We Still Make New Year’s Resolutions, Calvin!

So today is the last day of 2015…

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Tomorrow, we wake up to a brand new year.  And to a brand new start, as some may believe.

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And a boon to gym owners, as well.

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But you will not catch me in a gym.  Nor am I dieting, I like baking and cooking too much, and it would be a crime not to reap the pleasures, right?  I would like more money, but so far, that bitchy pi has not revealed my winning lotto ticket…slacker!

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Nor am I like the Indianapolis Colts.  In other words, I don’t need to do any housecleaning after 2015.

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In fact, like last year, I am kind of like this guy when it comes to New Year’s resolutions:

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Like Calvin, I think I am pretty swell, say thank ya!  The rest of the world needs to make a New Year’s resolution, not me!

But, I am going to make a resolution any way.  So maybe I am not so perfect…

Since last year’s resolution went so smashingly well, I am making a resolution for 2016.

In 2015, I re-read the entire Dark Tower series.  This included The Wind Through the Keyhole.  I read The Gunslinger, which I have a history of skipping…it was the revised version, even.

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And since I enjoyed my journey through Mid-World with ole, long, tall and ugly so much, I decided to make another resolution involving The Master (it is this blog, don’t act surprised).

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So, without further ado…

My 2016 New Year’s resolution is…

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To read at least one Stephen King book a month.  And since The Master has blessed us (and hopefully continues to do so for a long, long time) with so many books, I have a lot to choose from.

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I may take a trip to the sewers of Derry with The Losers Club…at my own risk, of course.

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Or meet up with a notorious HI-TONED SON OF A BITCH, although I hear he has an aversion to certain kinds of birds…

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Or maybe do a bit of shopping…I hear the owner negotiates!

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But hopefully, no car trouble on my journey…

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I can reunite with old friends, like Travelin’ Jack!

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Even though I have read many of King’s books many, many times, there is still a thrill in the re-read.  I feel like I’ve come home, and everything is just as I have left it.  I know where the TV is (although the remote is still a pesky little bitch and insists on hiding from me).  My key fits in the lock even after all this time, and the door opens up for me, even after all these years.  I can wander into the kitchen for a midnight snack, and not feel like an interloper.  Indeed, reading a Stephen King brings a literary kind of cozy, much like curling up on the couch with a warm blanket and furry friend.

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So, one Stephen King book per month for 2016.  Actually, let’s change that to at least one.  After all, why should I limit myself?  Yeah, I shouldn’t limit myself, not at all!  Nobody should, especially when there is a plethora of books to read and review!  Yay for New Year’s Resolutions, Calvin!

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So, this is the last post of 2015…sniff…wait a minute, 2016 is mere hours away, hope you aren’t too heartbroken by my absence!  Happy New Year’s to both  all my readers, and may 2016 be an adventure for you as well!

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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).

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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!

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

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

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

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

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


Synopsis

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

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

Jamie De Curry

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

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

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

Eyes of the Dragon 1

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

2013-Dodge-Dart-Feature-0507_rdax_646x396

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

WTK 2

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

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

Oy 1

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

tyger

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

Maerlyn's rainbow

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

magic carpet

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

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

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

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

Gabrielle 1

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

the dark tower cover_0


 

My Thoughts

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

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

fairytale_landscape_by_reinmar84-d6uaii7

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

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

Merlin 1

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

Forgive


 

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

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

batman and robin


 

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

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

the stand

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

The_Crimson_King_by_Verin88

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

The_Library_Policeman_by_TheHouseOfIdeas

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

Tak_Likes_TV_by_bluefreak

 

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

wizard of oz 1

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

Merlin

 

Love can be a killer: My review of Wizard and Glass

Who doesn’t remember the first time he/she fell in love?  While I am happily married now and would not trade that for the world, nothing can compare to my first.  I was 19 and maybe a bit of a late bloomer.  I also spent most of high school being invisible to the guys.

late_bloomer

Then came college.  I think my parents had been gone for all of 15 minutes or so when I started dating.  Or something like that.

Yes, I fell in love.  It was glorious.  My body began to behave in ways I never knew that it could.  Let’s just say I became a woman rather quickly.  And I started actually living for another human being and began to build hopes and dreams around him.  And I let someone see the side of me that was previously only for behind closed doors.  Previously, the line “I couldn’t feel, so I learned to touch” was one that applied to me.  But I started being able to feel, and boy did I touch too!

