Seeing Double: My Review of The Outsider

Ho, ho, ho!  Merry Christmas?

…in May?

Yes, in May.  It is a little known fact that December does not actually have the monopoly on Christmas!

And the reason why May got to have a little fun this is…

You guessed it…

Stephen King!

The Master is no ordinary author, after all.

Ordinary authors do not make Christmas happen in May.

But when you are The Master, you can call in favors.

Favors like giving the rest of the world Christmas in May, because you gifted us mortals with a brand new book!

Yes, we got a gift that keeps on giving this May, in the form of the latest Stephen King book, The Outsider.

No, not The Outsiders!

No one was telling those pesky kids to stay golden, although we could argue that a certain sewer dwelling clown is a Soc.

This Outsider was part police procedure, part detective story and part supernatural thriller, liberally seasoned with the dread and creepiness that only a novel written by The Master can contain.

Or maybe that was just a little nutmeg added to spice things up a bit…

So, let us sit back and sip at this Christmas in May beverage titled The Outsider, and delve into those spices!

And, as always:

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

Advertisements

Live Nerdiness!

Come and check out your favorite nerd, live on the podcast known as Dark Tower Radio, where I palaver with a fellow nerd on King, horror, book, Dark Tower and all kinds of good stuff!

And yeah, I may sound even more nerdy live than on here…who knew???

 

http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/dark-tower-radio/e/48987589?autoplay=true

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/dark-tower-radio/id1173774601

My Review of The Dark Half

By nature, most human beings possess dual natures.

It makes sense if you think about it, actually.

We have our public selves.  That’s the self that we present to the world.  That self is polite.  That self observes “social mores.”  That self knows not to cut in line, for example.  Or it knows that we use eating utensils to eat, and not our fingers.  Our Sunday best self, in other words.

And then there is the private self.  That self has no problem eating with its fingers.  Or maybe cursing at someone to get out of its way already.  Some may call this the “id”, per Sigmund Freud.  Or, if we want to be kinder, the casual Friday self.

Often, being creative requires one to get in touch with that darker side.  Some of the best art is born from darkness, actually.  Art can be a good outlet for that darkness, allowing the artist to express those dark desires.  At the very least, people may admire the end result.  Or perhaps the artist can even make a viable living by expressing that dark side.

Usually, that dark side is kept under wraps.  Artist does his/her thing, perhaps gets praised for it in some way, lets off steam, and it’s done, right?

Well, most of the time…

However, (wait for it) if you are a character in a…you guessed it…Stephen King book, its not that simple.  No, nothing in a Stephen King book is ever that simple, is it?

(In case you forgot which blog you were reading.)

Simpsons SK

One of my favorite novels by The Master is The Dark Half.  On the surface, it is a horror novel.  After all, someone’s pseudonym comes to life and does horrible things.  And don’t get me started on sparrows…

But, as with most of King’s work, The Dark Half is much more that what it seems to be on the surface.  This is a novel that has much to say about the creative process, and the effect that process can have on the writer and the writer’s loved ones.

Plus, it takes place in one of my favorite King towns, aka Castle Rock.  And it has Alan Pangborn as a character…Pangborn has long been one of my favorite King book boos!

In other words, what’s not to love about The Dark Half?  It has a fascinating villain, along with some creepy imagery.  It’s perfect, in other words.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of The Dark Half.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book begins in 1960, and we are introduced to a young boy named Thad Beaumont.  Thad is an aspiring writer, and already receiving recognition for his writing.  Thad has also begun to suffer from serious migraines, but his doctor is unable to find a cause.  Along with the migraines, Tad hears the sound of birds.

One day, Thad collapses at the bus stop.  He is rushed to the hospital, and his doctors believe that he may have a brain tumor.  However, the doctors do not find a brain tumor when they operate on Thad.  Instead, they find eyes, teeth and other body parts in Thad’s brain.  The doctors believe that they have found an unformed twin that was digested by Thad in the womb.  The doctors elect not to tell Thad’s parents the full truth in regards to their discovery, and Thad’s parents are led to believe that the doctors have found a brain tumor.  The surgery is successful, and Thad is soon released and goes back to living a normal life.

We are again introduced to Thad, twenty five years later.  Thad is married to a woman named Liz, and is the father of fraternal twins named Wendy and William.  Thad is also a writer, but has only found success using the pseudonym of “George Stark.”  Under George Stark, Thad has written crime novels that have achieved commercial success.  The novels written under Thad’s own name have not been nearly as successful, commercially or critically.

Eventually, a man named Frederick Clawson discovers that Thad Beaumont and George Stark are the same man.  Clawson attempts to blackmail Thad, but Thad discloses the fact that he is also George Stark in a People Magazine interview, and even holds a mock “funeral” for George Stark. Thad then decides that he will attempt to write a “serious” novel under his own name, and is even glad that George Stark is “dead”, as Stark appears to be a violent, insane man.

Shorty after the “death” of George Stark, strange things begin to happen.  Homer Ganache, Tad Beamont’s caretaker, is beaten to death with his prosthetic arm.  Frederick Clawson is also murdered.  Thad’s fingerprints are somehow found at the scene of both crimes.

In the meantime, Thad writes a mysterious sentence in the novel he is working on.  The sentence is “The sparrows are flying.”  This sentence is also written in blood on the walls of Frederick Clawson’s apartment.  Tad also begins to hear the sound of birds again.

The fingerprints are traced back to Thad, and Thad is questioned by Sheriff Alan Pangborn, who is certain that Thad is guilty of both murders.  However, Pangborn becomes less convinced once he speaks to Thad, and everyone is mystified by the murders.

Thad visits his doctor and undergoes a CAT scan, as he has been hearing the bird sounds again.  At his office at the university, he appears to go into a trance, where he writes some seemingly random words on a piece of paper.  This incident frightens Thad, and he burns the piece of paper.

In New York City, a woman named Miriam is attacked by a blonde man who calls himself George Stark.  The man forces Miriam to place a call to Thad, and Miriam tells Thad that she is being attacked.  Miriam turns out to be the ex-wife of Thad’s agent, Rick.

Thad is frantic, and finally reaches Sheriff Pangborn.  He has Pangborn check on Miriam in New York, and tells Pangborn that Miriam’s attacker is calling himself George Stark.  Thad also gives Pangborn the names of everyone associated with the People magazine article on himself and George Stark.  Thad gives Pangborn a description of Stark, and tells him that he will fill him on the rest of the details in person.

In the meantime, in New York, the man calling himself George Stark murders three more people associated with the People magazine article in gruesome fashion, along with two police officers.  One of the murdered people is Rick, the ex-husband to Miriam.  While the murders occur, Thad dreams of them in his home in Maine.

The next morning, Thad tells Sheriff Pangborn everything, including the headaches he experienced as a child, and of how George Stark came to be.  Thad is convinced that George Stark has come to life, and is seeking revenge for his “death.”  Pangborn is skeptical, but says that he will speak to Thad’s doctors, including the doctor who operated on Thad as a child, to see if he can get any more leads.

The authorities wire-tap Thad’s phone, in an attempt to track down Stark.  Shortly after the phone is tapped, Stark calls back, and says that he has killed more people.  Later, it is discovered that Thad’s voice print and Stark’s voice print are nearly identical.

