Catching Up With Travelin’ Jack: My Review of Black House

Throughout our lives, we meet people.

This seems to be especially true in childhood.  After all, we go to school.  And we play sports, go to camp, etc.  And live in a neighborhood, surrounded by other people, many of whom are families with children.

It’s easy to meet other people when you are a child.  In fact, you meet people, and they come in and out of your life.  Sometimes, it’s the ones who are in your life for the shortest amount of time who have the most impact.  I met so many people at all those nerdy summer camp programs that I attended who were the greatest, but I only had the privilege to know them for all of two weeks, at the most.  Those two weeks seemed like a lifetime to me, but a lifetime that flew by too quickly.

Sometimes, I think about those people I met in childhood, especially the ones who I only knew for such a short period of time.  And I wonder what happened to them, and what kind of adults they turned out to be.  Hopefully, the awesome children turned out to be even more awesome adults.  I would like to believe that, any way.

One of my favorite characters from any Stephen King novel (yeah, you knew where this was going, don’t act surprised) is Jack Sawyer.

wolf and jack

I first met Jack Sawyer when I read The Talisman.  And I loved him.  He was the coolest, even at the tender age of 12.  And was more bad ass than people three times his age.  I would want Jack in my corner any day of the week.

However, like the cool people I met at summer camp, Jack exited my life too quickly.  And I wondered what had become of him.  What kind of person had he grown up to be?  Hopefully, he was even more awesome.

Well, The Master and his cohort, Peter Straub, grew curious about Jack as well.  And they decided to answer this question with a follow up to The Talisman:  Black House.

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Now, Black House may be a follow up to The Talisman, but make no mistake about it, it is so much more than a “sequel” (really, the word sequel has four letters in it, I am sure) to The Talisman.

Black House adds to the story of Jack Sawyer and to the mythos of that awesome place known as “The Territories,” although it brings up A LOT more questions than it answers (more on that later.)

Not surprisingly, Black House is also connected to The Dark Tower series, as do most of King’s books.  But, like Insomnia, Black House could almost be considered to be another Dark Tower book, without the words “Dark Tower” anywhere in the title or description of the book.

Plus, Black House is just plain scary!  Some of the things that happen in Black House are just entirely too plausible, and no one does “real life” horror better than Sai King, in my opinion.

So sit down, put your seat belts on, and join me, as I light out for The Territories once again, as I recap and review Black House.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book begins with an introduction to a town by the name of French Landing, Wisconsin.  We realize very quickly that something out of the ordinary has been occurring in French Landing, as three children have been murdered by a serial killer calling himself The Fisherman.  The residents of French Landing are frightened, and the police department is coming under scrutiny, as the murders are unsolved.

We are then introduced to several characters.  The first is an old man named Charles “Burny” Burnside.  Burnside is a resident of a facility named Maxton Eldercare, as he supposedly suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s Disease, although Burnside sometimes seems to experience extended bouts of lucidity.  Burnside is a ward of the state, as he claims to have no surviving family and no memory of his past.  Maxton Eldercare is run by a man named Chipper Maxton.  Chipper is a corrupt man, stealing from the residents of the facility, including Burnside.

Dale Gilbertson is another character we are introduced to.  Dale is the Chief of Police in French Landing, and is being heavily scrutinized due to the unsolved murders committed by The Fisherman.  Dale understands that he is out of his depth, and has requested help from a friend of his, Jack Sawyer.  Jack first met Dale four years prior, when he collaborated with Jack to solve a series of unsolved murders in California, which turned out to have a connection to French Landing.  Jack has refused to help, much to Dale’s frustration, as Jack is now retired from police work.

We are also introduced to Fred Marshall, father to Tyler Marshall and husband to Judy Marshall.  Tyler is a seemingly ordinary child, enjoying his summer vacation.  Judy, however, is not ordinary, as she slowly seems to be losing her grip on reality.  Fred is concerned, but pushes aside his worry for his wife, as he does not think that her problems are that serious.

Finally, we are introduced to Jack Sawyer.  When Jack collaborated with his friend Dale, he fell in love with French Landing, and later purchased a home that had once been owned by Dale’s family.  Eventually, Jack moved into the home, but spends most of his time in isolation, despite Dale’s attempts to get to know his friend better.

The book also introduces us to a man named Henry Leyden.  Henry works as a DJ with multiple on-air personas.  Henry is the uncle to Dale Gilbert and a friend of Jack Sawyer.  Henry is also blind, but his other senses are acute, to compensate for the blindness.

Lately, strange things have been happening to Jack.  A robin’s egg mysteriously appears in his refrigerator, and he also sees robin feathers around his house.  Jack begins to question his grip on reality, especially when he tries to call his mother, who has been dead for several years.

One morning, Jack picks Henry up from work.  While driving and listening to one of Henry’s CD’s, they see a group of boys.  One of the boys makes an obscene gesture to Henry and Jack, expressing his feelings on the music.  Another young boy seems to approve of the music.  Henry also tries to persuade Jack to assist Dale with the investigation of the child murders, but again, Jack declines, reminding Henry that he is retired.  Henry also says that he has experienced some odd occurrences lately:  he thinks that he has heard his deceased wife walking around the house.  Jack drops Henry off at his home, and dismisses the occurrences as a manifestation of Henry’s grief.

Later that day, Tyler Marshall is riding his bike with his friends.  He falls behind his friends, who abandon him.  Just outside the Maxton Eldercare Facility, Tyler encounters a talking crow that calls itself “Gorg.”  Tyler is entranced by the bird, and moves closer to it.  This allows Charles Burnside, who has momentarily regained his senses, to abduct Tyler.  Tyler’s friends notice that he is lost and that his bicycle has been abandoned, but decide not to say anything, as they fear they will be implicated in his abduction.

In the meantime, Judy Marshall, Tyler’s mother, continues to lose her grip on reality.  Judy then receives a mysterious package at her door.  When she opens the package, she finds a note stating that her son’s kidney has been eaten, along with human organs of some kind.  Judy becomes hysterical, and a neighbor calls her husband Fred at work.