Sadly (or maybe correctly) it was not meant to be.  And the heartbreak was excruciating.  This was definitely not something advertised when I fell in love!  And even to this day, that breakup still hurts me a little bit, even though I consider myself a (mostly) happy, well adjusted adult in a great relationship.  But the lessons (and the scars) from that first experience of falling in love still remain, and will probably remain for a long, long time.

heartbreak

As I have stated in my previous entries, it turns out that Roland Deschain is actually human and has feelings…who knew?  Do cold-blooded killing machines fall in love and experience heartbreak?  Do they experience intense sexual desire for another person that is born out of genuine attraction, as opposed to a simple need for release?  It turns out that they do.  Or at least the one we call Roland Deschain does.  And the story of his first love, from the initial meeting to the torrid affair to the truly sad ending makes my experience of falling in love and breaking up for the first time seem like a ride on the kiddie roller coaster.

roland-and-susan-kiss

So strap in, and get ready for the ride of your life, as I review The Dark Tower IV:  Wizard and Glass.

 

roller coaster 1

 


 

 

Synopsis

Wizard and Glass begins where the cliffhanger in The Wastelands left off:  Roland and his friends are aboard Blaine the Mono, a sentient train that has also gone insane.  Roland has challenged Blaine to a riddling contest, as Blaine loves riddles.  If Roland and his friends lose the contest, Blaine will commit suicide and take the ka tet with him.  If Roland and his friends win the contest, Blaine will spare their lives.  It is revealed that Blaine is cruel and loves to hurt other living creatures.

Blaine 2

Each member of the tet takes a turn at asking Blaine a riddle.  Blaine easily answers all of them.  Eventually, Jake, Eddie and Susannah run out of riddles and Roland takes over, as riddling contests were something Roland participated in as a child.  However, even Roland is unable to stump Blaine, and the tet becomes more sure of the death that awaits them, with each passing mile.

During the riddling contest, Eddie becomes lost in thought.  And to the surprise of his friends, especially Roland, it is Eddie who figures out how to stump Blaine: jokes.  Blaine’s programming cannot handle jokes (which are still a form of riddle).  Eddie begins to tell Blaine jokes, and Blaine is unable to answer these kinds of “riddles.”  Eventually, the jokes cause Blaine’s systems to short circuit, leading to his “death.”  The tet steps off the train to continue on in their journey.

Short-Circuit_13_03_25

Much to the surprise of Eddie, Jake and Susannah, Roland and his friends encounter a world that is eerily similar to “the real world” once they step off of Blaine the Mono.  There are signs indicating that the tet has entered Topeka, KS, which does not “exist” in Mid-World.  Roland and his friends also find vehicles and newspapers, both of which are not found in Mid-World.  However, this world differs from the world of Eddie, Jake and Susannah in one very important way:  99.99 % of the population has been killed off by the “super flu“, making it more similar in its nature to Mid-World, as it also has appears to have “moved on.”  Roland informs the rest of the tet that they have entered a “thinny“, a sort of gateway between worlds that has formed due to the deterioration of reality.  Roland also begins to remember the thinny he encountered in his childhood, and realizes that he must tell the tale to his friends, and soon.

thinny 1

 

Roland and his friends come to a stop and set up camp.  Roland then begins to tell the tale of his childhood, and his first love, Susan Delgado.

Susan Delgado 6

We learn that Roland was the youngest to ever best his teacher, Cort, and earn the title of gunslinger.  However, Roland has made an enemy in Marten Broadcloak after he wins his guns, as Marten committed acts of adultery with Roland’s mother Gabrielle, in the hopes of angering Roland into taking an early test of his manhood.  Marten hoped that Roland would fail the test, and be sent West as punishment.  Roland was indeed angered, but Marten’s plans went awry when Roland became the youngest ever (age 14) to pass the test and earn his guns.  Roland’s father Steven becomes concerned for his son’s safety, and sends Roland and his friends Alain and Cuthbert to Meijis, under assumed names, in an attempt to protect them all from Marten’s evil schemes.

cuthbert and alain

Roland and his friends arrive in Meijis under the guise that they will be taking an inventory of everything in Hambry, including horses.  Roland almost immediately notices that the number of horses in Hambry is extraordinarily high for a town of its size.  Roland also almost immediately notices a young girl by the name of Susan Delgado, who is very beautiful.  And the attraction between Roland and Susan is mutual even upon their first meeting.  However, Susan hints to Roland that she is promised to another, and Roland does not pursue her.  We also learn that Susan is promised in marriage to Mayor Hart Thorin by her greedy aunt, Cordelia Delgado.