Pangborn also places a call to the doctor who operated on Thad as a child, and leaves a message for the man to call him back.

Thad also speculates that he knows exactly what George Stark wants:  for Thad to write another novel under Stark’s name.  Thad contemplates doing just that, if it will put an end to Stark’s violent rampage.

One day, Thad makes a trip to the local grocery store and receives a phone call from George Stark while he is shopping.  This call confirms Thad’s suspicions:  Stark does indeed want Thad to write another novel under the Stark name.  Stark threatens to hurt Thad’s family if Thad does not comply.

Over the next few days, Thad and his family are on edge, as they wait for Stark to make another appearance.  One afternoon, Thad and Liz’s infant daughter, Wendy, takes a tumble from the stairs and receives a bruise.  Later that evening, Wendy’s twin brother, William, also receives a bruise in the same place on his body, even though he was not physically injured.  This gives Thad some insight into George Stark and his relationship with Stark, even though he is still not sure what to do about Stark.

Thad attempts to communicate with Stark in his study one afternoon.  When he does so, he finds out that Stark needs him to write another book because Stark is dying and will only live if Thad writes another book.  Thad also sees a large group of sparrows outside of his house, and is forced to stab himself in the hand with a pencil, courtesy of George Stark.

In the meantime, in New York City, George Stark experiences what Thad is experiencing, and also stabs himself in the hand with a pencil.  We also learn that Stark’s body is deteriorating, presumably because Thad has not written any George Stark novels.  Stark leaves New York City, and makes his way to Maine and Thad.

One day, Thad goes to his office at the university where he is employed during the school year, under the guise of doing some work.  However, Thad is really attempting to get in touch with Stark again.  Stark contacts him on the phone of one of Thad’s colleagues, and again demands that Thad begin work on a new novel.  Thad also finds out that Stark is calling from Thad’s house, and also sees a large group of sparrows again.

Thad’s colleague Rawlie explains the significance of sparrows in folklore:  sparrows are psychopomps, or harbringers between the living and the dead.  The job of the sparrows is to guide lost souls back into the land of the living.

After speaking to Stark, Thad agrees to meet him at his and Liz’s summer home in Castle Rock.  Stark tells Thad that his wife and children are unharmed, but he has killed the two police officers who were supposed to protect Liz and the twins.

On the way to his summer home, Thad calls his colleague, Rawlie, and requests his help.  He meets Rawlie, and takes Rawlie’s car, so that he can drive it to his summer home.  While he is talking to Rawlie, Thad sees another large group of sparrows.

Sheriff Pangborn is finally able to speak to the doctor who operated on young Thad.  The doctor tells Pangborn that he did not actually remove a tumor from Thad’s brain.  Rather, he removed body parts of an unformed twin which had been consumed by Thad while he was still in the womb.  The doctor also tells Pangborn that a large group of sparrows was seen outside of the hospital during the operation.

Pangborn also receives a report of a stolen vehicle.  The stolen vehicle is an Oldsmobile Toranado, which happens to be the vehicle that Thad described George Stark as driving.  After receiving the report of the officers killed at Thad’s home, Pangborn deduces that Thad may be headed to his summer home, and follows him there.

Stark arrives at the summer home with Liz and the children.  He ties Liz up after discovering a pair of sewing scissors that she had hidden on her skirt.  Pangborn also arrives at the summer home, but Stark also captures him and ties him up.

Soon, Thad also arrives at the summer home, and sees that Stark is holding Pangborn and his family hostage.  Thad also notices the large group of sparrows, which Stark does not appear to see.

Stark demands that he and Thad begin writing a new novel, and Thad complies.  Stark holds Thad’s children as hostages, using them as a collateral of sorts.  Liz and Pangborn are forced into another part of the house.

For a time, Stark and Thad work on the new novel.  Previously, Stark had literally been deteriorating, but his wounds begin to heal.  Suddenly, the sparrow descend upon the house.

The sparrows invade the house and head for Stark.  Stark attacks Thad and tries to run from the sparrows but is unsuccessful.  The large group of sparrows descend upon Stark, and literally carry him away from Thad and his family.

Some time later, Thad meets with Sheriff Pangborn at his summer house, which has nearly been destroyed by the incident with Stark and the sparrows.  Pangborn is still having trouble believing what happened, but knows that he has witnessed something unbelievable.  With Pangborn’s blessing, Thad sets fire to the house.

For a time, Thad watches the flames, and then leaves with his family.  Pangborn wonders what will become of Thad’s marriage, as Liz has witnessed what Thad is capable of creating.


My Thoughts

The Dark Half.

In other words, never a more appropriate title.  Especially the second word in the title.

Stephen King has been known, obviously, for his dark subject matter (no pun intended.)

stephen-king-cover-ftr

Novels like Pet Sematary, Thinner, The Long Walk, The Dead Zone, Roadwork and quite are few others are books are known to be especially bleak.  The Dark Half is another one that it bleak.  And I think that The Dark Half may be one of his bleakest, possibly almost as bleak as Pet Sematary.

One of the things I noticed about The Dark Half is the character development.  King is known for creating likable characters.  I mean, who doesn’t love a Stu Redman, Eddie Dean, Beverly Marsh or even ole long tall and ugly himself?

Roland 1

However, I cannot say the same thing about the characters in The Dark Half.  In fact, I would have to say that my favorite character in The Dark Half is the minor character, aka Sheriff Alan Pangborn.

This isn’t to say that I actively disliked Thad Beaumont, who is the protagonist and so-called “good guy.”  I just found little to like about him, and thought that he was more of a prop for the bad guy, George Stark.

I would characterize The Dark Half as a book that is more plot driven than character driven.  There is nothing wrong with this, either.  I actually find the premise of this book fascinating, and yet another underrated Stephen King book.

One of the things I find fascinating about The Dark Half is actually George Stark himself.  And there are a few reasons why I find him so interesting.

George Stark

For one, he is just evil.  Pure evil.

With some of King’s bad guys (Jack Torrance comes to mind), sympathy can be summoned.  Sure, the person is bad, but they are human underneath it all, and may actually have reasons for being bad, even if we don’t necessarily understand or agree with those reasons.

Not so with George Stark.  There is nothing good about George Stark.  Nothing good at all.  The man (and I use that word loosely, more on that later) is just evil incarnate.

He’s ruthless.  He’s vindictive.  And creative.  He may not be able to write a story by himself, but he sure comes up with inventive, horrible ways to kill people.

In fact, I did think a bit of this guy when I read about Stark:

parker 1

It’s true that this guy may be a little more humane than Stark, but still, the comparison stands.

And there is just some about a guy who is evil simply for the sake of being evil…in other words, I love it!

So…

Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog…

So what the hell is Goofy?

Or, in this case, what the hell is George Stark?

The Master does tease a bit about Stark, but trying to determine his true origin is almost as difficult as trying to determine Goofy’s true species.

We know that Thad had an un-formed twin that he absorbed as an infant.  And that parts of that un-formed twin were found in Thad’s brain, of all places.

Somehow, this un-formed twin became an issue right when Thad hit puberty, and developed his writing talent. The doctors removed it.  And there was nothing unusual then, other than a large flock of sparrows that invaded the hospital where Thad was staying.

