Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
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.
Come and check out your favorite nerd, live on the podcast known as Dark Tower Radio, where I palaver with a fellow nerd on King, horror, book, Dark Tower and all kinds of good stuff!
And yeah, I may sound even more nerdy live than on here…who knew???
There is just something about a new year.
I know that the calendar is simply a human construct, and really pretty meaningless, maybe even random, if you really think about it.
But I still love the concept of a new year.
It reminds me of when I buy new art supplies, for example. I know that I have bought most of this stuff before, and I am just recharging my already ample supply (luckily, my husband is understanding, although he would not agree that it’s not hoarding if it’s art supplies.)
But still, every time I
hoard buy new art supplies, I get that feeling of new possibilities. No limits. And I can start anew.
And that is how I feel about 2017.
Especially after the horror movie otherwise known as 2016, that will probably be struck from the history books.
Seriously, those school kids in the future will likely have some gap in their books (or whatever will pass for books in 2297) that covers 2015, 2017, 2018 and so forth.
But yet there will be a gap, in that 2016 will be skipped over. And I am sure that the parents (or robot nannies) of the future will have fun trying to explain that one.
In other words, 2016 was pretty scary. I mean, who wrote 2016…Stephen King or somebody?
Oh, speaking of which…
In case you forgot which blog you were reading…
Yes, we are starting out 2017 with a review of a Stephen King book…who knew?!
And for this month’s review, we are going back in time…
All the way back to the beginning, in fact.
Now, I know that King started off his writing career at a fairly young age, and spent years trying to get his work published.
In other words, I am sure there are lots of early works by The Master somewhere out there, for our reading pleasure.
But, for the purposes of this humble lil ole blog, we are going to focus on The Master’s first published book (and also the first of his books to be turned into a movie, which is still a classic.)
So, we are going to be reading and dissecting the novel Carrie.
The book with the infamous shower scene.
The book that makes you want to get a T-shirt that says “I survived my high school prom and all I got was this bloody T-shirt!”
(See what I did there?)
Carrie was the first published book by Stephen King.
It set the precedent for horror and also for book-to-screen adaptations.
Even non-King fans (gasp) can probably recite lines from the movie, and probably even know that is based on a Stephen King book.
Carrie is a huge part of popular culture. And there is a reason for that: it discusses themes that everyone can relate to, including puberty, bullying, parental abuse and a few others.
So, strap in, Constant Constant Reader, and get ready for the wild ride otherwise known as Carrie!
And, as always:
The book begins with an account of stones mysteriously falling from the sky, in the proximity of a house that a woman named Margaret White lives in, along with her toddler daughter Carrietta White. No one is ever able to explain why the stones fell from the sky, although people do not seem to be surprised that such an odd phenomena would occur in the vicinity of that particular house.
The story then jumps forward several years. Carrie White is now a teenager attending Ewen High School in Chamberlain, Maine. Carrie does not fit in at her high school and is bullied mercilessly by her peers.
The bullying reaches a peak one morning, when Carrie begins her first menstrual period at the age of nearly 17. Carrie does not understand what is happening to her and thinks that she is bleeding to death in the showers of the gym at her school.
Almost at once, the other girls begin to torment Carrie, throwing tampons and menstrual pads at her, demanding that she “plug it up.” Susan Snell, who generally does not bully other students, participates in tormenting Carrie, although Sue realizes that Carrie may not actually understand what is happening to her and that Carrie may also be genuinely terrified.
We then learn the story of Carrie’s birth. Her mother, Margaret White, was in denial that she was pregnant, as her religion proclaims that any sexual intercourse is a sin. Margaret gives birth to Carrie at home, with no medical assistance. Margaret was alone, because Carrie’s father had passed away several months earlier.
Ms. Dejardin, Carrie’s physical education teacher, puts a stop to the attack. She does not punish Sue and the other girls right away, but dismisses them so that she can help Carrie.
Ms. Desjardin then escorts Carrie to the principal’s office. She tries to explain menstruation to Carrie, but Carrie is too upset to listen. The principal, Mr. Morton, then dismisses Carrie for the day, after Ms. Desjardin gives him an explanation of what happened. Ms. Desjardin also states that she will punish those responsible for the incident, and Mr. Morton allows the punishment to be her own.
Carrie walks home from school, upset about the treatment she has endured from her classmates over the years. Carrie is also aware that she is different because she has the ability to move objects with her mind. This was demonstrated earlier when she forced a light bulb to explode and an ash tray to fall off Mr. Morton’s desk. Carrie is able to knock a child off his bicycle when he torments her as she as walking home, and realizes that she may be able to control this gift, with practice.
We then read the account of the incident from Carrie’s childhood when the stones fell from the sky. The incident is told from the perspective of Carrie’s former neighbor, who is being interviewed for a publication.
Carrie arrives home that morning, and finds the sanitary napkins her mother has hidden in the house. She is no longer frightened, as she realized that menstruation is a normal part of growing up, although she is embarrassed, as she previously thought that sanitary napkins were used to remove lipstick. Carrie also desires to break free of her mother’s constricting religious beliefs, and to fit in with her peers.
However, Carrie is also angry, and breaks a mirror in an expression of her anger.
The story then switches to the perspective of Sue Snell. Sue is dating a boy named Tommy Ross, who is the most popular boy in school. The two have recently become lovers, and Sue begins to contemplate a future with Tommy and realizes that she has fallen in love with him. That night, when the two are on a date, Sue confesses what happened that morning in the shower to Tommy, as she is upset with herself. Tommy listens to Sue and suggests that Sue apologize to Carrie for her part in the incident. However, Sue is unable to come up with a solution to her problem, and still feels badly for what happened.
That evening, Carrie faces the wrath of her mother, Margaret. Margaret believes that her daughter has sinned because she is now menstruating, and forces Carrie into a small closet to pray for forgiveness. Margaret also strikes her daughter. However, Carrie pushes back, threatening to make the stones come again if Margaret does not stop the abuse.
The next week, Ms. Desjardin confronts the students responsible for the attack on Carrie. Sue Snell is among these students, and accepts responsibility for her part in the incident. However, Chris Hargensen, one of the other responsible students and a school bully, refuses to accept the punishment, and tries to convince Sue and the others to walk out in protest of Ms. Desjardin and her punishment. Sue refuses, and Chris’ refusal results in a suspension and refusal of her prom tickets.
Chris’ father also refuses to accept his daughter’s punishment and attempts to bully the school administrators into reversing the punishment so that Chris can attend prom. The administration, however, stands up to him, and he backs down after he learns what his daughter did to Carrie.
Sue is also forced into a confrontation with Chris, as Chris is angry that Sue did not stand with her in protest of Ms. Desjardin’s punishment. However, Sue tells Chris that she accepts responsibility for her actions. Chris counters, telling Sue that she is a hypocrite and only accepting the punishment so that her prom ticket will not be refused. Sue realizes her hypocrisy, and wonders how to counter it.
Sue continues to feel remorse for her responsibility on the attack on Carrie, and finally has an idea of how to atone. Sue convinces Tommy Ross, her boyfriend, to ask Carrie to the prom. Sue is convinced that if Carrie attends prom, she may finally be able to fit in with her peers. Tommy is reluctant, but finally agrees to Sue’s request. After he agrees, he tells Sue that he loves her.
Tommy approaches Carrie one day between classes, and invites her to the prom. Carrie is skeptical, but is finally convinced and agrees to attend the prom with Tommy. After speaking with Carrie, Tommy realizes that she is far from repulsive.
Carrie decides to use her talent for sewing to make her own prom dress. Carrie also develops her other talent, known as telekinesis, and is able to move larger objects using her mind. She informs Margaret that Tommy has invited her to prom and that she has accepted the invitation. Margaret is furious and attempts to forbid Carrie from attending. Carrie fights back, using her newfound powers, and wins the battle. Carrie emphasizes her desire to fit in with her peers, much to the shock of Margaret.
Word spreads that Sue will not be attending prom and that Tommy will instead be taking Carrie to the prom. It also becomes evident that Chris Hargensen is planning something, although no one is sure what she is planning.
Billy Nolan, Chris’ boyfriend, breaks into a farm one night. Billy and his friends kill a couple of pigs, and drain the bodies of blood, taking buckets of blood with him when he leaves the farm.
Carrie sews her dress and begins to get ready to attend her senior prom. Margaret again fights with her, attempting to persuade Carrie not to attend, but once again, Carrie uses her powers to stand up to her mother. Carrie also tells her mother that she loves her after the confrontation.
Tommy arrives to pick up Carrie, who is extremely nervous, and has even considered not attending the prom. However, Carrie is pleasantly surprised even from the beginning of the evening, as her classmates and her date treat her with respect. The girls are impressed with her dress, and surprised by her talent for sewing. Carrie is further surprised to learn that she and Tommy have been nominated for Prom King and Queen.
While Carrie is attending the prom, her mother Margaret comes to the decision to kill her daughter when she comes home later that night. Margaret has noticed Carrie’s talent for moving objects with her mind from the time when Carrie was baby, and believes that Carrie’s gift is a sin. Margaret contemplated sacrificing her daughter many years ago, but did not. This time, however, she is determined to carry out her plan.
Chris and Billy also carry out their plans to play a prank on Carrie that evening. They sneak into the high school, where Billy has hidden buckets of the pig’s blood in the rafter. They plan to dump the blood on Carrie if she is crowned Prom Queen.
Carrie and Tommy are then nominated as Prom Queen and King. They are crowned onstage. However, when Carrie and Tommy enter the stage to accept their nominations, Chris pulls the strings, and Tommy and Carrie are doused with the pig’s blood. One of the buckets hits Tommy on the head, and he is rendered unconscious. The impact is so severe that Tommy dies in less than an hour.
The audience is first shocked, and then begins to laugh at Carrie, who is also in shock. Carrie escapes from the gymnasium, but uses her powers to unleash the sprinkler system. This causes an electrical fire, and students and teachers frantically attempt to escape from the school, which is now engulfed in flames.
Carrie wanders the town, in a state of madness. She begins to cause more destruction, using her powers to wreak havoc in the town of Chamberlain, Maine.
Eventually, while the town of Chamberlain burns to the ground, Carrie returns to her home. She is met by her mother, Margaret, who is armed with a butcher knife. Margaret then stabs Carrie, believing that she is committing an act mercy in ending her daughter’s life.
However, Carrie is not killed by her mother, as she envisions her mother’s heart coming to a stop. Margaret then dies after her heart comes to a complete stop.
Word of what has happened in Chamberlain reaches Billy and Chris, and they head back into town. However, they also run into Carrie, who takes revenge on them by using her powers to overturn their vehicle. Carrie is hit by the vehicle, and Billy and Chris are killed almost instantly.
Sue Snell is wandering the streets of Chamberlain. She appears to have some sort of telepathic connection with Carrie and knows that Carrie has killed her mother. She also realizes that Tommy and most of her friends have been killed.
Finally, Sue finds Carrie and realizes that Carrie dying. She still shares a telepathic bond with Carrie, although the bond is weakening because Carrie is dying. Carrie is convinced that Sue tricked her and is responsible for the events that occurred that night. However, Carrie probes Sue’s mind, and realizes that Sue bore no ill will towards her and only wanted to help her.
Carrie traps Sue in her mind as she is dying, so Sue also experiences Carrie’s death. Finally, Sue escapes Carrie’s clutches, and realizes that she has gotten her menstrual period, which had been a week late.
At least 409 people have died due to the destruction of the high school and the surrounding town. An autopsy of Carrie White has revealed unusual formations in her brain, and the governor appoints a committee to study the tragedy.
Sue Snell survives the devastation and writes a book about the events.
The town of Chamberlain effectively becomes a ghost town, as people begin to leave. More bodies are discovered, and the funeral business becomes the most active business in Chamberlain.
Some years into the future, a woman writes a letter to her sister. The letter describes an incident with the woman’s infant daughter, who apparently has the ability to move objects with her mind. However, the woman does not fear her daughter, but reveres her instead, believing that the little girl will accomplish great things in the future.
Well, you know what they say…
Big things come in small packages.
Yes, this cliche may be overused, but I cannot think of a better description of the book Carrie.
It may not be a big book, but it packs a big wallop.
Carrie is King’s first published work. King has compared it to a cookie baked by a 6 year old: you can tell it’s a cookie, and it has some nice flavorings, but that cookie is misshapen, burnt on the bottom, etc.
Well, that cookie is some mighty fine eating, and an appetizer for great things to come!
There are so many great things about this little book that it is hard to know where to start our discussion.
First of all, all Carrie has some great villains. And no, the title character is not one of them, although we will discuss her in a bit as well.
No, the villains in this story are Carrie’s mother and her classmates, which mainly include Chris Hargensen.
As I have stated before, one of King’s major strengths as a writer is his ability to write about “real life.”
Making the statement that King writes horror is a severe underestimation of King’s work, almost like making the statement that Aaron Rodgers plays football.
In other words, there is so much more to King (as there is to Aaron Rodgers, as the Dallas Cowboys found out this weekend.)
King writes horror stories, but when you strip away the horror, his stories are about people.
And one of the things that people do is not be nice to each other.
You know, like sheltering your kid her whole life, locking her up in a prayer closet when she does normal kid things and oh, not telling her about the “birds and the bees?”
Margaret White is one of King’s best human villains.
When one says the name Stephen King to most people, they may think of Pennywise the Clown, a girl who can start fires or maybe of the title character of the book we are discussing, who “lost” it and destroyed her high school.
Most people are not going to think of religious fanaticism and how dangerous that fanaticism can be be to an impressionable teenager who only wants what most teenager want, i.e. to fit in with her peers somehow, and to not be the butt of EVER SINGLE horrible practical joke every bully somewhere has dreamed up.
What is great (or is it horrible?) about the character of Margaret White is that she is so plausible.
Margaret White exists in this world today.
Any time I read an article about some kid dying because the parents refused medical treatment for religious reasons, or some adult that escaped a household run by religious fanatics who insisted on homeschooling their children and not allowing their children to date before marriage, I think of Margaret White.
Granted, the outcome in Carrie may be a bit extreme, as most kids don’t kill their abusive parents and many are able to flee those conditions and eventually make better lives for themselves.
But Margaret White still exists. And she is dangerous, as most people do not recognize the actions of the Margaret Whites in our world for what they are: child abuse.
Child abuse does not always mean that a parent hits his/her and leaves bruises (although Margaret was guilty of this, and this is still tragically all too common.)
Instead, child abuse can be more insidious, as when the parent controls all actions of the child, and does not allow opposing viewpoints in the child’s life.
Child abuse can also consist of a parent forcing their viewpoints on their child, and punishing the child for daring to have an opposing viewpoint (the prayer closet in action.)
The book Carrie also has another villain, besides Margaret White.
Or should I say, a set of villains?
In case I am not being clear, I am referring to Chris Hargensen, along with the other sickening half of the dynamic duo…
Yes, Chris is some sort of demented Batman, and that would make Billy some kind of creepy, greasy Robin, I suppose.
When I read about the bullying experienced by Carrie, and the actions (and lack of actions) by her classmates, I was reminded of one of my favorite books as a child.
Judy Blume is similar to King, in that she writes “real life.”
Along with educating me about my anatomy, Ms. Blume also discussed bullying at length in almost all of her books.
However, Blubber was a book devoted to the subject of bullying.
In this book, children gang up on a particular classmate, bullying her ostensibly due to her weight (the title is the cruel nickname they have come up with for this child, in fact), although the real reasons may be a little deeper.
However, Blubber is not told from the perspective of the bully. Nor is it told from the perspective of the victim.
Rather, it is told from the perspective of a bystander, Jill. Throughout the book, we watch Jill evolve, from a fellow bully to a victim to finally someone who becomes enlightened and a more compassionate person.
