A Box Full of Surprises: My Review of Gwendy’s Button Box

So, we are almost halfway through 2017.

And what a hell of a year it has been.;.

Well, the above is part of it, although this has really been a hell that has been a long time in the making…

But let me get back to the topic:  Hell!

And the good kind of hell.

Not talking about the kind that involves Cenobites, either!  I am not sure that I have the stamina to take that kind of hell!

No, I am talking about…

Wait for it…

Stephen King!

I mean, duh, right?  Is there any other kind of hell to talk about in this blog?

So yes, it is a hell of a year to be a Stephen King fan.

The television series The Mist will premiere soon.

The miniseries based on the novel Mr. Mercedes will also premiere this summer.

In August, our favorite gunslinger will finally come to life!

And September will see my childhood nightmare  a certain famous (or is it infamous) homicidal clown will star in his own movie, along with the gang of bad ass kids tasked to fight this clown.

We even get a second season of the show Stranger Things on October 31st (well played Duffer brothers, well played.)  I mean, it’s Stranger Things, which is a bonus King story, amirite?

In other words, we are in the era of Stephen King 2.0.

Is it 1987, or 2017?

I mean, the hair may be smaller, but that is about the only way I can tell the difference (well, the home decor is less tacky, maybe) between the two.

Once again, King is ubiquitous.  But then again, he is The Master, and that is what Masters do, when they aren’t doing other Master-y stuff, like getting blocked on Twitter by leaders of the free world who turn orange from the overdose on covfefe.  Or eating chocolate candy at an alarming rate.

(Wait, scratch that last part.  I put a little TMI about myself in this blog again, dammit!)

But anyway, it is the era of Stephen King 2.0.  And of course this nerdy blogger could not be happier!

Because, movies and TV shows!  And merchandise!

And oh, right…books!

We still have those coming out!  Books!

Like the latest King book, aka Gwendy’s Button Box.

But this is no ordinary King book (as if his books were ordinary anyway!)

This book is actually a collaboration between The Master and…

Another Master?

I think so!

Richard Chizmar teamed with King to write this novel…a gruesome twosome!

Seriously, a double threat much?

And this is one collaboration that is hellishly awesome, and one of my favorite short works in King’s extensive library.

So, without further ado, let us get down to business, so we can review and dissect Gwendy’s Button Box.

And, as always:

 

Continue reading

Advertisements

The Great Race: My Review of The Running Man

Lately, the world has been a bit topsy-turvy.

Maybe I am looking at it through a looking glass

Or did Barry Allen make an ill-advised trip, and travel back in time, so now that we have a paradox on our hands, so to speak?

(Not to be confused with our beloved Earth 2, where science accelerates at a rapid rate, and villains are the mayors of cities and heroes are well…kinda douchebags, actually.)

Maybe I traveled into an alternate reality, where Superman is the adopted son of undocumented migrant workers, and has a really, really close relationship with Zod, and Batman is literally backwards, and kind of sucks…

Well, actually no.

Not that I am knocking on any of the above, and wouldn’t be open to a little possible experimentation…

Although I could argue that Barry Allen and his ill-advised time travel has had some kind of effect on my reality…

After all, the Cubs are World Series champions!

And we may not have Leonard Snart as mayor, but hey, we have a Cheeto for president! So maybe that time travel did do something!

Now, if only it had won me the lottery…

Or at least given me cool super powers!

Okay, back on topic…

I have actually traveled to alternate reality, even though that trip to Earth 2 is still on my bucket list.

In other words, I have read a book written by that Bachman fella…

Well, I am really not sure if those guys are one in the same, even if that whole story about death from cancer of the pseudonym is slightly suspicious…

Hey, you never know.  If young boys and and middle-aged priests can “die” in one world, and be re-born into another (cooler) world, maybe writers can be stricken with cancer of the pseudonym, and end up being re-born on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower, where the writer in question takes a grisly sort of janitorial type of job, collecting macabre souvenirs as a form of payment…

Okay, again back on topic.

So, I read a Stephen King book.

Yeah, water is wet, the sun rises in the east, and Cheetos make terrible leaders of the free world…

So what else is new?

Well, this book is actually new, at least somewhat.

As most of us probably know, early in his career, The King of Horror decided that he would like to write non-horror stories, every now and again.

While King has actually written some fantastic books that can be classified as not horror (The Talisman, 11/22/63, Different Seasons and The Eyes of the Dragon all readily come to mind), early on his career, he was bound by some silly rules about how many books he could publish in a year.

Somebody thought that there was such a thing as too many Stephen King books!  And they thought I was the crazy one!

So King did what any sensible King of Horror would do.  He created a pseudonym.

As far as I know, this pseudonym did not come to life and murder people, forcing a flock of birds to be called, so they could carry him off, kicking and screaming.

(However, if he is employed by the friendly folks known as SAMCRO, all bets are off, as you gotta do what you gotta do to survive over there in the charming town of Charming, California.)

King named this pseudonym Richard Bachman.  And for a while, that Bachman fella did pretty well for himself.

He wasn’t a horror writer, per se.  No, Bachman explored the darkness of human nature.  Man’s inhumanity to man, in other words.

He wrote of violence at school, corporate greed and of a dystopian government, that might actually not be fiction at this point.

And Bachman also wrote of our obsession with television, and our need to be constantly entertained, even at the expense of the feelings (and maybe even lives) of our fellow man.

In other words, I am currently reading The Running Man.

Dicky Bachman has come out to play.

So let’s indulge him, as we read and dissect The Running Man.

And, as always:

Continue reading

The Eclipse, Part 1: My Review of Gerald’s Game

When one thinks of horror, often one thinks of horror movies.

You have your classic horror movies, such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, Poltergeist, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.

Or, for a little more modern fare, you can always watch films such as Horns, or Get Out.  Those are good for a fright as well.

These movies are fantastical in some ways.  We all know that someone cannot possibly be shot 23,889,209 times and still get up to chase sexually precocious teenagers and kill them in inventive ways (although that is a good way to burn that free 100 or so minutes you may have that day.  More if you watch the cut scenes on the “extras” menu.)

But often, real life can contain plenty of horror…

And no, I am not talking about the latest American Horror Story, aka the Drumpf presidency, although the survivors of the Bowling Green Massacre may not agree with me on that alternative fact!

But seriously, just turn on the news any given night, and tell me that man’s inhumanity to man is not the most horrific thing out there?

And there is one guy who understands this very well, and who has written some compelling literature on the subject, as a matter of fact…

You guessed it, we are talking about Stephen King!

*insert shocked look right about here*

King has been called The Master of Modern Horror (but you can call him The Master for short), and for good reason.

I mean, a killer clown that hunts kids?

Check!

A vampire that effectively turns a town into a ghost town that any sane person would want to avoid at all costs?

Check!

A rabid St. Bernard that makes you want to avoid car trouble at all costs?

Check!

An evil entity that haunts a town, and forces you to agree with the statement “Dead is better?”

Check and mate!

While most of the above horrors are not actually “real horrors,” one of King’s greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to include elements of realism in his writing.

The Shining is a prime example of this.  Most of us have at least seen the Kubrick adaptation, and quite a few of us have probably read the book as well.

So we associate The Shining the famous phrase “Redrum” (spell it backwards, for the uninitiated), along with a haunted hotel and a scary lady who is a permanent residence of a room with a famous number

There is also the matter of the guy in the dog costume…

Well, back to my point.

Which is that King can insert reality into his works.  The Shining is a great example of this, because it deals with alcoholism, unemployment, child abuse and the list goes on.

In other words, we can relate the above list, since we have all experienced at least one of those things in our lifetime.

And that is what makes the story so terrifying:  since we can relate to those topics, it is not that far out of left field that there may be a haunted hotel somewhere out there, where we avoid room 217 (or 237), along with the hedge animals and fire extinguishers, because if it can happen to the seemingly normal Torrance family, it sure can happen to us.

King writes about people.  These people may be placed into extraordinary situations, but they are still people, who could, at least theoretically, be any one of us.

And these people do not always fight supernatural monsters,  Often, humans are the monsters, and what a human can do to a fellow human is far worse than what a haunted hotel or even a rabid St. Bernard can do to us.

One of King’s books that deals with man’s inhumanity to man (or, more appropriately, woman) is Gerald’s Game.

Gerald’s Game contains hardly any elements of the supernatural, but it is still a frightening read.  The monsters in this book are human, so the scenario is one that is plausible for anyone.

So strap in (but don’t handcuff yourself), and get ready for the ride that is Gerald’s Game.

As always:

Continue reading

Caveat Emptor: My Review of Needful Things

Once upon a time, two stories got together.

These stories were named Wall Street and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

gordon gekko

They fell in love, and got married.

something-wicked-this-way-comes-1

One day, there was so much love that a new story came into existence.

And that new story was kind of like its parents.

It dealt with many of the same themes and messages.

needful_things_move_poster

But make no mistake, that new story was also distinct from its mom and dad stories.

It had its own voice, along with a large cast of characters and a pretty awesome villain, to boot.

So, what was this story named?

Surely, it had to have an awesome name to live up to all this hype, right?

Well, since you asked, the name of this story is…

Needful Things.

Yes, *that* Needful Things, written by none other than The Master himself!

Simpsons SK

You are visiting the right blog, in case you were wondering.

Where this month (much like the book in question), we end 2016 with a bang!

Or maybe a stink bomb…now that would be more appropriate, wouldn’t it?

So, strap in, and get ready for one Hell (this is a Stephen King book, after all) of a ride, as we review and dissect one of my all-time favorite Stephen King books!

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

Needful Things begins with an introduction of the town Castle Rock, by an unknown narrator.  The narrator seems familiar with the town and its inhabitants, describing, in particular, the various feuds and rivalries between the inhabitants, and some things that the inhabitants would wish to keep secret.  The narrator also advises the reader that new store, named Needful Things, has opened in Castle Rock, and that the new store will bring some kind of change to the town.

There is much talk and gossip about the new store in town.  However, the store’s first customer is an eleven year old boy by the name of Brian Rusk.

Brian wanders into Needful Things one fall afternoon.  There he meets the owner, a man by the name of Leland Gaunt.

Almost immediately, Brian takes a liking to Mr. Gaunt, and is in awe of the new store.  When Mr. Gaunt asks Brian what he desires, Brian replies that he would like a 1956 Sandy Koufax baseball card to complete his collection.

Somehow, Gaunt is able to produce that exact baseball card, much to Brian’s amazement.  The card is signed by Koufax, and even has the name “Brian” written on it.

Even though Brian has very little money, Gaunt sells him the card.  Gaunt also makes Brian promise to do something for him.  The deed is never specified, but Brian walks out of the store and is very happy.

When the store finally opens for business, it receives another visitor:  Polly Chalmers.

Polly is a long time resident of Castle Rock, although she spent several years living elsewhere.  Not much is known about Polly, other than the fact that she became pregnant, left town and possibly attended business school.  Polly keeps to herself and does not reveal much about her past.  Polly also suffers from a painful case of arthritis, and is desperate for a cure.

Polly also immediately takes a liking to Gaunt.  She pays him a visit and brings him a cake, and they chat about the town.  Polly reassures Gaunt about his new store, telling him that he will likely have many more customers.

That claim proves to be true, as Gaunt receives several more visits from the townspeople that day.  Some even purchase items from him, negotiating the prices with Gaunt.

The book then introduces us to a man named Alan Pangborn.  Alan is the sheriff of Castle Rock.  Alan has recently lost his wife and younger son due to a car accident and is mourning their deaths.  Alan is also in a relationship with Polly Chalmers.

Later that evening, a man named Hugh Priest is walking down the street, and notices a fox tail for sale in the window of the new store.  Hugh also notices that Needful Things appears to be open for business, even though the hour is very late.  Hugh is alcoholic whose life is beginning to fall apart due to his drinking.  When he sees the fox tail, he is reminded of his high school days and happier times.

Hugh walks into the store and meets Gaunt. He purchases the fox tail from Gaunt, and makes a promise to play a prank on a woman named Nettie Cobb, who is Polly’s housekeeper.

The new store does more business the next day.  Myra Evans, the best friend of Cora Rusk (Brian’s mother) purchases a picture of Elvis from Gaunt, and makes a promise to play a prank on another person in town.

Nettie Cobb, Polly Chalmers’ housekeeper, also becomes a customer of the new store.  Nettie is a troubled woman, as she has spent time in a mental institution, after killing her abusive husband in self defense.  She was released as part of a work rehabilitation program, and came to work for Polly Chalmers.   Nettie purchases a piece of carnival glass, and agrees to play a prank on Danforth “Buster” Keeton, a town selectman.

Meanwhile, Alan has a busy day as sheriff.  He has his deputy, Norris Ridgewick, write Keeton a ticket for parking in a handicapped spot.  Keeton becomes irrationally angry at this, and attacks Ridgewick after he receives the ticket.  Alan is able to break the fight up, but wonders why Keeton is so angry over a five dollar ticket, and speculates that Keeton may be deeply troubled.

Alan also meets with the Reverend William Rose, the pastor of the local Baptist church.  Reverend Rose is upset because the Catholic church in town will be sponsoring a bingo night in the name of charity, and the Baptist church believes that gambling in any form is a sin.  The reverend tries to convince Alan that this is illegal, but Alan has done his research, and tells the reverend that the Catholics will be able to sponsor their gambling night.  This upsets Reverend Rose, but he finally leaves the police station.

That afternoon,, Alan meets Polly for coffee, and they talk about the new store.  Polly is actually pleased that Nettie visited the new store, as Nettie is timid and tends to shy away from new experiences.  Polly also mentions that Gaunt returned the cake container, along with a note inviting her to visit the store that Sunday, as he has an item for sale that may be of interest to Polly.

Brian realizes that it is time to play the prank that he promised Gaunt that he would play.  Brian convinces himself to play the prank, as he fears his new baseball card may be taken away from him if he does not fulfill his promise to Gaunt.  Brian has not told anyone of the purchase of the card, as he fears that the fact that he now owns an expensive card may rouse suspicion.

Brian heads to the house of a woman named Wilma, who is a neighbor of Nettie Cobb’s.  The two women have been feuding for some time, and simply do not get along.  Brian smears mud on Wilma’s wash that is drying on the clothesline.  He feels some satisfaction after playing the prank, and heads back home to enjoy his new baseball card.

When Wilma returns that evening, she discovers her ruined sheets and becomes angry.  Wilma also assumes that Nettie is responsible, and places a threatening phone call to Nettie.  This upsets Nettie, who has no idea why Wilma is angry, but vows to not let Wilma bully her any more.

Deputy Norris Ridgewick passes by the store and his attention is captured by a fishing rod.  Ridgewick agrees to buy the fishing rod from Gaunt, and agrees to play a prank on another citizen of the town.

Gaunt makes several more deals with various citizens of Castle Rock, where his customers buy items from them that they deeply desire, and agree to play (seemingly) harmless pranks on other citizens of the town.

Danforth “Buster” Keeton also pays a visit to Needful Things and Leland Gaunt.  Keeton has become increasingly unstable and paranoid over the past several years, as he has become addicted to gambling and has been stealing from the town’s treasury to finance his gambling habit.  Keeton is now under the threat of an audit, which means that his embezzling will be discovered.

Keeton purchases a horse racing game from Gaunt, which he believes will help him predict the winner of the actual horse races.  Keeton also promises to play a prank for Gaunt, as payment for the horse racing game.

The next morning, Alan drops by Needful Things, hoping to meet with the owner.  Gaunt is in the store, but Alan does not see him.  Gaunt does not trust Alan, and does not want to meet him.

Polly sits on her porch, anticipating that she is going to experience a very bad bout of pain from her arthritis.  Polly also recalls her past, which she has not been honest with Alan.  When Polly was 17, she became pregnant out of wedlock with her son, Kelton.  She refused to marry the father or accept any help from her parents, who were ashamed of her.  Polly ran away to the West coast and ended up in California.  One night, while she was working, she left Kelton with a babysitter.  There was a fire at her apartment that killed both her son and his babysitter.  Eventually, Polly returned to Castle Rock, as she realized it was her true home.  However, she never told Alan the truth about her son, telling him instead that Kelton died of SIDS at three months old.  Polly knows that she must reveal the truth to Alan, sooner or later, but is not sure how to do that.

That night, Polly’s prediction about her arthritis proves to be correct and she is in terrible pain, and has trouble sleeping.  The next day, Nettie pays Polly a visit and becomes very worried about Polly’s health.  Polly is grateful for the concern, but tells Nettie not to worry and that she will be okay.

After Nettie leaves her house, Hugh Priests breaks into her home, in order to play the prank that Gaunt has ordered him to play.  Hugh kills Nettie’s dog Raider with a corkscrew, and leaves a threatening note on Raider’s collar.

Nettie leaves Polly’s house, and is ordered by Gaunt to play a prank on Buster Keeton.  She complies, breaking into Keeton’s house and leaving several parking tickets with obscene messages, signing one of the tickets as Norris Ridgewick.

Brian Rusk also realizes that he must finish paying for his baseball ticket.  Again, he heads to Wilma Jerzyck’s house, and throws several rocks with the windows, with threatening notes.

Nettie returns to her home.  She finds Raider’s corpse and is heartbroken and angry that someone has killed him.  She also notices the note, and believes that Wilma has killed her dog in retaliation for something.  Nettie finds a large, sharp kitchen knife, and heads to Wilma’s home.

In the meantime, Wilma returns to her home and finds the broken windows and the note.  She is furious, and assumes that Nettie is responsible.  Wilma also finds a large, sharp night, and leaves her house, looking for Nettie.

Wilma and Nettie meet on the sidewalk, and immediately exchange words.  This escalates to blows and the two women begin to stab each other.  Both women are able to inflict fatal blows on each other, and both die in the ensuing fight.

Polly begins to feel a little better and decides to take Gaunt up on his offer, meeting him at his shop.  Gaunt seems to understand how much pain that Polly is in, and offers her an Egyptian charm he calls an “azkah.”  Polly is skeptical, but Gaunt convinces her to try the charm, telling her that she has nothing to lose by trying.  Polly begins to feel better even before she leaves the store, but realizes that Gaunt had put her in a trance.

Keeton returns home from a rare, pleasant outing with his wife, Myrtle, and finds the fake tickets.  He is humiliated and attempts to remove all of the tickets, but his paranoia and instability become apparent.  Myrtle is worried about her husband, but is unable to reach him.

Alan and Norris complete the investigation on Nettie’s death.  Something does not sit right with Alan, but he does not know what.  He sends Norris home for the night, telling him to enjoy his fishing trip that Norris has planned for the next day.

Norris returns to the police station and changes back into his civilian clothes.  He finds a package on his desk, but does not know who the package is from.  When he opens it, his hand is snapped by a rat trap, and Norris nearly loses his fingers.  Norris is outraged and humiliated, and is also convinced that Keeton is responsible for the trick.

A prank is played on the Reverend William Rose, in the form of a nasty note left in the parsonage.  The note is signed by the concerned Catholic men of Castle Rock, but is left there by a young man named Ricky, who has played the prank in exchange for an item from Needful Things.

Gaunt watches over the town in the apartment above his shop, which is void of any furnishings.  He is planning something unpleasant for the town of Castle Rock, and various citizens stir in their sleep, plagued by disturbing dreams.

Pranks continue to be played on the unsuspecting citizens of Castle Rock, including the Baptist church, which receives a threatening note believed to be from the Catholic church.

More trouble rolls into Castle Rock: Ace Merrill, a former resident of Castle Rock, decides to return to town.  Ace was arrested by Alan several years ago in a drug bust.  Ace has been released from prison and is still a cocaine addict.  Ace also owes money to some unsavory people due to his drug habit, and has been given a deadline of November 1st to pay back the money, or he will be killed.

Ace happens to notice a “for hire” sign on the window of Needful Things.  He also notices what he thinks to be a book about hidden treasure in New England that is written by his late uncle, Reginald Merrill.  Ace has been convinced that his uncle had held out an inheritance that should have been due to Ace, and his greed is sparked.

Ace enters the store and speaks to Gaunt.  Gaunt convinces Ace to work for him so that Ace can pay back the money he owes to his creditors.  Gaunt also sells Ace the book on buried treasure, telling him that maybe the book will lead him to his fortune.

Alan soon finds out that Ace is back in town and confronts him.  Ace tells Alan that he has no intention of staying in town and that he will leave soon.

Brian Rusk begins to feel extremely guilty over his role in the deaths of Wilma and Nettie.  However, he receives a call from Gaunt advising him that he was not seen by anyone, and that he will be able to lie if necessary.  Brian does not feel any better, and begins to have thoughts of suicide.

Sally Ratliffe, the speech teacher at the local junior high school, becomes the latest victim of a prank.  Sally is engaged to Lester Pratt, the physical education teacher.  Both are devout Baptists and seem devoted to each other.  However, Sally finds what appears to be a love note from Lester’s ex-girlfriend in his vehicle.  Sally is extremely upset when she finds this, but calms down a bit when she returns home and begins to meditate.

Ace completes his first job for Gaunt.  He travels to Massachusetts and picks up a vehicle, per the instructions of Gaunt, along with a large amount of guns and ammunition.  Ace notices that the there is something strange about the car, as it appears to drive itself, but he return the car and the rest of his cargo to Gaunt, and then proceeds to hunt  for treasure.