Fred returns home, and finds that Judy has seemingly gone mad, destroying Tyler’s bedroom on her rampage.  Fred is finally able to calm Judy down, and begins to worry that Tyler is indeed missing, as Judy has said.  The local police also find Tyler’s bicycle, and Dale Gilbert worries that The Fisherman has claimed another victim.

Fred awakens from an afternoon nap to find his wife choking on scraps of paper.  Fred is able to rescue Judy from choking, but Tyler still has not returned home.  This prompts Fred to call the police, and find out that Tyler’s bike was found abandoned in front of the nursing home.

That afternoon, Henry Leyden does a DJ gig at Maxton Eldercare Facility.  He takes notice of Charles Burnside, who behaves unpleasantly, and seems to babble some nonsensical words.

That evening, Henry persuades Jack to speak to Fred in regards to the Fisherman’s possible involvement in the disappearance of Tyler.  Jack and reluctantly agrees to assist in the investigation, and to also speak to Judy, who has been institutionalized.  Jack also questions Tyler’s friends, and finds out that they abandoned Tyler and noticed that he had left his bicycle by the nursing home, but did not actually witness the abduction.  One of Tyler’s friends also tells Jack that he saw black crow feathers by the nursing home.

Jack also has a strange dream that night.  In the dream, he encounters Speedy Parker, someone he knew as a child.  Speedy commands Jack to assist in the investigation, as an entity called The Crimson King has kidnapped Tyler, because Tyler is a Breaker, with the ability to help The Crimson King commit a terrible deed.

The following morning, Jack awakens and finds a mysterious package on his front porch.  The package contains a sneaker, which also contains the severed foot of a child.  Jack realizes that this is probably from one of the victims of The Fisherman.  This causes Jack to remember an incidence from his childhood that he had tried to forget.

Jack then “flips” to another world, one he knows as The Territories, from his childhood.  This world is a fantastical version of ours, and Jack’s memories continue to awaken.  While in this alternate world, Jack discover’s Tyler’s baseball cap, and realizes that Tyler is probably still alive, and that The Fisherman wanted Jack to find the cap.

When he returns to his own world, Jack finds a note on the mysterious package, advising him to try a place called Ed’s Eats and Dogs.  Jack calls Henry and tells him about the package and the note, and Henry agrees to take Jack to Ed’s Eats and Dogs, which was a food stand that is now closed.

The French Landing Police Department also receives a call from someone identifying himself as The Fisherman that morning.  The caller instructs the police to also go to Ed’s Eats and Dogs, and Dale Gilbertson and his officers proceed to do just that.

Jack receives a call on his cell phone from Dale, and learns that Dale is also headed to the abandoned food stand.  They meet at the food stand, and Jack shows Dale the package sent to him by The Fisherman, and Dale tells Jack about the phone call from The Fisherman.

In the meantime, the officer who received the call from The Fisherman tells his wife, who tells her friends about the call.  Soon, several people in town find out about the call.  One of these people is Beezer St. Pierre.  Beezer is part of a motorcycle club in town known as The Thunder Five, and is also the father to Amy St. Pierre, one of the victims of The Fisherman.  Soon, Beezer and his friends Mouse, Doc, Sonny and Kaiser Bill also head to the abandoned eatery.

Wendell Green, a reporter for the local newspaper, also heads to the eatery, in the hopes that he will find his next story.

At the investigation scene, chaos erupt, mostly due to Wendell Green’s attempt to distract Jack and the police.  Beezer and his friends assist Jack and the police in dispersing the crowd, but the state police also arrive at the scene, and tell Dale that he can no longer work the Fisherman case.

That afternoon, Jack and Fred visit Judy in the mental hospital.  Jack is struck by how beautiful Judy is.  Judy also knows of the alternate reality Jack calls The Territories, and says that she is able to communicate with a woman who lives in that reality.  Judy also tells Jack that The Fisherman has stashed Tyler in that reality, and that Tyler is in grave danger, but still alive, and that Jack is the only one who can rescue him.  On the way home, Jack shows Fred the baseball cap that he found in The Territories, and confirms that it belongs to Tyler.  Jack also promises to do whatever he can to rescue Tyler.

That night, an ominous fog covers the town of French Landing.  Charles Burnside escapes the Maxton Eldercare Facility, and sneaks into the boarding house next door.  He breaks into the room of a man named George Potter, and plants several pictures of the Fisherman’s victims in the closet.  The pictures are discovered by another resident of the boarding house, and a call is placed to the local police.

Jack, Dale, Wendell and Beezer all find out about the pictures in George Potter’s room, and all head to the police station.  Dale places Potter under arrest, and books him in a holding cell.

In the meantime, the mysterious crow visits Tansy Freeneau, the mother to Irma Freeneau, one of the victims of The Fisherman.  The crow somehow can speak, and tells Tansy about George Potter’s arrest.  Tansy rounds up a group of locals from a bar, and all head to the police station.

When Jack arrives at the police station, he receives a call from Speedy, someone he knew as a child.  Speedy tells Jack that an angry mob is headed to the police station, and that Jack needs to meet him in the men’s bathroom.

Shortly after the angry mob arrives, Jack steps out into the parking lot.  He is holding a bouquet of flowers and allows Tansy to smell the flowers.  The smell of the flowers calms Tansy, along with most of the crowd.  Jack calls for someone to take Tansy home, and the crowd dissipates.

Jack questions George Potter, and determines that George is not guilty.  George states that he was a contractor many years ago, and engaged in some shady dealings.  One of the people George engaged in deals with was someone named Carl, who now happens to be living in French Landing.  George thinks that the man now goes by the name Charles Burnside, and that the man had a house built in French Landing many years ago.  George does not know where the house is located, but tells Jack of many strange things that happened while the house was being built, such as the workers being injured and even losing their shadows.  Jack determines that this man is most certainly The Fisherman, but is unable to obtain any more information from either George or Dale Gilbertson.

The next morning, Jack checks on Tansy Freeneau, who appears to succumbing to madness, even though the flowers from The Territories that Jack had given her the night before seem to have a calming effect on her. Jack finds out from Tansy that she received a visit from Gorg, and Tansy tells Jack that Gorg is actually a raven from another world. Jack then goes to a local bar called The Sand Bar, where he had promised to meet Beezer and the rest of The Thunder Five.  While Jack is waiting for Beezer and his friends, he notices that the movie playing on the television is one that had starred his deceased mother.