When I was reading Carrie, I was struck by the similarity between Chris Hargensen and the bullies in the book Blubber, along with the similarity between Sue Snell and the Jill character in Blubber.
Like the bully in Blubber, Chris is charismatic. At the beginning, Chris able to get others to do her bidding.
This includes her not very bright, but very cruel boyfriend, Billy Nolan.
In fact, unlike Chris, Billy does not care very much about Carrie White. He just wants to dump a bucket of pig’s blood on someone, for the thrill of it. Interestingly, Billy also seems to be the only one who understands that criminal charges would be brought against him and Chris if they were caught.
However, throughout the novel, Chris’ “friends” begin to turn away from her.
One of these friends is Sue. Much like the Jill character in Blubber, Sue goes along with the crowd at first.
She wants to be accepted and does not want to “rock the boat.”
However, much like Jill in the book Blubber, Sue begins to evolve.
She does not want to miss her prom, but realizes the effect that the bullying has had on Carrie White.
As the events of the story unfold, Sue begins to evolve.
She realizes that there is more to life than high school, her friends and even Tommy, her boyfriend.
Sue is able to put herself into the shoes of Carrie, and realizes what a horrible time that Carrie has had throughout her life.
This prompts her to “loan” Tommy to Carrie for an evening, so that Carrie may have a few hours of happiness.
And when things go horribly wrong, Sue begins to feel a sense of responsibility.
Sue also reminds us that Carrie was a person, with real thoughts and feelings.
Carrie also seeks out Sue, as her life is ending, and realizes that Sue is not to blame for what happened.
In fact, it seems if Sue is able to offer Carrie one of the few bits of compassion that Carrie has ever received in her life, which eases Carrie’s suffering just a little as she dies.
And last but not least, let’s talk about the title character herself, Carrie.
Now, I know that Carrie is not a terribly long book, and there is not a lot of room to get to know characters on an in-depth basis.
However, King does a good job with the character development in this book. In fact, he does more than good, considering the length of the book.
In the past, people have indicated a dislike for Carrie as a person. Or they simply pity her. Even King has indicated that Carrie is not really a likable character.
However, I respectfully disagree with The Master on that (gasp.)
Maybe it’s because I was bullied as a child. Or maybe it’s because I survived an abusive marriage.
But I find the character of Carrie White to be fascinating, and to me, she is one of King’s more interesting characters.
Throughout much of the book, we see Carrie through the eyes of Carrie herself. And the picture is not flattering, as it would appear that she is overweight and suffering from acne.
However, I was struck when I read the part where Tommy asks her to the prom, and notices that she was “far from repulsive” but this was “the first time he had really looked.”
So was Carrie just invisible when she was not being bullied? I tend to believe this, because I spent most of my childhood being bullied and trying to remain invisible so I would not be bullied. In fact, when my ex boyfriend told me that the guys at our college thought that I had the best legs on campus, I was struck speechless. Really, I don’t think that I even knew that I had legs, much less legs that others may consider to be attractive.
But that’s how it is when you try to remain invisible: you lose sight of yourself, and become invisible to even your own eyes, so you don’t see what others may marvel over.
Throughout the book, Carrie does begin to emerge from her shell. And I began to like that girl on her own merits, much like Tommy Ross.
For starters, I thought Carrie to be a strong woman.
She survived bullying and abuse (from both her peers and her mother) for years, and basically did not flinch. In fact, she tried to take some of the bullying with good humor, even though she (understandably) lost her sense of humor pretty quickly.
To top it off, Carrie did not have a support system at home. Most of us who are bullied have family and friends outside of school, so that we have something worth living for. Carrie did not, although she had a mother who considered anything that may bring her daughter happiness to be a sin.
So anyone who can survive as long as Carrie did under those circumstances is somebody to be admired, not pitied. And I like strong people, as well as admire them. I like people who somehow find a way to push through it, even when the circumstances are not good.
“Hurt people hurt people.”
This is a quote from Laverne Cox, in regards to bullying and harassment. And it applies so well to this book.
Carrie was definitely one of the hurt people.
Her bullies could not even allow her a few moments of happiness, when she was invited to prom by the most popular boy in school and then crowned Prom Queen. At that point, even some of her classmates, like Tommy, had begun to like Carrie on her own merits.
But then a horrible prank was played on her, and as they say, the rest was history.
And my question is: why wouldn’t Carrie “snap” after enduring that kind of prank?
In fact, why wouldn’t anyone “snap” after enduring that kind of prank?
Throughout the book, the scientific articles are focused on the telekinesis aspect. Should something be done to prevent children from being born with this ability? Can we isolate this gene that is responsible for “Typhoid Mary’s?” Should we test children for “TK ability,” as we test them for tuberculosis? And so forth.
But never once is the most important question asked: What causes people to lash out, as Carrie did?
Personally, I was amazed that Carrie did not lash out sooner, due to the abuse that she endured.
Throughout the book, Carrie is not portrayed as someone prone to violence.
She may have fantasies in regards to revenge on her tormentors, but that would be perfectly normal, in my book.
But constant bullying changes people. I am living proof of that. My childhood ought to be behind me, but it isn’t.
I spent my life being told I was not good enough. So I married an abusive man, because I didn’t think I deserved any better. In other words, I internalized that message.
I still have difficulty making friends. Bullying causes major trust issues, so it is hard to open to people so that they can really get to know you.
So it is no wonder that Carrie used her powers to destroy her school and her town, along with killing her mother.
She had nothing left to live for, as Tommy was killed by the falling buckets. And no friends, as everyone laughed at her when she was hurt. And her mother was the cause of this humiliation, as she failed to educate her daughter in regards to her own body.
So it seems to me that telekinesis is not the problem.
Rather, the problem is man’s inhumanity to man.
The telekinesis is a distraction.
We don’t need to worry about testing kids for TK or isolating any type of gene.
Rather, we need to test kids for bullying tendencies, along with testing parents for abuse tendencies.
Until we recognize bullying and abuse for what they are, hurt people will just continue to hurt people.
And the legacy of the Carrie Whites of the world will continue to live on, with horrific consequences.
Well, that’s it for that tiny package known as Carrie…what a start to the new year!
Join me next month for the read and review of the greatest love story of all time between a boy and his car, aka the novel Christine!
Tune in next month…
Same bat time, same bat channel!
Even though Carrie is the first published Stephen King novel, it connects to his other works, just like nearly every other King novel. Here are some of the connections I found:
-The events in Carrie are referenced by a character in the novel The Dead Zone, and mention is made of a movie based on those events.
-Carrie’s telekinetic abilities are similar to abilities possessed by several other King characters, including Ted Brautigan in Low Men in Yellow Coats (part of the collection Hearts in Atlantis), Kira DeVore (Bag of Bones), Jake Chambers (The Dark Tower series), Danny Torrance (Doctor Sleep and The Shining), Abra Stone (Doctor Sleep), Tyler Marshall (Black House) and several others.
-In the King universe, Breakers are people who possess psychic abilities and are recruited by the Crimson King and his Low Men (Hearts in Atlantis, Black House and The Dark Tower series) to destroy The Dark Tower, the nexus of all existence. If Carrie had lived, it seems she most certainly would have caught the eye of The Crimson King and his Low Men.
-Religious mania is a running theme in King’s work. Margaret White is similar to several other religious maniacs, including Sylvia Pittson (The Gunslinger, Wizard and Glass) and Mrs. Carmody (The Mist, part of the collection Skeleton Crew.)
-Margaret White is employed by Blue Ribbon Laundry. This establishment is featured in the short story The Mangler (part of the collection Night Shift) and in the novel Roadwork, which was originally published as a Richard Bachman novel.
Once upon a time, two stories got together.
They fell in love, and got married.
One day, there was so much love that a new story came into existence.
And that new story was kind of like its parents.
It dealt with many of the same themes and messages.
But make no mistake, that new story was also distinct from its mom and dad stories.
It had its own voice, along with a large cast of characters and a pretty awesome villain, to boot.
So, what was this story named?
Surely, it had to have an awesome name to live up to all this hype, right?
Well, since you asked, the name of this story is…
Yes, *that* Needful Things, written by none other than The Master himself!
You are visiting the right blog, in case you were wondering.
Where this month (much like the book in question), we end 2016 with a bang!
Or maybe a stink bomb…now that would be more appropriate, wouldn’t it?
So, strap in, and get ready for one Hell (this is a Stephen King book, after all) of a ride, as we review and dissect one of my all-time favorite Stephen King books!
And, as always:
Needful Things begins with an introduction of the town Castle Rock, by an unknown narrator. The narrator seems familiar with the town and its inhabitants, describing, in particular, the various feuds and rivalries between the inhabitants, and some things that the inhabitants would wish to keep secret. The narrator also advises the reader that new store, named Needful Things, has opened in Castle Rock, and that the new store will bring some kind of change to the town.
There is much talk and gossip about the new store in town. However, the store’s first customer is an eleven year old boy by the name of Brian Rusk.
Brian wanders into Needful Things one fall afternoon. There he meets the owner, a man by the name of Leland Gaunt.
Almost immediately, Brian takes a liking to Mr. Gaunt, and is in awe of the new store. When Mr. Gaunt asks Brian what he desires, Brian replies that he would like a 1956 Sandy Koufax baseball card to complete his collection.
Somehow, Gaunt is able to produce that exact baseball card, much to Brian’s amazement. The card is signed by Koufax, and even has the name “Brian” written on it.
Even though Brian has very little money, Gaunt sells him the card. Gaunt also makes Brian promise to do something for him. The deed is never specified, but Brian walks out of the store and is very happy.
When the store finally opens for business, it receives another visitor: Polly Chalmers.
Polly is a long time resident of Castle Rock, although she spent several years living elsewhere. Not much is known about Polly, other than the fact that she became pregnant, left town and possibly attended business school. Polly keeps to herself and does not reveal much about her past. Polly also suffers from a painful case of arthritis, and is desperate for a cure.
Polly also immediately takes a liking to Gaunt. She pays him a visit and brings him a cake, and they chat about the town. Polly reassures Gaunt about his new store, telling him that he will likely have many more customers.
That claim proves to be true, as Gaunt receives several more visits from the townspeople that day. Some even purchase items from him, negotiating the prices with Gaunt.
The book then introduces us to a man named Alan Pangborn. Alan is the sheriff of Castle Rock. Alan has recently lost his wife and younger son due to a car accident and is mourning their deaths. Alan is also in a relationship with Polly Chalmers.
Later that evening, a man named Hugh Priest is walking down the street, and notices a fox tail for sale in the window of the new store. Hugh also notices that Needful Things appears to be open for business, even though the hour is very late. Hugh is alcoholic whose life is beginning to fall apart due to his drinking. When he sees the fox tail, he is reminded of his high school days and happier times.
Hugh walks into the store and meets Gaunt. He purchases the fox tail from Gaunt, and makes a promise to play a prank on a woman named Nettie Cobb, who is Polly’s housekeeper.
The new store does more business the next day. Myra Evans, the best friend of Cora Rusk (Brian’s mother) purchases a picture of Elvis from Gaunt, and makes a promise to play a prank on another person in town.
Nettie Cobb, Polly Chalmers’ housekeeper, also becomes a customer of the new store. Nettie is a troubled woman, as she has spent time in a mental institution, after killing her abusive husband in self defense. She was released as part of a work rehabilitation program, and came to work for Polly Chalmers. Nettie purchases a piece of carnival glass, and agrees to play a prank on Danforth “Buster” Keeton, a town selectman.
Meanwhile, Alan has a busy day as sheriff. He has his deputy, Norris Ridgewick, write Keeton a ticket for parking in a handicapped spot. Keeton becomes irrationally angry at this, and attacks Ridgewick after he receives the ticket. Alan is able to break the fight up, but wonders why Keeton is so angry over a five dollar ticket, and speculates that Keeton may be deeply troubled.
Alan also meets with the Reverend William Rose, the pastor of the local Baptist church. Reverend Rose is upset because the Catholic church in town will be sponsoring a bingo night in the name of charity, and the Baptist church believes that gambling in any form is a sin. The reverend tries to convince Alan that this is illegal, but Alan has done his research, and tells the reverend that the Catholics will be able to sponsor their gambling night. This upsets Reverend Rose, but he finally leaves the police station.
That afternoon,, Alan meets Polly for coffee, and they talk about the new store. Polly is actually pleased that Nettie visited the new store, as Nettie is timid and tends to shy away from new experiences. Polly also mentions that Gaunt returned the cake container, along with a note inviting her to visit the store that Sunday, as he has an item for sale that may be of interest to Polly.
Brian realizes that it is time to play the prank that he promised Gaunt that he would play. Brian convinces himself to play the prank, as he fears his new baseball card may be taken away from him if he does not fulfill his promise to Gaunt. Brian has not told anyone of the purchase of the card, as he fears that the fact that he now owns an expensive card may rouse suspicion.
Brian heads to the house of a woman named Wilma, who is a neighbor of Nettie Cobb’s. The two women have been feuding for some time, and simply do not get along. Brian smears mud on Wilma’s wash that is drying on the clothesline. He feels some satisfaction after playing the prank, and heads back home to enjoy his new baseball card.
When Wilma returns that evening, she discovers her ruined sheets and becomes angry. Wilma also assumes that Nettie is responsible, and places a threatening phone call to Nettie. This upsets Nettie, who has no idea why Wilma is angry, but vows to not let Wilma bully her any more.
Deputy Norris Ridgewick passes by the store and his attention is captured by a fishing rod. Ridgewick agrees to buy the fishing rod from Gaunt, and agrees to play a prank on another citizen of the town.
Gaunt makes several more deals with various citizens of Castle Rock, where his customers buy items from them that they deeply desire, and agree to play (seemingly) harmless pranks on other citizens of the town.
Danforth “Buster” Keeton also pays a visit to Needful Things and Leland Gaunt. Keeton has become increasingly unstable and paranoid over the past several years, as he has become addicted to gambling and has been stealing from the town’s treasury to finance his gambling habit. Keeton is now under the threat of an audit, which means that his embezzling will be discovered.
Keeton purchases a horse racing game from Gaunt, which he believes will help him predict the winner of the actual horse races. Keeton also promises to play a prank for Gaunt, as payment for the horse racing game.
The next morning, Alan drops by Needful Things, hoping to meet with the owner. Gaunt is in the store, but Alan does not see him. Gaunt does not trust Alan, and does not want to meet him.
Polly sits on her porch, anticipating that she is going to experience a very bad bout of pain from her arthritis. Polly also recalls her past, which she has not been honest with Alan. When Polly was 17, she became pregnant out of wedlock with her son, Kelton. She refused to marry the father or accept any help from her parents, who were ashamed of her. Polly ran away to the West coast and ended up in California. One night, while she was working, she left Kelton with a babysitter. There was a fire at her apartment that killed both her son and his babysitter. Eventually, Polly returned to Castle Rock, as she realized it was her true home. However, she never told Alan the truth about her son, telling him instead that Kelton died of SIDS at three months old. Polly knows that she must reveal the truth to Alan, sooner or later, but is not sure how to do that.
That night, Polly’s prediction about her arthritis proves to be correct and she is in terrible pain, and has trouble sleeping. The next day, Nettie pays Polly a visit and becomes very worried about Polly’s health. Polly is grateful for the concern, but tells Nettie not to worry and that she will be okay.
After Nettie leaves her house, Hugh Priests breaks into her home, in order to play the prank that Gaunt has ordered him to play. Hugh kills Nettie’s dog Raider with a corkscrew, and leaves a threatening note on Raider’s collar.
Nettie leaves Polly’s house, and is ordered by Gaunt to play a prank on Buster Keeton. She complies, breaking into Keeton’s house and leaving several parking tickets with obscene messages, signing one of the tickets as Norris Ridgewick.