Polly buries Nettie, and has Alan drop her off at Gaunt’s shop, so that she can pay for the azka charm.  Alan is skeptical about the charm, even though Polly is feeling better than she has in years.  The two argue, but Alan convinces Polly to pay for the charm with a check, so that she can cancel the payment if necessary.

When Polly enters the shop, Gaunt senses that she is troubled, and tells her that he will accept a check.  He also tells Polly that she must play a prank on someone, and that someone is Ace Merrill.  Polly agrees to the prank, and leaves the store with her azka charm.

Alan deduces that Brian Rusk may have either been involved somehow in the deaths of Nettie and Wilma.  Alan believes that Brian either played the prank, or perhaps witnessed it.  He tries to speak to Brian, but Brian seems distressed and will not open up to Alan.  Alan is then interrupted and called back to the station.

In the meantime, pranks continue to be played on various citizens of Castle Rock, with varying consequences.  In one instance, it is revealed that the principal at the middle school is involved in pedophilia.  In another instance, Lester Pratt, the fiancee of Sally, finds the wallet of Sally’s ex boyfriend in his vehicle, along with a picture of Sally and her ex, leaving Lester to believe that Sally is cheating on him.

Polly returns home and finds a letter waiting for her.  The letter appears to reveal that Alan has made some inquiries about her past and the death of her son, Kelton.  Polly is furious and calls Alan when he is at work and ends their relationship.

Alan is bewildered by the phone call from Polly, but has to put his feelings aside, as fingerprints were discovered at Nettie’s house.  The fingerprints do not belong to Nettie, but actually belong to Hugh Priest.  Alan suspects that Hugh killed Nettie’s dog, and sets out to arrest him.

Chaos erupts in the town, as people begin to seek revenge against those who they believe to be responsible for the tricks that were played on them.  One of Alan’s deputies, John LaPointe, is attacked by Lester Pratt at the police station, as Lester believes John was dating Sally behind his back.  Sheila, the dispatcher, attacks Lester and kills him, defending John.  The phones at the police station begin ringing off the hook, and Alan is bewildered.

Brian Rusk is unable to shake his distress.  Brian ends his life in his father’s garage, shooting himself with his father’s rifle.  Before his death, Brian makes his horrified younger brother Sean promise to never set foot in the store Needful Things.

Polly then makes good on her promise to play a prank on Ace Merrill.  She buries some torn pictures and stamps in a coffee can on some abandoned property, along with a letter addressed to Ace.  Polly questions her actions and her argument with Alan, but still plays the prank anyway.

Shortly after Polly buries the coffee can, Ace uses his book and maps and tracks down the location where the can is buried.  Ace eagerly digs and finds the coffee can, thinking that he has found buried treasure from his uncle.  However, his hopes are dashed when he finds the letter.  The letter appears to be written by Alan Pangborn and taunts Ace, telling him that his uncle left his treasure to Alan and not Ace.  Ace becomes furious, and vows to find Alan.

Chaos continues to erupt in the town.  Danforth Keeton finally becomes completely unhinged and kills his wife, Myrtle, beating her to death with a hammer.  Hugh Priest is also killed by the bartender who believes Hugh played a prank on him.  Alan Pangborn is bewildered, and attempts to question Sean Rusk, Brian’s younger brother, as he is unable to obtain any information from Cora Rusk, Brian’s mother, who appears to be in a daze.

While the chaos erupts in Castle Rock, Gaunt continues to make sales.  This time, he is selling guns, and the guns appear to have poison bullets.  It is also revealed that Gaunt is extremely old, and has been in this business for many centuries, causing chaos wherever he appears.

Alan is finally able to question Sean Rusk, and is disturbed by what he finds out.  Sean tells him that Brian made him promise not to ever enter the store known as Needful Things before his death.  Sean tells Alan about the baseball card that Gaunt sold to Brian, along with the sunglasses sold to his mother, Cora, and that Cora believes that those sunglasses allow her to visit with Elvis Presley.  Alan realizes that Brian was responsible for the pranks played on Wilma, and that Gaunt is the one actually responsible for the chaos in town.  Alan issues out a warrant for Gaunt’s arrest, and realizes that he must find Gaunt.

Gaunt recruits both Keeton and Ace to help him in his final act of mischief in Castle Rock:  he plans on using dynamite to destroy the town.

A stink bomb is set off in the Baptist Church.  The Baptists blame the Catholics, and the two groups meet with vengeance in mind.  The Catholics and the Baptists begin to fight, and people are badly hurt and even killed in the brawl, as both groups are intent on destroying the other.

Alan is on the hunt for Gaunt.  He vows vengeance on Gaunt, for his actions in Castle Rock.

Norris Ridgewick plans on committing suicide.  He believes that he is at least partially responsible for the chaos in town, as he purchased an item from Gaunt and played a prank.  However, something makes Norris realize that committing suicide is not the answer.  Norris then sees the fishing rod he purchased for what it is:  a piece of old bamboo.  Norris escapes from his noose and destroys the fishing rod, and vows that he will seek revenge on Gaunt.

Polly also has a revelation:  the letter she found earlier that day was addressed to Patricia Chalmers.  However, Polly had always been known as Polly during her time in San Francisco.  Therefore, Polly realizes that the letter was a fake, and that Alan has not made any inquiries into her past.

Polly rips the azka charm away from her chest.  When she does, a spider escapes from the charm.  Polly realizes that this is the manifestation of her arthritis pain, which never really went away, but was transferred elsewhere.  Polly chases the creature into her bathroom, and begins to attack it.

Alan finally arrives at Needful Things and notices that the store that the store appears to be abandoned.  However, Alan finds a note from Gaunt, along with a video tape claiming to capture the last moments of his deceased wife and son.  Alan pops the video into the VCR, and prepares to watch.

Polly continues to battle the spider, attacking it with her mouth and then a toilet plunger.  Finally, she defeats the creature, and realizes that she must find Alan.

Keeton and Ace begin the destruction of the town, using the dynamite.  They are seen by Norris, who orders them to halt.

Unable to stop himself, Alan watches the video tape.  The tape appears to show his wife car being hit by none other than Ace Merrill, whom Alan had previously arrested for selling drugs.  Alan becomes angry, and wants to seek revenge on Ace, who he now believes to be responsible for his wife and son’s death.

Norris attempts to arrest Ace and Keeton.  However, he is shot, and Ace escapes, looking for Alan.

While Norris is attempting to restore order, several buildings in Castle Rock begin to explode.

Polly finds Alan, and begs him to stop his search for Ace.  She is able to get through to Alan, who realizes that something is wrong with the video tape that he watched.

Ace interrupts the conversation, by pointing a gun at Polly.  Alan then has his own revelation: in the video tape, his wife’s seat belt is shown to be buckled.  However, Alan recalls that this was not the case and realizes that he has been tricked.

Alan also sees Gaunt leaving the store, with a valise that appears to contain the souls of his unhappy customers.  Alan has brought a container that has paper snakes with him.  This was something that his son, who enjoyed practical jokes, had purchased before his death.

Alan unleashed the joke on Gaunt.  The snake springs from the can, and is actually a real snake, not a paper one.  Gaunt is fooled, and grabs for the snake.  The snake bites Gaunt, and he screams in pain.   Alan takes advantage of this, and grabs Gaunt’s valise.

Polly breaks free of Ace’s grip and attacks him.  Norris sees his opportunity and shoots Ace, killing him instantly.

Alan continues to use his magic tricks to fool Gaunt, and demands that he leave town.  Alan brings out some trick flowers, which turn into a blazing bouquet of light.  Again, Alan casts out Gaunt.  The valise bursts open, and the trapped souls escape, free to make their journey to their final destiny.

After the valise is opened, Gaunt escapes the town, in his Talisman Tucker.  However, the Talisman transforms into a horse with burning red eyes, and Gaunt transforms into a dwarf.  Gaunt and his supernatural vehicle then vanish, and Castle Rock returns to normal.

Polly, Alan and Norris leave town, to seek medical attention for Norris.  They are heartbroken over the destruction of the town, but relieved that Alan has defeated Gaunt.  Alan tries to let go of his grief for his wife and son, so that he continue to live his life.

An unnamed narrator advises the reader that a new store has opened in the town of Junction City, Iowa.  The store is named Unanswered Prayers and is presumably owned by Leland Gaunt.


My Thoughts

Well, this was unexpected.

When I planned to read and review Needful Things, I purposely picked the month of December to do this.

I mean, Black Friday Christmas shopping, people losing their minds over big screen TV’s and Barbie dolls…

It fit, in other words.

Well, then this happened.

BOCA RATON, FL - MARCH 13: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during his campaign rally at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater on March 13, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida. Mr. Trump continues to campaign before the March 15th Florida primary. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Just when you thought only Stephen King could scare you, huh?

Whoa, I take that back.  Sorry Molly, didn’t mean to ruffle your evil fur!

Molly 1

At first was I was like:

Hurr

Then I was all:

ermahgerd-1

But now I go back and forth…

Either at this end:

Rory Kinnear as The Creature in Penny Dreadful (season 3, episode 9). - Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_309_3066

Or at this end:

Spike

And what, you are probably asking, does the dried up, racist Cheeto that is the bane of existence to *kitty cats* everywhere have to do with this month’s read and review?

Well, I see a lot of parallels.  So, let’s get to talking about the book and discuss those.

Again and again, as I have been re-reading the King classics, I have been reminded of something:  The Master has the ability to create characters who are so realistic that they practically jump off the page and make you want to ask them out for coffee.

There is Polly Chalmers.  She fled the small town life and wanted to forge her own path.  People can’t even decide if she is from Castle Rock (even though she was born there and spent most of her childhood there) or if she is from “Outside,” as they put it, because she spent so many years away.  Being from a small town in Indiana, this struck a chord with me.  I may consider myself to be “from” Bloomington, Indiana, but I am sure there are some that would debate me on that, because I left to forge my own path.  Small towns, aren’t they so (not) funny?

There is Alan Pangborn.  Let me confess, if I ran into Alan Pangborn, I would have much more than “coffee” on my mind…*let awkward throat clearing commence.*  Alan is the consummate good guy, even though he does have his vulnerabilities.  And he loves magic tricks (magicians are always hot, duh.)  Those magic tricks do everything from put frightened kids at ease to save the day!  How much hotter can you get?

 

Alan Pangborn 1

Let’s also not forget the character of Brian Rusk.

Now, as I’ve stated many times before, King likes to write about topics that many would consider to be taboo.

*That* scene in the sewers in It, anyone?

Well, that is one example, but King covers subjects like addiction, child abuse, domestic abuse and quite a few others.

Things that so-called nice people don’t talk about, at least in public.

However, I think the most “taboo” that King has ever gone is his portrayal of the character Brian Rusk.

In the beginning, Brian is innocent.

He’s a good kid.  He loves his family.  He collects baseball cards.  He has a crush on his speech teacher.

needful things 1

However, he loses his innocence, by becoming Gaunt’s first customer.

Gaunt takes that innocent love of baseball cards, and uses it to further his plans for the destruction of Castle Rock.

He forces Brian to play pranks on other citizens of the town, in the name of “paying” for that beloved baseball card.

So Brian is rather rudely pushed into adulthood, when he is forced to take responsibility for what he feels to his role in the deaths of Wilma and Nettie.

However, not all of the child has left Brian.

And because of that, he is unable to cope with his supposed role in a horrific tragedy, and sees no way to live with it.

So, he does the unthinkable, and ends his life at eleven years old.

I have read this book several times, but I am never prepared the part where Brian commits suicide.

I tend to see Needful Things as one of King’s more humorous works (Brian’s mother’s obsession with Elvis and her interaction with Gaunt may have something to do with that, along with the fact that I find the phrase “I’ll be butched” hilarious), although the humor in it is dark.

But at the same time, I find this book to be tragic too, because of the fact that someone who is still a child is forced into adulthood long before before he should be, and this child does not see any way to cope with this tragedy other than taking his own life.

In fact, this may be one of the most tragic incidents in any book I have ever read, let alone a King book.

Stephen King

And we have our bad guy, Leland Gaunt.

We also have another character:  the town of Castle Rock itself.

And the inter-play between these two characters is just fascinating.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do think that Gaunt is a cool bad guy.

Gaunt 1

In fact, this guy came to mind:

phantasm-2-8

Somehow, the idea of The Tall Man driving a Talisman Tucker (why does even typing that out make me shiver, and shiver in a Lovecraftian way?) is not that far off, actually.

He doesn’t quite stack up to the likes of Pennywise, or Flagg, or even some of King’s “human” villains, like Margaret White, Charles Burnside, etc.

Pennywise 11

But he does have his place in the King universe, so I pay him respect.

However, what was striking to me when I re-read Needful Things, was the fact that most of the horror was of the non-supernatural variety.

Sure, Gaunt planted the seeds, but the ground was already fertile anyway.  Most of the people playing the pranks just needed a little “watering” to grow the seeds of hate and resentment, and off they were, once they got a little drink of that water.

It is a known fact that King excels at writing characters that are realistic and believable.  In fact, this is my favorite thing about King’s work:  he writes believable people and believable situations.

pet sematary 11

After all, who hasn’t dealt with addiction, unemployment, the loss of a loved one, terminal illness, parenthood and the many other scenarios that crop up in all of King’s works, even the ones billed as “horror”?

King also writes the small town extremely well.  This is evident in works such as It, Salem’s Lot, Dolores Claiborne, and quite a few other novels.

Small towns are almost human in some ways, and can be complex characters.  This is definitely the case with Needful Things and its small town character of Castle Rock.

small towns 1

In the beginning of the book, we have that coy narrator (and oh, I so want to know who that is) introducing to the town of Castle Rock and its inhabitants.  It is actually akin to gossiping with someone, maybe a family member or friend, or perhaps a coworker, who just seems to have all the dirt on everyone.

Castle Rock 1

This introduction is brilliant, because it sets up the story so beautifully.

In any organization, whether it be a work place, a family or perhaps a small town, you have all these little interconnections.

There are the people, of course, who are friends and know each other well, perhaps even intimately.

There are the people who are passing acquaintances.  They don’t dislike each other, but they don’t really like each other, either.

Then there are the people who can’t be in the same room with each other.

The people who are the end of the candle to their counterparts’ matches.

In other words, get them together, and you will have a fire, perhaps even an explosion.

In one part of the book, Gaunt even compares his scheme to electrical wiring.  If you do it just right, you can connect a couple of wires and have an explosion.  I found this to be apt, for the events that transpired in this book.

Gaunt 2

As stated before, Gaunt is one bad dude.  No question about that.

However, most of the horror from Needful Things is of the human variety.

People playing pranks on one another to make others think that their sworn enemies were responsible is actually something that happens pretty frequently in “real life.”

Right away, anyone who was the victim of a prank was quick to blame his/her sworn enemy.

Alan Pangborn, the most level headed of them all, even fell victim to this.

And the results of this prank were just horrible.

Well, not entirely horrible.  I did get a good chuckle when the Baptists and Catholics were victimized by the stink bomb and created their own Barf-o-Rama.

barforama

But I was still horrified when people began to hurt and even kill each other, and it was basically for nothing.

Nettie and Wilma killing each other was bad.

Well, Wilma dying wasn’t that sad (crazy bitch) but Nettie’s death was one of the saddest in the book.  She had tried so hard to get her life together, but she was knifed to death over some muddy sheets.  Muddy sheets that she was not responsible for.

Needful things 3

A few citizens, like Polly, Norris and Alan, saw the error of their ways.

However, most did not, and the results were horrific.

And the town of Castle Rock literally went up in flames.

What is happening in our country right now is not unlike what happened in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine.

We have a stranger that has suddenly appeared in town.

It is true that Donald Trump is (probably) not a supernatural creature, but I will take Gaunt or even The Tall Man over Trump any day.

Trump has done exactly what Gaunt has done.

He has swooped into our country.

He is selling people dreams.  At least, he would like us to believe that he is selling us dreams.

Donald Trump 1

He has made promises, and those promises sound good.  After all, who doesn’t want the manufacturing jobs to return to this country?  Those jobs gave everyone, no matter his/her background, a shot at the good life, the so-called American Dream.

For reasons beyond most people’s control, significantly fewer people are now able to obtain this dream.

But we have Gaunt, er Trump, swooping into town.  And he has sold something.

But like the sales made by Gaunt, that something will have a price tag attached to it.

Already, we are witnessing the true price of allowing a man like Trump into our country.

Like Castle Rock, America has gone crazy.

Since Trump was elected, the “pranks” have begun.

We may not be flinging mud at each other’s sheets, but like the citizens of Castle Rock, we are attacking each other, nonetheless.

There has been racist graffiti scrawled on walls.

People of the non-Caucasian persuasion have been attacked for being…well…of the non-Caucasian persuasion.

People have decided to let their hate loose, and it has not been pretty.

Castle Rock literally burned to the ground after the boogeyman paid it a visit.

Will the same thing happen to America?

The boogeyman is here, and he is already working his magic, and he has not even moved into his suite at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, although I don’t think that he even needs to, in order to accomplish his goals.

trump 5

But, I try to hold on to something positive.

After all, Castle Rock may have gone up in flames.

But it was able to emerge from the ashes, and eventually it rebuilt itself.

Fire can be used to destroy, but it can also be used to create.

Perhaps, like Castle Rock, this country may burn to the ground (hopefully only in the metaphorical sense.)

But maybe it can also emerge from the ashes and be reborn.

Being reborn is not necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, death and rebirth lead to new beginnings.  And new beginnings are often desperately needed.


Well, that’s it for Needful Things!

And I have to pat myself on the back, actually.

I was able to stick to a New Year’s resolution!

I read at least one King book a month and reviewed it, just like I said I would.

So, it goes without saying that I plan to continue this trend into 2017 and beyond.

I don’t know what my plan is, but I am sure I will figure something out.

There are classics, like Cujo and Christine, that I have not read in many years.

Cujo

There is that Richard Bachman fella…I heard that he is kinda like The Master, actually.

Cleaner 3

There is also The Master 2.0, aka Joe Hill, who has some books that are worth exploring as well.

Joe Hill 2

So, what will next year hold?

Well, guess that is up to me!

So, we will talk next year!

Until then, happy holidays to all!

SK christmas 1


Like all of King’s works, Needful Things is set squarely in the King universe.  Here are some of the connections that I found:

-Needful Things takes place in the town of Castle Rock, Maine.  Castle Rock is the setting for several King stories, including The Dark Half, Cujo, The Body and The Dead Zone.

dead zone 9

-Ace Merrill is a character in the short story The Body, and references the events in that story.

Ace 1

-Reginald “Pop” Merrill is referenced.  Pop Merrill is a character in the short story The Sun Dog, which is part of the collection Four Past Midnight.

sun-dog-1

-Norris Ridgewick also makes an appearance in the novel Lisey’s Story.

lisey_1

-Alan Pangborn is a character in the novel The Dark Half, and references the events in that story.

dark half 3

-The tabloid The Inside View is mentioned.  This publication is mentioned in several other King works, including The Wolves of the Calla, The Dead Zone and The Night Flier.

night flier 2

-In the novel Bag of Bones, Mike Noonan encounters Norris Ridgewick and inquires after Polly Chalmers and Alan Pangborn.

bag of bones 8

-Reference is made to Shawshank State Prison, which is the setting for the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

Red and Andy

-Junction City, Iowa is the setting for the novella The Library Policeman, which is part of the collection Four Past Midnight.

The_Library_Policeman_by_TheHouseOfIdeas

-Gaunt’s Talisman Tucker appears to be similar to the vehicles driven by the Low Men in the Dark Tower series and the story Low Men in Yellow Coats, which is part of the collection Hearts in Atlantis.  Gaunt’s vehicle also appears to be similar to the title “vehicle” featured in the novel From a Buick 8.

From_a_Buick_8_by_nosprings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s All a Wheel: My Review of Doctor Sleep

Sometimes, you just need a break from the horror of it all…

BOCA RATON, FL - MARCH 13: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during his campaign rally at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater on March 13, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida. Mr. Trump continues to campaign before the March 15th Florida primary. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

 

Yes, it’s that season again…

No, not Halloween.  Something far more frightening…

In other words, the 2016 Presidential Election is upon us.

You know, that time of year when admitting you are from ‘Murica is…well…probably something you want to gloss over, and talk about something a little less awkward, such as…well, anything really.

Like books.

Like books that are horror stories.

Like books that are horror stories written by…

Simpsons SK

I’ll take Stephen King for $19, Alex!

Yep, you guessed it.  And if you didn’t, well remember which blog this is next time, maybe you will have better luck!

So, I needed an escape.  Something to help me cope with the daily horror that manifests itself as a talking Cheeto.

And what better way to do that than to read a Stephen King book?

That will calm me right down, I think.

After all, reading about people with PSI abilities and weird cults that kidnap kids with PSI abilities is good for the nerves, right?

In other words, I chose the book Doctor Sleep for this month’s read and review.

Hmmm, I wonder if I can write in Rose the Hat to make America…ummm…steamy again?

Um, yeah…

But Doctor Sleep is one of my favorite King books.  It is a follow up book to The Shining, which I consider to be the gold standard for King (hey, even The Master needs goals to live up to, right?)

Like most of King’s work, Doctor Sleep is much more than “just” (haha, right) a follow to an iconic horror story which turned the horror genre and even popular culture on its head (redrum, anyone?)

It is a book that has a lot to say about addiction, overcoming childhood trauma and how family can be a huge downfall, or our greatest hope.

