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

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

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

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

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

But often, real life can contain plenty of horror…

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

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

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

You guessed it, we are talking about Stephen King!

*insert shocked look right about here*

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

I mean, a killer clown that hunts kids?

Check!

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

Check!

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

Check!

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

Check and mate!

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

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

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

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

Well, back to my point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always:

Continue reading

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Caveat Emptor: My Review of Needful Things

Once upon a time, two stories got together.

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

gordon gekko

They fell in love, and got married.

something-wicked-this-way-comes-1

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

And that new story was kind of like its parents.

It dealt with many of the same themes and messages.

needful_things_move_poster

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

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

So, what was this story named?

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

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

Needful Things.

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

Simpsons SK

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

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

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

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

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My Thoughts

Well, this was unexpected.

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

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

It fit, in other words.

Well, then this happened.

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

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

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

Molly 1

At first was I was like:

Hurr

Then I was all:

ermahgerd-1

But now I go back and forth…

Either at this end:

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

Or at this end:

Spike

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

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

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

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

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

 

Alan Pangborn 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the beginning, Brian is innocent.

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

needful things 1

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

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

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

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

However, not all of the child has left Brian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen King

And we have our bad guy, Leland Gaunt.

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

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

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

Gaunt 1

In fact, this guy came to mind:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

small towns 1

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

Castle Rock 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the results of this prank were just horrible.

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

barforama

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

Nettie and Wilma killing each other was bad.

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

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

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

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

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

We have a stranger that has suddenly appeared in town.

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

Trump has done exactly what Gaunt has done.

He has swooped into our country.

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

Donald Trump 1

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

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

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

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

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

Like Castle Rock, America has gone crazy.

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

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

There has been racist graffiti scrawled on walls.

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

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

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

Will the same thing happen to America?

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

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But, I try to hold on to something positive.

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

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

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

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

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

Being reborn is not necessarily a bad thing.

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


Well, that’s it for Needful Things!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cujo

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

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

Joe Hill 2

So, what will next year hold?

Well, guess that is up to me!

So, we will talk next year!

Until then, happy holidays to all!

SK christmas 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red and Andy

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

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

From_a_Buick_8_by_nosprings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!)

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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Top 10 Women in Stephen King Books

I am a nerd (well, duh).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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There was also Dr. Crusher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, as always:

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10.  Jo Noonan (Bag of Bones)

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

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

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

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

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

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


9.  Abra Stone (Dr. Sleep)

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

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

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

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

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


8)  Margaret White (Carrie)

No story is complete without a good bad guy.

Or bad gal, as the case may be.

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret White

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


7.  Dolores Claiborne (Dolores Claiborne)

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

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

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

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

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


6)  Sadie Dunhill (11/22/63)

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

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

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

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

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


5.  Susan Delgado (Wizard and Glass)

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

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

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

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


4) Susannah Dean (The Dark Tower series)

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

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

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

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

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

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


3)  Lisey Landon (Lisey’s Story)

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

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

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

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

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

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


2)  Rose McLendon (Rose Madder)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Allow me the pleasure of introducing…

Beverly Marsh (It)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


So there you have it.

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

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

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

RoaldDahl

Top 10 non-horror Stephen King books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen King

Which leads me to this blog post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10)  Lisey’s Story

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

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

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

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9)  Dolores Claiborne

So let’s talk about human monsters again.

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

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

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

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

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8)  Rose Madder

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

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

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

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

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

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7)  Hearts in Atlantis

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

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

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

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6)  Different Seasons

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

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

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

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5)  Eyes of the Dragon

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

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

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

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4)  The Dead Zone

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

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

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

3)  Insomnia

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

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

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

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2)  The Talisman

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

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

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

And now, for our number entry on this list…

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I bring you…

1) 11/22/63

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

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

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

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

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

RoaldDahl

 

Top 7 Stephen King Couples

Love is in the air.  Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  Time to snuggle with your sweetie, eat some chocolate…and…

