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

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Nerdy and Sleepless!

If you wish to hear your favorite nerd live and in the flesh, breaking down the novel Insomnia (written by The Master, natch) and geeking out over more than a few things, click the link below, as she was a guest on The Dark Tower Radio Podcast, and got to participate in a great meeting of the minds!  Long days and pleasant nights, and enjoy!

 

 

http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/dark-tower-radio/e/49910648?autoplay=true

Ride or Die: My Review of Christine

Many people remember their teen years with some sort of fondness.

And that is understandable, to a point.

After all, many milestones are reached during adolescence…

First bra…

First dates…

First kisses..

First loves…

First vehicles…

First vehicles that you fall in love with, and said vehicle demands exclusivity almost immediately, and luuvvvs you soooo much that she (since cars always a she, after all) will not allow you to date anyone else, see your friends or hang out with your family…

Well, adolescence in the Stephen King universe is not normal adolescence, after all.

Last month, it was the prom that we reminisced about so fondly.

And this month, we are going to talk about the first love, along with the first vehicle.

In other words, we will be reading and dissecting King’s novel, Christine.

(Yeah, this is the part where I should tell you we are talking about a Stephen King book.  Quit acting surprised, you knew it was coming!)

As always, King is one of the few writers who can capture childhood, along with adolescence.

And Christine is a book that has a lot to say on this subject.

So fasten your seat belts, and let’s hop into a certain bright red homicidal 1958 Plymouth Fury…you know you will be in one Hell (literally) of a ride!

And, as always:


Synopsis

The book begins by introducing us to a young man named Dennis Guilder.  Dennis has just turned 17 and will be starting his senior year in high school.  Dennis’ best friend is another young man named Arnold “Arnie” Cunningham, who has also just turned 17 and attends the same high school as Dennis.

Dennis is athletic and popular, and well liked by his peers.  Arnie, however, is a loner and is constantly bullied.  Despite the fact that they are polar opposites in so many ways, Dennis and Arnie remain best friends, even throughout junior high and high school.

One day, as Arnie and Dennis are returning home from their summer job, Arnie notices an old car for sale.  The car is a 1958 Plymouth Fury and does appear to be in good condition.

Arnie speaks to the owner of the car, an old man named Roland LeBay.  Almost immediately, Dennis dislikes the old man.  Arnie, however, is determined to purchase the vehicle, and bargains with LeBay.  Since it is not pay day, Arnie puts down $25 on the car, which LeBay sells to him for $250, with the expectation that Arnie will purchase the vehicle the next day.  Dennis is upset and tries to talk Arnie out of the deal, but Arnie will not budge, and appears to be besotted with the vehicle, which LeBay refers to as “Christine.”

When Arnie returns home that night, he informs his strict parents that he purchased a car.  They are upset, especially his mother, Regina, but Arnie still refuses to back down.

The next day, Arnie purchases Christine, and attempts to drive her home.  Initially, Christine will not start, but Arnie somehow coaxes the vehicle into starting.  Dennis sits in the car for a moment, and gets a very bad feeling about it.  On the way home, the car gets a flat tire, and Arnie is forced to change the tire on a resident’s lawn, which very nearly results in a fight between Arnie and the resident.

Arnie makes the decision to temporarily house Christine at Darnell’s Garage.  Darnell’s Garage is owned by Will Darnell, a common crook rumored to have dealings with organized crime, but really Arnie’s only choice if he wants to keep Christine.  Arnie believes that he can fix up Christine and turn her into something special, although Dennis is skeptical, and even begins to have nightmares about Arnie’s vehicle.

Arnie begins to spend more and more time making repairs to Christine, and less time with Dennis and the rest of his family.

One night, Dennis and Arnie stop for pizza on the way home from work.  Arnie has a black eye, and Dennis asks about it.  Arnie tells Dennis that he got into a fight with Buddy Reperton, a local thug, at Darnell’s Garage.  Reperton smashed a headlight on Christine, and this made Arnie furious.  Arnie was also able to injure Reperton before Darnell stepped in.  Dennis becomes worried, and does not want Arnie to continue to use Darnell’s Garage as a home for Christine.

One evening, Dennis gets the idea that Arnie can park Christine at LeBay’s house, possible in exchange for some minor chores and a little money.  However, Dennis discovers that LeBay has died, so this may not be an option for Arnie.

Arnie is in shock over the death of LeBay, and insists on attending his funeral.  Dennis accompanies Arnie, and meets George, LeBay’s brother.  Dennis tries to talk George into letting Arnie park Christine at his deceased brother’s house, but George refuses, telling Dennis that Arnie should get rid of the car, as it is bad news.  Dennis is curious, and agrees to meet with George later that evening so that he can obtain some more information on Christine’s history.

Later that evening, Dennis meets with George.  George gives Dennis a background on Roland and his vehicle.  Roland was always angry and bitter, even as a child.  Roland joined the army as a young man and became a mechanic, and a brilliant one at that.  However, Roland could not let go of his anger, as evidenced by the letters he sent to his family.

Eventually, Roland got married and became a father.  He also finally purchased a vehicle of his own, a 1958 Plymouth Fury who named Christine.  Roland became obsessed with the vehicle, devoting much of his time and money to it.

One day, Roland’s young daughter choked on a piece of hamburger while riding with her parents in the vehicle.  Roland and his wife are unable to save their daughter, and she dies.  Roland’s family begs him to give up the vehicle, but he refuses.

The vehicle also claimed another victim:  Roland’s wife, who committed suicide in the vehicle, via the fumes from the exhaust hose.  Roland still refuses to give up the vehicle, and spends the rest of days alone, only selling the vehicle to Arnie when it becomes evident that he will die soon.

The story makes Dennis uneasy, even when he returns home.  Dennis also has an unsettling conversation with his father in regards to Will Darnell and his dealings, which confirms some of Dennis’ suspicions that Darnell may be more than a small time crook.

School begins, and Dennis becomes busy with the start of his senior year.  Arnie is also busy, attempting to restore Christine to her former glory. Dennis notices that Arnie’s complexion begins to improve (he had previously had a terrible case of acne) and that Arnie also becomes more confident in himself.

One day, as Dennis and Arnie are eating lunch, they are confronted by Buddy Reperton and his band of friends.  A fight breaks out, and a teacher is called in to stop the fight.  The fight results in Buddy Reperton’s expulsion from the school, and the suspension of some of his friends.  Dennis is shaken, but is again surprised to see Arnie fight back against the bully.

Arnie’s confidence continues to grow.  He asks Leigh Cabot, a beautiful transfer student, out on a date, and she agrees to go out with him.  Arnie and Leigh attend a football game together, and Leigh meets Dennis.  Dennis is a little jealous of Arnie, as he also has a crush on Leigh, but is happy for his friend.

That afternoon, Dennis plays football, like normal.  However, he is injured in the game.  The injuries are severe, and Dennis spends several weeks in the hospital recovering.  Thoughts of Arnie and Christine, along with Leigh, are never far from his mind.

The book then changes to the perspective of Arnie, Leigh and the other characters.  Nearly everyone is concerned for Arnie, and they sense that his obsession with the car may be unhealthy.  The relationship with Arnie and his mother becomes strained, and they fight constantly over the vehicle.  Leigh also dislikes Arnie’s car intensely, and feels uncomfortable when she rides in it.

One night, Arnie’s father, Michael, takes a ride with Arnie in Christine, and has a serious conversation with his son. He suggests that Arnie park his vehicle at the airport, as opposed to Darnell’s Garage.  At first, Arnie is not happy with this suggestion, but agrees to it, as sort of a truce between himself and his family.

In the meantime, Buddy Reperton and his friends seek revenge on Arnie, as they blame Arnie for Buddy’s expulsion from school.  So one night, Buddy and his friends are able to sneak into the airport garage.  Once in the garage, they find Christine and vandalize the vehicle.

One day after school, Arnie heads to the airport garage with Leigh, to show off his progress with his work on Christine.  Arnie then discovers the vandalism to Christine, and becomes very upset.

Arnie argues with his parents over Christine and the vandalism.  He is reluctant to report the incident, but his father insists on doing so.  Arnie’s parents offer to replace Christine with a newer vehicle, but Arnie refuses, and states that he will restore Christine himself.

Christine seeks revenge on those who vandalized her.  She begins with with Moochie Welch, who was involved in the prank.  Christine chases down Moochie one night, running him over multiple times.

Arnie learns about Moochie’s death, and appears to be shocked.  He denies any involvement to local police, and his parents also confirm his alibi.  Arnie is also questioned by a state police officer.  The officer does not believe Arnie’s story, but cannot take any action, as he has no concrete evidence that Arnie was involved in Moochie’s death.  The officer also notices that Christine is nearly restored back to her prior condition, despite the fact that prior reports stated that she was damaged beyond repair.

One evening, Buddy and his friends are driving around town.  Buddy is still angry over being expelled from school, and has no remorse over vandalizing Christine.  Buddy and his friends then notice another vehicle which appears to following them.  It does not take long for Buddy to realize that the vehicle is Christine, and she appears to be driving herself.

Chrstine chases Buddy down, and runs him over, killing him.  Before he dies, Buddy sees the ghost of an old man, which can only be Roland LeBay.

Arnie feels badly that he has been neglecting Leigh, and he takes her shopping and out for dinner one weekend.  On the way home, Arnie and Leigh pick up a hitchhiker and drive him into town on their way home.

On the drive home, Leigh is eating a hamburger.  She then begins to choke on the hamburger, but she is saved by the hitchhiker, who uses the Heimlich maneuver on her, over Arnie’s protests.  Leigh is badly shaken by the incident, and realizes that she would have died if it had not been for the hitchhiker.  When she is choking, Leigh believes that Christine’s dashboard lights turn into eyes, and that the car tried to kill her.

When Arnie drops Leigh off at home, Leigh demands that Arnie get rid of Christine, as she believes that the vehicle is evil.  Arnie refuses, and the two argue.  Arnie then storms off, leaving Leigh in tears.

Arnie is again questioned by Junkins, the state cop who questioned him in regards to Moochie’s death.  Arnie provides an alibi for the night of Buddy Reperton’s death, and tells the state cop that there is no evidence that he was involved in Buddy’s death.  Junkins does not believe Arnie, and vows that Arnie will one day face justice.

Arnie’s personality begins to change, and everyone notices, including Arnie.  Arnie’s speech and mannerisms become similar to those of Roland LeBay, and Arnie even believes that he sees LeBay sitting in his vehicle.

One day, Arnie runs another errand for Will Darnell, his boss.  The state cops, however, have closed in on Darnell, who is arrested.  Arnie is also arrested, as the vehicle he was driving contains untaxed cigarettes.  Arnie’s parents are shocked by the arrest, but Arnie is eventually released from jail, and will likely not have a mark on his permanent record, due to his age.

Christine then seeks revenge on Darnell when Arnie is out of town for the Christmas holidays.  She traps Darnell inside of his house, and runs him over.  Darnell’s death is news, due to his pending criminal charges, and most people assume that his death was related to his criminal dealings.

Leigh, however, makes the connection between Darnell’s death and a few others.  She believes that Christine is the cause of those deaths, as does Dennis.  Dennis and Leigh team together, and research Christine’s history.  Dennis then begins to develop feelings for Leigh, but is hesitant, due to his friendship with Arnie.

Dennis spends New Year’s Eve with Arnie.  He is struck by the changes in Arnie’s personality, which he realizes is actually LeBay’s personality.  Dennis is unsettled, and becomes even more frightened for Arnie.

On the way home that night, Dennis witnesses Arnie transform into Roland LeBay.  When he glances through Christine’s mirror, he also sees the ghosts of Christine’s victims.  His town is also transformed into what it looked like in the 1950’s, when LeBay was still alive.

Christine then claims another victim:  Junkins, the state cop who investigated Darnell, and who also set his sights on Arnie, hoping to charge him with the murders of Buddy Reperton and Christine’s other victims.  Dennis and Leigh realize that they must destroy Christine.

Dennis speaks to LeBay’s brother, George.  George reveals more of LeBay’s early life, and the picture painted is disturbing, as people who harmed LeBay were likely to become injured or even dead.  George also states that the deaths of LeBay’s wife and child may not have been accidental.  Dennis then informs LeBay that he intends to destroy Christine.  After his conversation with LeBay, Dennis begins to make some phone calls.

One day, Dennis and Leigh are talking in Dennis’ car in the parking lot of a local restaurant.  Arnie appears, and realizes that Dennis is in love with Leigh.  This infuriates Arnie, who has fixated on Leigh, determined to make her love him again.  Dennis is frightened for Leigh, as he realizes that it is actually the ghost of LeBay who has fixated on Leigh, and that LeBay will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Dennis confronts Arnie one morning in the school parking lot.  He tells Arnie that LeBay has possessed, but that he can fight him.  Arnie tries to fight, but LeBay is stronger.  Arnie and Dennis then get into a physical fight.  Dennis challenges LeBay, telling him to meet him that night at Darnell’s garage, and to bring Christine.

Leigh and Dennis wait for Christine at Darnell’s garage.  Christine soon appears, along with the body of Michael Cunningham, Arnie’s father.  Dennis and Leigh battle Christine with a wrecking truck that Dennis had obtained earlier that day.  They are able to destroy the car, but are injured in the process.

Dennis awakens in the hospital the next day and inquires about Arnie.  A FBI agent named Mercer tells him that Arnie and his mother were killed in a car accident on the highway right after Christine was destroyed.  Witnesses saw a third person in the vehicle, which could only be the ghost of Roland LeBay, who attempted to possess Arnie after Christine was destroyed.  Dennis tells his story to the FBI agent, and Leigh corroborates it.

Dennis and Leigh graduate from high school and date for about two years.  Eventually, they drift apart and Leigh moves to New Mexico.  She marries and becomes the mother of twin girls.

Dennis becomes a junior high school history teacher.  He recovers from his injuries, even though his leg still pains him at times.  He sometimes experiences nightmares in regards to Christine, but they become less frequent.