When the bikers arrive at the bar, Jack asks them if they know anything about a mysterious house in French Landing.  One of the bikers, Mouse, recognizes the house, and tells Jack that it even has a name:  Black House.  Mouse also tells Jack and his friends that he and a girlfriend, Nancy, were actually in the vicinity of the house a few years prior, having accidentally discovered it on a bike ride.  Right away, Mouse realized that something was not right, and managed to escape with Nancy.  Mouse survived the experience, but Nancy was not so lucky.  Soon after, Nancy becomes extremely ill and tragically dies from her illness.  Jack warns Beezer to not get too close to the house, but to check it out, and that they will meet up again later.

Beezer and the rest of the bikers set off that afternoon to find Black House.  Finally, they are able to find it, and right away, things begin to go wrong.  They notice a change in the air, which seems to become poisonous.  They also encounter a creature that appears to be a dog, but attacks the bikers.  All of the men suffer from headaches and vomiting, and experience unpleasant memories from their past.   They are finally able to escape the dog and Black House, but Mouse is bitten by the dog, and Doc (Beezer’s right hand man) notices that the wound is severe and unlike an ordinary dog bite.

In the meantime, Jack heads to the mental hospital to visit Judy Marshall.  Jack realizes that Judy’s counterpart in The Territories, her Twinner, has been trying to communicate with her, and her Twinner’s attempts have become more urgent, due to the situation with The Fisherman.  Jack also suspects that The Fisherman has a Territories Twinner, and that creature is probably holding Tyler Marshall hostage.  Jack also finds out that The Fisherman has sent a tape of himself tormenting Judy to Judy at the hospital, which has caused Judy to regress to her previous state.

When he arrives at the hospital, Jack encounters Wendell Green, who has tracked him down.  Wendell tries to sabotage Jack’s attempts to visit Judy, but Judy’s doctor agrees to allow Jack to see Judy, for a short time.

Jack speaks to Judy, and she tells him that he must travel to The Territories to save Tyler.  Jack does just that, arriving at The Territories once again.  When he arrives in the other world, Jack finds himself in the company of Judy’s Territories Twinner:  a woman named Sophie.  Almost instantly, Jack falls in love with Sophie.

Wendell Green has also traveled to The Territories with Jack, as he was spying on Jack and Judy at the mental hospital.  Wendell is shell-shocked, and unable to comprehend just what has happened to him.

Shortly after his arrive to The Territories, Jack encounters an old friend:  Parkus, the man who is responsible for law and order in The Territories.  Parkus is the Twinner to Jack’s friend Speedy.  Parkus tells Jack that Tyler is still alive and Jack may be able to still rescue him, but that there are much bigger issues at hand.  Parkus then tells Jack and Sophie that the entity known as the Crimson King has gathered a group of children with psionic abilities that he calls Breakers.  The Breakers have been assembled to help destroy The Dark Tower, which is the nexus of all existence. Parkus tells Jack that The Fisherman does not have a Territories Twinner.  Rather, The Fisherman is possessed by a being from another world, which allows him to commit his horrific acts.  The being is a creature known as Mr. Munshun, or sometimes Mr. Monday.  Mr. Munshun allows Charles Burnside to murder all of the children he wants, but if the children possess psionic abilities, they are to be turned over to Mr. Munshun and The Crimson King at once.  Tyler is special, as he has the ability to become the most power of all Breakers.

Parkus tells Jack that he must find out the exact identity of The Fisherman, so that he can get to Mr. Munshun and rescue Tyler Marshall, as well as foil the plans of the Crimson King.  However, Jack still does not know just who The Fisherman is in his world.  Parkus also tells Jack that he will need to use Black House to enter the world of Mr. Munshun, as Mr. Munshun does not reside in The Territories.

Jack then travels back to his own world, taking Wendell Green with him.  Jack heads out of the hospital and receives a panicked call from Beezer.  Beezer tells Jack that Mouse is dying, and that Jack needs to come quickly.

When Jack arrives at Beezer’s house, he sees something horrific happening to Mouse.  Mouse is literally being eaten alive by the poison he received when the dog creature bit him at Black House.  Mouse is mostly delirious, but he tells Jack to meet Beezer and the others at noon the next day, so that they can head to Black House to rescue Tyler and defeat Mr. Munshun.  Mouse also gives Jack a spell of sorts:  the word “d’yamba.”  Mouse tells Jack that he will need this word in the near future.  Shortly after imparting this information, Mouse passes away.

In the meantime, Henry Leyden is at his home, listening to the tape of The Fisherman’s voice.  Henry also believes that he can smell the perfume of his late wife, and thinks he is losing his mind.  However, Henry recognizes the voice of Charles Burnside from the tape, as he also heard Burnside’s voice from his gig at the nursing home.  Henry also realizes that Burnside is in his house and using the scent of his wife’s perfume to trick Henry.

Henry attempts to defend himself against Burnside, but is stabbed by Burnside with a pair of garden shears.  Henry realizes that he will bleed to death, so he makes a recording for Jack, revealing the identity of The Fisherman, and the fact that The Fisherman lives in the nursing home.  Shortly after finishing the recording, Henry signs off, saying goodbye to Jack, and dies.

Jack heads home after paying respect to Mouse.  Amazingly, Jack is surrounded by a swarm of bees.  The bees appear to offer comfort and do not sting Jack.  Jack then decides that he will open to Henry, and tell Henry the story of his past journey to The Territories when he was a child.

Jack arrives at Henry’s house and realizes almost right away that something is amiss.  He discovers Henry’s body and hears Henry’s last recording that identifies The Fisherman.  Shocked and saddened, Jack calls the local police, and then travels to The Territories once again, seeking comfort.

Charles Burnside returns to the nursing home.  He has been injured in the confrontation with Henry, but still alive.  Burnside is confronted by one of the nurses on duty in regards to his whereabouts.  He uses the garden shears to kill her, and makes an attempt to escape back to Black House.  However, he is also confronted by Chipper Maxton, who has learned of his true identity.  Burnside also kills Maxton with the gardening shears, and returns to Black House, with the assistance of the entity known as Mr. Munshun.