Brian Rusk also realizes that he must finish paying for his baseball ticket. Again, he heads to Wilma Jerzyck’s house, and throws several rocks with the windows, with threatening notes.
Nettie returns to her home. She finds Raider’s corpse and is heartbroken and angry that someone has killed him. She also notices the note, and believes that Wilma has killed her dog in retaliation for something. Nettie finds a large, sharp kitchen knife, and heads to Wilma’s home.
In the meantime, Wilma returns to her home and finds the broken windows and the note. She is furious, and assumes that Nettie is responsible. Wilma also finds a large, sharp night, and leaves her house, looking for Nettie.
Wilma and Nettie meet on the sidewalk, and immediately exchange words. This escalates to blows and the two women begin to stab each other. Both women are able to inflict fatal blows on each other, and both die in the ensuing fight.
Polly begins to feel a little better and decides to take Gaunt up on his offer, meeting him at his shop. Gaunt seems to understand how much pain that Polly is in, and offers her an Egyptian charm he calls an “azkah.” Polly is skeptical, but Gaunt convinces her to try the charm, telling her that she has nothing to lose by trying. Polly begins to feel better even before she leaves the store, but realizes that Gaunt had put her in a trance.
Keeton returns home from a rare, pleasant outing with his wife, Myrtle, and finds the fake tickets. He is humiliated and attempts to remove all of the tickets, but his paranoia and instability become apparent. Myrtle is worried about her husband, but is unable to reach him.
Alan and Norris complete the investigation on Nettie’s death. Something does not sit right with Alan, but he does not know what. He sends Norris home for the night, telling him to enjoy his fishing trip that Norris has planned for the next day.
Norris returns to the police station and changes back into his civilian clothes. He finds a package on his desk, but does not know who the package is from. When he opens it, his hand is snapped by a rat trap, and Norris nearly loses his fingers. Norris is outraged and humiliated, and is also convinced that Keeton is responsible for the trick.
A prank is played on the Reverend William Rose, in the form of a nasty note left in the parsonage. The note is signed by the concerned Catholic men of Castle Rock, but is left there by a young man named Ricky, who has played the prank in exchange for an item from Needful Things.
Gaunt watches over the town in the apartment above his shop, which is void of any furnishings. He is planning something unpleasant for the town of Castle Rock, and various citizens stir in their sleep, plagued by disturbing dreams.
Pranks continue to be played on the unsuspecting citizens of Castle Rock, including the Baptist church, which receives a threatening note believed to be from the Catholic church.
More trouble rolls into Castle Rock: Ace Merrill, a former resident of Castle Rock, decides to return to town. Ace was arrested by Alan several years ago in a drug bust. Ace has been released from prison and is still a cocaine addict. Ace also owes money to some unsavory people due to his drug habit, and has been given a deadline of November 1st to pay back the money, or he will be killed.
Ace happens to notice a “for hire” sign on the window of Needful Things. He also notices what he thinks to be a book about hidden treasure in New England that is written by his late uncle, Reginald Merrill. Ace has been convinced that his uncle had held out an inheritance that should have been due to Ace, and his greed is sparked.
Ace enters the store and speaks to Gaunt. Gaunt convinces Ace to work for him so that Ace can pay back the money he owes to his creditors. Gaunt also sells Ace the book on buried treasure, telling him that maybe the book will lead him to his fortune.
Alan soon finds out that Ace is back in town and confronts him. Ace tells Alan that he has no intention of staying in town and that he will leave soon.
Brian Rusk begins to feel extremely guilty over his role in the deaths of Wilma and Nettie. However, he receives a call from Gaunt advising him that he was not seen by anyone, and that he will be able to lie if necessary. Brian does not feel any better, and begins to have thoughts of suicide.
Sally Ratliffe, the speech teacher at the local junior high school, becomes the latest victim of a prank. Sally is engaged to Lester Pratt, the physical education teacher. Both are devout Baptists and seem devoted to each other. However, Sally finds what appears to be a love note from Lester’s ex-girlfriend in his vehicle. Sally is extremely upset when she finds this, but calms down a bit when she returns home and begins to meditate.
Ace completes his first job for Gaunt. He travels to Massachusetts and picks up a vehicle, per the instructions of Gaunt, along with a large amount of guns and ammunition. Ace notices that the there is something strange about the car, as it appears to drive itself, but he return the car and the rest of his cargo to Gaunt, and then proceeds to hunt for treasure.
Polly buries Nettie, and has Alan drop her off at Gaunt’s shop, so that she can pay for the azka charm. Alan is skeptical about the charm, even though Polly is feeling better than she has in years. The two argue, but Alan convinces Polly to pay for the charm with a check, so that she can cancel the payment if necessary.
When Polly enters the shop, Gaunt senses that she is troubled, and tells her that he will accept a check. He also tells Polly that she must play a prank on someone, and that someone is Ace Merrill. Polly agrees to the prank, and leaves the store with her azka charm.
Alan deduces that Brian Rusk may have either been involved somehow in the deaths of Nettie and Wilma. Alan believes that Brian either played the prank, or perhaps witnessed it. He tries to speak to Brian, but Brian seems distressed and will not open up to Alan. Alan is then interrupted and called back to the station.
In the meantime, pranks continue to be played on various citizens of Castle Rock, with varying consequences. In one instance, it is revealed that the principal at the middle school is involved in pedophilia. In another instance, Lester Pratt, the fiancee of Sally, finds the wallet of Sally’s ex boyfriend in his vehicle, along with a picture of Sally and her ex, leaving Lester to believe that Sally is cheating on him.
Polly returns home and finds a letter waiting for her. The letter appears to reveal that Alan has made some inquiries about her past and the death of her son, Kelton. Polly is furious and calls Alan when he is at work and ends their relationship.
Alan is bewildered by the phone call from Polly, but has to put his feelings aside, as fingerprints were discovered at Nettie’s house. The fingerprints do not belong to Nettie, but actually belong to Hugh Priest. Alan suspects that Hugh killed Nettie’s dog, and sets out to arrest him.
Chaos erupts in the town, as people begin to seek revenge against those who they believe to be responsible for the tricks that were played on them. One of Alan’s deputies, John LaPointe, is attacked by Lester Pratt at the police station, as Lester believes John was dating Sally behind his back. Sheila, the dispatcher, attacks Lester and kills him, defending John. The phones at the police station begin ringing off the hook, and Alan is bewildered.
Brian Rusk is unable to shake his distress. Brian ends his life in his father’s garage, shooting himself with his father’s rifle. Before his death, Brian makes his horrified younger brother Sean promise to never set foot in the store Needful Things.
Polly then makes good on her promise to play a prank on Ace Merrill. She buries some torn pictures and stamps in a coffee can on some abandoned property, along with a letter addressed to Ace. Polly questions her actions and her argument with Alan, but still plays the prank anyway.
Shortly after Polly buries the coffee can, Ace uses his book and maps and tracks down the location where the can is buried. Ace eagerly digs and finds the coffee can, thinking that he has found buried treasure from his uncle. However, his hopes are dashed when he finds the letter. The letter appears to be written by Alan Pangborn and taunts Ace, telling him that his uncle left his treasure to Alan and not Ace. Ace becomes furious, and vows to find Alan.
Chaos continues to erupt in the town. Danforth Keeton finally becomes completely unhinged and kills his wife, Myrtle, beating her to death with a hammer. Hugh Priest is also killed by the bartender who believes Hugh played a prank on him. Alan Pangborn is bewildered, and attempts to question Sean Rusk, Brian’s younger brother, as he is unable to obtain any information from Cora Rusk, Brian’s mother, who appears to be in a daze.
While the chaos erupts in Castle Rock, Gaunt continues to make sales. This time, he is selling guns, and the guns appear to have poison bullets. It is also revealed that Gaunt is extremely old, and has been in this business for many centuries, causing chaos wherever he appears.
Alan is finally able to question Sean Rusk, and is disturbed by what he finds out. Sean tells him that Brian made him promise not to ever enter the store known as Needful Things before his death. Sean tells Alan about the baseball card that Gaunt sold to Brian, along with the sunglasses sold to his mother, Cora, and that Cora believes that those sunglasses allow her to visit with Elvis Presley. Alan realizes that Brian was responsible for the pranks played on Wilma, and that Gaunt is the one actually responsible for the chaos in town. Alan issues out a warrant for Gaunt’s arrest, and realizes that he must find Gaunt.
Gaunt recruits both Keeton and Ace to help him in his final act of mischief in Castle Rock: he plans on using dynamite to destroy the town.
A stink bomb is set off in the Baptist Church. The Baptists blame the Catholics, and the two groups meet with vengeance in mind. The Catholics and the Baptists begin to fight, and people are badly hurt and even killed in the brawl, as both groups are intent on destroying the other.
Alan is on the hunt for Gaunt. He vows vengeance on Gaunt, for his actions in Castle Rock.
Norris Ridgewick plans on committing suicide. He believes that he is at least partially responsible for the chaos in town, as he purchased an item from Gaunt and played a prank. However, something makes Norris realize that committing suicide is not the answer. Norris then sees the fishing rod he purchased for what it is: a piece of old bamboo. Norris escapes from his noose and destroys the fishing rod, and vows that he will seek revenge on Gaunt.
Polly also has a revelation: the letter she found earlier that day was addressed to Patricia Chalmers. However, Polly had always been known as Polly during her time in San Francisco. Therefore, Polly realizes that the letter was a fake, and that Alan has not made any inquiries into her past.
Polly rips the azka charm away from her chest. When she does, a spider escapes from the charm. Polly realizes that this is the manifestation of her arthritis pain, which never really went away, but was transferred elsewhere. Polly chases the creature into her bathroom, and begins to attack it.
Alan finally arrives at Needful Things and notices that the store that the store appears to be abandoned. However, Alan finds a note from Gaunt, along with a video tape claiming to capture the last moments of his deceased wife and son. Alan pops the video into the VCR, and prepares to watch.
Polly continues to battle the spider, attacking it with her mouth and then a toilet plunger. Finally, she defeats the creature, and realizes that she must find Alan.
Keeton and Ace begin the destruction of the town, using the dynamite. They are seen by Norris, who orders them to halt.
Unable to stop himself, Alan watches the video tape. The tape appears to show his wife car being hit by none other than Ace Merrill, whom Alan had previously arrested for selling drugs. Alan becomes angry, and wants to seek revenge on Ace, who he now believes to be responsible for his wife and son’s death.
Norris attempts to arrest Ace and Keeton. However, he is shot, and Ace escapes, looking for Alan.
While Norris is attempting to restore order, several buildings in Castle Rock begin to explode.
Polly finds Alan, and begs him to stop his search for Ace. She is able to get through to Alan, who realizes that something is wrong with the video tape that he watched.
Ace interrupts the conversation, by pointing a gun at Polly. Alan then has his own revelation: in the video tape, his wife’s seat belt is shown to be buckled. However, Alan recalls that this was not the case and realizes that he has been tricked.
Alan also sees Gaunt leaving the store, with a valise that appears to contain the souls of his unhappy customers. Alan has brought a container that has paper snakes with him. This was something that his son, who enjoyed practical jokes, had purchased before his death.
Alan unleashed the joke on Gaunt. The snake springs from the can, and is actually a real snake, not a paper one. Gaunt is fooled, and grabs for the snake. The snake bites Gaunt, and he screams in pain. Alan takes advantage of this, and grabs Gaunt’s valise.
Polly breaks free of Ace’s grip and attacks him. Norris sees his opportunity and shoots Ace, killing him instantly.
Alan continues to use his magic tricks to fool Gaunt, and demands that he leave town. Alan brings out some trick flowers, which turn into a blazing bouquet of light. Again, Alan casts out Gaunt. The valise bursts open, and the trapped souls escape, free to make their journey to their final destiny.
After the valise is opened, Gaunt escapes the town, in his Talisman Tucker. However, the Talisman transforms into a horse with burning red eyes, and Gaunt transforms into a dwarf. Gaunt and his supernatural vehicle then vanish, and Castle Rock returns to normal.
Polly, Alan and Norris leave town, to seek medical attention for Norris. They are heartbroken over the destruction of the town, but relieved that Alan has defeated Gaunt. Alan tries to let go of his grief for his wife and son, so that he continue to live his life.
An unnamed narrator advises the reader that a new store has opened in the town of Junction City, Iowa. The store is named Unanswered Prayers and is presumably owned by Leland Gaunt.
Well, this was unexpected.
When I planned to read and review Needful Things, I purposely picked the month of December to do this.
I mean, Black Friday Christmas shopping, people losing their minds over big screen TV’s and Barbie dolls…
It fit, in other words.
Well, then this happened.
Just when you thought only Stephen King could scare you, huh?
Whoa, I take that back. Sorry Molly, didn’t mean to ruffle your evil fur!
At first was I was like:
Then I was all:
But now I go back and forth…
Either at this end:
Or at this end:
And what, you are probably asking, does the dried up, racist Cheeto that is the bane of existence to *kitty cats* everywhere have to do with this month’s read and review?
Well, I see a lot of parallels. So, let’s get to talking about the book and discuss those.
Again and again, as I have been re-reading the King classics, I have been reminded of something: The Master has the ability to create characters who are so realistic that they practically jump off the page and make you want to ask them out for coffee.
There is Polly Chalmers. She fled the small town life and wanted to forge her own path. People can’t even decide if she is from Castle Rock (even though she was born there and spent most of her childhood there) or if she is from “Outside,” as they put it, because she spent so many years away. Being from a small town in Indiana, this struck a chord with me. I may consider myself to be “from” Bloomington, Indiana, but I am sure there are some that would debate me on that, because I left to forge my own path. Small towns, aren’t they so (not) funny?
There is Alan Pangborn. Let me confess, if I ran into Alan Pangborn, I would have much more than “coffee” on my mind…*let awkward throat clearing commence.* Alan is the consummate good guy, even though he does have his vulnerabilities. And he loves magic tricks (magicians are always hot, duh.) Those magic tricks do everything from put frightened kids at ease to save the day! How much hotter can you get?
Let’s also not forget the character of Brian Rusk.
Now, as I’ve stated many times before, King likes to write about topics that many would consider to be taboo.
*That* scene in the sewers in It, anyone?
Things that so-called nice people don’t talk about, at least in public.
However, I think the most “taboo” that King has ever gone is his portrayal of the character Brian Rusk.
In the beginning, Brian is innocent.
He’s a good kid. He loves his family. He collects baseball cards. He has a crush on his speech teacher.
However, he loses his innocence, by becoming Gaunt’s first customer.
Gaunt takes that innocent love of baseball cards, and uses it to further his plans for the destruction of Castle Rock.
He forces Brian to play pranks on other citizens of the town, in the name of “paying” for that beloved baseball card.
So Brian is rather rudely pushed into adulthood, when he is forced to take responsibility for what he feels to his role in the deaths of Wilma and Nettie.
However, not all of the child has left Brian.
And because of that, he is unable to cope with his supposed role in a horrific tragedy, and sees no way to live with it.
So, he does the unthinkable, and ends his life at eleven years old.
I have read this book several times, but I am never prepared the part where Brian commits suicide.
I tend to see Needful Things as one of King’s more humorous works (Brian’s mother’s obsession with Elvis and her interaction with Gaunt may have something to do with that, along with the fact that I find the phrase “I’ll be butched” hilarious), although the humor in it is dark.
But at the same time, I find this book to be tragic too, because of the fact that someone who is still a child is forced into adulthood long before before he should be, and this child does not see any way to cope with this tragedy other than taking his own life.
In fact, this may be one of the most tragic incidents in any book I have ever read, let alone a King book.
And we have our bad guy, Leland Gaunt.
We also have another character: the town of Castle Rock itself.
And the inter-play between these two characters is just fascinating.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do think that Gaunt is a cool bad guy.