One day, Dennis receives the news that a young man named Sandy was killed after being hit by a vehicle.  Dennis begins to wonder if Christine has somehow regenerated, and if she will find him and seek revenge.


My Thoughts

Well, that was quite a ride…

Okay, okay…I will brake from the bad car jokes…

But seriously, wow, this book was really quite the ride.

Now, Stephen King writes scary stuff.  Duh, he is the King of Horror, and we all know this.  And Christine has plenty of scary moments (more on that later.)

But really, King’s major strength as a writer is his ability to write about reality, as strange as that may seem to some.

In other words, King does not just write about monsters, like possessed cars, haunted hotels and evil clowns.

He writes about people.

And that’s why we love him.  Once again, he is our literary Everyman.

And there are plenty of Everyman moments in Christine.  When Christine is mentioned, most people think “Car bad.  Very very bad.  Arnie go crazy.  I hate rock and roll.”

(Well, something like that.  And yes, it may owe a little bit to the movie of the same name, thanks to John Carpenter, God love him.)

One of my favorite parts in this book was the description of the friendship between Arnie and Dennis.

There are some people, in the Hell otherwise known as high school, who are actually popular because they are…wait for it…genuinely nice people…gasp…

Dennis Guilder is proof of the above.  His friendship with Arnie is an exception rather than a rule in the Hell known as high school (yes, I keep using that word.  Hell.  And yes, I do know what it means, aka the DMV and high school.  Hell has less screaming, though, than either of those.)

But it is proof that there are some out there with actual character, who can see beyond the surface, and who is willing to dig for gold.

I loved the fact that Dennis and Arnie built ant farms as children.  There is just something endearing in that.  Maybe it’s because that is a project that requires investment and patience, much like being Arnie’s friend.

But, as I stated before, Christine is scary.  And actually, it is a lot scarier than what I had previously given it credit for.

First of all, we have Christine herself.  Notice how I say “herself,” and not “itself.”

In other words, Christine may technically be an “object”, but she (again, with the pronouns) is definitely a character in her own right.

And that is the genius of King:  he writes wonderful characters who are people (and even animals.)  However, he can turn anything into a character.  In fact, I am sure a novel will be out one day that features a plastic Wal-Mart bag who we either end up rooting for, in its quest to not be replaced by paper bags, or perhaps we learn to fear Wal-Mart plastic bags because this one tries to take over a store in its anger over being replaced by the paper bags and ends up killing the customers in a totally gruesome manner…

(And yes, that book will be a “take my money now situation,” natch.)

Well, humor aside, Christine may be a vehicle, but she is a character in her own right.  And a villain, to boot (King has written more than a few of those, both human and inhuman.)

And one scary character as well.

The scenes when Christine in on the rampage are some of the most frightening scenes that I have ever read in any book, let alone a King book.

In particular, the scene when Christine hunts down Buddy Reperton particularly stands out in my mind.  Now, Buddy really did have that coming to him.  He was an asshole, there is no other way around it.  But still, being hunted by Christine and being toyed with in much the same manner as a cat toys with a mouse that it is about to kill…yikes is all I can say!

And the little touch at the end, when Buddy sees the ghost of Roland LeBay is just what the doctor (or is it writer?) ordered to scare us Constant Constant Readers into a change of pants!

Speaking of which, Roland LeBay…

Let’s talk about him for a bit.

.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Or, as a certain well-known and beloved character in the Dark Tower series may have stated:  Coincidence has been cancelled!

The two share a name, but they could not be more different, right?

Well, they are pretty different.  But there does seem to be an underlying theme.

And that theme would be obsession.

Think about that for a moment.

Roland Deschain is obsessed with his Tower.

In fact, he is so obsessed that he is willing to sacrifice his spiritual son so that he can progress in his quest.

Roland LeBay is obsessed with his vehicle.

In fact, he is so obsessed that he is willing to let his daughter choke to death, and refuses to get rid of the vehicle even after her death.

So yeah, sounds pretty familiar, huh?

However, I think #teamLeBay wins the obsession contest over #teamDeschain.

#teamDeschain is at least capable of showing some humanity at certain points, and does try to redeem himself.  So he loses this contest, although this is contest one probably does not want to win.

In fact, #teamLeBay is so obsessed with this vehicle, that it carries over to his death. The ghost of Roland LeBay is the other major player in this story, even though it gets overshadowed by the crazy vehicle.

But I need to give the ghost of LeBay its due.

After all, it is seen several times in the story.

The scene where Arnie is eating pizza in Christine, and sees LeBay sitting next to him, is tres creepy.  I didn’t know whether to laugh at the piece of pizza that went MIA, or shudder even more.

What was even scarier was the fact that Arnie also saw himself in LeBay’s ghost (more on that later, though.)

I think the scariest scene in the book is the scene when Arnie drives Dennis home via Christine on New Year’s Eve.

Dennis sees the ghost of LeBay in the rear view mirror.  Somehow, that’s gruesome right there.  Just looking in the rear view mirror…

What do you see?

Oh, nothing, ghosts of dead, decaying, rotting bodies of evil guys and stuff…

And the fact that Christine was able to momentarily travel back in time, taking Arnie and Dennis back to the 1950’s…wow!

Suddenly the streets are not familiar, and Dennis can’t find his house, because it hasn’t been built yet.

Wow, wow and wow again.

There was a wonderful, dreamlike surreal quality to that scene that I just loved.  You are pretty sure that Dennis is not hallucinating any of it, but you aren’t 100% sure.  And that makes it even more frightening.

Another thing to love about this novel is the fact that it addresses a taboo topic:  bullying.

Now, Christine is a scary book.  It has ghosts and a possessed car.  And those also make for a great story.

But at its heart, Christine is a novel about bullying, and how it affects people.

Too often, people tend to dismiss bullying.  They will say it’s kid stuff.  They will tell the victim to ignore it, and it will go away.

In other words, kids have no rights.  I was bullied constantly as a child.  But I was a child, and I had no rights.  If I was an adult, I could file a police report for either harassment or assault, and start a paper trail.

But children don’t have that option.  Children are forced to see the bullying as some twisted “rite of passage.”

And people wonder how we get a Carrie White, or Arnie Cunningham.

Again, it goes back to Laverne Cox:  Hurt people hurt people.

And like Carrie White, Arnie was a hurt human being.

In the book, various characters, such as Dennis, talk about how Arnie has “changed.”

My question is:  did Arnie really change?

My answer:  no, he didn’t.

Sure, he may have hid his pain for a long time, and managed to convince everyone (his parents, Dennis, etc) that he was okay.

However, Arnie was actually pretty similar to the deceased Roland LeBay in a lot of ways.

LeBay was obviously an angry person throughout his life.  He was a man who never really loved anyone or anything, other than Christine, his vehicle.  They were a match made in hell.

Arnie Cunningham was also angry man.  He may not have shown his anger in the way that LeBay did, but it was obvious that he was angry.

An ex of mine once told me that “depression is anger turned inwards.”  I think this is actually a good description of Arnie Cunningham.

Arnie spent his life being marginalized.

He was bullied at school.  Most of the other kids would not accept him.  In the world of high school, Dennis Guilder is an exception, not a rule.

Even at home, he was marginalized by his parents.  Arnie had talent as a mechanic, but his parents would not accept that, and put pressure on him to attend college, rather than pursuing his talent for working with cars.

So, is it any wonder that Christine and the ghost of Roland LeBay were able to exert their influence on Arnie?  After all, kindred spirits.

The fact that when Arnie saw the ghost of LeBay in Christine, and then saw an older version of himself is telling.  After all, the two really are cut from the same cloth:  angry, never experienced any type of true love.

And that is the only antidote for an Arnie Cunningham or Carrie White: we must have a world where everyone, even the “ugly pizza faces,” can find love or acceptance.

There may not be possessed vehicles in our world which are capable of exacting revenge on bullies, but there are worse things, such as bombs and guns.  Until we realize this, our Arnie Cunningham’s will remind us that bullying has unpleasant consequences.

Continue reading

Top 10 Women in Stephen King Books

I am a nerd (well, duh).

I am also a woman (duh again, what was the name of this blog?)

Growing up, I loved things like horror, action movies and Batman.

In fact, I still love all of these things, although I have expanded my horizons a little bit (The Green Arrow is my show boo, thank you very much!)

arrow

And don’t get me wrong, I love being a nerd, and I always have, even if my social calendar has always been strangely empty.  But being part of so many fan-doms, which have allowed me to meet so many wonderful people (Internet, where have you been all my life?), is simply rewarding…there is no other way to put it.  And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

However, being a female nerd has put me in a delicate position.  I love my Batsy, I love my dispensers of vigilante justice and I love being scared into a change of pants by evil, sewer dwelling clowns and whatever other “monster of the week” happens to either haunting the books I read or the movies I watch.

balloon2

But even as a child, I noticed something that made being a nerd that much harder, at least for me.

That’s right, you guessed it…the lack of female nerds.

At least, this was the case when I was growing up.  It is true that April O’Neil was a presence on one of my favorite shows.

april oneil

There was also Dr. Crusher.

crusher 1

(The fact that both of these ladies are gingers is just purely coincidental.  Nope, no bias here at all).

But there was no denying it:  nerdiness was not geared towards the likes of me.  Instead, all the cool stuff was geared towards the boys.  And although we have made some pretty good strides in recent years, there is still that mentality:  meeting another woman who is versed in the story line of something like The Killing Joke and who is stoked for the upcoming movie is not common, even though this is something that is changing as well, although slowly.

In fact, when I was introduced to Special Agent Dana Scully, I wept.  At last, a female nerd!  She was smart AND could throw down some serious shade!  And do all that in three inch heels!

Humbug 7

As I got older, I began to look for female role models in my nerdy obsessions.  Slowly, I began to find them.

In other words, I picked up my Stephen King habit after an extended hiatus.  And I found some great female role models…

breaking bad

Ok, glad you have let that sink in.  So quit laughing, and let’s talk about the ladies in the works of The Master.

Stephen King

King is the master of modern horror.  This fact is undisputed by most.  He knows how to terrify us, with his monsters, both human and inhuman.

But King also creates great characters that we can all relate too.  Jack Torrance, Larry Underwood and Johnny Smith are just a few examples of the Every Man.

King also has given us the Every Woman.  It is true that some of his female characters are mainly seen through the eyes of another character who is usually male.  Examples of those would include Wendy Torrance and Leigh Cabot.

But King has also created some great female characters that are either main characters, or “side characters” that actually stand on their own, sometimes even stealing the show from the guys.

So Stephen King is not only The Master, he has made some pretty cool contributions to the women’s movement…check!  I still don’t know if he has mastered interpretive dance, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.

And I figure now would be a good time to pay tribute to some of these ladies via a post in this little old blog.

So, without further ado, here is a list of what I consider to be the most memorable women in King’s works.  This is a list containing only ten, so I apologize if I left out your favorite…ranking awesome is not easy!

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


10.  Jo Noonan (Bag of Bones)

I am trying to stick with “human” ladies for this post, so I struggled with this one for a bit.

However, Jo Noonan won out in the end.  She was indeed a ghost, but she was living at one point.  Which makes her human to me.

Jo Noonan was a force.  In life, she was courageous and fought to the very end.

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Even in death, she was unstoppable.  Jo simply would not rest until her mission was accomplished:  expose the truth (which was not pretty) in regards to a small town’s questionable history.  Not only was Jo determined to expose the truth in regards to the small town that was her and Mike’s summer home, she was also determined to protect a child who had no tie to her or to Mike.  However, that did not matter to Jo, as she was determine to break the curse that had ruined the lives of so many, including her own.

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And Jo succeeded in that mission:  with her help, Mike was able to stop the curse and save the life of an innocent, and was able to ensure that no further generations would suffer either.

Jo Noonan was a constant presence in this book.  Even when her ghost was not around, we got to know her through her husband, Mike Noonan, as she was such a big part of his life, even after she died.  Even though she technically not living, this fact was easy to forget, as Mike’s memories served to paint a vivid portrait of her, making her as essential to the story as the living cast.


9.  Abra Stone (Dr. Sleep)

In many of King’s works, children are put in perilous situations.  Often, these children are faced with some adult situations that call for adult decisions.  And a wrong decision can literally be the difference between life and death.

Abra Stone is one of these “King children.”  And there are a couple of reasons why she is on this list.  One of them is that she is female.  She may be just a teenager when the events of Dr. Sleep take place, but she is forced to do quite a bit of growing up in a relatively short period of time, earning her a place on this list of distinguished women.  Another reason is that she is simply an ass kicker.  There is no other way to put it.

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In the novel Dr. Sleep, the grown-up Danny Torrance (of redrum fame from The Shining) is a major player.  Most of the adults that were in Danny’s life as a child failed him (especially his father.)  So it is up to Danny to not fail Abra, a girl who possesses PSI abilities similar to his own, although hers are much stronger than his ever will be.  And Danny succeeds in that mission, quite admirably.

However, Danny’s success was heavily tied to Abra and her abilities.  Abra is an extremely brave young woman who takes on the leader of a clan of psychic vampires who call themselves the “True Knot.”  In doing so, Abra risks her own, along with the lives of her loved ones.  The clan has cheated death for centuries, and is determined to “harvest” Abra’s abilities so that they may continue to cheat death for many more years.

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However, with the help of Abra, Danny is able to defeat this clan once and for all, saving the life of Abra and possibly several others.  In other words, Abra was able to work with Danny so that Danny could succeed where his father had failed.  Abra was able help Danny achieve something that he desperately needed:  redemption.


8)  Margaret White (Carrie)

No story is complete without a good bad guy.

Or bad gal, as the case may be.

Carrie is King’s first published work.  The book definitely has this feel, and makes for an interesting read.

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The title character, Carrie White, is fascinating in her own right.  As a survivor of childhood bullying myself, I identify with Carrie White on many, many levels.  In fact, I am pretty amazed that I survived high school and didn’t burn down my school on prom night (the fact that I could not get a date to prom to save my life has absolutely nothing to do with this.)