After Burnside arrives at Black House, he arouses Tyler Marshall from a dream, and takes Tyler into another world.  He places a sort of “hat” on Tyler that dulls Tyler’s thinking, and tells Tyler that he is taking him to the Crimson King, who has a job waiting for Tyler.

The next day, Jack meets Dale, Doc and Beezer at The Sand Bar.  He is able to summon the cloud of bees again, much to the astonishment of his friends.  Jack utters the word “d’yamba” over a bottle of honey, and has his friends dab a bit of the honey underneath their noses, in the hopes that the belief in the honey will protect them from the ill effects of Black House.

In the meantime, Burnside and Tyler arrive at their final destination, where they see many children with special talents being forced to perform the work of the Crimson King.  Burnside attempts to shackle Tyler, but Tyler strikes back and disembowels Burnside, which kills the old man.

Before Jack and his friends leave for Black House, they encounter Fred Marshall outside of the bar.  Fred has received a package addressed to Tyler, from George Rathbun (one of the radio personalities of the deceased Henry Leyden) containing a bat signed by a Milwaukee Brewers player.  All of the men then sense that Tyler has killed Burnside, which offers them hope that their mission may succeed.

When Jack and his friend arrive at Black House, they encounter the swarm of bees that surrounded Jack earlier.  Jack sees the crow, Gorg, and shoots him. Once inside the house, they encounter some frightening illusions, as the house tries to keep them from tracking down Tyler Marshall.

While Jack and his friends are searching for Tyler, Tyler manages to free himself from the shackles by obtaining the key.  However, once he frees himself, he is then captured by the being Mr. Mushun.

However, as Munshun attempts to take Tyler to the Crimson King, he encounters Jack and his friends, who are ready to fight.  Jack attacks Munshun with the bat sent to Tyler’s father, and is finally able to kill the evil creature.

Jack tells Tyler that he must rescue the other children before he can return to his family.  Tyler argues that he cannot, and Jack argues otherwise.  The cap that Burnside had placed on Tyler’s head then falls off, and the full extent of Tyler’s powers are unleashed.  Tyler then uses those powers to destroy the machines that have imprisoned the other children, and the other children are freed as well.

Jack, Tyler, Dale, Beezer and Doc then return to their world, along with the rest of the children freed by Tyler.  Black House has now lost its magic and is an ordinary house.  The dog that had attacked Mouse is also destroyed.

Some weeks later, Jack, Doc, Beezer and Dale prepare to attend a ceremony so they can be recognized for their bravery by the town of French Landing.  They have concocted a cover story that leaves out the visit to the other world, and implicates Henry Leyden as the one who identified The Fisherman and led Jack and his friends to him.  The government is also dealing with the other children who were rescued, and the origins of most of these children remain a mystery.  Black House has also been destroyed, thanks to the efforts of Beezer and Jack.

Jack and his friends enter the stage and face the crowd, which begins to wildly applaud.  In that crowd is Jack’s old friend, Speedy Parker.  However, a woman named Wanda Kinderling is also part of the crowd.  Wanda is the wife of the man who Jack helped Dale imprison for murder several years ago.  Wanda is angry, as she believes her husband was wrongfully imprisoned.  Tragically, Wanda acts on that anger, shooting Jack.  Speedy is unable to stop her, and Wanda shoots Jack in the chest and throat.  After she shoots Jack, Wanda is almost immediately attacked by Doc.

Speedy then grabs Jack and carries him in his arms to The Territories.  He tells Sophie that Jack will survive his injuries, thanks to his encounter with The Talisman as a child, but that Jack must remain in The Territories, as a return to his own world will likely kill him.  Jack continues to remain in a coma for several days.

Several days later, Jack awakens, with Sophie by his side, who welcomes him to his new life in The Territories.


My Thoughts

And there are so many of them, in regards to Black House.  But I will try to condense myself (hey, don’t laugh too hard, now.)

First of all, the men.  There are some fine men in this book…and I am not even talking about the main character, Jack Sawyer (although be prepared for more in depth discussion of him in a bit.  Don’t worry, I have not forgotten.  Far from it, in fact.)

There is a little something for everyone, in terms of men in this book.

First of all, Henry Leyden.  He is blind, but anyone who has sex with Henry is not having pity sex with him…no sir (or m’am, if you please.)

He’s a DJ, and he knows his music.  Check.

Despite the fact that he is blind, Henry has an incredible sense of style.  Just thinking about the suits that he was described as wearing…whoa!  What is it about well-dressed guys that makes you want to tear those same clothes off?

And Henry has the x-factor too.  Just something about his friendship with Jack sent shivers down my spine.  Henry never pressured Jack to take down those walls, but chiseled away patiently.  And that made my heart melt.

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My heart also broke wide open, when Henry died.  I have read this book a few times, but each time I find myself, hoping against hope, that things will be different this time.  Of course, they never are.  And my heart breaks wide open yet again.

Beezer St. Pierre.

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Yes, I know that guy is not Beezer.  But I don’t think I am that far off, am I?

Anyone who lives in a place known as “Nailhouse Row” (can you get any cooler than that?) is already hot by association.

And let’s just admint:  Beezer is a bad ass.  A fucking bad ass, as a matter of fact.  In fact, he wouldn’t be that out of place in a certain club known as SAMCRO.  Not out of place at all, as a matter of fact.

Beezer is also smart.  Smart is always hot.  The fact that he was reading William Blake…swoon!  And that his house was overflowing with books?  Woo, I am feeling a little flushed right now…

I could also feel empathy for Beezer, given what happened to his daughter.  I never pitied him, like I pitied Tansy Freeneau.  But I could emphasize with him, as his daughter was brutalized by The Fisherman.  And I could understand why Beezer and his friends felt the need to police the police, so to speak.  Poor man was going through an unimaginable pain, it’s a wonder that he didn’t break down doors at the police station.

And we have Jack Sawyer.

As all both  of my faithful readers know, I have book boyfriends.  Like Aragorn.  And Jon Snow.  I am such as sucker for fictional men that I can never, ever have an actual relationship with (don’t worry, my marriage is open in regards to this…heehee!)

morgan sloat

One of my favorite book boyfriends is Jack Sawyer.  It feels weird saying that, since he was 12 when I first met, and I was in my twenties, but it’s ok, I am reading Black House and Jacky is all growed up!

