My breakdown of the 1990 It miniseries, on my YouTube channel. Again, subscribe, pretty please?
My breakdown of the 1990 It miniseries, on my YouTube channel. Again, subscribe, pretty please?
(Or a journal entry, if you prefer. You know, back in the prehistoric days where we *gasp* used pencil and paper to write.)
In fact, you could argue that perhaps she has visited this particular world a few too many times, and is a little obsessed, as she has written a series of entries detailing her adventures.
So, let us take a peek into this world. Oh, and as always:
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!
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.
So, it’s summertime.
Not only is it hot, but the offerings on television are a bit scant, so to speak.
Although, really, I was craving a dose of the 80’s.
But The Goldbergs are also on vacation. And I needed something new and fresh, and none of the 80’s movies or TV shows in my collection were cutting it!
But luckily, Netflix decided to oblige me…
I heard that there was new show out. It could satisfy that 80’s craving…check.
I’m a huge fan of horror and it was scary…check.
It paid homage to some writer guy I am obsessed with…check.
Oh, and it was actually well-acted and directed…check.
In other words, I am referring to the Netflix show known as Stranger Things.
Yes, I jumped on the Stranger Things bandwagon!
No I didn’t get a t-shirt, but it was one hell (or is it upside down?) of a ride!
Now, I didn’t binge. Despite my love for this show, it still is a fine wine that needed to be savored.
So I forced myself to slow down.
In other words, I finished watching the show in about a week. And I still felt that I rushed it a bit, since there was so much good stuff to savor!
Like the 80’s aspect of it…nostalgia rules!
The Stephen King references…The Master himself even earned a direct reference…but I know he won’t let the fame get to his head!
And this show was scary…I had to hide my eyes and grip my poor dog really hard watching some parts…good thing dogs are tolerant of their human slaves, even when the human slaves are watching scary stuff on TV!
In other words, there are so many reasons to love Stranger Things. The show really does have a little something for everyone, and is so well done.
So, I deemed this show worthy of a post on this little old blog. And I narrowed down the number of reasons to love this show…
Wait for it…
(See what I did there? You are welcome!)
So, here is my list of 11 reasons as to why Stranger Things is an awesome show. It may be a bit redundant in parts, but I feel each reason earned its place on the list and is worthy of discussion.
Time to break down and discuss this show, so buckle in for the ride!
And, as always:
It is scary
Some of you may be scratching your heads, and wondering if Captain Obvious has taken over this blog. And I don’t begrudge you for that thought. After all, this show is billed as being in the horror category, so of course it’s scary, right?
Well, not necessarily. Both the big and small screen are filled with all kinds of abominations these days that call themselves horror. And when I refer to them as abominations, that does not necessarily mean they are the good kind of abomination…
So, let’s break it down and discuss it.
When I watched Stranger Things, I felt warm and fuzzy at times. After all, nostalgia, right? And I laughed. I mean who wouldn’t laugh? After all, Dustin’s antics, floating Eggo waffles and Steve’s hair…all of those are pretty chuckle-worthy, in my opinion.
And, as quickly as I felt the warm and fuzzy, or went into a mad fit of giggling over a Dustin one-liner, I found myself holding on to my dog for dear life (like I said, she’s tolerant) and trying not to be scared into a change of pants. The show was that effective.
First of all, there was the concept of the Upside Down. An alternate dimension that sucks in a little kid. forcing him to communicate using Christmas lights? One of man’s greatest fears is the fear of the unknown. And an alternate dimension fits that category perfectly, as that would be one of the few frontiers left.
Nancy is briefly sucked into that alternate dimension, and seeing it through her eyes was just frightening. No wonder she needed a little company that night. I don’t think I would ever sleep again!
There is also The Monster. Although the politically correct name for him (it?) is Mr. Tulip-Head. So I shall refer to him by his proper name in this post, so no tentacles are ruffled!
And Mr. Tulip-Head is not one to be trifled with, yo!
Not only is he an extra-dimensional monster that is a predator (you could say that the town of Hawkins was his haunt, as in haunt meaning a place where animals feed), he seems to force slug-like creatures down people’s throats, in an attempt to either kill them, or perhaps an attempt to reproduce…
I tell you, if Will has a mini Mr. Tulip-Head come busting out of him, per the infamous scene in the movie Alien…well, I won’t be surprised at all! And you can say you heard it here first!
Did anyone else think sushi when Will puked up that tentacle, by the way?
Ok, so that was just me then…
Well, nevermind, I guess…
It is Nerd Heaven
From the opening scene of Stranger Things, the tone is set. The audience realizes that it will be treated to a…
I know, something nerdy making it on to this blog? Can you imagine!?
At the beginning of the first episode, the boys are playing Dungeons and Dragons. And using all the technical terms, like Demi-Gorgon. And trust me folks, it only gets nerdier.
Obviously, we have Mike, Will and the rest of the gang. Right from the beginning, the writers of the show let us know that they are the nerds among their peer group. This title includes the good grades, unusual hobbies (D&D and membership in the audio-visual club), and the other, not positive attributes of nerdiness, such as the empty social calendar and merciless bullying.
Not only is D&D present throughout the series (as a useful metaphor, no doubt), there are so many little details that made my nerdy heart go pitter-patter.
We have the teacher that has a hot date with a pretty girl explaining the special effects in a horror movie. Who needs brawn and muscles when you have a guy that can give a technical break down of the special effects in a scary movie to put your mind at ease?
There is the sensory deprivation chamber. I loved how the boys, Hop and Joyce speculated on how to create one, and then hit upon the idea of using salt water. It added some credibility to the series, although I think I will skip making one in an attempt to visit another dimension, as this one without Mr. Tulip-head is just fine, thank you!
I also loved it when the guys talked to the science teacher (the same expert on special effects in movies), about the existence of other dimension, and how to access those dimensions. As a teenager, I read tons of books on physics, along with science fiction and fantasy novels covering that same topic (A Wrinkle in Time is a favorite of mine) and it is a subject of endless fascination for me, even in adulthood. So to see it addressed on this show (the analogy with the acrobat and flea on the tightrope is an excellent) gave me goosebumps. And goosebumps of the good variety.
If I actually had a friend group as a child, I hope that group would have contained a Dustin, a Mike, a Will and a Lucas. After all, nerd power!
It has strong feminist leanings
The formula looks something like this: a scary monster (or serial killer) is on the loose, somehow. There are all kinds of hints, but both the teenagers and adults ignore the warning signs. The teenagers are left to their own devices. In other words, teenagers of the opposite sex gather together, and “own devices” turns out to mean “having sex.” So most of the teens pair off, and conveniently find fully furnished bedrooms. And then they have sex. Well, except for a couple of virtuous kids, who are either uncomfortable with the idea of dating before marriage, or the nerdy guy (or girl, but usually a guy) who is rejected by the beautiful member of the opposite sex for either the jock or cheerleader.
Apparently, nothing angers a movie villain more than sexually active teenagers. And the kinkiness of the sex involved is directly proportional to how quickly (and even how gruesomely) the teenagers get dispatched. It is then up to the virtuous guy or girl to face the killer, and defeat the killer, who just won’t stay dead, even after being riddled with a large number of bullets that would take down any non horror movie villain.
Or something like that, at any rate. Formulaic, in other words.
Now, Stranger Things may be a tribute to the 80’s and all things horror, but one thing it is not is formulaic. This includes its treatment of the teenage girl. In fact, Stranger Things stands the formula on its head, and can be argued to make a strong feminist statement by doing so.
Well, no. Although my friends and family may argue otherwise, but you can’t miss what you never had, right?
And yes, Stranger Things does make a strong feminist statement, and here’s why.
Nancy becomes involved with Steve, and sneaks out to a party, lying to her parents and convincing poor Barb to cover for her. Pretty typical teen behavior, in other words.
Not surprisingly, Nancy and Steve have sex. The other couple at the party has sex. And poor Barb is left to her own devices.
Standard horror fare, in other words.
But then, we veer away from the standard horror. Nancy survives her first time, although Steve behaves in a pretty boorish manner (in other words, a teenage boy.) Barb, however, does not survive that night, as she is attacked by Mr. Tulip-Head. Apparently, Mr. Tulip-Head did not get the memo from Jason or Michael Myers, and does not attack the teenagers engaged in premarital sex. Rather, he behaves like a typical predator, and attacks the isolated member of the herd, aka Barb.
It takes a bit, but Nancy realizes that Barb is missing. She confesses her lie to her mother and speaks to the police, naturally leaving out that she and Steve had sex that night. I mean, it’s not like her sex life is anybody’s business but hers, right?
Furthermore, Nancy lets her mother know this, in no uncertain terms. Yes, she had sex and Barb is now missing. But the two are NOT related, nor should they be seen as related. Because, you know, becoming sexually active and an extra-dimensional monster that had been unleashed due to the irresponsible actions of a shady operation in town are NOT related, so let’s focus on the important thing here: now two children are missing, and maybe our town is in danger, so let’s do something before more people turn up missing?
In other words, quit punishing women for being sexual! Being sexual should not lead to death! And a women’s sex life is no one’s business but her own! Yeah, go Stranger Things!
Plus, Nancy kicks ass anyway. She threw down some serious shade against Mr. Tulip-Head, and they boys just kind of followed her lead.
In other words, I can’t give Nancy enough love.
It is 80’s heaven
And let me count the ways…
Where do I even start? This show just has so much 80’s…
We have the decor in the houses. Someone took some great care to make sure that the houses looked like something you would see back in 1983, from the wall paper down to the carpeting. So there’s that.
We get 80’s music. The Clash? How much more 80’s can you get?
And movie references. Don’t forget those. Joyce surprising Will with tickets to go see Poltergeist. And then Will disappearing, in much the same manner as Carol Anne Freeling. It’s true that Joyce developed an obsession with all things electronic and not the TV, but the concept is still the same.
I saw elements of The Goonies and Stand by Me. In fact, the story arc of Mike and his friends is kind of similar to these two movies: plucky misfit kids have a crazy adventure together and test their friendship in the process. Well, just add in extra-dimensional monsters and shady government operatives. But still not too far off.
The television that happened to be playing an episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe…squee!
Throw in a little John Hughes as well. The girl must choose between two guys: one is kind of a lovable meathead, and the other is artistic and introspective, and the sworn enemy of the aforementioned meathead…
Then there is the character of Hop, who had a kind of Indiana Jones vibe…swoon…
So much nostalgia.
I grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s (I am 38, for all you nosy folk), and when I watched Stranger Things, I was (at least momentarily), transported back to my childhood, and was reminded of a time in my life when things were a little less complicated.
And no, I am not looking back with rose-colored glasses. That’s 3 D glasses I am using, thank you very much!
Now excuse me, I have to go find some leggings that coordinate with my banana clip…battling extra-dimensional monsters will just have to wait!
The nods to different types of horror
Well, we just talked about how the show is scary. So of course, since it is a show in the horror category, right?
Captain obvious strikes again!
Actually, this reason is more in regards to the fact of how the show paid homage to so many different types of horror.
First of all, we have the 1980’s horror aspect. When I watched, I was reminded of all the 80’s classics: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and the Halloween movies. Those movies had teenagers or young adults as their protagonists, just like Stranger Things.
One of the main points of the show was the fear of the unknown. Again, I was reminded of John Carpenter (The Thing.) The premise of The Thing is a life form that is not understood, just like Mr. Tulip-Head in Stranger Things. That creature is definitely not understood, nor would understanding be a good thing (although it may result in one being forced to ingest slugs.)
I was also reminded of the movie Alien, which (again) deals with the fear of the unknown. And has a strong female protagonist. Nancy and Ellen Riply…now that would be a dangerous combo!
And I was also reminded of H.P. Lovecraft…
Yes, a show that is a mix of Stephen King’s It and The Goonies also has some nods to Lovecraft…who knew?
