Hello, I see you are back for more shenanigans from your favorite Not Floridian!
Not much has changed here is Not Florida…
In other words, still hotter than H-E-Double Hockey Stick!
Luckily, I now have a way to cool down…
In other words, a visit to Christmasland is just what the soul sucking vampire (who is not actually my ex) ordered!
So, yeah, I am watching N0S4A2.
Again, we are only two episodes in.
But (unlike my ex) it has not disappointed.
In fact, I am warming to it (hashtag irony, yanno?)
As a self proclaimed book douche, I can be pretty picky about adaptations.
There is a right way to do them, and then there are the torture porn films that we know as Joel Schumacher Batman movies.
And so far, N0S4A2 is not a Joel Schumacher Batman movie.
I am not quite sure if it is the Marvel movie equivalent, but it may be gaining that status.
I am starting to get this feeling that this is the hot (hashtag irony again, amirite?) new series of the summer.
So, buckle up in your Rolls Royce Wraith, and let’s take a ride into Christmasland, shall we, and dissect and review episode 2, titled The Graveyard of What Might Be.
And, as always:
My first official episode on my YouTube channel, where I am joined by a special guest host, and I talk about my origin story as a King fan and horror fan, and I discuss the book It! Link is below, please subscribe to me:
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.
I am a nerd (well, duh).
I am also a woman (duh again, what was the name of this blog?)
Growing up, I loved things like horror, action movies and Batman.
In fact, I still love all of these things, although I have expanded my horizons a little bit (The Green Arrow is my show boo, thank you very much!)
And don’t get me wrong, I love being a nerd, and I always have, even if my social calendar has always been strangely empty. But being part of so many fan-doms, which have allowed me to meet so many wonderful people (Internet, where have you been all my life?), is simply rewarding…there is no other way to put it. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
However, being a female nerd has put me in a delicate position. I love my Batsy, I love my dispensers of vigilante justice and I love being scared into a change of pants by evil, sewer dwelling clowns and whatever other “monster of the week” happens to either haunting the books I read or the movies I watch.
But even as a child, I noticed something that made being a nerd that much harder, at least for me.
That’s right, you guessed it…the lack of female nerds.
At least, this was the case when I was growing up. It is true that April O’Neil was a presence on one of my favorite shows.
There was also Dr. Crusher.
(The fact that both of these ladies are gingers is just purely coincidental. Nope, no bias here at all).
But there was no denying it: nerdiness was not geared towards the likes of me. Instead, all the cool stuff was geared towards the boys. And although we have made some pretty good strides in recent years, there is still that mentality: meeting another woman who is versed in the story line of something like The Killing Joke and who is stoked for the upcoming movie is not common, even though this is something that is changing as well, although slowly.
In fact, when I was introduced to Special Agent Dana Scully, I wept. At last, a female nerd! She was smart AND could throw down some serious shade! And do all that in three inch heels!
As I got older, I began to look for female role models in my nerdy obsessions. Slowly, I began to find them.
In other words, I picked up my Stephen King habit after an extended hiatus. And I found some great female role models…
Ok, glad you have let that sink in. So quit laughing, and let’s talk about the ladies in the works of The Master.
King is the master of modern horror. This fact is undisputed by most. He knows how to terrify us, with his monsters, both human and inhuman.
King also has given us the Every Woman. It is true that some of his female characters are mainly seen through the eyes of another character who is usually male. Examples of those would include Wendy Torrance and Leigh Cabot.
But King has also created some great female characters that are either main characters, or “side characters” that actually stand on their own, sometimes even stealing the show from the guys.
So Stephen King is not only The Master, he has made some pretty cool contributions to the women’s movement…check! I still don’t know if he has mastered interpretive dance, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.
And I figure now would be a good time to pay tribute to some of these ladies via a post in this little old blog.
So, without further ado, here is a list of what I consider to be the most memorable women in King’s works. This is a list containing only ten, so I apologize if I left out your favorite…ranking awesome is not easy!
And, as always:
10. Jo Noonan (Bag of Bones)
I am trying to stick with “human” ladies for this post, so I struggled with this one for a bit.
However, Jo Noonan won out in the end. She was indeed a ghost, but she was living at one point. Which makes her human to me.
Jo Noonan was a force. In life, she was courageous and fought to the very end.
Even in death, she was unstoppable. Jo simply would not rest until her mission was accomplished: expose the truth (which was not pretty) in regards to a small town’s questionable history. Not only was Jo determined to expose the truth in regards to the small town that was her and Mike’s summer home, she was also determined to protect a child who had no tie to her or to Mike. However, that did not matter to Jo, as she was determine to break the curse that had ruined the lives of so many, including her own.
And Jo succeeded in that mission: with her help, Mike was able to stop the curse and save the life of an innocent, and was able to ensure that no further generations would suffer either.
Jo Noonan was a constant presence in this book. Even when her ghost was not around, we got to know her through her husband, Mike Noonan, as she was such a big part of his life, even after she died. Even though she technically not living, this fact was easy to forget, as Mike’s memories served to paint a vivid portrait of her, making her as essential to the story as the living cast.
In many of King’s works, children are put in perilous situations. Often, these children are faced with some adult situations that call for adult decisions. And a wrong decision can literally be the difference between life and death.
Abra Stone is one of these “King children.” And there are a couple of reasons why she is on this list. One of them is that she is female. She may be just a teenager when the events of Dr. Sleep take place, but she is forced to do quite a bit of growing up in a relatively short period of time, earning her a place on this list of distinguished women. Another reason is that she is simply an ass kicker. There is no other way to put it.
In the novel Dr. Sleep, the grown-up Danny Torrance (of redrum fame from The Shining) is a major player. Most of the adults that were in Danny’s life as a child failed him (especially his father.) So it is up to Danny to not fail Abra, a girl who possesses PSI abilities similar to his own, although hers are much stronger than his ever will be. And Danny succeeds in that mission, quite admirably.
However, Danny’s success was heavily tied to Abra and her abilities. Abra is an extremely brave young woman who takes on the leader of a clan of psychic vampires who call themselves the “True Knot.” In doing so, Abra risks her own, along with the lives of her loved ones. The clan has cheated death for centuries, and is determined to “harvest” Abra’s abilities so that they may continue to cheat death for many more years.
However, with the help of Abra, Danny is able to defeat this clan once and for all, saving the life of Abra and possibly several others. In other words, Abra was able to work with Danny so that Danny could succeed where his father had failed. Abra was able help Danny achieve something that he desperately needed: redemption.
No story is complete without a good bad guy.
Or bad gal, as the case may be.
Carrie is King’s first published work. The book definitely has this feel, and makes for an interesting read.
The title character, Carrie White, is fascinating in her own right. As a survivor of childhood bullying myself, I identify with Carrie White on many, many levels. In fact, I am pretty amazed that I survived high school and didn’t burn down my school on prom night (the fact that I could not get a date to prom to save my life has absolutely nothing to do with this.)
But the real strength of this book, at least to me, lies in the villains. I could consider Carrie’s schoolmates to be villains (and they are pretty awful) but to me, Margaret White, the mother of Carrie, is the true villain of the book.
Margaret is a religious fanatic who strives to raise her daughter to become the same way. However, Carrie attempts to defy Margaret so that she can fit in with her peers and be accepted somewhere. Usually, these efforts fail, and Carrie is left feeling even worse, which causes her mother to retreat even further into her religion, worsening the cycle.
Sex is considered dirty by Margaret White, and she does not explain “the birds and the bees” to her daughter. Therefore, when Carrie gets her first menstrual period at age 17, all hell literally breaks loose. Carrie thinks that she is dying, as she has no knowledge of what is a perfectly occurrence. She is further alienated by her peers. One of these girls feels some guilt, and attempts to help Carrie fit in by having her boyfriend take Carrie to her prom. Carrie fights her mother, who vehemently opposes any kind of normalcy, in order to try to fit in with her peers once again. However, once again, this backfires, but in a horrific way that no one could have imagined.
Throughout the book, Margaret White’s presence is felt, even up to the conclusion of the story. If it had not been for Margaret’s fanaticism, the outlook for poor Carrie may have been quite different, and the reign of destruction experienced by her classmates, teachers and ultimately her mother, may not have happened at all. So, in essence, Margaret White created the monster, and suffered the horrific consequences, along with many others.
7. Dolores Claiborne (Dolores Claiborne)
Domestic abuse is a common theme in many King works, including It, Rose Madder, ‘Salem’s Lot, Insomnia and many others. King writes about the every day issues we are all familiar, and domestic abuse is unfortunately one of those issues.
Dolores Claiborne is another King novel that deals with the issue of domestic abuse. However, there is a twist: Dolores Claiborne is one of the few stories of abuse told entirely from the perspective of the abused, a middle-aged woman named Dolores Claiborne.
Dolores endures some horrific abuse from her husband, Joe. Finally, Dolores takes a stand, and the abuse against her comes to a stop. But the spousal abuse is only the beginning, as Joe transfers his aggression to someone else: his and Dolores’ teenage daughter, Selena. Joe begins to sexually abuse Selena, and Selena’s innocence is forever lost. And Dolores realizes that her battle is not over.
At first, Dolores looks for a peaceful solution to her problem. But society reminds her that she is a woman and powerless against the hierarchy. So Dolores decides to forget the peaceful solution and resorts to killing her husband, making it look like an accident. Society and her husband have pushed her, and she pushes back the only way she can: a fatal “accident” that does indeed turn out to be “her best friend.”
However, Dolores is NOT a cold-blooded killer. She is a loving, hard-working mother who is doing the best she can for her family. The law is not on her side and society has marginalized her. But she has not given up the fight, and ultimately rises above it all.
Behind every good man, there is a good woman. Or something like that, as the saying goes. In other words, much of life is a partnership, and it really does take two to tango.
And this was the case in the novel 11/22/63. Jake Epping travels back in time to attempt to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In preventing the assassination of the president, Jake hopes to change history for the better.
Initially, Jake is alone in his question. But this is not the case for long. Jake meets and falls in love with Sadie Dunhill, a beautiful young woman who is in the midst of divorcing her abusive husband. And Jake’s quest becomes even more complicated.
Ultimately, Sadie takes a bullet and sacrifices her life so that Jake may succeed in his quest. When she learns of Jake’s mission, Sadie becomes an advocate, never letting Jake forget why he traveled back in time. She encourages Jake along the way and becomes as passionate about his mission as Jake. Her relationship with Jake changes Jake for the better, making him more vulnerable, opening him up to his feelings.
Sadie is also amazing in her own right. She has the courage to leave her husband at a time when divorce was heavily frowned upon, especially for women. She fights back against her husband in two different timelines, and wins both times, even when she did not have the help of Jake. Sadie survives her divorce, and makes a difference in the world (in both timelines.)
Again, children in the Stephen King universe are often placed in awful situations. This is a prevailing theme, and is a theme in the book Wizard and Glass.
Susan Delgado is still a child at the beginning of the story of Roland Deschain’s youth. However, she falls in love with Roland and is forced to grow up quickly. Because of the bad decisions made by the adults in Susan’s life, her life becomes endangered when she commits the sin of falling in love with Roland.