But the real strength of this book, at least to me, lies in the villains.  I could consider Carrie’s schoolmates to be villains (and they are pretty awful) but to me, Margaret White, the mother of Carrie, is the true villain of the book.

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Margaret is a religious fanatic who strives to raise her daughter to become the same way.  However, Carrie attempts to defy Margaret so that she can fit in with her peers and be accepted somewhere.  Usually, these efforts fail, and Carrie is left feeling even worse, which causes her mother to retreat even further into her religion, worsening the cycle.

Sex is considered dirty by Margaret White, and she does not explain “the birds and the bees” to her daughter.  Therefore, when Carrie gets her first menstrual period at age 17, all hell literally breaks loose.  Carrie thinks that she is dying, as she has no knowledge of what is a perfectly occurrence.  She is further alienated by her peers.  One of these girls feels some guilt, and attempts to help Carrie fit in by having her boyfriend take Carrie to her prom.  Carrie fights her mother, who vehemently opposes any kind of normalcy, in order to try to fit in with her peers once again.  However, once again, this backfires, but in a horrific way that no one could have imagined.

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Throughout the book, Margaret White’s presence is felt, even up to the conclusion of the story.  If it had not been for Margaret’s fanaticism, the outlook for poor Carrie may have been quite different, and the reign of destruction experienced by her classmates, teachers and ultimately her mother, may not have happened at all.  So, in essence, Margaret White created the monster, and suffered the horrific consequences, along with many others.


7.  Dolores Claiborne (Dolores Claiborne)

Domestic abuse is a common theme in many King works, including It, Rose Madder, ‘Salem’s Lot, Insomnia and many others.  King writes about the every day issues we are all familiar, and domestic abuse is unfortunately one of those issues.

Dolores Claiborne is another King novel that deals with the issue of domestic abuse.  However, there is a twist:  Dolores Claiborne is one of the few stories of abuse told entirely from the perspective of the abused, a middle-aged woman named Dolores Claiborne.

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Dolores endures some horrific abuse from her husband, Joe.  Finally, Dolores takes a stand, and the abuse against her comes to a stop.  But the spousal abuse is only the beginning, as Joe transfers his aggression to someone else:  his and Dolores’ teenage daughter, Selena.  Joe begins to sexually abuse Selena, and Selena’s innocence is forever lost.  And Dolores realizes that her battle is not over.

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At first, Dolores looks for a peaceful solution to her problem.  But society reminds her that she is a woman and powerless against the hierarchy.  So Dolores decides to forget the peaceful solution and resorts to killing her husband, making it look like an accident.  Society and her husband have pushed her, and she pushes back the only way she can: a fatal “accident” that does indeed turn out to be “her best friend.”

However, Dolores is NOT a cold-blooded killer.  She is a loving, hard-working mother who is doing the best she can for her family.  The law is not on her side and society has marginalized her.  But she has not given up the fight, and ultimately rises above it all.


6)  Sadie Dunhill (11/22/63)

Behind every good man, there is a good woman.  Or something like that, as the saying goes.  In other words, much of life is a partnership, and it really does take two to tango.

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And this was the case in the novel 11/22/63.  Jake Epping travels back in time to attempt to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  In preventing the assassination of the president, Jake hopes to change history for the better.

Initially, Jake is alone in his question.  But this is not the case for long.  Jake meets and falls in love with Sadie Dunhill, a beautiful young woman who is in the midst of divorcing her abusive husband.  And Jake’s quest becomes even more complicated.

Ultimately, Sadie takes a bullet and sacrifices her life so that Jake may succeed in his quest.  When she learns of Jake’s mission, Sadie becomes an advocate, never letting Jake forget why he traveled back in time.  She encourages Jake along the way and becomes as passionate about his mission as Jake.  Her relationship with Jake changes Jake for the better, making him more vulnerable, opening him up to his feelings.

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Sadie is also amazing in her own right.  She has the courage to leave her husband at a time when divorce was heavily frowned upon, especially for women.  She fights back against her husband in two different timelines, and wins both times, even when she did not have the help of Jake.  Sadie survives her divorce, and makes a difference in the world (in both timelines.)


5.  Susan Delgado (Wizard and Glass)

Again, children in the Stephen King universe are often placed in awful situations.  This is a prevailing theme, and is a theme in the book Wizard and Glass.

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Susan Delgado is still a child at the beginning of the story of Roland Deschain’s youth.  However, she falls in love with Roland and is forced to grow up quickly.  Because of the bad decisions made by the adults in Susan’s life, her life becomes endangered when she commits the sin of falling in love with Roland.

However, Susan is not just a love interest for Roland.  She is much more than that, and becomes an integral part of his ka-tet.  Susan risks her life to help Roland and his friends fight The Good Man and his forces, which include include most of the people in her town, who have turned against the Affiliation.  And she pays the ultimate price for her bravery:  she is burned alive for “treason.”  But Susan is never bitter about her fate, and her last words are her declaration of love for Roland.

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Throughout Wizard and Glass, Susan realizes that because she is a woman, life will not necessarily be “fair.”  She deals with her greedy aunt, an evil witch and unwanted sexual advances from a man nearly old enough to be her grandfather.  However, she remains true to herself until the very end, and is ultimately responsible for Roland beginning his quest to save the Dark Tower.


4) Susannah Dean (The Dark Tower series)

When one thinks of the Dark Tower series, Roland Deschain naturally comes to mind.  And Roland Deschain is a huge part of this series, as he is the main protagonist.

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However, Roland is not alone in this quest.  He had friends once, but they were lost.  But someone (or something) decided that he needed friends again.

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Enter Susannah Dean.  And Odetta Holmes.  And Detta Walker.  No, Roland was not given three women.  He was given one woman (along with another man, a young boy and even a creature known as a billy-bumbler but this entry is for the ladies only.)

When Roland first meets Susannah, she is a broken woman who literally does not know her true self.  One self goes by the name of Odetta Holmes, and is educated, well-spoken and gentle.  However, another personality, Detta Walker, wages war inside Susannah.  Detta is rude, crude and volatile, and threatens to destroy Susannah’s mind completely.

Eventually, Odetta and Detta are united, and a new being emerges:  Susannah Dean.  Susannah Dean has now married one of her tet mates.  She has also become a gunslinger, and a brave one at that, who refuses to back down from anyone or anything.  Susannah becomes the heart of the ka-tet, and makes sure that Roland retains a least a little of his humanity as he grows closer and closer to reaching his goal.

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Susannah endures unspeakable pain in the name of Roland’s quest.  First, she loses her husband, Eddie Dean.  Then she loses Jake Chambers, her spiritual son.  But Susannah is a survivor, until the very end, and reaches her own Dark Tower when she is finally reunited with her husband and son.


3)  Lisey Landon (Lisey’s Story)

A common theme in King’s work is the often taboo subject of mental illness.  Many of his books deal with this topic in its various facets.

One of these books is the novel Lisey’s Story.  Lisey’s Story can be considered a fantasy novel that is also a metaphor for the the creative process.  Lisey’s Story has much to say about mental illness as well, including its effects on the loved ones of people who suffer from mental illness.

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Before she meets Scott, Lisey is ordinary.  However, when she chooses to spend her life with Scott, it becomes clear that Lisey is no ordinary woman.

Scott Landon is a brilliant but troubled writer.  Mental illness has had tragic consequences for Scott’s family, and Scott (rightfully) fears tragic consequences for himself and anyone else who is close to him (namely, his wife, Lisey.)  However, Lisey loves Scott, and is determined to stand by him, no matter what kind of sacrifices that she may have to make.

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Lisey becomes Scott’s anchor.  When Scott becomes trapped in a kind of no-man’s land, Lisey is able to rescue him.  Lisey realizes that Scott is not ordinary either, but still accepts Scott along with all of his peculiarities.

Even in death, Lisey is still firmly anchored to Scott.  However, in order to save herself, Lisey must rely on her own strength.  And she is able to do just that, which allows her to return to the land of the living so that she can hear one last story from Scott, and allow him his final peace.


2)  Rose McLendon (Rose Madder)

I am a survivor of domestic abuse.  For years, I lived in hell.  At times, I thought that I would not live to see my 30th birthday (I was 29 when I escaped.)  I felt alone and carried a huge burden on my shoulders, as no one outside my relationship knew about about the abuse.  This was the case for many years, even after I escaped my first marriage.  The fact that I kept this secret for so long nearly destroyed me emotionally.  Even now, as I write this paragraph, the tears still well up in my eyes.

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But something kept me going for all of these years.  That something was the book Rose Madder.

Rose McLendon endures years of abuse and humiliation from her husband, Norman.  Rose finally escapes and attempts to build a new life in another city 800 miles away.  But the past catches up with her, when her husband Norman (who is also a police officer) tracks her down, killing several people who were friends of Rose and who helped her to build her new life.

Rose battles with her husband and wins that battle, even though she requires some help.  She goes on with her life and gets married again and has a daughter a daughter with her second husband.

I enjoyed the fact that Rose was able to defeat her husband, but my favorite part of this book was the description of the aftermath.  Even after Norman is no longer in her life, Rose still struggles.  She experiences anger over her ordeal that she has repressed for many years, and this threatens her new life.  Eventually, Rose is able to get her troubles under control, but struggles for some time.

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Most of the focus on abusive relationships is on leaving the abuser.  And this is indeed a major step.  However, not much advice is given on how to cope with the aftermath.  Reading about Rose’s feelings, which were similar to my own, made me love the book and this character that much more.  In Rose McLendon, King has truly created the Every Woman.


And now, for my favorite female Stephen King character of all time…

drum-roll-please

Allow me the pleasure of introducing…

Beverly Marsh (It)

Yes, Beverly Marsh, the sole female member of the Losers Club, is my top female Stephen King character.  There are many reasons for this, so let’s talk about them.

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Beverly may not be endowed with any special powers.  She may not technically be a “gunslinger.”  But Beverly is extraordinary, and deserves her spot on this list.

When I was a child, I was not interested in the typical “girly” things.  I did not play with Barbie dolls.  Instead, many of my interests were “male.”  I liked the Ninja Turtles.  I preferred Thundercats to whatever was marketed to girls at the time.

Because of my interests, I often felt that there was something wrong with me.  Nobody quite knew what to do with me, including my own family.  I thought that I was the one who needed to change, as opposed to thinking that our society needed to change and become more accepting of someone like me.

Then, when I was 12 years old, I read It.  And I met Beverly Marsh.  Beverly didn’t like “girl” things either.  Beverly could hang with the boys and hold her own.  Beverly was tough and seemed fearless.  And it didn’t hurt that Beverly was also tall and a redhead, two things that I absolutely hated about myself at the time.

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Beverly may have faced an evil clown (twice!) but her extraordinary qualities extend way beyond that fact.  Don’t get me wrong, facing Pennywise the Clown on a semi-regular basis is nothing to sneeze at, but Beverly had to endure so much more.

As I have stated time and time again, one of King’s strengths as a writer is the fact that he writes about ordinary life so well.  And this is evident in a book like It.  The homicidal clown is just one facet of this book.  Compared to what the kids had to face on a daily basis, Pennywise was actually pretty mild.

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And Beverly had to endure so much real-life horror.  For starters, she was an outcast.  She was poor, so she was bullied.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, she was abused by her father, and in the summer of 1958, that abuse began to take on sexual overtones.  Of course, there was no refuge for Beverly, as most adults, even her mother, turned a blind eye on the abuse.

Even after facing Pennywise the first time, the horror did not end for Beverly.  She went on to marry an abusive man, and was trapped in a nightmare for several years.  However, it was a strength of a childhood promise that compelled her to finally fight back, and escape from the nightmare, once and for all.

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In facing Pennywise for the second time, Beverly finally finds her footing and a confidence that was missing for most of her life.  She is even able to find love, as she marries a fellow Loser, Ben Hanscom.  Beverly rode off into the sunset with Ben, but she earned that ride, given what she had to overcome.  And a clown living in the sewers was the least of it.


So there you have it.

My top 10 ladies in the Stephen King universe.  I am sure that maybe I missed a few, but this list did have to be cut down to 10.

Like all of King’s characters, these ladies are fascinating and are an integral part to the stories that they appear in.  They are also proof that Stephen King is much more than a writer of horror; he is also a writer who understands the human condition, along with the female condition.

And whoever you are, man or woman, do yourself a big favor and pick up one or more of these books, if you haven’t already, so that you can meet some fascinating characters and escape into the never-boring  world known as a Stephen King book.

RoaldDahl

11/22/63: Episode 8 Recap and Review

Over the past several weeks, I have been traveling.

Well, not literally.  More like vicariously, through Stephen King and JJ Abrams.

In other words, I have been watching 11/22/63.  I have traveled back to the 1960’s with Jake Epping, and met a few famous historical folks along the way…

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And I have met some of the friendly folks in Jodie, Texas…

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And had the privilege of seeing a particular time period that I only know from old photographs, my parents’ memories and history books.  I have viewed this time period from the eyes of a character born in 1978, the same year I was born.

Last night, it came to a conclusion.  And that conclusion was satisfying, but I am feeling a little melancholy.  I had something to looks forward to on Monday:  one of my favorite Stephen King novels, brought to life on the screen by the talents of James Franco, Sarah Gadon and many others.  But now, that has concluded, and like Jake Epping, I am only left with the memories.  But it is better to have experienced the journey and to be left with memories, than to have not experienced anything at all.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of the series finale of 11/22/63, titled The Day in Question.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The episode begins with Jake and Sadie rushing to get to Oswald, before his attempt on Kennedy’s life becomes successful.  Jake realizes that the past is pushing back, when he and Sadie encounter a police barricade and a car that hits the bus they have boarded.  Time is now out of joint, and Jake and Sadie see visions of those who have died during Jake’s time in the past, including Mimi, Johnny Clayton and and Frank Dunning.  They rush up to the abandoned sixth story in the book depository where Oswald is waiting for the presidential motorcade.  Oswald fires his first shot, and misses.  Oswald fires a second shot and also misses.  The presidential motorcade is able to escape Oswald and his rifle.  The door shuts, trapping Jake and Sadie inside the room with Oswald.

