Kisses in the Dark: My Review of the Little Green God of Agony

SK short story

As I have stated before, I like to be scared.  I like to be creeped out.  I like to read a story that makes me shudder, close the book for a minute and then still open it back up, because I JUST HAVE to find out what happens next…will the monster be bested somehow, or will it feed?

And what better way to be scared…than…you guessed it…read a Stephen King book (hey, it’s this blog, don’t act surprised)?

Stephen King

Stephen King is scary.  Water is wet and the sun sets in the west.  So duh, in other words.  Stephen King is a great writer, creates great characters and is able to hook his Constant Reader to his tale.  And one of the ways he hooks someone into a story is by scaring them into a change of pants (or is that just me?)

And more than a few of the stories in King’s latest collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, are exactly that:  scary.  Frightening.  May make one leave the lights on at night.  Disturbing and terrifying, even.

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In other words, just what the (creepy) doc ordered.

The short story The Little Green God of Agony would be part of that creepy doctor’s prescription.  It may be a quick read, but it is definitely packed with lots of vitamin F (vitamin Fear, for the uninitiated).  And there is nothing like a good dose of vitamin F to get you up and going in the morning (although this guy yapping in your face will also do the trick, but I digress).

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I know, how frightening!


 

Synopsis

The Little Green God of Agony tells of a woman named Katherine McDonald, who is an in-home nurse for a man named Newsome.  About two years ago, Newsome was involved in an accident that injured him horribly, leaving him in a massive amount of pain.  Katherine cares for Newsome and attempts to involve him physical therapy that she believes will help him recover and manage his pain.  However, Newsome is not cooperative in these efforts, which leads Katherine to think that he is weak.  Newsome is also very rich and compensating his staff very well (including Katherine), so Katherine stays silent on the subject, and also stays silent when Newsome tries alternative forms of therapy, which Katherine believes to be fake therapies.

Newsome has invited a preacher named Reverend Rideout to help him deal with his pain, in his latest attempt to cope with his injuries.  Rideout tells Newsome that he is actually possessed by a demon, and that is what is actually causing him the pain.  Katherine believes that this is another charlatan, but Newsome offers the reverend $10 million to cure his of his injuries.  The reverend refuses the $10 million and tells Newsome that he will take $750,000 so that he may rebuild his church, which was destroyed by a fire.  Rideout then tells Newsome that he will perform an expulsion of sorts, right then and there.

The reverend begins the ritual, and tells Newsome to describe his pain.  Newsome begins to do so, telling Katherine, Rideout and his other staff that his pain is a green ball of agony.  Katherine interrupts the ritual, and tells Newsome that he is weak and that the reverend is a charlatan.  Newsome tries to tells Katherine that she is fired, but Rideout intervenes, telling Katherine that she had become jaded, and therefore no longer able to recognize which patients are faking their pain, and which are not (with Newsome falling into the latter category).

Rideout then proceeds with the ritual, giving Katherine a can of pepper spray to fend the “demon” off with.  He also tells Newsome’s cook, Tonya, to grab a broom she that she may use it as a weapon.

The reverend cajoles the demon to leave the body of Newsome.  A bulge appears in Newsome’s throat, and the electricity powers off.  A window shatters, and the electricity powers back on.  A creature that resembles a tennis ball with green spikes for legs emerges from the body of Newsome.  Katherine swipes at the creature with a broom, and misses.  The creature then attempts to possess the body of Melissa, Newsome’s housekeeper.  However, Katherine hits Melissa in the face with a broom, and the creature leaves Melissa’s body.  Katherine and the rest of Newsome’s staff believe that they have defeated the creature.

Newsome tells Katherine that he feels better, but it appears that the reverend has died in the struggle.  The electricity then powers off again, and Katherine feels something crawl onto the back of her hand.


 

My Thoughts

So, yeah…

Um, shudder?  Or ick?  Maybe shudder ick (to coin a new term)?