Dark half 1

Then, years later, Thad’s wife miscarries.  She was pregnant with…twins.  Not coincidentally, George Stark comes into being.  And Thad starts becoming somewhat successful as writer, using the George Stark pseudonym.

Then, Stark “dies” again, although he refuses to stay dead, and makes life miserable for a lot of people, including the man who is either his creator, or maybe just his brother, aka Thad.  And then the sparrows come back, although Stark cannot see them.  However, Thad is aware of their presence.

My theory is that Thad has the ability to create twins.  After all, he fathered twins twice.  He himself was a twin.

dark half 5

So did he create Stark?  I think that he did, actually.  I think Thad was perhaps blessed (or maybe cursed) with that ability to create and harbor other personalities, much like Susannah Dean of the Dark Tower series.  And Thad’s ability to create and harbor these other personalities seems to be directly linked to his creative ability.  In fact, maybe Thad’s ability to create other personalities is an extreme manifestation of his writing talent, similar to how Edgar Freemantle (Duma Key) is able to alter reality with his paintings.

duma key 5

Another reason why I love The Dark Half is because this is a book that has a lot to say about the subject of creativity.

King has written several book that touch on the subject of creativity.  Duma Key, Misery, Finders Keepers, Bag of Bones and even The Dark Tower are all books that touch on the subject.

Additionally, many of King’s characters happen to be writers, or artists of some kind at, at the very least.  Mike Noonan, Bill Denbrough, Ben Mears and Jake Epping are all King characters that dabble in writing of some form.  Even poor Jack Torrance (The Shining) was an aspiring writer.  Writing is something that King is familiar with (for obvious reasons), so it often gets incorporated into his stories.

Sara Laughs 1

However, King is not merely content to incorporate writers as characters into his stories.  Since he is The Master, he needs to take an extra step or four.

In other words, King often writes about writing, not just the writer.  In fact, the art of writing is a major plot point to several of his stories, including Bag of Bones, Misery and even The Dark Tower.

The effect of fiction on both the writer and the reader is another major theme in many of King’s works.  Again, Misery, The Dark Tower, Finders Keepers and Bag of Bones, along with several other stories, also address this theme.

And it could be argued that The Dark Half addresses all of these themes in one fell swoop.

dark half 4

We have the main character, Thad Beaumont, who is a writer.  Thad struggles to obtain the kind of success he wants, since the “literary” books that he writes do not sell well, and he is forced to rely on the “pulp” books about Alexis Machine to pay the bills.  This is a struggle, and causes Thad to question where he fits in as a writer.

Obviously, The Dark Half deals with the effect of fiction on the reader.  When he wrote as George Stark, Thad found a rabid fan base.  When Thad writes as himself and not George Stark, his fans (although they could really be considered Stark’s fans) are disappointed, and refer to his work as “terrible.”  Often, fans of a particular offer become entitled, and grow angry when the author does not “deliver.”

dark half 3

The effect of fiction on the writer is also addressed in The Dark Half.  Thad claims to want to write a “serious” novel, but it seems his heart is never in it.  He blames the distraction of George Stark on not being able to write his “serious” novel,   However, Thad gets enjoyment when he starts writing the novel that Stark demands of him.  Again, this causes Thad to question just where he fits in as a writer, and just what success means.  Does success include writing something that he himself is satisfied with?  Does it include pleasing his fans?  Does include “critical” success?

As most Constant Readers know, Stephen King, for a time, wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.  In King’s mind, writing under the Bachman name would allow him to step outside his “genre,” or write works that were not “just horror.”  King had become typecast as a horror writer, and feared that he would be unable to explore any other type of writing, as people had come to expect him to write horror stories, and nothing else.

Bachman 1

Of course, anyone who pays attention to King should know that he is a great writer, period.  He does write scary stories, but there is so much more to King than “horror.”  The Dark Tower series is an epic fantasy series, much like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.  11/22/63 is a story about time travel and King’s feelings in regards to the Vietnam War.  The collections Hearts in Atlantis and Different Seasons both contain stories that cannot be classified as horror stories.  In fact, it can be argued that King’s strength is writing about ordinary people faced with extraordinary situations.  This is evident even in his books that are horror stories, in characters such as Danny Torrance, the members of The Losers Club, Jack Sawyer (The Talisman and Black House) and so forth.  King’s writing is so effective because people can relate to it, and the situations become that much more believable,

morgan sloat

But early on in King’s career, he likely felt compelled to write horror fiction, at least under his own name.  People had come to expect that, after all, and wouldn’t read something outside the horror genre, something that dealt with “real life situations.”  Even today, there are people who are still prejudiced in regards to King:  they either still think he “only writes scary stories” or have no interest in the non-horror works written by King.  I have known more than a few people who have complained about that Dr. Sleep is not a direct sequel to The Shining, despite the fact that The Shining was written when King was much younger and in the beginning stages of his problems with drugs and alcohol.  Their reactions are similar to a fan’s reaction to Thad’s work not written under the George Stark name:  they are unable to read it, because it is not the formula they had grown used to.

In order to write other types of fiction, King developed the pseudonym of Richard Bachman early on in his career.  Under the Bachman pseudonym, he was finally free to write other types of fiction, i.e. not horror fiction.  And with the exception of Thinner, most of the Bachman books do not contain supernatural themes.  Roadwork, The Long Walk, Rage and The Running Man are all disturbing on some level, but they are disturbing because they deal with “real life horrors,”  such as the exploitation of our youth, corporate greed and our need to be entertained via television.  In other words, Bachman’s work may be a little more mainstream, even though the Bachman books could still be considered to be in the horror category, although not the supernatural or fantastical horror category.

Long Walk 1

For several years, Bachman, like George Stark did for Thad, provided King an outlet to explore other types of writing.  However, all good things must come to end.  Like Thad, King was forced to kill off his “twin” when it was discovered that Richard Bachman and Stephen King were in fact the same person.  And, like Thad, King went about the “murder” in humorous fashion, even saying that Bachman passed away from “cancer of the pseudonym.”

(Side note:  Bachman never died.  He just works on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower, helping Jax and his friends dispose of dead bodies, demanding to listen to music when he works.)

Cleaner 3

But, like George Stark, Richard Bachman will not stay dead.  Eventually, Bachman emerged in other King works, like the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, Misery and Cujo, which are all books that contain themes of real life horror, as opposed to supernatural horror.  Dicky Bachman even managed to publish posthumous works, such as The Regulators and Blaze.

In other words, an artist’s “dark side” can never truly be killed.  Richard Bachman is still alive and well, manifesting himself through the works of Stephen King.  And George Stark may have been carried off to parts unknown by an unimaginably large group of sparrows, but do we really believe that was the end of him?

sparrows

Darkness lives in all of us.  And like it or not, it is a vital part of the creative process.  And any attempts to bury that darkness will backfire on us.  Eventually, the darkness will be unleashed.  And the world is not usually able to accept or handle that darkness.


Well, that’s it for The Dark Half!  Join me next month, when I review and dissect Black House.

Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!

batman and robin


Connections

Like of all of King’s work, The Dark Half is set squarely in the King universe and is connected to several other King books.  Here are some of the connections I found:

-Part of The Dark Half is set in the town of Castle Rock.  Castle Rock is the setting for several King books and short stories, including The Dead Zone, The Body (Different Seasons), Needful Things and Cujo.