Jake scuffles with Oswald, and shots are fired.  After a brief scuffle, Jake is able to shoot Oswald dead.  However, Sadie is also shot in the crossfire.

It becomes clear that Sadie’s wounds are mortal.  She asks Jake to stay with her, instead of getting help.  The police then burst in and arrest Jake.  Jake screams at the police to help Sadie, but it is too late as she has already succumbed to her wounds.

The authorities arrest Jake and interrogate him.  FBI agent Hosty tells Jake that the country loves Kennedy and is looking for someone to pin the assassination attempt on.  Jake counters, telling Hosty that if he is forced to testify, he will reveal that the FBI failed to stop Oswald and is also spying on the Kennedys.

Hosty is still determined to pin the crime on Jake, but a call from the president himself comes through.  Kennedy thanks Jake for saving his life.  Jake also speaks to the First Lady, who expresses her sympathies over the death of Sadie.

Jake wants no publicity, and Hosty drops him off at the bus station, so that he can head back to Lisbon, Maine and return to his own timeline.  While waiting for the bus, Jake has a vision of Sadie as he first met her:  she is reading a book.  However, Sadie disappears, confirming that this was only a vision.  Jake then returns to Lisbon, and travels through the rabbit hole back to his own time.

The world has changed drastically when Jake returns to his own time.  Al’s Diner is no longer, and Lisbon is a pile of rubble, the likely aftermath of a nuclear war.

Jake gets into an altercation with some bandits, and is rescued by his friend Harry Dunning.  Harry recognizes Jake as the man who saved his family from his father’s murderous rampage.  Jake quizzes Harry on the history of the world, and learns that Kennedy was president for two terms, and was then succeeded by George Wallace.  There was indeed a nuclear war, and Kennedy had founded a series of refugee camps.  Harry tells Jake that the camps for unpleasant, especially for him and his family, as his mother passed away from influenza.  Jake decides that he needs to reset the timeline, and travels back into the past.

When Jake travels back to 1960, everything is as it was before he prevented the assassination of Kennedy.  However, Jake notices that Sadie is a passenger in car that is driving by, and follows her to a nearby diner.

At the diner, Jake speaks to Sadie, telling her that they know each other.  However, he is interrupted by the appearance of the Yellow Card Man.  The Yellow Card Man tells Jake that trying to be with Sadie will only result in her death, and that he needs to return to his own time.  Jake reluctantly agrees, and tells Sadie that he was in fact mistaken.

After returning to his own time, Jake has become a bit traumatized.  He also learns that Harry Dunning did not in fact receive the promotion that he applied for.  Jake then breaks down in front of Harry.  Harry comforts Jake, telling him that he is in fact a good man and that his actions have made a difference.

Jake does some research on the internet and finds out what Sadie has been up to over the years.  He learns that she is going to receive an award from the governor of Texas, and travels to Texas so that he can attend the ceremony.  At the ceremony, Jake learns what an impact Sadie has had on the lives of her students.  Sadie also makes mention of Deke Simmons, and recites a poem that Deke was fond of.

After the ceremony, Jake approaches Sadie and asks her for a dance.  Sadie is charmed by Jake, and agrees.  Jake asks Sadie if she has had a good life.  Sadie responds by telling him that it hasn’t always been easy for her, but that she is in fact happy with her life.  The two dance in the same gymnasium, where, in another lifetime, they fell in love.


 

My Thoughts

Whew, what a ride!  The onscreen journey with Jake Epping was almost as enjoyable as the literary one.  And these are not words that I utter often, especially in regards to anything claiming to be based on something written by The Master.

Mostly, my feelings on screen adaptations are mixed, at best.  I am talking to you, It mini series!

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And then there is that abomination known as Under the Dome.  Still having to bleach my corneas after watching a couple of episodes of that.

And in the mix, there are couple of pretty good adaptations.  Dolores Claiborne is one.  The Stand mini series is another.  And The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption are nothing less than cinematic masterpieces.

So now we can add another adaptation to the mix:  11/22/63.  Of course, it is nowhere near the level of The Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile, but I would at least put it in my top 10, if not my top 5.

Oh, and let’s have a word with you book douches…

That’s right, you guys.  I have searched online for reviews of 11/22/63, and most of them seem to consist of either critics who have missed the entire point of the series (sorry guys, this is not Back to the Future or a modern take on Quantum Leap) and the Constant Readers who simply don’t like this adaptation because it not IDENTICAL to the book.  I have heard everything from “Jake uses the name George in the book”, to “he visits Derry, not Holden, Kentucky,” to “Jake sings a Rolling Stones song, not a Beatles song.”  And apparently, these differences make this movie a bad movie.

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Well, I have some news, so listen up folks:  an onscreen adaptation does not need to be a slavish, word for word adaptation of a book to be a good adaptation or even a good movie.  In fact, an onscreen adaptation should not be a literal adaptation.  Changes are a good thing when it comes to adaptations.  What works in a book does not necessarily work for the movies or television, as we are dealing with visual mediums.  Abstract concepts in a book (like the idea of the past pushing back) need to have a visual representation in a movie or TV show (the Yellow Card Man) so that the same ideas can be planted in the viewer’s (as opposed to the reader’s) mind.

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In other words, I tend to think of it like this:  chocolate cake is something we are all familiar with.  However, if you search for a recipe for chocolate cake online, you will find thousands.  Some recipes use buttermilk,  Some use vegetable oil and no butter.  Some use cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate.  But all have the potential to make a good cake, if the chef executes the recipe properly.  And it is the same with any onscreen adaptation of a book:  there are many ways to translate an idea from a book to the screen.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that one idea is a bad idea.  In fact, there may be many good ideas.  But what is needed is proper execution.  And for the most part, the changes in 11/22/63 were properly executed, making the final product something that was a bit different from the book, but when you slice into it, you still can see that we have chocolate cake, although the recipes may have differed a bit.

Oh, and I need to give another shout out:

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In other words, another reminder that we are watching something based on a work created by the master of modern horror.

I especially enjoyed seeing “Redrum” written on the wall of the book depository (although “Your a patsy?”  Really?  Apparently, graffiti artists in 1963 have about the same level of spell and grammar composition as the Internet trolls of the modern era.  Who knew?)

And the nod to The Stand (coincidentally, my favorite King book ever) was pretty awesome too.  Loved how we caught a glimpse of that graffiti in the alternate timeline, which, if you think about it, is pretty similar to the world of The Stand, actually…

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And speaking of horror, I was again struck by the use of horror movie elements in something that is time travel/suspense/love story (and that makes perfect sense, screw you, critics, it makes perfect sense!).  And the use of horror movie elements, like the color red (Sadie’s dress and the door in the book depository), made perfect sense in this context, giving the viewer a sense of foreboding for Jake and anyone associated with Jake.

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Again, let’s talk about the visuals…

And again, I was floored by them, especially in this episode.  I loved the scenes in the book depository, along with the mad dash to get to the book depository.  The camera angles, the sound effects and the speed all served to give this part of the story some tension, which worked very well.

The scenes after Jake saves the president were also well done.  I could tell that some actual footage from the infamous day was used, and that was a nice touch.  I also thought that changing from color to black and white back to color (when Jake was booked and taken to the police station) was a nice touch, and gave the scene a bit of authenticity, and it almost came across as an actual event, as opposed to a scene in a fictional mini series.

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The visual depiction of the alternate timeline was also well done.  I enjoyed the surreal quality of it, as that reinforced the idea that this was an alternate timeline and not something that really should have existed in the first place.  The dog in the distance that looked towards Jake and then walked off was a nice touch too, giving a sense of disorder and lawlessness.  Dystopia at its finest.

Now, I don’t have too many complaints about this episode or about the series overall.  However, I wish the writers would have done a little better job with the alternate timeline.  Visually, the series got the point across.  However, I wish that we could have just a little more detail.  The book did a good job of providing us this information, and it was fascinating.  However, this part in the mini series felt a little bit rushed, and almost glossed over.  Not that this takes anything away from the mini series, but I am almost hoping we get to see some deleted scenes or something else that gives us a little bit more detail.

And the ending!

I know that I have said that I welcome changes to a story when it is adapted to the screen, and that is mostly true.

Mostly.

In other words, I would have channeled Annie Wilkes if the writers had DARED changed this ending, which I consider to be one of King’s best, or maybe even his best, period.

Annie Wilkes 1

And to my delight, the ending to the mini series is essentially the same as the ending to the book.

So of course, I stepped into a feeling puddle.  And I am still trying to shake those pesky feelings off.  Sticky little buggers, they are…

In fact, my mind went here:

Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse
that sends me down to the river
though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river
my baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride

Bruce Springsteen, The River

And it was fitting:  Jake and Sadie once danced on the floor of the gymnasium, and fell in love.  But that was literally in another lifetime.  And all Jake is left with is the memories, and a dream that did not quite come true.  But still, it is better to have the memories and the dreams.  That way, the river is not completely dry after all.

11-22-63 23


 

Well, that’s it for 11/22/63.  I have had the pleasure of taking a journey with Jake Epping.  And like Jake, I am left with a sense of longing.  But life is all about taking journeys.  After all, it is better to take and journey and have the memories.  Otherwise, without the dreams and the memories, life would be about as much fun as a dry riverbed.

mash 1

 

 

11/22/63: Episode 6 Recap and Review

Sometimes, being a hero means that one has to do things that may not exactly be…well…good.

This guy can testify to that, actually…

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And this guy can as well, as he is has done more than a few things that could be considered morally ambiguous, in the name of the greater good.

Roland 2

And now, this guy has made it onto my list of heroes who don’t always do good things, but we can justify it because they are trying to save their fellow man, dammit (an anti-hero, for the uninitiated).

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Yes, Jake Epping, the mild mannered English teacher who (probably) wouldn’t say boo to a goose, is now a anti-hero!

And no, he has not joined a biker gang in northern California…

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No, Jake is on a mission…to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy, that is.  And his mission has caused him to make some interesting choices, to say the least.

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Apparently, changing history is not as easy as it sounds.  For one, the past can be kind of a bitch about being changed, and will “fuck with you.”

And then there are feelings…

Yeah, those.  Apparently, even hardened English teachers have those.  They make friends when they are on their mission.  They start caring about the people they meet.

They even fall in love…gasp, the horror!

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The clock is ticking down for Jake, and he doesn’t have much time to complete his mission.  The past realizes this too, and is pushing back with a vengeance.  In other words, the mini series 11/22/63 is getting really interesting, and shaping up to be quite the ride wild, if I do say so myself.

So, without any further ado, here is my recap and review of 11/22/63 episode 6, titled Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


 

Synopsis

The episode begins about six months after the end of the previous episode.  Lee Harvey Oswald is interviewing for a job at the Dallas book depository.  According to history, this is where he will try to assassinate John F. Kennedy.  Oswald has also lost his wife, Marina, and is upset about this.  Outside his new employer, Oswald is confronted by a FBI agent, who is apparently spying on him.  The agent also taunts Oswald about Marina.

Oswald then visits Marina, who is now living with a friend.  He tells her that he is now employed.  Marina is happy, but tells her husband that she will not move back in with him, as she has tired of the abuse and his unpredictable mood swings.  Marina is also several months pregnant.  Oswald becomes upset, and Marina’s friend tries to reassure him, telling him to just allow her a little more time.

Jake pays Bill a visit at his apartment.  Bill has become upset with Jake, as he has been left to his own devices while Jake cares for Sadie.  Bill and Jake hear George de Mohrenschildt speak to Oswald via the surveillance equipment, telling Oswald that General Edwin Walker was shot by an unknown assailant.  Lee laughs off the shooting in the conversation, but Jake is sure that Oswald was the assailant.  Bill then argues with Jake, telling him that they have possibly changed history for the better by simply being there in Dallas.  Jake disagrees, reminding Bill that they have not actually had any interaction with the Oswalds.  Bill tells Jake to kill Oswald if he is so sure, but Jake is hesitant, reminding Bill that he has already killed two people and is not happy with himself over his actions.

Sadie is at Jake’s house in Jodie, playing cards with Principal Simmons.  Deke tells Jake to ask Sadie to marry him, but Jake shrugs this off.  Sadie asks Jake more questions about the future, but Jake reminds her to focus on her surgery, which is scheduled for the next day.

Back at school, Jake speaks to Mimi, who also wants him to marry Sadie.  Mimi also tells Jake that she has cancer and does not have much time left.  She tells Jake that she loves Deke, but that they have spent their lives next to each other and not with each other, and that Jake should not make the same mistake with Sadie.

In order to pay for Sadie’s reconstructive surgery, Jake places another underground bet with seemingly impossible odds.

When Jake returns to his Dallas apartment, Bill is nowhere to be found.  However, Jake hears a party upstairs at the Oswalds, and also hears Bill and Marina talking.  Jake confronts Bill at the party and they argue, knocking over a lamp.  This reveals the bug Jake has placed inside the lamp.  Oswald becomes upset, blaming the FBI for the bug, and starts trashing his own apartment.

After Jake returns to his apartment, he sees Bill kissing Marina.  When Bill returns, Jake fights with him about this.  Bill becomes upset with Jake, as Jake has a relationship with Sadie, but will not allow Bill to interact with the Oswald family.  Bill then pulls a gun on Jake, telling him to never come back to the house.

Jake tells Sadie about the incident with Bill, and Sadie encourages Jake to contact the police.  Jake tells her that this will do more harm than good, and again reminds her to focus on her upcoming surgery.

The next day, Jake accompanies Sadie to the hospital.  He tells her that he loves her, and she is taken into the operating room.  However, the Yellow Card Man makes another appearance, which frightens Jake badly.  The Yellow Card Man begins tampering with Sadie’s equipment, but Jake is locked out of the operating room.  Jake finally breaks the doors with a fire hydrant, stopping the surgery.  It is discovered that Sadie was not receiving enough oxygen, and would have died if it had not been for Jake’s intervention.