In other words, this was one creepy ass story…let me count the ways!

And, in the style of Stephen King, it was creepy in more ways than one…

First of all, chronic pain.  I know that’s not a supernatural horror, but it is a “human” horror.  King writes very well about the horrors of the everyday world.  Pain is one of those horrors.  And it is one that I understand.  I am sure that King understands it much better than I do, given the horrific accident he suffered on June 19th, 1999.

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So I could understand where Newsome was coming from, to a point.  Living with pain is not fun, and it can really feel like a non stop horror movie.  And it will make a person desperate, willing to try almost anything to get relief from it.

But I could also understand how Katherine felt.  Caring for someone who suffers from chronic pain is not an easy task (my husband would testify to this, I am sure).  Chronic pain often affects more than one person, and is indeed an every day horror.

But of course, this is Stephen King.  So let’s talk about the supernatural horror already…after all, this is Stephen King!

First of all, the description of the demon, or whatever it was…

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So, thanks to Stephen King, I will never look at green koosh balls in the same way again.  Thanks, Uncle Stevie, and maybe I should thank Obama for good measure, while I am at it!

Yep, first it was St. Bernards and clowns…now we can add green kooshballs to the list!

Cujo

The build-up before the demon revealed itself was also terrifying.  King’s description of it being flushed out of Newsome and looking like a a goiter (ew much?) was just…nasty.  I can think of no other word for it.  The reverend cajoling the creature out of Newsome also created some terrifying imagery, making me think of movies like The Exorcist, although we were (thankfully) spared of green vomit coming out of people.

The ending of this story was unsettling as well.

First of all, the “good” guy, Reverend Rideout, lost his life in the fight.  I do believe that he was one of the good guys, because of his refusal to accept an excessive amount of money from Newsome, and the fact that he did give his life in the fight.  So that part was a downer.

And the ending!  The creature, whatever it was, was not defeated.  And it went on to claim its next victim in Katherine, who, ironically, was skeptical of the ritual to flush it out, and also skeptical of Newsome’s complaints.  However, I did not consider Katherine to be “bad”.  Her skepticism was understandable, and so was her impatience with her employer.  So seeing her (ostensibly) become the next victim was disturbing.  It was just further proof that monsters do not care who their victims are, only that they victims are there for the taking.

The ending reminds us that often, the monsters live.  And they continue to commit evil deeds.  And sometimes, the only thing standing between someone, and whether or not that person is victimized by the evil, is simply pure, dumb luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Top 10 Scariest Stephen King Books

So, it’s that time of year again…

Yes, Halloween is drawing upon us…

The season for scary stuff!

Like watching scary movies…Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers, here we come!

Oh, and don’t forget watching NFL football, especially Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts!  And I am not talking about the good kind of scary here, unfortunately…

Oakland Raiders v Indianapolis Colts

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!

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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.

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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:

Homer spoiler


 

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…

And woman.

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.

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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.

norman daniels


 

9)  From a Buick 8

The unknown is scary.  HP Lovecraft played upon on our fears of the great beyond, with stories such as The Colour Out of Space and The Dunwich Horror.

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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.

From_a_Buick_8_by_nosprings


8)  Revival

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?

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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.

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7) Desperation / The Regulators

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.

Stephen-King-Sons-of-Anarchy

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

morgan sloat

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.

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Charles Burnside is another one of King’s chilling examples of man’s inhumanity to man.

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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.

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But, like most really 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.

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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.

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Note:  Nowhere is it mentioned in ‘Salem’s Lot that vampires sparkle!

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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).

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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.

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2)  It

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Obviously, John F. Kennedy did not ever encounter Pennywise the Clown

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?

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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.

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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.

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And now, for what I believe to be the scariest Stephen King book of all time…

drum-roll-please


Pet Sematary

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.

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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…

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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.

Stephen King's Pet Sematary (1985)

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.

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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.

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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!

Happy reading!