Castle Rock 1

-Thad Beaumont is mentioned by Mike Noonan in the book Bag of Bones.  It is revealed that Thad commits suicide several years after the events in The Dark Half.

Bag of Bones 11

-Alan Pangborn is a major character in the book Needful Things.  Pangborn also alludes to Thad’s suicide and the fact that his wife divorces him shortly after the events in The Dark Half.

Needful things 2

-The town of Ludlow is mentioned.  Ludlow is the setting for the novel Pet Sematary.

Pet Sematary 7

-The town of Harlow is also mentioned.  Part of the novel Revival takes place in Harlow.

Revival 7

 

Out of Egypt: My Review of Rose Madder

Nine years ago (almost to this very date, in fact), I began a journey.

For seven years, I was trapped in a prison.  Sometimes this was only a metaphorical prison.  However, sometimes it was also a literal prison.

I had gotten married at the relatively young age of 22.  I had thought that I was lucky to find love at a  young age, and figured I was set for life.

But I was wrong on that.  Very wrong.

Somehow, I found myself in an abusive relationship.  No, I did not grow up with parents who abused me in any way.  In fact, I had a pretty good family life.  Nor do I consider myself to be stupid.  In fact, I have been told I am quite intelligent.  I also consider myself to be resourceful, even scrappy.  And I consider myself to be strong and independent.

For nearly seven years, I endured abuse.  The abuse was both emotional and physical.  I was choked.  I received black eyes.  I was called “fat”, “worthless,” “stupid,” “bitch,” and probably lots of other names that I now choose to forget.

Ostensibly, I left because my ex had cheated on me.  However, this was finally a way out for me, as I was unable to leave prior to this.  I blamed myself for the abuse, assuming that I had brought this on myself, due to my poor decision making skills.  I also blamed myself for not leaving the situation much sooner than I did.

In short, I did everything but face what had actually happened to me.

Roland 1

When I finally left this awful situation, I felt alone much of the time.  Sure, I had family…700 miles away.  I had a couple of friends help me move into my own apartment, but I felt no one would understand my situation, or even worse, pass more judgment on me.

So I did what I have done my entire life:  I turned to books (like a good nerd).

More specifically, I turned to Stephen King books (don’t forget what blog you are reading).

Stephen King

As I have stated countless times, Stephen King is not just a good horror writer, he is a good writer.  Period.  While he may be known for homicidal clowns, rabid dogs and possessed vehicles, he also writes about “real life” horrors, and those real life horrors are often more frightening than his fantastical monsters.  They are frightening because they are plausible, and we can relate to them.

One theme that is prevalent in King’s work is the theme of abuse.  Many characters in the King universe endure some sort of abuse.  Beverly Marsh, a character in the book It, is abused by her father, and later on by her husband.  Danny Torrance endures abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father, Jack, in the book The Shining.  Abuse is even mentioned in the book Insomnia, a fantasy novel that is closely connected to the world of The Dark Tower series.

Beverly 2

The novel Rose Madder is also a book that deals with domestic abuse.  However, this book does not just mention abuse.  Rather, domestic abuse is the main, underlying theme in the book.  The book can also be considered a fantasy novel, with elements of Greek mythology and perhaps even Christianity, but spousal abuse is still the main theme in the book.  The book is also slightly different from most of King’s other work in that fact that is told from the perspective of the abused woman, Rose McClendon.  However, make no mistake about it:  we are reminded many times that we are reading a novel set squarely in the Stephen King universe.

This is a book that has a lot of personal meaning to me, as it was a guide when I began my journey to get away from my marriage and find myself again.  Unlike Rosie, I did not travel across the country.  But I felt that the journey may as well have been a bus ride across the country, as it was long and even scenic at times.  In fact, this book reminded me that I was not alone, but facing what countless survivors of an abusive relationship face:  a journey to free myself from the demons, and find my true self again.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of Rose Madder.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book begins with an introduction to a young woman named Rose, who is married to Norman Daniels, who is a cop.  Norman is also abusive to Rose, both physically and emotionally.  One evening, Norman comes home and finds Rose reading a book.  For some reason, this enrages Rose, and Norman beats her quite badly.  Rose is pregnant with the couple’s first child, and the beating causes her to have a miscarriage.  Rose is heartbroken, but endures another nine years of abuse from Norman.

One day, nine years later, Rose is cleaning the house while Norman is at work, and notices a drop of blood on the sheets.  Something awakens in Rose, and she flees her marriage.  Before she flees, Rose takes Norman’s bank card, and uses it to obtain money so that she can escape.  Rose catches a bus that takes her to a city 800 miles away, and throws the bank card in the trash before she leaves the city for good.  All the while, Rose is terrified that Norman will still find her and hurt her, but decides that if she stays, she will risk at least her sanity and maybe even her life.

Over the next month, Rose works on re-building her life.  When she arrives in her new city, she meets a man named Peter Slowik at the Traveler’s Aid Booth.  Peter directs her to a shelter of sorts for battered women, called Daughters and Sisters.  There, Rose meets a woman named Anna, who tells her that she can stay for at least eight weeks, and also finds Rose a job as a chambermaid at a nearby hotel.  Rose gradually begins to adjust to her new life and form friendships, but still wonders about her future, as she knows that she will need something other than her life than not having Norman in it.

In the meantime, Norman is angered that Rose has left him.  After Rose threw away his bank card, a young man stole it and attempted to use it.  Norman brutally beats the information out of the man, and learns that Rose caught a bus out of town, and what time that bus may have left.  This information is enough for Norman to begin to track Rosie down, and he does just that.

One day, after finishing her shift at the hotel, Rose decides that she wants to sell her engagement ring.  Norman has told her that this ring is valuable, and Rose has believed this statement over the years.  Rose finds a nearby pawnshop, and meets a man named Bill Steiner.  Bill appraises Rose’s ring, and Rose learns that the diamond is not a real diamond.  She is actually not surprised, due to the fact that Norman has deceived her many other times.  Rose nearly leaves the pawnshop, to spare her dignity.  However, she catches a glimpse of a painting and becomes entranced.  The painting depicts a temple, with a woman whose back is turned, but holding her hands out to the sky.  Rose decides that she must have this painting, and trades her engagement ring for it (as the ring itself is real gold).  Right after she obtains the painting, an elderly man named Robbie Lefferts stops her, and requests that she read a paragraph from a book.  Rose is apprehensive, but humors the man.  The man tells Rose that her reading voice is fantastic, and offers Rose a job at his company as a reader of audio books.

In the meantime, Norman is still obsessed with Rose and her whereabouts.  He has obtained a promotion at his job after a large drug bust, but is unable to let Rose go.  He has used some information from the bus station to attempt to find Rose, but his lead did not pan out.  However, Norman’s luck changes when he receives a call from the man who sold Rose the bus ticket.  With this break, Norman is able to deduce what city Rose had fled to and resumes his hunt for her.

Rosie starts her new job the next day.  She is apprehensive, but manages to make it through the day by thinking of her painting and the woman in it.  That night, Bill unexpectedly shows up at her apartment, and takes Rosie out to dinner.  Rosie feels an attraction towards Bill, and also accepts a date with him for the following weekend.