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Hey, this is a blog that features Stephen King, a man who is not shy about including (in sometimes salacious detail) descriptions on the human condition, but geez, let’s leave something to the imagination, ok?  Some things are better left to the imagination, in fact…

Yes, most King books contain some kind of love story, in some form.  Wizard and Glass, the fourth book in the Dark Tower series, actually contains one of the most epic love stories of all time, in my opinion.  And it is one of the most tragic love stories of all time.  Often times, in King’s work, people are thrown together due to circumstances beyond their control (Insomnia is a great example of this, along with It) and they fall in love.  Sometimes it ends well and there is a happily ever after.  However, more often than not, all does not end well, and one or both parts of a couple must face an unhappy ending.  And sometimes, the dead half of a couple does not stay dead, but comes back from beyond the grave for one last hurrah.  And you thought navigating the perils of online dating was bad!

Roland and Susan

And in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I have devoted this post to my favorite couples in the Stephen King universe.  So, without further ado, here are my seven favorite Stephen King couples:

7)  Wolf and Jack (The Talisman)

Ah, the bromance…. Seth Rogen and James Franco are a great example.  LeBron James and his (former) Miami Heat teammates are another great example.  You can say that bromance is just in the air these days…

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But long before Seth Rogen and James Franco, and a really long time before LeBron James and co, you had…Wolf and Jack!  Yes, a twelve year old boy and his werewolf buddy have made it onto this list about Stephen King couples.  And yes, there is basis for this, so just stick with me on it, ok?

All kidding about bromances aside, there is something so inherently sweet about Wolf and Jack.  Of course, they are not a couple in the traditional sense (a twelve year old boy and a werewolf?  Ick much?)  However, Wolf and Jack are pulled together by circumstances beyond their control.  Wolf is dragged into Jack’s world and is not happy about it.  Everyday objects, like vehicles, movie screens and so forth terrify him, and rightly so.  But Wolf does his best and his devotion to his “herd” (which is what Jack has become to him) knows no bounds.  He literally carries Jack on his back without complaint. He will sacrifice anything for Jack.  And he pays the ultimate price, as Wolf dies protecting Jack, which allows Jack to escape his captors and continue his quest.  Wolf’s loyalty knows no bounds, and Jack feels that part of his heart is missing once Wolf is gone.  Loyalty to one another is part of what makes a relationship great. Jack and Wolf were both incredibly loyal to each other and are deserving of a spot on this list about great Stephen King couples.

wolf and jack

6) Billy Nolan and Chris Hargensen (Carrie)

Some things are just so bad, they are actually good.  Kind of like the Adam West Batman tv series.  Or Killer Klowns from Outer Space (although I think that one is just so terrible that it veers into awesome territory).

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Billy Nolan and Chris Hargensen, the next couple on this list, are definitely in the “bad” category.  Although I don’t really think I can find anything good about these two…they are just rotten to the core!  King often writes about terrible human beings and portrays people in a non flattering light.  And there is nothing flattering about either one of these two characters.  Chris bullies those different from herself.  And when anyone tries to discipline her, she schemes to get revenge on those who would get in her way.  She bullies Carrie White and faces disciplinary action.  And whose fault is this?  Not hers…Carrie’s, of course!  And how do you seek revenge on a poor, defenseless, outcast girl?  Why, get your equally rotten boyfriend Billy Nolan to dump pig’s blood on her in front of EVERYONE at the prom!  Oh, the things some guys will do for love…

Actually, I don’t think love ever played a factor with Billy (or Chris, for that matter).  Billy is a misogynist who sees women as sex objects for his pleasure.  He is even planning to leave town, but will not take Chris with him.  There is a kind of devotion present in this relationship, but it is not based on love in any way at all.  Both Chris and Billy use each for their own agendas:  Billy for sexual gratification and Chris for someone to commit a cruel act upon a classmate.  Both feed upon each other’s hate.  Their souls are so dark that they are really deserving of each other, and make up the hateful counterpart to each other.  In other words, a match made in Hell and hence the inclusion on this list.