And it also doesn’t hurt that the book has a pretty kick ass female character, if I do say so myself (no bias here at all, really.)

So, with all that being said, here is my recap and review of Doctor Sleep.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

Doctor Sleep begins where the novel The Shining ended.  Danny Torrance has survived the horrific events that occurred at The Overlook Hotel, and has moved to the southern United States with his mother, Wendy.

However, Danny is still troubled by the spirits that haunted him during his stay at The Overlook Hotel.  One night, when he awakens to use the bathroom, he encounters the ghost of Mrs. Massey, the woman who died in room 217 of The Overlook Hotel.

After Danny encounters the spirit of Mrs. Massey, he regresses and refuses to get out of bed or eat.  His mother even sees evidence of the spirit in the bathroom, and becomes worried and frightened for Danny.

Wendy is unable to comfort Danny, so she contacts Dick Hallorann, the only other person who survived the events that occurred at The Overlook Hotel.  Dick agrees to talk to Danny, to see if he can help Danny.

Dick arrives at the Torrance home, and speaks to Danny.  He tells Danny the story of his sexually abusive grandfather.  After Dick’s grandfather passed away, Dick was still haunted by the old man’s ghost.  Dick’s grandmother, who also possessed the same PSI abilities that Dick possessed, taught him to keep the spirit of the old man at bay, so that he was no longer haunted by the ghost.

Dick then tells Danny that his memories of the hotel are actually causing the spirits to manifest themselves.  He gives Danny a keepsake box, and tells Danny to make a keepsake box in his mind, to trap the ghosts so they do not continue to bother him.  Danny follows Dick’s instructions, and finds that they are effective.

They story then switches to the perspective of a woman named Andi.  Andi was molested by her father as a little girl, until she attacked and killed him in self defense.  Andi convinces men to take her to the movies.  The men try to have sex with Andi, but Andi has the ability to hypnotize people and send them into a deep sleep.  Andy hypnotizes the men, and then robs them of their cash and any valuables.

One day, Andi catches the eye of a group of people who also possess unusual abilities.  This group of people seems almost immortal, even though they appear to be normal on the outside.  They are led by a woman named Rose, who is also known as Rose the Hat, due to her tendency to wear a top hat.

Rose the Hat and her friends confront, and coerce her into joining them, telling Andi that once she survives what they call “the turning,” that she may also become immortal, and join them in their travels across the country.

Andi reluctantly agrees to attempt the ritual.  Somehow, she survives, and becomes a part of the group.  The group calls itself The True Knot.

The book then introduces the reader again to Danny, now an adult in his early twenties.  Danny has become an alcoholic who also experiments with drugs.  Danny has a tendency to also get into fights while he is drinking, as he is unable to control his temper.

One morning, Danny finds himself in the apartment of a strange woman.  He slowly pieces together the events of the night before, and realizes that his drinking has possibly gotten him into trouble, once again.

Danny realizes that the woman has a child by the name of Tommy.  Tommy is about 18 months old and has been left in the apartment while the woman went out drinking with Danny.  The woman, whose name is Deenie, is also addicted to cocaine, and convinced Danny to buy some for her.  The little boy tries to grab the cocaine, calling it candy, but Danny puts him in bed with his mother, and leaves the apartment.

Danny leaves town, and heads for the northeastern United States.  He continues to drink, and periodically thinks of Tommy, feeling some guilt for leaving him in those surroundings.

Over the years, Danny drifts across the country.  He continues to drink, and works in nursing homes when he can find work.  However, due to his alcoholism, he does not stay in any one place for very long.

One day, Danny arrives in a town called Frazier, in New Hampshire.  For some reason the town catches his eyes.  Danny also sees his childhood friend Tony for the first time in many years, and Tony also compels him to stay in Frazier.

Danny meets a man name Billy Freeman, and the two hit it off immediately.  Danny is then able to secure short-term employment as a sort of maintenance man, and contemplates applying for work at the local hospice.

One night, Danny dreams of Deenie, the woman he met a years ago at a bar.  Deenie appears to be dead, and warns him to stay away from the woman in the hat.  When he awakens, Danny finds her son Tommy in his bed, dead but asking for candy.  When he awakens again, Danny realizes that Tommy has died, most likely due to abuse and possibly neglect.

The next morning, Danny craves a drink, but does not give in to the craving.  Danny goes about his day, forgetting the dreams that he had the night before.  However, Danny again experiences troubling dreams later that night.  Danny again struggles with the urge to drink, but Billy Freeman finds him, and tells him that he has other options.

Danny begins to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and finds a sponsor.  Danny quits drinking and finds steady employment, making a life for himself.

In the meantime, a child named Abra Stone is born to a couple by the name of David and Lucy Stone.  Almost right away, Abra’s parents and great-grandmother (Conchetta) notice that Abra is unusual.  For example, Abra’s parents, when Abra is still an infant, have a dream of Abra covered in blood and holding a sign with numbers in the dream.  The next morning, Abra is taken to the hospital because she will not stop crying.  There is no medical reason found for Abra’s behavior.  However, this incident takes place on the morning of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.  The numbers seen by Abra’s parents in their dreams were the flight numbers of the planes that were attacked.

One day, Danny speaks to one of the members of his Alcoholics Anonymous group.  The man is John Dalton, who is also a pediatrician.  John has lost a watch that was gift from his wife and is upset.  Danny is able to use his “shining” ability to tell John that he left the watch in restroom at work.  John is able to find the watch the next day, and is grateful for Danny’s help.

John Dalton also happens to be Abra Stone’s pediatrician.  At the request of Abra’s parents, John attends Abra’s third birthday party, so that he can observe her in her home for any unusual occurrences.

Shortly before Abra’s third birthday party, Danny receives a message written on the blackboard of the room he rents.  The message simply says “Hello.”  Danny has been receiving some telepathic communications, and conjectures that the message is from Abra.

At the birthday party, John Dalton gets his wish: he observes some unusual occurrences that can only be attributed to Abra.  Abra’s doctor, parents and great grandmother find various utensils hanging from the ceiling by their own accord.  When this is pointed out to Abra, the utensils drop to the ground, seemingly proving that she is responsible for the occurrence.

The Stone family speaks to Dr. Dalton, who tells them that Abra is likely blessed (or maybe cursed) with PSI abilities, but that they need to love her and continue to raise her as a normal child.

The years pass, and one night Danny receives at phone call.  He is informed that one of patients in the hospice that he works at is getting ready to pass away.  The woman making the phone call knows that the patient is getting ready to die because the cat that was adopted by the hospice, Azriel (or Azzie) has made an appearance in his room.  Azzie is able to detect when death is near, and therefore alerts the staff and Danny.  Danny is called in because he is able to use his abilities to make the transition from life to death a little less frightening for the patients.

After Danny helps the latest patient pass peacefully over to the other side, he senses a presence in the room that he believes to be Abra.  In her bed at her home, Abra also senses Danny’s presence.

In the meantime, The True Knot runs into trouble, as they are running low on the essence of psychic children, which is what keeps them immortal.  They find a young boy in a small town, and partake of his essence, which helps them, at least temporarily.

Abra, who is now 10 years old, dreams of The True Knot kidnapping and torturing the young boy.  She describes the dream to her mother, who is disturbed.  Abra also talks about her friend “Tony,” along with Tony’s dad (aka Danny), telling her mother that Danny works in a hospice and is assisted by cat named Azzie.

The True Knot then realize that Abra can sense them, and that Abra is a powerful psychic.  They realize that Abra will provide them with plenty of essence, which will keep them alive for years to come, but that they must wait for her abilities to mature in order to get the full benefit.

Again, Danny senses Abra’s presence in his apartment.  This time, he sends her a message.  Abra receives this and tells her mother that Tony’s dad spoke to her.  Lucy is a little troubled, but decides to let it go, as Abra seems happy.

Shortly after sending the message to Abra, Danny sees his friend Billy Freeman.  Immediately, Danny senses that something is horribly wrong with Billy and convinces him to see a doctor.  Danny’s intuitions were correct, as Billy is suffering from an aneurysm that would have killed him, if left untreated.  Billy is grateful from Danny’s help, but Danny reminds Billy that it was he who helped him many years ago, when he arrived in Frazier.

Later that evening, Danny is overcome by the urge to drink.  He calls his friend John Dalton, and the urge passes.  When Danny arrives at his home, he finds a message on his chalkboard from Abra, but does not hear from Abra for another two years.

Two years later, Abra’s great grandmother, Conchetta, suffers a broken hip.  Conchetta is also diagnosed with cancer, and is given only months to live.  This causes Abra and her family to shuffle back and forth between their residence in Frazier, and the hospital in Boston, where Conchetta is staying.

One day, Abra comes home and picks up the mail.  She finds a circular with pictures of missing children, and realizes that one of the pictures is of the boy she dreamed about two years earlier.  This frightens Abra, and she struggles on whether or not to take any action.

Abra’s abilities then allow her to project herself into the mind of Rose the Hat.  However, this connection is brief, as Rose resists her presence, forcing Abra back to her surroundings.

Rose discusses Abra with the fellow members of The True Knot, and tells them that they must capture Abra, as she could provide them with eternal life.  Rose schemes on how to capture Abra, and plans to use drugs to subdue her.  Rose also makes an appearance at Abra’s window, frightening Abra, and causing her to call out to Tony for help.

Danny receives Abra’s psychic beacon, and the signal is so powerful that it renders him momentarily unconscious.  When Danny arrives at his home, he finds Abra’s email address written on his chalkboard.  Danny sends Abra an email, and makes arrangements to meet with her, so that he can find out what is wrong.

Abra and Danny finally meet outside the town library, and Abra tells Danny what has been happening with Rose the Hat, and what The True Knot did to the young boy.  Danny tells Abra to be careful, as Rose the Hat will be looking for her, and that he will be back in touch.

That night, a patient at the hospice where Danny is employed passes away.  Before she dies, the woman tells him to wait, and Danny obliges her.

After a few minutes, the dead woman begins to talk.  Danny realizes that he is actually speaking to his childhood friend Dick Hallorann, who has been dead for several years.  Hallorann gives Danny information in regards to The True Knot, but it is cryptic.  Hallorann tells Danny to refer to his childhood, and that the members of The True Knot will need to eat their own poison.  The ghost also tells Danny to talk his friends who understand what he really is.  After dispersing the information, the ghost leaves the body of the old woman, and Danny must figure out how to keep Abra safe.

Danny speaks to his friends Billy and John, and tells them what is happening to Abra.  John agrees to travel with Danny to Iowa, so that they can find the baseball mitt of the missing boy and confirm Abra’s story.

Things go from bad to worse with The True Knot, as it is discovered that one of their members, known as Grampa Flick, appears to be dying.  Rose does not understand how this is happening, and demands that the group’s “physician,” attempt to examine him.

Rose also tries to enter the mind of Abra.  However, Abra is prepared, and is able to resist Rose, even causing her physical pain.  This angers Rose, who realizes that Abra will be difficult to subdue, and will need to be drugged.

Danny travels to Iowa with John.  During the trip, Danny also tells John of the winter he spent at the Overlook Hotel and the traumatic experiences he endured.  John is skeptical, but becomes less so when he and Danny are able to locate the body of this missing boy and his baseball glove, per Abra’s instructions.  They return to New Hampshire with the baseball glove, in the hopes that Abra will be able to use the baseball glove to obtain more information in regards to The True Knot.

The True is able to narrow down Abra’s identity, and begins to close in on her.  Grampa Flick has died, and the cause of his death is discovered:  he has somehow contracted measles.  This is likely due to ingesting the essence of the young boy, who may have contracted the disease before his death.  Several other members of the group also become ill with measles.  This raises the stakes for the group, as they believe that ingesting Abra’s essence may provide some sort of immunity against the disease.

Danny and John return from Iowa.  Danny informs Abra that her parents need to be informed about what has been going on.  Danny and John arrive at Abra’s house and are greeted by her father, Dave.  Dave is not happy, but hears the story out.  Danny and John then give Abra the baseball glove, to find out if she can obtain any information from it.

After Abra touches the baseball glove, she obtains some information in regards to The True Knot.  The most important piece of information is the location of their base of operations.  Not surprisingly, The True Knot’s base of operations is located in Sidewinder, Colorado, on the grounds that once housed The Overlook Hotel.  Danny, John and Abra then come up with a plan to try to stop The True Knot before they are able to kidnap Abra.

The next day, Danny, John and Dave picnic at one of the town’s tourist attractions.  Abra astral projects herself info Danny, so that The True Knot will believe she is on a picnic with her father, instead of at school or at a friend’s house.  Abra’s father tells some family stories during this outing.  One of these stories is in regards to Lucy’s mother, or Abra’s grandmother.  Lucy was conceived out of wedlock, and her father’s identity was unknown.  Lucy’s mother died when Lucy was an infant, and Lucy was raised by her grandmother, Conchetta.

Later that evening, Abra stays at a friend’s house.  However, she decides that she is safe from The True Knot, as she believes they have fallen into the trap that Danny set for them.  Abra then decides to head home.

Several members of The True Knot arrive at the picnic grounds.  Danny, John and Dave are prepared, and shoot them.  However, one member, known as Crow Daddy, manages to escape the gunfight, and heads straight for Abra.

Crow Daddy finds Billy Freeman and overpowers Billy.  Crow Daddy then kidnaps Abra, using powerful drugs to sedate her.  When Abra awakens, Crow Daddy threatens Billy’s life, telling Abra that he will be killed unless she obeys him.

Danny, John and Dave quickly realize that Abra has been kidnapped, after Danny loses his telepathic connection to her.  However, Danny has a revelation, when he understands more of what the ghost of Dick Hallorann was trying to tell him.

Danny then astral projects himself into Abra’s body.  By doing this, he is able to fight Crow Daddy, and Crow Daddy is killed.  Danny then has Billy drive to a nearby hotel, so that he and Abra can get some rest before returning Abra to her parents.

The group then heads to the hospital, where Conchetta is living out her last days.  They tell Lucy what happened, and Lucy panics.  However, Dave is able to calm her down, reminding her that Danny is there to help.

Danny visits with Conchetta, who is dying.  He offers some words of comfort, and the two also exchange something else that is not specified.

After the visit with Conchetta, Danny speaks to Lucy and Dave.  He tells them that he has realized that he is actually Lucy’s half-brother and Abra’s uncle, due to an affair his father Jack had with one of his students.  After getting a good look at Danny, Lucy understands that he is telling the truth, even though she is still very worried about her daughter.

In the meantime, Rose the Hat and the rest of The True Knot make plans to locate Abra and kidnap her again.  The situation becomes more urgent, as more of the members either begin to sicken or die, or leave the group.

At the request of Danny, Abra places a call to Rose the Hat and taunts her.  Abra also requests to meet Rose in person, at her home base in Sidewinder, CO.  This riles up Rose even more, and she agrees to meet with Abra, telling her that she will seek revenge for the death of her friends.

The next day, Abra is reunited with her parents.  Abra and her family return to New Hampshire, while Danny heads to Colorado with Billy to confront Rose the Hat and the rest of The True Knot.  Danny feels ill during the trip, but he is determined to stop The True Knot.

Once again, Abra phones Rose the Hat, taunting her, and setting up a meeting time at the home base in Sidewinder.  She is able to astral project himself into Danny’s mind, tricking Rose into thinking that she is in Colorado, instead of in her home in New Hampshire.

Billy and Danny arrive at the site of where The Overlook Hotel used to stand.  The site is now a campground.  Abra is also with them, but in spirit, as she has used her talent for astral projection to trick The True Knot.

Danny is confronted by Rose the Hat and the remaining members of The True Knot almost immediately.  However, Danny is prepared and attacks them.  For the past few days, Danny has been carrying the essence of Abra’s great-grandmother.  He unleashes this essence upon The True Knot.  Since the old woman had been dying of cancer, the members of The True Knot are sickened almost immediately when they inhale her essence.

Rose then tricks Danny into thinking that Abra is Rose, and Danny begins to choke Abra.  He realizes his mistake, and vows not to repeat the mistakes of his father.  He and Abra then return to the corporeal world, promising to win the fight against Rose.

Ghosts are literally unleashed from Danny’s mind, as he unlocks his memories of his stay at The Overlook Hotel.  The remaining members of The True Knot are also attacked, leaving Danny the resources to focus on Rose the Hat.

Rose the Hat is then pushed from the balcony, and killed.  Danny sets fire to Rose’s top hat, destroying it.  As Danny and Billy leave the campground, Danny catches a glimpse of the ghost of his father, Jack.  Danny leaves the campground, bidding his father goodbye.

Two years later, Danny attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and celebrates the fact that he is 15 years sober.  Danny also confesses what happened at Deenie’s apartment all those years ago, and what happened with her son, Tommy.  His fellow addicts are not surprised, and are almost indifferent to his story.  However, Danny feels redeemed, and knows he is on the true path to recovery.

A few days later, Danny attends a birthday party for Abra.  At the request of Abra’s parents, Danny speaks to Abra alone.  It turns out that Abra has attended a party and had her first sip of alcohol.  Later, she got into an argument with her mother and broke several plates in a fit of rage.

Danny tells Abra of his own grandfather and father, and how alcohol ruined their lives.  Danny also talks of his own struggles with his alcohol and his temper.  Danny reminds Abra that she must control her own temper, so that she can stay out of trouble and not go down the path that he walked.  Danny then receives a phone call from his employer in regards to a dying patient, and cuts the evening short.

The dying patient is a man named Fred Carling.  Fred had previously been employed by the hospice where Danny is currently employed.  Fred was also a bully and disliked by many of the other employees, including Danny.  That night, Fred was the victim of a terrible car accident, and it has become clear that he will not live.

However, Danny puts his feelings aside, and visits Fred.  Danny realizes that life is truly a wheel, and brings the man comfort as he dies and passes to the other side.


My Thoughts

Doctor Sleep.  The book with so much beauty.

And I am not just saying that because Danny apparently resembles my man Jax Teller, either!

SONS OF ANARCHY: 203: L-R: Charie Hunnam and Maggie Siff on SONS OF ANARCHY airing Tuesday, Sept. 22'rd, 10 pm e/p on FX. CR: Prashant Gupta / FX

(Although, really, that doesn’t hurt.  Doesn’t hurt in the slightest.)

Cleaner 3

Doctor Sleep is billed as a sequel to The Shining.  And in a way, it is (more on that later.)

But to think of it Doctor Sleep as only as a sequel to The Shining (which is one of my favorite King books ever and likely my favorite ghost story ever) is limiting.

For one, I don’t think of this book as a direct sequel to The Shining.  I find it better to think of it as a follow up.

Sure, we have some of the same themes, which include addiction, life after death and people who don’t quite fit the fold.

However, I find Doctor Sleep to actually be pretty different from The Shining.  And this is a good thing, as anyone who has ever heard my rant about sequels will tell you.

Let’s admit it: sequels sucks!  Carrie 2 anyone?  Or how about Pet Sematary 2?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

But, you have Phantasm 2, which expands on the original story.  And the Star Wars movies, which build on the first movie to make a complete story, and stand on their own as well.

phantasm-2-8

And now we have Doctor Sleep.  It also builds on the original story of Danny Torrance, and is a stand alone book.  This is a good thing, as we are staying out of the ridiculous sequel territory, which seems to plague the horror genre in particular.

However, I can’t help comparing and contrasting both books.  So, let’s get it out of our system…

felicity-1

The Shining is one of the most frightening books ever written.  The ghost of Mrs. Massey.  The clocks with blood in them (still thinking about that weeks after the fact, thanks Stephen King!  And let me thank Obama for good measure!)

Now, Doctor Sleep does have its scary moments.  Dick Hallorann’s story about his grandfather and the old pedophile’s ghost (yeah, there I said it) is great nightmare material.  And of course, the resurgence of Mrs. Massey (and her “leavings”.  If that didn’t make you want to throw up in your mouth, then you are not human) and Horace Dewent added some creepiness as well.

mrs-massey-1

(Oh, and that top hat.  Is there anything creepier than a top hat drifting in the wind?  I mean besides a red baseball cap worn by a loudmouth, racist Cheeto?)

trump 5

But, due to the tone and the messages, I consider Doctor Sleep to be more dark fantasy than horror.  In fact, with the children in danger and the seemingly oblivious adults, Doctor Sleep is closer to The Talisman, or even The Eyes of the Dragon, than anything else.

Even the “villains” in Doctor Sleep (Rose the Hat, Barry the Chink, Diesel Doug, etc) remind me more of villains in a children’s fantasy novel than anything.  Not that there is anything wrong with this.  In fact, given what King was trying to accomplish (again, more on that later), I actually think that this works very well.

In fact, Abra herself reminds me of someone in a young adult novel.  Katnis Everdeen, perhaps?  Or maybe Pippi Longstocking?

The-hunger-games-katniss-rue-death-flowers

Abra is what I wished I was when I was her age:  courageous, confident, smart and just kicks ass overall.  In fact, she may be a little overconfident (and loves Game of Thrones, woot), but I don’t care.  I loved how she was willing to take on Rose the Hat, taking pleasure in the fact that she hurt Rose.  Talk about taking names and kicking ass!

However, this is a King book.  So there is much more to Abra than meets the eye.  The scene at the end, when Danny tells the stories of his father and grandfather, and Abra’s reaction, is proof of that.  Like Danny, Abra is flawed.  And will probably struggle with alcoholism.  But like Danny, she has hope.  And she will (hopefully) rise above her struggles and do good in the world.  And that is just one thing that makes her one of King’s best female characters to date.  Maybe, if we are lucky, we will one day get a story on grown-up Abra too.