However, Susan is not just a love interest for Roland. She is much more than that, and becomes an integral part of his ka-tet. Susan risks her life to help Roland and his friends fight The Good Man and his forces, which include include most of the people in her town, who have turned against the Affiliation. And she pays the ultimate price for her bravery: she is burned alive for “treason.” But Susan is never bitter about her fate, and her last words are her declaration of love for Roland.
Throughout Wizard and Glass, Susan realizes that because she is a woman, life will not necessarily be “fair.” She deals with her greedy aunt, an evil witch and unwanted sexual advances from a man nearly old enough to be her grandfather. However, she remains true to herself until the very end, and is ultimately responsible for Roland beginning his quest to save the Dark Tower.
When one thinks of the Dark Tower series, Roland Deschain naturally comes to mind. And Roland Deschain is a huge part of this series, as he is the main protagonist.
However, Roland is not alone in this quest. He had friends once, but they were lost. But someone (or something) decided that he needed friends again.
Enter Susannah Dean. And Odetta Holmes. And Detta Walker. No, Roland was not given three women. He was given one woman (along with another man, a young boy and even a creature known as a billy-bumbler but this entry is for the ladies only.)
When Roland first meets Susannah, she is a broken woman who literally does not know her true self. One self goes by the name of Odetta Holmes, and is educated, well-spoken and gentle. However, another personality, Detta Walker, wages war inside Susannah. Detta is rude, crude and volatile, and threatens to destroy Susannah’s mind completely.
Eventually, Odetta and Detta are united, and a new being emerges: Susannah Dean. Susannah Dean has now married one of her tet mates. She has also become a gunslinger, and a brave one at that, who refuses to back down from anyone or anything. Susannah becomes the heart of the ka-tet, and makes sure that Roland retains a least a little of his humanity as he grows closer and closer to reaching his goal.
Susannah endures unspeakable pain in the name of Roland’s quest. First, she loses her husband, Eddie Dean. Then she loses Jake Chambers, her spiritual son. But Susannah is a survivor, until the very end, and reaches her own Dark Tower when she is finally reunited with her husband and son.
3) Lisey Landon (Lisey’s Story)
A common theme in King’s work is the often taboo subject of mental illness. Many of his books deal with this topic in its various facets.
One of these books is the novel Lisey’s Story. Lisey’s Story can be considered a fantasy novel that is also a metaphor for the the creative process. Lisey’s Story has much to say about mental illness as well, including its effects on the loved ones of people who suffer from mental illness.
Before she meets Scott, Lisey is ordinary. However, when she chooses to spend her life with Scott, it becomes clear that Lisey is no ordinary woman.
Scott Landon is a brilliant but troubled writer. Mental illness has had tragic consequences for Scott’s family, and Scott (rightfully) fears tragic consequences for himself and anyone else who is close to him (namely, his wife, Lisey.) However, Lisey loves Scott, and is determined to stand by him, no matter what kind of sacrifices that she may have to make.
Lisey becomes Scott’s anchor. When Scott becomes trapped in a kind of no-man’s land, Lisey is able to rescue him. Lisey realizes that Scott is not ordinary either, but still accepts Scott along with all of his peculiarities.
Even in death, Lisey is still firmly anchored to Scott. However, in order to save herself, Lisey must rely on her own strength. And she is able to do just that, which allows her to return to the land of the living so that she can hear one last story from Scott, and allow him his final peace.
2) Rose McLendon (Rose Madder)
I am a survivor of domestic abuse. For years, I lived in hell. At times, I thought that I would not live to see my 30th birthday (I was 29 when I escaped.) I felt alone and carried a huge burden on my shoulders, as no one outside my relationship knew about about the abuse. This was the case for many years, even after I escaped my first marriage. The fact that I kept this secret for so long nearly destroyed me emotionally. Even now, as I write this paragraph, the tears still well up in my eyes.
But something kept me going for all of these years. That something was the book Rose Madder.
Rose McLendon endures years of abuse and humiliation from her husband, Norman. Rose finally escapes and attempts to build a new life in another city 800 miles away. But the past catches up with her, when her husband Norman (who is also a police officer) tracks her down, killing several people who were friends of Rose and who helped her to build her new life.
Rose battles with her husband and wins that battle, even though she requires some help. She goes on with her life and gets married again and has a daughter a daughter with her second husband.
I enjoyed the fact that Rose was able to defeat her husband, but my favorite part of this book was the description of the aftermath. Even after Norman is no longer in her life, Rose still struggles. She experiences anger over her ordeal that she has repressed for many years, and this threatens her new life. Eventually, Rose is able to get her troubles under control, but struggles for some time.
Most of the focus on abusive relationships is on leaving the abuser. And this is indeed a major step. However, not much advice is given on how to cope with the aftermath. Reading about Rose’s feelings, which were similar to my own, made me love the book and this character that much more. In Rose McLendon, King has truly created the Every Woman.
And now, for my favorite female Stephen King character of all time…
Allow me the pleasure of introducing…
Beverly Marsh (It)
Yes, Beverly Marsh, the sole female member of the Losers Club, is my top female Stephen King character. There are many reasons for this, so let’s talk about them.
Beverly may not be endowed with any special powers. She may not technically be a “gunslinger.” But Beverly is extraordinary, and deserves her spot on this list.
When I was a child, I was not interested in the typical “girly” things. I did not play with Barbie dolls. Instead, many of my interests were “male.” I liked the Ninja Turtles. I preferred Thundercats to whatever was marketed to girls at the time.
Because of my interests, I often felt that there was something wrong with me. Nobody quite knew what to do with me, including my own family. I thought that I was the one who needed to change, as opposed to thinking that our society needed to change and become more accepting of someone like me.
Then, when I was 12 years old, I read It. And I met Beverly Marsh. Beverly didn’t like “girl” things either. Beverly could hang with the boys and hold her own. Beverly was tough and seemed fearless. And it didn’t hurt that Beverly was also tall and a redhead, two things that I absolutely hated about myself at the time.
Beverly may have faced an evil clown (twice!) but her extraordinary qualities extend way beyond that fact. Don’t get me wrong, facing Pennywise the Clown on a semi-regular basis is nothing to sneeze at, but Beverly had to endure so much more.
As I have stated time and time again, one of King’s strengths as a writer is the fact that he writes about ordinary life so well. And this is evident in a book like It. The homicidal clown is just one facet of this book. Compared to what the kids had to face on a daily basis, Pennywise was actually pretty mild.
And Beverly had to endure so much real-life horror. For starters, she was an outcast. She was poor, so she was bullied. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she was abused by her father, and in the summer of 1958, that abuse began to take on sexual overtones. Of course, there was no refuge for Beverly, as most adults, even her mother, turned a blind eye on the abuse.
Even after facing Pennywise the first time, the horror did not end for Beverly. She went on to marry an abusive man, and was trapped in a nightmare for several years. However, it was a strength of a childhood promise that compelled her to finally fight back, and escape from the nightmare, once and for all.
In facing Pennywise for the second time, Beverly finally finds her footing and a confidence that was missing for most of her life. She is even able to find love, as she marries a fellow Loser, Ben Hanscom. Beverly rode off into the sunset with Ben, but she earned that ride, given what she had to overcome. And a clown living in the sewers was the least of it.
So there you have it.
My top 10 ladies in the Stephen King universe. I am sure that maybe I missed a few, but this list did have to be cut down to 10.
Like all of King’s characters, these ladies are fascinating and are an integral part to the stories that they appear in. They are also proof that Stephen King is much more than a writer of horror; he is also a writer who understands the human condition, along with the female condition.
And whoever you are, man or woman, do yourself a big favor and pick up one or more of these books, if you haven’t already, so that you can meet some fascinating characters and escape into the never-boring world known as a Stephen King book.
They are pretty fascinating, at times.
After all, everyone has to start somewhere, right?
And hey, even I have one…so here goes nothing!
Sometime in the summer of 1988, I attended a day camp. I was ten years old and quite impressionable (see the part about being 10 years old). One of my counselors told me and the other impressionable kids (well, I am making assumptions that everyone was as
gullible impressionable as I was, but I digress) a story about a clown that lived in the sewers and killed people, but could only be seen by kids. Of course, I took this story quite seriously. In fact, I spent an entire summer assiduously avoiding storm drains, and watching my back when I took a shower or even (gasp) used the bathroom in any way. In other words, just a typical summer for a ten year old with an overactive imagination. The clown soon become forgotten, to be replaced with thoughts of MacGyver (was that a first name or a last? And wow, science just got hot), Quantum Leap (I aspired to build a time machine and Sam Beckett was my spirit animal) and whatever else a really nerdy, awkward, ugly duckling with limited social skills growing up in the 90’s became obsessed with. That clown soon became a faded memory, and even quit visiting my dreams for a while (whew).
Flash forward two years. That extremely nerdy, awkward ugly duckling had growed up (so she thought) and had hit the big 1-2. And became interested in all things macabre. She was always looking for something to read, and something to watch on TV. If either of these pissed off her parents, well, that was added bonus!
Enter a new mini series that aired over two nights on network TV. It was based on the work of some horror writer I never heard of, Stephen King. And it was about a clown who lived in the sewers, and happened to…you guessed it…terrorize kids! The memories of that summer came flooding back to me, and my blood ran cold. So of course I had to watch this mini series…
And I was blown away by that mini series (I was 12, what else can I say). Tim Curry brought a voice to that evil clown, and my dreams became a hoppin’ place once again. And those kids…where was my Losers Club? I wanted to play down in the Barrens, dammit! One of the Losers was even a girl, and she kicked ass!
When I found out this mini series was based on a book of the same name, It, of course I had to find the book, since I thought that movie was pretty darn good. So the book would be worth a read, right?
I was intimidated by the size of the book. Over a 1000 pages! Well, I would be reading that one for months…
One week later, I finished the book. And I loved it! I also learned that movies rarely do books justice, but that is another post. I had to find more books by this King guy…where had he been all my life?
And so it begun…
My origin story as a Stephen King fan, that is. If you are still reading this at this point and are surprised, I am not really sure what to tell you, other than, well it’s this blog, after all!
So obviously, King’s books bring back many fond memories, and I never tire of them. And in light of my New Year’s resolution to read at least one King book a month, I am going back to my origins: the book It. Like the Losers, I am coming home. I am becoming a child again, and revisiting my past, along with Bill, Ben, Bev and the rest of the gang. Per the line of one of my favorite songs: “Oh don’t sorrow, oh don’t weep, tonight at last I am coming home.” And I can’t wait.
So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of It, whose short title belies the depth of this story. And, as always:
The book begins by introducing the reader to a boy named George Denbrough. Georgie is the younger brother of Bill Denbrough, who is 10 years old. Georgie and Bill live in the city of Derry, Maine, where there has been a lot of rain and flooding. The year is 1957. One afternoon, Georgie heads out to play with a boat made out of newspaper that Bill helped him make. The rain has receded a bit, but Georgie still loses his boat in the sewers of Derry. Georgie becomes upset, but forgets about his boat when he sees what appear to be a pair of glowing eyes looking up at him from the sewers. Those turn out to belong to a clown who looks like a cross between Bozo the Clown and Clarabell the clown. Much to Georgie’s astonishment, the clown speaks to him from the sewers, and offers him a balloon. The clown introduces himself as Bob Gray, or Pennywise the Clown. However, the clown is not friendly, or even human. The clown entices Georgie to lean a little closer, and attacks. Georgie’s arm is torn off, in much the way someone might tear the wing from a fly. Georgie dies almost immediately, leaving his older brother Bill and their parents in a state of shock.