The idea that Will had been touched by the unknown (after he pukes up a slug and seems to be back in the Upside-Down momentarily) and forever changed is also something that is distinctively Lovecraftian. One of the running themes in Lovecraft’s stories is that knowledge is not necessarily always a good thing, and Will experiencing life in another dimension was not necessarily a good thing. In fact, I think that experience will have some pretty severe repercussions, but only time (and a second season) will tell.
In fact, I found the end of this season to be pretty unsettling, as the camera shots and the shots of the stars in the sky seemed to imply that someone (or something) had its eye on Will, his friends, Nancy, Jonathan and the whole town of Hawkins, Indiana. And that someone or something was not friendly. Not friendly at all.
It is a HUGE homage to Stephen King
While we are on the subject of horror and scary things…
This reason may be a bit redundant.
After all, Stephen King is a horror writer. And he is scary. He is even tied into the 1980’s (It, Pet Sematary, Cujo and Firestarter are all 80’s books.) He even ties into the feminist part, since he is also capable of writing strong female characters.
But, he is The Master. And The Master deserves his own entry. Not to mention the fact that there are aspects to this show that are distinctly Stephen King.
We do have one character specifically asking another character if she has read a Stephen King book. Hey, if you are going to drop a bunch of King Easter eggs, you may as well admit it, right?
The fact that Eleven’s mother was drugged in order to enhance latent PSI abilities is a direct reference to the book (and movie) Firestarter. In Firestarter, a man and woman are drugged as part of an experiment. The man and woman fall in love, marry and have a child. The child is gifted (or perhaps cursed) with the ability to start fires with her mind. This is similar to Eleven’s situation, in that her mother was drugged, and then gave birth to a child with PSI abilities (aka Eleven.)
Plus, I am pretty sure that Hawkins Laboratory is actually an operative of The Shop…
People, especially children, with extraordinary abilities, are a major theme in King’s work. The Shining, Carrie, Everything’s Eventual, Dr. Sleep and Firestarter are just some examples. In fact, in the Dark Tower series, people with these abilities even have a name: Breakers. And Eleven definitely classifies as a Breaker. Don’t worry, I won’t tell the Low Men!
Traveling between realities is also a huge theme in King’s work. In fact, this also has a specific name: going Todash. And the space in between realities is called the Todash space, and monsters lurk in the Todash space. When Eleven was in the blackness and first encountered that monster…I would say that was a pretty good representation of Todash space!
In King’s books, there are doors that lead to realities. They are known as “thinnies,” and allow travel to different worlds and even different time periods. Eleven was able to use her PSI abilities to make one of these doors. And, as far as we know, that door still exists at Hawkins Laboratory, with the potential for more creatures (The Mist comes to mind) to cross over to the Stranger Things level of The Tower…
Yeah, I said it. I gave Stranger Things its own level on The Dark Tower. So if Roland and his ka-tet, or perhaps Danny Torrance, end up employing the services of a certain girl with a fondness for Eggo waffles…well, you heard it from me first, folks!
It gives an honest portrayal of small town life
I am someone who grew up in a small town, so I feel qualified to write about this topic. And it is something that has come up in many a blog post, mainly in the Stephen King related posts, as small towns are as vital to a Stephen King novel as kids with PSI abilities, homicidal clowns and rabid St. Bernards.
I have discovered that the only people who really understand the small town are those who have spent time in the small town (like Stephen King, obviously.)
You have one extreme that sees the environment as charming, quaint, maybe even bucolic. Can kids really go missing in a small town? You can leave your doors unlocked, right? The locals are charming!
Then, there is the other extreme: people who see the small town populated by the likes of the Peacock family, with no access to modern technology (what plumbing?) and just a general ignorance of the outside world, period.
The truth is that small towns are complex. Stephen King hits on this in books like Needful Things, It, ‘Salem’s Lot and many, many others. Stranger Things also hits on this, and in only eight episodes. I am sure that this theme will be discussed more in (hopefully) upcoming seasons as well.
On the the one hand, there is a sense of community in a town like Hawkins, Indiana. People rally together to comfort Joyce and help search for Will when it is believed that he is still alive. People are at ease with each other, because if they don’t know you, they probably went to school with one of your parents. Or worked with your best friend at the local factory.
But small towns have a sense of ugliness about them too. I can personally testify to this. And Mike and his friends can as well. The bullies hurl a racial slur at Lucas early on. Steve is able to spread rumors and ruin Nancy’s “reputation” fairly quickly. The lack of concern for Barb after she disappears is downright disturbing. People quickly assume that Barb is a runaway, and no effort is made on her behalf. And that is part of small town life: the people in the town do not want to believe that something may be amiss, and will try to cover it up.
So how long have the inhabitants of Hawkins Laboratory suspected, at least somewhere deep down, that something was amiss in their town? Obviously, Dr. Brenner (who will be referred to in this blog as Dr. Pedophile, due to his disgusting nature) has been performing unethical experiments for a long time. At the very least, these experiments produced poor Eleven, and a woman in a vegetative state (likely the mother of Eleven.)
But Eleven is the 11th. The 11th of what? Are there others like her? If so, what happened to them? And what do the people living in the town know? What other skeletons will emerge?
The show has been renewed for a second season, so I am sure we will be finding out a lot more about Hawkins, Indiana, and its secrets.
Now, all of the characters are fabulous. Let me just get that out there, less I ruffle the tentacles of Mr. Tulip-Head, and any other monsters that resemble flora gone terribly wrong!
Along with Old Tulip-Head, I have much love for the characters in this show. Even the bad guys, like Dr. Pedophile. They are well drawn-out and believable, even when they are behaving in ways that may make one scratch his or her head (talking to you, Sheriff Hop.)
But there is one character that deserves his own entry.
So, without any further ado…let me introduce Dustin!
And if you don’t love Dustin, then you are definitely in the same category as people who kick puppies and listen to Nickelback!
Ok, I may be joking. About the kicking puppies bit, anyway.
On the surface, Dustin is lovable. Actually, everything about him is lovable, from his love of chocolate pudding, to his smile and even that speech impediment!
But, there is much more to Dustin than his ability to track down chocolate pudding and that charming smile of his.
Dustin is the glue that holds his group of friends together. It is true that Mike is the brains, and Lucas is a fighter.
However, if it weren’t for Dustin, the group may have fallen apart. Mike and Lucas were constantly at odds with each other, especially when Eleven was added to the fold. In fact, things got physical, and Lucas was thrown in the air by Eleven for his troubles.
But due to Dustin’s insightful nature (he did understand that he could not have the same place in Mike’s life, because he didn’t come into it until fourth grade), Lucas and Mike were able to come to an agreement and reconcile. Dustin played the mediator, getting each side to compromise with each other, so that they did not compromise their mission: saving Will from what was literally Hell.
Dustin has been compared to Vern Tessio, a character in the movie Stand By Me. Superficially, there is something to that, as both Vern and Dustin provide comic relief and are the easy going friends who try to keep the peace.
But as a wise man pointed out: Dustin would never forget where he left his pennies.
This is Dustin. He’s our friend and essential to keeping us from killing each other so that we don’t leave our other friend some place that is not on any map!
Much of Stranger Things is about friendships, and the relationships the characters have with each other.
Obviously, we have Mike, Will, Lucas and Dustin. The OF, or Original Friendship, if you will. When Will goes missing, Mike will stop at nothing to find Will so that his group can be whole again.
Then, there is Eleven. Mike and Eleven seem to bond immediately, and Eleven slowly becomes something more than a human flashlight to Mike, even though he is still desperate to find his missing friend.
In fact, it could be argued that Eleven’s presence makes all the boys better people, although this is especially true for Mike, whose relationship with Eleven opens his eyes, and causes him to grow up a little.
We also have Nancy and Barb. Barb starts off as Nancy’s friend who is willing to do anything for her, including lying to her parents so that she can sneak out and spend time with Steven. However, Barb disappears into the Upside-Down, a seeming victim of the Mr. Tulip-Head. Like Will, Nancy is forced to grow up, as she searches for Barb, and encounters the callous reaction of law enforcement and even her parents, who refuse to believe that Barb is anything other than a teenage runaway.
There is the relationship between Nancy and Jonathan. Jonathan is frantically searching for his brother, and Nancy is frantically searching for her friend. The two bond in their mutual tragedy and work together to defeat the evil that is trying to destroy their town. Nancy develops a respect for Jonathan, viewing him as a person, rather than the “weird kid” that her peers see him as. Jonathan also develops a respect for Nancy, and seems to feel something more than friendship for her, even though Nancy reconciles with Steve.
Steve also bonds with Jonathan, and seems to genuinely feel remorse for the bullying. However, that friendship seems to be tentative at best, given that both men have feelings for Nancy.
In other words, people had “frenemies,” even back in the ancient times!
It tackles taboo topics
It is no secret that horror and “taboo” topics are linked. Almost every horror movie features sex of some kind (Friday the 13th and its approximately 725 sequels are a great example of this.) Candyman is another movie that deals with taboo topics, because it addresses racism.
And don’t even get me started on Stephen King, The King of Taboo Topics (pun intended.) King books run the gamut, from domestic violence, to bullying, to substance abuse and even to the death of a child. When “real-world” issues are included alongside the supernatural ones, the the story becomes that much more believable.
Stranger Things is no different, in that it also deals with taboo topics. The show begins with every parent’s worst nightmare: the disappearance of a child. And it only gets more taboo from there.
Early on in the series, we witness the bullying that Mike and his friends endure. Lucas is treated to a racial epithet. Dustin is harassed due to his speech impediment. And it gets worse, as the bullies make some disparaging remarks about Will’s supposed death, when they are supposed to be mourning the loss of their classmate.
Mike is not the only character who experiences bullying. Jonathan is also harassed for being different, and this harassment is experienced at the hands of Steve. Steve is also insensitive to the disappearance of Will, and to the disappearance of Barb, the best friend of the girl he claims to love.
We have the character of Sheriff Hopper. Hop’s character is a walking bundle of taboos, actually.
First of all, Hop is a substance abuser. He is an alcoholic, much like Jack Torrance in The Shining. Not surprisingly, he is also a womanizer, using sex and alcohol to escape his demons.
Hop has also experienced the ultimate tragedy: he has lost a child. Not surprisingly, this experience has shaped him into the man that he is. The loss cost him his marriage, and his ex wife has moved on and started a new family. Hop attempts to do this, but struggles mightily. However, when he meets Eleven and spends time in the Upside Down so that he can rescue Will, Hop is able to begin healing. It could even be said that Will and Eleven are surrogate children of Hop.
Often, subjects are “taboo” and therefore frightening because we choose to keep them in the dark. But when the light is turned on, the monsters are no longer as formidable as they once were.
Now, I know that I said I had made this list with no particular order in mind. But, like Maury Povich might say, this post has determined that to be a lie!
There is one aspect of Stranger Things that deserves her own entry, and should be in the spotlight, at least for a minute.
I mean, after all, it would be an Upside Down kind of logic if I didn’t pay her homage, right?
So, without any further ado…
Here is my favorite thing about Stranger Things!
Yes, in case you have not figured it out, I am talking about our favorite telekinetic, Eggo waffle loving, mouth breather hater with a cute buzz cut adolescent, aka Eleven!
Eleven is bad ass. I can’t think of any other way to put it.
She is here to kick ass and eat Eggo waffles, and she’s almost out of waffles!
In all seriousness, I just love Eleven. How can you not? People who hate Eleven are like people that listen to Nickelback!
Eleven is one tough chick.
She started out as an experiment. She doesn’t know her real parents. The only parental figure that she’s ever known is a creepy scientist, known as Dr. Pedophile for the purposes of this blog.