RoaldDahl

The Terrible, Awful, No Good, Very Bad Day: My Review of Song of Susannah

Bad days…

Yep, we have all had them.  I have had my share, despite my loving husband and the rest of my four-legged family  (although reading and writing about Stephen King always makes me feel better!)

Like I said, we all have them…even Batman!

joker and harley

And if Batman can have a bad day every now and then, our favorite ka-tet can also have a bad day too…like I said, no one is immune to bad days…no one!

Ka_tet_by_Cordania

And boy, did our ka-tet have a doozy of a day!  Roland and company were literally all over the place, and had to deal with quite a few pests, which included not only your run of the mill goons sent by the gangster who should already be dead because he was killed in the second book of the series, but also a crazy elemental who has a maternal instinct so strong that she is capable of murder or worse…

Nope, just does not sound like a good day for our heroes.  Not in the slightest.  But luckily, they are gunslingers!  And like Batman, gunslingers always know what to do, right?

Well, maybe.  Unlike Batman, our heroes don’t have cool toys to help them through a bad day.  But like Batman, they are smart and resourceful, so they may just pull through even the worst of days…

Well, let’s find out!  Here is my review of The Song of Susannah!

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Synopsis

The Song of Susannah picks of where The Wolves of the Calla left off:  Susannah has gone missing, and the rest of the tet remains in Calla Bryn Sturgis.  Eddie is frantic, and wants to try to rescue his wife before it is too late.  Father Callahan is in shock, as he has found out that he is actually a character in a book called ‘Salem’s Lot, and may actually be the creation of a writer named Stephen King.

salem's lot

Roland and his friends request the assistance of the Manni, Calla Bryn Sturgis’ equivalent of mystics or holy men, in order to travel out of Mid-World to save Susannah, and to also help Calvin Tower, who is being harassed by gangsters to sell the vacant lot in New York City which contains a rose that is “the real world” equivalent of The Dark Tower.  Eddie and Roland are transported to 1977 Maine.  Father Callahan and Jake are also transported to New York, but arrive in the year 1999.  Oy was originally supposed to remain behind in Calla Bryn Sturgis, but someone (or something) else has other ideas, and Oy is transported with Jake and Father Callahan.

Rose

The story then switches over to the perspective of Susannah, who is now at least partially controlled by the being known as Mia.  Susannah and Mia has traveled to New York City, and it is the year of 1999.  Both women are bewildered, but Susannah uses a small scrimshaw turtle in her possession that hypnotizes people to get money from a man, who also gets her a hotel room.  Susannah finds out that Mia may have given away the location of Eddie and Roland to agents of the Crimson King, and becomes angry with Mia.  Susannah also discovers that she still has some control of her mind and body, and receives a message from Eddie to stall Mia from giving birth.  Susannah is able to do this using some visualization techniques, but knows this is only a temporary solution.

Susannah 1

Susannah also demands answers from Mia in regards to the baby that they are carrying.  Mia and Susannah travel to a construct created by Mia’s mind, and Mia explains that she made a deal with a man known as Walter.  Mia surrendered her own demonic immortality in exchange for the ability to bear a child.  However, Mia was unable to naturally conceive a child, as demons are sterile.  When Susannah was raped in the speaking ring while Jake crossed over from his world in Mid-World, she was actually impregnated, as this particular demon had also had intercourse with Roland in its female form (demon elementals are actually hermaphrodites) and had preserved Roland’s semen.  Walter then employed advanced technology to take the fetus from Susannah’s womb and had also mixed the semen of the Crimson King with Roland’s, and was then able to transfer the baby to Mia’s body, in much the same way someone would fax a document to another person.  This explained why Susannah experienced some symptoms of pregnancy while still menstruating.  Susannah is angered, but promises Mia she will still help her have the baby, which will not be human and may try to kill its mother(s).