When Jake returns to the Dallas apartment, he discovers Bill on the porch talking to Oswald, and realizes that Bill may be the second shooter in the JFK assassination.  Jake then comes into the apartment, and tells Bill a story that Marina Oswald is in labor at the hospital.  However, Jake actually takes Bill to a mental hospital, where Bill begins to rant about Jake and his mission.  This confirms to the doctors that Bill needs help, and Jake has Bill committed.

After Bill is hospitalized, Jake confronts George de Mohrenschildt and garrotes him, threatening to hurt de Mohrenschildt and his family if he does not cooperate with Jake.  de Mohrenschildt tells Jake that Oswald has never been a recruit, and that he helps Marina because she has no family.  de Mohrenschildt also denies any involvement in a plot to assassinate Kennedy, confirming Jake’s theory that Oswald acted alone.

Later that night, Jake calls Sadie from a pay phone, telling her that he is about to do what he came to do (i.e. kill Oswald).  Jake also proposes to Sadie.  Sadie is thrilled and promises to give him an answer when he comes home.

After Jake hangs up, he is confronted by the bookies with whom he placed the risky bets.  The men are extremely angry with Jake for costing them money, and beat him into unconsciousness.  Jake later awakens at the hospital with Sadie by his side, but he does not remember her, which the doctor says is due to the extremely traumatic head injury he has suffered.


My Thoughts

So, how far do you go to make the world a better place?  To what lengths will you go?  Is it okay to hurt someone, if hurting (or killing) that person will save others?

And there are no easy answers to these questions.  11/22/63 is a work that explores questions like these, and the answers are actually…well…pretty gray.

Jake Epping is struggling with the color gray.  He has killed two people so far on his mission to save President Kennedy and to potentially make the world a better place.  One of them was Frank Dunning, who killed his present day friend’s entire family.  The other one was Johnny Clayton, who was going to kill Sadie, with whom he has fallen in love.

11/22/63 EPISODE 103a Photo Credit: Sven Frenzel

It is clear that Jake is struggling with his decisions, and that he is not actually a cold blooded killer.  The mini series is doing a good job showing this struggle, in having Jake contemplate alternatives other than murder in order to stop Lee Harvey Oswald.  Nothing can ever be clear-cut, and I love that the mini series is actually reminding us of this.

Again, this mini series is based on something written by Stephen King.  And this mini series is doing a pretty good job reminding us of this fact.  In particular, the scene in the hospital where the Yellow Card Man attempts to tamper with the medical equipment (which would hurt or maybe kill Sadie), is a really good reminder of this.  The use of the color red in the doors and the fire hydrant was particularly striking, and added an element of the disturbing to this scene.  I also thought the music was done well, giving another surreal layer to this scene.  The Yellow Card Man himself is also another reminder that we are watching something based on a novel written by Stephen King, aka the modern day boogey man.  In the novel, the past is a character, in the same way of Jake, Sadie, Oswald and all the other players in the book.  I wouldn’t say that the past is a villain, but there is certainly something foreboding about it.  And so far, this is has been translated quite well to the screen, especially with the use of the Yellow Card Man, along with the creepy things that keep happening to Jake and his friends.

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Again, I have to give a shout out to the overall acting on this show.  And as much as I like James Franco as Jake Epping, I am going to focus on some other characters.

Namely, the women on this show.

King’s women’s characters are a bit of a mixed bag.  Some are extremely well-drawn, like Annie Wilkes, Dolores Claiborne and Beverly Marsh.  Some are not so well drawn, like Frannie Goldsmith.

Dolores C

And we have Sadie Dunhill.  Also, we have Marina Oswald.

I have said it before, and I will say it again:  Sarah Gadon seems to be have been born for the role of Sadie Dunhill.  She brings just the right amount of wistfulness to this character, along with that bit of innocence.  In other words, she lights up the screen every time she makes an appearance.  A perfect casting choice.

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Lucy Fry, the actress who plays Marina Oswald, is another perfect casting choice.  Marina’s role has been expanded a bit from what it was in the book, since we are seeing the characters from something other than a first person narrative.  In the book, Marina is depicted as somewhat pitiful.  In the mini series, she is a victim as well, but Fry has managed to make her more sympathetic, and it almost as if she is another version of Sadie, but without the resources to fully escape the situation with Oswald to build a new life for herself and her children.  Her performance also brings a little more depth to Oswald’s character, making him to be a little more “human”, although he is still a pretty bad guy (he shoots JFK, can’t get more evil than that.)

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My only complaint about this episode is in regards to the Bill character…

Yes, I gotta rag on him again.  I understand the need for this character, but ugh.  Just ugh.  And that accent.  And the premise that he was the second shooter?  Ridiculous much?  Hopefully, Jake had him committed so we see the last of the Bill experiment.  But I will still keep my fingers crossed for the last episodes.

11-22-63 20


 

Well that’s it for Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald.  Join me next week as we review and dissect episode 7, titled Soldier Boy.

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

batman and robin

 

Every Gunslinger Needs a Companion: An Interview With Bev Vincent

In life, sometimes you take journeys.  Sometimes these are physical journeys (I have had a few myself).

Sometimes, there are other kinds of journeys as well…

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Well, I am sure most of us (me included) don’t take a journey like that often ever but that game last night sure was was ride, at any rate…whew!  And this little old blog sends you love, Ser Peyton!

Or, if you are more like me, you take literary journeys.  Oh, too nerdy for you!  Well, sorry, guess someone forgot what blog this was again!

And I have traveled alone, and I have traveled with others.  Now traveling alone is not a bad thing.  But sometimes, having a companion has its advantages.  A Sam Gamgee, maybe.  Or if you are Peyton Manning, a Von Miller (and it doesn’t hurt to perhaps throw in a Chris Harris, or maybe an Aquib Talib or two, for that matter).

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In other words, great journeys are not usually accomplished alone, whether they are to destroy a pesky ring, or to obtain a pesky second (Super Bowl) ring.  Even this guy can testify to that!

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Yes, you are definitely reading this blog and forgot to heed all the previous warnings!

Reading the Dark Tower series is a journey.  And I have taken that journey on my own.  And it was great, of course.

But I have taken it with friends, too.

Ka_tet_by_Cordania

Well, I wasn’t talking about these guys, per se.  If I was relying on them for friendship, well that is a recipe for guaranteed heartbreak, and I will leave it at that.

Nor am I talking about the followers on my blog and social media account, who were with me every step of the way in my latest re-read and review of the entire series.  I do appreciate both all of you very much though, and much love to everyone!

Rather, I am talking about works such as this one:

Road to DT 1

And this one:

DT Concordance 1

Well, they may be books, but to any Constant Reader who is also obsessed with the Dark Tower series, they are almost as invaluable as a Sam Gamgee or Vonn Miller.  They aid in the journey, so that journey becomes that much richer.  These books have also made me become a much better reader, as I have picked out some details I missed on previous re-reads, which made me feel like the kid who found the Easter Egg that everyone else missed because everyone else did not know where to look.

easter eggs 1

Recently, I have the please of talking to one of the creators of my companions, aka Bev Vincent.  I was curious as to what goes on when creating works like these to aid in this journey that I have taken so many times.  And Mr. Vincent was gracious enough to talk to me, and given me a little more insight into his work, the Stephen King universe in general and the world of our friendly neighborhood gunslinger.  So, read below for the complete interview.

cuthbert and alain

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


 

 

Please, tell us a little about yourself. This can be anything, including education, background, etc. Also, when did you first become a Stephen King fan and why?

I come from eastern Canada. I grew up in a small community in northern New Brunswick, where I lived until I was eighteen. I then went to Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I studied chemistry. I got a B.Sc in 1983 and finished my PhD in X-ray crystallography in the fall of 1987. I did a postdoc at the ETH in Zurich and worked as a staff crystallographer until 1989, at which time I moved to Texas, where I’ve lived ever since.

crystallography 1

I started writing seriously at the end of the previous millennium and it has been part of my daily routine ever since, although I still have a day job.

Bev Vincent 1

I discovered Stephen King when I was living in Halifax. I picked up a copy of ‘Salem’s Lot in a used bookstore and I’ve been hooked ever since. I sought out his other books (there weren’t many in 1979!) and have followed along with him for over 35 years. I read a lot, and far more than just King’s books, but he’s been one of the constants. I guess you could call me a Constant Reader.

'Salem's Lot 1


 

What is your favorite Stephen King book, and why is it your favorite?

I have a hard time picking absolute favorites — I have affinities for certain books at different times for different reasons. I have a particular fondness for ‘Salem’s Lot because it was the first, the one that got me hooked. The book has a lot going for it, for a “second” novel (of course, we know it was not his second written book), and it stands up quite well.

Salem's lot 2

Bag of Bones is one that would appear in my top five list. It was the first of his books that I read in first draft manuscript long before it was published. That was a fascinating experience, and I especially appreciated the way he subsequently rewrote the book, layering in things that weren’t present in the first draft.

bag of bones 1

I used to like to tell people about The Gunslinger for a long time, when people didn’t know much about it. It was my entry point into the Dark Tower series, but for a long time it was the only book in the series for me. I loved its mood. I had no idea where the series was headed — or even that it was headed somewhere, but I reread that one a number of times. I could list others that are high on my list. But I’d have an easier time picking my two least favorites. No trouble there at all!

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Oh, what is your least favorite SK book?

I have two: Needful Things and The Tommyknockers. I didn’t like any of the characters in the former and I liked Bobbi and Gard a lot in the latter and hated that King abandoned them for a huge chunk of the book when all I wanted to do was to get back and find out how they were doing.

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I am really excited about the upcoming Hulu adaptation for 11/22/63, and I have high hopes for the series. However, I know that movie adaptations of King’s books are mixed, at best. Some work, some don’t. Out of all the King movies, which one do you feel works the best, and why? Which one do you think does not work, and why?

I’ve already seen the entire miniseries of 11.22.63 and I think people are going to like it a lot. It is significantly different from the novel in many ways, yet it captures the sense of the book perfectly. The actress who plays Sadie is wonderful and it is her more than James Franco who gives this adaptation its heart. The production values are extremely high and the cast is terrific.

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I’ve never been someone who saw the adaptation as a necessary part of the life cycle of a book. Slavish adaptations aren’t always the best. The problem with Dreamcatcher, in my opinion, is that it tried to cram too much of a very big book into the movie, which made it almost incomprehensible to people to people unfamiliar with the novel.

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.

On the other hand, the adaptation of Dolores Claiborne took significant liberties with the book, deleting characters, changing the emphasis on others, but it absolutely captured the novel.

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A lot of the adaptations are forgettable or laughable. I have no use for The Mangler or Children of the Corn (I through XII) or any number of other B grade films.

Disney SK

I did like The Mist, despite the controversial change to the story–and I was thrilled to get to visit the set during production.

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I also visited (the set of) Haven for a day with my daughter, which was great fun. There’s a case of an adaptation that took a core idea and then ran off in a vastly different direction from the source. The same people did the same thing with The Dead Zone TV series.

Haven TV series starring Emily Rose, Lucas Bryant, Eric Balfour, Richard Donat, John Dunsworth, Adam Copeland, Glenn Lefchak, Nicholas Campbell, Kate Kelton, Emma Lahana, Bree Williamson, Christopher Shore and Colin Ferguson - dvdbash.com

There are some great ones — Shawshank, Stand By Me — and some surprisingly effective ones, like 1408 — and a whole lot of turkeys.

ka caw


 

I have read your book, The Dark Tower Companion, and wow! Can you tell us how this book came to be, and exactly what went in to writing it and putting it together?

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I previously wrote The Road to the Dark Tower around the time King was finishing up the last three books in the series. People had frequently asked me when I was going to write a book about King and his work, but I had resisted the idea because it seemed like such a huge project.

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Then when I heard that King was going to write the final three Dark Tower books all at once, I had the idea that I could explore the series and, in doing so, say something about all of King’s work in general. King gave me the manuscripts for the final books a couple of years before they were published, which allowed me to have my book ready around the same time as Book 7 was published.

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The Road to the Dark Tower was written for people who had already read the entire series and wanted to revisit it with me. I would be the tour guide, and I would point out the things I had noticed while reading and rereading and studying the series.

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Then, a number of years later, the first serious indications that there would be a film adaptation emerged, with Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman. I thought it was time to update my book with all the things that had happened in the Dark Tower Universe since my first book was published. However, my publisher suggested that I do a new book, completely different from the first. So, The Dark Tower Companion was written for people who haven’t necessarily read the series. I thought there would be people who came to the Dark Tower via the movies or the Marvel graphic novels. People who might want to know more about something — a reference book. I had to read the series several times for each book, with different things in mind on each reading. My copies are marked up with so many different colored highlighters that they look like the Bends o’ the Rainbow!

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I especially enjoyed getting to interview all these great people for the book, from King himself to Ron Howard (from the set of RUSH) and Akiva Goldsman, and then all of the creative people involved in the Marvel series. That was a series of terrific experiences. I also had a great time coming up with the two maps — the one that showed the known region of Mid-World, especially when certain details came together, and the one of the Dark Tower locations in Manhattan.

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It looks like we may finally get our Dark Tower movie(s). I know that if Roland doesn’t do the finger twirl in the movie, I will not watch it…at all! (Joking, joking.) All kidding aside, what do you need to see in the movie(s) from the books (since we all know that there will be changes, which are necessary) to make sure that the movie does not stray too far from the source material?

I’m open to a complete re-imagination of the series. If you’ve read my interviews with Howard and Goldsman, you’ll see that their ideas for the first movie are quite radical, and I was fine with that. I’m also fine with possibly having Idris Elba as Roland — in fact, I think that would be terrific.

Idris Elba 1

A movie isn’t made first and foremost for the readers of the source material, I believe. They are made for a movie-going audience, so a lot of accommodations have to be made, and can be made.

Some people have suggested that the movies should feature Roland’s NEXT version of his quest, the one where he starts of with the Horn of Eld. To my mind, that means that anything could happen. Anything. If Roland is a different person (arguably a slightly better one), then maybe he needs different companions to get the job done. I’m not saying I want to see that happen, but once that suggestion is made, it shows that people are open to change.