HThorin

 

King also introduces us to a group of men called The Big Coffin Hunters.  This group includes a man named Eldred Jonas, who appears to have once been a gunslinger.  These men appear to act as bodyguards of sorts for Mayor Hart Thorin.  Roland and his friends become almost immediately suspicious of them, and Eldred and his friends return the favor.

eldred_jonas

We are also introduced to a woman known as Rhea of the Coos.  She is known in Hambry as the local witch woman, and is described as a crone.  Eldred and his friends entrust with the guardianship of a mysterious pink crystal ball that they refer to as “Maerlyn’s Grapefruit.”

Maerlyn's rainbow

 

It does not take long for Jonas and his friends to clash with Roland and his friends.  Cuthbert comes to the defense of a mentally disabled man named Sheemie one night at a bar, and draws the ire of Eldred Jonas.  The altercation is broken up by local law enforcement, but both sides quickly become suspicious of each other’s true natures.

sheemie

Roland and Susan try their hardest to stay away from each other so that Susan may fulfill her contract to Hart Thorin, but the mutual attraction is too powerful, and they begin a torrid affair.  They attempt to keep the affair a secret, but Roland’s friends quickly realize that their leader has become lovestruck, and begin to question his decisions, as they fear that danger is coming to Meijis.  And they are right to fear danger, as it is revealed that Eldred Jonas and his friends are secretly working for someone named The Good Man, who is anything but good and intends to destroy the Affiliation and the way of life in Roland’s world.  Rhea of the Coos also discovers the affair between Roland and Susan, via Maerlyn’s Grapefruit.  Cordelia, Susan’s aunt, becomes suspicious of Roland and her niece, and passes these suspicions on to Eldred Jonas.  Jonas uses this information in an attempt to begin the demise of Roland and his friends.

Cordelia

Roland, Alain and Cuthbert soon come to blows over Roland’s behavior and what Cuthbert feels to be poor decision making on Roland’s part.  However, the three also come to realize that Susan is part of their ka tet, and that she will be involved in whatever plans that are made to take on Jonas and the others working against the Affiliation.  Roland, Susan, Alain and Cuthbert meet, and agree to set fire to the oil patches in Hambry on Reaping Day, as that is when Jonas has planned his attack.  The four know it will be risky, but are willing to take on the challenge.  Roland also promises Susan that he will help her escape from Hambry, along with Sheemie, as they will be considered fugitives if the attempt is successful.

In the meantime, Jonas schemes with the mayor’s sister, Coral Hart.  Mayor Hart is then murdered by Jonas and his friends, and the murder is pinned on Roland and his friends.  Roland, Alain and Cuthbert are then arrested by Sheriff Avery, and are thrown in the Hambry jail, so that Jonas and the Good Man may continue with their plans.

John_Farson

 

Susan is able to free Roland, Cuthbert and Alain from jail, with the help of Sheemie.  The two reunite with Roland and his friends, so that they may carry out their plans to set fire to the oil patches and stop Jonas and the Good Man.

Roland leaves Susan alone with Sheemie in a hut outside of town, and he, Cuthbert and Alain begin to set fire to the oil patches, which causes quite a few explosions.  However, Susan is discovered by Jonas, who was in turn aided by Maerlyn’s Grapefruit.  Susan is arrested for treason and taken back into town to face her punishment.

Roland and his friends are successful, and are able to defeat Jonas and most of his men.  The encampment set up by the Good Man and his cohort, George Latigo, is burned to the ground by Roland, Alain and Cuthbert.  Roland also captures Maerlyn’s Grapefruit from Jonas, and experiences visions while trapped within the glass.  Roland realizes that the Dark Tower itself has become corrupted, and that he must embark on a quest to save the Tower.

dark tower

 

However, Susan Delgado is not so lucky.  Susan is burned alive for treason by a mob led by her Aunt Cordelia.  Roland witnesses this in Maerlyn’s Grapefruit, but is powerless to help Susan.  Susan’s last words before her death are those expressing her love for Roland.