Okay, time to talk about the elephant in the room…

elephant in the room 1

Well, actually not really.  Or at least a very cute elephant?

That’s right, I am talking about Danny Torrance, all growed up!

In case you can’t tell, Danny is one of my book boos.  I may be happily married, but I think there is a clause in my wedding vows that allows for book and TV boos.  So, relax, I am legal, folks!

doctor-sleep-2

Like King, I would wonder about Danny off and on.  How did he fare after escaping The Overlook?  What kind of man did he grow up to be?  Did he have kids?  God forbid, did he follow in his father’s footsteps?

Not well, awesome, no, and yes and no would be the answers to the above.

And, in all seriousness, what did we expect?

shining-family-pic

Cynical, I know.  I was actually reminded of the essay Lime Twigs and Treachery, written by Henry Miller.  I read this waaayyyy back in high school (over 20 years for you nosy folks) and it has always stuck with me.

I had actually forgotten about that essay.  Then I read Doctor Sleep.  And remembered it again.

The basic gist of that essay was that the sins of the father get passed down to the children.  And that we will never be able to escape those sins, which may include abuse.  And alcoholism.  And addiction.

And that is exactly what happened to Danny:  the sins of the father were passed down right to him.  On a silver platter, in fact.

jack-torrance-2

And what did we expect to happen?

Danny lived through the experience at The Overlook, yes.  But he lost his father, who he loved very much, despite of (or maybe because of) his faults.

He was forced to grow up, and quickly.  He learned some lessons that many people I know in their 30’s still have not learned.

His family unit dissolved.  His mother never fully recovered, either physically or emotionally, as she never remarried.

overlook-hotel-1

So is it any surprise that Danny started drinking in high school?

Is it any surprise that he continued to drink, even when it was obvious that it was destroying his life?

Even as he clearly alienated people?  I don’t think Danny was single because he was ugly.  Rather, he was single because of his demanding mistress:  the booze.

I think that my favorite part of Doctor Sleep is not the part about the monsters, and revisiting Sidewinder (although those parts were certainly no slouch.)

My favorite part of Doctor Sleep was Danny’s journey.

doctor-sleep-1

I loved the fact that the story picked up right after The Shining, showing us that things were not all right with Danny.

I loved the fact that Dick Hallorann was a constant presence in the story, even after he died.

But most of all, I loved the story of Danny’s struggles and his recovery.

One think that King is good at (and believe me, that is a long list) is writing real characters and real situations.  He is able to juxtapose the horror/fantasy element with the reality element (which has included job loss, addiction, bullying, hate crimes and many other familiar situations) and make his story that much more plausible.

the-overlook-hotel

He did that in The Shining, and that is perhaps his most memorable moment.  Who can’t relate to Jack Torrance his struggles to provide for his family and achieve some sort of success somewhere, whether it be with writing, teaching or being the caretaker at a remote hotel?

And King also did it with Danny.  Addiction is a real issue.  Many people struggle with that.  So is childhood trauma and abuse.  Many have also struggled with that.

abra-doctor-sleep

King created another “Everyman” in Danny Torrance as well, in detailing his struggles with addiction, and his gradual recovery.  And that is just one of the reasons why calling Sai King “The Master” is not hyperbole.

The answer to the last question, if Danny grew up to be like his father, is yes and no.

Danny did grow up to become an alcoholic.

Danny also became someone with anger issues.

So that’s the yes part.

However, we cannot ignore the no part.  The no part is what makes Doctor Sleep so beautiful.

I love The Shining, but I consider it to be one of the bleakest books I have ever read.  Danny does escape the hotel, but at a huge cost, as his family unit is forever shattered.  Indeed, The Shining is a tragedy, along with a horror story.

Doctor Sleep is the opposite of The Shining.  It offers hope.  And I don’t know about you, but I think we could all use some hope right about now.

When I read Doctor Sleep, I look at it as a kind of redemption.  A cycle is broken.

It is true that Danny followed in his father’s footsteps (see above.)

However, Danny succeeds where his father had failed.

For one thing, he does not succumb to his alcoholism.  He recognizes the problem and seeks treatment for it.  This allows him to be able to hold down a job and maintain a stable home for himself, which is another thing that his father could not do.

Like his father, Danny had his demons.  He literally has his demons, as they escape from The Overlook and follow him into his new life.  Danny is also able to overcome those, unlike his father.

And because Danny is able to conquer his alcoholism and his demons, he is able to step up for Abra and be the man that his father could not be.

It is true that Abra is kidnapped, but Danny and the other adults do most of the dirty work to defeat The True Knot.  This allows Abra to maintain a little more of her innocence, as she can trust that the adults in her life will do the right thing.

Stephen King

I also loved how Danny was able to use the ghosts of his past to defeat The True Knot.  Finally, the demons are unleashed.  The suffering is not in vain.

In fact, there is something empowering about being able to take something has caused you so much pain, and using it to do good.

We all have our demons.  Sometimes, we suppress them.  But the most courageous of us face those demons, rising above them, finally breaking the cycle.


Well, that’s it for Doctor Sleep!  Join me next month as we take a look at the state of current affairs in these parts, as we read and dissect Needful Things!

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

batman and robin


Doctor Sleep is another King book set squarely in the King universe.  Here are some of the connections to other King books that I found:

Stephen-King-Flowchart-FINAL-1

-The most obvious connection is to The Shining.  The Shining details the time that Danny and his family spent at the haunted Overlook Hotel, and of Danny’s experiences at the hotel.

the-shining-book-3

-Danny makes the statement “that there are other worlds than these.”  This is similar to a statement uttered by Jake Chambers in The Gunslinger, the first book in The Dark Tower series.

Roland 1

-The town of Castle Rock is mentioned.  Castle Rock is the setting for several King novels and short stories, including The Body, Needful Things, Cujo, The Dark Half and The Dead Zone.

Castle Rock 1

-Jerusalem’s Lot is also mentioned.  The town of Jerusalem’s Lot is the setting for the book ‘Salem’s Lot, along with the short stories Jerusalem’s Lot and One for the Road.

Salem's lot 2

-Abra’s favorite boy band is ‘Round Here.  This band figures into the Mercedes trilogy, which includes Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch.

FK 3

-Abra is one of a long line of King characters blessed (or perhaps cursed) with psionic abilities.  These characters include Carrie White, Jake Chambers, Ted Brautigan, Kira DeVore, Tyler Marshall, the Breakers (featured in The Dark Tower series) and several others.

bag of bones 2

-Abra’s “ghostie people” bear some resemblance to the vagrant dead featured in The Wolves of the Calla, The Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower.

Dixie pig 1

-The name Charlie Manx is mentioned.  Charlie Manx is the villain in the book NOS4A2, written Joe Hill, the son of Stephen King.

Christmasland 1

-Mention is made of Dick Hallorann in the novel It, as Dick saved the life of Wil Hanlon, who would later go to father a boy named Mike Hanlon, a member of the Losers Club.

Pennywise 11

-The number 19 is mentioned.  This number is of particular importance in the last three books of The Dark Tower series.

19 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Horrors: My Review of The Shining

Have you ever…

Lived with a person who the human version of a volcano, and you didn’t know if this person was the dormant kind of volcano, or the other kind?

Loved this person beyond all reason, but spent much of your time in fear of them, eventually fearing for your life?

Been isolated, through no fault of your own, with nowhere to turn?

Felt conflicted, not knowing whether to protect yourself, or devote yet more energy and resources to protect your loved one, from his or herself, in the hopes that this person would not self destruct, so that you guys could attempt to build a life together?

Spent untold hours blaming yourself for the awful situation, even though you were actually the reason for anything good in that situation, although you could not see it, because you were too mired in guilt, defending yourself from the attacks that you were sure that you caused?

Still felt sad, and even guilty, even after you escaped your situation?  Not knowing how you would go on without this person who you loved so much, but somehow finding a way?

So, why are we talking about a domestic abuse situation?

After all, that’s what I just described right?

Someone who was in an abusive relationship, but somehow managed to escape, but still have survivor’s guilt?

Well, you would be correct.  But as always, there is more to meet the eye…

You guessed, I have just described a Stephen King story!

stephen-king-cover-ftr

And it is one of his most famous, maybe even his most famous, with a movie that is perhaps even more notorious?

Redrum…

Yes, in case you haven’t guessed, I am referring to The Shining.

And let’s take a moment to acknowledge the red-headed stepchild of the family, otherwise known as The Shinning.  As we all know, all work and no play makes Homer something, something…

homer-2

But yes, that The Shining.  The same one that is such a huge part of our culture now.

The same one that is the subject of some pretty entertaining memes.

Admit, you have muttered “redrum” in *that voice.*

Or been petrified by blood coming out of the walls.

Or freaked out by people in animal costumes.

I could go on and on.  The Shining is a frightening book and movie.

the-overlook-hotel

But The Shining is so much more than just being scary.

The Shining is about family, and just what we will do to protect the ones we love the most.

The Shining is also about addiction and abuse, and how those can destroy a family from the inside out, even without the help of a haunted hotel.

In other words, for most of us, family is central.  And losing family is devastating, no matter the circumstances.  Over and over, King drives this theme home in The Shining.

So, welcome to this month’s read and review, and as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book begins with an introduction to the Torrance family, which consists of Jack, his wife Wendy and their five year old son Danny.  It is revealed that Jack has recently become unemployed from his job as a schoolteacher, and is interviewing for a position as the caretaker at a hotel called The Overlook Hotel, in Sidewinder, Colorado.

It turns out that the interview is just a formality, and Jack is hired for the position, although the hotel’s manager, Stuart Ullman, is reluctant to hire Jack, as Jack has had past problems with alcoholism and controlling his temper.  Jack assures Ullman that the alcoholism is no longer an issues, and that he and his family can handle the isolation that will come with the job, which will require Jack and his family to live at the hotel during the winter and be cut off from all civilization.

During a tour of the hotel, the maintenance man, Watson, shows Jack how to adjust the pressure of the boiler so that the hotel does not catch fire.  Jack also learns that the previous caretaker, Delbert Grady, murdered his family during his stint as a caretaker.  Watson also tells Jack that the hotel has had a few deaths, and one of those occurred during the previous summer.  An older woman, Mrs. Massey, stayed at the hotel with her much younger suitor.  When her suitor abandoned her, Mrs. Massey committed suicide in room 217, in the bathtub.

In the meantime, Danny and Wendy await Jack’s return.  The Torrance family has relocated from Vermont to Colorado, due to Jack’s job loss, and Wendy has some concern that the move has not been easy for Danny.  We also learn that Danny has been a victim of Jack’s temper, as Jack accidentally broke Danny’s arm a few years prior, due to Danny spilling beer on his school papers.

We also learn that Danny is gifted with some unusual abilities:  he sometimes has knowledge of future events, or events in the present that he would otherwise have no knowledge.  Danny sees these visions through his friend Tony, another boy only visible to Danny, and referred to as his “imaginary friend” by Jack and Wendy.  We learn through Danny that Jack and Wendy’s marriage has been troubled, due to Jack’s alcoholism, and that Danny has feared that his parents will divorce.

Danny has another frightening vision brought to him by Tony as he is outside waiting for his father to get home:  he sees himself in an unfamiliar place being chased by someone, and also sees the phrase “REDRUM.”  Danny becomes frightened and has no idea what this vision could mean.

Finally, Jack arrives home.  Danny is overjoyed to see his father and glad that his father got the job at The Overlook Hotel.  However, Danny thinks that he sees a bloody mallet in the front seat of his father’s car.  When he looks at the front seat again, Danny realizes that is just a bag of groceries.

Jack makes a trip with Danny to a pay phone, so that he call his friend Al Shockley, who helped him get the job at the Overlook Hotel.  Jack recalls how, during one drunken night, Al hit a bicycle that was left in the middle of the road while driving himself and Jack home.  It is this incident that prompted Wendy to ask for a divorce, but Jack is able to stop drinking, and Wendy decides to stay, as she loves her husband and son.

That night, Danny has yet another, and Tony warns him not to go to the Overlook for the winter.  Danny is frightened, but does not say anything to his parents, as he knows how important this opportunity is for his family.

The Torrance family then arrives at The Overlook Hotel.  Danny is still feeling uneasy, but does not tell his parents, as he is still aware how important this opportunity is for his family.

After his family arrives at The Overlook, Danny is introduced to the hotel’s chef, Dick Halloran.  Danny and Halloran take a liking to each other immediately.

Halloran is able to ascertain that Danny possesses psychic abilities, to which he refers to as “the shining.”  Halloran tells Danny that he is not alone in possessing this gift, as Halloran also possesses it, although his ability is not as strong as Danny’s.  Before Halloran bids Danny goodbye for the winter, he warns Danny that he may see things in the hotel, as the Overlook is an old hotel and several unpleasant events have occurred there.  Halloran tells Danny that what he sees are akin to pictures in a book, and that nothing should be able to harm him.  Halloran warns Danny to stay out of room 217, as he may experience something unpleasant in that room.

Ullman gives the Torrance family a tour of the hotel shortly after Halloran and the other employees leave for the winter.  True to Halloran’s statement, Danny sees what appears to be blood and brains on a wall.  However, Danny looks away, and the vision soon vanishes.

Several weeks pass uneventfully for the Torrance family.  Jack is finally able to work on his writing, and thinks that he may be able to finish the play he is working on.  Jack and Wendy notice that Danny is a little withdrawn, but think nothing of it.  Danny continues to push himself to learn how to read, so that he may be able to communicate with his friend Tony, who has shown him signs with written words in the past.

One day, Jack finds a wasp nest on the roof of the hotel.  He kills the wasps with a bug bomb, and gives the nest to Danny as sort of a souvenir.  Danny is thrilled with the nest, and puts it in his bedroom.

That night, Danny is getting ready for bed in the bathroom.  When he does not come out of the bathroom, Jack and Wendy become anxious, and Jack breaks down the door.  They find Danny in a trance, but are able to rouse him.  Danny does not remember what happened, so Jack and Wendy put him to bed.

Later on, in the middle of the night, Jack and Wendy are awakened by Danny.  Danny is being attacked by the wasps from the nest given to him by Jack earlier.  Jack is able to kill the wasps, but cannot understand why the poison he used earlier did not work.

The next day, Wendy and Jack take Danny to see a doctor in town.  The doctor examines Danny and is able to find nothing physically wrong with Danny.

The doctor asks Danny to try and summon Tony.  Danny falls into a trance again, but is unable remember anything when he comes to.  However, Danny tells the doctor that his mother had a sister who passed away as a child, which is information he did not previously have.  Danny also tells the doctor that his parents had previously contemplated a divorce, but have since changed their minds.  The doctor refuses to believe that there is anything unusual about Danny. and reassures Jack and Wendy that Danny is simply an imaginative child, and that he will eventually grow out of his unusual behavior.

While he is setting rat traps in the basement, Jack finds a scrapbook of sorts.  When he opens up the scrapbook, Jack finds much information in regards to the history of the Overlook.  It turns out that the Overlook has seen many changes in ownership and has also been the scene of some violent crimes.  Jack becomes absorbed in this history, and also begins to exhibit behaviors that he exhibited when he was drinking, such as wiping his lips and dry swallowing Excedrin.

Danny also begins exploring the hotel, without the knowledge of his parents.  He is again tempted by Room 217, despite Halloran’s warnings.  Danny is able to resist the temptation, but thinks that he sees a fire extinguisher come to life, turning into a snake.  However, once again, he does not tell his parents about this incident, as he understands how important the job at the hotel is for his family.

Jack makes a trip to the library to do more research on The Overlook Hotel.  He places a phone call to Stuart Ullman, goading Ullman in regards to the history of the hotel, stating that he will one day write a book about the hotel.  This angers Ullman, and Jack regrets his actions as well.

After speaking with Ullman, Jack receives a call from his friend Al Shockley.  It turns out that Al owns part of the hotel, and is angry at Jack for making that phone call.  Al forces Jack to promise not to call Ullman again, and to not write any books about the hotel.  Jack is angered, but agrees, in order to keep his job.

Both Wendy and Danny become worried about Jack.  They sense that Jack is having trouble coping with his alcoholism, but are unsure of how to help him.  Wendy asks Danny if he would like to leave The Overlook, and Danny agrees that he would.  However, Danny is not happy with the alternative option:  staying with Wendy’s mother, as Wendy and her mother do not get along.  Wendy agrees to stay at the hotel with Jack for the winter, and hopes that things will get better.

One day, as Jack is trimming the hedge animals in front of the hotel, he is badly frightened.  He thinks that the hedge animals have moved.  He tells himself that this is impossible, and likely a hallucination caused by his struggles to remain sober.

The weather worsens in Sidewinder, and the Torrance family begins to feel the hotel closing in on them.  The only means of communication is a CB radio.  They are otherwise cut off from the world, unable to leave the hotel.

One day, Danny finally gives in to temptation and visits room 217.  When he opens the bathroom door, he encounters the ghost of Mrs. Massey.  The ghost then attempts to strangle Danny.

While Danny is being attacked in Room 217, Jack and Wendy have dozed off in their quarters.  However, Jack awakens to the voice of his dead father on the CB radio, warning him that Danny has broken the rules and visited room 217.

Once Wendy and Jack come to their senses, Danny appears at the top of the stairs.  Danny is bruised and bleeding from his encounter with the ghost in room 217.

Almost immediately, Wendy blames Jack for Danny’s injuries, convinced that Jack tried to hurt Danny in his sleep.  She chases Jack off and locks herself and Danny in the bedroom.

Jack is angered by Wendy’s treatment of him, and retreats to the empty bar at the hotel.  Jack then begins to fantasize about drinking again.

The fantasies about drinking seem to become real as Jack strikes up a conversation with the bartender he believes would have been serving the hotel back in its prime.  Jack refers to this man as Lloyd, and requests that Lloyd serve him 20 martinis.  Lloyd also appears to commiserate with Jack over his troubles.

Finally, Jack realizes what he is doing and snaps out of his trance.  Wendy appears with Danny at the bar, and Danny begins to have convulsions.  Jack is able to bring Danny out of his catatonic state, and tries to find out what happened to Danny.

Danny tells his parents about what happened in room 2017, along with the other incidents that he has experienced during the family’s stay at the hotel.  Wendy also tells Jack how worried she and Danny have been about him, as he appears to be struggling with his alcoholism.  Jack heads to Room 217, to see if he can find anyone or anything there.

When Jack arrives at Room 217, he investigates it and does not find anything.  However, when he leaves the room, he notices that someone or something is watching him.  However, he tells his family that he did not find anything in the room.

Later that night, Jack and Wendy begin to argue over their situation.  Jack reminds Wendy that they are snowed in, and that an escape attempt may kill them.  However, Wendy remembers that the hotel has snow mobiles, and Jack reluctantly promises to test them out the next day, so that they may possibly escape the hotel.

That night, Jack struggles with his anger at his family, as he feels that he will have no other options if they leave the hotel.  He dreams that he sees a ghost of one his students in Room 217, and that he attacks that ghost.  However, the ghost then turns into his son.  Jack awakens to find himself standing over Danny’s bed, and shocked by his behavior.

In the morning, Jack takes a look at the snow mobile and finds it in working order.  However, he is unable to bear the idea of leaving the hotel for a fate unknown, and deliberately sabotages the snow mobile, so that his family will remain stranded at The Overlook.

The weeks pass without incident.  Danny tells his mother that he still afraid of the hotel, but that he understands that his family has no other options.

One day, Danny is outside playing on the hotel’s playground.  He is playing in the miniature version of the hotel when he begins to feel trapped inside, and very frightened.  Danny makes his way out of the playhouse, and heads back to the hotel.

Danny also has a bad scare when he heads back to the hotel:  he sees the hedge animals move, and they begin to chase him.  However, Danny is able to make it back to the hotel, where he collapses on the porch from fright and exhaustion.

Danny tells his parents what happened.  However, Jack does not believe him and tries to convince his son that the movement of the hedge animals was a figment of his imagination.  Danny realizes that Jack is lying and that Jack has also seen the animals move.  When he tries to tell his father this, Jack slaps him across the face, angering Wendy.

Jack and his family are awakened later that night by the sound of the elevator running.  The elevator had not previously been in use.  Jack gets up to investigate the noise, with Wendy and Danny in tow.

When he investigates the elevator, Jack does not find anyone or anything there.  However, the Torrance family finds evidence of a party, which includes streamers and balloons.  Wendy and Danny also hear noises associated with a party, such as people talking and music.  Jack denies that anything unusual is happening, and chalks up the issues with the elevator to a short circuit.

A few days later, Danny comes across an old clock that no longer appears to be working.  However, the clock comes to life, and the figures in it commit lewd acts.  The clock then stops, and Danny has another vision.  He sees the word REDRUM again, and realizes that it is murder spelled backwards.  Danny is terrified, and sends a telepathic plea to Dick Halloran for help.

Hallorann is in Florida, working at his winter job.  He receives Danny’s message, and realizes that the situation at The Overlook Hotel is serious, and that he must return to Colorado as soon as he can.

As Hallorann is looking for a flight to take him to Colorado, Wendy and Danny sense that the hotel is closing in on them..  The hotel is working through Jack, in order to get to Danny.  When Danny tries to leave his quarters, he is accosted by a man in a dog costume, who tries to attack him.  Danny continues to call to Hallorann for help, but the hotel senses what Danny is doing and puts a stop to it.