And to Dr. Pedophile, she is nothing but his lab experiment, to be used as how he sees fit. And he uses her to open gateways that should never be opened, and to explore what should remain unknown. When she escapes, his concern is not for her as a person, but as his test subject that someone else may access.
Eleven is forced to face things that would frighten people three times her age to death. Yet, she somehow does it, in the name of helping a boy that she has never met.
She is also fiercely loyal to her friends, although she has only known Mike, Lucas and Dustin for a short time. She makes the bully pee his pants…that is true friendship right there!
Even though Eleven has been raised in a lab, she still manages to exhibit the most humanity of anyone on the show. Nearly everyone on the show has an agenda: Mike and his friends want to find Will, Hop wants to expose Hawkins Laboratory, Nancy is looking for revenge for Barb. But not Eleven. The only thing Eleven is looking for (besides waffles) is love and acceptance. And she does manage to find that, if only for a short time.
However, Eleven’s happiness is tragically cut short, when she makes the ultimate sacrifice: she battles an extra-dimensional monster, and seemingly sacrifices herself so that her friends may live.
Often, bad ass can come in small packages. And Eleven is a lot of bad ass in one small package. But sometimes, small packages have the most give, just like Eleven.
So, there you have it. Eleven reasons why I love Stranger Things. Sure, maybe I missed a few, but I think I got most of them. Hopefully, I don’t incur the ire of Mr. Tulip-Head and his merry band of slugs1
This is Stranger Things. Its my show and it’s crazy…crazy awesome, that it is!
So, if you haven’t watched this show, I have given you eleven reasons to make sure that Netflix subscription is up to date…
So flop down on your couch, and prepare for one epic binge session!
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.
I am a nerd (well, duh).
I am also a woman (duh again, what was the name of this blog?)
Growing up, I loved things like horror, action movies and Batman.
In fact, I still love all of these things, although I have expanded my horizons a little bit (The Green Arrow is my show boo, thank you very much!)
And don’t get me wrong, I love being a nerd, and I always have, even if my social calendar has always been strangely empty. But being part of so many fan-doms, which have allowed me to meet so many wonderful people (Internet, where have you been all my life?), is simply rewarding…there is no other way to put it. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
However, being a female nerd has put me in a delicate position. I love my Batsy, I love my dispensers of vigilante justice and I love being scared into a change of pants by evil, sewer dwelling clowns and whatever other “monster of the week” happens to either haunting the books I read or the movies I watch.
But even as a child, I noticed something that made being a nerd that much harder, at least for me.
That’s right, you guessed it…the lack of female nerds.
At least, this was the case when I was growing up. It is true that April O’Neil was a presence on one of my favorite shows.
There was also Dr. Crusher.
(The fact that both of these ladies are gingers is just purely coincidental. Nope, no bias here at all).
But there was no denying it: nerdiness was not geared towards the likes of me. Instead, all the cool stuff was geared towards the boys. And although we have made some pretty good strides in recent years, there is still that mentality: meeting another woman who is versed in the story line of something like The Killing Joke and who is stoked for the upcoming movie is not common, even though this is something that is changing as well, although slowly.
In fact, when I was introduced to Special Agent Dana Scully, I wept. At last, a female nerd! She was smart AND could throw down some serious shade! And do all that in three inch heels!
As I got older, I began to look for female role models in my nerdy obsessions. Slowly, I began to find them.
In other words, I picked up my Stephen King habit after an extended hiatus. And I found some great female role models…
Ok, glad you have let that sink in. So quit laughing, and let’s talk about the ladies in the works of The Master.
King is the master of modern horror. This fact is undisputed by most. He knows how to terrify us, with his monsters, both human and inhuman.
King also has given us the Every Woman. It is true that some of his female characters are mainly seen through the eyes of another character who is usually male. Examples of those would include Wendy Torrance and Leigh Cabot.
But King has also created some great female characters that are either main characters, or “side characters” that actually stand on their own, sometimes even stealing the show from the guys.
So Stephen King is not only The Master, he has made some pretty cool contributions to the women’s movement…check! I still don’t know if he has mastered interpretive dance, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.
And I figure now would be a good time to pay tribute to some of these ladies via a post in this little old blog.
So, without further ado, here is a list of what I consider to be the most memorable women in King’s works. This is a list containing only ten, so I apologize if I left out your favorite…ranking awesome is not easy!
And, as always:
10. Jo Noonan (Bag of Bones)
I am trying to stick with “human” ladies for this post, so I struggled with this one for a bit.
However, Jo Noonan won out in the end. She was indeed a ghost, but she was living at one point. Which makes her human to me.
Jo Noonan was a force. In life, she was courageous and fought to the very end.
Even in death, she was unstoppable. Jo simply would not rest until her mission was accomplished: expose the truth (which was not pretty) in regards to a small town’s questionable history. Not only was Jo determined to expose the truth in regards to the small town that was her and Mike’s summer home, she was also determined to protect a child who had no tie to her or to Mike. However, that did not matter to Jo, as she was determine to break the curse that had ruined the lives of so many, including her own.
And Jo succeeded in that mission: with her help, Mike was able to stop the curse and save the life of an innocent, and was able to ensure that no further generations would suffer either.
Jo Noonan was a constant presence in this book. Even when her ghost was not around, we got to know her through her husband, Mike Noonan, as she was such a big part of his life, even after she died. Even though she technically not living, this fact was easy to forget, as Mike’s memories served to paint a vivid portrait of her, making her as essential to the story as the living cast.
In many of King’s works, children are put in perilous situations. Often, these children are faced with some adult situations that call for adult decisions. And a wrong decision can literally be the difference between life and death.
Abra Stone is one of these “King children.” And there are a couple of reasons why she is on this list. One of them is that she is female. She may be just a teenager when the events of Dr. Sleep take place, but she is forced to do quite a bit of growing up in a relatively short period of time, earning her a place on this list of distinguished women. Another reason is that she is simply an ass kicker. There is no other way to put it.
In the novel Dr. Sleep, the grown-up Danny Torrance (of redrum fame from The Shining) is a major player. Most of the adults that were in Danny’s life as a child failed him (especially his father.) So it is up to Danny to not fail Abra, a girl who possesses PSI abilities similar to his own, although hers are much stronger than his ever will be. And Danny succeeds in that mission, quite admirably.
However, Danny’s success was heavily tied to Abra and her abilities. Abra is an extremely brave young woman who takes on the leader of a clan of psychic vampires who call themselves the “True Knot.” In doing so, Abra risks her own, along with the lives of her loved ones. The clan has cheated death for centuries, and is determined to “harvest” Abra’s abilities so that they may continue to cheat death for many more years.
However, with the help of Abra, Danny is able to defeat this clan once and for all, saving the life of Abra and possibly several others. In other words, Abra was able to work with Danny so that Danny could succeed where his father had failed. Abra was able help Danny achieve something that he desperately needed: redemption.
No story is complete without a good bad guy.
Or bad gal, as the case may be.
Carrie is King’s first published work. The book definitely has this feel, and makes for an interesting read.
The title character, Carrie White, is fascinating in her own right. As a survivor of childhood bullying myself, I identify with Carrie White on many, many levels. In fact, I am pretty amazed that I survived high school and didn’t burn down my school on prom night (the fact that I could not get a date to prom to save my life has absolutely nothing to do with this.)
But the real strength of this book, at least to me, lies in the villains. I could consider Carrie’s schoolmates to be villains (and they are pretty awful) but to me, Margaret White, the mother of Carrie, is the true villain of the book.
Margaret is a religious fanatic who strives to raise her daughter to become the same way. However, Carrie attempts to defy Margaret so that she can fit in with her peers and be accepted somewhere. Usually, these efforts fail, and Carrie is left feeling even worse, which causes her mother to retreat even further into her religion, worsening the cycle.
Sex is considered dirty by Margaret White, and she does not explain “the birds and the bees” to her daughter. Therefore, when Carrie gets her first menstrual period at age 17, all hell literally breaks loose. Carrie thinks that she is dying, as she has no knowledge of what is a perfectly occurrence. She is further alienated by her peers. One of these girls feels some guilt, and attempts to help Carrie fit in by having her boyfriend take Carrie to her prom. Carrie fights her mother, who vehemently opposes any kind of normalcy, in order to try to fit in with her peers once again. However, once again, this backfires, but in a horrific way that no one could have imagined.
Throughout the book, Margaret White’s presence is felt, even up to the conclusion of the story. If it had not been for Margaret’s fanaticism, the outlook for poor Carrie may have been quite different, and the reign of destruction experienced by her classmates, teachers and ultimately her mother, may not have happened at all. So, in essence, Margaret White created the monster, and suffered the horrific consequences, along with many others.
7. Dolores Claiborne (Dolores Claiborne)
Domestic abuse is a common theme in many King works, including It, Rose Madder, ‘Salem’s Lot, Insomnia and many others. King writes about the every day issues we are all familiar, and domestic abuse is unfortunately one of those issues.
Dolores Claiborne is another King novel that deals with the issue of domestic abuse. However, there is a twist: Dolores Claiborne is one of the few stories of abuse told entirely from the perspective of the abused, a middle-aged woman named Dolores Claiborne.
Dolores endures some horrific abuse from her husband, Joe. Finally, Dolores takes a stand, and the abuse against her comes to a stop. But the spousal abuse is only the beginning, as Joe transfers his aggression to someone else: his and Dolores’ teenage daughter, Selena. Joe begins to sexually abuse Selena, and Selena’s innocence is forever lost. And Dolores realizes that her battle is not over.
At first, Dolores looks for a peaceful solution to her problem. But society reminds her that she is a woman and powerless against the hierarchy. So Dolores decides to forget the peaceful solution and resorts to killing her husband, making it look like an accident. Society and her husband have pushed her, and she pushes back the only way she can: a fatal “accident” that does indeed turn out to be “her best friend.”
However, Dolores is NOT a cold-blooded killer. She is a loving, hard-working mother who is doing the best she can for her family. The law is not on her side and society has marginalized her. But she has not given up the fight, and ultimately rises above it all.
Behind every good man, there is a good woman. Or something like that, as the saying goes. In other words, much of life is a partnership, and it really does take two to tango.
And this was the case in the novel 11/22/63. Jake Epping travels back in time to attempt to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In preventing the assassination of the president, Jake hopes to change history for the better.
Initially, Jake is alone in his question. But this is not the case for long. Jake meets and falls in love with Sadie Dunhill, a beautiful young woman who is in the midst of divorcing her abusive husband. And Jake’s quest becomes even more complicated.
Ultimately, Sadie takes a bullet and sacrifices her life so that Jake may succeed in his quest. When she learns of Jake’s mission, Sadie becomes an advocate, never letting Jake forget why he traveled back in time. She encourages Jake along the way and becomes as passionate about his mission as Jake. Her relationship with Jake changes Jake for the better, making him more vulnerable, opening him up to his feelings.
Sadie is also amazing in her own right. She has the courage to leave her husband at a time when divorce was heavily frowned upon, especially for women. She fights back against her husband in two different timelines, and wins both times, even when she did not have the help of Jake. Sadie survives her divorce, and makes a difference in the world (in both timelines.)
Again, children in the Stephen King universe are often placed in awful situations. This is a prevailing theme, and is a theme in the book Wizard and Glass.
Susan Delgado is still a child at the beginning of the story of Roland Deschain’s youth. However, she falls in love with Roland and is forced to grow up quickly. Because of the bad decisions made by the adults in Susan’s life, her life becomes endangered when she commits the sin of falling in love with Roland.
However, Susan is not just a love interest for Roland. She is much more than that, and becomes an integral part of his ka-tet. Susan risks her life to help Roland and his friends fight The Good Man and his forces, which include include most of the people in her town, who have turned against the Affiliation. And she pays the ultimate price for her bravery: she is burned alive for “treason.” But Susan is never bitter about her fate, and her last words are her declaration of love for Roland.