In the meantime, Norman arrives in the city where Rosie now resides.  He is able to track down Peter Slowik, the man who assisted her in finding shelter upon her arrival.  Norman then murders the man, and vows to track Rosie down and do the same to her, along with whoever else who may stand in his way.

Rose impresses the people at her new job, and realizes that her boss will likely offer her a contract.  She begins to feel hopeful for her future and grateful for her new friends.  Rose always dyes her hair blonde, to match the hair of the woman in her painting.  That night, both Rose and Norman go to sleep and remember a woman named Wendy Yarrow, a prostitute who Norman murdered several years ago.  Norman and his partner beat the woman in order to try to extract some information from her, and the woman threatened to sue the police department before she was murdered by Norman in order to keep her quiet.

Rose also comes to realize that the painting she purchased has taken on a life of its own, as she finds crickets in her second floor apartment, along with other items that should not be there.  However, Rose’s investigation of her painting is interrupted when she receives a call from Anna Stevenson, the founder of Daughters and Sisters.  Anna tells Rose of the murder of Peter Slowik, and that Norman is the prime suspect.  Rose becomes upset and even calls Bill, telling him to stay away from her, for his own protection.

The next day, Rosie flounders at her new job.  However, she receives a visit from Bill during her lunch hour, and tells him of the abuse she endured under Norman, and also of the prostitute Wendy Yarrow, who was likely killed by Norman.  Bill tells Rose that he will not run, and that she cannot be held responsible for Norman’s actions, as it is not her fault.

That night, Rose notices more odd behavior from her.  In fact, the painting opens up, and allows her to step into another world.  There, Rose meets the woman in the painting, along with a woman named Dorcas who resembles Wendy Yarrow, the prostitute murdered by Norman.  Rose dubs the woman in the painting Rose Madder.  Rose Madder appears to be Rose’s mirror image, except that she is suffering from a disease that has driven her insane, and also altered her appearance, as she has several red blotches on her skin.

Rose Madder requests that Rose help her by rescuing her baby, which is being held captive by Enryies the bull in The Temple of The Bull.  Rose Madder also tells Rose that she will repay the favor when needed.  Dorcas helps Rose get ready for the quest, telling her not to eat the fruit or drink the water, no matter how tempted she may be.  Dorcas also soaks a piece of of Rose’s nightgown with her blood, as Enryies is blind and relies on his sense of smell, meaning it is possible to trick him.

Rose sets off on her quest, and uses the sound of the babies cries to guide.  She encounters several ruses on her way, but is able to reach the baby (whom she names Caroline).  Rose tricks Enryies with the nightgown, and rescues baby Caroline, bringing her back to Dorcas and Rose Madder.  Reluctantly, Rose surrenders the baby to the two women, and is again reminded by Rose Madder that she “repays.”  Rose exits the world of the painting and returns to her apartment, falling asleep almost immediately.

The next day, Rose awakens.  She is in pain from her previous night’s excursion and notices that the painting has changed again, but still dismisses the experience as a dream.  Rose goes to work, and loses herself in her day’s routine.  She is also offered a contract by her boss, Robbie Lefferts.  When Rose returns home that evening, she finds the missing gold armlet worn by Rose Madder in the painting, along with a piece of her nightgown, and realizes that her experience was not a dream.

Rose and Bill then go on their date the following day.  Bill takes Rose on a motorcycle ride and they have a picnic in a woodsy area.  Bill and Rose also see a mother fox with her babies.  Rose worries about the fox, but Bill tells her they should be fine as long as they are not infected with rabies.  Rose also begins to realize how attracted she is to Bill, and Bill tells her that he loves her.  They then head back to town, to attend the benefit concert for Daughters and Sisters.

While Rose is on her date with Bill, Norman has disguised himself as a veteran in a wheelchair, and managed to slip into the all day fair that will proceed the benefit concert for Daughters and Sisters.  Norman waits for Rose for most of the day, and is uneasy when he can’t find her.

Norman then attacks one of Rose’s friends, Cynthia, in the restroom.  However, he is interrupted by Gert Kinshaw, another member of Daughters and Sisters, who fights off Norman.  Cynthia and Gert are both severely injured in the fight and end up at the hospital.  Norman is able to escape and continues his hunt for Rose.

Rose and Bill meet Gert and Cynthia at the hospital and get a recap of what happened that afternoon.  Rose is upset, and talks to the police, who try to reassure that they want to catch Norman and bring him to justice.  After the interview with the police, Rosie and Bill head back to Rosie’s apartment.

While Rosie speaks to the police, Norman continues on his rampage.  He has found a mask in the shape of a bull that seems to speak to him, although even he understands that he has gone completely insane.  Norman kills Rose’s friend Pam at the hotel where she works, to try to obtain information from her.  He then heads to the shelter owned by Daughters and Sisters, encountering Anna Stevenson and murdering her after he obtains the address to Rose’s apartment.

When Bill and Rosie come back to Rosie’s apartment, the encounter Norman, who has killed the two police officers who were supposed to be the police protection for Rose.  Norman attacks both Rose and Bill, but they escape to her apartment and hide in the close where Rose has stored the painting.  Once again, Rose escapes into the world of the painting, bringing Bill with her.

Rose changes into the same clothes worn by Rose Madder, and tricks Norman into chasing her to the Temple of the Bull.  Rose Madder then attacks Norman and kills him.  Rose and Bill then escape back into their world.  Dorcas gives Rose a small vial of water from the river, and tells her to give it to Bill as necessary.  Rose Madder also gives Rose a cryptic message, telling her to “remember the tree.”

After she and Bill return to their world, Rose speaks to the cops and tells them that Norman has disappeared.  She also gives Bill a bit of the water from the river, in order to retain his sanity. Rose dyes her hair back to its natural color and destroys the painting. Eventually, the questioning in regards to Norman stops, and Rosie is able to obtain a divorce from him.

Bill proposes to Rose and they get married in a simple ceremony.  Rose gives him the last of the water from the river, so that he forgets the experience in the world of the painting entirely.  Shortly after their honeymoon, Rose finds out she is pregnant, and gives birth to a baby girl named Pamela Gertrude Steiner.

Over the years, all appears to be going well for Rose.  However, Rose begins to experience bouts of irrational anger, where she imagines seriously injuring her friends and even her husband.  Eventually, Rose remembers what Rose Madder told her about the tree, and finds the seed that is left.  Rose then plants the tree, praying that her rages will stop and she can live out her life like a normal person.  Her wish is granted, as the rages soon depart.

Every year, Rose returns to the spot where she planted the tree, and gives thanks for her blessings, knowing that she is strong and a survivor.


 

My Thoughts

Here, we have Rose Madder.  And I consider this one to be one of my favorite King books of all time, for a few different reasons.

However, Rose Madder also seems to be bit polarizing.  Well, a lot polarizing, actually.  People are divided (well, at least in Internet-land):  some love the book, some detest the book.

Obviously, I am on #teamlove, but I can understand how this book may be off-putting to some.  Not only is the main character a woman (big departure from most King books), along with the fact that the book is not “traditional horror,” there is also a lot of symbolism that may be difficult to understand.  I have read this book many, many times and I am not sure if I understand all the symbolism, but I will definitely give it my best shot.

Rose Madder 1

For example, there is the title character.  Rose Madder.  Just who is she, and how does she relate to Rosie Real?  And what does the “madder” part mean?  Anger?  Insanity?  Or maybe both?  And how does all this tie into that weird color that keeps getting mentioned?