I think the reason why I love Jack so much is because I identify with him.  King writes about people who don’t quite fit in and who often live on the fringes of society, and are maybe even marginalized by everyone else.  I am pretty isolated (even though I do have a few good friends and an understanding husband), I live on the fringe (although that is my choice and I spent my life being marginalized.  I was the odd kid, and childhood and adolescence were a social disaster for me.  And until recently, adulthood was a social disaster for me.

At the beginning of the book, Jack is a lonely man.  Jack probably does not realize this, but the reader certainly does.  Jack is unmarried (criminal!) and has retired from the police force at the impossibly young age of 31.  Jack has no surviving family members. and no close friends.  When people do try to reach out to Jack (like Dale), the walls go up, and Jack pushes people away.

However, Jack slowly emerges from his shell as the book progresses.  And it is quite a beautiful thing to watch.  Jack had been living in a sort of fog and has not been truly engaged with anyone or anything.  It takes a series of gruesome child murders, along a ghost from Jack’s childhood in order for that fog to lift. But it’s worth the wait, because Jack Sawyer reminds me of a rose:  it may be a little shy to open up and finally bloom, but when the flower does bloom, it is beautiful beyond words.

Rose

I consider Black House to be one of King’s most frightening books ever written.  Normally, when people think of scary Stephen  King books, works such as The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, It and Pet Sematary come to mind.  When you mention a scary Stephen King book, the one co-written by Peter Straub that is the follow up to the epic fantasy otherwise known as The  Talisman that could almost be considered another Dark Tower book does not come to mind.  However, it should, since Black House is an extremely creepy read, and should be recognized as such.

First of all, the book deals with child murders.  King is known for writing about “real-life horrors,” and unfortunately, children being killed fall into that category.  In fact, the events in Black House are tragically plausible: children go missing and are murdered on an almost daily basis in this country.  I have stated in the past that Charles Burnside is one of King’s worst human (or is it best) monsters, and I stand by that statement.  Burnside was based on Albert Fish, who (at least to me) was one of the worst real-life monsters that has ever existed throughout history.  Anyone who can do what Fish (and Burnside) did to children…well, Hell would be too good for that person, actually.  I would hope that there was some place even worse than Hell for someone like that, where he would be made to suffer just as his victims did.

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Often, King books, there is what I call “buried treasure,” or something that really does not have much to do with the story being told, but is something that just takes the story from good to fucking epic (the history of Derry in It being a great example, among countless others.)  In Black House, it is the bit about borders, and how borders seem invite bad things in.  I loved the story told by Sonny about Harko, Illinois, and the border town of Harko, where one of his friends murdered the other with no provocation and ended up in the mental asylum…it had a kind of EC Horror Comics feel to it…I loved it!

Black House also has a scary non-human bad guy:  Mr. Munshun.

humpty dumpty 1

Or is it Humpty Dumpty on a bad day?  Dammit, I knew Humpty wasn’t who he seemed to be!  And I always had an uneasy feeling about him, anyway…I can see why they knocked him off that wall!

The descriptions of Munshun are just so unsettling (I think King also compared him to Humpty Dumpty.)  The teeth, the orange hair, how Tyler Marshall could fee his presence when he was shackled.  My heart raced as Tyler struggled to beat the clock, and I jumped up and down when Munshun was finally disposed of.  Pennywise, Randall Flagg, Kurt Barlow are all frightening, but Munshun has also earned his spot on the list of Stephen King monsters…he needs to be in the discussion a lot more!

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There is also Black House itself.  A house that literally eats people?  And has a hell hound for a watch dog?  To boot, the bite of that “dog” is much, much worse than its bite.  The description of what happened to Mouse (seriously, vomit that comes alive…I can’t even) is just seriously…well…disgusting…even for the likes of writers like King and Straub.  Did they have a sleepover where they spent the night trying to see who could gross the other out, and then decide to include those details in Black House?  Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Stephen King

As I have stated before, Black House is also a bit frustrating.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but still.

I found the ending to be very open-ended.  Jack is shot, and transported back to The Territories.  Speedy then hints about the business with The Tower (goosebumps) not being finished yet.  Ooooh, a sequel!

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A sequel that we have been waiting about 15 years for.  King and Straub have both stated that there should be a third book, but we have yet to see it.  I have faith that we will one day, but even I am not THAT patient.  C’mon, don’t tease me like this, Uncle Stevie!

I just have to know what happens to my friend Jack Sawyer.  Did he somehow help Roland and his friends in their quest (again)?  Or is it some other adventure, where Jack meets even more interesting folks in The Territories?  What of Jack and Sophie?  I know that Sophie stated she was barren, but I would so love a Jack Junior!

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Such questions…such torture…

But hopefully, we end the torture soon, and The Master graces us with the answers to those questions!


Well, that’s it for Black House.  Join me next month for an out of this world experience, as we review and dissect Dreamcatcher!

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

batman and robin


Connections

Like all King books, Black House is a part of the Stephen King Universe, and is particularly connected to the world of the Dark Tower series.  Here are some of the connections I found:

-The most obvious connection is to The Talisman, as Black House is a follow up novel to The Talisman.  Several characters from The Talisman are referenced, including Lily Sawyer, Morgan Sloat, Wolf and Sunlight Gardner.

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Black House could also be considered another Dark Tower novel, as part of the book takes places in the same world inhabited by Roland Deschain and his friends.  Roland Deschain is specifically mentioned, along with the fact that Roland is training Eddie, Susannah and Jake to be gunslingers.  The Crimson King, who is also a character in the series, is  referenced as well.

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Ted Brautigan is mentioned in Black House.  Ted Brautigan is a character in the novella Low Men in Yellow Coats, which is part of the collection Hearts in Atlantis, and is also a character who appears in the final Dark Tower novel.

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-Black House and the town of French Landing are mentioned by Randall Flagg in the final Dark Tower novel.

-The house named Rose Red is mentioned.  Rose Red is the haunted house featured in the movie of the same name.