Throughout Wizard and Glass, Susan realizes that because she is a woman, life will not necessarily be “fair.” She deals with her greedy aunt, an evil witch and unwanted sexual advances from a man nearly old enough to be her grandfather. However, she remains true to herself until the very end, and is ultimately responsible for Roland beginning his quest to save the Dark Tower.
When one thinks of the Dark Tower series, Roland Deschain naturally comes to mind. And Roland Deschain is a huge part of this series, as he is the main protagonist.
However, Roland is not alone in this quest. He had friends once, but they were lost. But someone (or something) decided that he needed friends again.
Enter Susannah Dean. And Odetta Holmes. And Detta Walker. No, Roland was not given three women. He was given one woman (along with another man, a young boy and even a creature known as a billy-bumbler but this entry is for the ladies only.)
When Roland first meets Susannah, she is a broken woman who literally does not know her true self. One self goes by the name of Odetta Holmes, and is educated, well-spoken and gentle. However, another personality, Detta Walker, wages war inside Susannah. Detta is rude, crude and volatile, and threatens to destroy Susannah’s mind completely.
Eventually, Odetta and Detta are united, and a new being emerges: Susannah Dean. Susannah Dean has now married one of her tet mates. She has also become a gunslinger, and a brave one at that, who refuses to back down from anyone or anything. Susannah becomes the heart of the ka-tet, and makes sure that Roland retains a least a little of his humanity as he grows closer and closer to reaching his goal.
Susannah endures unspeakable pain in the name of Roland’s quest. First, she loses her husband, Eddie Dean. Then she loses Jake Chambers, her spiritual son. But Susannah is a survivor, until the very end, and reaches her own Dark Tower when she is finally reunited with her husband and son.
3) Lisey Landon (Lisey’s Story)
A common theme in King’s work is the often taboo subject of mental illness. Many of his books deal with this topic in its various facets.
One of these books is the novel Lisey’s Story. Lisey’s Story can be considered a fantasy novel that is also a metaphor for the the creative process. Lisey’s Story has much to say about mental illness as well, including its effects on the loved ones of people who suffer from mental illness.
Before she meets Scott, Lisey is ordinary. However, when she chooses to spend her life with Scott, it becomes clear that Lisey is no ordinary woman.
Scott Landon is a brilliant but troubled writer. Mental illness has had tragic consequences for Scott’s family, and Scott (rightfully) fears tragic consequences for himself and anyone else who is close to him (namely, his wife, Lisey.) However, Lisey loves Scott, and is determined to stand by him, no matter what kind of sacrifices that she may have to make.
Lisey becomes Scott’s anchor. When Scott becomes trapped in a kind of no-man’s land, Lisey is able to rescue him. Lisey realizes that Scott is not ordinary either, but still accepts Scott along with all of his peculiarities.
Even in death, Lisey is still firmly anchored to Scott. However, in order to save herself, Lisey must rely on her own strength. And she is able to do just that, which allows her to return to the land of the living so that she can hear one last story from Scott, and allow him his final peace.
2) Rose McLendon (Rose Madder)
I am a survivor of domestic abuse. For years, I lived in hell. At times, I thought that I would not live to see my 30th birthday (I was 29 when I escaped.) I felt alone and carried a huge burden on my shoulders, as no one outside my relationship knew about about the abuse. This was the case for many years, even after I escaped my first marriage. The fact that I kept this secret for so long nearly destroyed me emotionally. Even now, as I write this paragraph, the tears still well up in my eyes.
But something kept me going for all of these years. That something was the book Rose Madder.
Rose McLendon endures years of abuse and humiliation from her husband, Norman. Rose finally escapes and attempts to build a new life in another city 800 miles away. But the past catches up with her, when her husband Norman (who is also a police officer) tracks her down, killing several people who were friends of Rose and who helped her to build her new life.
Rose battles with her husband and wins that battle, even though she requires some help. She goes on with her life and gets married again and has a daughter a daughter with her second husband.
I enjoyed the fact that Rose was able to defeat her husband, but my favorite part of this book was the description of the aftermath. Even after Norman is no longer in her life, Rose still struggles. She experiences anger over her ordeal that she has repressed for many years, and this threatens her new life. Eventually, Rose is able to get her troubles under control, but struggles for some time.
Most of the focus on abusive relationships is on leaving the abuser. And this is indeed a major step. However, not much advice is given on how to cope with the aftermath. Reading about Rose’s feelings, which were similar to my own, made me love the book and this character that much more. In Rose McLendon, King has truly created the Every Woman.
And now, for my favorite female Stephen King character of all time…
Allow me the pleasure of introducing…
Beverly Marsh (It)
Yes, Beverly Marsh, the sole female member of the Losers Club, is my top female Stephen King character. There are many reasons for this, so let’s talk about them.
Beverly may not be endowed with any special powers. She may not technically be a “gunslinger.” But Beverly is extraordinary, and deserves her spot on this list.
When I was a child, I was not interested in the typical “girly” things. I did not play with Barbie dolls. Instead, many of my interests were “male.” I liked the Ninja Turtles. I preferred Thundercats to whatever was marketed to girls at the time.
Because of my interests, I often felt that there was something wrong with me. Nobody quite knew what to do with me, including my own family. I thought that I was the one who needed to change, as opposed to thinking that our society needed to change and become more accepting of someone like me.
Then, when I was 12 years old, I read It. And I met Beverly Marsh. Beverly didn’t like “girl” things either. Beverly could hang with the boys and hold her own. Beverly was tough and seemed fearless. And it didn’t hurt that Beverly was also tall and a redhead, two things that I absolutely hated about myself at the time.
Beverly may have faced an evil clown (twice!) but her extraordinary qualities extend way beyond that fact. Don’t get me wrong, facing Pennywise the Clown on a semi-regular basis is nothing to sneeze at, but Beverly had to endure so much more.
As I have stated time and time again, one of King’s strengths as a writer is the fact that he writes about ordinary life so well. And this is evident in a book like It. The homicidal clown is just one facet of this book. Compared to what the kids had to face on a daily basis, Pennywise was actually pretty mild.
And Beverly had to endure so much real-life horror. For starters, she was an outcast. She was poor, so she was bullied. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she was abused by her father, and in the summer of 1958, that abuse began to take on sexual overtones. Of course, there was no refuge for Beverly, as most adults, even her mother, turned a blind eye on the abuse.
Even after facing Pennywise the first time, the horror did not end for Beverly. She went on to marry an abusive man, and was trapped in a nightmare for several years. However, it was a strength of a childhood promise that compelled her to finally fight back, and escape from the nightmare, once and for all.
In facing Pennywise for the second time, Beverly finally finds her footing and a confidence that was missing for most of her life. She is even able to find love, as she marries a fellow Loser, Ben Hanscom. Beverly rode off into the sunset with Ben, but she earned that ride, given what she had to overcome. And a clown living in the sewers was the least of it.
So there you have it.
My top 10 ladies in the Stephen King universe. I am sure that maybe I missed a few, but this list did have to be cut down to 10.
Like all of King’s characters, these ladies are fascinating and are an integral part to the stories that they appear in. They are also proof that Stephen King is much more than a writer of horror; he is also a writer who understands the human condition, along with the female condition.
And whoever you are, man or woman, do yourself a big favor and pick up one or more of these books, if you haven’t already, so that you can meet some fascinating characters and escape into the never-boring world known as a Stephen King book.
They are pretty fascinating, at times.
After all, everyone has to start somewhere, right?
And hey, even I have one…so here goes nothing!
Sometime in the summer of 1988, I attended a day camp. I was ten years old and quite impressionable (see the part about being 10 years old). One of my counselors told me and the other impressionable kids (well, I am making assumptions that everyone was as
gullible impressionable as I was, but I digress) a story about a clown that lived in the sewers and killed people, but could only be seen by kids. Of course, I took this story quite seriously. In fact, I spent an entire summer assiduously avoiding storm drains, and watching my back when I took a shower or even (gasp) used the bathroom in any way. In other words, just a typical summer for a ten year old with an overactive imagination. The clown soon become forgotten, to be replaced with thoughts of MacGyver (was that a first name or a last? And wow, science just got hot), Quantum Leap (I aspired to build a time machine and Sam Beckett was my spirit animal) and whatever else a really nerdy, awkward, ugly duckling with limited social skills growing up in the 90’s became obsessed with. That clown soon became a faded memory, and even quit visiting my dreams for a while (whew).
Flash forward two years. That extremely nerdy, awkward ugly duckling had growed up (so she thought) and had hit the big 1-2. And became interested in all things macabre. She was always looking for something to read, and something to watch on TV. If either of these pissed off her parents, well, that was added bonus!
Enter a new mini series that aired over two nights on network TV. It was based on the work of some horror writer I never heard of, Stephen King. And it was about a clown who lived in the sewers, and happened to…you guessed it…terrorize kids! The memories of that summer came flooding back to me, and my blood ran cold. So of course I had to watch this mini series…
And I was blown away by that mini series (I was 12, what else can I say). Tim Curry brought a voice to that evil clown, and my dreams became a hoppin’ place once again. And those kids…where was my Losers Club? I wanted to play down in the Barrens, dammit! One of the Losers was even a girl, and she kicked ass!
When I found out this mini series was based on a book of the same name, It, of course I had to find the book, since I thought that movie was pretty darn good. So the book would be worth a read, right?
I was intimidated by the size of the book. Over a 1000 pages! Well, I would be reading that one for months…
One week later, I finished the book. And I loved it! I also learned that movies rarely do books justice, but that is another post. I had to find more books by this King guy…where had he been all my life?
And so it begun…
My origin story as a Stephen King fan, that is. If you are still reading this at this point and are surprised, I am not really sure what to tell you, other than, well it’s this blog, after all!
So obviously, King’s books bring back many fond memories, and I never tire of them. And in light of my New Year’s resolution to read at least one King book a month, I am going back to my origins: the book It. Like the Losers, I am coming home. I am becoming a child again, and revisiting my past, along with Bill, Ben, Bev and the rest of the gang. Per the line of one of my favorite songs: “Oh don’t sorrow, oh don’t weep, tonight at last I am coming home.” And I can’t wait.
So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of It, whose short title belies the depth of this story. And, as always:
The book begins by introducing the reader to a boy named George Denbrough. Georgie is the younger brother of Bill Denbrough, who is 10 years old. Georgie and Bill live in the city of Derry, Maine, where there has been a lot of rain and flooding. The year is 1957. One afternoon, Georgie heads out to play with a boat made out of newspaper that Bill helped him make. The rain has receded a bit, but Georgie still loses his boat in the sewers of Derry. Georgie becomes upset, but forgets about his boat when he sees what appear to be a pair of glowing eyes looking up at him from the sewers. Those turn out to belong to a clown who looks like a cross between Bozo the Clown and Clarabell the clown. Much to Georgie’s astonishment, the clown speaks to him from the sewers, and offers him a balloon. The clown introduces himself as Bob Gray, or Pennywise the Clown. However, the clown is not friendly, or even human. The clown entices Georgie to lean a little closer, and attacks. Georgie’s arm is torn off, in much the way someone might tear the wing from a fly. Georgie dies almost immediately, leaving his older brother Bill and their parents in a state of shock.
The book then skips to the year of 1984. We are told of another murder in Derry, this time of a young, somewhat childlike gay man named Adrian Mellon. The murder is told in flashbacks, when the local police question the young man’s partner, Don Haggarty, and the local bullies deemed responsible for the murder. The bullies attacked Adrian one night, targeting him because of his sexuality. Both Don and the bullies state that a clown was also at the scene and that the clown killed Adrian. Don also reports that thousands of balloons floated to the sky at the site of the murder. However, the local authorities do not believe Don or the bullies, and the bullies are tried and convicted of the murder.