In the meantime, Roland and Eddie are transported to 1977 Maine and almost immediately are forced into a gun battle at a general store with Enrico Balazar’s gangsters, who are also working for the Crimson King.  Two of the customers are shot, but Roland and Eddie are able to escape with the help of a crafty man named John Cullum.  Roland and Eddie are able to locate Calvin Tower, and realize that Tower has not kept his whereabouts secret.

Balazar 1

Eddie becomes angered by the actions of Calvin Tower, and confronts the man in his home as Roland and Aaron Deepenau watch.  Roland and Eddie then convince Tower that he must sell them the lot that houses for the road for $1, so that the rose may be protected from the Sombra Corporation and North Central Positronics, both of which are companies created specifically for the purpose of aiding the Crimson King in his quest to destroy the Tower.  Roland and Eddie inform Calvin that he is selling his lot to the Tet Corporation, which consists of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy.  Tower is resistant at first, but is eventually persuaded by Roland and Eddie to sell the lot.  It is revealed that one of Roland’s ancestors had a connection to Tower’s ancestors, and that Calvin’s family has been sworn to protect the Rose and the Tower.  Eddie also gives Tower some advice on future investments.  Eddie then inquires about a writer named Stephen King, and John Cullum confirms that he resides in the area.  Eddie convinces Roland that they must visit the writer, and Roland reluctantly agrees.

stephen-king-cover-ftr

Roland and Eddie then find the house of Stephen King with very little trouble.  Both men feel drawn to the place, and realize that they have encountered something special.  King faints upon meeting Roland, but does not recognize Eddie (as King has created Eddie yet).  Eddie and Roland learn that King is a conduit and his purpose is to tell their story.  Eddie and Roland also realize that King is in danger, and has been in the sights of the Crimson King for many years.  Eddie worries that King’s vices (mainly his drinking) may result in his demise.  King undergoes hypnosis under Roland, and Roland reminds him of his purpose in life:  to tell the story of the Tower. Roland and Eddie then leave King’s residence, hoping that King will live to tell their tale. King then awakens, and has forgotten about the visit.  King also becomes inspired to start the second book in the series:  The Drawing of the Three.

3 doors

Meanwhile, back in 1999 New York City, Susannah continues to attempt to delay Mia’s labor but this becomes increasingly difficult.  Susannah and Mia travel to a restaurant called The Dixie Pig, which is really a gathering spot for the Low Men, and also provides a portal back to Mid-World.  Susannah leaves behind a small, magical scrimshaw turtle figurine, in the hopes that the object will assist her friends in finding her later on.  Susannah and Mia are then transported to Fedic, a town located in Thunderclap, and Mia’s labor begins.

Dixie pig 1

Jake, Father Callahan and Oy have also been transported to 1999 New York City.  Jake discovers the scrimshaw turtle, which gives him that Susannah may still be alive. Jake and Father Callahan also track down Black 13, but nearly succumb to its sinister intentions.  However, Father Callahan is able to put the evil object “back to sleep.” Susannah has also left a telepathic message with a preacher, and Jake, Oy and Father Callahan are able to track Susannah and Mia to the Dixie Pig.  Jake and Father Callahan enter the restaurant with their weapons drawn and ready to kill.  Neither has any hope of surviving the encounter.

Jake and Oy 3

The book ends with the diary entries of Stephen King.  The diary spans from 1977 to 1999, and details King’s struggles with addiction, his writing and his many near-death experiences.  However, the diary is concluded with an article from a newspaper that states King was killed on June 19th, 1999, after he was struck by a mini van while taking an afternoon walk.

Black_13


 

 

My Thoughts

Whew, Song of Susannah

Not that “whew” is a bad thing, but it is the first thing that comes to mind when this book is mentioned.

Song of Susannah does have a different tone than any of the other books.  One of its biggest criticisms is that it feels “rushed”, as if the master himself needed to get this one out of the way to go on to bigger and better things…

And I get this criticism, I really do.  Song of Susannah is short, but it is almost like an over-packed suitcase that someone put too much in because he/she didn’t want to pay the airlines those pesky extra fees (really, I would know nothing about this).