Finally, Hallorann is able to find a flight to Colorado, and heads to the hotel, hoping that he will not be too late.

Jack becomes convinced that the hotel wants him, and not Wendy or Danny.  Jack encounters the ghosts of the hotel’s previous employees and guests, and is able to get drunk.  One of the ghosts, the ghost of Delbert Grady (the previous caretaker of the hotel), alerts Jack to the fact that Danny is trying to escape from The Overlook, and tells Jack that he must do whatever he needs to do to correct Danny.  Jack is also shown a vision in the clock:  a man beating a little boy with a roque mallet.  The clock then fills with blood, much to Jack’s disbelief.

Finally, Hallorann is able to find a flight to Colorado, and begins the trek to Sidewinder.

Wendy and Danny stay sequestered in their quarters, and are able to hear Jack in his drunken rage.  Wendy ventures out of their quarters to find food for her and Danny, and finds Jack passed out at the bar.  She realizes that Jack is somehow drunk, even though there is no alcohol anywhere in the hotel.

Jack regains consciousness, and begins to attack Wendy.  Wendy realizes that he intends to kill her and Danny.  Danny comes to the defense of his mother, and Jack also attacks Danny.  Wendy is able to finally subdue Jack by hitting him on the head with a glass.

Wendy and Danny drag Jack to the pantry, intending to lock him in there, for his safety and theirs.  Jack regains consciousness and fights them, but they are able to shut the door on him in the nick of time.

Even though they retreat to the their quarters, Wendy and Danny are still able to hear Jack’s protests, along with the elevator and other sounds that indicate that the hotel is coming to life.

The ghost of Delbert Grady finds Jack in the pantry.  Jack promises to kill Wendy and Danny, in exchange for his freedom.  The door is somehow unlocked, and Jack picks up a roque mallet, and looks to find his wife and son.

In the meantime, Hallorann continues to make his trek to The Overlook.  The hotel realizes what he is doing, and sends him a message, in an attempt to scare him off.  Hallorann fights it, and is determined to make his way to The Overlook.

Wendy begins to suspect that Jack has somehow escaped the pantry.  She heads downstairs, but this proves to be a mistake, as Jack is waiting for her.  Jack attacks her with the mallet, but Wendy defends herself with a knife.  She heads back upstairs, but an angry, inhuman Jack follows her, determined to kill her.

Finally, Hallorann arrives at the hotel, but is attacked by one of the hedge animals.

Wendy is able to flee from Jack, and hides in the bathroom.  She defends herself with a razor blade she finds in the medicine cabinet, all the while wondering where Danny is hiding, as she has been unable to find him.  She also realizes that the hotel has completely possessed her husband, and that Jack is no longer in control of himself.

Hallorann is able to fend off the hedge animal by lighting it on fire and makes his way into the hotel.  However, he is then attacked by Jack and loses consciousness.

Danny is in some kind of catatonic state.  He is visited by Tony, and realizes that Tony is a future version of himself, Daniel Anthony Torrance.  Tony tells Danny that his mother and Hallorann may be killed by Jack, unless Danny does something about it.  Tony then reminds Danny that he will remember what his father forgot, and vanishes.  Danny then returns to consciousness.

Finding himself in the attic on the third floor, Danny hears his father calling for him.  Resisting the urge to obey his father, Danny attempts to hide from Jack.

Wendy regains consciousness, and finds Hallorann.  She rouses him, and both hear the sounds of Jack on the prowl for his son.

Danny confronts the creature that had once been his father.  He tells his father that the hotel is using him, and will discard him once he has served its purpose.  Jack briefly makes an appearance, and tells Danny to run.

Danny then realizes that his father has not maintained the boiler, and that the hotel will go up in flames.  He runs, searching for his mother and Hallorann, so that they may escape before it is too late.

Wendy, Hallorann and Danny are reunited.  Halloran senses the urgency, and the three make their escape.  The hotel catches on fire shortly aftewards and is completely destroyed.

Even after they escape, the hotel tries to urge Hallorann to hurt Danny.  Hallorann fights the urge, and escapes with Wendy and Danny by using the snow mobile.  Soon, they reach civilization, away from the hotel and the haunted grounds.

Several months later, Hallorann has found work at lodge in Maine.  Danny and Wendy also stay at the lodge for the summer, but Wendy plans on relocating to Maryland, in favor of a new job and fresh start.  Danny is still saddened over the death of his father, but Hallorann reassures him that he will always be there for him, and that Danny will eventually recover from his ordeal.


My Thoughts

I have said it once, and I will say it again:  I appear to be incapable of reading anything that does not make me its emotional bitch in the end.

And The Shining is no different.

I have a few King books that are able to get to me on a personal level.  These include It, Bag of Bones and Rose Madder.

Bag of Bones 11

Well, now I can add The Shining to that list.

And I would not be alone in that sentiment.  Out of all of King’s work, it seems like The Shining is the one that has had the biggest grip on popular culture.

Even non horror and non King fans get what “redrum” means.

The Shining is so compelling that Felicity was reading it in an episode of Arrow

felicity-1

Jack Torrance, you have failed your hotel!

(OK, that one was admittedly bad.  Maybe Jack should have tried harder to save his city  hotel.  OK, I will stop now before someone sends the ghosts of the Overlook or perhaps Damien Darhk after me for making these bad jokes!)

darhk 1

And there is a good reason why The Shining (both the book and movie) has the grip that it has on popular culture.  Actually, there are a few good reasons.

The Shining is scary.  Really scary.  Really fucking scary.  Fucking scary as hell, as a matter of fact.

OK, Captain Obvious is on board…

Stephen King wrote The Shining.  He is the King of scary.  So of course his books are scary, right?

Well, many times, King’s books are scary.  King does a lot of things besides scary (which he also does in The Shining, and which we will talk about later), but if you mention his name, the first word that comes up is scary.  That is what he is primarily known for:  writing books that will scare his Constant Constant Readers into a change of pants.

After all, who hasn’t been home alone except for the dogs, and felt her skin crawl while reading the likes of It, ‘Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, Revival or almost any other King book?

Stephen King's Pet Sematary (1985)

(Or is that just me?  OK, just checking, no judgement, right?)

Even The Body and 11/22/63 have creepy elements in them, and those are not traditionally billed as horror stories.

11-22-63 19

Well, add The Shining to that list.  And believe me, it has earned that spot on the list.

First of all, there is the setting.  We have an isolated, abandoned hotel in the dead of winter.  Forget about the ghosts for a minute, and think about that instead.  Being trapped in the middle of nowhere is a real fear.  And The Shining plays upon that fear almost right from the opening pages, before we even have the pleasure of making the acquaintance of those lovely, hospitable creatures that call The Overlook Hotel home.

In fact, I could even rightfully argue that the hotel is a character, in and of itself, in much the same way that Danny, Wendy, Jack and Dick Hallorann are characters.

I find this utterly fascinating:  only King has the ability to turn an inanimate object, like an isolated hotel, into a compelling, fleshed out character.  Much love for The Master!

overlook-hotel-1

But, I don’t want to forget about the ghosts.  No, let’s not do that!

Now, the build up to the ghosts is a nice, slow burn.  There are a couple of flashes here and there, like the blood and brains Danny sees in the one room on his first tour, along with the incident with the wasps.  But King spends the first half of the book getting us invested in Danny and his parents, and even the hotel.  So the ghosts take a back burner, at least at first.

But then King unleashes them.  And good things (or is it really scary things?) come to those who wait.  And the payoff is grand.

It had been many years since I read this book.  And a few details may have escaped me.  But lucky me, they came back to me on my re-read.

There is the ghost of Mrs. Massey.  Now, thanks to Kubrik and his movie, I have never really forgotten about her.  But she deserves mention here.  I may make jokes and kid around with all The Shining references, but here is my confession:  I do that to hide the fact that she still scares me into a change of pants, even to this day.

mrs-massey-1

(Again, we cool and no judgement, right?  Whew!)

Although Mrs. Massey scared me, and the guy in the dog costume scared me (who does that?  Who wears a dog costume and makes the rounds at a party, greeting people by barking?  Ew much?), along with the ghosts of Grady and Lloyd, I think the honor goes to…

You got it, the clock!

I know that a wind up clock is not what most people associate with this “redrum” of a book.  However, that is one seriously scary scene.  And it would actually be two scenes, as Danny sees the figures in the clock do some unspeakable things to each other after it comes to life, and then Jack also sees the same clock come to life, showing him a guy murder a kid with a roque mallet.  And then the clock fills with blood.  Nice touch, Sai King!

wind-up-clock-1

Okay, we have paid the ghosts their due.

So let’s take away the ghosts now.  Let’s take away the spooky hotel.  Let’s take away a little boy’s mysterious, PSI powers.

We are doing away with anything and everything supernatural.

With most horror stories, if you took away all the supernatural elements, you would not have a story.  You would have the equivalent of a car with no engines, no tires, probably even no stereo to listen to the music on.

But this is where King separates himself from the pack, and shows us why he has earned the moniker “The Master.”

SK give me what I won

You can take away anything and everything supernatural in The Shining.

And you are not left with an empty vehicle that won’t go anywhere or play any music.

Rather, you have a vehicle that is functional.  It may have no “extras”, like the fancy tires and state of the art stereo system.

But this vehicle will run.  We can drive it, and it can still take us places and can be counted on for a journey.

In other words, The Shining is not just about ghosts.

The ghosts make the story fun, and provide some great scares (again, Mrs. Massey).  But they are not what makes this story so memorable and so effective on so many levels.

At its core, The Shining explores familiar territory.  Or familiar to anyone who has had to “adult” for more than thirty seconds of his/her life.

The Shining is about family.

shining-family-pic

The Shining is about addiction and the devastating effects it has on the addict and the addict’s loved ones.

The Shining is about unemployment, and how devastating it can be to lose one’s job and place in the world.

In fact, the Torrance family’s stay at The Overlook Hotel could be seen as metaphor for being trapped in an abusive relationship.

In an abusive relationship, the abuser will use isolation as a tactic.  This is what my ex did to me:  he cut me off from everyone and everything that I loved.  And then the monsters were unleashed.

overlook-hotel-2

Like Danny, I lived in fear.  I also constantly questioned myself and blamed myself, as Danny did, when his father and the hotel would do terrible things.  I believed, like Danny, that I had caused those things.

Like Danny, I believed that there was something I could do to keep the monsters at bay, and prevent the terrible things from happening.  I shouldered much responsibility for what happened, and looked for ways to prevent (like Danny avoiding certain parts of the hotel.)

But, like Danny, it became too much, and escape became necessary to save my life.  Danny agonized over the escape, and so did I.  Escaping from an abuser is never easy, as you are running from someone you love, sometimes a person you love beyond all reason.

jack-torrance-2

And the recovery is not easy, as evidenced by the end of the book.  Like Danny, I spent much time crying.

But, again, like Danny, I found the light.  Light is never so beautiful as when you escape that darkness.


Well, that’s it for the roller coaster otherwise known as The Shining.  Join me next month for a reunion of sorts, when we review and dissect the follow up to The Shining, aka Doctor Sleep!

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

batman and robin


Connections

Even though The Shining is an early King work, it is still set squarely in the King universe, and shares some notable connections with other King books.  Here are the connections I found:

-The most obvious connection to another book is to Doctor Sleep, which follows the adventures of Danny Torrance in adulthood.

-The town of Sidewinder is mentioned in the novel The Talisman.

wolf and jack

-Danny has PSI abilities.  Many other characters in the King universe have these abilities, including Carrie White, Jake Chambers, Kyra DeVore (Bag of Bones) and the Breakers in The Dark Tower series.

carrie-1

-Room 217 is the room that houses Brady Hartsfield in the Mercedes trilogy, which includes Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch.

mr. mercedes 1

-In the book The Drawing of the Three, Eddie recalls a movie that he has seen, titled The Shining.  Even if Stephen King does not exist in every reality (or even most of them), apparently some version of The Shining does exist on more than one level of The Tower, and may even exist on all levels of The Tower.

The_Lady_of_Shadows_by_synpro

-The ghosts seen by Danny at The Overlook Hotel bear some resemblance to the “vagrant dead” mentioned in The Wolves of the Calla and The Song of Susannah.

Roland dance

-In the novel It, Dick Halloran makes a brief appearance in a story in a flashback regards to Derry’s history.  Hallorann saves the life of Wil Hanlon, who would later go on to father Mike Hanlon, one of the members of the Losers Club.

Losers club 1

Don’t Forget Your Napkin: My Review of The Eyes of The Dragon

Once upon a time, there was man known as Uncle Stevie.

Uncle Stevie liked to tell scary stories.

Simpsons SK

There were bad guys in Uncle Stevie’s stories.  Lots of bad guys.

In fact, he once told a story about a clown that killed children.

He told a story about a town that was invaded by vampires.

'Salem's Lot 4

He even told a story about a haunted hotel that tried to do bad things to a little boy with special talents.

But Uncle Stevie was not a bad man.  No, not at all.

In fact, Uncle Stevie had children of his own.  But those children could not read his stories, because they were children, after all.  Uncle Stevie did not know what to do.  He couldn’t scare his own children, but he wanted to write something they would like and not be scared of.  Uncle Stevie thought for a long time.

Cleaner 3

One day, Uncle Stevie got an idea.  He decided to write a fairy tale of sorts, and dedicate it his daughter, Naomi.  Excited, Uncle Stevie got to work right away and wrote his new story.  It took him a long time, but he finally finished writing the story.

Uncle Stevie decided to call this new story The Eyes of the Dragon.  And his children were happy, since he finally wrote a story that they could read, and they liked it.

The story was actually sort of a fairy tale, although it was kind of long for a fairy tale.

But it read like a good fairy tale:  there were kings and queens.  And princes.  And even an evil sorcerer.  And the story took place in a magical land, far, far away.

eyes-of-the-dragon-2

Although it was fairy tale, you could still tell that this story was written by Uncle Stevie.  There were some parts that were kind of scary, but not as scary.  And people did some bad things in the story, but never got punished like they would in a regular fairy tale.

In other words, The Eyes of the Dragon was a fairy tale, but you could tell it was written by the guy who writes scary stories.

And like Uncle Stevie’s other books, The Eyes of the Dragon would suck you right in to the land of princes and evil sorcerers, if you weren’t careful.  So kids liked it, and so did the grown-ups.

This nerdy grown-up decided she wanted to feel like a kid again.  So she read The Eyes of the Dragon this month.  Once again, she was captivated.  And enchanted.

Just like reading any other book written by Uncle Stevie.

So, here is her recap and review of The Eyes of the Dragon.  As always, watch out for the fierce beasts known as Spoilers!

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book introduces us to man named Roland.  Roland is the king of a land called Delain.  Roland is not hated in Delain, although he is not loved either.  Most people think that Roland is a competent king, and have no strong feelings towards him, one way or the other.

Roland is not a very bright man, and relies on the advice given to man by a man known as Flagg.  Flagg is Roland’s trusted adviser, and is also a man familiar with magic and its various uses.  There are many who do not quite trust Flagg, but no one dares to cross his path, as most people actually fear him.

At nearly 50 years old, Roland is still single, and this must be remedied, so that he can bear a son who will take over his royal duties one day.  Flagg introduces Roland to many women, and eventually, a woman named Sasha marries Roland.  Sasha is only 17 when she marries Roland, and is inexperienced in the ways of men.

Roland is also inexperienced in the ways of women, and has trouble bedding Sasha.  However, she becomes pregnant with the couple’s first child, Peter.  Peter is handsome and well liked, and takes after his mother.  Peter’s favorite toy is a dollhouse that was a gift to his mother.  The dollhouse is intricate and even has working parts, such as a small stove that heats up.  Peter spends hours playing with this dollhouse, making up fantastical stories to go along with it.  Peter also shows leadership skills at an early age, as he is able to exert his influence over people.  One day, Peter is able to prevent the unnecessary death of a horse.  Naturally, Flagg notices this and becomes uneasy.

Queen Sasha is well loved by the people of Delain, and is able to influence Roland when he makes certain decisions.  She also insists upon making sure that Peter is taught manners and etiquette.  Specifically, she makes sure that Peter uses his napkin, no matter the circumstances.  This is a lifelong habit that becomes ingrained in Peter.

Eventually, Sasha becomes pregnant with the couple’s second child, Thomas.  Flagg distrusts Sasha, and plots to kill her.  He is successful in accomplishing this when Thomas is born, as he convinces Sasha’s midwife to sever a vital artery, so that Sasha dies from blood loss.

As Peter grows older, Flagg distrusts him more and more.  He realizes that if Peter were to become King, Flagg may be vanquished from Delain.  After much thought, Flagg decides to kill King Roland and pin the death on Peter, so that Thomas will become King.  Thomas lives in the shadow of his brother, as he is not handsome and smart like Peter, but is more like his father.  Since Thomas is feeling neglected, this makes it easy for Flagg to exert his influence over Thomas.

One autumn night, Flagg poisons a glass of wine and gives it to King Roland, who drinks the wine, not suspecting that anything is amiss.  While this is happening, Thomas is spying on his father by peeking through the head of Niner, a dragon slain by his father on a hunting expedition.  Thomas feels that something is amiss, but does not say anything.

Flagg plants evidence in Peter’s room that will be found after his father’s death.  Roland does not show any signs of illness for a few days, but dies a sudden, painful death.

Shortly after the death of Roland, preparations are made for the coronation of Peter as king of Delain.  However, the preparations are halted after Dennis, the royal butler, finds the evidence planted by Flagg in Peter’s room.  Peter is then tried and convicted for the murder of his father, and Thomas is crowned king of Delain.

Thomas is reluctant, but accepts his new title, but feels guilty for his complacence in his father’s death and the false accusations against his brother.  In the meantime, Peter is imprisoned in a tower known as Needle.  His cell is several stories off the ground.

Within a week of his imprisonment, Peter makes two demands:  that his mother’s old dollhouse be brought to him, and that he receive a napkin with every meal.  Peter sends a message to Anders Penya, the Judge General of Delain, with this demand.  With the help of Ben Stadd, Peter’s best friend, Anders is able to grant these requests.

Ben Staad stands by Peter in claims of innocence, and refuses to to believe that his friend could have committed such as act.  Even Anders Penya, who had questioned Peter in regards to the murders, begins to have his doubts in regards to Peter’s guilt.

The dollhouse is finally delivered to Peter, and he begins receiving his napkins at each meal.  Peter then removes a few threads from each napkin, and begins to weave a rope using the miniature loom in the dollhouse.  It is painstaking work, but Peter is patient, and spends the next five years making this rope so that he may escape his prison.  Peter also finds an old locket and letter one day, and realizes that Flagg has been spreading  his evil throughout the kingdom of Delain for several centuries.

In the meantime, Thomas attempts to rule over Delain as king.  However, he is a very unpopular king, as he has raised taxes on the kingdom, due to advice from Flagg, whom he has become dependent on.  Thomas is very unhappy and moody, due to the fact that he is not ready for the responsibilities as king, and the guilt over his father’s death.

One night, Thomas sleep-walks to his secret hiding spot, and re-enacts the night of his father’s death in his sleep.  This is witnessed by Dennis, Thomas’ royal butler.  Dennis is badly frightened by what he sees, and begins to question King Roland’s death.

A few days later, Dennis pays a visit to Anders Peyna, and tells his tale.  Peyna becomes distressed, realizing that he has falsely imprisoned Peter, the true king of Delain.

The next morning, Peyna sends Dennis back to Delain, advising him to be careful.  Peyna then heads north to the camp of the exiles, where many have fled to escape the situation in Delain.  Peyna plans to seek the help of Ben Staad, Peter’s old friend.  The Staad family are among those who have fled Delain.

Since Dennis is able to read and write, Peyna tells him to send a note to Peter in secret.  Dennis writes the note, and hides it among the napkins, in the hope that the note will reach Peter.

Peyna also speaks to Ben Staad, and sends Ben back to the kingdom of Delain to help Peter.  Ben is accompanied by a woman named Naomi Reechul, who drives a sled pulled by Husky dogs.  With Naomi’s help, Ben reaches the former home of Peyna.  In order to track down Dennis, Naomi has Frisky, one of her dogs, track Dennis’ scent, in the hopes that they may find him.

In the meantime, Peter has finished weaving his rope and plans his escape from Needle.  However, he has second thoughts when he receives Dennis’ letter, which states that Peyna does not believe Peter is guilty of murder and was in fact wrongfully imprisoned.

Peter re-thinks his plans to escape the next night, and uses his blood to write a note to Dennis.  He bundles it in a napkin, in the hopes that Dennis will find it.

Dennis lurks outside The Needle and catches a glance of Peter.  He also finds the note, and decides that he will do anything to help Peter.

Ben and Naomi are able to track down Dennis, with the help of Frisky.  The three then exchange stories, and make plans to rescue Peter.

That night, Flagg finally realizes that Peter means to escape, and begins to head up the stairs of Needle, to Peter’s cell.  Peter hears Flagg coming, and using his rope, begins to make his escape.

As he is making his escape, Peter’s rope breaks.  However, his fall is cushioned by a pile of napkins, which were loaded into a cart by Ben, Naomi and Dennis.  Peter falls, but survives, much to the anger of Flagg.