Susan Delgado

Roland, Cuthbert and Alain then head back to Gilead, leaving the destruction of Meijis behind them.  Roland is still under the influence of Maerlyn’s Grapefruit even as he and his friends leave Meijis, and has become a changed man, in more ways than one.

The story then returns to the present.  Roland, Eddie, Jake, Susannah and Oy continue on The Path of the Beam but encounter a strange sight:  there is an image of what appears to be the castle in the Emerald City of Oz.  Roland and his friends then head into the castle and are given red shoes of various styles to fit their personalities.  Even Oy is given red booties.

wizard of oz 1

The tet then encounters some familiar faces in the “castle”:  Andrew Quick and Randall Flagg.  Andrew Quick is shot in the head and easily dispatched.  However, Randall Flagg is not so easily disposed.  Maerlyn’s Grapefruit makes another appearance, and this time traps Eddie, Jake, Susannah and Oy.

Eddie and the others are then subjected to one last vision of Roland’s past.  They learn that Roland committed one of the worst sins: matricide.  Rhea of the Coos followed Roland back to Gilead, and was able to trick him into (accidentally) murdering his mother, as she was seeking forgiveness from her son for her indiscretions with Marten Broadcloak.  This is something that Roland had been keeping secret from his new friends, but is brought to light by Flagg in an attempt to break up the tet and convince them to abandon their quest.  However, Eddie, Jake, Susannah and Oy refuse to give and swear their loyalty to Roland.  The castle then disappears, and the tet wakes up about 30 miles away from their previous location.

The book ends with Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy again pointed on the Path of the Beam, continuing their quest to seek the Dark Tower.

the dark tower cover_0

 


 

My Thoughts

So many thoughts on Wizard and Glass.  In fact, maybe too many thoughts.  But I will try to keep it brief (ha!).

Before I go into the love story, Roland’s past, etc, let me give some credit where credit is due.  And that credit needs to go to my main man, Eddie Dean.  After all, he saved the day.  When things looked bleak, Eddie was able reach deep down inside himself, gather up his reserves and…tell a few silly jokes!  But those silly jokes are what save the day, as they destroy Blaine and save the ka tet from certain death at the hands of an insane mono.  Roland was right to want kiss Eddie’s feet (not really, but I did get that feeling), as Eddie was the only member of the tet to come up with a solution.  And for that, Eddie deserves much commendation.

Eddie 1

 

In the previous books (The Drawing of the Three and The Wastelands), I discussed the fact that Roland the cold blooded killing machine seemed to be developing a bit of a personality (his love for Jake and his vulnerability being two great examples of this).  But Wizard and Glass will always be the book where we see major growth in Roland.  The story of his childhood in Meijis provides a lot of that growth.  But don’t discount Roland’s interactions with his companions, who have really become his peers at this point in the journey.  Roland shows even more vulnerability, especially when telling the tale of Susan Delgado and when the circumstances of his mother’s death are revealed.  Roland’s reaction and apologies to Eddie when Eddie rescues the tet from certain death on Blaine the Mono are also evidence of his humanity, and demonstrate how his new friends have humbled him.  All of this serves to emotionally invest the reader as well in Roland’s quest.  His quest not only becomes the quest of Jake, Eddie, Susannah and Oy, but also becomes the quest of the reader as well.

I hate love stories.  Romance sucks.  Chic flicks suck (except for The Heat, Miss Congeniality, and Legally Blonde).  Did I mention that I HATE romance?

In case you can’t tell from the above paragraph, the best part of Wizard and Glass was the romance between Roland and Susan.  No, really!  Romance when its in a Stephen King book is not like other romances…its a a cool romance!