But after I finished my read this go-around, I got to thinking (*insert danger right here, I know*).  And one of my thoughts was:  Is the rushed feeling something that King did on purpose?  Did he want us to feel rushed, when we read it, perhaps to set the mood for the last book in the series?  Did he want to create a sense of urgency, because things became urgent for our favorite ka-tet?  In other words, did he want to convey that “shit just got real?”

And the more time I spend thinking about it in this way, the more I think that I may be right.  The first three books could be almost meandering at times.  Sure, there was urgency in them (Eddie heroine addiction, saving Roland from Detta and Jake’s “birth” in Mid-World all come to mind), but the first three more have the feel of making love, where your lover takes his/her time, getting to know every inch of your body and is eager to find out what makes you tick, and just covers you with deep, slow kisses…

DT door 1

And if the first three are the literary equivalent of making love, Song of Susannah is the literary equivalent of a quickie.  Song of Susannah is urgent, and does not take the time to get to know you.  It will still kiss you, but the kisses are greedy and even a little rough at times.  Song of Susannah shoves you against the wall, grasping you with its rough hands, and will do its business with you, not caring that your clothes are not fully removed, or even that you are in the kitchen instead of the bedroom.  And this is perfectly fine, as you are eager to move forward, and the sense of urgency has been growing…

And there is nothing wrong with a quickie, literary or otherwise.  In fact, a quickie can have its charms, and Song of Susannah has many of those.

Susannah 1

One of the charms of Song of Susannah is the title character herself, Susannah Dean.  Previously, Susannah’s character had not been emphasized as much, with Roland, Eddie and Jake receiving most of the attention.  However, this changes in Song of Susannah, and Susannah’s thoughts and feelings are now front and center.  In particular, we get to see Susannah’s interaction with Mia, who has possessed her body and will stop at nothing to deliver her offspring, although there is the risk that the offspring may kill both of its “mothers”, along with its father.  The origin story that Mia provides to Susannah is fascinating, along with the explanation of how her offspring ties to Roland.  Susannah is still loyal to her ka-tet and desperately wishes to be reunited with them, especially her husband, Eddie, but also feels a pull of sympathy towards Mia, who she knows has bought the lies, hook, line and sinker,told by the Crimson King and his henchmen.  Through the eyes of Susannah, Mia becomes a somewhat sympathetic character, even though she is still not on the side of the “white” (Roland and company) and is one of “the bad guys.”

Castle Discordia

Even though the emphasis on Song of Susannah is on Susannah herself, a few other characters shine through.  One of these characters is Eddie Dean.  Previously, Eddie was a heroine addict.  Eddie became “clean” after his forced entrance into Mid-World, despite the fact that he fought Roland tooth and nail, and even tried to kill Roland, in an attempt to get back into “the real world.”  But Eddie then falls in love with Susannah, and stays with Roland in Mid-World to help Roland further his quest.  In Song of Susannah, Eddie’s love, Susannah, is taken away from him.  And then Eddie is taken away from Mid-World, and thrust back into the “real world,” giving him a chance to pick up his old habits again.  However, even though Eddie has had his rock taken away from (Susannah), he does not succumb to the temptation, and even behaves admirably, fighting in another gun battle with Roland and then helping to persuade Calvin to sell the vacant lot so that the rose (and therefore the Tower itself) can be protected.  Eddie easily could have lapsed back into his old ways, but behaves admirably instead.  In other words, he (again) proves himself to be a true gunslinger.

Eddie 1

Of course, no discussion on Song of Susannah would be complete without addressing the elephant in the room…

elephant in the room 1

Yes, its time to get meta.  Meta-fiction, that is.