The book then skips to the year of 1984. We are told of another murder in Derry, this time of a young, somewhat childlike gay man named Adrian Mellon. The murder is told in flashbacks, when the local police question the young man’s partner, Don Haggarty, and the local bullies deemed responsible for the murder. The bullies attacked Adrian one night, targeting him because of his sexuality. Both Don and the bullies state that a clown was also at the scene and that the clown killed Adrian. Don also reports that thousands of balloons floated to the sky at the site of the murder. However, the local authorities do not believe Don or the bullies, and the bullies are tried and convicted of the murder.
Several months later, in 1985, six adults receive a phone call from a man named Mike Hanlon. The adults are scattered across the country and even the world, but all grew up in Derry, Maine. The adults are Stan Uris, Richie Tozier, Ben Hanscom, Eddie Kraspbrak, Bill Denbrough and Beverly Marsh. All of the adults are told by Mike Hanlon that they must return to Derry, and most begin making the preparations. However, Stan Uris is unwilling (or perhaps unable) to face what awaits him in Derry, and commits suicide by slitting his wrists in his bathtub. Additionally, Beverly narrowly escapes her abusive husband, Tom, who nearly kills her for daring to leave him and return to Derry. All of the adults have hazy memories of what happened during one summer of their childhoods in Derry, but all know that they must now return to Derry.
We then learn of how those seven children spent the summer of 1958. The books tells of how the seven meet, and form a club they call The Losers Club, as all seven children are misfits in some way or another. All seven children are also victims of abuse from Henry Bowers, the local bully. Additionally, six of the seven children have encountered Pennywise the Clown in some manner, and have survived to tell the tale. Ben saw the clown as a mummy, Eddie saw the clown as a leper in an abandoned house, Bill was attacked by the clown when he picks up an old photo album belonging to his deceased brother, Beverly heard voices in the drain in her bathroom and then sees blood come from the drain that is visible only to her and the other Losers, Mike saw a giant bird that attacks him, and Stan encounters the clown in an abandoned piece of property while he is bird-watching. Richie tells the others he did not encounter the clown on his own, but he makes a trip with Bill to the abandoned house where Eddie saw the leper. There, Richie and Bill encounter the clown in werewolf form. Bill shoots the werewolf with him father’s gun, and Richie also attacks it with his sneezing powder (Richie is the comedian and practical joker of the group). The two narrowly escape the clown on Bill’s bike Silver, and realize that they are pitted against a great evil. During that summer, Ben Hanscom falls in love with Beverly. Beverly falls in love with Bill Denbrough.
The book skips to the present and to the viewpoint of Mike Hanlon. Mike has begun researching the history of Derry, and discovered that the town has a violent past. Mike tells of one of these incidents, which was relayed to him by his father before his father passed away. Mike’s father tells of The Fire at the Black Spot, which was a fire that occurred in 1937, when Will Hanlon enlisted in the military and was stationed in Derry. The Black Spot was a night club founded by some of the African American members of Will’s unit, which was known as company E. The fire was started by Derry’s version of the Klu Klux Klan, known as the Maine Legion of White Decency. Nearly 80 people perished in the fire. Will tells Mike that he saw what appeared to be a giant bird dressed as a clown flying off with some of the bodies, confirming Mike’s suspicions that the presence of Pennywise and the town’s violent history are closely related. Mike struggle with the decision to call the rest of his friends, but thinks that his heart will tell him when the time is right.
One by one, the adult Losers (minus Stan Uris) return to Derry. Mike arranges a reunion lunch, and the adult Losers reunite and catch up with each others’ lives. Mike also brings his friends up to speed on the nine child murders that have occurred in Derry over the past several months, and the Losers vow to stay in Derry and fight It, although they know that their odds are not good. At the end of the meal, the Losers receive some fortune cookies that are actually a trick of Pennywise the Clown. Each cookie contains something that each Loser fears, such as blood, insects, etc. The Losers leave the restaurant, and split up to visit a place in Derry outside of the Barrens that meant something to them as children. Bill tells them that when the first encountered the monster as children, the encounter was experienced alone, and that the same will probably happen to them as adults.
True to Bill’s statement, the Losers do have individual encounters with It: Ben sees the clown at the library, Eddie sees the clown in the form of some of his deceased classmates at the local baseball field, Beverly encounters a witch in her old apartment that resembles the witch from Hansel and Gretel and Richie encounters the clown in the form of a Paul Bunyon statue that has come to life. Richie also remembers that he had a similar encounter as a child, but dismissed it as a dream. Bill and Mike do not encounter Pennywise, but Bill finds his old bike, Silver, at a second-hand shop. Bill and Mike spruce up the bike, and figure that Bill finding the bike is not coincidental.
The story switches to the perspective of Henry Bowers, the Losers’ childhood bully. Henry currently resides at Juniper Hill Asylum. Henry was found guilty of the child murder that occurred in the summer of 1958, along with the murder of his father. However, the only murder actually committed by Henry was the murder of his father. Pennywise the clown is able to communicate with Henry and convinces him to do Its bidding and kill the adult Losers. It helps Henry escape Juniper Hill, and Henry heads to Derry to finish the job.
We also learn a bit more about the history of Derry and the violent events that appear to be connected with the child murders that occur every 27 years or so. Mike learns of the massacre of the Bradley gang, a gang of criminals from the Midwest on the run from law enforcement. The gang holes up in Derry, and the citizens soon dish out their own form of justice and murder every single member, even the women, while local law enforcement looks the other way. Mike also learns that Pennywise the clown was seen at the confrontation, once again confirming how much a part of Derry the clown really is.
In the meantime, Bill and Beverly’s respective spouses are determined to find out why their partners have suddenly left town. Beverly’s husband Tom, beats the information out of one of Beverly’s few good friends who helped her escape. Bill’s wife Audra simply books a flight to Maine, as she is extremely worried about her husband. Both head into Derry, not understanding what lies ahead.
The Losers reconvene at the library later that night, and begin to recall the events of the summer of 1958. The children spent much of the summer of 1958 playing in the Barrens, a wooded area in Derry that remains mostly abandoned and forgotten. Because of this, the Losers are able to meet and try to figure how to rid the town of Pennywise the clown and not be bothered by Henry Bowers and his friends. The children also build an underground clubhouse in the Barrens, which offers them even more protection from Henry and any other bullies.
Mike recalls how he became a part of the club that summer. One day, Mike is chased by Henry Bowers, as Henry lives next door to Mike, and has been taught to hate black people by his father. Henry’s father has blamed all of his problems on Mike and his parents, so Henry makes Mike’s life miserable at any opportunity. When Henry is chased by Mike on this particular day, he runs to an area just outside the Barrens and encounters the Losers. The Losers defend their territory by hurling rocks at Henry and his friends, in what is termed the Apocalyptic Rock Fight. Henry and his friends are forced to retreat but swear revenge. Mike then becomes a part of the Losers Club, and soon learns of their encounters with Pennywise the Clown and their determination to kill It. Mike also tells of his encounter with Pennywise, and brings one of his father’s old photo albums to show his friends. The clown is in nearly every picture. The clown also makes an appearance while the children look at the album, and promises to kill them all if they do not back down.
Richie recalls the smoke hole ceremony performed by the Losers that summer. Ben reads about the ceremony in a book. He learns that it was a ceremony performed by Native Americans, and it involved breathing in smoke, which was supposed to induce visions. The Native Americans performed this ceremony when the tribe had unsolved problems or unanswered questions. The Losers perform this same ceremony by burning green wood in their underground clubhouse. However, all bow out except Mike and Ritchie, who travel back in time and witness the arrival of It in Derry several million years ago. The boys sense that It is actually an extra-dimensional monster, and very evil. They impart this information to the others, and continue their mission to rid Derry of the monster.
Eddie recalls that Henry Bowers broke his arm that summer, in retaliation for the rock fight. That day, Eddie headed to the drugstore to pick some prescriptions for his mother. The owner of the drugstore, Mr. Keane, pulls Eddie aside and tells him that he does not actually have asthma, and that his symptoms are psychosomatic. Mr. Keane tells Eddie that this is the doing of his mother and doctor, and that his asthma medicine is simply water with a medicinal taste. Eddie becomes upset, but knows deep down inside that Mr. Keane is right. Henry and his friends are able to corner Eddie outside the store as he is by himself, and Eddie’s arm is broken in the scuffle. Eddie spends a few days in the hospital and his friends attempt to visit him. On the first attempt, his friends are driven off by his overly protective mother, who does not approve of these new friends. The Losers are not deterred, however, and come back later that night. They sign Eddie’s cast, and tell him that their plan is to make silver slugs that they will shoot at It with a slingshot. The plan is for Beverly to shoot the monster with the slingshot, as her aim is the best. Eddie also has a confrontation with his mother, telling her that he will not choose her over his friends.
Beverly recalls another encounter with It that summer, when she heads to the dump to practice shooting with the slingshot. Beverly nearly has a run with Henry Bowers and his friends, but is able to hide herself. Henry and his friends leaves, but one of the bullies, Patrick Hockstetter, stays behind. Patrick Hockstetter is a sociopath who keeps an abandoned refrigerator in the dump. Patrick is using this refrigerator to trap and kill animals, which are either pets or strays that he finds. Patrick also killed his baby brother as a young child. Patrick becomes the next victim of Pennywise the clown, who takes the form of flying leeches, and Patrick is eaten alive. Beverly is also attacked by the leeches, but is able to use the slingshot to hurt the monster and escape.
The Losers also recall how they made silver slugs to use a weapon against Pennywise that summer. They gather one night at Bill’s house, and melt down a silver coin that was passed from Ben’s deceased father down to Ben. The process is a quick one, and the Losers now have a weapon against Pennywise. And the Losers use that weapon against Pennywise. They confront the monster at the house on Neibolt Street. Beverly uses the slingshot to hurt the monster, but does not kill It. However, the monster retreats, and all is relatively peaceful for about two weeks.
The adult Losers leave the library for the night, and agree to meet at the Barrens the next morning. Before they leave the library, their hands begin to bleed, as they swore in blood to return if It still lived. The Losers take the blood oath again, and wonder just what they are in for.
Bill and Beverly walk back to their hotel, and Beverly talks of her father’s abuse. Beverly also remembers one day in August, as she returned home after playing in the Barrens with her friends. She was confronted by her father, who accused her of performing sexual acts with the boys, and physically attacked his daughter. Beverly realized that her father was possessed by It, and ran from him. Beverly thought that she had escaped her father, but does not know that Henry Bowers and his friends are also waiting for her. Henry and his friends were under the influence of It. Henry also killed his father that day.
The story flashes back to 1985, as Mike Hanlon prepares to close the library for the night. However, Mike is interrupted by Henry Bowers. Henry attacks Mike, but Mike is able to defend himself. Mike calls 911 and hears the voice of Pennywise the Clown and begs for someone to help him so that his wound does not become fatal.
Beverly and Bill head back to Bill’s hotel room. They are seeking comfort and make love to each other. As she falls asleep, Beverly once again flashes back to that day in August of 1958, when Henry and his friends chase the Losers Club down to the sewers, forcing a final confrontation with It.