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I don’t know if the movie can work if it is too literal an adaptation. A lot of people were upset by how the series ended on the page — can you imagine going to see a handful of movies over a span of years only to end up back at the beginning again?

DT ending

I’m perfectly content for them to do whatever they see fit with the adaptation. There are some pretty smart people in the movie business. And if they end up making a hash of it, oh well.

Roland 1


So many thanks to Bev Vincent for this interview.  And remember, if you need a companion to help guide you on the Path of the Beam, whether it be be your first journey or your 19th journey, please check out The Road to the Dark Tower, The Dark Tower Companion and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: A Complete Concordance (written by the lovely Robin Furth).  These friends  works are available wherever books are sold.

And, as always, happy reading!

RoaldDahl

Kisses in the Dark: My Review of Batman and Robin Have an Altercation

SK short story

When most people hear the name Stephen King, the first thing they think of is (well, besides “that clown scared me shitless”) is long.

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As in long books, you pervert!  What else would you be thinking of???

But yes, Stephen King is known for writing some long books.  The first book of his that I read was It, which clocks in at almost 1100 pages.  The Stand is over 1100 pages.  11/22/63 is somewhere around 800 pages.  His most recent full length novel, Revival, was only a little over 400 pages.  For King, that is light reading.

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However, King is one of the greats.  And like one of the greats, he is versatile.  In other words, he does not have to write a 1000+ page novel (although I appreciate those as much as the next Constant Reader) to be great.  He can write shorter books, like Carrie and Dolores Claiborne, and still tell a fantastic story.

And The Master can condense himself even further.  King has a large collection of short stories, from N, to The Reaper’s Image, to The Little Sisters of Eluria, to Popsy, that are simply gems.  And there are countless more to choose from, even if horror does not strike your fancy (1922 and Big Driver immediately come to mind).

1922 1

And King’s latest collection of short stories, titled Bazaar of Bad Dreams, does not disappoint.  There is a little something for everybody, and even the pickiest shopper will probably walk away satisfied.

With that being said, I have chosen to review the stories in the collection that have jumped out at me, for whatever reason.  So all both  of my readers will be able to indulge in their voyeuristic tendencies, and will be treated to multiple close-ups of those kisses in the dark.

I am reviewing in no particular order, just reviewing what may strike me at the moment.  And Batman and Robin Have an Altercation struck me in a few places, so sit back and get ready to analyze one of those kisses up close.

 

 


Synopsis

Batman and Robin Have an Altercation centers around Dougie Sanderson, and his elderly father, known as Pop.  Pop is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and lives in nursing home.  Dougie is one of his main caretakers, and tries to spend as much quality time with his father as possible.

Every Sunday, Dougie takes his father to lunch at Applebee’s.  Pop pretends to study the menu, even though he can no longer read, but always orders the same thing for lunch.  Some days are better than others in terms of Pop’s memory, as he is given to confusing Dougie with his brother Reggie, who was killed by an errant driver 40 years ago.  Pop has also become somewhat of a kleptomaniac, stealing items such as knives and other eating utensils when he thinks that no one is looking.

On one of their outings, Pop recalls a time in Dougie’s childhood when he and Dougie dressed up as Batman and Robin, respectively, and Pop took Dougie trick-or-treating.  Both father and son recall the memory as a happy one, even though Pop’s costume was makeshift.  Pop also reveals that he was unfaithful to his wife that night, reminding Dougie of the double-edged sword that is Alzheimer’s Disease:  the memory becomes unreliable, but can still be relied upon to remember what may best be forgotten.

Dougie and his father leave the restaurant, and Dougie drives his father back to his nursing home.  On the way back to the nursing home, Dougie is involved in a car accident.  A driver attempts to change lanes, but carelessly hits Dougie instead.  The driver tells Dougie that he is uninsured and his vehicle is not registered, and tries to convince Dougie to not call the authorities or his insurance company.  Dougie refuses, and the driver attacks him, beating Dougie badly.

Dougie sees blood and fears that it is his blood.  However, it is the blood of the other driver (referred to as Tat Man).  Dougie sees his father standing over the other driver, and realizes that his father has come to his defense and stabbed Tat Man.  He also realizes that his father had distracted him earlier at the restaurant, having him look at the birds outside, while Pop stole a steak knife.  Pop almost immediately forgets where he is and who the other driver was, and demands to go back home and take his nap, leaving Dougie to deal with the authorities who have finally arrived.


 

My Thoughts

So, whoa…

Um, thanks for the throat punch, Uncle Stevie?  For once in my life (and mark your calendars, this is rare indeed), I am having trouble finding the words to express my feelings on this story…

Stephen King

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, sometimes a good story can hit you in just the right place!

First of all, Batman.  Batman is the alpha and the omega…I mean, he’s the goddamn Batman!

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Yeah, I am a fan of Batman, if that wasn’t obvious.  And I love that this story referred to Batman.  I mean, Stephen King and Batman.  Kind of like peanut butter and jelly.  Or bacon and Kool Aide (sorry, private joke between me and some other crazy Stephen King nerds).

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But, as much as I like Batman (and if you don’t like Batman, we are not friends!), the inclusion of Batman in this story was not responsible for the throat punch.  Like almost everything else The Master has ever written, this story was…unexpected…I think that’s the word I want.

Dougie’s father is an Alzheimer’s patient in this story.  My beloved grandmother is also an Alzheimer’s patient.  She has been suffering from the disease for nearly 4 years now.

King often writes about “human horrors”, such as domestic violence, child abuse, addiction and even unemployment.  And all of those are definitely horrors, and give his stories that touch of realism that makes them believable.

Well, now we can add Alzheimer’s disease to that list.  Seeing my grandmother suffer from the disease is truly one of the most horrific things I have endured.  She calls out for my grandfather, who died over 13 years ago, and we have to tell her that he is on his way.  Of course, she cannot remember our names any more.  She wants to go home, even though her home was sold last year, and she does not understand why she lives in a nursing home, and not the home where I spent so much of my childhood.  Horrific, indeed.

But one of the biggest throat punches in regards to Alzheimer’s Disease is that the person who suffers from it will emerge and convince you that he/she is his/her “old self.”  This has happened with my grandmother on more than one occasion:  she will remember names, places, dates and hold a conversation with us that is not one-sided.  And this happened with Dougie’s father as well:  Pops remembered the Halloween he dressed up as Batman with his son, and took him trick-or-treating.  And Pops put on that Batman costume once again, when Dougie was under attack from the enraged motorist and literally fighting for his life.  And it was beautiful:  Batman was there when needed, and he defeated the bad guy, just like how he was supposed to.  We don’t always get rescued by heroes.  People let us down, and they are not there when needed.  But this was Batman, and he did the job admirably.

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But, unlike some super heroes, Batman is human.  He is fallible.  And even he can’t beat all the bad guys, all of the time.  Like the rest of us, Batman must eventually come back to earth.  But even as he falls, he is still the glorious hero, the caped crusader who looks out for the little guy.  After all, he is the goddamn Batman.

batman and robin

Top 10 Friendships in Stephen King Books

All my life, I have been a loner.  A Loser, some might say.

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Making friends has never been my strong suit.  Although I do have one good one now.  And she knows who she is, and how much I love her.  And how proud I am to call her my friend.

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But throughout much of my life, its just been me, myself and I.  I like being alone, but sometimes it gets a little old.

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So what do I did I do (and still do)?

What any sensible person does?  Grab a good book…duh!  A good book is a cure for almost anything, including the flu, being dumped by your ass hat ex and yes…loneliness!

I was able to lose myself in the adventures in these books (everything from Anne McAffrey to David Eddings to Madeleine L’Engle to almost any other category that you could think of).  Another trip to Pern?  Sure, sign me up stat!

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But perhaps the biggest part of these books were the characters.  I identified so much with these characters.  My spirit Losers, much of the time.  And how I wished I could have a cup of coffee with some of these guys, and just chew the fat with them for a few hours.

And some of my most memorable book friendships (not to be confused with my book boyfriends, thank you very much) came from stories by Stephen King.

Jon Snow

Believe it or not, the man known for rabid dogs, killer clowns that live in the sewers and shit weasels has also created some memorable friendships.   Really, is there anything he can’t write about?

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Stephen King is just great at creating memorable characters.  And he can also portray relationships very well.  This combination makes for some great friendships between his characters.  Sometimes these relationships end in tragedy and sometimes at least one party makes some kind of noble sacrifice for the good of the other.  Or sometimes what was once a beautiful relationship turns toxic.  However, these relationships are rich and woven seamlessly into the tapestry we call a Stephen King book.  In other words, they are never dull.

With that being said, here are my top 10 friendships in all of Stephen King’s books.


 

10)  Charles Jacobs and Jamie Morton (Revival)

Some friendships withstand the test of time and just endear.  Normally, this is a good thing…

However, what is good in our world is not always good in a Stephen King novel.  In other words, there are some friendships that just should not be, and this includes the one between Charles Jacobs and Jamie Morton in Revival.

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Sure, the relationship between the two main characters in Revival starts off innocuously enough.  A young preacher with a beautiful family, who just happens to have an unusual hobby (electrifying, you might say).  And a five year old boy who is impressionable, and eager to please.  And he also gets caught up in the preacher’s new hobby and becomes an eager assistant to his new friend…kind of sweet, actually.

Well, the friendship between young Jamie Morton and Charles Jacobson does start off as sweet and even a little touching.  But like most things in the King universe, all good things must come to an end.  And the relationship between Charles and Jamie does seem to come to an end, when a tragedy strikes.  Charles flees town, but Jamie is never quite able to forget the dynamic preacher.

A chance meeting years later re-kindles the friendship between the two.  At first, it seems that this is a good thing, as Charles is able to help Jamie kick his heroin habit.  However, the friendship soon becomes dangerous, as Charles persuades Jamie to assist him him in one final experiment that should not have taken place.  The results are tragic, and the consequences for Jamie, Charles and several other people are simply horrible.  Throughout the book, Jamie refers to Charles as his fifth business, and feels that he owes the man a favor.  However, the relationship between Jamie and Charles is proof that some debts are best left unpaid.

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9)  Dolores Claiborne and Vera Donovan (Dolores Claiborne)

Vera Donovan reminds her friends Dolores Claiborne (in the book of the same name) that sometimes an accident is a woman’s best friend (especially when it comes to husbands who abuse their daughters in unspeakable ways).

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While it is true that the accident that befalls Joe St. George winds up being a very good friend to poor Dolores, Vera Donovan ends up being the best friend that Dolores ever had.  Vera is able to offer some sage advice to her employee that helps save the well being of her employee’s family.  However, more importantly, Vera provides a listening ear for Dolores and acts as a sounding board of sorts, allowing Dolores to vent in relative safety.  Dolores is poor and lives in a hard world.  The treatment she endures from her husband and society in general is a constant reminder of how hard the world is for a woman like Dolores.  Vera’s situation is not as difficult (due to her wealth), but is still actually not much better than Dolores’ situation (it is implied that Vera may have been great friends with an accident that befell her husband).  However, Vera suffers from extreme loneliness, and that loneliness is only abated by the presence of her housekeeper (and later full-time caregiver).  Each woman provides what the other is unable to provide for herself, and is a complement to the other.

The relationship between Dolores and Vera can almost be considered symbiotic, as there is mutual benefit enjoyed by each party.

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8)  Jack Sawyer and Henry Leyden (Black House)

Like I said before, making friends has never been a strength of mine.  I was an awkward kid.  Now I’m an awkward adult.  And not cute awkward either.  More like what the fuck is wrong with you kind of awkward…

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So my social calendar is still almost as empty as it was during my childhood, except for a few special people.  And finding those special people is just even more awesome, since making friends becomes harder as you age (one of the few benefits of government sponsored babysitting er school is that you do get to be around your peer group.  Adulthood is not so cut and dry).

Jack Sawyer is a King character that seems to have the same problem:  he has trouble connecting with people, and is therefore very isolated.  However, his friendship with his blind neighbor Henry Leyden helps to bring him out of that isolation.  Jack begins to realize, through his conversations with Henry, that he is part of a higher purpose, and that he cannot continue to ignore his calling.  Jack also realizes that he must open up in regards to his childhood experiences in The Territories, because his knowledge may save someone’s (or several someone’s, for that matter) life.

Henry and Jack’s friendship is another example of a King relationship that ends in tragedy.  The fact that Henry passes away shortly after Jack finally makes the decision to remove some his walls just makes this particular friendship even more bittersweet.

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7)  Roland and Sheemie (The Dark Tower series)

One of the reasons why I love King’s work is his portrayal of the disenfranchised (i.e. the underdogs).  The disenfranchised (or underdogs) often play major roles in King’s work.  Oftentimes, these characters are among King’s most memorable, and they are portrayed in a loving (as opposed to pitiful) light, causing the reader to emphasize with the character, as opposed to pitying the character.

Sheemie Ruiz is one of these underdogs.  Sheemie is a mildly mentally handicapped young man who is first encountered by Roland Deschain and his friends during a fateful few months spent in the town of Meijis.  Roland and his friends stand up for Sheemie when he is wronged, and a friendship is born.  Sheemie soon becomes part of the ka-tet, and an integral member, to boot.  Sheemie’s contribution to Roland’s quest is a large one, and the gunslinger is never able to forget the young man he met during those fateful months in Meijis.

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The friendship between Roland and Sheemie is another example of a bittersweet relationship.  Even though the two are reunited many years later (and Sheemie once again becomes a contributor to Roland’s quest), Sheemie also becomes yet another casualty in Roland’s quest.

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6)  Danny Torrance and Dick Halloran (The Shining, Dr. Sleep)

Some of the best friendships are ones that span a wide gulf, whether that gulf be age, social class or any number of other factors.  After all, variety is the spice of life!