Several months later, in 1985, six adults receive a phone call from a man named Mike Hanlon. The adults are scattered across the country and even the world, but all grew up in Derry, Maine. The adults are Stan Uris, Richie Tozier, Ben Hanscom, Eddie Kraspbrak, Bill Denbrough and Beverly Marsh. All of the adults are told by Mike Hanlon that they must return to Derry, and most begin making the preparations. However, Stan Uris is unwilling (or perhaps unable) to face what awaits him in Derry, and commits suicide by slitting his wrists in his bathtub. Additionally, Beverly narrowly escapes her abusive husband, Tom, who nearly kills her for daring to leave him and return to Derry. All of the adults have hazy memories of what happened during one summer of their childhoods in Derry, but all know that they must now return to Derry.
We then learn of how those seven children spent the summer of 1958. The books tells of how the seven meet, and form a club they call The Losers Club, as all seven children are misfits in some way or another. All seven children are also victims of abuse from Henry Bowers, the local bully. Additionally, six of the seven children have encountered Pennywise the Clown in some manner, and have survived to tell the tale. Ben saw the clown as a mummy, Eddie saw the clown as a leper in an abandoned house, Bill was attacked by the clown when he picks up an old photo album belonging to his deceased brother, Beverly heard voices in the drain in her bathroom and then sees blood come from the drain that is visible only to her and the other Losers, Mike saw a giant bird that attacks him, and Stan encounters the clown in an abandoned piece of property while he is bird-watching. Richie tells the others he did not encounter the clown on his own, but he makes a trip with Bill to the abandoned house where Eddie saw the leper. There, Richie and Bill encounter the clown in werewolf form. Bill shoots the werewolf with him father’s gun, and Richie also attacks it with his sneezing powder (Richie is the comedian and practical joker of the group). The two narrowly escape the clown on Bill’s bike Silver, and realize that they are pitted against a great evil. During that summer, Ben Hanscom falls in love with Beverly. Beverly falls in love with Bill Denbrough.
The book skips to the present and to the viewpoint of Mike Hanlon. Mike has begun researching the history of Derry, and discovered that the town has a violent past. Mike tells of one of these incidents, which was relayed to him by his father before his father passed away. Mike’s father tells of The Fire at the Black Spot, which was a fire that occurred in 1937, when Will Hanlon enlisted in the military and was stationed in Derry. The Black Spot was a night club founded by some of the African American members of Will’s unit, which was known as company E. The fire was started by Derry’s version of the Klu Klux Klan, known as the Maine Legion of White Decency. Nearly 80 people perished in the fire. Will tells Mike that he saw what appeared to be a giant bird dressed as a clown flying off with some of the bodies, confirming Mike’s suspicions that the presence of Pennywise and the town’s violent history are closely related. Mike struggle with the decision to call the rest of his friends, but thinks that his heart will tell him when the time is right.
One by one, the adult Losers (minus Stan Uris) return to Derry. Mike arranges a reunion lunch, and the adult Losers reunite and catch up with each others’ lives. Mike also brings his friends up to speed on the nine child murders that have occurred in Derry over the past several months, and the Losers vow to stay in Derry and fight It, although they know that their odds are not good. At the end of the meal, the Losers receive some fortune cookies that are actually a trick of Pennywise the Clown. Each cookie contains something that each Loser fears, such as blood, insects, etc. The Losers leave the restaurant, and split up to visit a place in Derry outside of the Barrens that meant something to them as children. Bill tells them that when the first encountered the monster as children, the encounter was experienced alone, and that the same will probably happen to them as adults.
True to Bill’s statement, the Losers do have individual encounters with It: Ben sees the clown at the library, Eddie sees the clown in the form of some of his deceased classmates at the local baseball field, Beverly encounters a witch in her old apartment that resembles the witch from Hansel and Gretel and Richie encounters the clown in the form of a Paul Bunyon statue that has come to life. Richie also remembers that he had a similar encounter as a child, but dismissed it as a dream. Bill and Mike do not encounter Pennywise, but Bill finds his old bike, Silver, at a second-hand shop. Bill and Mike spruce up the bike, and figure that Bill finding the bike is not coincidental.
The story switches to the perspective of Henry Bowers, the Losers’ childhood bully. Henry currently resides at Juniper Hill Asylum. Henry was found guilty of the child murder that occurred in the summer of 1958, along with the murder of his father. However, the only murder actually committed by Henry was the murder of his father. Pennywise the clown is able to communicate with Henry and convinces him to do Its bidding and kill the adult Losers. It helps Henry escape Juniper Hill, and Henry heads to Derry to finish the job.
We also learn a bit more about the history of Derry and the violent events that appear to be connected with the child murders that occur every 27 years or so. Mike learns of the massacre of the Bradley gang, a gang of criminals from the Midwest on the run from law enforcement. The gang holes up in Derry, and the citizens soon dish out their own form of justice and murder every single member, even the women, while local law enforcement looks the other way. Mike also learns that Pennywise the clown was seen at the confrontation, once again confirming how much a part of Derry the clown really is.
In the meantime, Bill and Beverly’s respective spouses are determined to find out why their partners have suddenly left town. Beverly’s husband Tom, beats the information out of one of Beverly’s few good friends who helped her escape. Bill’s wife Audra simply books a flight to Maine, as she is extremely worried about her husband. Both head into Derry, not understanding what lies ahead.
The Losers reconvene at the library later that night, and begin to recall the events of the summer of 1958. The children spent much of the summer of 1958 playing in the Barrens, a wooded area in Derry that remains mostly abandoned and forgotten. Because of this, the Losers are able to meet and try to figure how to rid the town of Pennywise the clown and not be bothered by Henry Bowers and his friends. The children also build an underground clubhouse in the Barrens, which offers them even more protection from Henry and any other bullies.
Mike recalls how he became a part of the club that summer. One day, Mike is chased by Henry Bowers, as Henry lives next door to Mike, and has been taught to hate black people by his father. Henry’s father has blamed all of his problems on Mike and his parents, so Henry makes Mike’s life miserable at any opportunity. When Henry is chased by Mike on this particular day, he runs to an area just outside the Barrens and encounters the Losers. The Losers defend their territory by hurling rocks at Henry and his friends, in what is termed the Apocalyptic Rock Fight. Henry and his friends are forced to retreat but swear revenge. Mike then becomes a part of the Losers Club, and soon learns of their encounters with Pennywise the Clown and their determination to kill It. Mike also tells of his encounter with Pennywise, and brings one of his father’s old photo albums to show his friends. The clown is in nearly every picture. The clown also makes an appearance while the children look at the album, and promises to kill them all if they do not back down.
Richie recalls the smoke hole ceremony performed by the Losers that summer. Ben reads about the ceremony in a book. He learns that it was a ceremony performed by Native Americans, and it involved breathing in smoke, which was supposed to induce visions. The Native Americans performed this ceremony when the tribe had unsolved problems or unanswered questions. The Losers perform this same ceremony by burning green wood in their underground clubhouse. However, all bow out except Mike and Ritchie, who travel back in time and witness the arrival of It in Derry several million years ago. The boys sense that It is actually an extra-dimensional monster, and very evil. They impart this information to the others, and continue their mission to rid Derry of the monster.
Eddie recalls that Henry Bowers broke his arm that summer, in retaliation for the rock fight. That day, Eddie headed to the drugstore to pick some prescriptions for his mother. The owner of the drugstore, Mr. Keane, pulls Eddie aside and tells him that he does not actually have asthma, and that his symptoms are psychosomatic. Mr. Keane tells Eddie that this is the doing of his mother and doctor, and that his asthma medicine is simply water with a medicinal taste. Eddie becomes upset, but knows deep down inside that Mr. Keane is right. Henry and his friends are able to corner Eddie outside the store as he is by himself, and Eddie’s arm is broken in the scuffle. Eddie spends a few days in the hospital and his friends attempt to visit him. On the first attempt, his friends are driven off by his overly protective mother, who does not approve of these new friends. The Losers are not deterred, however, and come back later that night. They sign Eddie’s cast, and tell him that their plan is to make silver slugs that they will shoot at It with a slingshot. The plan is for Beverly to shoot the monster with the slingshot, as her aim is the best. Eddie also has a confrontation with his mother, telling her that he will not choose her over his friends.
Beverly recalls another encounter with It that summer, when she heads to the dump to practice shooting with the slingshot. Beverly nearly has a run with Henry Bowers and his friends, but is able to hide herself. Henry and his friends leaves, but one of the bullies, Patrick Hockstetter, stays behind. Patrick Hockstetter is a sociopath who keeps an abandoned refrigerator in the dump. Patrick is using this refrigerator to trap and kill animals, which are either pets or strays that he finds. Patrick also killed his baby brother as a young child. Patrick becomes the next victim of Pennywise the clown, who takes the form of flying leeches, and Patrick is eaten alive. Beverly is also attacked by the leeches, but is able to use the slingshot to hurt the monster and escape.
The Losers also recall how they made silver slugs to use a weapon against Pennywise that summer. They gather one night at Bill’s house, and melt down a silver coin that was passed from Ben’s deceased father down to Ben. The process is a quick one, and the Losers now have a weapon against Pennywise. And the Losers use that weapon against Pennywise. They confront the monster at the house on Neibolt Street. Beverly uses the slingshot to hurt the monster, but does not kill It. However, the monster retreats, and all is relatively peaceful for about two weeks.
The adult Losers leave the library for the night, and agree to meet at the Barrens the next morning. Before they leave the library, their hands begin to bleed, as they swore in blood to return if It still lived. The Losers take the blood oath again, and wonder just what they are in for.
Bill and Beverly walk back to their hotel, and Beverly talks of her father’s abuse. Beverly also remembers one day in August, as she returned home after playing in the Barrens with her friends. She was confronted by her father, who accused her of performing sexual acts with the boys, and physically attacked his daughter. Beverly realized that her father was possessed by It, and ran from him. Beverly thought that she had escaped her father, but does not know that Henry Bowers and his friends are also waiting for her. Henry and his friends were under the influence of It. Henry also killed his father that day.
The story flashes back to 1985, as Mike Hanlon prepares to close the library for the night. However, Mike is interrupted by Henry Bowers. Henry attacks Mike, but Mike is able to defend himself. Mike calls 911 and hears the voice of Pennywise the Clown and begs for someone to help him so that his wound does not become fatal.
Beverly and Bill head back to Bill’s hotel room. They are seeking comfort and make love to each other. As she falls asleep, Beverly once again flashes back to that day in August of 1958, when Henry and his friends chase the Losers Club down to the sewers, forcing a final confrontation with It.
In 1985, Henry is met by It, who has taken the form of his deceased friend, Belch Huggins. It drives Henry to the hotel the adult Losers are staying at, and gives him a list of the room numbers occupied by each Loser. Henry chooses Eddie as his first victim, and attacks Eddie. However, Eddie fights back and kills Henry, breaking his arm again in the process. Eddie calls Bill and the others back to his room, and they decide what to do about Henry’s body, and determine that involving anyone else in the town, including the police, will only make things worse. The Losers also find out that Mike was attacked by Henry and is gravely wounded. The Losers decide that they need to confront Pennywise again and that there is no other choice. Again, they head to the Barrens and use the same entrance they used in 1958 to get to Pennywise’s lair.
In the meantime, both Audra and Tom (Bill’s wife and Beverly’s husband, respectively) have arrived in town. Both begin to have peculiar dreams: Audra dreams that she is Beverly, following Bill to fight Pennywise, and Tom dreams that he is Henry, chasing Beverly and the rest of the Losers in the sewers. Both awaken and become trapped by Pennywise. Pennywise is able to influence Tom, and Tom kidnaps Audra for It.