Flagg then chases Peter and his friends to the former chambers of King Roland.  Flagg says that he will kill Peter.  Peter then confronts Flagg with the knowledge of the murder of his father, along with Flagg’s past evil deeds.

Thomas then appears, with his father’s bow and arrow.  Flagg believes Thomas to be the ghost of Roland, which makes him forget about his plans to murder Peter.  This allows Thomas to shoot Flagg with his father’s bow and arrow.  The arrow then hits Flagg in the eye.  After he is hit by the arrow, Flagg vanishes, leaving only his clothes behind.

After the confrontation with Flagg, Peter is acquitted of his father’s murder.  Peter invites Thomas to stay in Delain, but Thomas declines.  Instead, Thomas says that he will spend his life tracking down Flagg, so that he may avenge his father and brother.  Dennis offers to accompany Thomas, and Thomas gratefully accepts the offer.

Thomas leaves Delain, and it is not known if he ever returns, although he did have many strange adventures.  Peter continues to rule in Delain as king, and Ben and Naomi eventually get married.


My Thoughts

Well, I did say that I wanted a break from the scary stuff.

In other words, I needed a break from watching Indianapolis Colts football!

NFL: Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts

Haha, just joking!  Even though the Colts are frightening to watch at the moment, I will still be loyal to them!

But seriously, The Eyes of the Dragon though…

The Eyes of the Dragon is a fairy tale.  And it is a fairy tale written by the King of Horror.

And…wait for it…

It is actually a good fairy tale written by The Master!  Who knew?

Stephen King

Ok, it’s confession time…I hope all both  of the readers of this blog have some tolerance and don’t judge me…

For many years, I put off reading this book.  There was something that just did not sit right with me, in regards to this book.

In my little mind, Sai King was not supposed to write fantasy children’s stories (although this one does have some adult themes, more about that later.)  He was supposed to write about the scary hotels, rabid St. Bernards, possessed vehicles, cursed burial grounds and all those other things that have kept me up at night over the years.

Church grumpy cat

In other words, there was no room for princes, evil wizards and faraway kingdoms.  Absolutely not allowed!

Well, as one might say in another faraway land created by King, “I cry your pardon.”

Tower 6

I finally read The Eyes of the Dragon a couple of years ago.  And I enjoyed it then.

And when I re-read it this year, I was again reminded of what I had missed out on, due to my obstinate nature.

breaking bad

While The Eyes of the Dragon is not in my top 10 (too many others overshadow it), I still consider it to be one of King’s underrated gems.

And it even has tie-ins to some of my favorites, like The Dark Tower series.  And The Stand, which is one of my books of all time, period.

The Eyes of the Dragon could be considered to be a children’s tale.  And in many ways, it is. My parents read me fairy tales when I was child, and I was constantly reminded of those when I was reading this book.

fairytale_landscape_by_reinmar84-d6uaii7

There is land that is far, far away, aka the kingdom of Delain.  King never specifies just where Delain is, but it is not on any map that exists in this world.

There are kings, queens and princesses.  King Roland, Queen Sasha and Prince Peter are almost “textbook” fairy tale characters if you will.  They are well loved by the people they rule over, and strive to the right thing.

And there is an evil wizard.  Flagg fits the bill of evil wizard perfectly:  he is a scheming, evil and ultimately prideful creature who does his best to wreak havoc wherever he goes (again, more about Flagg later.)

However, like almost all of King’s books, there is more than meets the eye (pun not intended) in The Eyes of the Dragon.

First of all, there is King Roland.  Now, I am not calling King Roland necessarily a bad guy, because he does try to do what is right.

However, King Roland is DEFINITELY not a bright man.  And time and time again, his actions remind of that fact.  Usually, it is the bad guys in fairy tales that are bumbling buffoons, not the good kings who want to do what is right.  But Roland is an exception in this book, and this actually makes the book more interesting, and adds a little depth to the story.

Then there is the character of Thomas, aka Thomas the Tax Bringer, whom I actually find to be one of King’s most fascinating characters.

eyes-of-the-dragon-4

On the one hand, Thomas appears to be a bad dude.  When the narrator described how Thomas killed a dog because….well, just because, I immediately felt the need to go home and hug my dogs (luckily, they are the tolerant sort and don’t mind random hugs, unlike my cats, who revel in blood sport.)

But, on the other hand, I would agree with the narrator:  Thomas is not a bad boy.  Repeat:  Thomas is not a bad boy.

Now, Thomas may have done some pretty bad things.  Killing that dog, for instance.  And watching Flagg murder his father and not saying a word about that to anyone.

However, some of Thomas’ actions are understandable.

Thomas was basically screwed from the moment he came into existence.  When he was born, his mother died.  Even though that was not his fault, Thomas (and possibly others) blamed his birth on the death of his mother.  So he had to carry that guilt.

Then there is the fact that Thomas is the brother of Peter.  Growing up, it was my brother who had friends and was the musician.  I was just the awkward nerd that no one else noticed.  So of course, this created resentment with me, just as Thomas resented his brother, even though he did love Peter, as I love my brother.  Being in someone’s shadow and never being noticed for your accomplishments (and Thomas was actually a good archer) is difficult, and can be pretty depressing.  Thomas only wanted the approval of his father, and not getting it made him understandably upset.

eyes-of-the-dragon-5

So, while some of Thomas’ actions were deplorable, at least they were understandable, given the context.  I don’t think that Thomas was an inherently evil character.  In fact, there is only one inherently evil character in this book.  We will talk about him in a bit.

One thing I love about The Eyes of the Dragon is that it is a fairy tale.  It tells of fantastical lands, kings and queens, magic, evil wizards and all that good stuff.

I also love that The Eyes of the Dragon is a Stephen King book.

So, Captain Obvious strikes again, right?

Well, let me explain a bit.

What I mean is that I love fantasy and fairy tales.  When I was a child, my parents had to constantly read to me from various books of fairy tales and fantasy stories, as they were my favorite.  We read Peter Pan.  We read the non- Disney version of Pinocchio (seriously, my parents wonder where my horror obsession comes from.  Read that one sometime.  It is far more disturbing than most “horror” stories.)

pinocchio-1

So, I feel at home when I read those types of stories.  They are my bread butter, you might say.  George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey and Madeleine L’Engle are just a few of my favorite authors.  The land of fantasy is my home.

But, despite the fact that The Eyes of the Dragon appears to be a fairy tale, it was written by the King of Horror.  And throughout the book, we are constantly reminded of that fact.

For one, The Eyes of the Dragon has some gruesome deaths.  Gruesome deaths are Sai King’s bread and butter, after all.  The death of Queen Sasha definitely counts as gruesome, as a mid-wife used a knife to cut a vital organ so that Sasha would bleed to death.  Not only is this gruesome, this is also one of the most tragic deaths I have ever come across in any book.

Speaking of gruesome, there is the death of King Roland.  Roland is poisoned, but not with just any poison.  No, only “Dragonsand” would do for Roland.  This was a poison that burned someone from the inside out…shudder.

eyes-of-the-dragon-6

Most fairy tales end on “happily ever after.”  The evil is defeated, and justice is somehow served.  However, this is not the case in regards to The Eyes of the Dragon.

For one, Flagg is not defeated.  Sure, he exits the kingdom of Delain, but he still alive!  And read to make mischief wherever he can.  Seriously, I wonder if he found the world of The Stand because he got evicted from Delain?  Seems legit, right?

There is also Thomas.  I did say that Thomas was not a bad guy.  But he was also complicit in the murder of his father and imprisonment of his brother.  However, Thomas never faces any consequences for his actions, and basically leaves the kingdom in shame, although he leaves under the guise of doing something noble, aka tracking down Flagg so that Flagg can answer for his actions (wish I could find out how that worked out, actually.)

In other words, Thomas did not get a happy ending.  The only one who really got a happy ending was Peter, and maybe his friend Ben.  And Peter probably spent years trying to clean up the mess made by Flagg and his brother, so I am really not sure how happy his ending really was.

Ok, I saved the best for last.

Or is it the worst for last?  Maybe best of the worst for last?

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am talking about that bad guy that we all love to hate…

Can I get a round of loud booing for…

None other than Randall Flagg himself!

flagg-7

Now, Randall Flagg is ubiquitous in the Stephen King universe.

He shows up, in one way or another, in so many different books.  And he seems to be the equivalent of the cockroach in the King universe:  he just won’t go away!

Or perhaps the equivalent of Von Miller:  a one man (or maybe one demon) wrecking crew who is impossible to game plan for.  Instead of see “Miller, V,” we have see Flagg, R.

Flagg is perhaps most associated with the novel The Stand.  A world has been ravaged by the super flu and trying to rebuild itself.  Of course, with no help from Flagg, R.

man in black

The Stephen King cockroach also makes several appearances in the Dark Tower series (both the books and the comics.)  In fact, he is part of the best opening line in history:  The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

(Again, see Flagg, R.)

And he is also a character in The Eyes of the Dragon.

flagg-8

Out of all the different flavors of Flagg (kind of gross if you think of it that way, actually), I think that his character in The Eyes of the Dragon is my favorite flavor.  Not that I don’t think he’s great in all the other books, but there is just something about him in The Eyes of the Dragon that makes my heart go pitter-patter…

For one thing, he is pretty creative in this particular book.  I mean, a poison called Dragonsand?  Talk about a different, painful kind of death on the person you inflict it on!

He also has the old school, evil wizard feel to him in The Eyes of the Dragon.

He is crafty, cunning and enjoys evil for the sake of…well…evil.  There is no other way to put it.   We, as readers, tend to like to assign motivations to characters, to give them a reason for their actions.

Randall_Flagg_by_Clayman84

Well, there is no reason for Flagg’s actions in The Eyes of Dragon.  He is a bad guy who enjoys being a bad guy.  He does evil things because he likes it.  He only feels remorse when his plans fail and he is unable to unleash chaos  like he wants to.  He garners no sympathy from the reader.  In fact, the reader roots for him to die, and is disappointed when he doesn’t (one of the perks of being an evil wizard includes the ability to perpetually exist and stir up trouble everywhere, even breaking the inter-dimensional barrier.)

So it’s refreshing, actually.

Almost as refreshing as glass of wine that includes that extra touch of Dragonsand…


So, that’s it for The Eyes of the Dragon!

Join me next month as we return to the “real world…”

In other words, I will be reviewing and dissecting an oldie but goodie, otherwise known as The Shining.

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

batman and robin


Connections

Although it takes place in the “faraway” land of Delain, there are indications that The Eyes of the Dragon is indeed a part of the Stephen King universe.  Here are some of the connections that I found:

easter eggs 1

-The most obvious connection to King’s other books is the character of Randall Flagg.  Flagg appears in several other King works, including The Gunslinger, Wizard and Glass, The Dark Tower, The Stand, The Wastelands, The Wind Through the Keyhole and even in the title story of the collection Hearts in Atlantis.  Flagg apparently possesses the ability to travel to other worlds, and can perhaps even travel through time.

Mother Abigail

In The Drawing of the Three, Roland speaks of an encounter with Thomas and Dennis, while they are on a quest to find Flagg.  It is not known if Thomas and Dennis are ever able to confront Flagg and force him to answer for his crimes against Delain.  In fact, it is doubtful if their quest was ever successful, and it is more likely that this quest eventually results in the deaths of both Thomas and Dennis.

The_Lady_of_Shadows_by_synpro

-King Roland shares a first name with with Roland Deschain, the main character in King’s Dark Tower series.  However, this is all the two share, as Roland Deschain is clever and skilled, unlike his Delain counterpart.

Roland 2

-Peter’s time in The Needle can be said to be similar to Andy Dufresne’s imprisonment in Shawshank State Prison in the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (part of the collection Different Seasons), as Andy was also imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit.  Like Peter, Andy Dufresne also spent years devising and ingenious escape plan, under the noses of his captors.

Red 1

-Randall Flagg owns a two-headed parrot.  Parkus, the man responsible for law and order in the Territories in the novels Black House and The Talisman, also owns a similar creature.  It is unknown if these creatures are one in the same, or merely just similar.

eyes-of-the-dragon-8

-Mention is made of Rhea of the Coos.  Rhea is a major character in the novel Wizard and Glass, as well as The Dark Tower comics.

rhea of the coos

11 Reasons to Love Stranger Things

So, it’s summertime.

Not only is it hot, but the offerings on television are a bit scant, so to speak.

The Green Arrow, The Flash and my man Jim Gordon are all on summer vacation, I suppose.

arrow

Although, really, I was craving a dose of the 80’s.

But The Goldbergs are also on vacation.  And I needed something new and fresh, and none of the 80’s movies or TV shows in my collection were cutting it!

But luckily, Netflix decided to oblige me…

I heard that there was new show out.  It could satisfy that 80’s craving…check.

I’m a huge fan of horror and it was scary…check.

It paid homage to some writer guy I am obsessed with…check.

Simpsons SK

Oh, and it was actually well-acted and directed…check.

In other words, I am referring to the Netflix show known as Stranger Things.

stranger-things-1

Yes, I jumped on the Stranger Things bandwagon!

No I didn’t get a t-shirt, but it was one hell (or is it upside down?) of a ride!

Now, I didn’t binge.  Despite my love for this show, it still is a fine wine that needed to be savored.

So I forced myself to slow down.

In other words, I finished watching the show in about a week.  And I still felt that I rushed it a bit, since there was so much good stuff to savor!

Like the 80’s aspect of it…nostalgia rules!

The Stephen King references…The Master himself even earned a direct reference…but I know he won’t let the fame get to his head!

SK give me what I won

And this show was scary…I had to hide my eyes and grip my poor dog really hard watching some parts…good thing dogs are tolerant of their human slaves, even when the human slaves are watching scary stuff on TV!

In other words, there are so many reasons to love Stranger Things.  The show really does have a little something for everyone, and is so well done.

So, I deemed this show worthy of a post on this little old blog.  And I narrowed down the number of reasons to love this show…

Wait for it…

Eleven!

(See what I did there?  You are welcome!)

So, here is my list of 11 reasons as to why Stranger Things is an awesome show.  It may be a bit redundant in parts, but I feel each reason earned its place on the list and is worthy of discussion.

Time to break down and discuss this show, so buckle in for the ride!

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


It is scary

Some of you may be scratching your heads, and wondering if Captain Obvious has taken over this blog.  And I don’t begrudge you for that thought.  After all, this show is billed as being in the horror category, so of course it’s scary, right?

Well, not necessarily.  Both the big and small screen are filled with all kinds of abominations these days that call themselves horror.  And when I refer to them as abominations, that does not necessarily mean they are the good kind of abomination…

So, let’s break it down and discuss it.

stranger-things-9

When I watched Stranger Things, I felt warm and fuzzy at times.  After all, nostalgia, right?  And I laughed.  I mean who wouldn’t laugh?  After all, Dustin’s antics, floating Eggo waffles and Steve’s hair…all of those are pretty chuckle-worthy, in my opinion.

And, as quickly as I felt the warm and fuzzy, or went into a mad fit of giggling over a Dustin one-liner, I found myself holding on to my dog for dear life (like I said, she’s tolerant) and trying not to be scared into a change of pants.  The show was that effective.

First of all, there was the concept of the Upside Down.  An alternate dimension that sucks in a little kid. forcing him to communicate using Christmas lights?  One of man’s greatest fears is the fear of the unknown.  And an alternate dimension fits that category perfectly, as that would be one of the few frontiers left.

Nancy is briefly sucked into that alternate dimension, and seeing it through her eyes was just frightening.  No wonder she needed a little company that night.  I don’t think I would ever sleep again!

stranger-things-37

There is also The Monster.  Although the politically correct name for him (it?) is Mr. Tulip-Head.  So I shall refer to him by his proper name in this post, so no tentacles are ruffled!

And Mr. Tulip-Head is not one to be trifled with, yo!

stranger-things-15

Not only is he an extra-dimensional monster that is a predator (you could say that the town of Hawkins was his haunt, as in haunt meaning a place where animals feed), he seems to force slug-like creatures down people’s throats, in an attempt to either kill them, or perhaps an attempt to reproduce…

I tell you, if Will has a mini Mr. Tulip-Head come busting out of him, per the infamous scene in the movie Alien…well, I won’t be surprised at all!  And you can say you heard it here first!

Did anyone else think sushi when Will puked up that tentacle, by the way?

stranger-things-32

Ok, so that was just me then…

Well, nevermind, I guess…


It is Nerd Heaven

From the opening scene of Stranger Things, the tone is set.  The audience realizes that it will be treated to a…

Nerd fest!

I know, something nerdy making it on to this blog?  Can you imagine!?

At the beginning of the first episode, the boys are playing Dungeons and Dragons.  And using all the technical terms, like Demi-Gorgon.  And trust me folks, it only gets nerdier.

stranger-things-20

Obviously, we have Mike, Will and the rest of the gang.  Right from the beginning, the writers of the show let us know that they are the nerds among their peer group.  This title includes the good grades, unusual hobbies (D&D and membership in the audio-visual club), and the other, not positive attributes of nerdiness, such as the empty social calendar and merciless bullying.

Not only is D&D present throughout the series (as a useful metaphor, no doubt), there are so many little details that made my nerdy heart go pitter-patter.

We have the teacher that has a hot date with a pretty girl explaining the special effects in a horror movie.  Who needs brawn and muscles when you have a guy that can give a technical break down of the special effects in a scary movie to put your mind at ease?

There is the sensory deprivation chamber.  I loved how the boys, Hop and Joyce speculated on how to create one, and then hit upon the idea of using salt water.  It added some credibility to the series, although I think I will skip making one in an attempt to visit another dimension, as this one without Mr. Tulip-head is just fine, thank you!

stranger-things-7

I also loved it when the guys talked to the science teacher (the same expert on special effects in movies), about the existence of other dimension, and how to access those dimensions.  As a teenager, I read tons of books on physics, along with science fiction and fantasy novels covering that same topic (A Wrinkle in Time is a favorite of mine) and it is a subject of endless fascination for me, even in adulthood.  So to see it addressed on this show (the analogy with the acrobat and flea on the tightrope is an excellent) gave me goosebumps.  And goosebumps of the good variety.

If I actually had a friend group as a child, I hope that group would have contained a Dustin, a Mike, a Will and a Lucas.  After all, nerd power!


It has strong feminist leanings

If you haven’t, take the time to watch movies like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween.  If you watch carefully, these movies follow a formula.

The formula looks something like this:  a scary monster (or serial killer) is on the loose, somehow.  There are all kinds of hints, but both the teenagers and adults ignore the warning signs.  The teenagers are left to their own devices.  In other words, teenagers of the opposite sex gather together, and “own devices” turns out to mean “having sex.”  So most of the teens pair off, and conveniently find fully furnished bedrooms.  And then they have sex.  Well, except for a couple of virtuous kids, who are either uncomfortable with the idea of dating before marriage, or the nerdy guy (or girl, but usually a guy) who is rejected by the beautiful member of the opposite sex for either the jock or cheerleader.

Apparently, nothing angers a movie villain more than sexually active teenagers.  And the kinkiness of the sex involved is directly proportional to how quickly (and even how gruesomely) the teenagers get dispatched.  It is then up to the virtuous guy or girl to face the killer, and defeat the killer, who just won’t stay dead, even after being riddled with a large number of bullets that would take down any non horror movie villain.

Or something like that, at any rate.  Formulaic, in other words.

stranger-things-11

Now, Stranger Things may be a tribute to the 80’s and all things horror, but one thing it is not is formulaic.  This includes its treatment of the teenage girl.  In fact, Stranger Things stands the formula on its head, and can be argued to make a strong feminist statement by doing so.

So a Netflix series dealing with extra-dimensional monster, with shades of The Goonies and Stand By Me has (gasp) feminist leanings?  Have this blogger lost her mind?

Well, no.  Although my friends and family may argue otherwise, but you can’t miss what you never had, right?

And yes, Stranger Things does make a strong feminist statement, and here’s why.

Nancy becomes involved with Steve, and sneaks out to a party, lying to her parents and convincing poor Barb to cover for her.  Pretty typical teen behavior, in other words.

Not surprisingly, Nancy and Steve have sex.  The other couple at the party has sex.  And poor Barb is left to her own devices.

stranger-things-25

Standard horror fare, in other words.

But then, we veer away from the standard horror.  Nancy survives her first time, although Steve behaves in a pretty boorish manner (in other words, a teenage boy.)  Barb, however, does not survive that night, as she is attacked by Mr. Tulip-Head.  Apparently, Mr. Tulip-Head did not get the memo from Jason or Michael Myers, and does not attack the teenagers engaged in premarital sex.  Rather, he behaves like a typical predator, and attacks the isolated member of the herd, aka Barb.

Stranger Things

It takes a bit, but Nancy realizes that Barb is missing.  She confesses her lie to her mother and speaks to the police, naturally leaving out that she and Steve had sex that night.  I mean, it’s not like her sex life is anybody’s business but hers, right?

Furthermore, Nancy lets her mother know this, in no uncertain terms.  Yes, she had sex and Barb is now missing.  But the two are NOT related, nor should they be seen as related.  Because, you know, becoming sexually active and an extra-dimensional monster that had been unleashed due to the irresponsible actions of a shady operation in town are NOT related, so let’s focus on the important thing here:  now two children are missing, and maybe our town is in danger, so let’s do something before more people turn up missing?

BOOM!

stranger-things-31

Who knew?!

