brought on by a certain homicidal clown or by a creepy woman who has taken up resident in the bathtub in a certain famous (or is it infamous?) room in a haunted hotel.
No, these are the kind of tears that you shed for the human condition, which is actually one of the most fucked up conditions of all time.
And The Dead Zone is a constant reminder of this, even from the very beginning. Tragedy does not wait to strike in The Dead Zone.
Rather, it rears its ugly head right away, as Johnny falls into the coma right away. When Johnny falls into a coma, his life is forever changed. He was a young man with a bright future with the woman he loved. However, the accident changes everything for Johnny. He is no longer the young man with a bright future, the young man who made being a high school teacher look effortless, the young man who had a beautiful girlfriend who he planned to marry. He is now a vegetable, and even his father prays for death for him, so that he can receive some form of mercy.
The lives of Johnny’s loved ones are irrevocably changed as well. His parents have effectively experienced the death of their only child. To witness your only child suffer like that…it’s no wonder that Vera basically went insane, and Johnny’s father prayed for his death, so that he would not have to witness his only child suffering. Who could blame them?
And there was another victim to tragedy: Sarah Bracknell. It is true that Sarah was not married to Johnny, or even engaged to him. Sarah’s tragedy was the future that never came to be: her marrying Johnny, building a life with him, possibly even having children together. However, the accident robbed Sarah of that, and made her live with “the what if” for the rest of her life.
The tragedy continues, even when Johnny awakens from his coma. “The world has moved on” (in the words of another famous King character.) Johnny has missed out on almost five years of his life. Not only does Johnny not know who the president of the United States is, he has missed out so many other things, like his career and his family. And perhaps the saddest part is that Sarah has moved on and married another, so he has also lost the love of his life, along with the five years he will never get back.
Stephen King often writes about ordinary people placed into extraordinary situations. The Stand, It, The Shining and even the Dark Tower series are all examples of this. And The Dead Zone is, as well.
At first glance, the ability to predict the future may seem like a good thing. After all, knowing that something terrible with happen gives us a chance to prevent it, and preventing something terrible from happening is always a good thing, right?
More like nope, at least in The Dead Zone. Johnny’s abilities make him a pariah. They frighten other people, because most people fear what they don’t understand. Often, Johnny’s knowledge brings some unwelcome revelations. Sheriff Bannerman punched Johnny for accusing Frank Dodd of being the Castle Rock strangler. Bannerman literally needed to have the evidence in front of his face before he would even entertain the notion. And even then, he wasn’t convinced. Bannerman was only fully convinced when he got a written confession from Dodd, and by then it was too late for Dodd to face justice.
Johnny’s abilities also put him in a moral predicament. He knows that a nuclear war will ensue if Greg Stillson becomes president. But is there any way to prevent this from happening, without resorting to actions which make Stillson such an awful person (as Stillson has shown he is not above murder, by killing law enforcement officials who possibly would have put a stop to his political career)? However, unlike Stillson, Johnny is not someone who can so easily resort to murder. Johnny struggles hugely with his decision, and often (rightfully) curses his “gift”, which has caused so much turmoil in his life.
Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?
Throughout my re-read of The Dead Zone, I wondered this. A lot, actually.
And I think we all know what I am referencing…
Although I will also take a dig at Her Nibs here, just to show I am not just picking on The One Who Won’t Be Named.
In all seriousness, the resemblances to our current political climate is just unreal. That’s the only word I can think of to describe it.
King’s description of Stillson’s antics at his rallies is so strikingly similar to Donald Trump’s antics. In one scene, Stillson crawls across the stage like a dog. In another scene, Still promises “free hot dogs for all.” I am sure that if I actually watched some Donald Trump rallies (while we are on the subject of being scared into a change of pants), I would find footage of The Donald crawling across the stage like a dog. Probably barking too.
And don’t even get me started on the subjects of hot dogs, since Mr. Trump has so generously let us known that his…ummm…man parts are fully functioning and of proper size. Actually, if you never want to eat hot dogs ever again after reading this paragraph, I won’t hold it against you!
But, let’s get serious again. Stillson founded his platform on hate, just like Mr. Trump. Donald Trump has been repeatedly promising us that wall that Mexico will so magnanimously fund. Stillson also had a hatred of the “outsiders”, promising his constituents that he would eradicate them. Both Trump and Stillson attracted a certain type of voter: white, lower middle class, ignorant and convinced that their problems were causes by “the outsiders” (Muslims, an African America president with a “foreign” name, any “foreigners”, etc), and not by a system that is inherently unfair to anyone who is not rich, like Stillson and Trump. So both men were able to take the rising fear experienced by their supporters, and got the results that they wanted: supporters who are frightened, and because they are frightened, are actually zealots as opposed to supporters.
When reading this book, I was also struck by the description of the violence at Stillson’s rallies. One woman had a miscarriage. People broke bones and suffered other injuries.
Like I said, art sometimes imitates life. And I may be insufferable in regards to the jokes I have been making about Trump and Stillson lately. But then King throws in a detail, like the fact that a woman suffered a miscarriage due to the violence at one of Stillson’s rallies. I can also watch footage of violence at Trump rallies, as there has plenty. And I can’t joke any more, since I am reminded of the horrible problem we have in this country, where these types of incidents are accepted. Footage like this is much, much scarier than anything that has ever come out of the mind of Stephen King.
Johnny Smith prevented Greg Stillson from starting a nuclear war. This is a scenario that would be all too plausible if Donald Trump was to be elected the leader of the free world. When someone uses fear as his/her campaign platform and actually gets elected, what else can we expect? The campaign was not based on rationality, so why would any decisions, especially the important ones, be based on rationality? In other words, campaigns based on hate and fear do not end well, and will probably end in disaster.
In school, I remember reading Animal Farm. 1984 also may have been required reading. However, The Dead Zone was not required reading. And that was a damn shame. Perhaps, if this book was required reading in high school, “Making America great again” would not be a political platform in 2016.
Well, that’s it for The Dead Zone. Join me next month for the review and dissection of another Castle Rock tale, The Dark Half. And there will be a bonus recap and review, as the final installment of The Mr. Mercedes trilogy, End of Watch, will be released next month.
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Just for fun, here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in The Dead Zone:
-Sheriff George Bannerman also makes an appearance in the novella The Body (part of the collection Different Seasons), and in the book Cujo.
-The events from the book Carrie are referenced.
-Beverly Marsh mentions the Castle Rock Strangler in the book It.