Seriously, the romance between Roland and Susan is one of my favorite parts of this book.  And that includes almost everything about their relationship.  I loved how they met and were almost instantly attracted to each other, but still tried to stay away from each other, even as the tension kept building.  And boy, does that tension build!

roland and susan 2

But Roland and Susan are unable to stay away from each other, and finally the tension snaps.  And that snap has to be one of the hottest, sexiest snaps in anything I have ever read, far better than certain, other popular romances Fifty Shades of Grey, you have nothing on the master.  Not only is the relationship between Roland and Susan incredibly sweet (the image of the hardened gunslinger kissing away his love’s tears always gets me.  Every.  Single.  Time.), it is also incredibly erotic and passionate.  Roland is not only capable of kissing away Susan’s tears, he is also capable (almost in the same breath) of kissing her on the lips until her lips bled.  And he is able to illicit sexual feelings in Susan almost from the moment they met (I loved the image of Susan “taking care of herself”, so to speak.  Its rare that female sexuality is addressed in literature, especially in a book that is supposed to be a mix of fantasy, horror and western).  Really, does any mortal man  jackass Christian Grey sure doesn’t  have anything on Roland the gunslinger?  Whew, time for me to take a cold shower!

cold shower

I mentioned that I loved almost everything about about the romance in Wizard and Glass.  But what I didn’t love was the demise of Susan Delgado.  I just can’t imagine being burned alive by a mob.  And that mob included her own aunt.  And Roland could do nothing about it, except watch in the same manner people watch car wrecks because they can’t look away.  But the part that got to me the most was Susan declaring her love for Roland as she is being burned alive.  When I first read that part in the book, I was introduced to the concept of the “ugly cry.”  Only people with ice water running through their veins could not be affected by the death of Susan Delgado.

ugly cry

Wizard and Glass is also rife with bad guys.  Eldred Jonas, George Latigo and Blaine the Mono are a few.  But lets pay homage to a baddie that does not get nearly enough press.

Yes, Rhea of the Coos.  I am talking about you.  In the past, I envisioned you as this lady:

maga-magc3b2

Hey, don’t knock it, she even has a pink dress, and I understand that pink is a very special color for you!

Although some people may have this image in their minds:

beverly hillbillies irene

Rhea of the Coos is horrible.  And manipulative.  Evil.  I can’t think of any redeemable qualities.  None at all.  In other words, a perfect villain.  One of King’s most underrated villains, in this blogger’s humble opinion.  And when King describes her “relations” with her pet snake and pet cat (and they are mutants…gross much?), I shudder.  Even the image of Rhea herself is frightening, especially when King describes her appearance after the obsession with Maerlyn’s Grapefruit has taken over her life.  I love to be scared, and Rhea of the Coos fits that bill quite nicely!

rhea of the coos


 

Ah, young love.  There is nothing quite like it.  And nothing quite so painful when it ends, as Wizard and Glass reminds us all too well.  But its still fun to revisit that feeling, if only to be reminded that some experiences are more painful that others (Wizard and Glass also drives that point home).

Well, be prepared for an interlude…

No, not an interlude from this blog, silly!  I am going on vacation soon, but I will still be visiting the world of the Dark Tower, as my next book to read and review will be The Wind Through the Keyhole, where our favorite tet will be taking a break from their journey for more story time from Roland himself!

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

batman and robin

 


 

Connections

Here we go again.  Some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in Wizard and Glass:

-After Roland and friends  leave Blaine the Mono, they encounter a thinny that seems to lead into the “real world”.  However, this world has been decimated by the super flu.  This world is none other than the world of The Stand.  The tet also sees graffiti referencing The Walkin’ Dude and Mother Abigail, both of whom are the major characters in The Stand.

Mother Abigail

-The tet also encounters a deserted park in what is Kansas in the world of The Stand.  The park has a children’s ride that is actually a train eerily similar to the train in the book owned by Eddie, Susannah and Jake.  In the book Cell, the main characters also encounter a similar ride in what is also an abandoned theme park.  Roland remarks that the deterioration of The Tower is likely responsible for such maladies as the super flu.  In  Cell, the malady experienced by the world in that book was known as The Pulse, which caused anyone using a cell phone to turn into a zombie.  This is interesting, as it implies that Mid-World, the world in The Stand and the world in Cell may actually be very close neighbors on The Tower, as all three have “moved on” in similar fashion.