In other words, quit punishing women for being sexual!  Being sexual should not lead to death!  And a women’s sex life is no one’s business but her own!  Yeah, go Stranger Things!

Plus, Nancy kicks ass anyway.  She threw down some serious shade against Mr. Tulip-Head, and they boys just kind of followed her lead.

In other words, I can’t give Nancy enough love.


It is 80’s heaven

And let me count the ways…

Where do I even start?  This show just has so much 80’s…

We have the decor in the houses.  Someone took some great care to make sure that the houses looked like something you would see back in 1983, from the wall paper down to the carpeting.  So there’s that.

We get 80’s music.  The Clash?  How much more 80’s can you get?

And movie references.  Don’t forget those.  Joyce surprising Will with tickets to go see Poltergeist.  And then Will disappearing, in much the same manner as Carol Anne Freeling.  It’s true that Joyce developed an obsession with all things electronic and not the TV, but the concept is still the same.

I saw elements of The Goonies and Stand by Me.  In fact, the story arc of Mike and his friends is kind of similar to these two movies:  plucky misfit kids have a crazy adventure together and test their friendship in the process.  Well, just add in extra-dimensional monsters and shady government operatives.  But still not too far off.

He man

The television that happened to be playing an episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe…squee!

Throw in a little John Hughes as well.  The girl must choose between two guys:  one is kind of a lovable meathead, and the other is artistic and introspective, and the sworn enemy of the aforementioned meathead…

Then there is the character of Hop, who had a kind of Indiana Jones vibe…swoon…

stranger-things-24

So much nostalgia.

I grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s (I am 38, for all you nosy folk), and when I watched Stranger Things, I was (at least momentarily), transported back to my childhood, and was reminded of a time in my life when things were a little less complicated.

And no, I am not looking back with rose-colored glasses.  That’s 3 D glasses I am using, thank you very much!

Now excuse me, I have to go find some leggings that coordinate with my banana clip…battling extra-dimensional monsters will just have to wait!


The nods to different types of horror

Well, we just talked about how the show is scary.  So of course, since it is a show in the horror category, right?

Captain obvious strikes again!

Actually, this reason is more in regards to the fact of how the show paid homage to so many different types of horror.

First of all, we have the 1980’s horror aspect.  When I watched, I was reminded of all the 80’s classics:  A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and the Halloween movies.  Those movies had teenagers or young adults as their protagonists, just like Stranger Things.

Jason 1

One of the main points of the show was the fear of the unknown.  Again, I was reminded of John Carpenter (The Thing.)  The premise of The Thing is a life form that is not understood, just like Mr. Tulip-Head in Stranger Things.  That creature is definitely not understood, nor would understanding be a good thing (although it may result in one being forced to ingest slugs.)

I was also reminded of the movie Alien, which (again) deals with the fear of the unknown.  And has a strong female protagonist.  Nancy and Ellen Riply…now that would be a dangerous combo!

Alien-Chestburster

And I was also reminded of H.P. Lovecraft

the_colour_from_out_of_space_by_vashar23-d62vcjn

Yes, a show that is a mix of Stephen King’s It and The Goonies also has some nods to Lovecraft…who knew?

The fear of the unknown and creatures not of this world is a pretty common theme in most all  Lovecraft stories.  The Dunwich Horror and The Colour Out of Space are good examples of this.

The idea that Will had been touched by the unknown (after he pukes up a slug and seems to be back in the Upside-Down momentarily) and forever changed is also something that is distinctively Lovecraftian.  One of the running themes in Lovecraft’s stories is that knowledge is not necessarily always a good thing, and Will experiencing life in another dimension was not necessarily a good thing.  In fact, I think that experience will have some pretty severe repercussions, but only time (and a second season) will tell.

In fact, I found the end of this season to be pretty unsettling, as the camera shots and the shots of the stars in the sky seemed to imply that someone (or something) had its eye on Will, his friends, Nancy, Jonathan and the whole town of Hawkins, Indiana.  And that someone or something was not friendly.  Not friendly at all.


It is a HUGE homage to Stephen King

While we are on the subject of horror and scary things…

This reason may be a bit redundant.

After all, Stephen King is a horror writer.  And he is scary.  He is even tied into the 1980’s (It, Pet Sematary, Cujo and Firestarter are all 80’s books.) He even ties into the feminist part, since he is also capable of writing strong female characters.

But, he is The Master.  And The Master deserves his own entry.  Not to mention the fact that there are aspects to this show that are distinctly Stephen King.

Stephen King

We do have one character specifically asking another character if she has read a Stephen King book.  Hey, if you are going to drop a bunch of King Easter eggs, you may as well admit it, right?

easter eggs 1

The fact that Eleven’s mother was drugged in order to enhance latent PSI abilities is a direct reference to the book (and movie) Firestarter.  In Firestarter, a man and woman are drugged as part of an experiment.  The man and woman fall in love, marry and have a child.  The child is gifted (or perhaps cursed) with the ability to start fires with her mind.  This is similar to Eleven’s situation, in that her mother was drugged, and then gave birth to a child with PSI abilities (aka Eleven.)

stranger-things-19

Plus, I am pretty sure that Hawkins Laboratory is actually an operative of The Shop

People, especially children, with extraordinary abilities, are a major theme in King’s work.  The Shining, Carrie, Everything’s Eventual, Dr. Sleep and Firestarter are just some examples.  In fact, in the Dark Tower series, people with these abilities even have a name:  Breakers.  And Eleven definitely classifies as a Breaker.  Don’t worry, I won’t tell the Low Men!

abra-doctor-sleep

Traveling between realities is also a huge theme in King’s work.  In fact, this also has a specific name: going Todash.  And the space in between realities is called the Todash space, and monsters lurk in the Todash space.  When Eleven was in the blackness and first encountered that monster…I would say that was a pretty good representation of Todash space!

the-mist-mons__big

In King’s books, there are doors that lead to realities.  They are known as “thinnies,” and allow travel to different worlds and even different time periods.  Eleven was able to use her PSI abilities to make one of these doors.  And, as far as we know, that door still exists at Hawkins Laboratory, with the potential for more creatures (The Mist comes to mind) to cross over to the Stranger Things level of The Tower

Caves 1

Yeah, I said it.  I gave Stranger Things its own level on The Dark Tower.  So if Roland and his ka-tet, or perhaps Danny Torrance, end up employing the services of a certain girl with a fondness for Eggo waffles…well, you heard it from me first, folks!


It gives an honest portrayal of small town life

I am someone who grew up in a small town, so I feel qualified to write about this topic.  And it is something that has come up in many a blog post, mainly in the Stephen King related posts, as small towns are as vital to a Stephen King novel as kids with PSI abilities, homicidal clowns and rabid St. Bernards.

pennywise

I have discovered that the only people who really understand the small town are those who have spent time in the small town (like Stephen King, obviously.)

You have one extreme that sees the environment as charming, quaint, maybe even bucolic.  Can kids really go missing in a small town?  You can leave your doors unlocked, right?  The locals are charming!

small towns 1

Then, there is the other extreme:  people who see the small town populated by the likes of the Peacock family, with no access to modern technology (what plumbing?) and just a general ignorance of the outside world, period.

home 5

The truth is that small towns are complex.  Stephen King hits on this in books like Needful Things, It, ‘Salem’s Lot and many, many others.  Stranger Things also hits on this, and in only eight episodes.  I am sure that this theme will be discussed more in (hopefully) upcoming seasons as well.

Salem's lot 2

On the the one hand, there is a sense of community in a town like Hawkins, Indiana.  People rally together to comfort Joyce and help search for Will when it is believed that he is still alive.  People are at ease with each other, because if they don’t know you, they probably went to school with one of your parents.  Or worked with your best friend at the local factory.

But small towns have a sense of ugliness about them too.  I can personally testify to this.  And Mike and his friends can as well.  The bullies hurl a racial slur at Lucas early on.  Steve is able to spread rumors and ruin Nancy’s “reputation” fairly quickly.  The lack of concern for Barb after she disappears is downright disturbing.  People quickly assume that Barb is a runaway, and no effort is made on her behalf.  And that is part of small town life:  the people in the town do not want to believe that something may be amiss, and will try to cover it up.

stranger-things-3

So how long have the inhabitants of Hawkins Laboratory suspected, at least somewhere deep down, that something was amiss in their town?  Obviously, Dr. Brenner (who will be referred to in this blog as Dr. Pedophile, due to his disgusting nature) has been performing unethical experiments for a long time.  At the very least, these experiments produced poor Eleven, and a woman in a vegetative state (likely the mother of Eleven.)

But Eleven is the 11th.  The 11th of what?  Are there others like her?  If so, what happened to them?  And what do the people living in the town know?  What other skeletons will emerge?

The show has been renewed for a second season, so I am sure we will be finding out a lot more about Hawkins, Indiana, and its secrets.


Dustin

Now, all of the characters are fabulous.  Let me just get that out there, less I ruffle the tentacles of Mr. Tulip-Head, and any other monsters that resemble flora gone terribly wrong!

stranger-things-14

Along with Old Tulip-Head, I have much love for the characters in this show.  Even the bad guys, like Dr. Pedophile.  They are well drawn-out and believable, even when they are behaving in ways that may make one scratch his or her head (talking to you, Sheriff Hop.)

But there is one character that deserves his own entry.

So, without any further ado…let me introduce Dustin!

stranger-things-39

And if you don’t love Dustin, then you are definitely in the same category as people who kick puppies and listen to Nickelback!

Ok, I may be joking.  About the kicking puppies bit, anyway.

On the surface, Dustin is lovable.  Actually, everything about him is lovable, from his love of chocolate pudding, to his smile and even that speech impediment!

stranger-things-40

But, there is much more to Dustin than his ability to track down chocolate pudding and that charming smile of his.

Dustin is the glue that holds his group of friends together.  It is true that Mike is the brains, and Lucas is a fighter.

However, if it weren’t for Dustin, the group may have fallen apart.  Mike and Lucas were constantly at odds with each other, especially when Eleven was added to the fold.  In fact, things got physical, and Lucas was thrown in the air by Eleven for his troubles.

But due to Dustin’s insightful nature (he did understand that he could not have the same place in Mike’s life, because he didn’t come into it until fourth grade), Lucas and Mike were able to come to an agreement and reconcile.  Dustin played the mediator, getting each side to compromise with each other, so that they did not compromise their mission:  saving Will from what was literally Hell.

Dustin has been compared to Vern Tessio, a character in the movie Stand By Me.  Superficially, there is something to that, as both Vern and Dustin provide comic relief and are the easy going friends who try to keep the peace.

vern-1

But as a wise man pointed out:  Dustin would never forget where he left his pennies.

BOOM!

This is Dustin.  He’s our friend and essential to keeping us from killing each other so that we don’t leave our other friend some place that is not on any map!

stranger-things-41


The friendships

Much of Stranger Things is about friendships, and the relationships the characters have with each other.

Obviously, we have Mike, Will, Lucas and Dustin.  The OF, or Original Friendship, if you will.  When Will goes missing, Mike will stop at nothing to find Will so that his group can be whole again.

Then, there is Eleven.  Mike and Eleven seem to bond immediately, and Eleven slowly becomes something more than a human flashlight to Mike, even though he is still desperate to find his missing friend.

Stranger Things

In fact, it could be argued that Eleven’s presence makes all the boys better people, although this is especially true for Mike, whose relationship with Eleven opens his eyes, and causes him to grow up a little.

We also have Nancy and Barb.  Barb starts off as Nancy’s friend who is willing to do anything for her, including lying to her parents so that she can sneak out and spend time with Steven.  However, Barb disappears into the Upside-Down, a seeming victim of the Mr. Tulip-Head.  Like Will, Nancy is forced to grow up, as she searches for Barb, and encounters the callous reaction of law enforcement and even her parents, who refuse to believe that Barb is anything other than a teenage runaway.

There is the relationship between Nancy and Jonathan.  Jonathan is frantically searching for his brother, and Nancy is frantically searching for her friend.  The two bond in their mutual tragedy and work together to defeat the evil that is trying to destroy their town.  Nancy develops a respect for Jonathan, viewing him as a person, rather than the “weird kid” that her peers see him as.  Jonathan also develops a respect for Nancy, and seems to feel something more than friendship for her, even though Nancy reconciles with Steve.

Stranger Things

Stranger Things

Steve also bonds with Jonathan, and seems to genuinely feel remorse for the bullying.  However, that friendship seems to be tentative at best, given that both men have feelings for Nancy.

In other words, people had “frenemies,” even back in the ancient times!


It tackles taboo topics

It is no secret that horror and “taboo” topics are linked.  Almost every horror movie features sex of some kind (Friday the 13th and its approximately 725 sequels are a great example of this.)  Candyman is another movie that deals with taboo topics, because it addresses racism.

And don’t even get me started on Stephen King, The King of Taboo Topics (pun intended.)  King books run the gamut, from domestic violence, to bullying, to substance abuse and even to the death of a child.  When “real-world” issues are included alongside the supernatural ones, the the story becomes that much more believable.

pet sematary 11

Stranger Things is no different, in that it also deals with taboo topics.  The show begins with every parent’s worst nightmare:  the disappearance of a child.  And it only gets more taboo from there.

Early on in the series, we witness the bullying that Mike and his friends endure.  Lucas is treated to a racial epithet.  Dustin is harassed due to his speech impediment.  And it gets worse, as the bullies make some disparaging remarks about Will’s supposed death, when they are supposed to be mourning the loss of their classmate.

stranger-things-42

Mike is not the only character who experiences bullying.  Jonathan is also harassed for being different, and this harassment is experienced at the hands of Steve.  Steve is also insensitive to the disappearance of Will, and to the disappearance of Barb, the best friend of the girl he claims to love.

We have the character of Sheriff Hopper.  Hop’s character is a walking bundle of taboos, actually.

First of all, Hop is a substance abuser.  He is an alcoholic, much like Jack Torrance in The Shining.  Not surprisingly, he is also a womanizer, using sex and alcohol to escape his demons.

stranger-things-43

Hop has also experienced the ultimate tragedy:  he has lost a child.  Not surprisingly, this experience has shaped him into the man that he is.  The loss cost him his marriage, and his ex wife has moved on and started a new family.  Hop attempts to do this, but struggles mightily.  However, when he meets Eleven and spends time in the Upside Down so that he can rescue Will, Hop is able to begin healing.  It could even be said that Will and Eleven are surrogate children of Hop.

Often, subjects are “taboo” and therefore frightening because we choose to keep them in the dark.  But when the light is turned on, the monsters are no longer as formidable as they once were.


Now, I know that I said I had made this list with no particular order in mind.  But, like Maury Povich might say, this post has determined that to be a lie!

There is one aspect of Stranger Things that deserves her own entry, and should be in the spotlight, at least for a minute.

I mean, after all, it would be an Upside Down kind of logic if I didn’t pay her homage, right?

So, without any further ado…

drum-roll-please

Here is my favorite thing about Stranger Things!


Eleven

Yes, in case you have not figured it out, I am talking about our favorite telekinetic, Eggo waffle loving, mouth breather hater with a cute buzz cut adolescent, aka Eleven!

Eleven is bad ass.  I can’t think of any other way to put it.

She is here to kick ass and eat Eggo waffles, and she’s almost out of waffles!

stranger-things-22

In all seriousness, I just love Eleven.  How can you not?  People who hate Eleven are like people that listen to Nickelback!

Eleven is one tough chick.

stranger-things-35

She started out as an experiment.  She doesn’t know her real parents.  The only parental figure that she’s ever known is a creepy scientist, known as Dr. Pedophile for the purposes of this blog.

stranger-things-33

And to Dr. Pedophile, she is nothing but his lab experiment, to be used as how he sees fit.  And he uses her to open gateways that should never be opened, and to explore what should remain unknown.  When she escapes, his concern is not for her as a person, but as his test subject that someone else may access.

Eleven is forced to face things that would frighten people three times her age to death.  Yet, she somehow does it, in the name of helping a boy that she has never met.

stranger-things-20

She is also fiercely loyal to her friends, although she has only known Mike, Lucas and Dustin for a short time.  She makes the bully pee his pants…that is true friendship right there!

Even though Eleven has been raised in a lab, she still manages to exhibit the most humanity of anyone on the show.  Nearly everyone on the show has an agenda:  Mike and his friends want to find Will, Hop wants to expose Hawkins Laboratory, Nancy is looking for revenge for Barb.  But not Eleven.  The only thing Eleven is looking for (besides waffles) is love and acceptance.  And she does manage to find that, if only for a short time.

However, Eleven’s happiness is tragically cut short, when she makes the ultimate sacrifice:  she battles an extra-dimensional monster, and seemingly sacrifices herself so that her friends may live.

stranger-things-29

Often, bad ass can come in small packages.  And Eleven is a lot of bad ass in one small package.  But sometimes, small packages have the most give, just like Eleven.


So, there you have it.  Eleven reasons why I love Stranger Things.  Sure, maybe I missed a few, but I think I got most of them.  Hopefully, I don’t incur the ire of Mr. Tulip-Head and his merry band of slugs1

This is Stranger Things.  Its my show and it’s crazy…crazy awesome, that it is!

So, if you haven’t watched this show, I have given you eleven reasons to make sure that Netflix subscription is up to date…

So flop down on your couch, and prepare for one epic binge session!

Happy watching!

Shit Weasels and Seeing the Line: My Review of Dreamcatcher

My name is Leah and I have a confession to make.

No, not the nerd thing…you knew that!

Here goes nothing…

Gulp, I confess that…

I can’t stay away from Derry, Maine!

It 2

Yes, I know that particular town has its issues, and that I probably cannot fix those issues, even though it is my nature to try and fix things.

Yes, the presence of a certain homicidal clown is constantly felt, despite the fact that there were brave folks who tried to put that clown to bed (or is it Hell?)

I know that Derry attracts its share of…well…the unusual (and that’s putting it mildly.)

But still, I can’t stay away.  I guess I just fall for bad…um…towns (not sure if fictional towns have a gender, so roll with me.)

Yes, I am talking about a fictional town in a Stephen King book…

Stephen King mit Katze "Clovis", tierischer Held des Films "Schlafwandler". Der Meister des Horrors wird am Sonntag (21.09.1997) 50 Jahre. Mit 50 hat er mehr als 30 Romane veröffentlicht, ein Sachbuch, fünf Geschichtensammlungen und neun Drehbücher. dpa (zu dpa-Korr vom 17.09.1997) nur s/w

I know, a Stephen King!  Just humor me and pretend you are at least a little surprised, eh?

And obviously, The Master has a fetish for evil towns…

I mean, he keeps coming back to Derry, right?  So that means its only sorta bad, right?

Well, as my aunt used to say:  Leopards don’t change their spots!

The homicidal clown may have been sent to whatever Hell (or other ungodly realm) from whence It came, but that doesn’t mean that Derry is on the straight and narrow now.

Nope, not at all!

Luckily, Uncle Stevie realized that there were many more stories to tell about Derry, so he decided to tell them (duh.)

And the novel Dreamcatcher is one of those stories.

NYX

NYX

Dreamcatcher is an interesting mashup, so to speak.

On the one hand, it is a story about childhood and the friends we make as children (similar to It.)

On the other hand, it is also a science fiction novel, with elements of horror.  Shit weasels, anyone?

So, with that being said, let’s take a trip back to Derry…

Hopefully, you see the line…

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book begins with an introduction of four men:  Henry, Pete, Jonesy and Beaver.  The four men have been friends since childhood, and are still friends in the present day.  However, it is clear that the men are not ordinary, as all four seem to possess telepathic powers, which they usually use to accomplish every day tasks, such as finding lost car keys.  A fifth friend by the name of Douglas is mentioned, but it seems that the men have fallen out of touch with Douglas.  Once a year, all four friends gather at a cabin in the woods they call Hole in the Wall, where they go hunting and reminisce about their childhood.

One spring, Jonesy is hit by a car while crossing the street.  The accident is almost fatal, but Jonesy is able to to make enough of a recovery by winter, and is still able to take his annual vacation with his friends.

The trip to Hole in the Wall starts off ordinarily enough, but things quickly become strange.  One morning, Pete and Henry head to the grocery store to pick up supplies, while Beaver also heads out on an errand.  Jonesy is left alone at the cabin, where he almost shoots what he first thinks to be a deer.  However, Jonesy quickly discovers that his target is not a deer, but a man named Rick McCarthy.  It turns out that Rick became lost in the woods, and has found his way to Hole in the Wall.  Jonesy takes the stranger in, offering him food and shelter.

Jonesy then finds out that Rick is no ordinary lost traveler.  Rick appears to have traveled 50 miles in the course of what he believes to be one day, and Jonesy later finds out that Rick thinks that the date is the date three days prior.  Rick is also missing several teeth, and does not appear to notice that he is missing these teeth.  Additionally, Rick appears to be extremely flatulent, and his burps and farts have an unusual smell.

Beaver returns, and Jonesy offers Rick the spare bedroom so he can get some rest.  After Rick retires, Jonesy and Beaver discuss what to do about their guest, and agree that they need to get help for him, and quickly.

In the meantime, Henry and Pete are driving back to the cabin from the grocery store.  We learn that Henry has been suffering depression, and is considering suicide.  The men also discuss some rumors heard at the grocery store, which include stories about missing hunters and bright lights in the sky.  However, the talk is interrupted when Henry swerves to avoid hitting a woman standing in the middle of the road, which causes the vehicle to crash, due to the serious weather conditions.