Truthfully, I don’t really have the answers to those questions.  What I do believe is that Rose Madder is indeed a reflection of Rosie Real, or perhaps even a Twinner.  Rose Madder is shown to be suffering from sort of disease.  Is this Rosie’s repressed anger towards Norman?  I actually think that I may be on to something with this thought, that Rose Madder is actually Rosie (maybe on another level of the Tower, or something even deeper) but the manifestation of anger, which can eventually lead to insanity, unless something is done.  And the color rose madder somehow ties into all this, I believe.  That color is pretty close to the color of blood (the book alludes to this several times).  And blood is associated with anger, along with madness.  The color could also be associated with simply being female, as blood is associated with menstruation and childbirth (oh, the fun imagery on that one…you are welcome).  So, there may be many ways to interpret Rose Madder.  Are all of them right?  Possibly.  Are all of them wrong?  Could be as well, such is the mind of The Master…

Roland 10

And the world of the painting…how surreal is that?  Well, a lot.  Enter the fantasy element.  Was the fantasy element necessary to the story?  Probably not, the story of Rosie’s escape from Norman was a good stand alone story.  Did it ruin the book?  Absolutely not, especially since a nod to our friendly neighborhood gunslinger was given by mentioning the city of Lud, along with a possible reference to Randall Flagg and company.  The Temple of the Bull and the river that had water you couldn’t drink unless you wanted your memory wiped clean were also nice touches, and made me think of the days I spent reading Greek mythology, which is also loaded with symbolism.  The hero has to accomplish some task so he (or she in this case) can move forward in his life.  And that is exactly what Rose had to do:  she had to rescue a baby (which possibly symbolizes something too, like Rose’s true self, which is fragile like a baby) so that she could move past the “Norman stage” (or is that bullshit?) of her life and finally grow into her true self.  And that is not a bad metaphor at all.

Rose Madder 2

Another thing that I loved about this book was the characters.  You had the two main ones:  Rosie and Norman, along with all the minor characters that may not have been a huge part of the book (Peter Slowik aka Thumper-stein is one of many examples).  King can create memorable characters, and it shows.  I was rooting for Rosie right from the beginning. I cried with her, when she lost her baby, thanks to Norman’s actions.  I was nervous for her, when she started over in a new city, with a new job and a new boyfriend.  I was afraid for her, when Norman finally tracked her down.  And I cheered with her, when she was finally rid of Norman for good.  Not only can King write the Every Man character really well (Jack Torrance, Johnny Smith), he can also write the Every Woman character.  And that is just what Rose is:  an Every Woman.  There is nothing special about Rosie, but that is exactly why she is so special:  we can all relate to her, because we could so easily become her at any time.  And most of what Rosie accomplishes is accomplished through hard work, pluckiness and even a little of luck.  Definitely the Every Woman we can all identify with.

the-overlook-hotel

And we have Norman.  Norman is on the list of King bad guys that I love to hate.  Actually, I just hate.  With every fiber of my being, as a matter of fact.  With some of King’s bad guys, I can think of something good to say about them.  Eldred Jonas does have good hair, after all.  But I cannot think of a single good thing to say about Norman Daniels.  He is racist.  He is sexist.  He has no regard for other human beings in the slightest, and will use them and then dispose of them (in grisly ways) when they have served out their purpose.  Oh, and he beats the shit out of his wife.  And kids aren’t safe from him, since he literally beats the baby out of Rosie, causing her to miscarry their only child.  His view of the world is so skewed that it isn’t even funny (well, it is in kind of disturbed way).  Norman makes assumptions about EVERYONE that turn out to have very little, if any, basis in actual fact (makes me wonder if he would be supporting Donald Trump, I am sure Norman would have ideas about making America great again and would fit right in at a Trump rally).  But most frightening of all, guys like Norman Daniels actually exist.  Norman is not a clown from the sewers or an evil wizard.  He is a human being (at least in appearance).  To boot, he is a human being in authority who abuses his power to hurt others.  This is something that occurs quite often in the “real world.”  Once again, King has proven himself to be the master of real life horror, along with made-up horror.  And a character like Norman Daniels is proof that the real world will suffice just fine for horrifying us and giving us a sleepless night or two.

norman daniels

I was bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt.
I was unrecognizable to myself.
I saw my reflection in a window, I didn’t know my own face.

Bruce Springsteen, The Streets of Philadelphia

I constantly thought of the above lines when reading Rose Madder.  This book may be a fantasy novel with a tie-in to the world of Roland Deschain himself, but at its heart, it is a book about abuse, and what it takes to overcome the abuse and become a healed, whole person.

Towards the end of the book, Rosie refers to the items she still had left from her life (her purse, a grocery, etc) as the items she brought “out of Egypt.”  And the phrase “out of Egypt” is not a bad description of fleeing from an abusive marriage.  In fact, it is a pretty good description.

Like Rosie, it was a journey fleeing from my own abusive marriage.  Like the lines in the song, I was unrecognizable to myself, and did not recognize the person in the mirror who looked back at me.  And like Rosie, I brought a ton of baggage out of Egypt that I did not know what to do with.  Baggage such as memories of the time he tried to strangle at a hotel in Tennessee.  Baggage such as the black eyes that I had to explain away.  Baggage such as the thought that I would not live to see my 30th birthday.  Baggage such as the humiliation, and feeling about two inches tall, as I was told what a worthless human I was on a regular basis.  Even the strongest of us can only carry so much, and like Rosie, I feared that my anger and pain would poison the new life I had managed to build, unless I could find an outlet for it, where it could be tended and harm no one else.

Eventually, I did find that outlet.  I still have the memories, but to paraphrase a quote in the book, I have become ruthless with the past.  Again, to paraphrase the book, it is better to have bad dreams than bad wakings.  Unlike the wakings, the dreams will fade upon awakening, and I am left with only the blessings that have become my life.


 

So that’s it for Rose Madder.  Join me next month for another sleepless night in Derry, as I review and dissect Insomnia.  Although I am seriously considering taking a detour to a certain “sour ground” in the King universe in the meantime…

Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!

batman and robin


Connections

All of King’s work is inter-connected in some way, and Rose Madder is no different.  Here are some of the connections I have found:

-Rose reads a book written by Paul Sheldon.  Paul Sheldon is the main character in the novel Misery.

Annie Wilkes 1

-Cynthia Smith is a minor character in Rose Madder, but plays a more prominent role in the books Desperation and The Regulators.

Tak_Likes_TV_by_bluefreak

-Rose Madder makes reference to “ka.”  The word “ka” is one used many times in the Dark Tower series.

Ka symbol 2

-Dorcas speaks of the city of Lud and some other events that have occurred in her world.  The city of Lud is featured in The Wastelands, the third book in the Dark Tower series.

Jake and Gasher

-There is a picture of Susan Day in Anna Stevenson’s office.  Susan Day is a character in the novel Insomnia.

atropos

 

Kisses in the Dark: My Review of Morality

SK short story

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.

Pennywise 5

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!

stephen-king-cover-ftr

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.


 

Synopsis

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!

Sincerely,

Your (delighted) Constant Reader .

ermahgerd 1

Seriously, I just do not have words for this story…

Again, this story got to me, and there were no supernatural elements at all.