-Parkus owns a two-headed parrot.  This is similar to a parrot owned by Randall Flagg in the book The Eyes of the Dragon.

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-Blaine the Monorail, along with Patricia the Monorail, are referenced in Black House.  Blaine the Monorail is a character in The Wastelands and Wizard and Glass.

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-The phrase “Light out for the Territories” is used.  This phrase is also used in several other King novels, including The Talisman, The Wastelands and Lisey’s Story.

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-Mention is made of Legion.  Legion is also referenced in It, The Gunslinger and The Stand.

Black House features people with psionic abilities, or Breakers.  People with these gifts are featured in several King stories, including Everything’s Eventual, The Wolves of the Calla, The Shining, Dr. Sleep, The Song of Susannah and Carrie.

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-The being known as the Crimson King is referenced several times in Black House.  The Crimson King is also the antagonist in the novel Insomnia.

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My Top 10 Scariest Stephen King Books

So, it’s that time of year again…

Yes, Halloween is drawing upon us…

The season for scary stuff!

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

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

Oakland Raiders v Indianapolis Colts

But there is a good remedy for when your football team is so embarrassing that the local Fox syndicate switches from the Colts game to the game played by the other not scary good team (the Washington Redskins, as a matter of fact)…

Yes, a little therapy from The Master!

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Football team got ya down?  Go read some Stephen King, and be reminded as to what is really scary!  Suddenly, two interceptions thrown by your darling quarterback (sorry Andrew, you know I still got love for ya) seems pretty tame!

Yes, Stephen King is scary.

Well, his writing, at any rate.  He doesn’t look too threatening in that picture, but one never knows.

Stephen King is many things, and I have spent an incredible amount of time on this blog (who knew) addressing those things.  Most importantly, he is a great writer.  He has the ability to even appeal to the non-horror fan (well, the one who will give him a chance, anyway).  He creates characters that readers get attached to (and kills them off and seems almost gleeful about it, but I digress).  He is also the Everyman, giving the reader realistic scenarios, and then casually placing in the horror and/or fantastical element, making the story that much more believable.

But, I would like to get back to fundamentals for a moment, if I may.  Stephen King writes scary stories.  This may sound like Captain Obvious tooting his horn, but the man is able to frighten folks.  And frighten folks badly.  It could be the fact that seemingly “good” characters often go “bad”, at the drop of a hat.  Or maybe it’s the element of realism that makes it seem a certain room in a hotel really could be bad news.  Or maybe because he makes great villains, including evil clowns, that haunt the dreams of many a 90’s kid.

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Whatever the reason, people find Stephen King books frightening.  And many enjoy being frightened.  Some people skydive (eek).  Some watch Indianapolis Colts football (eeek, maybe I should skydive instead).  Some people enjoy drag racing.

And then there are the stalwart, the steadfast, the bold (you know, like me?)…we read Stephen King for our fear fix!  After all, gotta get the good old adrenaline rush somehow, right?

And a King book will give you that and then some!  In fact, many King books may just scare you into a change of pants!

With that being said, here is my list of the top 10 scariest books of all time.  Please note, this is my opinion only, and not to be taken as gospel…

Oh, and as always:

Homer spoiler


 

10)  Rose Madder

As I have stated before, one of King’s strengths as a writer of horror is the human horror.  Sometimes (well actually, a lot of times), men are beasts to their fellow man…

And woman.

The villain in the book Rose Madder is human.  Well, in appearance at least.  However, on the inside, Norman Daniels does not pass for human.  Not even remotely.

Norman Daniels savagely abuses his wife Rosie, for the nearly 14 years of their marriage.  To boot, he is racist.  And uses his position as a police officer to grossly abuse his power and literally get away with murder.  It is only a mere drop of blood on the sheets that awakens Rosie one morning, when she runs away from her hellhole of a marriage and attempts to begin a new life, free of the horrific abuse.  But, as can be expected, Norman does not take Rosie’s flight lightly, and leaves behind a trail of bodies in his quest for revenge and his hunt for Rosie.  It takes a magical painting set in the world of our friendly neighborhood gunslinger for Norman’s trail of blood to be halted.  Even then, the death count is enormous, and Rosie is barely able to cope with the events.

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There is a line in the book that where Rosie thinks that after surviving her horror of a marriage to Norman, anything else is pretty cut rate.  As a survivor of an abusive marriage, I would have to agree with that assessment.  When you are married to an abuser, you don’t need to Stephen King or scary movies to get your fear fix.  An argument with your spouse will give you that fix in spades.

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9)  From a Buick 8

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

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Stephen King has cited HP Lovecraft as an enormous influence.  This is evident in his novel From a Buick 8, which tells the story of a mysterious vehicle that becomes the charge of a police department in a small town in Pennsylvania.

It quickly becomes evident to one of the officers of that police department that the “vehicle” is not actually a vehicle at all, but rather an object from another dimension beyond human understanding.  The vehicle becomes the center of many odd occurrences, and the police department struggles to do damage control.  However, the vehicle is responsible for the disappearance of at least one person and the death of the department’s mascot, a dog named Mr. Dillon.  There is even a confrontation of sorts with one of the creatures from the unknown dimension.  The images King paints are disturbing, especially when he references the fact that our world may be as frightening or even more frightening to those creatures as their world is to us.

What is perhaps most disturbing about this novel is the fact that the “vehicle” very nearly traps a young man who is the son of a fallen police officer, and sees the “vehicle” as his one remaining connection to his father.  The young man is saved by timely intervention from another officer, but barely.  Sometimes, a person with an obsession is the most frightening of all.

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8)  Revival

Revival is another novel that deals with our fear of the unknown.  More specifically, Revival deals with the last of the unknown frontiers:  death, and what may happen once we die.

Revival is also a morality play, much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  If we have the means to find out what happens after death, should we?  And what will be the consequences if we intervene in matters that we (probably) have no business intervening in?

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The consequences for Jamie Morton and his friend Charles Jacobs are not pretty.  Jamie Morton first met Charles when he was a child, and Charles was the pastor in his rural hometown.  However, tragedy strikes Charles Jacobs, and he is forced to leave town after a disastrous sermon that comes to be known as “The Terrible Sermon.”  The experience shakes Jamie’s religious beliefs to the core, and Jamie is never quite the same afterwards.