In fact, this guy came to mind:
Somehow, the idea of The Tall Man driving a Talisman Tucker (why does even typing that out make me shiver, and shiver in a Lovecraftian way?) is not that far off, actually.
But he does have his place in the King universe, so I pay him respect.
However, what was striking to me when I re-read Needful Things, was the fact that most of the horror was of the non-supernatural variety.
Sure, Gaunt planted the seeds, but the ground was already fertile anyway. Most of the people playing the pranks just needed a little “watering” to grow the seeds of hate and resentment, and off they were, once they got a little drink of that water.
It is a known fact that King excels at writing characters that are realistic and believable. In fact, this is my favorite thing about King’s work: he writes believable people and believable situations.
After all, who hasn’t dealt with addiction, unemployment, the loss of a loved one, terminal illness, parenthood and the many other scenarios that crop up in all of King’s works, even the ones billed as “horror”?
Small towns are almost human in some ways, and can be complex characters. This is definitely the case with Needful Things and its small town character of Castle Rock.
In the beginning of the book, we have that coy narrator (and oh, I so want to know who that is) introducing to the town of Castle Rock and its inhabitants. It is actually akin to gossiping with someone, maybe a family member or friend, or perhaps a coworker, who just seems to have all the dirt on everyone.
This introduction is brilliant, because it sets up the story so beautifully.
In any organization, whether it be a work place, a family or perhaps a small town, you have all these little interconnections.
There are the people, of course, who are friends and know each other well, perhaps even intimately.
There are the people who are passing acquaintances. They don’t dislike each other, but they don’t really like each other, either.
Then there are the people who can’t be in the same room with each other.
The people who are the end of the candle to their counterparts’ matches.
In other words, get them together, and you will have a fire, perhaps even an explosion.
In one part of the book, Gaunt even compares his scheme to electrical wiring. If you do it just right, you can connect a couple of wires and have an explosion. I found this to be apt, for the events that transpired in this book.
As stated before, Gaunt is one bad dude. No question about that.
However, most of the horror from Needful Things is of the human variety.
People playing pranks on one another to make others think that their sworn enemies were responsible is actually something that happens pretty frequently in “real life.”
Right away, anyone who was the victim of a prank was quick to blame his/her sworn enemy.
Alan Pangborn, the most level headed of them all, even fell victim to this.
And the results of this prank were just horrible.
Well, not entirely horrible. I did get a good chuckle when the Baptists and Catholics were victimized by the stink bomb and created their own Barf-o-Rama.
But I was still horrified when people began to hurt and even kill each other, and it was basically for nothing.
Nettie and Wilma killing each other was bad.
Well, Wilma dying wasn’t that sad (crazy bitch) but Nettie’s death was one of the saddest in the book. She had tried so hard to get her life together, but she was knifed to death over some muddy sheets. Muddy sheets that she was not responsible for.
A few citizens, like Polly, Norris and Alan, saw the error of their ways.
However, most did not, and the results were horrific.
And the town of Castle Rock literally went up in flames.
What is happening in our country right now is not unlike what happened in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine.
We have a stranger that has suddenly appeared in town.
It is true that Donald Trump is (probably) not a supernatural creature, but I will take Gaunt or even The Tall Man over Trump any day.
Trump has done exactly what Gaunt has done.
He has swooped into our country.
He is selling people dreams. At least, he would like us to believe that he is selling us dreams.
He has made promises, and those promises sound good. After all, who doesn’t want the manufacturing jobs to return to this country? Those jobs gave everyone, no matter his/her background, a shot at the good life, the so-called American Dream.
For reasons beyond most people’s control, significantly fewer people are now able to obtain this dream.
But we have Gaunt, er Trump, swooping into town. And he has sold something.
But like the sales made by Gaunt, that something will have a price tag attached to it.
Already, we are witnessing the true price of allowing a man like Trump into our country.
Like Castle Rock, America has gone crazy.
Since Trump was elected, the “pranks” have begun.
We may not be flinging mud at each other’s sheets, but like the citizens of Castle Rock, we are attacking each other, nonetheless.
There has been racist graffiti scrawled on walls.
People of the non-Caucasian persuasion have been attacked for being…well…of the non-Caucasian persuasion.
People have decided to let their hate loose, and it has not been pretty.
Castle Rock literally burned to the ground after the boogeyman paid it a visit.
Will the same thing happen to America?
The boogeyman is here, and he is already working his magic, and he has not even moved into his suite at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, although I don’t think that he even needs to, in order to accomplish his goals.
But, I try to hold on to something positive.
After all, Castle Rock may have gone up in flames.
But it was able to emerge from the ashes, and eventually it rebuilt itself.
Fire can be used to destroy, but it can also be used to create.
Perhaps, like Castle Rock, this country may burn to the ground (hopefully only in the metaphorical sense.)
But maybe it can also emerge from the ashes and be reborn.
Being reborn is not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, death and rebirth lead to new beginnings. And new beginnings are often desperately needed.
Well, that’s it for Needful Things!
And I have to pat myself on the back, actually.
I was able to stick to a New Year’s resolution!
I read at least one King book a month and reviewed it, just like I said I would.
So, it goes without saying that I plan to continue this trend into 2017 and beyond.
I don’t know what my plan is, but I am sure I will figure something out.
There is that Richard Bachman fella…I heard that he is kinda like The Master, actually.
There is also The Master 2.0, aka Joe Hill, who has some books that are worth exploring as well.
So, what will next year hold?
Well, guess that is up to me!
So, we will talk next year!
Until then, happy holidays to all!
Like all of King’s works, Needful Things is set squarely in the King universe. Here are some of the connections that I found:
-Ace Merrill is a character in the short story The Body, and references the events in that story.
-Norris Ridgewick also makes an appearance in the novel Lisey’s Story.
-Alan Pangborn is a character in the novel The Dark Half, and references the events in that story.
-In the novel Bag of Bones, Mike Noonan encounters Norris Ridgewick and inquires after Polly Chalmers and Alan Pangborn.
-Reference is made to Shawshank State Prison, which is the setting for the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.
-Junction City, Iowa is the setting for the novella The Library Policeman, which is part of the collection Four Past Midnight.
-Gaunt’s Talisman Tucker appears to be similar to the vehicles driven by the Low Men in the Dark Tower series and the story Low Men in Yellow Coats, which is part of the collection Hearts in Atlantis. Gaunt’s vehicle also appears to be similar to the title “vehicle” featured in the novel From a Buick 8.
Sometimes, you just need a break from the horror of it all…
Yes, it’s that season again…
No, not Halloween. Something far more frightening…
In other words, the 2016 Presidential Election is upon us.
You know, that time of year when admitting you are from ‘Murica is…well…probably something you want to gloss over, and talk about something a little less awkward, such as…well, anything really.
Like books that are horror stories.
Like books that are horror stories written by…
I’ll take Stephen King for $19, Alex!
Yep, you guessed it. And if you didn’t, well remember which blog this is next time, maybe you will have better luck!
So, I needed an escape. Something to help me cope with the daily horror that manifests itself as a talking Cheeto.
And what better way to do that than to read a Stephen King book?
That will calm me right down, I think.
After all, reading about people with PSI abilities and weird cults that kidnap kids with PSI abilities is good for the nerves, right?
In other words, I chose the book Doctor Sleep for this month’s read and review.
Hmmm, I wonder if I can write in Rose the Hat to make America…ummm…steamy again?
But Doctor Sleep is one of my favorite King books. It is a follow up book to The Shining, which I consider to be the gold standard for King (hey, even The Master needs goals to live up to, right?)
Like most of King’s work, Doctor Sleep is much more than “just” (haha, right) a follow to an iconic horror story which turned the horror genre and even popular culture on its head (redrum, anyone?)
It is a book that has a lot to say about addiction, overcoming childhood trauma and how family can be a huge downfall, or our greatest hope.
And it also doesn’t hurt that the book has a pretty kick ass female character, if I do say so myself (no bias here at all, really.)
So, with all that being said, here is my recap and review of Doctor Sleep.
And, as always:
Doctor Sleep begins where the novel The Shining ended. Danny Torrance has survived the horrific events that occurred at The Overlook Hotel, and has moved to the southern United States with his mother, Wendy.
However, Danny is still troubled by the spirits that haunted him during his stay at The Overlook Hotel. One night, when he awakens to use the bathroom, he encounters the ghost of Mrs. Massey, the woman who died in room 217 of The Overlook Hotel.
After Danny encounters the spirit of Mrs. Massey, he regresses and refuses to get out of bed or eat. His mother even sees evidence of the spirit in the bathroom, and becomes worried and frightened for Danny.
Wendy is unable to comfort Danny, so she contacts Dick Hallorann, the only other person who survived the events that occurred at The Overlook Hotel. Dick agrees to talk to Danny, to see if he can help Danny.
Dick arrives at the Torrance home, and speaks to Danny. He tells Danny the story of his sexually abusive grandfather. After Dick’s grandfather passed away, Dick was still haunted by the old man’s ghost. Dick’s grandmother, who also possessed the same PSI abilities that Dick possessed, taught him to keep the spirit of the old man at bay, so that he was no longer haunted by the ghost.
Dick then tells Danny that his memories of the hotel are actually causing the spirits to manifest themselves. He gives Danny a keepsake box, and tells Danny to make a keepsake box in his mind, to trap the ghosts so they do not continue to bother him. Danny follows Dick’s instructions, and finds that they are effective.
They story then switches to the perspective of a woman named Andi. Andi was molested by her father as a little girl, until she attacked and killed him in self defense. Andi convinces men to take her to the movies. The men try to have sex with Andi, but Andi has the ability to hypnotize people and send them into a deep sleep. Andy hypnotizes the men, and then robs them of their cash and any valuables.
One day, Andi catches the eye of a group of people who also possess unusual abilities. This group of people seems almost immortal, even though they appear to be normal on the outside. They are led by a woman named Rose, who is also known as Rose the Hat, due to her tendency to wear a top hat.
Rose the Hat and her friends confront, and coerce her into joining them, telling Andi that once she survives what they call “the turning,” that she may also become immortal, and join them in their travels across the country.
Andi reluctantly agrees to attempt the ritual. Somehow, she survives, and becomes a part of the group. The group calls itself The True Knot.
The book then introduces the reader again to Danny, now an adult in his early twenties. Danny has become an alcoholic who also experiments with drugs. Danny has a tendency to also get into fights while he is drinking, as he is unable to control his temper.
One morning, Danny finds himself in the apartment of a strange woman. He slowly pieces together the events of the night before, and realizes that his drinking has possibly gotten him into trouble, once again.
Danny realizes that the woman has a child by the name of Tommy. Tommy is about 18 months old and has been left in the apartment while the woman went out drinking with Danny. The woman, whose name is Deenie, is also addicted to cocaine, and convinced Danny to buy some for her. The little boy tries to grab the cocaine, calling it candy, but Danny puts him in bed with his mother, and leaves the apartment.
Danny leaves town, and heads for the northeastern United States. He continues to drink, and periodically thinks of Tommy, feeling some guilt for leaving him in those surroundings.
Over the years, Danny drifts across the country. He continues to drink, and works in nursing homes when he can find work. However, due to his alcoholism, he does not stay in any one place for very long.
One day, Danny arrives in a town called Frazier, in New Hampshire. For some reason the town catches his eyes. Danny also sees his childhood friend Tony for the first time in many years, and Tony also compels him to stay in Frazier.
Danny meets a man name Billy Freeman, and the two hit it off immediately. Danny is then able to secure short-term employment as a sort of maintenance man, and contemplates applying for work at the local hospice.
One night, Danny dreams of Deenie, the woman he met a years ago at a bar. Deenie appears to be dead, and warns him to stay away from the woman in the hat. When he awakens, Danny finds her son Tommy in his bed, dead but asking for candy. When he awakens again, Danny realizes that Tommy has died, most likely due to abuse and possibly neglect.
The next morning, Danny craves a drink, but does not give in to the craving. Danny goes about his day, forgetting the dreams that he had the night before. However, Danny again experiences troubling dreams later that night. Danny again struggles with the urge to drink, but Billy Freeman finds him, and tells him that he has other options.
Danny begins to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and finds a sponsor. Danny quits drinking and finds steady employment, making a life for himself.
In the meantime, a child named Abra Stone is born to a couple by the name of David and Lucy Stone. Almost right away, Abra’s parents and great-grandmother (Conchetta) notice that Abra is unusual. For example, Abra’s parents, when Abra is still an infant, have a dream of Abra covered in blood and holding a sign with numbers in the dream. The next morning, Abra is taken to the hospital because she will not stop crying. There is no medical reason found for Abra’s behavior. However, this incident takes place on the morning of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. The numbers seen by Abra’s parents in their dreams were the flight numbers of the planes that were attacked.
One day, Danny speaks to one of the members of his Alcoholics Anonymous group. The man is John Dalton, who is also a pediatrician. John has lost a watch that was gift from his wife and is upset. Danny is able to use his “shining” ability to tell John that he left the watch in restroom at work. John is able to find the watch the next day, and is grateful for Danny’s help.
John Dalton also happens to be Abra Stone’s pediatrician. At the request of Abra’s parents, John attends Abra’s third birthday party, so that he can observe her in her home for any unusual occurrences.
Shortly before Abra’s third birthday party, Danny receives a message written on the blackboard of the room he rents. The message simply says “Hello.” Danny has been receiving some telepathic communications, and conjectures that the message is from Abra.
At the birthday party, John Dalton gets his wish: he observes some unusual occurrences that can only be attributed to Abra. Abra’s doctor, parents and great grandmother find various utensils hanging from the ceiling by their own accord. When this is pointed out to Abra, the utensils drop to the ground, seemingly proving that she is responsible for the occurrence.
The Stone family speaks to Dr. Dalton, who tells them that Abra is likely blessed (or maybe cursed) with PSI abilities, but that they need to love her and continue to raise her as a normal child.
The years pass, and one night Danny receives at phone call. He is informed that one of patients in the hospice that he works at is getting ready to pass away. The woman making the phone call knows that the patient is getting ready to die because the cat that was adopted by the hospice, Azriel (or Azzie) has made an appearance in his room. Azzie is able to detect when death is near, and therefore alerts the staff and Danny. Danny is called in because he is able to use his abilities to make the transition from life to death a little less frightening for the patients.
After Danny helps the latest patient pass peacefully over to the other side, he senses a presence in the room that he believes to be Abra. In her bed at her home, Abra also senses Danny’s presence.
In the meantime, The True Knot runs into trouble, as they are running low on the essence of psychic children, which is what keeps them immortal. They find a young boy in a small town, and partake of his essence, which helps them, at least temporarily.
Abra, who is now 10 years old, dreams of The True Knot kidnapping and torturing the young boy. She describes the dream to her mother, who is disturbed. Abra also talks about her friend “Tony,” along with Tony’s dad (aka Danny), telling her mother that Danny works in a hospice and is assisted by cat named Azzie.
The True Knot then realize that Abra can sense them, and that Abra is a powerful psychic. They realize that Abra will provide them with plenty of essence, which will keep them alive for years to come, but that they must wait for her abilities to mature in order to get the full benefit.
Again, Danny senses Abra’s presence in his apartment. This time, he sends her a message. Abra receives this and tells her mother that Tony’s dad spoke to her. Lucy is a little troubled, but decides to let it go, as Abra seems happy.
Shortly after sending the message to Abra, Danny sees his friend Billy Freeman. Immediately, Danny senses that something is horribly wrong with Billy and convinces him to see a doctor. Danny’s intuitions were correct, as Billy is suffering from an aneurysm that would have killed him, if left untreated. Billy is grateful from Danny’s help, but Danny reminds Billy that it was he who helped him many years ago, when he arrived in Frazier.
Later that evening, Danny is overcome by the urge to drink. He calls his friend John Dalton, and the urge passes. When Danny arrives at his home, he finds a message on his chalkboard from Abra, but does not hear from Abra for another two years.