Stephen King's Pet Sematary (1985)

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.

 

 

 

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!

stephen-king-cover-ftr

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.

balloon2

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.

Roland 10

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.

the_colour_from_out_of_space_by_vashar23-d62vcjn

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?

MaryShelley2

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.

OSF1-00001107-001


 

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.

Tak_Likes_TV_by_bluefreak


 

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.

samfrodo

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.

Randall_Flagg_by_Clayman84

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.

Trashy 1


 

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.

CK 4

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

gorg_and_mr_munshun


 

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.

salem's lot

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.

Salem's lot 2

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.

'Salem's Lot 4

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

sparkly vampire 1


 

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).

the-overlook-hotel

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.

redrum


 

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?

pennywise

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.

small towns 1

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.

It 3


 

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.

pet sematary book 1

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…

Pet Sematary 2

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.

pet semetary 1

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.

kinopoisk.ru


 

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

How I spent my vacation: My review of Wind Through the Keyhole

Ah, vacation.  Nothing like a vacation when you have been busting your hump during tax season, and dealing with every single question that seems to come out of the woodwork between January 5th and April 15th…well, maybe this is just me!

vacation 1

Well, everyone deserves a vacation.  Especially our favorite ka-tet.  Roland, Eddie, Jake, Susannah and Oy did also bust their humps, after all.  Maybe taking on an insane talking monorail, fighting off killer lobsters and birthing people from the real world to Mid-World isn’t quite as stressful as tax season, but all that is still taxing (see what I did there) and these guys need a break just as much as the rest of us do!

Blaine 2

And the tet did indeed receive a break.  The weather may not have been so great, but they were treated to story time by none other than their friendly neighborhood gunslinger!  And the reader also got a bit of a break from that pesky Tower thingy that Stephen King has been torturing us with for so long, and was treated to a little more insight into Roland’s mysterious world, although the questions still remain.

Roland 1

So let’s all take a break, and venture into my review of The Wind Through the Keyhole.


Synopsis

The Wind Through the Keyhole picks up shortly after the events at the end of Wizard and Glass.  Roland and his friends are continuing with their journey, but run into some trouble in the form of what Roland refers to as a “starkblast” (severe windstorm).  The tet is able to find shelter, however, and settles into their shelter for a few days.  The storm causes Roland to recall an incident from his early manhood, along with a story that his mother used to tell him at bedtime, titled “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”  Roland is convinced by his friends to tell both stories, and happily obliges.

starkblast 1

The incident from Roland’s boyhood takes places about two years after the events in Meijis, and the death of Roland’s mother is still fresh on his mind.  Roland’s father calls upon Roland and his friend Jamie DeCurry one day to assist him with a matter in one of the surrounding towns.  It appears that a creature known as the Skin-Man is terrorizing the town.  The creature is human, but is a shapeshifter, and may or may not realize what it has done.  Roland and Jamie take a train to the town, but it is derailed and they finish the journey on horseback.  On the way to the town, Roland and Jamie encounter the convent of women who had sheltered his mother, Gabrielle, after her affair with Marten Broadcloak.  He learns that one of the women was attacked by the Skin-Man and survived, but is horribly disfigured.

Jamie De Curry

Once Roland and Jamie arrive in the town, they team with local law enforcement to investigate the mysterious deaths.  The Skin-Man has attacked a farm and killed nearly every inhabitant of that farm.  However, there is one survivor, a boy of about 11 years old named Bill Streeter.  Roland hypnotizes Bill Streeter, and learns that Bill has seen the Skin-Man in his human form, but only his feet.  Bill tells Roland that the Skin-Man has an unusual tattoo.  Roland and Jamie determine that the Skin-Man is likely one of the local salt miners and is also able to ride a horse.  Roland puts Bill in one of the cells in the local jail (for Bill’s protection), and begins the process of rounding up all the salt miners in town who may have the identifying tattoo.  Roland and Jamie plan to bring the suspects to the local jail, in the hopes that Bill may be able to identify the Skin-Man.

In order to bring some comfort to Bill Streeter, who is still in shock from the attack and the loss of his father, Roland bunks with him in the jail cell, and tells him the bedtime story told to him by his mother, titled “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”

“The Wind Through the Keyhole” tells the story of young Tim Ross.  Tim Ross lives in a forest, in a land that is probably part of Mid-World.  Tim’s life is ordinary until he is 11 years old, when he loses his father.  He is told by his father’s friend Big Kells that Tim’s father, known as Big Ross, was killed by a dragon.  The death of Big Ross leaves Tim’s mother Nell in dire straights and she is unable to pay her taxes on the land she lives on with her son.

Eyes of the Dragon 1

In a moment of desperation, Nell marries Big Kells.  This proves to be almost an immediate mistake, as Big Kells begins to abuse Tim’s mother.  In the meantime, the Covenant Man, who is the tax collector in Tim’s part of the world, makes a visit to Tim and his family, in an attempt to collect the taxes that are due.  However, the Covenant Man also does more than to attempt to collect taxes.  He shows Tim the true nature of the death of father, and it is revealed that Tim’s father was murdered by Big Kells.  It is also revealed that Big Kells has beaten Tim’s mother so badly that she has lost her vision and also suffered a severe concussion.

2013-Dodge-Dart-Feature-0507_rdax_646x396

Tim rushes back to his mother, as he fears for her life.  He is also extremely angry at Big Kells, and the village searches for him, so that he can answer for the murder of Tim’s father.  Tim also wants to restore his mother’s vision, and sets off on a quest to attempt that feat.  His school teacher, the Widow Smack, has armed him with a gun, along with a warning about the true nature of the Covenant Man.

WTK 2

Tim wanders deep into the forest.  He is nearly killed by a dragon, but pleads for his life and is granted mercy.  Tim also encounters humanoid creatures that reside in the swamp, and these creature mistake him for a gunslinger and are more than willing to aid him on his quest.  They give him food, and a GPS like device with a strangely human voice that calls itself Daria.  Daria aids Tim on his quest, providing him with directions to his destination.

A few days into his quest, Tim comes across a structure known as as Dogan.  Some wild billy-bumblers warn Tim that he must take shelter, as a starkblast is on the way.

Oy 1

Tim discovers that there is a cage, and locked in that case is an extremely large tyger.  Tim choose not to kill the tyger, and instead seeks shelter with the creature.  There is a magical blanket in the cage with the creature, and this blanket keeps both Tim and his mysterious new friend warm and sheltered from the starkblast.

tyger

The next morning, the tyger urges Tim to place drops of a magic potion in its eyes.  Tim is afraid, but complies with the request.  The tyger then transforms into a human man who is obviously a magician.  In fact, the tyger is actually none other than perhaps the most famous magician of all time:  Maerlyn.

Maerlyn's rainbow

Maerlyn tells Tim that a creature called the Red King had imprisoned him in a moment of vulnerability.  Maerlyn gives Tim the rest of the magic potion, and tells him to use it to restore his mother’s site.  He also tells Tim to wear his father’s coin around his neck, in remembrance of his father, but to give his mother his father’s ax.  Tim is then transported home via the magical blanket.

magic carpet

Tim rushes into his house.  The Widow Smack is asleep  and his mother is also resting in her bed.  There is no sign of Big Kells.  Tim restores his mother’s site.  He takes another look at the Widow Smack, and is horrified to discover she is actually dead.