RaggedyMan

Wizard and Glass is the first book to discuss the concept of a “thinny” or a deterioration between worlds that allows people to travel between worlds.  This is a concept discussed in several other King novels and short stories.  King’s most notable work featuring a thinny is the novella The Mist, where a doorway between worlds (a thinny, in other words) is accidentally opened up in a secret military experiment, and allows monsters from another dimension to invade that world, killing off most of the population.

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Henry Dean is mentioned to have a friend by the name of Skipper Brannigan.  Skipper Brannigan is also mentioned to be an enemy of Dinky Earnshaw in the short story Everything’s Eventual.  This implies that Henry, and therefore Eddie, grew up in the same neighborhood and time period as Dinky Earnshaw.

Dinky

 

-The name of the park where Roland and his friends encounter children’s ride is Gage Park.  Of course, Gage is the name of the unfortunate little boy in Pet Sematary.

Gage 1

 

-Roland uses the alias “Will Dearborn” during his time in Meijis.  There is a character by the name of Sandy Dearborn in the novel From a Buick 8.

From_a_Buick_8_by_nosprings

 

-Sylvia Pittson is mentioned in Wizard and Glass.  Sylvia Pittson was the mad preacher woman who helped turn the town of Tull against Roland in The Gunslinger, causing him to kill every single inhabitant of the town, including women and children.

tull 2

-Rhea of the Coos is also mentioned in the book Eyes of the Dragon.  This seems to confirm that the world in Eyes of the Dragon is the same world that Roland inhabits.

Eyes of the Dragon 1

And the journey begins: My review of The Gunslinger

So, I made a New Year’s resolution a few weeks ago.  I am not a big fan of those, but I figured this one was possibly one I could stick to.  And I am sticking to it, as I just finished reading The Gunslinger (book one of the Dark Tower series), earlier this week.  And I don’t think I have ever been this excited about a New Year’s resolution.

Calvin and Hobbes

My only complaint was that I didn’t get started a little earlier.  However, the NFL season has basically come to a close.  Now that my poor, beleaguered Indianapolis Colts are watching the Superbowl from their couches (like 99.9% of the population), I suddenly have lots of free time, kind of like how Snoop Dogg had lots of free time when he announced he was giving up a certain, er, past time several years ago.

And if I can’t watch Andrew Luck show the world how to be a gunslinger on my television set, I can read about a gunslinger.  Namely, Roland Deschain.  Look up anti hero in the dictionary, and you will find Roland’s picture.  Or at least you should.  He is everything an anti hero should be, and more.  He was an anti hero even before the term is thrown around like it is today.  Jax Teller and Tony Soprano have nothing on this guy, I say.

Oakland Raiders v Indianapolis ColtsRoland 1

So let us begin the journey into what may be one of the most epic sagas in literature of all time.

Synopsis

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Every tale begins somewhere, and that is where The Gunslinger begins.  An un-named man, referred to as a gunslinger, is chasing another man (who can only be the antagonist of the book) across a desert.  We have no idea why the gunslinger is pursuing the man in black.  Neither character has a name.  We also don’t know where this chase is occurring.  But if any line can hook us in, it is this line.  Still one of the best lines in any book.  Maybe the best line ever.

tull 1

We learn that the gunslinger is a man named Roland, and he is on a quest, traveling a landscape that is similar to what we would find in a Clint Eastwood movie, or perhaps a Sergio Leone movie.  Roland starts the journey alone, but he soon finds himself in the company of a man named Brown.  Brown also owns a talking parrot.  Brown offers Roland food, water and a temporary place to rest.  We then learn, through a flashback, more of Roland’s journey.  More specifically, we learn of Roland’s time in a town by the name of Tull.  Roland had stopped in Tull for food and water.  Roland also enjoyed the company of a woman named Allie.  However, a preacher named Sylvia Pittson has a powerful hold over some of the people in Tull.  It turns out that the gunslinger’s nemesis, the man in black, has been using Sylvia Pittson and a drug addict named Nort to turn the town against Roland.  And he is successful, as the entire town turn, even Roland’s lover Allie, does indeed turn against the gunslinger.  Roland is then forced to kill every single inhabitant of the town of Tull.  No one is safe, including Allie, Sylvia Pittson, Sheb the piano player or even the children of Tull.  Roland then moves on from Tull to continue in his quest, seemingly undeterred.