In 1985, Henry is met by It, who has taken the form of his deceased friend, Belch Huggins. It drives Henry to the hotel the adult Losers are staying at, and gives him a list of the room numbers occupied by each Loser. Henry chooses Eddie as his first victim, and attacks Eddie. However, Eddie fights back and kills Henry, breaking his arm again in the process. Eddie calls Bill and the others back to his room, and they decide what to do about Henry’s body, and determine that involving anyone else in the town, including the police, will only make things worse. The Losers also find out that Mike was attacked by Henry and is gravely wounded. The Losers decide that they need to confront Pennywise again and that there is no other choice. Again, they head to the Barrens and use the same entrance they used in 1958 to get to Pennywise’s lair.
In the meantime, both Audra and Tom (Bill’s wife and Beverly’s husband, respectively) have arrived in town. Both begin to have peculiar dreams: Audra dreams that she is Beverly, following Bill to fight Pennywise, and Tom dreams that he is Henry, chasing Beverly and the rest of the Losers in the sewers. Both awaken and become trapped by Pennywise. Pennywise is able to influence Tom, and Tom kidnaps Audra for It.
The story goes back and forth between 1985 and 1958, telling of the Losers’ confrontation of It in 1958 as children, and in 1985 as adults. In 1958, Henry continues to chase the Losers into the sewers. However, the Losers are still able to find Pennywise and his lair, and Bill enters what he calls the “deadlights”, or the true home of the monster. With the help of a mysterious creature simply known as “The Turtle”, Bill battles Pennywise in Its true form, and believes that he has defeated the evil. Richie pulls Bill back from the deadlights, and the Losers Club escapes from the lair, believing Pennywise to be defeated. However, as they attempt to exit the sewers, the Losers nearly lose their way, as their bond is beginning to dissolve. In order to keep the bond intact, Beverly makes love to all of the boys. This act restores the bond, and the children are able to find their way out of Derry’s sewers. Stan cuts all of the Losers hands with a coke bottle, and all seven promise to return to Derry if Pennywise is not dead. All of Henry’s friends are killed by It, and Henry is institutionalized for the murder of his father
In 1985, Bill, Ben, Beverly and Eddie confront Pennywise once again. Bill again faces Pennywise in the deadlights, but is accompanied by Richie. The two fight the monster in the deadlights and defeat it. Eddie also fights the monster in Its physical form and defeats it as well, but loses his life in the fight. The monster’s true form is something close to a spider, and the spider has laid eggs. Ben makes sure all the eggs are destroyed. Bill also rescues his wife Audra,who is still alive but catatonic, and he and his friends make their way out of the sewers. Once the Losers emerge from the sewers, they realize that Derry has nearly been destroyed by a rainstorm, which stops almost the moment Pennywise is defeated.
A few days later, the remaining members of the Losers Club leave town and return to their lives, and they are already beginning to forget each other’s names and other vital information, including the battle with Pennywise. Beverly has fallen in love with Ben, and the two plan to head back to Nebraska, after filing a missing person’s report on Beverly’s husband Tom, who was actually killed by It. Only Bill and the catatonic Audra remain, along with Mike, who is still in the hospital. Bill has nearly given up hope on reviving Audra, until he gets an idea. He takes Audra for a ride on his old bike Silver, with hopes that the magic remains in the bike. The magic does remain, and Audra is revived, with no memory of what happened after she arrived in Derry. Bill and Audra then return to their life. Bill, along with everyone else, has forgotten the experience in Derry, but continues to lead a happy and productive life.
Well, I will say this much: It is a monster of a book. And I am not just talking about the length…
Yes, It is one scary book, with what has to be one of the most iconic horror villains in history. Who in the free world doesn’t recognize Pennywise the clown?
But there is so much more to this book than a clown living in the sewers…
I recognize so much of myself in this book, as a matter of fact. I was a Loser growing up, and I still consider myself to be a Loser. And I am proud of that, as a matter of fact.
But I know the pain what those kids went through all too well. In one part of the book, it is said that the kids turned into ghosts one afternoon, and no one, including their parents, seemed to know that they existed. Well, that was not a bad description of my child, at certain points. Often, I wondered if people even knew, or cared, if I was alive.
Which brings me to my next point: Yes, that clown was scary as fuck (more on that later). But I was more afraid of the real-life horrors that the Losers had to face.
For example, the bullying. I was a victim of bullying as a child, and it was frightening. Getting beat up is scary. But perhaps what is even more frightening is having to live with the anticipation that the act of terrorism could happen at any moment, and you were powerless to do anything about it. Or the most frightening of all: the fact that you were alone, and no one, not the other kids and not even the other adults, would go to bat for you, and you were on your own when it came to fighting the monsters.
And then there was the abuse. Many of Stephen King’s books deal with abuse in some form or another, and It is no different. Child and spousal abuse are huge themes in It, and make up the tapestry of real-life horrors that many people have to deal with on a daily basis. And I have been there. I am a survivor of domestic violence. Trust me, no horror story can hold a candle to living with an abuser. My “Tom” was much like Beverly’s Tom (and father): I didn’t know when the horror would be unleashed, and I felt like a prisoner in my own home. And the scene when Beverly left Tom for good mirrored so much of a fight from my own first marriage, in a hotel room. Like Beverly, I was frightened for my life, and actually thought that I would die. And I completely understand the shame that Beverly felt, and the lies that came afterwards. Beverly could not even admit to her closest friends (at least at first) the truth about her marriage. It was only after things came to a full circle, so to speak, that Beverly actually admitted how abusive her husband was. Living in an abusive marriage is much more frightening than most horror movies. The movies have a beginning and an end, and someone usually defeats the monster. But it is not so neat when any form of abuse is involved, and many survivors, including myself (and probably Beverly) would rather have faced a clown in the sewers with a slingshot and pair of silver bullets, than to actually face our abusers.
And speaking of Beverly, I think I need to clear the air about something.
Yes, I am talking about “that scene.”
I probably don’t need to explain myself, but I am talking about what is so eloquently referred to as (not my words) “the gang bang in the sewer.” In other words, I refer to the scene near the end of the book, when Beverly has sex with all six of the boys, in order to escape the sewers and return to the light of day.
I would be lying if I said that this scene was not a little disturbing, because it is disturbing. After all, we are talking about 11 year old children. When I was 11 years old, I was still playing with stuffed animals and wouldn’t touch boys because they had “cooties.” I was still very much a child, in other words.
But, I was also about a year away from needing my first bra. My skin had already begun to break out. I was at least 5’4″, only a few inches from my adult height of 5’9″ and change.
In other words, I was crossing the bridge into adulthood. And the Losers were crossing that bridge as well. They had to behave as adults that entire summer, in dealing with a monster that their town simply refused to acknowledge. Really, we could argue that the monster was their town. And all seven of them recognized that fact on a fundamental level. The Losers longed for the grown-ups to come in and take charge, but really, a grown-up “taking charge” would have just hindered their quest, since they were more adult than 99% of the adults around them.
And what do adults do, aside from being able to choose Oreo cookies as a valid breakfast option? Well, Oreo cookies are great and all, but being an adult involves a few more choices than breakfast. And one of those choices is who to love, and how to express that love.
In other words, adults have sex. In fact, having sex is probably a consolation prize for being forced to be responsible, aka working and paying bills (kidding, kidding). But sex is one of the choices of adulthood. And sex is often viewed as one of the major transitions from childhood to adulthood.
And this is exactly what happened during the “sewer gang bang.” The Losers Club crossed the bridge from childhood to adulthood during that afternoon. They had been walking the bridge that summer, but fully crossed over that day when they finally did “It.” For Beverly in particular, it was an especially meaningful experience. She had been receiving the message all summer from her own abusive father that sex was “dirty” and that she needed to remain “intact.” With this act, she was finally empowered and saw the “sex act” for what it really was: the ultimate act of love with some special people. And it was not a repulsive or ugly. It was just beautiful.
Before we talk about the clown (trust me, we are getting there), I want to pay homage to another character in this book that is often overlooked.
I am talking about the town of Derry Itself (see what I did there). In all seriousness, though, no one can write the small town like The Master.
Again, if I start to get nostalgic about small town life, all I have to do is crack open a Stephen King book. And bam, there goes the nostalgia!
I feel like my own unnamed Indiana hometown could have been Derry’s Twinner. Sure, we didn’t have a clown living under the sewers (I can’t entirely vouch for that, though) but the rest of the similarities were just frightening. Such as people’s attitudes towards bullying. Man’s inhumanity toward’s his fellow man was accepted in Derry, and it was accepted in my town. And you had to belong. In other words, if you were like me and spent a minute of your life outside the town, you were an outsider and subject to punishment for that act. And there is a culture in small towns, whether it be through its local celebrities, certain stores and restaurants that cannot be found anywhere else or maybe even a “funny fellow” that always seems to show at the local celebrations
mass slayings of people that makes sense to locals, but causes anyone else to shake their heads and wonder why something so trivial can hold so much meaning.
Ok, the clown…
Yes, we are finally there, so let’s talk about the most iconic clown…ever.
Now, to me at least, there is something inherently creepy about clowns. I am not really sure why this is. Maybe it’s because they hide under all that face paint. Or that they don’t wear regular clothes but instead wear garish colors and over-sized shoes. And they try to make us laugh. Now, I like to laugh…don’t get me wrong. But when people, especially ones hiding under grease paint and wearing garish clothes that come complete with over-sized shoes try to force it on me, then the laughter becomes forced. In fact, the laughter turns into a weapon. And the laughter is no longer fun, but something to be feared.
So, the clown is inherently scary. But at the same time, the clown is also associated with childhood and fun times, like the circus. So, a perfect lure, in other words.
And it worked. It fed off the fear of children. And in order to do that, It had to lure them in somehow. And fool those children, at least momentarily. And what better way to do that, than to bring up happy associations, such as the circus? And children are imaginative, and can be emotional hurricanes of sorts. So the monster had it right: conjure up the happy emotions, and then (literally) scare them to death, almost in the same breath. And children, unlike adults, have fears that are easy to capitalize on. Mummies, werewolves, witches and the rest of the usual suspects are all ripe for the picking. And, as stated in this book, a haunt is a place where animals come to feed. And what better place to feed for such a creature than a city full of the rich imaginations of children, providing the food needed to nourish such evil? That is, until It’s own source of food was used against It, and It became the hunted, instead of the hunter. And the lion was vanquished by the antelopes, proving that sometimes, even the underdogs can fight the good fight, and come out the winners.
So that’s It! Or maybe I mean that I am done with my review of one of The Master’s most iconic books, and a book that stays with me to this day, no matter how many times I read it! So join me next month for February’s read and review, where we take a short detour to Derry yet again, but we are staying away from the sewers this time, since love is in the air! That’s right, I will be reviewing and dissecting Bag of Bones, another favorite of mine!
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Like most of King’s other work, It is part of the Stephen King universe, and it connected to many of his other books. Here are some of the connections I found:
-It takes place in Derry. Derry is a hotbed of activity in the King universe, and several other King stories take place in Derry. These include Bag of Bones, Insomnia, Dreamcatcher and Secret Window, Secret Garden. Derry is also mentioned in countless other stories, including Revival and The Tommyknockers.
-Ben Hanscom is said to live in Hemingford Home, Nebraska. Hemingford Home is also the home of Mother Abagail in The Stand.