Big Kells then attacks Tim from behind, nearly killing him.  However, Tim had followed Maerlyn’s instructions to the letter, and gave his mother his father’s ax.  Tim’s mother attacks Big Kells with ax and kills him, saving the life of her son.  Tim and his mother live out the rest of their days in relative peace, although Tim becomes a gunslinger and has a few adventures.

Roland then finishes telling his story to Bill Streeter.  Bill is comforted a little, so Roland takes him to a local bar to identify the Skin-Man who killed his father.  Bill identifies the man by his tattoo and the scar that runs through the tattoo.  The man then changes to a snake and kills the mine foreman, but Roland puts a bullet through the creature’s skull.

Roland and Jamie are heralded as heroes, and the town celebrates. Roland and Jamie head back to Gilead, and drop Bill off at the women’s convent.  Roland is given a letter from his mother.  He learns that his mother knew that she would die at the hands of her son, but that she still went back to their home to see him one last time.  His mother also lets Roland know in the letter that she forgives him for his crime.  Roland then forgives his mother for her adultery, and forgives himself for killing her.

Gabrielle 1

Roland finishes the tale, and the storm passes.  Roland, Eddie, Jake, Susannah and Oy then continue along the Path of the Beam in their quest to seek the Dark Tower.

the dark tower cover_0


 

My Thoughts

The Wind Through the Keyhole is quite different in tone that the rest of the Dark Tower series, and even from most of King’s other work.  However, these differences are what makes it unique, and they are  why I love it.

As a child, I was a huge fan of fairy tales.   I remember that my parents had several large books of fairy tales which they read to me (probably repeatedly, but I am sure I wasn’t counting).  When I grew old enough to read on my own, I re-read those stories again, and checked out countless books on fairy tales, fables and myths from the library.  These type of stories hold a treasured place in my heart, and you can bet if I reproduce my spawn my own children will be huge fairy tale geeks as well.

fairytale_landscape_by_reinmar84-d6uaii7

So imagine my surprise (although King really should not surprise at this point, since he has proven himself the master of surprise) that my favorite writer, who is billed as a “horror writer” to boot, took the time to indulge me and write me a fairy tale.  But that is exactly what Wind Through the Keyhole is:  a fairy tale.  There is a magician.  In fact, two magicians:  The Covenant Man and good old Maerlyn.  There is adventure.  The adventure is even in a forest.  And King even included an evil stepparent, since what fairy tale would be complete without an evil stepparent?  Just like all of his other work, it is tied into that awesome universe he has spent nearly 40 years creating.  Even evil stepparents have their place among master gunslingers in the Stephen King universe.

Wind Through the Keyhole is also fascinating in that it provides us with a glimpse into the world of Roland, and teases us a little more about just what kind of a world Roland comes from, and how close it is to our own world.  The Coventry Man even references our world, and makes mention of a vehicle called a Dodge Dart.  The device Tim uses as guide on his journey seems to be somewhat similar to the app known as Siri, that many people rely upon when they feel the need to ask a question to their smartphones.  Even Maerlyn is a familiar figure, as almost everyone knows the legend of King Arthur and his magician Merlin.

Merlin 1

Another thing I remember about fairy tales is that most of them contained some kind of life lesson at some point in the story (be nice to your sisters or you will get your eyes pecked out per Cinderella, beauty is in the eye of the beholder per Beauty and the Beast, etc).  And Wind Through the Keyhole also delivered on this premise.  And the lesson wasn’t gory, no one got their eyes pecked out, nor was it preachy.  The lesson was forgiveness.  And forgiveness is a beautiful thing when it is sincere.  But forgiveness is also a difficult thing, especially when we need to forgive ourselves.  At the beginning of the story, Roland is still grieving the death of his mother, and blames himself.  He is unable to let go of the guilt.  It takes a letter from essentially beyond the grave in order for Roland to finally move past his guilt.  Once Roland realizes that his mother knew what was in store for her, but lets her love for her son win out in the end, he is finally able to move on.  And Gabrielle’s act of forgiveness for her what she knows her son will do to her is simply beautiful.  Somehow, in a what is almost a children’s story, King was able to sneak in a lesson that all children (and most adults, for that matter) would benefit from:  forgiveness is a beautiful and needed act.

Forgive


 

So here you have it:  my recap of my, er the vacation of our favorite ka-tet!  But like all good things, vacations must come to an end.  I am back to work, and so are they.  Join me next week as my next review throws them to the wolves…The Wolves of the Calla, that is!

Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!

batman and robin


 

Time for connections fun!  Here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in The Wind Through the Keyhole:

-The connection that stands out the most is the character the Covenant Man.  This character can be none other than Randall Flagg in some form.  Flagg is perhaps King’s most ubiquitous villain, and the fact that he shows up in a “fairy tale” is just further proof of that.  Flagg is featured in Eyes of the Dragon, The Stand and a few other King works.  Obviously, Flagg is a timeless source of pestilence in the King universe.

the stand

-A being called the Red King is also mentioned.  This being is probably the Crimson King, who is another ubiquitous villain in the King universe.  The Crimson makes an appearance in the novel Insomnia, and it is implied that he is responsible for many of the evil deeds that are committed in the King universe.

The_Crimson_King_by_Verin88

-The Widow Smack’s first name is Ardelia.  Ardelia is also the name of the creature who torments the protagonists in the short story The Library Policeman, which is part of the collection of Four Past Midnight.  This creature is similar to Widow Smack, in that it attempts to “teach” children by telling them awful versions of their favorite fairy tales.  The Widow Smack is also a teacher, but a kind one.  Also, like Ardelia Lortz, she seems to possess some magic powers, but again, she uses her powers for good and not harm.

The_Library_Policeman_by_TheHouseOfIdeas

-The mine foreman states there appeared to be a part in the salt mine that was infested by some of otherwordly, supernatural presence, and it was responsible for turning one of his men into a shape-shifter.  This brings to mind Tak, the villain in the books Desperation and The Regulators.  Tak was an entity originally discovered in the mines of the Southwest, and was able to possess people’s bodies and force them to commit acts that they normally would not commit.  Tak had many powers, and one of them may have been the ability to shape shift.

Tak_Likes_TV_by_bluefreak

 

-The phrase “There’s no place like home” is uttered.  Of course, this is from the movie The Wizard of Oz, which was heavily referenced in the book Wizard and Glass.

wizard of oz 1

-The character Maerlyn is a major character in The Wind Through the Keyhole.  Maerlyn has been alluded to in previous books in the Dark Tower series, but not much was known about him.  It was even implied that Randall Flagg and Maerlyn were one in the same, although King has now shown us otherwise.  Maerlyn is the creator of the Wizard’s Rainbow mentioned in Wizard and Glass, and may not necessarily be on the side of the good.  However, in Wind Through the Keyhole, Maerlyn was shown to have a vulnerable side (the Red King imprisons him while he is drunk).  Maerlyn also helped Tim and saved his life via the advice he gave.  In other words, he did not seem to be an evil being and actually appeared to be a benevolent one.  It is difficult to tell where Maerlyn belongs in the grand scheme of the Stephen King universe and just exactly what he is fighting for.

Merlin