Stephen King included himself as a character in the Dark Tower series.  This decision is controversial, to say the least.  Often, the reaction to this decision is something like this:

lion licking

The reaction is also varied:  some love it, some hate it.  And there is also the persistent rumor that one day King will rewrite the series, and not include himself as a character in it.

Stephen King

However, King meeting his own characters in Song of Susannah was one of my favorite parts of the book.

There, I said it.  And let me repeat myself:  KING MEETING HIS OWN CHARACTERS IN SONG OF SUSANNAH WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITE PARTS OF THE BOOK.

See, I even used all caps, in case you didn’t hear me!

Oftentimes, as a artist, your creations can feel as if they are part of you.  And they can become real.  I dabble in painting, drawing and so forth, and when I am really working on a painting or drawing, I feel as if I am part of that piece of art.  In other words, part of me lives in my artwork, and continues to live in that artwork, even when it is “finished.”  A little piece of me goes into everything that I create.  In fact, you might even say that my artwork is “alive”, in some sense.

So imagine how Ser King must have felt.  King has been working on this series from the very beginning, and it has never been very far from him.  And like his characters in the book, he must have felt a sense of urgency to finish writing the series, due to some interesting letters from fans, and his own internal pressure.

Roland 12

And as the pressure mounted, the world of Roland and his friends likely became more vivid to King.  Maybe he began to dream about them.  Or perhaps he heard their voices, calling out to him to finally finish the tale.  Or maybe they paid him a visit…

Yes, maybe the characters paid him a visit.  Like I said, I feel that my artwork lives, in some way.  And I am sure that King feels the same way:  his artwork also lives.  And sometimes, art imitates life.  Or does life imitate art?  Either way, by including himself as a character, I believe that King was trying to drive home a point:  artists really do live in their own little world.  And that world can sometimes feel more “real” that the so-called “real world.”  And an artist’s creations are never far from him/her, and can cry out to the artist, begging to be “finished.”

Dark Tower 3


 

So that’s it for Song of Susannah.  Join me and our heroes on the last leg of this fantastic journey, as we review and dissect the final book:  The Dark Tower.  Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!

batman and robin


 

Connections

Just for fun, here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in Song of Susannah.

-Eddie tells Roland that he sees a “death bag”, or black aura, surrounding Stephen King.  This brings to mind the black auras seen by Ralph Roberts in Insomnia, when he encountered people (or animals) who were near death.

atropos

 

-Roland thinks of Susannah’s proclivity to be able to “house” another personality, given the fact that Detta was another personality of Susannah’s for so long, and now Mia has also taken up residence in Susannah’s mind.  Another character in the King universe with this proclivity was Thad Beamount in The Dark Half.  Tad’s mind housed George Stark, who was eventually given life and was also able to cause trouble, in much the same manner as Mia.

Dark half 1

-When Roland speaks Calvin Tower in regards to his and Tower’s ancestors, the subject of dragons rears its head.  Roland states that one of his ancestors wanted to kill a certain dragon, but that dragon had already been killed.  This may be in reference to Niner, the dragon who was slain by King Roland in the book The Eyes of the Dragon.   Randall Flagg also made an appearance in this book, so this is another confirmation that Roland’s world and the world in The Eyes of the Dragon are likely the same world.

Eyes of the Dragon 1

-The Rose is said to have healing powers, and seems to be able to cure almost any ailment.  The Rose seems to be similar to the Talisman in the book of the same name.  In the book The Talisman, once Jack Sawyer found The Talisman, he was able to cure his mother and her Territories Twinner of the cancer that was killing both women.  It is possible that the Talisman may be another world’s manifestation of the Rose.  In other words, the two may be Twinners.

Talisman 2

 

-Again, Breakers are mentioned in Song of Susannah.  Breakers also play a role in a few other books and short stories, including Hearts in AtlantisEverything’s Eventual and Black House. Characters with PSI abilities are rampant in the King universe, and include Carrie White, Abra Stone, Dinky Earnshaw, Ted Brautigan and Danny Torrence, among others.

Dinky