Danny Torrance and Dick Halloran are a perfect example of this type of friendship.  On the outside, the two could not be more different:  when they first meet, Dick and Danny are nearly 50 years apart in age.  Danny is the only child of two loving parents, and Dick is a confirmed life-long bachelor.  However, there is more that meets the eye for both Dick and Danny, as both possess PSI abilities that Dick refers to “the shining.”  In other words, both possess paranormal talents that render them outsiders, especially Danny.  However, Danny is able to receive some comfort from Dick, as he begins to realize that he is no longer alone.  And Dick is able come through for Danny in a way that most of the adults in Danny’s life (especially his father) are unable to do, when Danny uses his abilities to call on Dick to rescue him and his family from a haunted hotel that wishes to use Danny as a sort of human generator.

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Although the two fall out of touch, Dick is still able to come through for Danny yet again when needed, this time when Danny is forced to become an adult and help another psychically gifted child who has become endangered.  However, there is an added twist:  Dick is able to reach out from beyond the grave and offer his assistance.  The fact that Dick is able to assist Danny from beyond the grave makes this friendship even more endearing and powerful.

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5)  Wolf and Jack Sawyer (The Talisman)

Move over, Seth Rogen and James Franco.  You guys may be seen as the quintessential bromance, but someone has you beat on that front!

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Yes, Wolf and Jack Sawyer are actually the quintessential bromance (at least in this blogger’s humble opinion that worth at least 2 pesos, dammit).  And werewolves and 12 year old boys nicknamed Traveling Jack make much better couples, anyway.

wolf and jack

In all seriousness, Wolf and Jack are another example of a friendship that spans a great divide.  And the great divide is literal, since Wolf and Jack are actually from different worlds.  And not of the same species, as Wolf is a werewolf.  However, that does not matter to either Wolf or Jack, as they draw together in Jack’s quest to save his mother from dying of cancer (and save her Territories Twinner in the process).  Wolf becomes Jack’s guide in a world he does not understand, and Jack returns that favor to Wolf when the two are forced to continue their question in Jack’s world.  This friendship is truly complementary, as Wolf and Jack are able to provide each other with what the other needs.

And Wolf and Jack also fight together, to the very end.  This is yet another example of one of King’s tragic friendships, as Wolf sacrifices his life doing what he does best:  protecting the herd.

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4)  Nick Andros and Tom Cullen (The Stand)

Again, the underdogs and disenfranchised.  I cannot emphasize enough that these guys are some of King’s most well rounded and well written characters.  And Tom Cullen and Nick Andros definitely fall into the underdog category.  And both also fall into the well rounded and well written category.

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Nick Andros is a deaf mute, while Tom Cullen is a mildly mentally handicapped man.  Both are survivors of Captain Trips, aka the super flu that has killed off 99.999% of the population.  Nick communicates through writing, and Tom cannot read.  But somehow, these two manage to save each other, both from actual physical dangers and from loneliness.  Even though they cannot communicate at first (due to their handicaps), a deep lasting bond develops between the two.  The two men are able to eventually communicate when they meet Ralph Brenter, and all three become integral members of the Boulder Free Zone.  However, this friendship ends in tragedy when Nick is killed by a bomb placed in house that he is in while meeting with other members of the Free Zone.  Tom never forgets his friend, and thinks of him fondly.

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This is another relationship that extends beyond the grave, as Nick’s ghost helps Tom save Stu Redman from certain death after the defeat of Randall Flagg.

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3)  Jake and Oy (The Dark Tower series)

Ah, a boy and his dog…does it get any sweeter than that?

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Well, actually, make that a boy and his bumbler.  But its still the same in principle.

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Animals are often major players in King’s works.  Cujo, Kojak and even the unfortunate cat Church all played major roles in the lives of the human beings around them.  Oftentimes, King’s animals are better people than the people in his stories, and Oy is no exception to that rule.

Cujo

Oy and Jake are another pair who manage to save each other.  Oy was an outcast from his pack and rescued by Jake, and joins Roland and the tet in their quest to save the Dark Tower.  Oy repays that favor in spades when he helps Roland save Jake from Gasher, a psychotic pedophile who seeks to rob Jake of his innocence.  This is just one of many times when Oy proves his worth as a four-legged gunslinger.  Oy is also the final piece of the puzzle for Jake, in that it is Oy who finally helps Jake feel at home in Mid-World, after his violent exit from his own world.  Oy becomes the glue that holds Jake to the quest, and to his new home in a strange place.

“I ake.”

Truer words could not be said by a billy bumbler (or anyone else), in expressing his feelings after what is one of the saddest deaths in any piece of literature I have ever read.

Jake and Oy


2) Duddits, Pete, Henry, Beaver and Jonesy (Dreamcatcher)

Childhood and all the joys and traumas associated with it is a major theme in many King books, and these books are among some of his best works.  Dreamcatcher is a novel that deals with childhood, especially the friendships that are formed between children.

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Pete, Henry, Beaver and Jonesy are a foursome.  They are the quintessential best friends, and are seemingly average children.  However, when they stand up for child with Down syndrome (Douglas “Duddits” Cavell), that changes.  Not only do the boys do something courageous and even noble, they make a new friend who will change their lives forever.  Duddits is able to open the boys’ eyes, making them see the world in a new light.  Duddits also gives the boys a gift of telepathy, as Duddits is no ordinary child.  This gift (and Duddits’ powers) will come in handy in adulthood, when the boys (who are now men) must face another adversary, one that is far worse than the bully they confronted as children.  Once again, Duddits brings the men together, and allows them to defeat the enemy before it has a chance to endanger our planet.  The ending is bittersweet, as Duddits, Pete and Jonesy sacrifice their lives in the fight.

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.

Oh, and shit weasels.  Perhaps one of the most delight creatures in any Stephen King book (or any book, for that matter).

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And now, I present to you my favorite Stephen King friendship of all time…

*drum roll please*

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1)  The Losers Club (It)

Well, what can I say, I’m not sure how else I can put it…

So I will just come out and say it.

Childhood is hell.  Really, I can’t think of a better way to say it.  And its so so true.

childhood is hell

Matt Groening even wrote a book about it…

However, the rabbit-like creatures (or whatever the heck they are, jury is still out on that one) in Matt Groening’s work have nothing on Ben, Beverly, Bill, Richie, Eddie, Stan and Mike.

Losers club 1

These guys really did have one hell of a childhood (see what I did there).  And that’s not necessarily a good thing…

Well, shape-shifting clowns that live in the sewers cannot possibly ever be a good thing.  And when the clown employs local bullies to do its dirty work, that is also not a good thing.

So what’s a kid living in scenic Derry, Maine to do?
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Somehow survive the encounters with that evil clown, and find other survivors to help fight that motherfucker!  And bonus points in giving that group of friends a cool name, aka The Losers Club!

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It was the book that popped my Stephen King cherry, and unlike certain other “first times”, I enjoyed this cherry popping immensely.  And my favorite part of It was the friendship between the kids.  I identified with all of them in one way or another, as I was bullied, and the notion of a clown living in the sewers of my hometown wasn’t really THAT far-fetched.

Beverly

I actually would have gladly fought alongside the Losers Club, risking my neck to defeat that bad, nasty old clown who had a horrible habit of killing the local kids (although he wasn’t picky, adults would do if times were lean).  I often felt invisible as a child, and I saw so many parallels to Derry in my own small, hometown, as it seemed everyone overlooked the wrong, and chose not to see what was really going on right underneath their noses.  I especially identified with Beverly Marsh, the lone female of the group (gingers of above average height, unite!) and longed for a love such as the one Ben had for Beverly.

Ben and Beverly

At one point in the book, one of the characters states that the other members of The Losers Club were the best friends he/she ever had.  And I agreed:  the members of The Losers Club were the best (book) friends I ever had.  And that is still true today.

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So there it is:  my top 10 friendships in Stephen King’s books.  Well, some of these friendships may not exactly be healthy ones, but all of them are certainly memorable.  And they are just one part of the amazing tapestry that we call a Stephen King book, adding layers of richness and color to an already elaborate, complex design.

So do you really want to be a friend to someone?  Well, here’s an idea:  introduce them to a Stephen King book, if he/she has never had the pleasure of experiencing one.  And I will guarantee you that you will make a friend for life!

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Top 10 non-horror Stephen King books

So let me paraphrase a conversation I had on Facebook recently.  COFG is me (Crazy Obsessed Fan Girl).  FOAF is the friend of a friend with whom I had this rather interesting conversation.

FOAF:  I don’t like Stephen King, his books are too scary!

FOAF:  I love The Shawshank Redemption, that is one of my favorite movies!

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COFG:  Stephen King wrote the story The Shawshank Redemption is based on.  Contrary to popular belief, the man known for shit weasels and scary clowns is an excellent writer.

FOAF: (Silence on her end.  Obviously, her mind was blown.  Does not compute.  Programming must be re-adjusted).

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Well, like I said, it was paraphrased.  Although you would be surprised how many people need to re-adjust their programming when they learn that scary dude wrote a story that was turned into a movie that received Oscar nods.,.gasp!  Oh, the horror (pun intended).

Stephen King

Which leads me to this blog post.

Yes, Stephen King writes scary stories.  Who hasn’t had a nightmare (or five) about an evil clown who emerges from the sewers and kills kids?  Who doesn’t scream when watching a movie like Pet Sematary, which is also probably the scariest book in existence on this planet?

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And all of the above is correct.  Stephen King can scare you to where you just might need a change of pants.  And oh boy, is he good at it!

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But…wait for it…Stephen King is also a great writer.  And I am completely leaving anything about horror off that last sentence.

Yes, Stephen King can write scary stories.  But he writes good stories.  Great stories, actually.  Really, really great stories, as a matter of fact.

And no, they are not scary stories.  Even in his “scary” stories, King is able to include universal themes.  For example, the theme of family is huge in The Shining.  And bullying is also a huge theme in stories such as Dreamcatcher and It.

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And in his “non-scary” stories, King often writes about frightening situations.  For example, domestic abuse is prevalent in stories such as Rose Madder and Dolores Claiborne.  Domestic violence is a situation that many people can identify with, and characters such as Norman Daniels are terrifying because they are so plausible.

To sum it up, King is a great writer.  However, he is somewhat stigmatized, because of the “horror” label.  And no one is more aware of it than the master himself, as he has been typecast for nearly 40 years.  However, this has not stopped him from churning out some amazing novels that cannot be categorized as horror.  And anyone who takes the time to read these works is in for a treat.  As these works are simply great writing, with the ability to grip the reader, and keep him/her trapped in the pages of the book until the last word.  And that is exactly what a good writer should do:  make the reader not want to put down that book.

So, without further ado, here are my top “non-horror” Stephen King books, for the the non-horror fans in our lives.

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10)  Lisey’s Story

Marriage is something that everyone is familiar with (especially me, since I’m on my second trip to the rodeo).  And almost everyone agrees that when you marry someone, you don’t really know them, even if the marriage lasts a good number of years.  Even when you live with someone day in and day out, there is still a secret side (or maybe more than one secret side) of that person.  And sometimes the secrets are harmless (like my book boyfriends I spend hours obsessing over).  Or sometimes the secrets are not so harmless.

Yes, those not so harmless secrets.  You know, when your spouse has the ability to travel to another dimension, and then heal himself but has to be careful not to attract the attention of a creature he calls “the Long Boy” since that creature is hungry for yummy things called human beings.

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That kind of secret does suck, and it is actually what the title character from Lisey’s Story encounters.  Upon the death of her husband Scott Landon, who was an accomplished writer during his lifetime, Lisey Landon begins to learn (or rather, have her memory jogged) as to what kind of man her husband really was.  And she also has an adventure in the alternate dimension mentioned above (complete with an encounter or two with a scary monster), so that she can set her life and memory of her husband right.  Yes, there is a monster or two (although the human monster is one of the scariest), but this book deals more with marriage and what we may keep from our spouses (harmless or not).  The book also deals with the still somewhat taboo subject of mental illness, which is a prevalent theme in this society, and manages to treat this sensitive subject with compassion.  Lisey’s Story may have a couple of monsters, but the themes are themes that resonate with everyone, and the book makes an enjoyable read for almost anyone.

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9)  Dolores Claiborne

So let’s talk about human monsters again.

“Lupus est homo homini.”  Man is a wolf to man.  In other words, let’s talk about man’s inhumanity to man.  Or technically, with this entry, man (and society’s) horrible treatment of women.

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Dolores Claiborne is disturbing.  Yet there are no monsters, at least of the supernatural variety.  The monsters in this one are all human.

The title character marries a man, thinking she will get to live happily ever after.  However, her life becomes anything but happy.  Dolores’ husband Joe begins to abuse her not long after he and Dolores marry.  Dolores takes matters into her own hands, as local law enforcement is proven to be useless (and is shown to be just that throughout the rest of the book).  Dolores does not endure any more abuse by Joe, but what follows is much, much worse.  Joe begins to turns his attentions on their daughter Selena, and begins sexually abusing Selena.  Again, local law enforcement (and society, for that matter), show their true colors, as no one is one the side of Dolores and her children.  Feeling desperate, Dolores seeks out advice from her employer, and decides that “an accident can be a woman’s best friend.”  She pushes Joe down a well, and convinces local authorities that is is an accident.  She is believed, but the incident comes back to haunt her upon the death of her employer, Vera.  The book is a recounting of what led Dolores to her actions, and of the terrible gender inequality that existed (and still exists in our society today) in 1960’s Maine island communities.

When I started reading Dolores Claiborne, I wondered why she did it.  About a third of the way through the book, I wondered why she didn’t do away with Joe much sooner than she did.  And I rooted for her.  I rooted for her to be able to take some control of her life, as no one, including her husband or even our society, was willing to let her have any control of anything in life, including the well-being of her children.  And Dolores was able to take a stand, and came out the winner.  And I like it when the good guys  girls win.

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8)  Rose Madder

Human monsters.  Yes, more human monsters.  In case you didn’t notice, this is a huge theme in this blog post and in King’s works.  In the book Rose Madder, once again, the biggest monster is completely human, and is someone you are supposed to trust.

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Norman Daniels is a cop.  And he is a very good good cop.  However, Norman is also a corrupt cop who has literally gotten away with murder.  Oh, and he beats his wife.  Real peach of a guy, huh?