The story goes back and forth between 1985 and 1958, telling of the Losers’ confrontation of It in 1958 as children, and in 1985 as adults. In 1958, Henry continues to chase the Losers into the sewers. However, the Losers are still able to find Pennywise and his lair, and Bill enters what he calls the “deadlights”, or the true home of the monster. With the help of a mysterious creature simply known as “The Turtle”, Bill battles Pennywise in Its true form, and believes that he has defeated the evil. Richie pulls Bill back from the deadlights, and the Losers Club escapes from the lair, believing Pennywise to be defeated. However, as they attempt to exit the sewers, the Losers nearly lose their way, as their bond is beginning to dissolve. In order to keep the bond intact, Beverly makes love to all of the boys. This act restores the bond, and the children are able to find their way out of Derry’s sewers. Stan cuts all of the Losers hands with a coke bottle, and all seven promise to return to Derry if Pennywise is not dead. All of Henry’s friends are killed by It, and Henry is institutionalized for the murder of his father
In 1985, Bill, Ben, Beverly and Eddie confront Pennywise once again. Bill again faces Pennywise in the deadlights, but is accompanied by Richie. The two fight the monster in the deadlights and defeat it. Eddie also fights the monster in Its physical form and defeats it as well, but loses his life in the fight. The monster’s true form is something close to a spider, and the spider has laid eggs. Ben makes sure all the eggs are destroyed. Bill also rescues his wife Audra,who is still alive but catatonic, and he and his friends make their way out of the sewers. Once the Losers emerge from the sewers, they realize that Derry has nearly been destroyed by a rainstorm, which stops almost the moment Pennywise is defeated.
A few days later, the remaining members of the Losers Club leave town and return to their lives, and they are already beginning to forget each other’s names and other vital information, including the battle with Pennywise. Beverly has fallen in love with Ben, and the two plan to head back to Nebraska, after filing a missing person’s report on Beverly’s husband Tom, who was actually killed by It. Only Bill and the catatonic Audra remain, along with Mike, who is still in the hospital. Bill has nearly given up hope on reviving Audra, until he gets an idea. He takes Audra for a ride on his old bike Silver, with hopes that the magic remains in the bike. The magic does remain, and Audra is revived, with no memory of what happened after she arrived in Derry. Bill and Audra then return to their life. Bill, along with everyone else, has forgotten the experience in Derry, but continues to lead a happy and productive life.
Well, I will say this much: It is a monster of a book. And I am not just talking about the length…
Yes, It is one scary book, with what has to be one of the most iconic horror villains in history. Who in the free world doesn’t recognize Pennywise the clown?
But there is so much more to this book than a clown living in the sewers…
I recognize so much of myself in this book, as a matter of fact. I was a Loser growing up, and I still consider myself to be a Loser. And I am proud of that, as a matter of fact.
But I know the pain what those kids went through all too well. In one part of the book, it is said that the kids turned into ghosts one afternoon, and no one, including their parents, seemed to know that they existed. Well, that was not a bad description of my child, at certain points. Often, I wondered if people even knew, or cared, if I was alive.
Which brings me to my next point: Yes, that clown was scary as fuck (more on that later). But I was more afraid of the real-life horrors that the Losers had to face.
For example, the bullying. I was a victim of bullying as a child, and it was frightening. Getting beat up is scary. But perhaps what is even more frightening is having to live with the anticipation that the act of terrorism could happen at any moment, and you were powerless to do anything about it. Or the most frightening of all: the fact that you were alone, and no one, not the other kids and not even the other adults, would go to bat for you, and you were on your own when it came to fighting the monsters.
And then there was the abuse. Many of Stephen King’s books deal with abuse in some form or another, and It is no different. Child and spousal abuse are huge themes in It, and make up the tapestry of real-life horrors that many people have to deal with on a daily basis. And I have been there. I am a survivor of domestic violence. Trust me, no horror story can hold a candle to living with an abuser. My “Tom” was much like Beverly’s Tom (and father): I didn’t know when the horror would be unleashed, and I felt like a prisoner in my own home. And the scene when Beverly left Tom for good mirrored so much of a fight from my own first marriage, in a hotel room. Like Beverly, I was frightened for my life, and actually thought that I would die. And I completely understand the shame that Beverly felt, and the lies that came afterwards. Beverly could not even admit to her closest friends (at least at first) the truth about her marriage. It was only after things came to a full circle, so to speak, that Beverly actually admitted how abusive her husband was. Living in an abusive marriage is much more frightening than most horror movies. The movies have a beginning and an end, and someone usually defeats the monster. But it is not so neat when any form of abuse is involved, and many survivors, including myself (and probably Beverly) would rather have faced a clown in the sewers with a slingshot and pair of silver bullets, than to actually face our abusers.
And speaking of Beverly, I think I need to clear the air about something.
Yes, I am talking about “that scene.”
I probably don’t need to explain myself, but I am talking about what is so eloquently referred to as (not my words) “the gang bang in the sewer.” In other words, I refer to the scene near the end of the book, when Beverly has sex with all six of the boys, in order to escape the sewers and return to the light of day.
I would be lying if I said that this scene was not a little disturbing, because it is disturbing. After all, we are talking about 11 year old children. When I was 11 years old, I was still playing with stuffed animals and wouldn’t touch boys because they had “cooties.” I was still very much a child, in other words.
But, I was also about a year away from needing my first bra. My skin had already begun to break out. I was at least 5’4″, only a few inches from my adult height of 5’9″ and change.
In other words, I was crossing the bridge into adulthood. And the Losers were crossing that bridge as well. They had to behave as adults that entire summer, in dealing with a monster that their town simply refused to acknowledge. Really, we could argue that the monster was their town. And all seven of them recognized that fact on a fundamental level. The Losers longed for the grown-ups to come in and take charge, but really, a grown-up “taking charge” would have just hindered their quest, since they were more adult than 99% of the adults around them.
And what do adults do, aside from being able to choose Oreo cookies as a valid breakfast option? Well, Oreo cookies are great and all, but being an adult involves a few more choices than breakfast. And one of those choices is who to love, and how to express that love.
In other words, adults have sex. In fact, having sex is probably a consolation prize for being forced to be responsible, aka working and paying bills (kidding, kidding). But sex is one of the choices of adulthood. And sex is often viewed as one of the major transitions from childhood to adulthood.
And this is exactly what happened during the “sewer gang bang.” The Losers Club crossed the bridge from childhood to adulthood during that afternoon. They had been walking the bridge that summer, but fully crossed over that day when they finally did “It.” For Beverly in particular, it was an especially meaningful experience. She had been receiving the message all summer from her own abusive father that sex was “dirty” and that she needed to remain “intact.” With this act, she was finally empowered and saw the “sex act” for what it really was: the ultimate act of love with some special people. And it was not a repulsive or ugly. It was just beautiful.
Before we talk about the clown (trust me, we are getting there), I want to pay homage to another character in this book that is often overlooked.
I am talking about the town of Derry Itself (see what I did there). In all seriousness, though, no one can write the small town like The Master.
Again, if I start to get nostalgic about small town life, all I have to do is crack open a Stephen King book. And bam, there goes the nostalgia!
I feel like my own unnamed Indiana hometown could have been Derry’s Twinner. Sure, we didn’t have a clown living under the sewers (I can’t entirely vouch for that, though) but the rest of the similarities were just frightening. Such as people’s attitudes towards bullying. Man’s inhumanity toward’s his fellow man was accepted in Derry, and it was accepted in my town. And you had to belong. In other words, if you were like me and spent a minute of your life outside the town, you were an outsider and subject to punishment for that act. And there is a culture in small towns, whether it be through its local celebrities, certain stores and restaurants that cannot be found anywhere else or maybe even a “funny fellow” that always seems to show at the local celebrations
mass slayings of people that makes sense to locals, but causes anyone else to shake their heads and wonder why something so trivial can hold so much meaning.
Ok, the clown…
Yes, we are finally there, so let’s talk about the most iconic clown…ever.
Now, to me at least, there is something inherently creepy about clowns. I am not really sure why this is. Maybe it’s because they hide under all that face paint. Or that they don’t wear regular clothes but instead wear garish colors and over-sized shoes. And they try to make us laugh. Now, I like to laugh…don’t get me wrong. But when people, especially ones hiding under grease paint and wearing garish clothes that come complete with over-sized shoes try to force it on me, then the laughter becomes forced. In fact, the laughter turns into a weapon. And the laughter is no longer fun, but something to be feared.
So, the clown is inherently scary. But at the same time, the clown is also associated with childhood and fun times, like the circus. So, a perfect lure, in other words.
And it worked. It fed off the fear of children. And in order to do that, It had to lure them in somehow. And fool those children, at least momentarily. And what better way to do that, than to bring up happy associations, such as the circus? And children are imaginative, and can be emotional hurricanes of sorts. So the monster had it right: conjure up the happy emotions, and then (literally) scare them to death, almost in the same breath. And children, unlike adults, have fears that are easy to capitalize on. Mummies, werewolves, witches and the rest of the usual suspects are all ripe for the picking. And, as stated in this book, a haunt is a place where animals come to feed. And what better place to feed for such a creature than a city full of the rich imaginations of children, providing the food needed to nourish such evil? That is, until It’s own source of food was used against It, and It became the hunted, instead of the hunter. And the lion was vanquished by the antelopes, proving that sometimes, even the underdogs can fight the good fight, and come out the winners.
So that’s It! Or maybe I mean that I am done with my review of one of The Master’s most iconic books, and a book that stays with me to this day, no matter how many times I read it! So join me next month for February’s read and review, where we take a short detour to Derry yet again, but we are staying away from the sewers this time, since love is in the air! That’s right, I will be reviewing and dissecting Bag of Bones, another favorite of mine!
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Like most of King’s other work, It is part of the Stephen King universe, and it connected to many of his other books. Here are some of the connections I found:
-It takes place in Derry. Derry is a hotbed of activity in the King universe, and several other King stories take place in Derry. These include Bag of Bones, Insomnia, Dreamcatcher and Secret Window, Secret Garden. Derry is also mentioned in countless other stories, including Revival and The Tommyknockers.
-Ben Hanscom is said to live in Hemingford Home, Nebraska. Hemingford Home is also the home of Mother Abagail in The Stand.
-Pennywise is similar to Dandelo, a creature encountered by Roland and Susannah in the final book of the Dark Tower series. Both creatures feed off of human emotions, although fear and laughter appear to be the central ones. Additionally, Dandelo owns a robot that he refers to as Stuttering Bill. It is possible that the Losers did not completely destroy It, and that Dandelo may be one of Pennywise’s offspring.
-Dick Halloran is mentioned as a friend of Wil Hanlon. Dick Halloran is a major character in The Shining, and also makes an appearance in Dr. Sleep. In essence, by rescuing Wil from the fire at the Blackspot, Dick Halloran helped give birth to the Losers Club.
-Mike Hanlon makes an appearance in the book Insomnia.
-In the book Dreamcatcher, Jonesy sees a statue that the Losers Club has dedicated to the missing and murdered children in Derry. However, the statue is defaced with graffiti that says “Pennywise lives”, provoking further speculation that the Losers did not completely destroy Pennywise.
-Beverly references the Castle Rock Strangler. Of course, this is the killer that Johnny Smith helps to catch in the book The Dead Zone.
-In the novel 11/22/63, Jake Epping meets two children and teaches them how to dance the “lindy hop.” These two children happen to be Beverly Marsh and Richie Tozier, and Jake meets them shortly after the children have confronted Pennywise in the sewers of Derry.
As a child, I was a victim of bullying. I was tormented pretty often. I must say, I think there are some kids that are just born bad…
But luckily, I was able to escape my small town and the bullying, and I have become the happy, health well-adjusted adult who spends way too much time blogging about Stephen King.
Although that is probably why I was lucky…I am not a character in a Stephen King novel, so I was able to escape my tormentors!