Charles is also shaken to the core by this tragedy, and quickly becomes a man obsessed.  Charles discovers what he refers to as “the secret electricity”, and believes that this mysterious force will allow him to find out what happens after death.  Jamie refers to Charles as his “fifth business” throughout the book, and encounters him by chance when he is an adult.  Jamie is addicted to heroin, and Charles is able to use his “secret electricity” to cure Jamie of his addiction.  Jamie feels that he owes Charles a debt, and agrees to help him conduct what turns out to be his final experiment: using the “secret electricity” to find out what happens when we die.

And it turns out that sometimes ignorance is bliss.  As stated before, the consequences are not pretty for Jamie and Charles, and Jamie’s “cure” for his heroin addiction has come at an enormous price.  The ending is disturbing, reinforcing the belief that at least sometimes, not knowing is the best option of all.

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7) Desperation / The Regulators

Yes, I know that this entry actually consists of two books.  However, I am considering one work for my purposes, since both books mirror each other, with one being written by Stephen King, and the other being a posthumous script from the poor, beleaguered Richard Bachman, who died an untimely death due to cancer of the pseudonym.

Stephen-King-Sons-of-Anarchy

Both Desperation and The Regulators are also tied together by one of King’s uber-villains, Tak.  Tak may not be as creepy as Randall Flagg or Pennywise the Clown (at least to some), but he is able to hold his own in the King universe.  Tak is frightening because he is able to drain people almost like human batteries (mostly), and discards them in the same manner.  However, there is one human that Tak cannot drain, and that is Seth Garin (the autistic boy in The Regulators).  What Tak does to Seth is perhaps even more frightening:  he uses Seth body to manipulate his surroundings, causing the suicide of Seth’s uncle, exploiting Seth’s aunt and killing many people in Seth’s neighborhood.  Ultimately, Tak is beaten, but at the cost of Seth’s life and many others.

Desperation and The Regulators are not only frightening because of the entity Tak, but also because they deal with a theme that many of us can relate to:  isolation.  Desperation begins with a couple who becomes stranded in a small, seemingly abandoned desert town after they experience vehicle trouble.  In The Regulators, Seth and his aunt are isolated due to Seth’s handicap and Tak’s effort to alienate Seth’s family from those who might help them.  Isolation is a big theme in many King books, and once again it adds that element of realism to the story to make it that much more frightening.

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6)  The Stand

It is no secret that horror and fantasy are closely related.  In fact, one could almost say that horror is fantasy taken to the next, darker step.  From the Orcs in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to the witches in SA Hunt’s Malus Domestica, to the Others in the Game of Thrones series, many works that are considered to be fantasy and not horror certainly contain some frightening elements.

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The Stand is another book that toes the line between dark fantasy and horror.  On one hand, there are reluctant heroes (Larry, Stu and Nick).  But on the other hand, there is an evil wizard figure (Randall Flagg).  The evil wizard tends to be a common archetype in fantasy stories (Sauron is a good example).  But Flagg is something beyond the ordinary evil wizard (if such a thing exists).  Flagg invades the dreams of the survivors of a great plague that has wiped out most of Earth’s population.  Frannie Goldsmith is one of those survivors.  Frannie is pregnant, and dreams of being chased by The Dark Man (Flagg), who has a coat hanger in his hand.  Nick Andros and Tom Cullen, two other survivors who are a deaf-mute man and mildly mentally handicapped man respectively, encounter Flagg’s presence when they seek shelter from a tornado that may have been sent by Flagg to dispose of them.  Mother Abagail, who is Flagg’s counterpart on the side of the White, encounters Flagg when she is gathering food for her charges.  Flagg has transformed to a weasel, the one creature that frightens the old woman.  Mother Abagail is nearly beaten by Flagg, but is still able to best him the end.

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The Stand is one of King’s best books, blending both elements of fantasy and horror to make it a truly frightening, yet fantastical read.

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5)  Black House

Black House is another novel (co-written by Peter Straub) that may be considered part of the fantasy genre, along with its predecessor, The Talisman.  However, it is Black House (much like The Stand) that toes the line between fantasy and horror.

morgan sloat

One of the reasons Black House is so frightening is because it contains a human villain that is unfortunately all too realistic.  There is a supernatural villain, a creature known as Mr. Munshun, and King’s ultimate uber-villain, the Crimson King, is also alluded to in the book.  However, the human villain, Charles Burnside, is another person that is human in appearance only.  Charles Burnside appears to be a senile man suffering from the indignities of dementia and living out his final days in peace in an unsuspecting nursing home.  However, the reader learns that Burnside is actually a serial killer who targets children.  Burnside has made a grisly contract with Mr. Munshun and the Crimson King:  he allows Mr. Munshun to possess his body so that he may murder children, in exchange for seeking out children PSI abilities who Munshan and the Crimson King can use for their evil purposes.  Charles Burnside and Mr. Munshun are eventually defeated, but not before Burnside has murdered several children and left a small town nearly paralyzed in fear.

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

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4)  ‘Salem’s Lot

If I mentioned ‘Salem’s Lot to you, and you responded with “vampire story”, you would be correct…

But, wait…there’s more!

‘Salem’s Lot is indeed a book about vampires.  And those vampires are scary.  The head vampire is killed but his TEETH are still alive and bit Ben Mears…so the vampires in this book are indeed gruesome.

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But, like most really everything single thing he has ever written   of King’s work, ‘Salem’s Lot is much more than a vampire story.  Much, much more, in fact.

‘Salem’s Lot is a story about a small town, and how the small town succumbs to the vampire plague.  There is clinical language and some medical terms included when the “patients” are diagnosed, and that just adds another level of gruesomeness to what is already frightening.  Also, the description of how quickly the people in the town are either transformed to vampires or killed in some awful manner is quite disturbing, given how attached the reader gets to these characters and the town itself.

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However, ‘Salem’s Lot is also a haunted story.  Most of the action centers around the Marsten House, which is the local haunted house.  We learn some of the history of the house through Ben Mears, who believes he saw the ghost of the former owner as a child.  The house was a site for many terrible deeds that involved children, and King is able to weave this seamlessly into the vampire tale, thus adding an extra dimension of terror to an already scary story.

