Dead is Definitely Better: My Review of Pet Sematary

Well, I just finished A Dance With Dragons, the fifth book in George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series.

So now, we wait.  And wait and wait.  And wait some more for books six and seven, at least, according to history, as our beloved GRRM is not exactly the quickest when it comes to publishing books.  However, I love this series so much, so I forgive the bumbling writer of what will probably be one of the most epic fantasy series of all time.

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In fact, I think of it as karma:  I discovered The Dark Tower series after all the books had been published, so I was able to read them at my leisure.  So now the universe has paid me back by forcing me to wait on Game of Thrones.  It’s all good though, I am sure I can find something else to occupy my time before my return to Westoros

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Well, good thing we have The Master!  Really, are you even surprised any more?

Simpsons SK

So, in order to relax while waiting for book six in A Song of Fire and Ice (yes, I may fight windmills while I am waiting for that, actually), I decided to pick up another Stephen King book.  In other words, I have time to kill (see what I did there).

I casually thought about what relaxing book of King’s to read.  I mean, there are quite a few to choose from.

So, I chose Pet Sematary.

Stephen King's Pet Sematary (1985)

I mean, that’s a relaxing read, right?  It will give me some pleasant dreams, right?  It’s good family fun, right?

Ok, you got me.  I really need to stop abusing the sarcasm font.  Seriously…

I deliberately chose Pet Sematary.  If memory serves, this is the one King book I have only read once, and there are very good reasons for that.

I first read this book when I was about 13 years old.  Shortly after, my parents made me stay in this really weird place…I think it’s called Arkham Asylum?  And I met some really funny folks there and they became my lifelong friends!

joker and harley

In other words, Pet Sematary scared me into a change of pants.  I couldn’t sleep with lights off for at least a couple of nights.  Being alone in the house sucked.  And I felt the need to hug my cats really, really tight, claws and teeth be damned.  I may have been turned off from horror and had to resort to watching Disney flicks after this book, as a matter of fact.

Of course, I decided to re-read it, nearly 25 years later.  Makes perfect sense, right?

Well, horror is about confronting fears, to an extent.  In fact, King has written about that, in more than a few books.

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So if a group of plucky kids can travel down to the sewers and confront their fears, why can’t nearly 38 year old me re-read a book that terrified her at age 13?

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Therefore, I convinced myself to read Pet Sematary.  Don’t worry, I have the Blue Heeler Protection Agency at my service, so I will be safe at all times…screw you, Wendigo!

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Anyway, here goes nothing, aka my recap and review of Pet Sematary.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


 

Synopsis

The story begins with the introduction of the Creed family:  Louis Creed, who is a doctor; his wife Rachel; his five year old daughter Ellie and his infant son Gage.  The Creeds have relocated to Ludlow, Maine from Chicago, and have also brought their pet cat Church along.  The Louis and his family meet  their new neighbor, Jud Crandall, shortly after their arrival at their new home, and become fast friends with Jud and his wife Norma.

Louis and his family quickly settle into their new life in Ludlow.  Louis begins his new job at the nearby university.  Ellie starts kindergarten.  Gage slowly settles into his new routine, and Rachel also becomes friends with Jud and Norma.

One afternoon, not long after Ellie’s first day of school, Jud Crandall stops by the house and invites Louis and his family to take a walk with him.  Jud takes the Creed family for a walk on their property that is about a mile long, and shows them something that is called the “Pet Sematary.”  This is actually a graveyard for family pets, many of which were victims of the busy nearby highway.  Louis and Ellie find the site to be a curiosity, although Rachel is disturbed by it.

The next morning, Ellie becomes upset over the idea of the Pet Sematary, as she realizes that her cat, Church, will not live forever.  Louis tries to calm her and explain death to her, but Rachel becomes extremely upset over the conversation, as her sister Zelda died when Rachel was a child.  Rachel becomes so angry that she forces Louis to promise tonever bring up the subject of death again with their daughter.  Louis becomes troubled, thinking that there may be much more to the story of Zelda’s death than Rachel has told him.