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5)  Ralph Roberts and Lois Chasse (Insomnia)

As I stated before, characters in King novels are often thrown together by circumstances out of their control.  Often times, otherword-ly forces are responsible for this.  Ralph and Lois (Insomnia), the next couple on this list, are prime examples of this.  As the title suggests, both characters suffer from sleeplessness.  They discover that the sleepless is part of the plan of a higher being who has designs on both Ralph and Lois.  Ralph and Lois then band together to save the life of someone who will become important to The Dark Tower series.  And in the process, they fall in love.

The “twist” on Ralph and Lois is that they are elderly.  Ralph is a widower and Lois is a widow.  All of their friends are also elderly.  So the story has a slightly different “flavor” than most of King’s other work.  The story is told from the perspective of someone who has lived most of his life and in his “twilight years.”  However, this does not make the love story any less sweet or any less poignant.  The fact that Ralph and Lois are elderly may even make their love more poignant, as they probably will not have another 30+ years together.  However, Ralph and Lois get married after they complete their quest.  And they do have a few more years together.  However, in typical King fashion, the end comes all too fast, as we learn Ralph has sacrificed a few years of his life so that a child may not meet a premature death.  Even though Ralph is an old man, he brings to mind a noble knight of old who sacrifices himself in battle, with Lois being his lady.  However, Lois loves Ralph no less for his efforts, and will continue to love him even after he is gone.  Ralph and Lois are one of the most endearing couples in any of King’s books and have earned their place on this list.

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4) Ben Hanscom and Beverly Marsh (It)

Everyone remembers their first crush growing up.  I certainly do remember mine, although I will keep his name out of this blog (Heaven forbid someone actually reads this, haha).  Those feelings are some of the most intense feelings I have ever experienced.  I remember that my face would flush when I saw him, and I would alternate between feeling flushed and feeling icy cold.  Even the mere mention of his name would make my hear skip a beat. I was too shy (and probably too young) to really express my feelings, but I did ache for him, and often imagined what could be.  In other words, that first crush was just wonderful. And for the record, I am happily married and would not change it for the world.  But I will never forget those feelings.  Apparently, neither did Stephen King, as the first crush (along with many others) was a topic explored in detail in his book It.

Ben Hanscom is the fat, lonely kid in love with the beautiful girl that he will never obtain (so he thinks).  Beverly Marsh is the beautiful girl, but suffers from serious self doubt, due to verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her father.  She is also bullied by her peers as her parents are poor.  Ben and Beverly are brought together the summer before they enter 6th grade to battle an evil being that has held their town captive for centuries.  Ben, Beverly and the rest of their friends band together to form The Losers Club.  The children spend the summer devising ways to rid the town of evil, and finally do battle with the monster.  They then go their separate ways and become successful adults.  Ben remains single, unable to settle down with anyone.  Beverly marries a man who is abusive in the same way her father was abusive.  The adult Losers then band together in adulthood one last time to vanquish the monster in their home town, as the first attempt was unsuccessful.  In the process, Ben falls in love with Beverly all over again. This time, the Losers are successful and defeat the monster.  Somewhere along the way, Beverly also begins to reciprocate Ben’s feelings for her and falls in love with him.  Unlike many King characters, Ben and Beverly receive a happy ending, as it is implied that they become a couple.

Even though the romance between Ben and Beverly is practically an epilogue, they are still one of King’s most memorable couples.  How often is it that someone like Ben gets to reunite with his first crush and make his feelings known?  How often is that two people who called themselves Losers as children wind up successful and then find the love of their lives?  Unfortunately, rarely…which is what makes Ben Hanscom and Beverly Marsh an endearing couple worthy of this list.