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

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3) The Shining

The Shining is another King work where there is more than meets the eye.  Perhaps the most famous, or perhaps infamous (thank you, Stanley Kubrik), of all King’s work.  On the surface, the story is another haunted house story (well, haunted hotel actually).  The ghosts wreak havoc on the Torrance family, and there are some truly scary moments involving the supernatural aspect of the story (the blood from the walls, the dead woman in the bathtub and a ghostly New’s Year Eve party all come to mind, along with several others).

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However, what many people may fail to realize is that The Shining is also frightening because it tells the story of the disintegration of the family unit.  Humans are social animals, and to most of us, the family is the most important unit of all.  The Torrance family feels the same.  Danny loves his parents, even they (especially his father, Jack) have failed him on many occasions.  Wendy and Jack Torrance love Danny, and each other as well.  Jack wants to do nothing more to provide for his family, which is why he takes a job that is less than ideal, given his education and his addiction to alcohol.  But that family unit slowly begins to dissolve even at the beginning of the story.  However, we are led to believe that maybe there is hope for this family, as they make an effort to draw together and achieve a fresh start.  Tragically, this is not the case, as Jack ultimately succumbs to his demons, and Wendy and Danny barely escape with their lives.

Again, Stephen King is a master at including that element of realism in his stories, making them that much more believable and terrifying.

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2)  It

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

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

We all have fears.  When you are an adult, they may be more abstract, such as fear of failure, financial worries, fear of divorce and so forth.  But children’s fears are pretty concrete:  most fear things such as movie monsters, vampires, spiders and so forth.  So what if there was a monster out there that could take the form of whatever a child feared most, and literally scare them to death?  And maybe this monster needs to only be visible to kids (since adult fears are too abstract to capitalize on) and live under the sewers, where It can quietly do its dirty work?

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Enter Pennywise the Clown!

And yes, Pennywise the Clown makes the novel It terrifying.  He is a clown that lives under the sewers…first strike.  He can take on the form of ANYTHING that one fears…strike two.  And Pennywise is an extra dimensional monster…I know, not really giving that clown a good character reference, am I?

However, as frightening as Pennywise is (which is at a level 19, at least), there are so many other aspects to this book that nearly beat out the clown that lives in the sewers.  It deals with spousal abuse, child abuse and bullying.  The Losers Club spends most of that terrible summer in a lot of danger, but much of that danger is NOT supernatural.  The children face bullying from the local town bully, and must constantly watch their backs.  The adults in town do not care about either the danger under the sewers (even though most can’t see it, nearly everyone is aware of its presence).  Nor do the adults care about the bullies, even though they are as aware of the bullies as they are of the monster under the sewers.  The lone female Loser, Beverly Marsh, is being abused by her father, and the abuse is becoming increasingly sexual in nature.  Other children are abused or neglected.  It seems that no one is safe from the town of Derry, and if one is not killed by Pennywise, his/her parent or spouse will step in and do the job instead.

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Childhood is hell.  There is no other way to put it.  And It capitalizes on that concept, showing us just how much more hellish it is for some than others.

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

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Pet Sematary

Yes, Pet Sematary has made the top of the list, and I consider it to be King’s scariest book of all time for a multitude of reasons.  So let’s talk about those reasons.

pet sematary book 1

First of all, the concept of Pet Sematary is really scary.  An ancient Native American burial ground, poisoned by the spirit of a Wendigo that has the ability to re-animate dead animals that come back as zombies, which teaches kids that “sometimes dead is better.”  Can anything get scarier than that?  I have read a lot of stories about the Wendigo too. and the Wendigo is one of the creepiest entities I have ever come across.  So, yes, very disturbing right there…

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But the burial ground is not only for animals.  No, the burial ground can be used for humans too, so yay?

Well, not really.  When humans are buried at the site, they do not come back right either.  And the problems are way more serious than a nasty smell or the need to hunt more rodents than usual.  The Wendigo is able to possess the body of the human, and render its subject with knowledge that he/she should not have.  And this knowledge is not pleasant.  Most of the knowledge is of the hateful variety: affairs and other dastardly deeds that were better off to remain secret.  The Wendigo is not benevolent, and has malice towards the living.

Stephen King's Pet Sematary (1985)

However, to me, the scariest thing about Pet Sematary is that I relate to Louis Creed.  The only evil in the book is the Wendigo spirit.  Gage Creed is not evil, he is the victim of a terrible tragedy, in both life and death.  Jud Crandall is not evil, he is a kind man who was only trying to help his friend.  Rachel Creed is not evil, she is only a protective mother who has an (understandable) fear of death.  Church the cat is not even evil, he is simply a beloved pet who also became an unfortunate victim of circumstances.

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Most of all, Louis Creed is not evil.  He is a loving father who (again, understandably) became mad with grief, and was willing to do anything to bring his son back and make his family whole again.  He believes that he has found a way to do that, and that he can also use science to combat any problems.  Sadly, he is proven horribly wrong, condemning himself and his family to an eternity of damnation.  But if I were Lewis, and placed in his tragic situation, who is to say that I would not do the same thing?  I am close to someone who has lost a child, and the pain is unbearable.  You will do anything to stop it, even if it is something that may have dire consequences later on down the line.

So if I knew there was a possibility that I could bring back a deceased loved one, who is to say that I wouldn’t?  I would be thinking about my loved one, not about any consequences.  And that is frightening to me:  to be that mad with grief that I would be willing to ignore Nature, and get involved with matters that I really have no business being involved with.  And grief is frightening in that way:  the pain blinds us, so we cannot see what is in front of us that may actually be worse than the grief.

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Ghosts are scary…

Vampires are scary…

Haunted hotels are scary…

Heck, Indianapolis Colts football is scary!

But what is the scariest thing of all?

That’s right, someone who has never experienced the awesomeness that is a Stephen King book!

Why should Christmas get all the fun?  It is also allowable to give gifts on Halloween, so do your part, and give someone who has never had this experience the greatest Halloween gift of all:  a Stephen King book!

Happy reading!

RoaldDahl