-Pennywise is similar to Dandelo, a creature encountered by Roland and Susannah in the final book of the Dark Tower series. Both creatures feed off of human emotions, although fear and laughter appear to be the central ones. Additionally, Dandelo owns a robot that he refers to as Stuttering Bill. It is possible that the Losers did not completely destroy It, and that Dandelo may be one of Pennywise’s offspring.
-Dick Halloran is mentioned as a friend of Wil Hanlon. Dick Halloran is a major character in The Shining, and also makes an appearance in Dr. Sleep. In essence, by rescuing Wil from the fire at the Blackspot, Dick Halloran helped give birth to the Losers Club.
-Mike Hanlon makes an appearance in the book Insomnia.
-In the book Dreamcatcher, Jonesy sees a statue that the Losers Club has dedicated to the missing and murdered children in Derry. However, the statue is defaced with graffiti that says “Pennywise lives”, provoking further speculation that the Losers did not completely destroy Pennywise.
-Beverly references the Castle Rock Strangler. Of course, this is the killer that Johnny Smith helps to catch in the book The Dead Zone.
-In the novel 11/22/63, Jake Epping meets two children and teaches them how to dance the “lindy hop.” These two children happen to be Beverly Marsh and Richie Tozier, and Jake meets them shortly after the children have confronted Pennywise in the sewers of Derry.
As a child, I was a victim of bullying. I was tormented pretty often. I must say, I think there are some kids that are just born bad…
But luckily, I was able to escape my small town and the bullying, and I have become the happy, health well-adjusted adult who spends way too much time blogging about Stephen King.
Although that is probably why I was lucky…I am not a character in a Stephen King novel, so I was able to escape my tormentors!
King has written extensively about childhood and bullying. Works such as It, Sometimes They Come Back, Low Men in Yellow Coats and Dreamcatcher all deal with characters who are bullies, and characters who must fight off the bullies, as their survival literally depends on it.
Well, King has added another story to his canon on childhood and bullies: Bad Little Kid, which is one of the stories in King’s latest collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. And this story is proof, that yes, childhood is hell, and that some people literally do not ever escape their demons.
Bad Little Kid begins with a man named Leonard Bradley, who is visiting someone who is in prison. That person is a man named George Hallas, who has been jailed for some unnamed crime and will soon be executed for the unnamed crime. Bradley is actually Hallas’ attorney, and is fighting so that Hallas’ life may be spared. We then learn that Hallas is on death row for killing a child, but that Bradley has some major questions as to why this crime was committed. Hallas then proceeds to tell Bradley the events that led him to commit the most awful crime of all: the murder of a child.
Hallas grew up without a mother, who died shortly after his birth. Hallas was raised by his father and housekeeper, Nona McCarthy. The family moved several times during his childhood. One of the towns that the family lived in was Talbot, Alabama, where Hallas befriends a mentally handicapped young girl named Marlee Jacobs.
Marlee and Hallas would walk to school together every day. One day, Marlee was upset because she could not find her lunchbox. Hallas comforts her, and Marlee temporarily forgets about her lunchbox.
However, when the children are walking home from school, they hear someone tormenting them. Hallas sees a young boy who is short and chubby with red hair, and who also wears a beanie on his head with a plastic propeller. Hallas does not recognize him from either his neighborhood or his school. The boy torments Hallas and Marlee, who try to ignore him and head home. However, the little boy has Marlee’s lunchbox, and continues to torment her.
The little boy throws the lunchbox out into the street, and tells Hallas that it is his fault. Marlee runs out into the street and is hit by a car driven by one of the teachers who works for the school that she attends with Hallas. The accident proves fatal for Marlee, who dies almost immediately.
Bradley listens to the story, but is skeptical that there even was a little kid, and thinks that Hallas may have imagined his tormentor. Hallas says that he spent the next several years dreaming about that kid, but passes it off as a childhood tragedy.
Hallas attends college, where he majors in drama. He finds some success, and also begins dating a young woman named Vicky. Vicky is high-strung and ambitious, and also has a tendency to abuse prescription drugs.
Vicky and Hallas both try out for roles in a production of The Music Man. Hallas gets a lead role, but Vicky becomes nervous and her audition is a disaster. Hallas tries to comfort Vicky, and they walk down the sidewalk. Hallas then hears someone tormenting him, and it is the same little kid he saw as a child. The little kid has not aged a day. Hallas starts to chase him, but Vicky stops him and tells him that the boy is not worth it.
Hallas then drops Vicky off at her apartment. This is the last time he sees Vicky alive, as Vicky commits suicide by hanging herself. Hallas finds out from Vicky’s distraught roommate Carla that Vicky believed that he put the little kid up to tormenting her. Hallas assures Carla that the little kid was indeed real, and that Carla is not at fault for Vicky’s suicide.
Carla and Hallas later marry, and Hallas turns to accounting for a career, rather than the theater. We also learn the little continues to torment Hallas’ loved ones, including his former housekeeper, Nonie. Hallas’ father had died in a mining accident, and the little boy tries to convince Nonie that the boots she had given Hallas’ father were responsible for the accident. Nonie also passes away from a heart attack, and Hallas believes the little boy to be responsible, After Nonie’s funeral, Hallas receives a package in the mail that contains the little boy’s hat. He then burns the hat, believing it to be cursed.
Carla becomes pregnant, and she and Hallas begin attending church on Sundays again. One Sunday, Hallas sees his tormentor on the church steps. A firecracker is thrown in Carla’s direction, and she falls down the steps, suffering a miscarriage and losing the baby.
Hallas’ marriage suffers after the loss of their child, and he throws himself into volunteering at his church. He pays special attention to young boys who need a mentor. He is able to raise funds for a boy named Ronnie to have the surgery needed to correct his vision. Hallas then uses Ronnie as bait to trap the little boy who has been tormenting him.
He is successful in trapping the little boy, and chases him out into the street. Hallas then shoots the little in the back, as revenge for the all deaths he has caused. He almost believes that he has killed an ordinary child, but sees a dark presence in the little boy’s eyes before he passes away. Hallas is arrested immediately, and found guilty of murdering. He also receives the death penalty.
Bradley lets Hallas finish his story, but he is still skeptical. He asks Hallas why the creature picked him, but Hallas cannot answer that question. Hallas also points out that no one has been able to identify the little boy, and no family members ever claimed the body. Bradley promises Hallas that he will attend his execution.
Six days later, Hallas is executed. Bradley is attendance, along with Hallas’ priest. Before his death, Hallas warns Bradley that evil will disguise itself as a child.
Bradley leaves the prison after Hallas is executed. He sees movement from the corner of his eye. He also notices that his car has been vandalized. Bradley opens his car door, and finds a beanie with a propeller on top of it. There is a note stating: Keep it, I have another one. The note also states that Bradley is next. In the distance, Bradley hears a child’s laughter.
Uncle Stevie is known for his creepy stories, and Bad Little Kid did not disappoint in that department. Uncle Stevie is also good at taking what should be innocent, and corrupting it. Again, this story did not disappoint in that department, either.
Take the title character for instance…
First, my mind went here:
Yeah, if Opie Taylor went bad, and somehow all the lessons from his dad didn’t stick…
Maybe this creature is some evil Twinner to Opie Taylor, then…
But of course, my mind went here too:
Ah, yes. Danny Bonaduce. And I don’t think this is a case of an evil Twinner. Mr. Bonaduce is capable of being bad all on his own, thank you! Now I will never look at a partridge in a pear tree the same way again!
So yes, this was one seriously creepy story. Some people literally can never escape their demons. Hallas is one of those people. His demon followed him everywhere and he was only able to get away from it by dying. The demon takes away everything that matters to Hallas: his childhood friend. his first love, his family, his marriage and eventually his life. The only way that Hallas was able to escape the creature that was tormenting him was through death. And no reason was ever give why Hallas was chosen, he just was. Often, the lottery of life will throw you some bad stuff, and there is nothing you can do but take what is dealt to you, and hope that you can somehow survive it.
And the ending to this one…oh boy..
Nobody really won at the end of the story. Hallas died at the hands of the state. Most of Hallas’ family and friends were dead. And then there was Bradley.
I would say the Bradley was the biggest loser at the end. Not only did his client die, Bradley inherited the sin of client. Of course, evil does not die. It will continue to live on, even if in a different form. So now Bradley is condemned to live with the evil, and the question is not will the evil win, but when it will win. For it will win, as the scales are tipped in its favor for eternity.
Sometimes, a good story can horrify without any hints of anything remotely supernatural. After all, man is a wolf to his fellow man (and woman). Anyone who watches the evening news will realize this almost immediately.
And anyone who reads a Stephen King book. The Master is known for his monsters. Pennywise the Clown, Randall Flagg, and Tak are all scary, but they are not human. Henry Bowers, Norman Daniels, Eldred Jonas and Charles Burnside are also scary, but they are not supernatural creatures, but are “human”, at least in appearance. And often, the “human monsters” make for the more intriguing story line. When I read a book like It, Pennywise the Clown has the ability to scare me into a change of pants, no doubt. But that book, along with most other King books, is also filled with intriguing “human monsters”, most of which make a clown living in the sewers seem like small potatoes by comparison. And that is some good writing right there!
And once again, in his collection Bazaar of Bad Dreams, King has created a story, Morality, where humans are pitted against their fellow humans, with nary a supernatural creature in sight. And this story is guaranteed to be as unsettling as King’s tales of clowns that live in sewers. Perhaps more so.
Here is my recap and review of Morality.
The story centers around Chad and Nora, a couple living in New York City. Chad works as a substitute teacher while he attempts to write his first book. Nora works as an in-home nurse to a man known as Reverend George Winston, or “Winnie.” Winnie has suffered stroke and needs constant, round-the-clock care. Chad and Nora’s financial situation is precarious, as they often struggle to make ends meet and are also seriously in debt to several credit card companies.
Nora has let her employer know of her financial situation, and comes home one night to tell Chad that Winnie has a proposal for her: Nora will commit an act of transgression, and if she can give evidence to Winnie that this act has been performed, she will receive at least $200,000. We are not told what the act is, but it is clear that she struggles with the decision, as does Chad. Winnie tells Nora that no matter what happens, there will be no hard feelings and he will give her an excellent reference. Winnie also tells Nora that he wishes to commit sin because he has (in his own mind) lived a life of virtue and is curious about what it is like to commit sin. We also learn that Winnie is extremely rich, as he has inherited wealth from his father.
Nora continues to struggle with decision, as does Chad. Chad tells Nora that his book may help them out of their financial struggles, but there is no guarantee. Nora does not like the decision, but decides that she will commit the act of sin for Winnie. She tells Winnie of this, but is not happy. Nora worries about the legal implications, but Winnie says that she would likely only receive probation if caught.
Chad obtains a video camera to record evidence of the sin, and Nora dyes her hair so that she will not be caught. They go to a park in the city, and Chad records Nora committing the sin. Nora hops into a cab, per their pre-arranged plans, and meets Chad at their apartment once the deed is committed.
We learn that the sin Winnie wanted Nora to commit was to punch as child in the face. And Nora has committed that sin, which Chad has record of because he has recorded it on the video camera. Almost immediately, Chad and Nora make love. Nora demands that Chad hit her in the mouth while they make love, and becomes aroused by the act of violence.