Pete and Henry survive the accident, although Pete is seriously injured and his leg is likely broken.  Pete and Henry try to speak to the woman they narrowly missed hitting, but the woman appears to be almost comatose, although she does inquire about someone named Rick.  And like Rick, she also suffers from extreme flatulence accompanied by an unusual odor.

As Henry attempts to help the woman, he and Pete see strange lights in the sky.  The woman becomes hysterical, crying “they’re back.”  Finally, Henry is able to call her down, and the three head off to find some sort of shelter from the impending blizzard.  However, the woman collapses, and Henry is forced to carry her to shelter.  While they are walking to shelter, Pete and Henry begin to discuss a fifth childhood friend, whom they refer to as “Duddits.”  Duddits was afflicted with Down’s Syndrome, and the men have been thinking a lot about Duddits recently, for some reason.

Back at the cabin, Jonesy and Beaver play cards and wait for Henry and Pete to return.  Their game is interrupted when Beaver steps outside, and notices what appears to be a large group of forest animals in mass exodus from the forest, along with strange lights.  Things become stranger when they return to the cabin, and notice that Rick is no longer in bed.  They also notice blood on the way to the bathroom, and discover that Rick is in the bathroom and in distress.

Outside, there are helicopters in the sky.  Beaver tries to signal for help, but is told that the area is under quarantine, and that the situation will be resolved in 24-48 hours.

Henry attempts to walk back to Hole in the Wall to seek help.  He leaves Pete with the woman they found on the side of the road.  They believe the woman’s name to be Becky, although they are not entirely sure of that fact.  Even though Pete is responsible for watching Becky, he decides to head back to the vehicle to retrieve the beer he purchased earlier.  Both men begin to recall they day they met their friend Douglas Cavill, or Duddits, many years ago.

One day, when all four boys were in junior high, they walk home together from school.  There is nothing unusual about the day, and the boys talk about the usual things that junior high boys talk about.  However, their talk is interrupted when they hear the heartbreaking sounds of someone crying.

The boys find the source of the crying:  a young man who is obviously mentally handicapped and being bullied by some of the students who attend the local high school.  One of the bullies is Richie Grenedeau, who had played quarterback for the high school football team, but was allegedly removed from the position due to injury.  The boys become angered by the bullying, and resolve to stand up for the young man.

Pete, Jonesy, Henry and Beaver take a stand against Richie Grenedeau and his friends, and the bullies back off.  The four boys learn the name of the young man they rescued from the bullying:  Douglas Cavill, who is nicknamed Duddits.  Duddits is afflicted with Down’s Syndrome and attends a nearby special school.  The boys return Duddits to his home and parents, and a friendship is begun.  Nearly every day, for the remainder of their school years, the boys accompany Duddits on his walk to and from school, to protect him from the bullies.  They also spend time with Duddits, and include him in their activities whenever possible.  However, Pete, Jonesy, Henry and Beaver grow up, and become distanced from Duddits, who remains a perpetual child.

The story flashes back to the present.  Jonesy and Beaver break down the door to the bathroom, and discover that McCarthy has fallen into the bathtub.  McCarthy is now dead, with a large hole in his backside.  There also appears to be something living in the toilet that has exited McCarthy.  Beaver immediately sits down on the toilet to trap the creature, and Jonesy goes to look for tape in an attempt to contain the creature.

Beaver drops his toothpicks that he has the habit of chewing, especially when stressed.  He reaches down to grab them, and this proves to be a fatal mistake.  The creature escapes from the toilet, and immediately attacks Beaver.

Jonesy returns to the house and finds Beaver battling a creature resembling a parasite.  Beaver loses the battle when the creature attacks and kills him.  Jonesy tries to flee, but sees a creature that resembles an alien from a science fiction TV show standing in bathroom, along with the creature that killed Beaver.  Jonesy is then possessed by the alien-like creature, and is unable to escape.

In the meantime, Beaver’s surviving friends receive a telepathic signal that Beaver is now dead.  These friends include Duddits, who is still living with his mother in Derry, Maine, the boys’ childhood home.  Duddits is also terminally ill with leukemia, and is distressed to find out that his friend is now dead.

The story switches to the point of view of two military men, Owen Underhill and Abraham Kurtz.  Underhill and Kurtz’s unit has been dispatched to Maine to deal with the alien invasion.  We learn that “the grays” are telepathic, and transmit a sort of fungus, that when inhaled by humans, also makes humans telepathic, at least temporarily.  Underhill, Kurtz and the rest of the unit do battle with the aliens, even though the aliens claim to surrender.

Henry finally makes it back to Hole in the Wall.  There, he discovers the body of his friend Beaver, along with the parasite-like creature that killed Beaver.  Henry is forced to battle the creature, which is still alive, and sets fire to the cabin to destroy the creature, along with the eggs it has laid.  While he is there, Henry somehow deduces that Pete is now dead (due to a battle with a similar creature) and that something has also happened to Jonesy.

After destroying the cabin, Henry heads back to the site of the vehicle accident.  There, he discovers the body of the woman who he almost hit earlier.  The woman also appears to have been attacked by the creature.  Henry notices that she is covered by a reddish gold fungus, but that the fungus appears to be dying.

Henry decides to attempt to walk back to civilization.  As he is walking, he again begins to think of his friend Duddits.  However, as he attempts to reach civilization, Henry is accosted by the soldiers that have been dispatched to handle the crisis in Maine.

We learn that the body of Jonesy has been possessed by one of the aliens, whom Jonesy thinks of as Mr. Gray.  Jonesy experiences a series of long flashbacks, which include the accident he suffered earlier that year, along with the time he spent in the hospital.  Jonesy is able to recover some memories:  he remembers that he thought that he saw Duddits that day, and that is why he was not paying attention when he crossed the street, along with the fact that he nearly died in the ambulance.  Somehow, Jonesy’s accident relates to why the alien creature is able to take over his body.  Mr. Gray is able to kidnap Pete, and force Pete to help him in his mission.

Henry arrives at the base that the military has set up.  Kurtz is in charge of the operation, but appears to be mentally unstable. Kurtz tells Underhill of the cover story he will spin in regards to the alien invasion, but really intends to kill all the civilians being held captive at the compound, along with Underhill.

Jonesy, whose body has been stolen by Mr. Gray, steals a vehicle from an unsuspecting driver.  Mr. Gray forces the driver to stab himself in the eye, even though he has already hijacked the man’s vehicle.  Jonesy attempts to hide all of his memories of Derry and Duddits from Mr. Gray, as he suspects that the alien has a dangerous plan involving Derry.

Jonesy also recalls another incident from his childhood.  Shortly after meeting Duddits, Jonesy and the rest of his friends make their first trip to Hole in the Wall, where they accompany Beaver’s father on a hunting expedition.  One night, all four boys have the same disturbing dream:  they dream that Richie Grenedeau has died in a car accident, and that they were responsible for the death.  When the boys awaken, they try to convince themselves it was just a dream, but they are not successful. The boys place a telephone call to Duddits, who is also distressed because he experienced the same dream, which has actually come true.  Even then, Jonesy and his friends realize that Duddits has somehow gifted them with the powers of telepathy.

Henry is able to pull Underhill aside, and tells Underhill that Kurtz has something sinister in mind, and begs Underhill to help him and the other civilians.  Henry explains to Underhill that the aliens have passed on an organism known as “byrus”, and that there are different strains of the byrus.  The worst strain is the one that afflicted McCarthy and his friend Becky, which is the case of symbiosis gone wrong.  However, most strains of byrus are harmless, although they do result in the carrier experiencing low-grade telepathy.  Henry tells Underhill that he is different, due to his childhood experiences, but that Jonesy is the most different of all four of them, and that is what poses a potential threat.  Finally, Underhill agrees to help Henry, so that that Jonesy may be rescued from whatever has taken over his body.

Jonesy continues to struggle for control over his body from Mr. Gray.  Finally, he comes to a sort of compromise with Mr. Gray and agrees to help him.  Jonesy realizes that Mr. Gray has stolen another truck which contains a passenger:  a dog infected with the byrus.

Back in Derry, Duddits has also sensed the death of his friend Pete, which upsets him.  However, the next morning, Duddits’ mother Roberta finds him dressed, and demanding his old lunchbox, as if he is awaiting the arrival of his friends, as he had in the days of his childhood.

Henry and Underhill use their telepathic powers to awaken the other civilians, who are asleep in a barn that is part of a makeshift military base.  They warn the other civilians of what Kurtz intends to do, and the civilians rebel against Kurtz and his soldiers.  Some are killed, but some are able to escape.  Henry and Underhill also escape, and head to Derry to meet up with Duddits, who can help them rescue Jonesy.

Underhill and Henry continue on their journey to Derry, stealing a vehicle from some young men.  Henry recalls another incidence from his childhood, when he and his friends were able to find a missing girl, with the help of Duddits.  Henry realizes that Duddits’ is a dreamcatcher of sorts, due to his telepathic abilities.

Henry then receives a telepathic communication from Jonesy.  Jonesy is frightened, and warns Henry that Mr. Gray has something dangerous planned.  Henry further realizes that Jonesy’s brain is different due to his accident and near death experience, which has allowed Mr. Gray to take over his body.  Mr. Gray continues to behave erratically, murdering a state trooper.

Kurtz has discovered that Underhill is AWOL, and begins to look for him.  Kurtz contacts Underhill on the radio to attempt to persuade him to abandon his mission with Henry, but Underhill refuses.

With the help of Duddits, Jonesy is able to trick Mr. Gray into consuming raw bacon, which makes him ill, buying more time for Henry, Underhill and Duddits.  Mr. Gray continues his journey to Boston, where he plans on unleashing the byrus into the water supply, by using the infected dog as a vessel.

Eventually, Mr. Gray abandons the vehicle he is driving, and attempts to use the dog to contaminate the water supply in Boston.  However, with the help of Duddits and Henry, Mr. Gray is defeated, and Jonesy is in possession of his body again.  Duddits pays dearly for his efforts, dying shortly afterwards.  Before he dies, Duddits tells Henry that he loves him.

In the meantime, Underhill shoots the weasel-like creature that emerges from the dog, killing it.  Underhill is then shot by Kurtz, who has caught up to Henry and his friends.  Henry then defeats the Kurtz and the remaining soldiers, rescuing Jonesy from certain death.

Several months later, Henry is visiting Jonesy at Jonesy’s summer cottage.  Both men have recovered from their ordeal, physically at least.  Duddits’ mother grieves the loss of her son but has moved on with her life.  The men muse about their experience, even though they feel lucky to have survived it, along with wondering when the planet will again be visited by extraterrestrial beings.


My Thoughts

Ok, let me get one thing out of my system…

Actually, I probably don’t want to get this one one thing out of my system, since that means certain death, along with the WORST FLATULENCE EVER!

byrus

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am referring to the shit weasels.

(In case you can’t tell, I had to work the “shit weasels” into the title of this review.  It just wouldn’t be right other wise.  You’re welcome!)

Shit weasels.  How much more eloquent can you get?  Where on Earth (or is it in Hell?) does The Master come with up with this stuff?

King has said that he is not too proud to go for the gross out.  And we are reminded this in Dreamcatcher.  Again and again, we are reminded.

While I am not that much of a fan of the gross-out in the horror story, it does have its place.  Mostly, the gross out is funny.  And Dreamcatcher is also a book with a lot of funny.

dreamcatcher-6

And the shit weasels are just one of the funny things in Dreamcatcher.  I know that King was on LOTS of drugs when he wrote this one (more on that later), so often I wonder if one of the side effects of those drugs were “Caution:  taking this and writing a novel about aliens will likely make the user write about farts, burps and other bodily functions not discussed in polite society?”

Speaking of funny, let’s talk about the Beave for a moment…

Beaver isn’t described as being particularly attractive, at least in the physical sense.  But when I evaluate my book boyfriends, I try not to be so superficial, you know?  Otherwise, I might miss out on a really great romance!

Beaver 1

Yes, Beaver is the man in this book.  He is killed off pretty quickly, but still manages to make quite the impression.

First off, Beaver is funny.  Any book boyfriend of mine must have a sense of humor.  That is a prerequisite for all of my literary relationships, no exceptions.

And Beaver does have quite the sense of humor.  And he’s not afraid to sprinkle a copious  a fair amount of profanity to get his point across.  “Kiss my bender.”  “Fuck me Freddy.”  “Fuck-a-row.”  “Fuck-a-ree.”  All Beaver-isms.  And I unabashedly use them as part of my vocabulary.  After all, there is nothing like a good swear fest, Beaver style, after a frustrating day at work.  Or sitting in traffic.  Or standing in line at a crowded restaurant.  Or sitting.  Or standing…well, you get the point!

But perhaps, most importantly, Beaver has a good heart.  There was truly a beautiful soul behind the glasses and the potty mouth that would make a drunk sailor blush.  He stood up for someone who was helpless and being bullied.  And he comforted that someone by singing him a lullaby…swoon!

Duddits 1

I think that’s when Beaver had my heart: after he rescued Duddits (with the help of his friends) and sung to him.  And “fit neek” (fixed Duddie’s sneaker, in case your Duddits-to-English dictionary is not working.)

My only complaint about Beaver is that he left so fast…damn you, errant toothpicks and shit weasels that can’t stay in the toilet like a good shit weasel!

I also loved the not so subtle jab at Dubbya, aka Okefenokee.  The description of Okefenokee and his actions after the alien invasion of Maine was eerily similar to what happened right after 9/11.  I know that this book was written before the 9/11 tragedy, but The Master’s description of The Leader (well, the leader at time, anyway) was so close to what happened after 9/11, it made me wonder if all those painkillers had perhaps given him some kind of clairvoyance…hey, anything is possible, right?

As stated before, Dreamcatcher was the first book that King wrote after his vehicle accident.

And it shows…

Not that this a bad thing.  Dreamcatcher is still an enjoyable book.  But, it gets a bit un-wieldly in spots.  It’s almost as if the painkillers took over in those spots.  And the painkillers do not have an eighth of the talent possessed by The Master!

Quality: Original. Film Title: Dreamcatcher (2003). Pictured: (L to R) DAMIAN LEWIS, THOMAS JANE, TIMOTHY OLYPHANT and JASON LEE in Castle Rock Entertainment's and Village Roadshow Pictures' science fiction/horror film Dreamcatcher distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo Credit: Doane Gregory. Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures 2002. For further information: please contact The Warner Bros. Press Office on 020 7984 5000.

I did think that this book dragged at parts, especially in the “present day” setting.  And the ending was a bit anti-climactic.  Really, the best the alien could come up with was to use a dog to contaminate the water supply?  And that alien seems like he kind of sucked at being an alien, since Jonesy and Henry were able to defeat it so quickly, practically with their eyes closed…

However, this book was saved by the good parts.  One of these parts was the flashbacks to the boys’ childhood.

I loved the description of the friendship between the four (later to be five boys).  The way King described, I felt like I was right there, in the thick of it.  Even the mundane details, like how the boys get out of school one fateful afternoon, and are eager to catch a glimpse of *a kitty cat*, aka female nether regions.  That made me laugh, and it brought me back to my own childhood, when things seemed to be so much simpler.

Beaver 3

Speaking of nostalgia, part of Dreamcatcher is set in Derry.

Yes, that would be the same Derry that boasts a homicidal clown as a tourist attraction.  The same Derry where a bad ass man named Ralph Roberts saved the universe single handed-ly, but did not even receive a lousy t-shirt.  That Derry!

I loved how King was able to work in elements of his books set in Derry (It, mainly) but was still able to tell an entirely new story.

Pennywise 5

Dreamcatcher and It are similar tales, at least on the surface:  both deal with friendship, small towns and bullying.  However, that is about all the two books have in common.  In one, the friendship is formed because an outside force uses the children (and later the adults) to defeat an evil monster.  In the other, the friends are drawn together first, because they have common interests and so forth, and then later used to defeat evil (Richie Grenedeau as children, alien invaders as adults.)  In Dreamcatcher, the friendship really is lifelong, unlike in It, where the friendship is so brief and only serves the purpose of defeating Pennywise the Clown.

In Dreamcatcher, the threat of Pennywise the Clown never really seems to be far away. Henry and his friends may not have had the misfortune of being children during one of the “cycles”, but Pennywise and the town of Derry were a constant presence in this book.  I loved the references to the missing children in Derry, and how it was a bigger problem in Derry than most other places.  I also loved Jonesy’s recollection of the big storm in 1985.  As any King fan knows, that was the year that the Losers Club laid waste to Pennywise (maybe.)  It was such a funny feeling to get the perspective of someone who was not involved in that battle, but was still a part of Derry.

Oh, and “Pennywise Lives.”  Did anyone else shudder when Jonesy found that graffiti, or was that just me?  Someone in Derry has a sick sense of humor!  Or there is the alternative:  Pennywise really does live!  Both of these are pretty scary, actually.

Pennywise 9

And before I wrap this review up, let’s give someone his due…

Yes, that someone would be Duddits.  And I cannot give enough accolades to poor Duddits.

There was so much to love about Duddits in this book.

First of all, there was Duddits himself.  I have a friend who refer’s to those with Down’s Syndrome as beautiful souls, and she could not be more right in that statement.  Like Henry, Jonesy, Pete and Beaver, I felt that all was right in the world when Duddits showed up on the page.  How could anyone not be happy when he/she was in the presence of Duddits?  Just reading about Duddits made my day much better.

It is no secret that King writes about man’s inhumanity to man.  Books such as It, Under the Dome, Hearts in Atlantis and even the Dark Tower series are filled with examples of this.

Rennie

So, the uninitiated may be surprised to learn that King is equally adept at writing about the opposite: his characters can also treat each other wonderfully, and go above and beyond in the name love and friendship.

Duddits and his friendship with Henry, Beaver, Jonesy and Pete is a prime example of King’s ability to write about the good that some are capable of.

Very early on in the book, we get a glimpse of a good deed:  four adolescent boys do an extremely brave thing and stand up to the neighborhood bully on behalf of someone who appears to be much weaker.  This is not something we would think of most adolescents as capable of, not even Henry and his friends.  After all, before the encounter with Richie Grenedeau, Henry and his friends are focused on viewing certain parts of the female anatomy, not confronting a bully who turns out to be a coward.  But just like that, the tone of the story changes, and I knew that these guys were something special.

And I was right:  all five were something special.  The boys continue their friendship with Duddits.  In junior high and high school, all that matters to most is fitting in and peer acceptance.  However, the friendship with Duddits transcends those barriers, and enriches the life of Duddits, who experiences something he was previously lacking in his life:  acceptance.  Henry, Beaver, Pete and Jonesy all have their lives enriched by the friendship with Duddits as well, referring to Duddits as their “finest hour.”  Their friendship with Duddits is the glue that holds them together even into adulthood, when most childhood friendships slowly fade away.

Even in adulthood, Duddits is still…well, Duddits.  The others grew up and moved on, but Duddits remained a child.  However, Henry is able to pick up right where he left off, so to speak, and the old bond is renewed.  In fact, Duddits is overjoyed to reunite with Henry and have one last adventure with him, while Henry is overcome with guilt for not staying in touch.  But that doesn’t matter to Duddits, as Duddits does not think in those terms and seems to be incapable of anger or resentment.

dreamcatcher-3

Duddits is truly the hero of the book.  He makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to help his friends one last time.  He saves the lives of his friends Jonesy and Henry, along with (potentially) the lives of thousands of others.  And there is no resentment or anger.  Only love.  After all, that is what drives a hero:  love.


So that’s it for Dreamcatcher.  Join me next month as we take a trip next door…well, maybe not literally next door, but to a world nearby on The Tower when I review and dissect The Eyes of the Dragon!

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

batman and robin


Connections

Like all of King’s books, Dreamcatcher is set squarely in the King universe.  Here are some of the connections I noticed:

-The most obvious connection is the fact that Dreamcatcher is set in the town of Derry.  Derry is central to several King novels, including It, Bag of Bones, 11/22/63 and Insomnia.

Pennywise 11

-Jonesy finds graffiti on a statue stating “Pennywise lives.”  Pennywise the Clown was the monster faced by the Losers Club in the novel It, and was supposedly defeated in 1985.

derry connection

-The storm of 1985 is mentioned.  This storm took place when the Losers Club faced the monster It in final battle.

Pennywise 19

-Jonesey’s mind trick to escape Mr. Gray after Mr. Gray takes over his body is somewhat similar to Susannah’s method of dealing with the entity Mia in The Song of Susannah.

Song of Susannah 1

-Duddits possesses PSI abilities.  Several novels and short stories deal with this topic and contain characters who possess these abilities, including Carrie, Low Men in Yellow Coats (of the collection Hearts in Atlantis), Everything’s Eventual (part of a collection of the same name), Firestarter and the Dark Tower series.

carrie-1

-A sign is seen for the town of Jerusalem’s Lot.  This is the location for the novel ‘Salem’s Lot.

Salem's lot 2

Shawshank State Prison is mentioned.  This is the main setting for the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which is part of the collection Different Seasons.

Red and Andy

-Duddits is somewhat similar to the characters Tom Cullen (The Stand) and Sheemie (Wizard and Glass), in that he suffers from a mental “handicap” but also possesses extraordinary abilities.

Nick

Dreamcatcher is not the only novel featuring extraterrestrial visitors.  Tommyknockers and Under the Dome also deal with this topic.

tommyknockers

 

 

 

 

 

 

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