The next day, the university that employs Louis is back in full session, so the real work begins for Louis.  And Louis is put to work right away, as one of his first patients is a young man who is the victim of a car accident.  The young man’s name is Victor Pascow, and Louis quickly realizes that his patient will die.  Before the young man passes away, he mentions the “Pet Sematary”, and tells Louis that is not the real cemetery.  However, before Louis can ask any more questions, Pascow passes away from his wounds.  Louis dismisses the young man’s words as a trick played on him by his ears, and proceeds to do his job as a physician.

That night, Louis encounters Victor Pascow in what he believes to be a vivid dream.  Louis follows the being claiming to be Victor Pascow to the Pet Sematary.  The being then warns Louis not to go beyond the Pet Sematary, no matter how tempted he becomes, and that the destruction of himself and all that he loves is very near.  The next morning, Louis finds pine needles on his bedroom floor.  Louis dismisses the incident as an extremely vivid dream accompanied by an episode of sleepwalking, and continues with his day.

The weeks pass by, and the memory of the incident with Victor Pascow begins to fade.  On Halloween, Louis takes Ellie out trick-or-treating and stops by Jud’s house.  While he is there, Jud’s wife Norma has a heart attack.  Louis is able to administer treatment to her, and Norma survives the incident and makes a nearly complete recovery.

For Thanksgiving, Ellie, Rachel and Gage fly back to Chicago, while Louis remains in Maine.  While his family is gone, Church the cat is run over by a vehicle on the busy road.  Louis is upset and wonders how he will break the news to Ellie, who is very attached to Church.  However, Jud tells Louis that he may be able to help him, and insists on burying Church that night.

Jud leads Louis to the Pet Semetary, and Louis believes that he will bury Church there.  However, there is a burial ground beyond the Pet Semetary, and this is where Louis buries his daughter’s cat.  Jud tells Louis that his burial ground is a Micmac burial ground and that it may contain magical properties.  Louis is skeptical, but buries Church there anyway, and returns home shortly after, still wondering how he will break the news to Ellie.

The next day, Louis gets the surprise of his life when Church returns to his house.  Initially, Louis thinks that he perhaps made a mistake in thinking that Church was dead the night before, and was perhaps just unconscious.  However, the cat seems to have changed, and Louis cannot get rid of the feeling that something just is not right.

That night, Jud tells Louis the story of how he buried his dog, Spot, in the same burial grounds.  Like Church, Spot is resurrected, but is not quite the same.  Jud tells Louis that he was relieved when his dog died a few years later, as his personality had changed, and always smelled like dirt.  Jud also tells Louis that this could be a good lesson for Ellie, to help teach her that death is not such a bad thing.

Rachel returns home with Ellie and Gage, and Louis is glad to see his family again.  However, Ellie notices that something is different about Church.  She says that he stinks and no longer allows the cat to sleep with her.  Other than that, life continues on its normal course for the Creed family.

That winter, Norma Crandall passes away in her sleep.  The Creed family and Jud are extremely saddened by this.  Over Rachel’s objections, Ellie attends the funeral with Louis, and this becomes a rite of passage of sorts.  Rachel finally tells Louis about the death of her sister, Zelda, who passed away from spinal meningitis when she was ten years old.  Rachel was left alone in the house to care for Zelda before she passed away, and the experience was extremely traumatic.  Rachel has spent her life feeling guilt in regards to Zelda’s death, and Louis tries to convince that she finally needs to let go of the guilt and move on with her life.

Tragedy strikes that spring.  Gage is struck by a truck on the busy highway near the family’s home, and is killed almost instantly.  The entire family, including Louis, succumbs to a state of shock and grief.  Rachel’s parents blame Louis for Gage’s death, and Louis gets into a fistfight with his father-in-law at Gage’s funeral.  Louis is in so much pain that he is unable to offer much comfort to either his wife or daughter.

Jud speaks to Louis, as he is afraid that Louis is considering burying Gage’s body in the Micmac burial ground, in the hopes of bringing his son back to life.  Jud tells of a young man who was killed in WWII and buried in the burial grounds by his grieving father.  The young man was resurrected, but did not come back as his former self.  The young man’s personality became vicious, and he only wanted to speak of the nasty secrets kept by Jud and a fewer other townspeople.  Jud theorizes that the man was possessed by the spirit of the Wendigo.  The young man is killed again by his father, who also commits suicide.  Jud and the other townspeople who convinced the young man’s father to end the experiment had their lives spared, but Jud feels that coming into contact with the Wendigo has cursed him, and possibly caused the death of Gage Creed and the pain that the Creed family is now suffering.  Louis promises Jud that he will not bury Gage in the burial ground, but the thought never strays far from his mind.