Nora gives the video tape to Winnie, and immediately receives the money from him. She also immediately resigns from the position, and takes another job as a nurse to a woman in her building. Chad is also able to cut back on his hours as a substitute teacher, and begins to work on finishing his book. Nora also receives a visit from a police officer, but it is in regards to an overdue library book, not the incident that was filmed for Winnie.
Chad and Nora’s love life begins to take on a violent twist, as Nora becomes aroused when Chad hits her. They also prepare to move to Vermont, and are able to purchase a house with the proceeds from the act of sin. Nora is also unfaithful to Chad, sleeping with the police officer who had paid her the visit in regards to the overdue library book.
The marriage of Chad and Nora begins to dissolve, even after the couple moves to Vermont. Nora also finds out that Winnie has passed away. Nora believes that Winnie actually committed suicide, even though the autopsy states that he suffered from kidney failure. Nora also worries about the video and whether or not she will be incriminated in the act.
Nora also receives a postcard after she and Chad move to Vermont. The postcard is from Winnie and dated the day before his death. Chad’s book is published, but Nora mocks him, and Chad punches her in the face. The couple soon divorce, and Chad returns to New York. He does not ask Nora for any of her money in the divorce settlement.
The following summer Nora finds a full-time job at the local hospital and takes up gardening as a hobby. She finds a book titled “The Basis of Morality”, which is a book she had seen in Winnie’s study when she was employed by him. Nora spends the summer reading the book cover to cover, but finds no new useful information.
Dear Sai King,
What the actual fuck? What the fucking fuck?
Morality has to be one of the most fucked up pieces of writing I have ever read. And I have been reading you for over 25 years now!
Keep up the good fucking work, sir!
Your (delighted) Constant Reader .
Seriously, I just do not have words for this story…
Again, this story got to me, and there were no supernatural elements at all.
First of all, I identified with Chad and Nora. I have said it before, and I will say it again: Stephen King is a master at including elements of reality in all of his stories, both supernatural and “real.” Chad and Nora’s situation is something I identify with. I have lost my job, my husband has lost his job, and yet we still had bills to pay. When money gets tight, things get scary really quickly. Almost as scary as a Stephen King book…
Another thing about this story. The bad guys…
As in, I really don’t think there was one. I can’t call Nora and Chad “bad”. Sure, they engaged in doing something that was pretty bad (slapping a kid is not cool, even if it’s one of Bebe’s offspring), but they didn’t kill anybody. I would not say there were any lasting effects on the victim. The ones who were actually hurt the most (other than the kid and his mom), were actually Chad and Nora. After that incident, their lives took a downward turn and they did NOT get a happy ending (in typical King fashion).
And I don’t even think that I can call Winnie a bad guy either. It appeared that he had spent much of life his life trying to do good deeds. He used his money for humanitarian causes as well. I think that he was perhaps a bit jaded, or maybe even a bit naive, but he did not strike me as “bad”, either. And it appeared that he suffered after the incident as well, as he committed suicide.
As stated before, this story did not have a happy ending. But I still thought that the ending was great. It was realistic ending. Pretty much everything I expected happened: Nora got the money, she and Chad moved and she and Chad divorced. So it was a little predictable, but I enjoyed it. I was also not surprised that Nora developed the odd “fetish” that she did. Again, I enjoy the realism in King’s stories, and this one delivered on that front.
I also liked that Nora read a book that had actually been a part of Winnie’s collection on the subject of morality, but was not able to find any satisfying answers in it. After all, is life ever really that simple? Like Nora, even if you can write a book on a particular subject, does that really mean that the book will contain all the answers that you seek? But reality is never that cut and dried anyway, as much as we wish it was.
So, it’s that time of year again…
Yes, Halloween is drawing upon us…
The season for scary stuff!
But there is a good remedy for when your football team is so embarrassing that the local Fox syndicate switches from the Colts game to the game played by the other not scary good team (the Washington Redskins, as a matter of fact)…
Yes, a little therapy from The Master!
Football team got ya down? Go read some Stephen King, and be reminded as to what is really scary! Suddenly, two interceptions thrown by your darling quarterback (sorry Andrew, you know I still got love for ya) seems pretty tame!
Yes, Stephen King is scary.
Well, his writing, at any rate. He doesn’t look too threatening in that picture, but one never knows.
Stephen King is many things, and I have spent an incredible amount of time on this blog (who knew) addressing those things. Most importantly, he is a great writer. He has the ability to even appeal to the non-horror fan (well, the one who will give him a chance, anyway). He creates characters that readers get attached to (and kills them off and seems almost gleeful about it, but I digress). He is also the Everyman, giving the reader realistic scenarios, and then casually placing in the horror and/or fantastical element, making the story that much more believable.
But, I would like to get back to fundamentals for a moment, if I may. Stephen King writes scary stories. This may sound like Captain Obvious tooting his horn, but the man is able to frighten folks. And frighten folks badly. It could be the fact that seemingly “good” characters often go “bad”, at the drop of a hat. Or maybe it’s the element of realism that makes it seem a certain room in a hotel really could be bad news. Or maybe because he makes great villains, including evil clowns, that haunt the dreams of many a 90’s kid.
Whatever the reason, people find Stephen King books frightening. And many enjoy being frightened. Some people skydive (eek). Some watch Indianapolis Colts football (eeek, maybe I should skydive instead). Some people enjoy drag racing.
And then there are the stalwart, the steadfast, the bold (you know, like me?)…we read Stephen King for our fear fix! After all, gotta get the good old adrenaline rush somehow, right?
And a King book will give you that and then some! In fact, many King books may just scare you into a change of pants!
With that being said, here is my list of the top 10 scariest books of all time. Please note, this is my opinion only, and not to be taken as gospel…
Oh, and as always:
10) Rose Madder
As I have stated before, one of King’s strengths as a writer of horror is the human horror. Sometimes (well actually, a lot of times), men are beasts to their fellow man…
The villain in the book Rose Madder is human. Well, in appearance at least. However, on the inside, Norman Daniels does not pass for human. Not even remotely.
Norman Daniels savagely abuses his wife Rosie, for the nearly 14 years of their marriage. To boot, he is racist. And uses his position as a police officer to grossly abuse his power and literally get away with murder. It is only a mere drop of blood on the sheets that awakens Rosie one morning, when she runs away from her hellhole of a marriage and attempts to begin a new life, free of the horrific abuse. But, as can be expected, Norman does not take Rosie’s flight lightly, and leaves behind a trail of bodies in his quest for revenge and his hunt for Rosie. It takes a magical painting set in the world of our friendly neighborhood gunslinger for Norman’s trail of blood to be halted. Even then, the death count is enormous, and Rosie is barely able to cope with the events.
There is a line in the book that where Rosie thinks that after surviving her horror of a marriage to Norman, anything else is pretty cut rate. As a survivor of an abusive marriage, I would have to agree with that assessment. When you are married to an abuser, you don’t need to Stephen King or scary movies to get your fear fix. An argument with your spouse will give you that fix in spades.
Stephen King has cited HP Lovecraft as an enormous influence. This is evident in his novel From a Buick 8, which tells the story of a mysterious vehicle that becomes the charge of a police department in a small town in Pennsylvania.
It quickly becomes evident to one of the officers of that police department that the “vehicle” is not actually a vehicle at all, but rather an object from another dimension beyond human understanding. The vehicle becomes the center of many odd occurrences, and the police department struggles to do damage control. However, the vehicle is responsible for the disappearance of at least one person and the death of the department’s mascot, a dog named Mr. Dillon. There is even a confrontation of sorts with one of the creatures from the unknown dimension. The images King paints are disturbing, especially when he references the fact that our world may be as frightening or even more frightening to those creatures as their world is to us.
What is perhaps most disturbing about this novel is the fact that the “vehicle” very nearly traps a young man who is the son of a fallen police officer, and sees the “vehicle” as his one remaining connection to his father. The young man is saved by timely intervention from another officer, but barely. Sometimes, a person with an obsession is the most frightening of all.
Revival is another novel that deals with our fear of the unknown. More specifically, Revival deals with the last of the unknown frontiers: death, and what may happen once we die.
Revival is also a morality play, much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. If we have the means to find out what happens after death, should we? And what will be the consequences if we intervene in matters that we (probably) have no business intervening in?
The consequences for Jamie Morton and his friend Charles Jacobs are not pretty. Jamie Morton first met Charles when he was a child, and Charles was the pastor in his rural hometown. However, tragedy strikes Charles Jacobs, and he is forced to leave town after a disastrous sermon that comes to be known as “The Terrible Sermon.” The experience shakes Jamie’s religious beliefs to the core, and Jamie is never quite the same afterwards.
Charles is also shaken to the core by this tragedy, and quickly becomes a man obsessed. Charles discovers what he refers to as “the secret electricity”, and believes that this mysterious force will allow him to find out what happens after death. Jamie refers to Charles as his “fifth business” throughout the book, and encounters him by chance when he is an adult. Jamie is addicted to heroin, and Charles is able to use his “secret electricity” to cure Jamie of his addiction. Jamie feels that he owes Charles a debt, and agrees to help him conduct what turns out to be his final experiment: using the “secret electricity” to find out what happens when we die.
And it turns out that sometimes ignorance is bliss. As stated before, the consequences are not pretty for Jamie and Charles, and Jamie’s “cure” for his heroin addiction has come at an enormous price. The ending is disturbing, reinforcing the belief that at least sometimes, not knowing is the best option of all.
Yes, I know that this entry actually consists of two books. However, I am considering one work for my purposes, since both books mirror each other, with one being written by Stephen King, and the other being a posthumous script from the poor, beleaguered Richard Bachman, who died an untimely death due to cancer of the pseudonym.
Both Desperation and The Regulators are also tied together by one of King’s uber-villains, Tak. Tak may not be as creepy as Randall Flagg or Pennywise the Clown (at least to some), but he is able to hold his own in the King universe. Tak is frightening because he is able to drain people almost like human batteries (mostly), and discards them in the same manner. However, there is one human that Tak cannot drain, and that is Seth Garin (the autistic boy in The Regulators). What Tak does to Seth is perhaps even more frightening: he uses Seth body to manipulate his surroundings, causing the suicide of Seth’s uncle, exploiting Seth’s aunt and killing many people in Seth’s neighborhood. Ultimately, Tak is beaten, but at the cost of Seth’s life and many others.
Desperation and The Regulators are not only frightening because of the entity Tak, but also because they deal with a theme that many of us can relate to: isolation. Desperation begins with a couple who becomes stranded in a small, seemingly abandoned desert town after they experience vehicle trouble. In The Regulators, Seth and his aunt are isolated due to Seth’s handicap and Tak’s effort to alienate Seth’s family from those who might help them. Isolation is a big theme in many King books, and once again it adds that element of realism to the story to make it that much more frightening.
6) The Stand
It is no secret that horror and fantasy are closely related. In fact, one could almost say that horror is fantasy taken to the next, darker step. From the Orcs in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to the witches in SA Hunt’s Malus Domestica, to the Others in the Game of Thrones series, many works that are considered to be fantasy and not horror certainly contain some frightening elements.