Fortunately, Norma’s wife Rosie does not think her husband is a peach.  She endures terrible abuse from him for nearly 14 years.  King’s description of the abuse is quite graphic (Norman even sodomizes his wife with a tennis racket).  Rosie finally finds the courage to leave her husband, catch a Greyhound bus and start over in another city nearly 800 miles away from her home.  Rosie is helped along the way by the kindness of strangers and receives much needed support from a local women’s shelter.  She even meets and falls in love with a new man, and finds an interesting painting to hang in her new apartment.  However, Rosie’s past catches up with her, as Norman leaves behind a trail of bodies in his attempt to track down his estranged wife.  The new painting literally provides a means of escape for Rosie, as it leads her into another world (along with Norman) and Norman is finally given his just desserts.

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It is true that there is a supernatural element to Rose Madder.  However, most of the book takes place in a setting that almost everyone is familiar with (suburban America) and the characters (abusive men and abused women) are also sadly familiar.  Norman Daniels is a corrupt cop and an abusive husband.  He is one of the most believable characters ever written by King.  Watch your local or even national news, and a Norman Daniels is bound to surface.

The fact that Rose Madder partially takes place in the world of our friendly neighborhood gunslinger is just an added bonus to a fantastic story.

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7)  Hearts in Atlantis

The horrors of war are also something we are all familiar with, including Stephen King.  King brilliantly addresses this topic in his collections of novellas titled Hearts in Atlantis.  Although King made many allusions in prior works to his feelings on the Viet Nam War, he addresses the subject head on in the collection Hearts in Atlantis.  The result is an insightful analysis on the experience of coming in age during one of the most tumultuous times in American history.

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Hearts in Atlantis consists of two novellas and three short stories.  The first of these is titled Low Men in Yellow Coats, and is the only story that really contains any hint of the supernatural.  While the Viet Nam War is not directly referenced in this work, the protagonist Bobby Garfield learns a lesson about taking a stand against evil when his friend and elderly neighbor is pursued by sinister creatures that are clearly not of this world.  Bobby’s actions and stances on this will color his life for years to come, and serve as foreshadowing as to how some of his peers will take a stance against the conflict in Viet Nam.  The title story tells of a college student who nearly flunks out of college due to excessive amounts of time spent playing a card game.  However, the stakes of failure are very high, as anyone who fails out of college at the beginning of the Viet Nam War risks being sent overseas to fight a war in a country that most can barely pronounce or spell.  While struggling with his studies, Pete also struggles (in much the same manner as Bobby Garfield) with his stance on what is happening overseas.  Like Bobby, Pete also makes a stance that will forever change his life.  Blind Willie and Why We’re in Vietnam take place some years after the Viet Nam War is over, and are told from the prospective of those who served during that time.  The collection ends with the short story Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling, where we meet an adult Bobby Garfield who finally receives some closure in regards to the events during his childhood that have troubled him for so many years.

While many younger readers may find some of the stories in Hearts in Atlantis a bit dated, the themes (war, bullying, tolerance and taking a stance) are themes that anyone of any age should identify with, making the stories ones that will always be relevant and therefore timeless.

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6)  Different Seasons

As I stated before, Stephen King has struggled with typecasting.  However, the publication of the book Different Seasons put at least some of those criticisms to rest.  Different Seasons consists of three novellas, and the last work could be probably be considered a short story.  All four stories contain themes that we all familiar with:  injustice, bullying, parents’ relationships with their children, people who are not who they seem to be, etc.  In other words, they are stories of the human condition.

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The first story, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, tells the story of a man who is wrongfully imprisoned for killing him wife, and his struggles inside a system that seeks to keep him oppressed.  The story is told from the perspective of another prisoner, and reminds the reader time and time again that we must never give up hope. The second story, Apt Pupil, tells of a former Nazi war criminal who moves to suburban America and lives under an assumed name.  The man develops an unhealthy relationship with the boy next door, and his past comes back to haunt him and change his young neighbor in a way that is not for the better.  The third story, The Body, is the tale of four childhood friends and the last adventure that they have together before adulthood conspires to lead them on different paths.  The final story, The Breathing Method, tells of a young mother who gives birth out of wedlock in turn of the century America, and just how far she will go to deliver her baby safely, even when society and another unfortunate turn of events try to tell her otherwise.

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Humanity can be scary sometimes.  Oftentimes, humans, whether they are a former Nazi war criminal, a corrupt prison warden or even the innocent boy next door, are the scariest creatures on this planet.  But sometimes humans can be wonderful as well, and make marks on our lives that we will never forget.  Different Seasons does a wonderful job illustrating both sides of humanity and is just a fascinating study into what makes our species tick.

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5)  Eyes of the Dragon

When you think of kid friendly writers, Stephen King does not usually come to mind.  And rightfully so, as much of King’s work would be deemed “inappropriate” at best, and maybe “will traumatize one for life” at worst (as we can all see how reading King at age 12 made me the well-adjusted adult I am today…ha).  However, the book Eyes of the Dragon could be probably be an exception to that statement (if we leave out the parts about flaccid penises…yikes, awkward much?)

It said that King wanted to write a book that his daughter Naomi would want be allowed  to read.  So he wrote Eyes of the Dragon.  In many ways, Eyes of the Dragon is similar to the fairy tales that we all grew reading (or maybe our parents read them to us).  There are princes in a faraway kingdom.  The princes become orphaned and one becomes wrongfully imprisoned, but pulls off a daring escape plan using his mother’s childhood dollhouse, of all things.  And there is even an evil wizard thrown in the mix.  However, Eyes of the Dragon also has a decidedly darker tone than some of the fairy tales that I grew up with.  The protagonist does escape, but his captor never faces punishment.  And it could also be argued that the younger brother of the protagonist, who was also responsible for the imprisonment of his older brother, has not really become any wiser for all the troubles he has been through.

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Even though it is dark (this is a Stephen King book after all), Eyes of the Dragon is an unusual but fun departure from King’s normal work into a peculiar type of dark fantasy.  And like the fairy tales I remember from my youth, it does teach a few lessons that anyone of any age could stand to hear.

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4)  The Dead Zone

Its an age old question:  do we have the ability to see the future, and possible try to change it?  More importantly, should we have that ability?  This is a question that is explored in depth in the book The Dead Zone.

The Dead Zone is actually a scary book.  But again, there are no monsters, except for a couple of the human ones.  The Dead Zone is also a tragic book.  The protagonist, Johnny Smith (how can a name be more Every Man than Johnny Smith?) falls into a coma after a horrible car accident.  Johnny stays in the coma for nearly five years.  In the meantime, his world moves on without him.  This includes the woman he loves, who marries another.  Johnny wakes up from his coma, and discovers that he has the somewhat limited ability to see future events.  Sometimes this is a good thing, as it saves people’s lives and helps catch serial killers.  However, more often than not, Johnny’s unwanted gift brings unintended consequences and isolates him from his fellow man.  When Johnny discovers that a popular politician will one day become president and start World War III, he embarks on a quixotic quest to try and stop the man.  Again, Johnny finds himself isolated from his few remaining friends and family members.  Johnny is ultimately successful in his quest to stop the politician, but the success comes at a huge personal cost for Johnny and his loved ones.

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In The Dead Zone, King once again embarks upon a study in the human condition.  The ultimate result is tragedy, but the book is one of his most thought provoking reads of all time.

3)  Insomnia

It may be odd to think of horror and fantasy (in the style of Lord of the Rings) as being two sides of the same coin, but oftentimes these two categories blur, and it can get hard to distinguish one from the other.  The book Insomnia definitely falls into the category of dark fantasy and has therefore earned its place on this list.

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Insomnia follows the adventures of Ralph Roberts, a widower in his late 60’s.  Ralph has become inflicted with insomnia and is unable to sleep at night.  He then begins seeing some strange sights in his hometown of Derry, Maine. Ralph also discovers that his neighbor Lois has also become inflicted with insomnia and is seeing the same strange sights that he is.  The two discover that they are actually pawns in a game of sorts, and that the stakes are very, very high, and losing the game could spell disaster for not just them, but all of existence.  The story switches from fantasy (alternate dimensions) to reality throughout the book, and also gives the viewpoint of the world from senior citizens, who are often invisible at best, or treated as sub-humans at worst.  Ralph and Lois manage to save the day, but like many “saves” in a Stephen King book, it comes at a huge personal cost to Ralph and Lois some years later.  We also see Ralph and Lois fall in love during their ordeal, which is one of the most endearing love stories in any book, let alone a Stephen King book.

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Insomnia does a wonderful job playing up the darker aspects of the fantasy genre (The characters Atropos and The Crimson King are a great example of this) and also manages to treat the subject of aging in our youth obsessed society with sensitivity and even a little bit of humor.

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2)  The Talisman

Stephen King is often criticized for not being “literary” enough.  This may be because he sells so many books.  Or it may be the subject matter that he addresses in his books.  However, these critics fail to realize that Charles Dickens was a best-selling author in his lifetime.  Or that both Dickens and Mark Twain also took on social issues in their works, and that both authors’ works had some degree of darkness.  And both Twain and Dickens are taught in high schools and colleges across the world today.  Someday, Stephen King will be held in the same regard, and his work will be seen as “literature” and become part of standard college reading lists.  When that is the case, college professors would do well to include the next entry on this list:  The Talisman.

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Much like Insomnia, The Talisman can be categorized as dark fantasy.  It is the story of Jack Sawyer, who embarks on a trip across the United States in order to obtain a magical object referred to as The Talisman, in order to save his mother from dying of cancer.  Jack learns (or rather, has his memory jogged) that he has the ability to travel to an alternate reality that he calls The Territories.  Magic is commonplace in The Territories, but The Territories also come with their own dangers, as monsters and evil rulers are encountered at almost every turn.  Jack also has to deal with evil men who conspire against him in the “real” world, but has friends who guide him on his journey.  These friends include a werewolf and a wise old man named Speedy Parker, who is much more than what he seems.  In the true spirit of any fantasy/adventure story, Jack is ultimately successful in his quest, and is able to defeat his enemies and save his mother’s life.

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Much like the works of Twain, Dickens and even Robert Lewis Stevenson, The Talisman is a story of fantastical high adventure.  And much like the works of Charles Dickens and others, it explores controversial subjects, which include sexual and physical abuse of children, crime and punishment in our society and just how far someone will go to save the life of a loved one.  In other words, The Talisman may look like a children’s story, but like Speedy Parker, it is much more that what it seems.

And now, for our number entry on this list…

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I bring you…

1) 11/22/63

As stated before, Stephen King came of age during one of the most tumultuous eras in our country’s history.  Not only did King attend college during the height of the Viet Nam War, he was also just entering adulthood upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  Like most of his generation, this impacted King, and likely even affected his writing.  King alluded to this event many times (Wolves of the Calla and The Drawing of the Three contain a few references to Kennedy) but never addressed the subject head-on.  That is, until he wrote the number one entry on this list: 11/22/63.

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11/22/63 tells the story of Jake Epping, who lives in present day Maine.  Jake has an academic idea of John F. Kennedy, but has never really given the subject much thought.  However, Jake begins to give the subject much more thought when his friend Al reveals to him that there is a portal in the local diner owned by Al that allows one to travel back in time into 1958.  One can travel back and forth between time periods, and return to the present with only two minutes passing.  It is also revealed that traveling back to the present may “un-do” changes in the past.  Al persuades Jake to travel back in time and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy and possible change history for the better.  Jake becomes convinced of this and travels back in time to do just that.  Jake takes up residence in 1958, and makes new friends.  He also falls in love with a woman named Sadie, and actually begins to re-think his quest.  He realizes that the past is stubborn and does not want to be changed, but still continues on his quest.  Jake is ultimately successful in preventing the assassination, but at the cost of Sadie’s life.  Jake travels back to 2011 but barely recognizes his present, as the prevention of the assassination has indeed led to drastic changes in history that are not for the better.  Jake travels back to the portal and re-enters the present, therefore restoring the timeline.  This also restores the life of Sadie.  Jake realizes his presence in the past can only lead to disaster, and chooses not to travel back in time and pursue Sadie.  The book ends with Jake encountering an elderly lady who can only be Sadie, and sharing one last dance with her.

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11/22/63 is an epic story.  The story is equal parts historical fiction and a suspense thriller.  It also contains one of the best cases of a “doomed love” affair, as the romance between Jake and Sadie so sadly demonstrates.  The book is rich in detail with what life was really like in late 1950’s America, as many perceive that to be a simpler time period.  However, there is an incident where Jake encounters a sign for the “colored” restroom, and follows the sign.  The sign leads a tangle of grass and brier patches, providing Jake (and the reader) with a reality check as to what life was really like during that time period.  King provides a fascinating character study of Lee Harvey Oswald, who, to most people, is just a historical figure.  However, King manages to make him a little more human and even somewhat sympathetic, even though his actions are still ultimately evil.  In short, 11/22/63 is complex and rich book, that deals with major events in history (JFK, Viet Nam War, etc), while providing a human perspective on what many (especially younger readers like myself) view in an academic manner.  11/22/63 truly makes history come alive and actually become relevant.

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King has stated that 11/22/63 was the book that he always wanted to write about Viet Nam, JFK, etc.  However, this is Stephen King.  He always has a trick up his sleeve.  And the trick in 11/22/63 is a great one:  Jake encounters none other than Richie Tozier and Beverly Marsh, shortly after the Losers Club’s first confrontation with Pennywise the Clown.  And King is correct:  11/22/63 is the book about JFK, Viet Nam, etc that needed to be written.  But the fact that he was able to incorporate the evil clown from a novel that has inspired so many nightmares in what many would consider to be a historical (not horror) novel  is just further testament to the true genius that is Stephen King.

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So there it is.  The top 10 non-horror novels written by Stephen King.  So for the non-horror fan in your life, maybe one (or five) of these would make a great stocking stuffer!  Or if you have not read these, self present giving is always allowed!  And the only scary thing about these is that maybe you will just get hooked and be unable to stop reading!  But sometimes being scared is a good thing…happy reading, all!

RoaldDahl