Two years later, Abra’s great grandmother, Conchetta, suffers a broken hip. Conchetta is also diagnosed with cancer, and is given only months to live. This causes Abra and her family to shuffle back and forth between their residence in Frazier, and the hospital in Boston, where Conchetta is staying.
One day, Abra comes home and picks up the mail. She finds a circular with pictures of missing children, and realizes that one of the pictures is of the boy she dreamed about two years earlier. This frightens Abra, and she struggles on whether or not to take any action.
Abra’s abilities then allow her to project herself into the mind of Rose the Hat. However, this connection is brief, as Rose resists her presence, forcing Abra back to her surroundings.
Rose discusses Abra with the fellow members of The True Knot, and tells them that they must capture Abra, as she could provide them with eternal life. Rose schemes on how to capture Abra, and plans to use drugs to subdue her. Rose also makes an appearance at Abra’s window, frightening Abra, and causing her to call out to Tony for help.
Danny receives Abra’s psychic beacon, and the signal is so powerful that it renders him momentarily unconscious. When Danny arrives at his home, he finds Abra’s email address written on his chalkboard. Danny sends Abra an email, and makes arrangements to meet with her, so that he can find out what is wrong.
Abra and Danny finally meet outside the town library, and Abra tells Danny what has been happening with Rose the Hat, and what The True Knot did to the young boy. Danny tells Abra to be careful, as Rose the Hat will be looking for her, and that he will be back in touch.
That night, a patient at the hospice where Danny is employed passes away. Before she dies, the woman tells him to wait, and Danny obliges her.
After a few minutes, the dead woman begins to talk. Danny realizes that he is actually speaking to his childhood friend Dick Hallorann, who has been dead for several years. Hallorann gives Danny information in regards to The True Knot, but it is cryptic. Hallorann tells Danny to refer to his childhood, and that the members of The True Knot will need to eat their own poison. The ghost also tells Danny to talk his friends who understand what he really is. After dispersing the information, the ghost leaves the body of the old woman, and Danny must figure out how to keep Abra safe.
Danny speaks to his friends Billy and John, and tells them what is happening to Abra. John agrees to travel with Danny to Iowa, so that they can find the baseball mitt of the missing boy and confirm Abra’s story.
Things go from bad to worse with The True Knot, as it is discovered that one of their members, known as Grampa Flick, appears to be dying. Rose does not understand how this is happening, and demands that the group’s “physician,” attempt to examine him.
Rose also tries to enter the mind of Abra. However, Abra is prepared, and is able to resist Rose, even causing her physical pain. This angers Rose, who realizes that Abra will be difficult to subdue, and will need to be drugged.
Danny travels to Iowa with John. During the trip, Danny also tells John of the winter he spent at the Overlook Hotel and the traumatic experiences he endured. John is skeptical, but becomes less so when he and Danny are able to locate the body of this missing boy and his baseball glove, per Abra’s instructions. They return to New Hampshire with the baseball glove, in the hopes that Abra will be able to use the baseball glove to obtain more information in regards to The True Knot.
The True is able to narrow down Abra’s identity, and begins to close in on her. Grampa Flick has died, and the cause of his death is discovered: he has somehow contracted measles. This is likely due to ingesting the essence of the young boy, who may have contracted the disease before his death. Several other members of the group also become ill with measles. This raises the stakes for the group, as they believe that ingesting Abra’s essence may provide some sort of immunity against the disease.
Danny and John return from Iowa. Danny informs Abra that her parents need to be informed about what has been going on. Danny and John arrive at Abra’s house and are greeted by her father, Dave. Dave is not happy, but hears the story out. Danny and John then give Abra the baseball glove, to find out if she can obtain any information from it.
After Abra touches the baseball glove, she obtains some information in regards to The True Knot. The most important piece of information is the location of their base of operations. Not surprisingly, The True Knot’s base of operations is located in Sidewinder, Colorado, on the grounds that once housed The Overlook Hotel. Danny, John and Abra then come up with a plan to try to stop The True Knot before they are able to kidnap Abra.
The next day, Danny, John and Dave picnic at one of the town’s tourist attractions. Abra astral projects herself info Danny, so that The True Knot will believe she is on a picnic with her father, instead of at school or at a friend’s house. Abra’s father tells some family stories during this outing. One of these stories is in regards to Lucy’s mother, or Abra’s grandmother. Lucy was conceived out of wedlock, and her father’s identity was unknown. Lucy’s mother died when Lucy was an infant, and Lucy was raised by her grandmother, Conchetta.
Later that evening, Abra stays at a friend’s house. However, she decides that she is safe from The True Knot, as she believes they have fallen into the trap that Danny set for them. Abra then decides to head home.
Several members of The True Knot arrive at the picnic grounds. Danny, John and Dave are prepared, and shoot them. However, one member, known as Crow Daddy, manages to escape the gunfight, and heads straight for Abra.
Crow Daddy finds Billy Freeman and overpowers Billy. Crow Daddy then kidnaps Abra, using powerful drugs to sedate her. When Abra awakens, Crow Daddy threatens Billy’s life, telling Abra that he will be killed unless she obeys him.
Danny, John and Dave quickly realize that Abra has been kidnapped, after Danny loses his telepathic connection to her. However, Danny has a revelation, when he understands more of what the ghost of Dick Hallorann was trying to tell him.
Danny then astral projects himself into Abra’s body. By doing this, he is able to fight Crow Daddy, and Crow Daddy is killed. Danny then has Billy drive to a nearby hotel, so that he and Abra can get some rest before returning Abra to her parents.
The group then heads to the hospital, where Conchetta is living out her last days. They tell Lucy what happened, and Lucy panics. However, Dave is able to calm her down, reminding her that Danny is there to help.
Danny visits with Conchetta, who is dying. He offers some words of comfort, and the two also exchange something else that is not specified.
After the visit with Conchetta, Danny speaks to Lucy and Dave. He tells them that he has realized that he is actually Lucy’s half-brother and Abra’s uncle, due to an affair his father Jack had with one of his students. After getting a good look at Danny, Lucy understands that he is telling the truth, even though she is still very worried about her daughter.
In the meantime, Rose the Hat and the rest of The True Knot make plans to locate Abra and kidnap her again. The situation becomes more urgent, as more of the members either begin to sicken or die, or leave the group.
At the request of Danny, Abra places a call to Rose the Hat and taunts her. Abra also requests to meet Rose in person, at her home base in Sidewinder, CO. This riles up Rose even more, and she agrees to meet with Abra, telling her that she will seek revenge for the death of her friends.
The next day, Abra is reunited with her parents. Abra and her family return to New Hampshire, while Danny heads to Colorado with Billy to confront Rose the Hat and the rest of The True Knot. Danny feels ill during the trip, but he is determined to stop The True Knot.
Once again, Abra phones Rose the Hat, taunting her, and setting up a meeting time at the home base in Sidewinder. She is able to astral project himself into Danny’s mind, tricking Rose into thinking that she is in Colorado, instead of in her home in New Hampshire.
Billy and Danny arrive at the site of where The Overlook Hotel used to stand. The site is now a campground. Abra is also with them, but in spirit, as she has used her talent for astral projection to trick The True Knot.
Danny is confronted by Rose the Hat and the remaining members of The True Knot almost immediately. However, Danny is prepared and attacks them. For the past few days, Danny has been carrying the essence of Abra’s great-grandmother. He unleashes this essence upon The True Knot. Since the old woman had been dying of cancer, the members of The True Knot are sickened almost immediately when they inhale her essence.
Rose then tricks Danny into thinking that Abra is Rose, and Danny begins to choke Abra. He realizes his mistake, and vows not to repeat the mistakes of his father. He and Abra then return to the corporeal world, promising to win the fight against Rose.
Ghosts are literally unleashed from Danny’s mind, as he unlocks his memories of his stay at The Overlook Hotel. The remaining members of The True Knot are also attacked, leaving Danny the resources to focus on Rose the Hat.
Rose the Hat is then pushed from the balcony, and killed. Danny sets fire to Rose’s top hat, destroying it. As Danny and Billy leave the campground, Danny catches a glimpse of the ghost of his father, Jack. Danny leaves the campground, bidding his father goodbye.
Two years later, Danny attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and celebrates the fact that he is 15 years sober. Danny also confesses what happened at Deenie’s apartment all those years ago, and what happened with her son, Tommy. His fellow addicts are not surprised, and are almost indifferent to his story. However, Danny feels redeemed, and knows he is on the true path to recovery.
A few days later, Danny attends a birthday party for Abra. At the request of Abra’s parents, Danny speaks to Abra alone. It turns out that Abra has attended a party and had her first sip of alcohol. Later, she got into an argument with her mother and broke several plates in a fit of rage.
Danny tells Abra of his own grandfather and father, and how alcohol ruined their lives. Danny also talks of his own struggles with his alcohol and his temper. Danny reminds Abra that she must control her own temper, so that she can stay out of trouble and not go down the path that he walked. Danny then receives a phone call from his employer in regards to a dying patient, and cuts the evening short.
The dying patient is a man named Fred Carling. Fred had previously been employed by the hospice where Danny is currently employed. Fred was also a bully and disliked by many of the other employees, including Danny. That night, Fred was the victim of a terrible car accident, and it has become clear that he will not live.
However, Danny puts his feelings aside, and visits Fred. Danny realizes that life is truly a wheel, and brings the man comfort as he dies and passes to the other side.
Doctor Sleep. The book with so much beauty.
And I am not just saying that because Danny apparently resembles my man Jax Teller, either!
(Although, really, that doesn’t hurt. Doesn’t hurt in the slightest.)
Doctor Sleep is billed as a sequel to The Shining. And in a way, it is (more on that later.)
But to think of it Doctor Sleep as only as a sequel to The Shining (which is one of my favorite King books ever and likely my favorite ghost story ever) is limiting.
For one, I don’t think of this book as a direct sequel to The Shining. I find it better to think of it as a follow up.
Sure, we have some of the same themes, which include addiction, life after death and people who don’t quite fit the fold.
However, I find Doctor Sleep to actually be pretty different from The Shining. And this is a good thing, as anyone who has ever heard my rant about sequels will tell you.
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
And now we have Doctor Sleep. It also builds on the original story of Danny Torrance, and is a stand alone book. This is a good thing, as we are staying out of the ridiculous sequel territory, which seems to plague the horror genre in particular.
However, I can’t help comparing and contrasting both books. So, let’s get it out of our system…
The Shining is one of the most frightening books ever written. The ghost of Mrs. Massey. The clocks with blood in them (still thinking about that weeks after the fact, thanks Stephen King! And let me thank Obama for good measure!)
Now, Doctor Sleep does have its scary moments. Dick Hallorann’s story about his grandfather and the old pedophile’s ghost (yeah, there I said it) is great nightmare material. And of course, the resurgence of Mrs. Massey (and her “leavings”. If that didn’t make you want to throw up in your mouth, then you are not human) and Horace Dewent added some creepiness as well.
(Oh, and that top hat. Is there anything creepier than a top hat drifting in the wind? I mean besides a red baseball cap worn by a loudmouth, racist Cheeto?)
But, due to the tone and the messages, I consider Doctor Sleep to be more dark fantasy than horror. In fact, with the children in danger and the seemingly oblivious adults, Doctor Sleep is closer to The Talisman, or even The Eyes of the Dragon, than anything else.
Even the “villains” in Doctor Sleep (Rose the Hat, Barry the Chink, Diesel Doug, etc) remind me more of villains in a children’s fantasy novel than anything. Not that there is anything wrong with this. In fact, given what King was trying to accomplish (again, more on that later), I actually think that this works very well.
Abra is what I wished I was when I was her age: courageous, confident, smart and just kicks ass overall. In fact, she may be a little overconfident (and loves Game of Thrones, woot), but I don’t care. I loved how she was willing to take on Rose the Hat, taking pleasure in the fact that she hurt Rose. Talk about taking names and kicking ass!
However, this is a King book. So there is much more to Abra than meets the eye. The scene at the end, when Danny tells the stories of his father and grandfather, and Abra’s reaction, is proof of that. Like Danny, Abra is flawed. And will probably struggle with alcoholism. But like Danny, she has hope. And she will (hopefully) rise above her struggles and do good in the world. And that is just one thing that makes her one of King’s best female characters to date. Maybe, if we are lucky, we will one day get a story on grown-up Abra too.
Okay, time to talk about the elephant in the room…
Well, actually not really. Or at least a very cute elephant?
That’s right, I am talking about Danny Torrance, all growed up!
In case you can’t tell, Danny is one of my book boos. I may be happily married, but I think there is a clause in my wedding vows that allows for book and TV boos. So, relax, I am legal, folks!
Like King, I would wonder about Danny off and on. How did he fare after escaping The Overlook? What kind of man did he grow up to be? Did he have kids? God forbid, did he follow in his father’s footsteps?
Not well, awesome, no, and yes and no would be the answers to the above.
And, in all seriousness, what did we expect?
Cynical, I know. I was actually reminded of the essay Lime Twigs and Treachery, written by Henry Miller. I read this waaayyyy back in high school (over 20 years for you nosy folks) and it has always stuck with me.
I had actually forgotten about that essay. Then I read Doctor Sleep. And remembered it again.
The basic gist of that essay was that the sins of the father get passed down to the children. And that we will never be able to escape those sins, which may include abuse. And alcoholism. And addiction.
And that is exactly what happened to Danny: the sins of the father were passed down right to him. On a silver platter, in fact.
And what did we expect to happen?
Danny lived through the experience at The Overlook, yes. But he lost his father, who he loved very much, despite of (or maybe because of) his faults.
He was forced to grow up, and quickly. He learned some lessons that many people I know in their 30’s still have not learned.
His family unit dissolved. His mother never fully recovered, either physically or emotionally, as she never remarried.
So is it any surprise that Danny started drinking in high school?
Is it any surprise that he continued to drink, even when it was obvious that it was destroying his life?
Even as he clearly alienated people? I don’t think Danny was single because he was ugly. Rather, he was single because of his demanding mistress: the booze.
I think that my favorite part of Doctor Sleep is not the part about the monsters, and revisiting Sidewinder (although those parts were certainly no slouch.)
My favorite part of Doctor Sleep was Danny’s journey.
I loved the fact that the story picked up right after The Shining, showing us that things were not all right with Danny.
I loved the fact that Dick Hallorann was a constant presence in the story, even after he died.
But most of all, I loved the story of Danny’s struggles and his recovery.
One think that King is good at (and believe me, that is a long list) is writing real characters and real situations. He is able to juxtapose the horror/fantasy element with the reality element (which has included job loss, addiction, bullying, hate crimes and many other familiar situations) and make his story that much more plausible.
He did that in The Shining, and that is perhaps his most memorable moment. Who can’t relate to Jack Torrance his struggles to provide for his family and achieve some sort of success somewhere, whether it be with writing, teaching or being the caretaker at a remote hotel?
And King also did it with Danny. Addiction is a real issue. Many people struggle with that. So is childhood trauma and abuse. Many have also struggled with that.
King created another “Everyman” in Danny Torrance as well, in detailing his struggles with addiction, and his gradual recovery. And that is just one of the reasons why calling Sai King “The Master” is not hyperbole.
The answer to the last question, if Danny grew up to be like his father, is yes and no.
Danny did grow up to become an alcoholic.
Danny also became someone with anger issues.
So that’s the yes part.
However, we cannot ignore the no part. The no part is what makes Doctor Sleep so beautiful.
I love The Shining, but I consider it to be one of the bleakest books I have ever read. Danny does escape the hotel, but at a huge cost, as his family unit is forever shattered. Indeed, The Shining is a tragedy, along with a horror story.
Doctor Sleep is the opposite of The Shining. It offers hope. And I don’t know about you, but I think we could all use some hope right about now.