Despite his promise to Jud, Louis decides to carry out his and attempt to bring Gage back to life.  He sends Rachel and Ellie back to Chicago with Rachel’s parents, promising them that he will join them in a few days.  However, both Rachel and Ellie sense that something is not right with Louis, and Ellie begins to have disturbing dreams in regards to the Micmac burial ground, her father and her brother.  The ghost of Victor Pascow also speaks to Ellie in her dreams, telling her that he can warn her of the danger, but that he cannot interfere.  After hearing of her daughter’s dreams, Rachel attempts to call Louis but receives no answer.  This prompts Rachel to call Jud and ask him to check on Louis.

Jud complies with Rachel’s request and checks on Louis.  However, he finds no sign of Louis in the family home, and fears that Louis intends to attempt to resurrect Gage via the Micmac burial ground.  Jud also fears that the curse of the Wendigo is upon him and the Creed family.

Louis steals the corpse of Gage from the graveyard, intending to carry his plan through.  In the meantime, Rachel rushes back to Maine from Chicago, in the hopes of stopping Louis from doing something potentially dangerous.  Rachel speaks to Jud via the telephone, and Jud promises to tell her the whole story the next day.

Louis buries his son in the Micmac burial ground, and returns to his house to wait for Gage, in the hopes of making his family whole again.  Meanwhile, Rachel frantically tries to return to Maine, but it seems as if someone or something is trying to prevent her return.

Jud is awakened early in the morning by a noise in his house.  It turns out that Church the cat and Gage have paid him a visit.  However, Gage is no longer a little boy, and begins to torment Jud with speculations of his wife’s infidelity.  Jud realizes that he has been tricked, but it is too late, and he is murdered by Gage with a scapel.

Rachel is finally able to drive back to Maine, and heads directly to Jud’s house.  She also encounters Gage and Church, and is attacked by Gage.

The next morning, Louis receives a call from his father-in-law with the news that Ellie has been hospitalized due to hysteria. Ellie has also been having prophetic dreams in regards to her family. Louis’ father-in-law tries to persuade Louis and Rachel to come back to Chicago, and Louis promises that they will attempt to return that night.

Louis then finds Church the cat, and kills the animal by giving it a shot of morphine.  Louis then goes to Jud’s house, where he finds the old man’s body.  Louis then discovers the body of Rachel, who has also been murdered by Gage.  Rachel’s corpse also appears to have been cannibalized.  Louis is then attacked by Gage, and is forced to administer him a fatal short of morphine.  After killing his son, Louis then burns down Jud’s house.

After burning down Jud’s house, Louis brings Rachel’s body to the Micmac burial ground.  He is convinced that he waited too long to bury Gage, and that was the reason why Gage turned evil.  Louis has convinced himself that by burying Rachel right away, things will be different, and buries her in the grounds.

That night, Louis is playing solitaire in his house.  His hair has gone completely white.  He hears a voice, and a cold hand falls on his shoulder.  The voice is full of dirt, and simply says, “Darling.”


 

My Thoughts

Let’s get one thing straight:

Pet Sematary is a good book.

And if you are crazy enough to be reading this blog and have gotten this far, you may be thinking:  Well, water is wet.  The sun does set in the west, right?  Why do we need to state the obvious, in other words?  Of course Pet Sematary is a good book…it was written by The Master, right?

Stephen King mit Katze "Clovis", tierischer Held des Films "Schlafwandler". Der Meister des Horrors wird am Sonntag (21.09.1997) 50 Jahre. Mit 50 hat er mehr als 30 Romane veröffentlicht, ein Sachbuch, fünf Geschichtensammlungen und neun Drehbücher. dpa (zu dpa-Korr vom 17.09.1997) nur s/w

Well, there is that.  However, I have talked about this book in an unflattering light at times, so I wanted to set the record straight:  this is a good book.  I may have taken 25 years to re-read this book, but it is an excellent book.