tull 2

Roland also eventually abandons the company of Brown and continues to travel across the desert landscape on the heels of the man in black.  However, he comes across a roadblock in an abandoned way station.  Roland discovers a boy, about 11 years old, named Jake.  Curiously, Jake possesses memories of television sets and automobiles, items not found in Roland’s world.  Jake also states he was pushed in front of a moving vehicle and thinks that he died, but woke up in Roland’s world for some reason.  Roland continues on his quest with Jake in tow.  Roland saves Jake from an encounter with a succubus, but succumbs to the succubus in exchange for information regarding his future.  He also shares tales of his boyhood with Jake, which include the hanging of the traitor cook Hax witnessed by Roland and his friend Cuthbert and Roland’s early test of manhood in which he obtains the right to call himself a gunslinger.  Jake begins to grow wary of his new friend, as he senses Roland will stop at nothing in quest to seek the man in black.

Jake Chambers

Roland and Jake eventually make their way into a tunnel below the mountains, and use an ancient mine cart to speed their journey along.  They are attacked by what Roland calls “Slow Mutants”, or horribly deformed creatures which are implied to be the product of a nuclear war.  Roland and Jake also find the man in black but are placed in a situation where Jake ends up dangling from the tracks.  Roland is faced with the choice of sacrificing Jake and continuing his quest or rescuing Jake and losing the man in black.  Roland then opts to sacrifice Jake for his quest, letting him fall to the abyss and die a second time.  Jake is not surprised about the choice and falls silently to his death.

the-dark-tower-slow-mutants

Roland then catches up with the man and holds what he calls a “palaver” with his nemesis.  The man in black reveals himself to be Marten Broadcloak, the man who attempted to trick Roland into an early test of manhood, so that Roland would be sent West and out of Marten’s way, leaving Marten to his own evil devices.  Marten was unsuccessful, as Roland became a gunslinger at the unheard of age of 14.  Marten then deals Roland cards from a deck of tarot cards.  The first is “The Sailor.”  The second is “The Prisoner”.  The third is “The Lady of Shadows.”  Lastly, Marten deals Roland the card that simply says “Death”, implying that Roland will be able to cheat death many times over.  He also informs Roland that he will be sent companions to aid him on his quest, but that he will need to embark on a journey to seek out these companions.  Marten also tries to entice Roland to give up on his quest and gives Roland a view of the multiverse, to show Roland his insignificance and also to attempt to intimidate Roland.  Roland refuses to give up is quest, and is placed into a deep slumber by Marten.

man in black

When Roland wakes up, 10 years have passed and the man in black has disappeared, leaving  only a skeleton.  Roland is alone at the edge of the Western Sea, contemplating the next leg of his journey.

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My Thoughts

First of all, let me confess something (I hope I am among friends for this one).  I read the Gunslinger about 10 years ago and HATED it.  I almost gave up on the entire Dark Tower series (gasp) because I just did not care for it.  I thought it was boring and even confusing in parts.  Luckily, I pushed myself to go to the next books, and the rest is history.  However, in my re-reads of the series (and there have been several), I always skipped to The Drawing of the Three and ignored The Gunslinger.  I know, bad me.  Very bad me.

breaking bad

But I am glad I took my New Year’s resolution to heart and started with The Gunslinger.  I read the revised edition this time around, which may have helped.  But I think I was just immature 10 years ago and was unable to appreciate this book, which is one of King’s best.  Its even one of his overall best, ranking up there with The Stand, It, etc.  I will still admit its a bit of a difficult book to read, with the flashbacks and disturbing moments, such as Jake’s death, but it is worth it.

I think my favorite part of The Gunslinger was the element of surrealism that is present throughout the book.  Of course, this book has to be considered a western, first and foremost.  But the presence of creatures known as “Slow Mutants” and the glimpses of “the real world”, such as Citgo gas stations reminded me that the science fiction element cannot be ignored.  And the post apocalyptic imagery, combined with the western feel and the science element, just added to the surrealism.  At times, I felt like I was seeing a Salvadore Dali painting of a Sergio Leone film (I don’t think it  can get more surreal than that).