The Stand is another book that toes the line between dark fantasy and horror. On one hand, there are reluctant heroes (Larry, Stu and Nick). But on the other hand, there is an evil wizard figure (Randall Flagg). The evil wizard tends to be a common archetype in fantasy stories (Sauron is a good example). But Flagg is something beyond the ordinary evil wizard (if such a thing exists). Flagg invades the dreams of the survivors of a great plague that has wiped out most of Earth’s population. Frannie Goldsmith is one of those survivors. Frannie is pregnant, and dreams of being chased by The Dark Man (Flagg), who has a coat hanger in his hand. Nick Andros and Tom Cullen, two other survivors who are a deaf-mute man and mildly mentally handicapped man respectively, encounter Flagg’s presence when they seek shelter from a tornado that may have been sent by Flagg to dispose of them. Mother Abagail, who is Flagg’s counterpart on the side of the White, encounters Flagg when she is gathering food for her charges. Flagg has transformed to a weasel, the one creature that frightens the old woman. Mother Abagail is nearly beaten by Flagg, but is still able to best him the end.
The Stand is one of King’s best books, blending both elements of fantasy and horror to make it a truly frightening, yet fantastical read.
5) Black House
Black House is another novel (co-written by Peter Straub) that may be considered part of the fantasy genre, along with its predecessor, The Talisman. However, it is Black House (much like The Stand) that toes the line between fantasy and horror.
One of the reasons Black House is so frightening is because it contains a human villain that is unfortunately all too realistic. There is a supernatural villain, a creature known as Mr. Munshun, and King’s ultimate uber-villain, the Crimson King, is also alluded to in the book. However, the human villain, Charles Burnside, is another person that is human in appearance only. Charles Burnside appears to be a senile man suffering from the indignities of dementia and living out his final days in peace in an unsuspecting nursing home. However, the reader learns that Burnside is actually a serial killer who targets children. Burnside has made a grisly contract with Mr. Munshun and the Crimson King: he allows Mr. Munshun to possess his body so that he may murder children, in exchange for seeking out children PSI abilities who Munshan and the Crimson King can use for their evil purposes. Charles Burnside and Mr. Munshun are eventually defeated, but not before Burnside has murdered several children and left a small town nearly paralyzed in fear.
Charles Burnside is another one of King’s chilling examples of man’s inhumanity to man.
4) ‘Salem’s Lot
If I mentioned ‘Salem’s Lot to you, and you responded with “vampire story”, you would be correct…
But, wait…there’s more!
‘Salem’s Lot is indeed a book about vampires. And those vampires are scary. The head vampire is killed but his TEETH are still alive and bit Ben Mears…so the vampires in this book are indeed gruesome.
But, like most r
eally everything single thing he has ever written of King’s work, ‘Salem’s Lot is much more than a vampire story. Much, much more, in fact.
‘Salem’s Lot is a story about a small town, and how the small town succumbs to the vampire plague. There is clinical language and some medical terms included when the “patients” are diagnosed, and that just adds another level of gruesomeness to what is already frightening. Also, the description of how quickly the people in the town are either transformed to vampires or killed in some awful manner is quite disturbing, given how attached the reader gets to these characters and the town itself.
However, ‘Salem’s Lot is also a haunted story. Most of the action centers around the Marsten House, which is the local haunted house. We learn some of the history of the house through Ben Mears, who believes he saw the ghost of the former owner as a child. The house was a site for many terrible deeds that involved children, and King is able to weave this seamlessly into the vampire tale, thus adding an extra dimension of terror to an already scary story.
Note: Nowhere is it mentioned in ‘Salem’s Lot that vampires sparkle!
3) The Shining
The Shining is another King work where there is more than meets the eye. Perhaps the most famous, or perhaps infamous (thank you, Stanley Kubrik), of all King’s work. On the surface, the story is another haunted house story (well, haunted hotel actually). The ghosts wreak havoc on the Torrance family, and there are some truly scary moments involving the supernatural aspect of the story (the blood from the walls, the dead woman in the bathtub and a ghostly New’s Year Eve party all come to mind, along with several others).
However, what many people may fail to realize is that The Shining is also frightening because it tells the story of the disintegration of the family unit. Humans are social animals, and to most of us, the family is the most important unit of all. The Torrance family feels the same. Danny loves his parents, even they (especially his father, Jack) have failed him on many occasions. Wendy and Jack Torrance love Danny, and each other as well. Jack wants to do nothing more to provide for his family, which is why he takes a job that is less than ideal, given his education and his addiction to alcohol. But that family unit slowly begins to dissolve even at the beginning of the story. However, we are led to believe that maybe there is hope for this family, as they make an effort to draw together and achieve a fresh start. Tragically, this is not the case, as Jack ultimately succumbs to his demons, and Wendy and Danny barely escape with their lives.
Again, Stephen King is a master at including that element of realism in his stories, making them that much more believable and terrifying.
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
We all have fears. When you are an adult, they may be more abstract, such as fear of failure, financial worries, fear of divorce and so forth. But children’s fears are pretty concrete: most fear things such as movie monsters, vampires, spiders and so forth. So what if there was a monster out there that could take the form of whatever a child feared most, and literally scare them to death? And maybe this monster needs to only be visible to kids (since adult fears are too abstract to capitalize on) and live under the sewers, where It can quietly do its dirty work?
Enter Pennywise the Clown!
And yes, Pennywise the Clown makes the novel It terrifying. He is a clown that lives under the sewers…first strike. He can take on the form of ANYTHING that one fears…strike two. And Pennywise is an extra dimensional monster…I know, not really giving that clown a good character reference, am I?
However, as frightening as Pennywise is (which is at a level 19, at least), there are so many other aspects to this book that nearly beat out the clown that lives in the sewers. It deals with spousal abuse, child abuse and bullying. The Losers Club spends most of that terrible summer in a lot of danger, but much of that danger is NOT supernatural. The children face bullying from the local town bully, and must constantly watch their backs. The adults in town do not care about either the danger under the sewers (even though most can’t see it, nearly everyone is aware of its presence). Nor do the adults care about the bullies, even though they are as aware of the bullies as they are of the monster under the sewers. The lone female Loser, Beverly Marsh, is being abused by her father, and the abuse is becoming increasingly sexual in nature. Other children are abused or neglected. It seems that no one is safe from the town of Derry, and if one is not killed by Pennywise, his/her parent or spouse will step in and do the job instead.
Childhood is hell. There is no other way to put it. And It capitalizes on that concept, showing us just how much more hellish it is for some than others.
And now, for what I believe to be the scariest Stephen King book of all time…
Yes, Pet Sematary has made the top of the list, and I consider it to be King’s scariest book of all time for a multitude of reasons. So let’s talk about those reasons.
First of all, the concept of Pet Sematary is really scary. An ancient Native American burial ground, poisoned by the spirit of a Wendigo that has the ability to re-animate dead animals that come back as zombies, which teaches kids that “sometimes dead is better.” Can anything get scarier than that? I have read a lot of stories about the Wendigo too. and the Wendigo is one of the creepiest entities I have ever come across. So, yes, very disturbing right there…
But the burial ground is not only for animals. No, the burial ground can be used for humans too, so yay?
Well, not really. When humans are buried at the site, they do not come back right either. And the problems are way more serious than a nasty smell or the need to hunt more rodents than usual. The Wendigo is able to possess the body of the human, and render its subject with knowledge that he/she should not have. And this knowledge is not pleasant. Most of the knowledge is of the hateful variety: affairs and other dastardly deeds that were better off to remain secret. The Wendigo is not benevolent, and has malice towards the living.
However, to me, the scariest thing about Pet Sematary is that I relate to Louis Creed. The only evil in the book is the Wendigo spirit. Gage Creed is not evil, he is the victim of a terrible tragedy, in both life and death. Jud Crandall is not evil, he is a kind man who was only trying to help his friend. Rachel Creed is not evil, she is only a protective mother who has an (understandable) fear of death. Church the cat is not even evil, he is simply a beloved pet who also became an unfortunate victim of circumstances.
Most of all, Louis Creed is not evil. He is a loving father who (again, understandably) became mad with grief, and was willing to do anything to bring his son back and make his family whole again. He believes that he has found a way to do that, and that he can also use science to combat any problems. Sadly, he is proven horribly wrong, condemning himself and his family to an eternity of damnation. But if I were Lewis, and placed in his tragic situation, who is to say that I would not do the same thing? I am close to someone who has lost a child, and the pain is unbearable. You will do anything to stop it, even if it is something that may have dire consequences later on down the line.
So if I knew there was a possibility that I could bring back a deceased loved one, who is to say that I wouldn’t? I would be thinking about my loved one, not about any consequences. And that is frightening to me: to be that mad with grief that I would be willing to ignore Nature, and get involved with matters that I really have no business being involved with. And grief is frightening in that way: the pain blinds us, so we cannot see what is in front of us that may actually be worse than the grief.
Ghosts are scary…
Vampires are scary…
Haunted hotels are scary…
Heck, Indianapolis Colts football is scary!
But what is the scariest thing of all?
That’s right, someone who has never experienced the awesomeness that is a Stephen King book!
Why should Christmas get all the fun? It is also allowable to give gifts on Halloween, so do your part, and give someone who has never had this experience the greatest Halloween gift of all: a Stephen King book!
They are the worst!
You have fun, you party hard and life is good!
Until you wake up, and can’t piece together your night, and find out later that you had some wild shenanigans with your friends and maybe even got married the previous night…
Well, maybe its not quite that bad, but they are no fun. No fun at all.
Yeah, nothing like reading an awesome book series, going crazy and having all kinds of fun…
Until you are done reading those books. And then the payback…oh, the payback…
Yes, I am referencing a book hangover. I have had my share of the other kind of hangover, but given that this blog is devoted to all things nerdy, I thought I would acknowledge book hangovers…after all, the struggle is real!
If you have been following this blog at all over the past 6 months or so (and I truly thank
both all of my devoted fans), you would know that I just finished reading all eight (all eight!) Dark Tower books. I read the revised edition of The Gunslinger! I even read The Wind Through the Keyhole!
And this series is epic…it was penned by The Master, after all!
But so much epic-ness has a consequence. And the past six months were an epic party: I felt invincible. I chugged
shots books like no one’s business. And I am sure if there was a literary equivalent of a keg stand, I did that too.
But all good things must come to an end, and that includes my read and review of The Dark Tower series. And I have been nursing that hangover for a couple of weeks now. Like in my younger partying days, I have been averse to light and noise. And just looking at
food books has made me feel pretty nauseous…
So I needed a cure. The literary equivalent of a comfy couch, gallons of Gatorade and a carb filled breakfast to settle my insides…what was a nerd to do?
Well, after much searching (actually not that much searching), I found my cure…
No, not the hair of the dog that bit me!
A much better cure. A cure that offers a long term solution:
No, I did not wear a pair of Horns on my head!
I am talking about the man behind the horns himself…
None other than Joe Hill!
As most people know, Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King. And he writes scary stories. And he has a wicked sense of humor. A regular chip off the old block, in other words.
But the comparisons end there. Make no mistake, Stephen King is Stephen King (and I don’t want it any other way). And Joe Hill is Joe Hill. I don’t want that any other way, either. He can write a scary story like Dad, and sculpt interesting characters that the readers become invested in (again, just like Dad).
Again, make no mistake about it: Joe Hill may have some similarities to his old man (and his stories may also link with Dad’s and could be considered a part of Dad’s universe), but his style is all his own.