When I read Doctor Sleep, I look at it as a kind of redemption. A cycle is broken.
It is true that Danny followed in his father’s footsteps (see above.)
However, Danny succeeds where his father had failed.
For one thing, he does not succumb to his alcoholism. He recognizes the problem and seeks treatment for it. This allows him to be able to hold down a job and maintain a stable home for himself, which is another thing that his father could not do.
Like his father, Danny had his demons. He literally has his demons, as they escape from The Overlook and follow him into his new life. Danny is also able to overcome those, unlike his father.
And because Danny is able to conquer his alcoholism and his demons, he is able to step up for Abra and be the man that his father could not be.
It is true that Abra is kidnapped, but Danny and the other adults do most of the dirty work to defeat The True Knot. This allows Abra to maintain a little more of her innocence, as she can trust that the adults in her life will do the right thing.
I also loved how Danny was able to use the ghosts of his past to defeat The True Knot. Finally, the demons are unleashed. The suffering is not in vain.
In fact, there is something empowering about being able to take something has caused you so much pain, and using it to do good.
We all have our demons. Sometimes, we suppress them. But the most courageous of us face those demons, rising above them, finally breaking the cycle.
Well, that’s it for Doctor Sleep! Join me next month as we take a look at the state of current affairs in these parts, as we read and dissect Needful Things!
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Doctor Sleep is another King book set squarely in the King universe. Here are some of the connections to other King books that I found:
-The most obvious connection is to The Shining. The Shining details the time that Danny and his family spent at the haunted Overlook Hotel, and of Danny’s experiences at the hotel.
-Abra is one of a long line of King characters blessed (or perhaps cursed) with psionic abilities. These characters include Carrie White, Jake Chambers, Ted Brautigan, Kira DeVore, Tyler Marshall, the Breakers (featured in The Dark Tower series) and several others.
-The number 19 is mentioned. This number is of particular importance in the last three books of The Dark Tower series.
So, guys and ghouls, it is that time of year again…
Well, yes it is football season, but that was not what I was referring too. I mean, do you think I want to be scared into a change pants? Come on, now!
Well, actually I do. And watching Indianapolis Colts football is one way to be scared, although many other emotions tend to be involved, which include extreme anger, exhilaration, puzzlement, denial, bargaining and resignation.
But, there are lots of other things that I can watch, other than Colts football, if I don’t want to experience the different stages of grief in a four hour setting (NFL math is funny that way: one hour of football somehow turns into four hours yelling myself horse (you are welcome for that one) in front of my TV.)
In other words: horror movies. Horror movies everywhere…
At this time of year, I feel that autumn is right around the corner. And this starts right after Labor Day, when the Christmas merchandise at the stores is on display!
And to counter the sight of Christmas decorations when the temperature is still at least 90 F, there is only one thing we can do…
That’s right, watch some horror movies. Or maybe lots of horror movies. All right, a metric shit ton of horror movies!
And so many movies to choose from.
Or, we don’t have to limit ourselves to movies. There are plenty of good, horror themed shows not titled American Horror Story to chose from. And most are available via the miracle of the 21st century otherwise known as Neflix. Cable schmable, right?
Now, one thing about horror movies: they seem to have an audience. And no, not necessarily horror junkies.
Let’s face it: most horror movies are geared towards white males. That is often who your horror movie protagonist is, with a few exceptions, like Night of the Living Dead, which was decades ahead of its time for featuring an African American guy as its protagonist.
And it’s not to say that those movies are not good movies. In fact, movies like Phantasm (I dare you to cross The Tall Man, boooyyyy!), The Shining, Horns and many others are either classics, or on their way to becoming classics. And I have no problem with that, they are great movies and deserve their accolades.
But, I feel like I am missing something when I watch certain movies. In fact, I feel like I may be missing at least half of something…
That’s right, where are my ladies? I mean, we make up half the population, right? So where are we? Where are we in one of my favorite movie genres?
Well, it turns out that if take the time (after all, rushing us is bad, on so many levels, haha) and look, you can find us ladies in horror movies. And some bad ass ones at that!
In recent years, we have become even easier to find in the horror, genre and science fiction categories. After all, Game of Thrones, anyone? Plenty of kick ass women there!
And The Master and The Master 2.0 have gotten in on the act, as both Stephen King and Joe Hill have managed to write convincing female characters, who have an identity beyond the wife or girlfriend of the guy who winds up kicking ass.
So, if you look, we are there in horror movies. Sometimes we get horribly victimized. Sometimes we victimize others. But other times, we throw down some serious shade, and you do not want to meet us in a dark alley!
With that being said, here is my list of top 10 women in horror (both on television and film.) Keep in mind that this is my opinion only, and could be subject to change at any moment…
And, as always:
Well, I may be a little biased with this statement, but I will say it anyway:
And as soon as we have enough freckles, we plan to take over the world!
Okay, I am kidding (you hope.)
But this entry on my list has earned her spot on it. And yes, she just happens to be a ginger.
Guys and ghouls, I bring to you…Sally!
Now, Sally may literally owe her existence to a man. However, do not underestimate her, as she is tough, smart and resourceful.
After all, a chic who clearly knows her poisons. Who would want to cross her?
Sally is a love interest in the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas (and one half of one of one my favorite onscreen couples ever), but to me, she is so much more than that.
For most of her life, Sally is held in captivity by her creator. She understands that that she may be selling herself short, and she works to build a life for herself beyond captivity, and to connect with the outside world in a meaningful way.
Sally also brings a message of self-acceptance. After all, she literally falls apart, but that doesn’t stop her from picking herself back up and continuing on with her life. That message of self-acceptance is one that Jack Skellington badly needs to hear, as he finally accepts that it is okay to be the Pumpkin King, and leave “Sandy Claws” to those who are better qualified for that job.
Is it a Halloween movie? Is it a Christmas movie? It’s an existential crisis! But an awesome existential crisis!
9. Mrs. Vorhees (Friday the 13th)
Every movie needs a good guy (or bad girl.) This is especially true of horror movies. After all, where would we be without The Tall Man, Pennywise the Clown, Reverend Kane, along with many other bad guys that make these movies memorable?
Well, we can add Mrs. Vorhees to that list as well.
When I bring up Friday the 13th, most people think of the guy in the hockey mask. I then have to gently remind him that he is the protagonist in the 19 or so sequels that the franchise has generated, along with the awesomely bad crossover where Jason and Freddy meet…spoiler alert: they don’t meet for Netflix and chill!
So, let’s go back to the beginning.
In other words, the infamous Camp Crystal Lake. And a few horny teenagers. And of course, the campers.
And…the camp’s cook?
Yes, the camp’s cook. And the mother to Jason Vorhees, who (supposedly) drowned due to the horny camp counselors not doing their job, due to fact of being…well…horny.
Again, Jason is a non-factor in the first film of the franchise. We do see the “Jason half” of Mrs. Vorhees personality, as she rationalizes killing teenagers, but Mrs. Vorhees is responsible for all the blood and guts. All. The. Blood. And. Guts.
All of it!
I personally love a lady vs. lady show down. There is something much more fierce about those, and so primal.
Well, I got my wish when I watched Friday the 13th, in one of the most epic onscreen lady vs. lady show downs in the history of film and television!
It doesn’t get much better than that, folks!
When I watched Deadpool, I found it amusing that the title character seemed to be self-aware. He knew he was in a movie, and made reference to that fact throughout the movie. It was good for plenty of yuks!
The movie Scream also uses the concept of “self aware”, and perhaps one of the best uses of that concept.
After all, Scream constantly makes references to horror movies throughout the movie.
In fact, in the opening scene, the killer begins by asking trivia questions (see the above entry.) And that is just the beginning.
Scream pokes fun at the horror genre. A lot. After, we now all know to never say, “I’ll be right back?” Or to drink or have sex in a horror movie, as those acts also mean certain death.
However, underneath the humor, Scream is still a horror movie. With a protagonist who kicks ass.
And oh yeah, this protagonist just happens to be a girl!
Sidney’s plight is something that is all too familiar: her mother was raped and murdered. The murderer was supposedly caught and put in jail, but Sidney is struggling to come to terms with her mother’s death, and the repressed emotions that come with the trauma.
And then people start getting killed. Sidney is still struggling with her trauma, and is now unsure of who she can trust. Sidney is also now unsure that she did correctly identify her mother’s killer, and fears that she may have put the wrong man in jail.
Throughout the movie, Sidney shows herself to be a fighter. From the reporter who will not stop harassing her to her friend and boyfriend who turn out to to be the killers, Sidney proves that she is resilient, and a force to be reckoned with.
Processing trauma and coming out on the other side is difficult, but is rewarding when it is finally accomplished. The character of Sidney Prescott is a wonderful example of this.
Often, I joke (well, sort of) that I am in a relationship with…my bed.
Hi, my name is Leah, and if I don’t get my sleep, I will cut a bitch!
In other words, my bed is a refuge, as is my sleep.
Well, sleep usually is. Although sometimes I am given to having nightmares…
But I am lucky in the fact that my nightmares, no matter how real they seem (that one featuring the Tall Man and strange Lovecraftian creatures was certainly a doozy), are just dreams in the end.
They can’t hurt me.
The subject of this particular entry, however, was not so lucky.
Falling asleep became dangerous for her, so no refuge for her.
I mean, she dozed off in class and nearly got killed for it. Makes the detention one would normally expect seem kind of mild, right?
However, Nancy sleeps on it (see what I did there) and decides to do something about the evil creature who has been tormenting her and her friends in their dreams.
First, she recruits her boyfriend, Glenn, to help her catch Freddy. But when that doesn’t work, she doesn’t give up, and instead persuades her father to help trap Freddy.
Nancy just will not take no for an answer, and will stop at nothing to destroy Freddy Kreuger for good (or at least until the next sequel, at any rate.)
She will not go down without a fight, and I have always loved her for it.
Freddy Kreuger may be one of my favorite horror movie villains of all time, but let’s face it, without Nancy, he would be nothing. And that is not just because he needs dreams from teenagers so that he can exist.
The fact that my favorite horror villain has to face off against a woman is just icing on the cake. Wait, I take that back. Nancy is the cake, icing and all.
Now, I often tell people that high school was hell for me. And it was.
I spent most of my time isolated. And being isolated was actually the good part. When I was “only isolated,” I considered myself to be lucky, as least I wasn’t being tormented.
The lesser of the two evils, I suppose…
But what was that saying that I heard way back when, about a guy with no shoes who meets a guy with no feet and gets some kind of new perspective?
In other words, I should be lucky that my school was not built on a Hellmouth, right?
Isolation and bullying is one thing. We can talk about the lesser of two evils and so forth…
In fact, you may just piss one of those Big Bads off by referring to him/her/it as “lesser.” And that would be dangerous indeed.
And in the midst of all this…well…Hell, we have Willow Rosenberg.
Now, Willow may be a classic “sidekick” to Buffy, who had the fortune (or is it misfortune?) of moving to Sunnydale, CA, where her destiny as The Slayer awaited her, but make no mistake about it: Willow is also a bad ass herself.
As a result, one of the most fascinating character arcs in television history emerged.
How often do you see someone go from high school computer nerd, to fledgling witch, to full fledged witch, all the while never losing her integrity, making the arc seem so natural?
Oh, and Willow also came out as a lesbian somewhere in there too, making her one of the first major characters in a TV show to be openly gay. And it was all so natural too. When Willow finally coupled up with Tara, it seemed so right, and to be true love, as opposed to some kind of fetish. Her friends accepted her as gay, and nothing really changed between them…I loved it!
Oh, and any time I think any of my break ups were bad (along with my high school experience), I just think what was done to poor Willow in the name of entertainment for the masses. I think this is where that term ugly cry comes into play.
Yeah, see above…
I will say it once and I will say it again: High school, aka government babysitting is overrated at best. At worst, it is Hell. And the high school in question does not even need to be built on a Hellmouth to suck. High schools do that quite well on their own, thankyouverymuch.
And again, my high school experienced sucked. It sucked bunches. My best memory, other than finally graduating, was getting a 100% on a calculus test.
The teacher must have though I was a freak…
Well, I am a freak. But I actually think my freakage is pretty mild, compared to this particular entry.
Meet Carrie White.
On one hand, Carrie is your typical high school reject. At best, the other students ignore her, and she is invisible to pretty much everyone.
But the at worst part is just horrible. Getting pelted by tampons, while you are having your first period at age 17 and thinking you are dying…well, I think I would trade going to high school on the Hellmouth for that one!
However, on the other hand, Carrie is not your typical high school reject. For one thing, she has a religious fanatic for a mother at home, who shames her for getting her period, getting asked to prom, and pretty much shames her daughter for existing.
Carrie also possesses telekinetic powers. And this turns out to be bad news for everyone. When a high school prank goes horribly wrong, and Carrie is humiliated at prom, everyone is at the brunt of Carrie’s revenge.
Carrie’s powers are unleashed, and the results are epic, to say the least.
I have always said that the villains in this movie are Margaret White, along with Carrie’s cruel classmates. Carrie is the most innocent among all the characters. How could you expect her not to finally retaliate, after the happiest night in her tormented life is ruined?
I shed more than a few tears when Carrie died (see the part above about the ugly cry.)
And for the record, my high school classmates should be lucky that I did not possess telekinetic powers…
“Well, I’ve read through that handbook for the recently deceased. It says: ‘live people ignore the strange and unusual”. I myself am strange and unusual.”
Oh, the above quote…
When I first heard it, there were so many emotions to process…
Happiness was one of them, of course.
And, believe it or not, relief was one of them as well.
I may have fallen in love a little that day, with a fictional character. I have a bad habit of doing that, it seems.
Of course, I am speaking of Lydia Deetz.
As a 90’s kid, “Goth” was a thing.
We all had them in at least one class.
The kids who wore all black, even in the summertime.
Often, they loved horror.
They had an affinity for creepy things.
Their taste in music was cutting edge, to say the least. Nine Inch Nails, anyone?
Lydia Deetz started the Goth culture.
She rocked the all black and pale-face make-up before it was cool (I mean, I was pale-face before it was cool, but no make-up needed here. Gotta love being a soul stealing ginger, AmIrite?)
In case I have not made this clear, I was not a kid who fit in. In fact, I didn’t really belong anywhere.
Growing up, I felt like a ghost. Sometimes I wondered if I was actually dead, and everyone knew it but me and forgot to tell me.
And like Lydia, I lived in a world of my creation. I loved to read and write, and create art.
Those interests don’t exactly make one’s phone ring off the hook on Friday night, but I tried to remain true to myself.
That was the thing I admired most about Lydia: she remained true to herself.
She preferred the company of ghosts over people (well, I preferred the company of animals, but close enough, right?)
Things that repelled most people attracted Lydia (to this day, my parents still think I am some kind of literary leper for loving Stephen King.)
Being different is a good thing. But often, it is lonely.
Characters like Lydia Deetz remind us of how awesome different is, and make the journey a little less lonely.
“She’s our friend and she’s crazy!”
Stranger Things is my show and it’s awesome!
Now, no matter what else happens in 2016 (and we still have the presidential election to get through, so the season finale is still a bit far away), we can at say, “At least we had Stranger Things.”
And there so many things to love about Stranger Things.
It is a tribute to all things 80’s.
It is a gold mine for Stephen King fans. The story line of people with PSI abilities is classic King (Firestarter, anyone?), not to mention the fact that The Master’s name is lovingly brought up in an episode.
I could go on and on, actually. Lots of reasons to love Stranger Things…
At least eleven, I would say…
Oh, right. Eleven. The subject of this entry!
If you told me that the show Stranger Things centered on the subject of four friends (who are boys) and their entrance into adulthood, along with the loss of innocence they experience, you would be correct.
On the surface, that is what Stranger Things is about (along with a monster christened Mr. Tulip-Head and his band of merry slugs.) That statement would not be incorrect.