Ben and Beverly

3)  Roland Deschain and Susan Delgado (Wizard and Glass)

As stated before, King often explores the topic of first love, and writes extensively about childhood.  The book Wizard and Glass (book 4 of the Dark Tower series), is a flashback to Roland Deschain’s childhood.  King provides us with a detailed account of Roland’s coming of age, when he passes his test several years early and becomes a gunslinger at the unheard of age of 14.  However, Roland truly comes of age when he is sent, along with his friends Cuthbert and Alain, to Meijis for his supposed protection.  Roland’s father believes that Meijis is not subject to the upheaval that Gilead is currently experiencing and sends Roland and his friends there, with assumed names and assumed jobs.  However, this move backfires, and Roland and his friends are placed in even more danger.  Along the way, Roland also meets and falls in love with Susan Delgado, a young woman living in Meijis, who will become Roland’s first and only true love.

Susan Delgado

When Roland and Susan meet, Susan is promised to the elderly mayor of Meijis by her greedy aunt Cordelia.  However, that promise is soon broken, as Roland and Susan are attracted to each other and quickly consummate their relationship.  They surrender completely to each other, in both body and soul.  Although their courtship is brief, Susan quickly becomes pregnant with Roland’s child.  In the meantime, Roland and his friends uncover a plot by Eldred Jonas and the Big Coffin Hunters (a corrupt band of failed gunslingers) to surrender Meijis to an entity known as the Good Man, whose intentions are anything but good.  Eldred Jonas befriends Susan’s greedy aunt Cordelia, and is able to turn Cordelia against her own niece.  Eldred also has Roland and his friends framed for murder, in an attempt to keep Roland from foiling their plans.  Susan then breaks Roland and his friends out of jail.  However, Susan pays the ultimate price for this move.  She is literally burned alive by the townspeople for the crime of treason.  Her aunt Cordelia is also part of the mob.  Roland witnesses Susan being burned at the stake through a magical crystal, but is only able to watch helplessly as Susan and his unborn child perish in flames.  Roland and friends able to foil the plans of Eldred Jonas and his friends but the victory is hollow.  The young gunslingers head back to Gilead but return as men and are no longer boys.  The events in Meijis have matured Roland in particular, and we see him begin to turn into the cold, ruthless man we meet in the later books.

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Wizard and Glass, like It, is another book that deals with childhood and first love.  King gives a vivid description of Roland and Susan’s feelings for each other, stating that they kissed so hard her lips bled.  He also shows a sweet, tender side of Roland, when his feelings for Susan are revealed.  However, unlike Beverly Marsh and Ben Hanscom, Roland and Susan do not have a happy ending.  In fact, the death of Susan Delgado is a major turning point in Roland’s life, making him into someone who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal of saving the Dark Tower.  Even though their courtship is all too brief and bittersweet, Roland and Susan still have a love that most would envy.  Susan’s last words are her declaration of love for Roland.  A couple whom experiences a love this intense deserves a spot on this list, no matter how brief their courtship.

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2) Scott and Lisey Landon (Lisey’s Story)

Some people say that when you marry someone, you also marry that person’s demons.  In other words, your spouse’s troubles become your troubles.  King’s book Lisey’s Story takes this concept to a new level.  A literal level, actually.  When Lisey falls in love with Scott, she gets much more than she bargained for.  She discovers some interesting information about her husband, and not all of it is good.  Scott is also a gifted writer and is on his way to becoming wildly successful. However, she still marries Scott, and literally gets the ride of a lifetime in return.

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Lisey notices that her intended is a bit “unusual” even in the early stages of dating.  Scott seems to have the ability to disappear and reappear.  He also has the ability to heal himself from terrible injuries.  Lisey later learns that Scott can teleport himself to a parallel world he calls Boo’ya Moon.  This world gives Scott the ability to heal himself from terrible injuries, such as a bullet wound from a shot fired by a deranged fan.  However, this world also comes with its demons.  One of these creatures is responsible for Scott’s premature death.  And Lisey eventually catches the eye of that creature as well.  She must call upon her dead husband to do battle with the supernatural creatures of Boo’ya Moon, along with another deranged fan who has been harassing her.  While Lisey is figuring out how to combat these evils, we are told the story of Scott and Lisey’s marriage.  We also learn of Scott’s childhood, which was truly horrific.  We learn of just what considerable sacrifices that Lisey made when she fell in love with Scott and chose to spend her life with him.  Lisey has done a lot for Scott in his lifetime.  And in his death, Scott does a lot a for Lisey, showing her how to rid herself of both the earthly menace and the supernatural menace.  Scott also leads her to one last story that he has written just for her that is not for publication, but is for Lisey to read upon his death.