And I love it. Its refreshing. Kind of like the literary equivalent of a comfy couch, gallons of Gatorade and a carb filled breakfast to settle your insides…
In other words, I found the perfect (literary) hangover cure: Joe Hill. And reading his work is much better than trying to ingest some of the hair of the dog that bit me!
So, I chose the book Heart Shaped Box to help ease my hangover. And it was perfect: scary, great characters and great setting. In other words, just what I needed to ease the pain, and make me a little less grouchy.
And without further ado, here is my review of my hangover cure, aka the book Heart Shaped Box!
The book begins with an introduction to a man named Judas Coyne. We learn that Judas is a musician for a heavy metal band who has been moderately successful. We also learn that Judas has a penchant for collecting macabre souvenirs: a snuff film, a piece of artwork from a serial killer, and a few other unusual items.
One of these items is a ghost. Jude receives an email offering the ghost of a man who has recently died for sale, and promptly pays the $1000 asking price. The “ghost” arrives at Judas’ home a few days later, and is actually a suit that was owned by the dead man, Craddock McDermott.
Almost immediately, Judas begins to notice odd occurrences that coincide with the arrive of his “ghost.” His girlfriend Georgia (whose real name is Marybeth), pricks her finger on one of the pins that holds the suit together, and her finger becomes infected. Judas’ dogs, Bon and Angus, become aggressive in the presence of the suit. Judas begins to have odd dreams. And worst of all, Judas begins to see an apparition of what can only be the dead man, whose eyes resemble squiggly lines. The ghost also carries a razor on a silver chain and brandishes it as a weapon. This causes his girlfriend Georgia to recall an incident from her childhood, when she also encountered a ghost: Georgia glanced out the window of her grandmother’s house, and saw what appeared to be a little girl, who also had eyes that looked like black squiggly lines. Georgia later finds out that this is the ghost of her grandmother’s sister, who disappeared as a child and was never found. Judas becomes frightened, as he realizes that he is actually being haunted and that this ghost does not have good intentions.
Judas makes a phone call to Jessica, the woman who sold him the suit. He then finds out that Jessica is actually the sister to one of his former girlfriends, Florida (whose name is really Anna). Jessica tells Judas that Anna committed suicide, and blames Jude’s breakup with her for Anna’s death. The “ghost” is actually the girls’ stepfather Craddock McDermott, and Jessica reminds Jude that he has paid for the ghost of the old man, and will forever be cursed.
The odd occurrences continue. Judas’ assistant Danny realizes that ghost intends to kill everyone associated with Jude, and resigns from his position immediately. Judas later receives an odd late night phone call from Danny, who has actually committed suicide. Judas falls asleep in one of his vehicles, and nearly dies from carbon monoxide poisoning. The ghost continues to torment Judas, even after Georgia burns the suit. Judas sees an old pick up truck that belongs to the dead man. The ghost continues to taunt Judas, flashing the razors that Anna used to commit suicide. Georgia becomes frightened, and encourages Jude to leave town with her.
Judas has a final confrontation at his home with the ghost, but is saved by the intervention of his dogs. He theorizes that dogs can act as familiars and are therefore able to fight the ghost. Judas leaves his home with Georgia and the dogs, and heads to Louisiana to confront Jessica. Georgia insists that they stop and visit her grandmother, and also tells Judas that they may need to raise the spirit of Anna to fight the ghost of Craddock McDermott.
The next morning, Jude awakens in the hotel room with a particular tune in his head that he plays on his guitar. Jude notices that the ghost is not present when he is playing the tune on his guitar. However, the ghost reminds Jude and Georgia of its presence when they venture out of the hotel room, without the dogs or the mysterious tune. Georgia nearly commits suicide per the suggestion of the ghost of Craddock McDermott. Jude and Georgia then hightail it to Georgia’s grandmother’s house.
Jude and Georgia arrive at Georgia’s grandmother’s house, and use Georgia’s old Ouija board to summon the spirit of Anna McDermott. They are successful, and receive a plea from Anna to stop the ghost of her stepfather. Later on Jude sees the ghost of Georgia’s grandmother’s dead sister, and actually speaks to her, telling her to to not leave with her kidnappers. Georgia’s grandmother tells Jude that this may put the spirit to rest, as someone has shown some concern about her fate and attempted to speak to her. Despite the pleas from her grandmother, Georgia and Jude continue on their journey.
Before he leaves Georgia’s hometown, Jude stops at a local used car lot, and confronts the man who molested Georgia as a teenager. Jude punches the man in the face, and takes one of his loafers as a souvenir, so that Georgia may have some closure.
Judas and Georgia then confront Jessica at her house. Jude tells Jessica that Anna did not kill herself, but was rather hypnotized by her stepfather, who actually cut her wrists. Jessica and Anna had both been abused by their stepfather, and McDermott continued the abuse with Jessica’s daughter. Anna had threatened to go to the police and press charges, and her death was an attempt to keep her quiet. A bloody fight then ensues at the house, and McDermott’s ghost returns and turns Jessica’s daughter Reese against Georgia and Jude. Reese is able to shoot Jude with a gun, which results in the loss of Jude’s finger. Reese also shoots Jude’s dog Bon and mortally wounds her. Georgia and Jude escape, but barely.
Once Georgia and Jude escape to their vehicle, Judas has a vision where he witnesses the final confrontation between Anna, Jessica and their stepfather. Anna does indeed threaten legal action, and Jessica and McDermott blame her changed behavior on Jude, and cover up Anna’s death with a staged suicide. Jude awakens from his trance, and the ghost of Craddock McDermott speaks to him on the radio, again telling Jude that this confrontation will result in his death.
Judas and Georgia then reach their destination: Jude’s childhood home. However, Jude’s other dog, Angus, passes away on the journey, leaving Jude with no protection from the ghost.
The ghost returns to Jude while Jude tries to recuperate from his injury. The ghost possesses the body of Jude’s dying father. Georgia has a show down with Craddock McDermott, and shoots Jude’s father, killing him. The ghost vacates the dead body, but Georgia is able to channel the spirit of Anna, who calls Craddock McDermott back to the afterlife and away from the corporate world. However, this causes Georgia to become trapped in the afterlife.
Jude is able to bring Marybeth back from the afterlife, and the two spend some time in the hospital recovering. Georgia and Jude return to New York and eventually get married and adopt new dogs. Jessica is arrested by local authorities for abusing her daughter and faces a lengthy prison sentence. Several years later, Jessica’s daughter Reese hitchhikes to New York and visits Jude and Georgia, thanking them for their actions. The couple sends Reese on her way, giving her money and a ride so that she may build a better life for herself.
I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.
I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.
I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.
I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.
I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.
I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.
I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.
I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.
I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.
I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.
I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.
I will not…
Oh, wait…ah, screw it, I’m human and the comparison is inevitable, dammit!
But although I may compare Joe Hill to Dad (a lot, hey I am human, at least the doctors tell me that…haha), I still want to emphasize that Joe Hill is Joe Hill…
And like Dad (damn comparisons), there is so much to love about Joe Hill…
One thing I love about a Joe Hill is that he is close to my age (six years OLDER than me, in case you cared). So many of his references are…well…recognizable. In other words, I don’t have to turn to Google (much) to get them…
Even the title of this book:
Yep, it seems the title of his book is a tribute to the guy above. Someone who colored much of my adolescence (and Joe Hill’s too, I am sure), and who still continues to influence my generation (and beyond to this day).
And there is the character of Jude himself…
And how can Jude NOT be a tribute to this guy:
Maybe we have a Twinner, ladies and gentleman! Jude biting the head off of a bat does not actually seem that far fetched, if you think about it…
Oh, boy…and speaking of Jude…
Judas Coyne has to be one of the most complex characters in any book I have ever read…
In fact, he may even rival our friendly neighborhood gunslinger!
When I read this book, I am just not sure what to do with Judas. Sometimes, I just want to Tombstone him (although he would probably enjoy that, and that would actually be kind of fitting)! But then he beats the living shit out of the man who molested his girlfriend as a child…
Jude takes Georgia’s (Marybeth’s) word for it, and hunts the man down. And pummels him. Hard. Really hard. And then I just wanted to give him a big old kiss, tongue and all. Won’t the first time a literary character has gotten me hot. Nor the last…
And speaking of sexual abuse: I spent the first half or so of this book being petrified…
I mean, there was a guy with squiggly marks for eyes and a silver razor for a weapon who kept appearing and wouldn’t go away (well, except he hated dogs and haunting guitar melodies, apparently). And the fact that Jude owned him because he paid for him (really, we need more disclaimers on these online purchases): shudder. Burning the suit didn’t stop, he just hopped into his ghastly truck and continued his campaign of terrorism that way. He even had the power to give poor Marybeth (Georgia) a nasty infection on finger…eek!
But the second half of the book was different. I was no longer scared. Not scared at all. Instead, I got pissed. Righteously pissed, in fact!
As Hill began to reveal more about what was really going on, i.e. the abuse suffered by poor Anna, Georgia’s molestation and even the abuse suffered by Jude, who had to make adjustments so that he could continue playing guitar, the ghost with the squiggly eyes took a backseat. My fear was replaced with anger: how can people you are supposed to trust (parents, your friends’ parents, etc) be so…well…shitty? What on earth is wrong with people? How can you abuse your own stepdaughter, and then treat her in such a condescending manner when she (understandably) sinks into to depression? How can you, when you were abused by your stepfather, along with your sister, allow your stepfather to do the same to YOUR daughter?
In other words, Heart Shaped Box is something beyond a ghost story. This is not to diminish the ghost story, which is creepy and terrifying in its own right. But there is so much more to this story than ghosts with icky looking eyes. It is a story of abuse, obviously. Nearly every single character, including Judas, was a victim of abuse at some point. And the effects of that abuse were felt for a long, long time (including the effects on Jude, whose father’s abuse took quite the toll on him and likely affected his adult life, such as his decision to not have children, his divorce, etc).
Heart Shaped Box also deals with betrayal. Nearly every single character has been betrayed by some he/she was supposed to trust, or betrayed someone who trusted him/her. Jude was betrayed by his father, who abused him, and his mother, who did not protect him from the abuse. Georgia was molested by a family friend. Anna was abused her stepfather, and Reese was abused by the same man. Both women were also sold out by Jessica, the sister and mother who should have protected them. Jude also does his share of betraying: he turns Anna away when she needs him most, sending her back to the hornets nest, which ultimately leads to her death. And Jude nearly betrays Georgia, as he puts her life at risk in order to defeat the ghost of Craddock McDermott.
However, Heart Shaped Box is also a book about redemption. The characters may have suffered abuse and betrayal, but many are able to obtain redemption. Georgia is able to confront her abuser and obtain some closure, which allows Anna to help her and Jude from beyond the grave. Jude is also able to obtain redemption, as he is able to save Georgia, unlike Anna. Jude also obtains redemption because he and Georgia are able to turn Reese’s situation around for her, so she does not suffer the same fate as her aunt. Even Anna obtains redemption. Although she is dead, she is still able to defeat her stepfather and save her niece from her stepfather’s evil influence. And Reese is perhaps the most redeemed character of all: she is able to escape from her family and finally begin to build a normal, happy life.
Well, I am starting to feel a little better…
The literary hangover is slowly dissipating…
Turns out a bit of the old Joe Hill was just what I needed…
So thank you Joe Hill. Whether I am hung over, or have been stone cold sober for days on end, you are just what the doctor ordered!