But, like the books written by a certain famous writer, Stranger Things is so much more than that.
Enter Eleven, everyone’s favorite waffle loving, bald-headed escapee from an evil government lab run by the creep known as Dr. Pedophile.
And oh yeah, Eleven possesses PSI abilities, along with being on the run from “Papa” (shudder.)
At first, Eleven serves as kind of homing beacon, to help Mike and his friends try to find their missing friend Will, whose disappearance just happens to coincide with Eleven’s appearance.
However, the boys, especially Mike, grow to like Eleven on her own merits. A friendship develops, and Eleven becomes fiercely protective of her new friends (see the opening sentence to this entry.)
Through their friendship with Eleven, the boys mature, and also come to the realization that the world is not a safe place, nor is it always a fair place. Eleven brings out the best in Mike, who begins to fall in love with her.
The realization that the world is not a safe or fair place comes in the final episode, when Eleven (seemingly) sacrifices herself to the alternate dimension known as the Upside-Down, when she battles the monster that was responsible for kidnapping Will.
Out of all the characters on the show, Eleven proves herself to the most selfless of the bunch, who takes the meaning of friendship to a new level, when she sacrifices herself for another child who she does not even know. She also proves herself to be a tough fighter, in her journeys to the Upside-Down and her battle with the extra-dimensional monster.
And a fierce protector of Eggo Waffles everywhere. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT mess with that girl’s waffles, if you know what’s good for you!
I love Eva Green…
Oh, how I love Eva Green!
Eva Green is the bomb.com!
Did I mention that I love Eva Green?
Okay, just wanted to make my point clear.
And the reason I fell in love with Eva Green was her portrayal of Vanessa Ives on the show Penny Dreadful.
I have problems. I really do. Sometimes they feel like they number around 99, although I am really not sure if a bitch accounts for more than a few (although my crazy dog could be put into that bitch category.)
But then, I can go watch the period horror/drama known as Penny Dreadful, and I get some perspective.
In other, my problems are pretty damn mild. Or maybe even non-existent, really.
After all, I don’t have the Devil Himself after me.
Or Dracula, for that matter.
I may have guys hit on me and give me unwanted attention, but at least they aren’t evil incarnate.
(On a side note, no one has ever seen my ex and Lucifer in the same room together. Fun fact of the day!)
Nor am I harassed by a coven of witches who are willing to hand me over to at least one of the above.
Oh, and I don’t live in Victorian London, where women are limited to only a couple of roles, and if they don’t fit in, then well, that’s just too bad, isn’t it?
I have just described a day in the life of Vanessa Ives, the main character of the show Penny Dreadful. Yikes much?
But somehow, despite all of the horrors she has to endure throughout her life (both supernatural and non-supernatural), Vanessa Ives is able to maintain a kind of grace that one rarely sees even in people who have not been cursed by an unknown evil force.
Vanessa makes everyone around her better. Her influence is something to behold, as she brings out the best even in those who may not be the best humanity has to offer (Victor Frankenstein and Sir Malcolm being prime examples of this.)
Caliban, in particular, benefits from his friendship with Vanessa. Even before he became “The Creature,” Caliban was in danger of his losing his humanity due to his employment with the Banning Clinic. However, when he is forced to care for Vanessa, he begins to see his patients as individuals, as opposed to numbers, and realizes that his employer is in the wrong in its treatment of its patients, and that he can no longer work for them.
(Another side note: anyone who watches the episode A Blade of Grass without tearing up at least a little bit has ice water instead of blood in his/her veins, and we cannot be friends.)
Even after Caliban is transformed into The Creature, Vanessa extends her friendship to him, reminding Caliban that he is more than a corpse stitched together and brought back to life as a science experiment.
Vanessa’s character serves to make the ending even more poignant, as she sacrifices herself so that others may live.
Vanessa’s friends mourn her death, but it is clear that she lives on in each of them, as her influence continues, even after her death.
And now, for my number 1 woman in horror…
I give you…
OK, let’s get one thing straight…
That’s Dr. Scully to you!
Now, in case it wasn’t clear, I was a nerd growing up.
I liked math and science.
I read books on theoretical physics for fun.
A wild day for me consisted of visiting the library and finding five books. OR SIX BOOKS. SIX BOOKS!
So, as you can imagine, my social calendar was clear until approximately February 30th, 2087. Although these days, I’m a little more booked, because that calendar is clear until May 32nd 2072, although if you need something, I may be able to shuffle things around and pencil you in.
But, in the fall of 1993, things began to look up. Well, a little bit, at least.
For that is when we had the debut of The X Files.
Before I watched The X Files, I did not see a lot of representation of women in my world, aka the world of nerd. Now, this did not necessarily bother me much, at least on a conscious level.
However, deep inside, I knew that something was missing, I could not tell you what, but I knew that my world was lacking.
But then Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully made their entrance to the screen.
And right away, it became evident of what my world was missing.
You see, the world of horror and general nerdiness had been waiting for a woman like Scully. Finally, she arrived.
And she did not disappoint.
Scully was smart (see the opening sentence to this entry.)
Not only was Scully smart, she could throw down some serious shade. And usually, she was wearing heels of at least three inches while doing that.
And her autopsies were so cool! They almost made me want to go to medical school, just so I could throw around medical jargon like that. Almost.
Scully also kept her partner Mulder grounded. Mulder could get a little nutty at times with his (literally) out of this world theories, but Scully was able to reign him in, and was the yin to yang. They made a great team.
I loved seeing her storm in with those heels, pointing her gun and flashing her FBI badge. Sometimes her efforts backfired, and Scully would end up in a dire predicament as well. But many times, Scully was able to get Mulder out whatever predicament he found himself in, and the two could go on to kick ass for another episode.
Scully also faced the same sexism many of us in the “real world” have to face on regular basis. Sometimes people were reluctant to respect her, or would ignore her in favor of her male partner. But Scully always handled that so well, and could silence her naysayers with a single look or sentence. And I loved her for it.
And I have one thing to say: Representation matters. I am someone who has spent her life feeling invisible and ignored. And its not fun. I do not wish that on anyone.
But when we create characters such as Dana Scully, the world becomes a little brighter. And a little less lonely.
At last, someone gets us. And the journey becomes exciting, At last, we begin to see the hope.
Well, that’s it for my top 10 ladies in horror.
I am sure I missed a few, but compiling this list was not an easy task. So a shout out to any I may have left out: You are not forgotten!
So, if you don’t feel like being horrified by Indianapolis Colts football, pop in one of these movies, or tune in to Netflix and watch one of these shows.
At the very least, you can kill a few hours. Or maybe, just maybe, you can appreciate one of these films or TV shows in a new light, after seeing some kick ass ladies!
Have you ever…
Lived with a person who the human version of a volcano, and you didn’t know if this person was the dormant kind of volcano, or the other kind?
Loved this person beyond all reason, but spent much of your time in fear of them, eventually fearing for your life?
Been isolated, through no fault of your own, with nowhere to turn?
Felt conflicted, not knowing whether to protect yourself, or devote yet more energy and resources to protect your loved one, from his or herself, in the hopes that this person would not self destruct, so that you guys could attempt to build a life together?
Spent untold hours blaming yourself for the awful situation, even though you were actually the reason for anything good in that situation, although you could not see it, because you were too mired in guilt, defending yourself from the attacks that you were sure that you caused?
Still felt sad, and even guilty, even after you escaped your situation? Not knowing how you would go on without this person who you loved so much, but somehow finding a way?
So, why are we talking about a domestic abuse situation?
After all, that’s what I just described right?
Someone who was in an abusive relationship, but somehow managed to escape, but still have survivor’s guilt?
Well, you would be correct. But as always, there is more to meet the eye…
And it is one of his most famous, maybe even his most famous, with a movie that is perhaps even more notorious?
Yes, in case you haven’t guessed, I am referring to The Shining.
And let’s take a moment to acknowledge the red-headed stepchild of the family, otherwise known as The Shinning. As we all know, all work and no play makes Homer something, something…
But yes, that The Shining. The same one that is such a huge part of our culture now.
The same one that is the subject of some pretty entertaining memes.
Admit, you have muttered “redrum” in *that voice.*
Or been petrified by blood coming out of the walls.
Or freaked out by people in animal costumes.
I could go on and on. The Shining is a frightening book and movie.
But The Shining is so much more than just being scary.
The Shining is about family, and just what we will do to protect the ones we love the most.
The Shining is also about addiction and abuse, and how those can destroy a family from the inside out, even without the help of a haunted hotel.
In other words, for most of us, family is central. And losing family is devastating, no matter the circumstances. Over and over, King drives this theme home in The Shining.
So, welcome to this month’s read and review, and as always:
The book begins with an introduction to the Torrance family, which consists of Jack, his wife Wendy and their five year old son Danny. It is revealed that Jack has recently become unemployed from his job as a schoolteacher, and is interviewing for a position as the caretaker at a hotel called The Overlook Hotel, in Sidewinder, Colorado.
It turns out that the interview is just a formality, and Jack is hired for the position, although the hotel’s manager, Stuart Ullman, is reluctant to hire Jack, as Jack has had past problems with alcoholism and controlling his temper. Jack assures Ullman that the alcoholism is no longer an issues, and that he and his family can handle the isolation that will come with the job, which will require Jack and his family to live at the hotel during the winter and be cut off from all civilization.
During a tour of the hotel, the maintenance man, Watson, shows Jack how to adjust the pressure of the boiler so that the hotel does not catch fire. Jack also learns that the previous caretaker, Delbert Grady, murdered his family during his stint as a caretaker. Watson also tells Jack that the hotel has had a few deaths, and one of those occurred during the previous summer. An older woman, Mrs. Massey, stayed at the hotel with her much younger suitor. When her suitor abandoned her, Mrs. Massey committed suicide in room 217, in the bathtub.
In the meantime, Danny and Wendy await Jack’s return. The Torrance family has relocated from Vermont to Colorado, due to Jack’s job loss, and Wendy has some concern that the move has not been easy for Danny. We also learn that Danny has been a victim of Jack’s temper, as Jack accidentally broke Danny’s arm a few years prior, due to Danny spilling beer on his school papers.
We also learn that Danny is gifted with some unusual abilities: he sometimes has knowledge of future events, or events in the present that he would otherwise have no knowledge. Danny sees these visions through his friend Tony, another boy only visible to Danny, and referred to as his “imaginary friend” by Jack and Wendy. We learn through Danny that Jack and Wendy’s marriage has been troubled, due to Jack’s alcoholism, and that Danny has feared that his parents will divorce.
Danny has another frightening vision brought to him by Tony as he is outside waiting for his father to get home: he sees himself in an unfamiliar place being chased by someone, and also sees the phrase “REDRUM.” Danny becomes frightened and has no idea what this vision could mean.
Finally, Jack arrives home. Danny is overjoyed to see his father and glad that his father got the job at The Overlook Hotel. However, Danny thinks that he sees a bloody mallet in the front seat of his father’s car. When he looks at the front seat again, Danny realizes that is just a bag of groceries.
Jack makes a trip with Danny to a pay phone, so that he call his friend Al Shockley, who helped him get the job at the Overlook Hotel. Jack recalls how, during one drunken night, Al hit a bicycle that was left in the middle of the road while driving himself and Jack home. It is this incident that prompted Wendy to ask for a divorce, but Jack is able to stop drinking, and Wendy decides to stay, as she loves her husband and son.
That night, Danny has yet another, and Tony warns him not to go to the Overlook for the winter. Danny is frightened, but does not say anything to his parents, as he knows how important this opportunity is for his family.
The Torrance family then arrives at The Overlook Hotel. Danny is still feeling uneasy, but does not tell his parents, as he is still aware how important this opportunity is for his family.
After his family arrives at The Overlook, Danny is introduced to the hotel’s chef, Dick Halloran. Danny and Halloran take a liking to each other immediately.
Halloran is able to ascertain that Danny possesses psychic abilities, to which he refers to as “the shining.” Halloran tells Danny that he is not alone in possessing this gift, as Halloran also possesses it, although his ability is not as strong as Danny’s. Before Halloran bids Danny goodbye for the winter, he warns Danny that he may see things in the hotel, as the Overlook is an old hotel and several unpleasant events have occurred there. Halloran tells Danny that what he sees are akin to pictures in a book, and that nothing should be able to harm him. Halloran warns Danny to stay out of room 217, as he may experience something unpleasant in that room.
Ullman gives the Torrance family a tour of the hotel shortly after Halloran and the other employees leave for the winter. True to Halloran’s statement, Danny sees what appears to be blood and brains on a wall. However, Danny looks away, and the vision soon vanishes.
Several weeks pass uneventfully for the Torrance family. Jack is finally able to work on his writing, and thinks that he may be able to finish the play he is working on. Jack and Wendy notice that Danny is a little withdrawn, but think nothing of it. Danny continues to push himself to learn how to read, so that he may be able to communicate with his friend Tony, who has shown him signs with written words in the past.
One day, Jack finds a wasp nest on the roof of the hotel. He kills the wasps with a bug bomb, and gives the nest to Danny as sort of a souvenir. Danny is thrilled with the nest, and puts it in his bedroom.
That night, Danny is getting ready for bed in the bathroom. When he does not come out of the bathroom, Jack and Wendy become anxious, and Jack breaks down the door. They find Danny in a trance, but are able to rouse him. Danny does not remember what happened, so Jack and Wendy put him to bed.
Later on, in the middle of the night, Jack and Wendy are awakened by Danny. Danny is being attacked by the wasps from the nest given to him by Jack earlier. Jack is able to kill the wasps, but cannot understand why the poison he used earlier did not work.
The next day, Wendy and Jack take Danny to see a doctor in town. The doctor examines Danny and is able to find nothing physically wrong with Danny.
The doctor asks Danny to try and summon Tony. Danny falls into a trance again, but is unable remember anything when he comes to. However, Danny tells the doctor that his mother had a sister who passed away as a child, which is information he did not previously have. Danny also tells the doctor that his parents had previously contemplated a divorce, but have since changed their minds. The doctor refuses to believe that there is anything unusual about Danny. and reassures Jack and Wendy that Danny is simply an imaginative child, and that he will eventually grow out of his unusual behavior.
While he is setting rat traps in the basement, Jack finds a scrapbook of sorts. When he opens up the scrapbook, Jack finds much information in regards to the history of the Overlook. It turns out that the Overlook has seen many changes in ownership and has also been the scene of some violent crimes. Jack becomes absorbed in this history, and also begins to exhibit behaviors that he exhibited when he was drinking, such as wiping his lips and dry swallowing Excedrin.
Danny also begins exploring the hotel, without the knowledge of his parents. He is again tempted by Room 217, despite Halloran’s warnings. Danny is able to resist the temptation, but thinks that he sees a fire extinguisher come to life, turning into a snake. However, once again, he does not tell his parents about this incident, as he understands how important the job at the hotel is for his family.
Jack makes a trip to the library to do more research on The Overlook Hotel. He places a phone call to Stuart Ullman, goading Ullman in regards to the history of the hotel, stating that he will one day write a book about the hotel. This angers Ullman, and Jack regrets his actions as well.
After speaking with Ullman, Jack receives a call from his friend Al Shockley. It turns out that Al owns part of the hotel, and is angry at Jack for making that phone call. Al forces Jack to promise not to call Ullman again, and to not write any books about the hotel. Jack is angered, but agrees, in order to keep his job.
Both Wendy and Danny become worried about Jack. They sense that Jack is having trouble coping with his alcoholism, but are unsure of how to help him. Wendy asks Danny if he would like to leave The Overlook, and Danny agrees that he would. However, Danny is not happy with the alternative option: staying with Wendy’s mother, as Wendy and her mother do not get along. Wendy agrees to stay at the hotel with Jack for the winter, and hopes that things will get better.