King has written extensively about childhood and bullying. Works such as It, Sometimes They Come Back, Low Men in Yellow Coats and Dreamcatcher all deal with characters who are bullies, and characters who must fight off the bullies, as their survival literally depends on it.
Well, King has added another story to his canon on childhood and bullies: Bad Little Kid, which is one of the stories in King’s latest collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. And this story is proof, that yes, childhood is hell, and that some people literally do not ever escape their demons.
Bad Little Kid begins with a man named Leonard Bradley, who is visiting someone who is in prison. That person is a man named George Hallas, who has been jailed for some unnamed crime and will soon be executed for the unnamed crime. Bradley is actually Hallas’ attorney, and is fighting so that Hallas’ life may be spared. We then learn that Hallas is on death row for killing a child, but that Bradley has some major questions as to why this crime was committed. Hallas then proceeds to tell Bradley the events that led him to commit the most awful crime of all: the murder of a child.
Hallas grew up without a mother, who died shortly after his birth. Hallas was raised by his father and housekeeper, Nona McCarthy. The family moved several times during his childhood. One of the towns that the family lived in was Talbot, Alabama, where Hallas befriends a mentally handicapped young girl named Marlee Jacobs.
Marlee and Hallas would walk to school together every day. One day, Marlee was upset because she could not find her lunchbox. Hallas comforts her, and Marlee temporarily forgets about her lunchbox.
However, when the children are walking home from school, they hear someone tormenting them. Hallas sees a young boy who is short and chubby with red hair, and who also wears a beanie on his head with a plastic propeller. Hallas does not recognize him from either his neighborhood or his school. The boy torments Hallas and Marlee, who try to ignore him and head home. However, the little boy has Marlee’s lunchbox, and continues to torment her.
The little boy throws the lunchbox out into the street, and tells Hallas that it is his fault. Marlee runs out into the street and is hit by a car driven by one of the teachers who works for the school that she attends with Hallas. The accident proves fatal for Marlee, who dies almost immediately.
Bradley listens to the story, but is skeptical that there even was a little kid, and thinks that Hallas may have imagined his tormentor. Hallas says that he spent the next several years dreaming about that kid, but passes it off as a childhood tragedy.
Hallas attends college, where he majors in drama. He finds some success, and also begins dating a young woman named Vicky. Vicky is high-strung and ambitious, and also has a tendency to abuse prescription drugs.
Vicky and Hallas both try out for roles in a production of The Music Man. Hallas gets a lead role, but Vicky becomes nervous and her audition is a disaster. Hallas tries to comfort Vicky, and they walk down the sidewalk. Hallas then hears someone tormenting him, and it is the same little kid he saw as a child. The little kid has not aged a day. Hallas starts to chase him, but Vicky stops him and tells him that the boy is not worth it.
Hallas then drops Vicky off at her apartment. This is the last time he sees Vicky alive, as Vicky commits suicide by hanging herself. Hallas finds out from Vicky’s distraught roommate Carla that Vicky believed that he put the little kid up to tormenting her. Hallas assures Carla that the little kid was indeed real, and that Carla is not at fault for Vicky’s suicide.
Carla and Hallas later marry, and Hallas turns to accounting for a career, rather than the theater. We also learn the little continues to torment Hallas’ loved ones, including his former housekeeper, Nonie. Hallas’ father had died in a mining accident, and the little boy tries to convince Nonie that the boots she had given Hallas’ father were responsible for the accident. Nonie also passes away from a heart attack, and Hallas believes the little boy to be responsible, After Nonie’s funeral, Hallas receives a package in the mail that contains the little boy’s hat. He then burns the hat, believing it to be cursed.
Carla becomes pregnant, and she and Hallas begin attending church on Sundays again. One Sunday, Hallas sees his tormentor on the church steps. A firecracker is thrown in Carla’s direction, and she falls down the steps, suffering a miscarriage and losing the baby.
Hallas’ marriage suffers after the loss of their child, and he throws himself into volunteering at his church. He pays special attention to young boys who need a mentor. He is able to raise funds for a boy named Ronnie to have the surgery needed to correct his vision. Hallas then uses Ronnie as bait to trap the little boy who has been tormenting him.
He is successful in trapping the little boy, and chases him out into the street. Hallas then shoots the little in the back, as revenge for the all deaths he has caused. He almost believes that he has killed an ordinary child, but sees a dark presence in the little boy’s eyes before he passes away. Hallas is arrested immediately, and found guilty of murdering. He also receives the death penalty.
Bradley lets Hallas finish his story, but he is still skeptical. He asks Hallas why the creature picked him, but Hallas cannot answer that question. Hallas also points out that no one has been able to identify the little boy, and no family members ever claimed the body. Bradley promises Hallas that he will attend his execution.
Six days later, Hallas is executed. Bradley is attendance, along with Hallas’ priest. Before his death, Hallas warns Bradley that evil will disguise itself as a child.
Bradley leaves the prison after Hallas is executed. He sees movement from the corner of his eye. He also notices that his car has been vandalized. Bradley opens his car door, and finds a beanie with a propeller on top of it. There is a note stating: Keep it, I have another one. The note also states that Bradley is next. In the distance, Bradley hears a child’s laughter.
Uncle Stevie is known for his creepy stories, and Bad Little Kid did not disappoint in that department. Uncle Stevie is also good at taking what should be innocent, and corrupting it. Again, this story did not disappoint in that department, either.
Take the title character for instance…
First, my mind went here:
Yeah, if Opie Taylor went bad, and somehow all the lessons from his dad didn’t stick…
Maybe this creature is some evil Twinner to Opie Taylor, then…
But of course, my mind went here too:
Ah, yes. Danny Bonaduce. And I don’t think this is a case of an evil Twinner. Mr. Bonaduce is capable of being bad all on his own, thank you! Now I will never look at a partridge in a pear tree the same way again!
So yes, this was one seriously creepy story. Some people literally can never escape their demons. Hallas is one of those people. His demon followed him everywhere and he was only able to get away from it by dying. The demon takes away everything that matters to Hallas: his childhood friend. his first love, his family, his marriage and eventually his life. The only way that Hallas was able to escape the creature that was tormenting him was through death. And no reason was ever give why Hallas was chosen, he just was. Often, the lottery of life will throw you some bad stuff, and there is nothing you can do but take what is dealt to you, and hope that you can somehow survive it.
And the ending to this one…oh boy..
Nobody really won at the end of the story. Hallas died at the hands of the state. Most of Hallas’ family and friends were dead. And then there was Bradley.
I would say the Bradley was the biggest loser at the end. Not only did his client die, Bradley inherited the sin of client. Of course, evil does not die. It will continue to live on, even if in a different form. So now Bradley is condemned to live with the evil, and the question is not will the evil win, but when it will win. For it will win, as the scales are tipped in its favor for eternity.
So, it’s that time of year again…
Yes, Halloween is drawing upon us…
The season for scary stuff!
But there is a good remedy for when your football team is so embarrassing that the local Fox syndicate switches from the Colts game to the game played by the other not scary good team (the Washington Redskins, as a matter of fact)…
Yes, a little therapy from The Master!
Football team got ya down? Go read some Stephen King, and be reminded as to what is really scary! Suddenly, two interceptions thrown by your darling quarterback (sorry Andrew, you know I still got love for ya) seems pretty tame!
Yes, Stephen King is scary.
Well, his writing, at any rate. He doesn’t look too threatening in that picture, but one never knows.
Stephen King is many things, and I have spent an incredible amount of time on this blog (who knew) addressing those things. Most importantly, he is a great writer. He has the ability to even appeal to the non-horror fan (well, the one who will give him a chance, anyway). He creates characters that readers get attached to (and kills them off and seems almost gleeful about it, but I digress). He is also the Everyman, giving the reader realistic scenarios, and then casually placing in the horror and/or fantastical element, making the story that much more believable.
But, I would like to get back to fundamentals for a moment, if I may. Stephen King writes scary stories. This may sound like Captain Obvious tooting his horn, but the man is able to frighten folks. And frighten folks badly. It could be the fact that seemingly “good” characters often go “bad”, at the drop of a hat. Or maybe it’s the element of realism that makes it seem a certain room in a hotel really could be bad news. Or maybe because he makes great villains, including evil clowns, that haunt the dreams of many a 90’s kid.
Whatever the reason, people find Stephen King books frightening. And many enjoy being frightened. Some people skydive (eek). Some watch Indianapolis Colts football (eeek, maybe I should skydive instead). Some people enjoy drag racing.
And then there are the stalwart, the steadfast, the bold (you know, like me?)…we read Stephen King for our fear fix! After all, gotta get the good old adrenaline rush somehow, right?
And a King book will give you that and then some! In fact, many King books may just scare you into a change of pants!
With that being said, here is my list of the top 10 scariest books of all time. Please note, this is my opinion only, and not to be taken as gospel…
Oh, and as always:
10) Rose Madder
As I have stated before, one of King’s strengths as a writer of horror is the human horror. Sometimes (well actually, a lot of times), men are beasts to their fellow man…
The villain in the book Rose Madder is human. Well, in appearance at least. However, on the inside, Norman Daniels does not pass for human. Not even remotely.
Norman Daniels savagely abuses his wife Rosie, for the nearly 14 years of their marriage. To boot, he is racist. And uses his position as a police officer to grossly abuse his power and literally get away with murder. It is only a mere drop of blood on the sheets that awakens Rosie one morning, when she runs away from her hellhole of a marriage and attempts to begin a new life, free of the horrific abuse. But, as can be expected, Norman does not take Rosie’s flight lightly, and leaves behind a trail of bodies in his quest for revenge and his hunt for Rosie. It takes a magical painting set in the world of our friendly neighborhood gunslinger for Norman’s trail of blood to be halted. Even then, the death count is enormous, and Rosie is barely able to cope with the events.
There is a line in the book that where Rosie thinks that after surviving her horror of a marriage to Norman, anything else is pretty cut rate. As a survivor of an abusive marriage, I would have to agree with that assessment. When you are married to an abuser, you don’t need to Stephen King or scary movies to get your fear fix. An argument with your spouse will give you that fix in spades.
Stephen King has cited HP Lovecraft as an enormous influence. This is evident in his novel From a Buick 8, which tells the story of a mysterious vehicle that becomes the charge of a police department in a small town in Pennsylvania.
It quickly becomes evident to one of the officers of that police department that the “vehicle” is not actually a vehicle at all, but rather an object from another dimension beyond human understanding. The vehicle becomes the center of many odd occurrences, and the police department struggles to do damage control. However, the vehicle is responsible for the disappearance of at least one person and the death of the department’s mascot, a dog named Mr. Dillon. There is even a confrontation of sorts with one of the creatures from the unknown dimension. The images King paints are disturbing, especially when he references the fact that our world may be as frightening or even more frightening to those creatures as their world is to us.
What is perhaps most disturbing about this novel is the fact that the “vehicle” very nearly traps a young man who is the son of a fallen police officer, and sees the “vehicle” as his one remaining connection to his father. The young man is saved by timely intervention from another officer, but barely. Sometimes, a person with an obsession is the most frightening of all.
Revival is another novel that deals with our fear of the unknown. More specifically, Revival deals with the last of the unknown frontiers: death, and what may happen once we die.
Revival is also a morality play, much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. If we have the means to find out what happens after death, should we? And what will be the consequences if we intervene in matters that we (probably) have no business intervening in?
The consequences for Jamie Morton and his friend Charles Jacobs are not pretty. Jamie Morton first met Charles when he was a child, and Charles was the pastor in his rural hometown. However, tragedy strikes Charles Jacobs, and he is forced to leave town after a disastrous sermon that comes to be known as “The Terrible Sermon.” The experience shakes Jamie’s religious beliefs to the core, and Jamie is never quite the same afterwards.