Dali painting 1

Stephen King has drawn controversy in some circles with the revision of The Gunslinger, but it is pretty clear that this was the right move.  The revisions clear up some confusion and enhance the story overall.  In particular, Allie chanting “19” in the presence of the undead Nort was one of my favorites.  Given the significance of the number 19 throughout the entire TV series, it made sense why the man in black was able to turn Tull against Roland so easily and why Roland had to dispatch the entire town the way he did (although that will still be one of the most disturbing scenes in any book that I have ever read).

Another favorite part of mine in regards to this book are the flashback scenes.  The flashback to Roland’s time in Tull was shiver worthy.  He dispatched an entire town…an entire town!  He even killed off the kids and the woman who was his lover!  Even Sheb, whom he supposedly knew from another time and another place.  And it looked like he had no problem killing everyone in an entire town, even the children.  That scene really made me question Roland’s humanity, even though he did have good reasons for his actions.  I also loved the flashback to the hanging of Hax the cook that Roland witnessed as a child, and his test of manhood when he obtains the right to call himself gunslinger at the age of 14.  This test stood out for me in particular, because Roland used his hawk David as a weapon.  Yes, he used a living bird as a weapon to battle his teacher Cort, so that he could obtain his guns…hawks are not everyday weapons.  However, David becomes a tool for Roland and serves his purpose.  David  can perhaps be considered the first casualty in Roland’s quest.  The death of David also serves as a foreshadowing for Jake’s fate.  The flashback scenes also give us some insight into Roland’s character, making him into something more than a human killing machine.

Roland and David

Roland’s interaction with “the man in black” (aka Randall Flagg aka Marten Broadcloak aka many other names) was also an interesting point to the book.  Normally, Randall Flagg is a character that works on the sidelines and tends to stay in the shadows.  In other words, he is present, but tends not to be an active player.  Flagg often gets others to do his dirty work for him.  Eyes of the Dragon and The Stand offer many examples of this.  This tendency is also present in The Gunslinger, as Flagg attempts to turn the town of Tull against Roland.  However, Roland also directly confronts the man in black and survives.  In fact, Roland even talks to the man in black and refuses to give up his quest.  And still survives.  This makes Roland quite the rarity in the King universe, as very few encounter Randall Flagg and live to tell the tale.

Roland and Flagg

 

Like Calvin, I think I am pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.  I don’t need to make New Year’s resolutions…not really.  But even us awesome people transgress every now and then, and really should actually make a New Year’s resolution so we can become even more awesome.  For example, pledging to read the entire Dark Tower series, starting with The Gunslinger and finding out what you missed in the prior reading is a pretty good place to start!

Stay tuned for my next review…of the The Drawing of the Three…same bat time, same bat channel!

batman and robin

 

Connections

Obviously, The Gunslinger is the first in a series of eight books and is connected to the other 7 books, so I will not even discuss that aspect.  However, I found some interesting parallels between The Gunslinger and some other works by King, so here are the connections I found:

-Randall Flagg aka the man in black aka Marten Broadcloak is the most obvious connection.  This is a villain who appears in several books, most notably The Stand, Eyes of the Dragon and possibly Hearts in Atlantis.  He is the very definition of an uber villain in King’s universe.

Randall_Flagg_by_Clayman84

-“Legion” is also mentioned.  In The Stand, Tom Cullen refers to Flagg as Legion.  Legion is also an anagram of the surname of Andre Linoge in Storm of the Century.  King reminds again that Flagg is definitely a supernatural being.

-Sylvia Pittson is just one of a long list of King characters overtaken by religious mania.  This list would include Mrs. Carmody (The Mist) and Margaret White (Carrie).  In most King works, religious mania does not bode well for the leader or the followers, and the fate of Sylvia Pittson and the town of Tull is no different.

Margaret White

-“The Interloper” is mentioned in The Gunslinger.  The Interloper is implied to be the Devil or the Anti Christ.  This was a term used to describe Flagg in The Stand.  Margaret White also made reference to The Interloper in Carrie.

-King also begins in building his universe in The Gunslinger, as he implies that Roland’s world is a post apocalyptic version of the “real world.”  Mentions are made of items such as gas pumps, which are items readily recognizable in our world.  Jake also appears to be from the “real world”, as he speaks of automobiles and television sets.  There are also references to some kind of nuclear war, as creatures suffering the effects of radiation poisoning are mentioned multiple times.  King has made some firm connections, setting up for the action in future Dark Tower books and other works.

Midworld