One day, as Jack is trimming the hedge animals in front of the hotel, he is badly frightened. He thinks that the hedge animals have moved. He tells himself that this is impossible, and likely a hallucination caused by his struggles to remain sober.
The weather worsens in Sidewinder, and the Torrance family begins to feel the hotel closing in on them. The only means of communication is a CB radio. They are otherwise cut off from the world, unable to leave the hotel.
One day, Danny finally gives in to temptation and visits room 217. When he opens the bathroom door, he encounters the ghost of Mrs. Massey. The ghost then attempts to strangle Danny.
While Danny is being attacked in Room 217, Jack and Wendy have dozed off in their quarters. However, Jack awakens to the voice of his dead father on the CB radio, warning him that Danny has broken the rules and visited room 217.
Once Wendy and Jack come to their senses, Danny appears at the top of the stairs. Danny is bruised and bleeding from his encounter with the ghost in room 217.
Almost immediately, Wendy blames Jack for Danny’s injuries, convinced that Jack tried to hurt Danny in his sleep. She chases Jack off and locks herself and Danny in the bedroom.
Jack is angered by Wendy’s treatment of him, and retreats to the empty bar at the hotel. Jack then begins to fantasize about drinking again.
The fantasies about drinking seem to become real as Jack strikes up a conversation with the bartender he believes would have been serving the hotel back in its prime. Jack refers to this man as Lloyd, and requests that Lloyd serve him 20 martinis. Lloyd also appears to commiserate with Jack over his troubles.
Finally, Jack realizes what he is doing and snaps out of his trance. Wendy appears with Danny at the bar, and Danny begins to have convulsions. Jack is able to bring Danny out of his catatonic state, and tries to find out what happened to Danny.
Danny tells his parents about what happened in room 2017, along with the other incidents that he has experienced during the family’s stay at the hotel. Wendy also tells Jack how worried she and Danny have been about him, as he appears to be struggling with his alcoholism. Jack heads to Room 217, to see if he can find anyone or anything there.
When Jack arrives at Room 217, he investigates it and does not find anything. However, when he leaves the room, he notices that someone or something is watching him. However, he tells his family that he did not find anything in the room.
Later that night, Jack and Wendy begin to argue over their situation. Jack reminds Wendy that they are snowed in, and that an escape attempt may kill them. However, Wendy remembers that the hotel has snow mobiles, and Jack reluctantly promises to test them out the next day, so that they may possibly escape the hotel.
That night, Jack struggles with his anger at his family, as he feels that he will have no other options if they leave the hotel. He dreams that he sees a ghost of one his students in Room 217, and that he attacks that ghost. However, the ghost then turns into his son. Jack awakens to find himself standing over Danny’s bed, and shocked by his behavior.
In the morning, Jack takes a look at the snow mobile and finds it in working order. However, he is unable to bear the idea of leaving the hotel for a fate unknown, and deliberately sabotages the snow mobile, so that his family will remain stranded at The Overlook.
The weeks pass without incident. Danny tells his mother that he still afraid of the hotel, but that he understands that his family has no other options.
One day, Danny is outside playing on the hotel’s playground. He is playing in the miniature version of the hotel when he begins to feel trapped inside, and very frightened. Danny makes his way out of the playhouse, and heads back to the hotel.
Danny also has a bad scare when he heads back to the hotel: he sees the hedge animals move, and they begin to chase him. However, Danny is able to make it back to the hotel, where he collapses on the porch from fright and exhaustion.
Danny tells his parents what happened. However, Jack does not believe him and tries to convince his son that the movement of the hedge animals was a figment of his imagination. Danny realizes that Jack is lying and that Jack has also seen the animals move. When he tries to tell his father this, Jack slaps him across the face, angering Wendy.
Jack and his family are awakened later that night by the sound of the elevator running. The elevator had not previously been in use. Jack gets up to investigate the noise, with Wendy and Danny in tow.
When he investigates the elevator, Jack does not find anyone or anything there. However, the Torrance family finds evidence of a party, which includes streamers and balloons. Wendy and Danny also hear noises associated with a party, such as people talking and music. Jack denies that anything unusual is happening, and chalks up the issues with the elevator to a short circuit.
A few days later, Danny comes across an old clock that no longer appears to be working. However, the clock comes to life, and the figures in it commit lewd acts. The clock then stops, and Danny has another vision. He sees the word REDRUM again, and realizes that it is murder spelled backwards. Danny is terrified, and sends a telepathic plea to Dick Halloran for help.
Hallorann is in Florida, working at his winter job. He receives Danny’s message, and realizes that the situation at The Overlook Hotel is serious, and that he must return to Colorado as soon as he can.
As Hallorann is looking for a flight to take him to Colorado, Wendy and Danny sense that the hotel is closing in on them.. The hotel is working through Jack, in order to get to Danny. When Danny tries to leave his quarters, he is accosted by a man in a dog costume, who tries to attack him. Danny continues to call to Hallorann for help, but the hotel senses what Danny is doing and puts a stop to it.
Finally, Hallorann is able to find a flight to Colorado, and heads to the hotel, hoping that he will not be too late.
Jack becomes convinced that the hotel wants him, and not Wendy or Danny. Jack encounters the ghosts of the hotel’s previous employees and guests, and is able to get drunk. One of the ghosts, the ghost of Delbert Grady (the previous caretaker of the hotel), alerts Jack to the fact that Danny is trying to escape from The Overlook, and tells Jack that he must do whatever he needs to do to correct Danny. Jack is also shown a vision in the clock: a man beating a little boy with a roque mallet. The clock then fills with blood, much to Jack’s disbelief.
Finally, Hallorann is able to find a flight to Colorado, and begins the trek to Sidewinder.
Wendy and Danny stay sequestered in their quarters, and are able to hear Jack in his drunken rage. Wendy ventures out of their quarters to find food for her and Danny, and finds Jack passed out at the bar. She realizes that Jack is somehow drunk, even though there is no alcohol anywhere in the hotel.
Jack regains consciousness, and begins to attack Wendy. Wendy realizes that he intends to kill her and Danny. Danny comes to the defense of his mother, and Jack also attacks Danny. Wendy is able to finally subdue Jack by hitting him on the head with a glass.
Wendy and Danny drag Jack to the pantry, intending to lock him in there, for his safety and theirs. Jack regains consciousness and fights them, but they are able to shut the door on him in the nick of time.
Even though they retreat to the their quarters, Wendy and Danny are still able to hear Jack’s protests, along with the elevator and other sounds that indicate that the hotel is coming to life.
The ghost of Delbert Grady finds Jack in the pantry. Jack promises to kill Wendy and Danny, in exchange for his freedom. The door is somehow unlocked, and Jack picks up a roque mallet, and looks to find his wife and son.
In the meantime, Hallorann continues to make his trek to The Overlook. The hotel realizes what he is doing, and sends him a message, in an attempt to scare him off. Hallorann fights it, and is determined to make his way to The Overlook.
Wendy begins to suspect that Jack has somehow escaped the pantry. She heads downstairs, but this proves to be a mistake, as Jack is waiting for her. Jack attacks her with the mallet, but Wendy defends herself with a knife. She heads back upstairs, but an angry, inhuman Jack follows her, determined to kill her.
Finally, Hallorann arrives at the hotel, but is attacked by one of the hedge animals.
Wendy is able to flee from Jack, and hides in the bathroom. She defends herself with a razor blade she finds in the medicine cabinet, all the while wondering where Danny is hiding, as she has been unable to find him. She also realizes that the hotel has completely possessed her husband, and that Jack is no longer in control of himself.
Hallorann is able to fend off the hedge animal by lighting it on fire and makes his way into the hotel. However, he is then attacked by Jack and loses consciousness.
Danny is in some kind of catatonic state. He is visited by Tony, and realizes that Tony is a future version of himself, Daniel Anthony Torrance. Tony tells Danny that his mother and Hallorann may be killed by Jack, unless Danny does something about it. Tony then reminds Danny that he will remember what his father forgot, and vanishes. Danny then returns to consciousness.
Finding himself in the attic on the third floor, Danny hears his father calling for him. Resisting the urge to obey his father, Danny attempts to hide from Jack.
Wendy regains consciousness, and finds Hallorann. She rouses him, and both hear the sounds of Jack on the prowl for his son.
Danny confronts the creature that had once been his father. He tells his father that the hotel is using him, and will discard him once he has served its purpose. Jack briefly makes an appearance, and tells Danny to run.
Danny then realizes that his father has not maintained the boiler, and that the hotel will go up in flames. He runs, searching for his mother and Hallorann, so that they may escape before it is too late.
Wendy, Hallorann and Danny are reunited. Halloran senses the urgency, and the three make their escape. The hotel catches on fire shortly aftewards and is completely destroyed.
Even after they escape, the hotel tries to urge Hallorann to hurt Danny. Hallorann fights the urge, and escapes with Wendy and Danny by using the snow mobile. Soon, they reach civilization, away from the hotel and the haunted grounds.
Several months later, Hallorann has found work at lodge in Maine. Danny and Wendy also stay at the lodge for the summer, but Wendy plans on relocating to Maryland, in favor of a new job and fresh start. Danny is still saddened over the death of his father, but Hallorann reassures him that he will always be there for him, and that Danny will eventually recover from his ordeal.
I have said it once, and I will say it again: I appear to be incapable of reading anything that does not make me its emotional bitch in the end.
And The Shining is no different.
Well, now I can add The Shining to that list.
And I would not be alone in that sentiment. Out of all of King’s work, it seems like The Shining is the one that has had the biggest grip on popular culture.
Even non horror and non King fans get what “redrum” means.
Jack Torrance, you have failed your hotel!
(OK, that one was admittedly bad. Maybe Jack should have tried harder to save his
city hotel. OK, I will stop now before someone sends the ghosts of the Overlook or perhaps Damien Darhk after me for making these bad jokes!)
And there is a good reason why The Shining (both the book and movie) has the grip that it has on popular culture. Actually, there are a few good reasons.
The Shining is scary. Really scary. Really fucking scary. Fucking scary as hell, as a matter of fact.
OK, Captain Obvious is on board…
Stephen King wrote The Shining. He is the King of scary. So of course his books are scary, right?
Well, many times, King’s books are scary. King does a lot of things besides scary (which he also does in The Shining, and which we will talk about later), but if you mention his name, the first word that comes up is scary. That is what he is primarily known for: writing books that will scare his Constant Constant Readers into a change of pants.
(Or is that just me? OK, just checking, no judgement, right?)
Well, add The Shining to that list. And believe me, it has earned that spot on the list.
First of all, there is the setting. We have an isolated, abandoned hotel in the dead of winter. Forget about the ghosts for a minute, and think about that instead. Being trapped in the middle of nowhere is a real fear. And The Shining plays upon that fear almost right from the opening pages, before we even have the pleasure of making the acquaintance of those lovely, hospitable creatures that call The Overlook Hotel home.
In fact, I could even rightfully argue that the hotel is a character, in and of itself, in much the same way that Danny, Wendy, Jack and Dick Hallorann are characters.
I find this utterly fascinating: only King has the ability to turn an inanimate object, like an isolated hotel, into a compelling, fleshed out character. Much love for The Master!
But, I don’t want to forget about the ghosts. No, let’s not do that!
Now, the build up to the ghosts is a nice, slow burn. There are a couple of flashes here and there, like the blood and brains Danny sees in the one room on his first tour, along with the incident with the wasps. But King spends the first half of the book getting us invested in Danny and his parents, and even the hotel. So the ghosts take a back burner, at least at first.
But then King unleashes them. And good things (or is it really scary things?) come to those who wait. And the payoff is grand.
It had been many years since I read this book. And a few details may have escaped me. But lucky me, they came back to me on my re-read.
There is the ghost of Mrs. Massey. Now, thanks to Kubrik and his movie, I have never really forgotten about her. But she deserves mention here. I may make jokes and kid around with all The Shining references, but here is my confession: I do that to hide the fact that she still scares me into a change of pants, even to this day.
(Again, we cool and no judgement, right? Whew!)
Although Mrs. Massey scared me, and the guy in the dog costume scared me (who does that? Who wears a dog costume and makes the rounds at a party, greeting people by barking? Ew much?), along with the ghosts of Grady and Lloyd, I think the honor goes to…
You got it, the clock!
I know that a wind up clock is not what most people associate with this “redrum” of a book. However, that is one seriously scary scene. And it would actually be two scenes, as Danny sees the figures in the clock do some unspeakable things to each other after it comes to life, and then Jack also sees the same clock come to life, showing him a guy murder a kid with a roque mallet. And then the clock fills with blood. Nice touch, Sai King!
Okay, we have paid the ghosts their due.
So let’s take away the ghosts now. Let’s take away the spooky hotel. Let’s take away a little boy’s mysterious, PSI powers.
We are doing away with anything and everything supernatural.
With most horror stories, if you took away all the supernatural elements, you would not have a story. You would have the equivalent of a car with no engines, no tires, probably even no stereo to listen to the music on.
But this is where King separates himself from the pack, and shows us why he has earned the moniker “The Master.”
You can take away anything and everything supernatural in The Shining.
And you are not left with an empty vehicle that won’t go anywhere or play any music.
Rather, you have a vehicle that is functional. It may have no “extras”, like the fancy tires and state of the art stereo system.
But this vehicle will run. We can drive it, and it can still take us places and can be counted on for a journey.
In other words, The Shining is not just about ghosts.
The ghosts make the story fun, and provide some great scares (again, Mrs. Massey). But they are not what makes this story so memorable and so effective on so many levels.
At its core, The Shining explores familiar territory. Or familiar to anyone who has had to “adult” for more than thirty seconds of his/her life.
The Shining is about family.
The Shining is about addiction and the devastating effects it has on the addict and the addict’s loved ones.
The Shining is about unemployment, and how devastating it can be to lose one’s job and place in the world.
In fact, the Torrance family’s stay at The Overlook Hotel could be seen as metaphor for being trapped in an abusive relationship.
In an abusive relationship, the abuser will use isolation as a tactic. This is what my ex did to me: he cut me off from everyone and everything that I loved. And then the monsters were unleashed.
Like Danny, I lived in fear. I also constantly questioned myself and blamed myself, as Danny did, when his father and the hotel would do terrible things. I believed, like Danny, that I had caused those things.
Like Danny, I believed that there was something I could do to keep the monsters at bay, and prevent the terrible things from happening. I shouldered much responsibility for what happened, and looked for ways to prevent (like Danny avoiding certain parts of the hotel.)
But, like Danny, it became too much, and escape became necessary to save my life. Danny agonized over the escape, and so did I. Escaping from an abuser is never easy, as you are running from someone you love, sometimes a person you love beyond all reason.
And the recovery is not easy, as evidenced by the end of the book. Like Danny, I spent much time crying.
But, again, like Danny, I found the light. Light is never so beautiful as when you escape that darkness.
Well, that’s it for the roller coaster otherwise known as The Shining. Join me next month for a reunion of sorts, when we review and dissect the follow up to The Shining, aka Doctor Sleep!
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Even though The Shining is an early King work, it is still set squarely in the King universe, and shares some notable connections with other King books. Here are the connections I found:
-The most obvious connection to another book is to Doctor Sleep, which follows the adventures of Danny Torrance in adulthood.
-The town of Sidewinder is mentioned in the novel The Talisman.
-In the book The Drawing of the Three, Eddie recalls a movie that he has seen, titled The Shining. Even if Stephen King does not exist in every reality (or even most of them), apparently some version of The Shining does exist on more than one level of The Tower, and may even exist on all levels of The Tower.
-In the novel It, Dick Halloran makes a brief appearance in a story in a flashback regards to Derry’s history. Hallorann saves the life of Wil Hanlon, who would later go on to father Mike Hanlon, one of the members of the Losers Club.
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.