Charles is also shaken to the core by this tragedy, and quickly becomes a man obsessed. Charles discovers what he refers to as “the secret electricity”, and believes that this mysterious force will allow him to find out what happens after death. Jamie refers to Charles as his “fifth business” throughout the book, and encounters him by chance when he is an adult. Jamie is addicted to heroin, and Charles is able to use his “secret electricity” to cure Jamie of his addiction. Jamie feels that he owes Charles a debt, and agrees to help him conduct what turns out to be his final experiment: using the “secret electricity” to find out what happens when we die.
And it turns out that sometimes ignorance is bliss. As stated before, the consequences are not pretty for Jamie and Charles, and Jamie’s “cure” for his heroin addiction has come at an enormous price. The ending is disturbing, reinforcing the belief that at least sometimes, not knowing is the best option of all.
Yes, I know that this entry actually consists of two books. However, I am considering one work for my purposes, since both books mirror each other, with one being written by Stephen King, and the other being a posthumous script from the poor, beleaguered Richard Bachman, who died an untimely death due to cancer of the pseudonym.
Both Desperation and The Regulators are also tied together by one of King’s uber-villains, Tak. Tak may not be as creepy as Randall Flagg or Pennywise the Clown (at least to some), but he is able to hold his own in the King universe. Tak is frightening because he is able to drain people almost like human batteries (mostly), and discards them in the same manner. However, there is one human that Tak cannot drain, and that is Seth Garin (the autistic boy in The Regulators). What Tak does to Seth is perhaps even more frightening: he uses Seth body to manipulate his surroundings, causing the suicide of Seth’s uncle, exploiting Seth’s aunt and killing many people in Seth’s neighborhood. Ultimately, Tak is beaten, but at the cost of Seth’s life and many others.
Desperation and The Regulators are not only frightening because of the entity Tak, but also because they deal with a theme that many of us can relate to: isolation. Desperation begins with a couple who becomes stranded in a small, seemingly abandoned desert town after they experience vehicle trouble. In The Regulators, Seth and his aunt are isolated due to Seth’s handicap and Tak’s effort to alienate Seth’s family from those who might help them. Isolation is a big theme in many King books, and once again it adds that element of realism to the story to make it that much more frightening.
6) The Stand
It is no secret that horror and fantasy are closely related. In fact, one could almost say that horror is fantasy taken to the next, darker step. From the Orcs in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to the witches in SA Hunt’s Malus Domestica, to the Others in the Game of Thrones series, many works that are considered to be fantasy and not horror certainly contain some frightening elements.
The Stand is another book that toes the line between dark fantasy and horror. On one hand, there are reluctant heroes (Larry, Stu and Nick). But on the other hand, there is an evil wizard figure (Randall Flagg). The evil wizard tends to be a common archetype in fantasy stories (Sauron is a good example). But Flagg is something beyond the ordinary evil wizard (if such a thing exists). Flagg invades the dreams of the survivors of a great plague that has wiped out most of Earth’s population. Frannie Goldsmith is one of those survivors. Frannie is pregnant, and dreams of being chased by The Dark Man (Flagg), who has a coat hanger in his hand. Nick Andros and Tom Cullen, two other survivors who are a deaf-mute man and mildly mentally handicapped man respectively, encounter Flagg’s presence when they seek shelter from a tornado that may have been sent by Flagg to dispose of them. Mother Abagail, who is Flagg’s counterpart on the side of the White, encounters Flagg when she is gathering food for her charges. Flagg has transformed to a weasel, the one creature that frightens the old woman. Mother Abagail is nearly beaten by Flagg, but is still able to best him the end.
The Stand is one of King’s best books, blending both elements of fantasy and horror to make it a truly frightening, yet fantastical read.
5) Black House
Black House is another novel (co-written by Peter Straub) that may be considered part of the fantasy genre, along with its predecessor, The Talisman. However, it is Black House (much like The Stand) that toes the line between fantasy and horror.
One of the reasons Black House is so frightening is because it contains a human villain that is unfortunately all too realistic. There is a supernatural villain, a creature known as Mr. Munshun, and King’s ultimate uber-villain, the Crimson King, is also alluded to in the book. However, the human villain, Charles Burnside, is another person that is human in appearance only. Charles Burnside appears to be a senile man suffering from the indignities of dementia and living out his final days in peace in an unsuspecting nursing home. However, the reader learns that Burnside is actually a serial killer who targets children. Burnside has made a grisly contract with Mr. Munshun and the Crimson King: he allows Mr. Munshun to possess his body so that he may murder children, in exchange for seeking out children PSI abilities who Munshan and the Crimson King can use for their evil purposes. Charles Burnside and Mr. Munshun are eventually defeated, but not before Burnside has murdered several children and left a small town nearly paralyzed in fear.
Charles Burnside is another one of King’s chilling examples of man’s inhumanity to man.
4) ‘Salem’s Lot
If I mentioned ‘Salem’s Lot to you, and you responded with “vampire story”, you would be correct…
But, wait…there’s more!
‘Salem’s Lot is indeed a book about vampires. And those vampires are scary. The head vampire is killed but his TEETH are still alive and bit Ben Mears…so the vampires in this book are indeed gruesome.
But, like most r
eally everything single thing he has ever written of King’s work, ‘Salem’s Lot is much more than a vampire story. Much, much more, in fact.
‘Salem’s Lot is a story about a small town, and how the small town succumbs to the vampire plague. There is clinical language and some medical terms included when the “patients” are diagnosed, and that just adds another level of gruesomeness to what is already frightening. Also, the description of how quickly the people in the town are either transformed to vampires or killed in some awful manner is quite disturbing, given how attached the reader gets to these characters and the town itself.
However, ‘Salem’s Lot is also a haunted story. Most of the action centers around the Marsten House, which is the local haunted house. We learn some of the history of the house through Ben Mears, who believes he saw the ghost of the former owner as a child. The house was a site for many terrible deeds that involved children, and King is able to weave this seamlessly into the vampire tale, thus adding an extra dimension of terror to an already scary story.
Note: Nowhere is it mentioned in ‘Salem’s Lot that vampires sparkle!
3) The Shining
The Shining is another King work where there is more than meets the eye. Perhaps the most famous, or perhaps infamous (thank you, Stanley Kubrik), of all King’s work. On the surface, the story is another haunted house story (well, haunted hotel actually). The ghosts wreak havoc on the Torrance family, and there are some truly scary moments involving the supernatural aspect of the story (the blood from the walls, the dead woman in the bathtub and a ghostly New’s Year Eve party all come to mind, along with several others).
However, what many people may fail to realize is that The Shining is also frightening because it tells the story of the disintegration of the family unit. Humans are social animals, and to most of us, the family is the most important unit of all. The Torrance family feels the same. Danny loves his parents, even they (especially his father, Jack) have failed him on many occasions. Wendy and Jack Torrance love Danny, and each other as well. Jack wants to do nothing more to provide for his family, which is why he takes a job that is less than ideal, given his education and his addiction to alcohol. But that family unit slowly begins to dissolve even at the beginning of the story. However, we are led to believe that maybe there is hope for this family, as they make an effort to draw together and achieve a fresh start. Tragically, this is not the case, as Jack ultimately succumbs to his demons, and Wendy and Danny barely escape with their lives.
Again, Stephen King is a master at including that element of realism in his stories, making them that much more believable and terrifying.
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
We all have fears. When you are an adult, they may be more abstract, such as fear of failure, financial worries, fear of divorce and so forth. But children’s fears are pretty concrete: most fear things such as movie monsters, vampires, spiders and so forth. So what if there was a monster out there that could take the form of whatever a child feared most, and literally scare them to death? And maybe this monster needs to only be visible to kids (since adult fears are too abstract to capitalize on) and live under the sewers, where It can quietly do its dirty work?
Enter Pennywise the Clown!
And yes, Pennywise the Clown makes the novel It terrifying. He is a clown that lives under the sewers…first strike. He can take on the form of ANYTHING that one fears…strike two. And Pennywise is an extra dimensional monster…I know, not really giving that clown a good character reference, am I?
However, as frightening as Pennywise is (which is at a level 19, at least), there are so many other aspects to this book that nearly beat out the clown that lives in the sewers. It deals with spousal abuse, child abuse and bullying. The Losers Club spends most of that terrible summer in a lot of danger, but much of that danger is NOT supernatural. The children face bullying from the local town bully, and must constantly watch their backs. The adults in town do not care about either the danger under the sewers (even though most can’t see it, nearly everyone is aware of its presence). Nor do the adults care about the bullies, even though they are as aware of the bullies as they are of the monster under the sewers. The lone female Loser, Beverly Marsh, is being abused by her father, and the abuse is becoming increasingly sexual in nature. Other children are abused or neglected. It seems that no one is safe from the town of Derry, and if one is not killed by Pennywise, his/her parent or spouse will step in and do the job instead.
Childhood is hell. There is no other way to put it. And It capitalizes on that concept, showing us just how much more hellish it is for some than others.
And now, for what I believe to be the scariest Stephen King book of all time…
Yes, Pet Sematary has made the top of the list, and I consider it to be King’s scariest book of all time for a multitude of reasons. So let’s talk about those reasons.
First of all, the concept of Pet Sematary is really scary. An ancient Native American burial ground, poisoned by the spirit of a Wendigo that has the ability to re-animate dead animals that come back as zombies, which teaches kids that “sometimes dead is better.” Can anything get scarier than that? I have read a lot of stories about the Wendigo too. and the Wendigo is one of the creepiest entities I have ever come across. So, yes, very disturbing right there…
But the burial ground is not only for animals. No, the burial ground can be used for humans too, so yay?
Well, not really. When humans are buried at the site, they do not come back right either. And the problems are way more serious than a nasty smell or the need to hunt more rodents than usual. The Wendigo is able to possess the body of the human, and render its subject with knowledge that he/she should not have. And this knowledge is not pleasant. Most of the knowledge is of the hateful variety: affairs and other dastardly deeds that were better off to remain secret. The Wendigo is not benevolent, and has malice towards the living.
However, to me, the scariest thing about Pet Sematary is that I relate to Louis Creed. The only evil in the book is the Wendigo spirit. Gage Creed is not evil, he is the victim of a terrible tragedy, in both life and death. Jud Crandall is not evil, he is a kind man who was only trying to help his friend. Rachel Creed is not evil, she is only a protective mother who has an (understandable) fear of death. Church the cat is not even evil, he is simply a beloved pet who also became an unfortunate victim of circumstances.
Most of all, Louis Creed is not evil. He is a loving father who (again, understandably) became mad with grief, and was willing to do anything to bring his son back and make his family whole again. He believes that he has found a way to do that, and that he can also use science to combat any problems. Sadly, he is proven horribly wrong, condemning himself and his family to an eternity of damnation. But if I were Lewis, and placed in his tragic situation, who is to say that I would not do the same thing? I am close to someone who has lost a child, and the pain is unbearable. You will do anything to stop it, even if it is something that may have dire consequences later on down the line.
So if I knew there was a possibility that I could bring back a deceased loved one, who is to say that I wouldn’t? I would be thinking about my loved one, not about any consequences. And that is frightening to me: to be that mad with grief that I would be willing to ignore Nature, and get involved with matters that I really have no business being involved with. And grief is frightening in that way: the pain blinds us, so we cannot see what is in front of us that may actually be worse than the grief.
Ghosts are scary…
Vampires are scary…
Haunted hotels are scary…
Heck, Indianapolis Colts football is scary!
But what is the scariest thing of all?
That’s right, someone who has never experienced the awesomeness that is a Stephen King book!
Why should Christmas get all the fun? It is also allowable to give gifts on Halloween, so do your part, and give someone who has never had this experience the greatest Halloween gift of all: a Stephen King book!