“Til death do us part” is included in most wedding vows.  However, the love that Scott and Lisey have for each other even transcends death, making them worthy of their spot on this list.

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And now, for my number 1 Stephen King couple…

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Ta da…

1)  Eddie and Susannah Dean (The Dark Tower series)

Its no secret that any character in a Stephen King book is often put through grueling tests that are usually not of their own choosing.  And the same goes for couples in the Stephen King universe (as evidenced by this post).  However, no couple (in my humble opinion) has been subjected to as many trials and tribulations as Eddie and Susannah Dean (of The Dark Tower series).

dark tower

On the surface, Eddie and Susannah are as different as could be.  For starters, there is the obvious.  Eddie is white and Susannah is black.  And they are not even from the same time period, although they are both from New York City.  Eddie is drawn as a young man from 1980’s New York.  Susannah is drawn as a slightly older woman from 19060’s New York.  It is revealed that she was heavily involved in the civil rights movement.  Eddie’s pursuits were far less noble, as we learn that he was employed as a drug runner by a mobster.  Eddie also suffers from an addiction to heroin.  Susannah is not without her demons, however.  When she is drawn, she is suffering from multiple personality disorder.  One personality is known as Odetta Susannah Dean.  Odetta is mild mannered and educated.  The other personality, Detta Susannah Walker, is everything Odetta is not:  rude, crass and paranoid.  The Detta personality even tries to kill Roland and Eddie.

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However, despite of, or perhaps because of their respective demons, Eddie and Susannah fall in love.  With Eddie’s love, Susannah is able to merge both the Detta and Odetta personalities into one powerful woman who becomes known as Susannah Dean.  And with Susannah’s love, Eddie is able to kick his heroin addiction and put his focus on other pursuits, such as becoming a deadly gunslinger.  Both Eddie and Susannah are thrown into a strange world together, and have had choices made for them, as opposed to making their own choices.  But their love is enough to see them through the trials they will be subjected to.  And those trials are numerous.

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Along with Jake Chambers, Eddie and Susannah train with Roland Deschain to become gunslingers.  Eddie, Susannah, Oy the billy bumbler and Roland form a tight bond.  However, this bond was never meant to last forever.  Eddie is the first member of the group to die.  Jake then follows.  Susannah is forced to continue the remainder of the quest without Eddie.  Despite the fact of feeling like she is just going through the motions without Eddie,  Susannah continues on the quest with Roland.  However, she is offered a reprieve.  Even better, she is able to reunite with a parallel reality version of her husband.  So, unlike many couples on this list, Eddie and Susannah do have a somewhat happy ending.

Tet 1

Relationships are often about trial and hardship.  People may love each other, but as the saying goes, sometimes love is just not enough.  In order for a relationship to last, it must weather whatever difficulties are thrown its way.  The best relationships are those that have withstood whatever hardship that has been thrown their way, and are all the better for it.  Eddie and Susannah’s Dean’s relationship had almost every kind of hardship I could think of thrown its way (even death), but their love was never diminished.  In other words, nothing could part them.  Therefore, they are deserving the honor of being Stephen King’s best couple.

Eddie and Susannah 1

 

So next time you have a fight with your sweetie and are lamenting the status of your relationship, just remember…it could be worse.  Much worse…you could be one of the couples on this list and therefore a victim to the whims of Stephen King!  So grab your sweetie, give him or her a kiss and thank your lucky stars that you live in this universe and not the Stephen King universe!

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