As stated earlier, I was scared into a change of pants the first time I read this book.  And this is still true:  I consider this to be King’s scariest book ever written (more on that in a bit).  However, when I re-read the book at the almost impossibly ancient age of 37 going on 38, my feelings were a bit…mixed…is the best word I can come up with.

If you are a member of the approximately 5,000 Stephen King fan pages that I am member of on social media, you will see Pet Sematary memes on a regular basis (yeah, I need to get out more, I know).  And they are funny.

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And joking around is ok.  Really, it is.  A bit of whistling in the dark is ok, especially when you are dealing with serious topics, and Pet Sematary has many of those.  In fact, Pet Sematary is overflowing with…feelsies…

Yes, the book with the “grumpy cat”, Zelda and the creepy guy who reminds us that “dead is better” is also filled with feelsies.  In fact, there are so many that King should have put up a caution sign, so his Constant Readers aren’t liable to trip on them.

For example, we have the story of Zelda (also the subject of more than a few social media memes).  And the subject of quite a few nightmares.

And the scene involving Zelda is scary, it really is.  But it is also tragic.  When I read this book this time around, however, I was more saddened than anything when I read that part.  Obviously, I was saddened for Rachel.  The description of what Rachel witnessed and how it affected her, even into adulthood, was just heartbreaking.  I was also saddened for Rachel’s parents.  Rachel’s parents may not have made the best decisions in handling care for their daughter, who was facing a horrible, painful death without the slightest shred of dignity, but I was still sad for them, as no parent should ever have to face that.  But most of all, I was sad for Zelda herself.  Zelda was not a monster.  She never was.  She was simply a child who received some extraordinarily bad luck in life, and whose life was cut off too soon.  Her illness transformed her into something else entirely:  something in constant pain and unrecognizable to the ones who loved her the most.  She was robbed of her childhood.  When she should have been playing with dolls, running around outside with her sister and doing whatever other things that kids do, she was a prisoner to her pain in a back bedroom, where she lived her last days and served as a living reminder to her family that life is never fair, and is perhaps the most unfair to those whose deserve such unfairness the least.

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We also have the Creed family.  As I have stated before, the only “bad guy” in Pet Sematary is the Wendigo (more on that later).  When I was younger, I do confess to thinking that Louis was not entirely a “good guy.”  I thought that he was weak and played a role in the events that transpired.  However, this re-read has caused me to re-think this, and I no longer believe that Louis was a weak man.

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In fact, I like Louis Creed.  I like his whole family, actually.  The Creed family reminds me a lot of my own family.  I even have brother who is younger by about the same number years as Gage was to Ellie.  Louis also reminds me of my own father:  he wants to keep his family happy and safe, and for his children to have the best life he can give them.

King spends a lot of time letting his reader get to know the Creed family.  I loved reading about the day to day life of the Creed family.  I loved the interaction between Ellie and Gage.  Again, it reminded me of growing up with a younger brother who could be a pest, but I still (secretly) loved to pieces any way, even if he drove me crazy most of the time.  I also loved the relationship between Louis and Rachel.  They took their duties a parents seriously (again, each wanting the best for their kids), but they also had a great partnership.  Louis and Rachel were lovers as well as parents and partners, and their chemistry jumped off the pages.  The description of the day-to-day life of the Creed family may have seemed mundane, but King managed to the turn the mundane into something extraordinary.

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Because King turns the mundane into the extraordinary, the events that transpire are that much more heartbreaking.  I have said it before, and I will say it again:  King has the ability to create monsters, but his greatest strength is writing about everyday life.  Pet Sematary is a great example of this.  King lets us get to know the Creed family and maybe even fall in love with them a little.  Then, tragedy strikes.  The death of Gage splits the family apart, as any death will, especially of one so young.  And King gives us a cutting description of the split.  One of the scenes that struck me in particular was the fight that Louis had with his father-in-law at this son’s funeral, where the fight comes down to fists.  I actually had sympathy for both sides, since I could understand the feelings, especially Louis’, given his shaky relationship with his in-laws.  The fact that the family was fighting, instead of supporting each other, was just so tragic.  However, it was also unfortunately realistic, as people don’t always show their best faces in times of tragedy.

Time to talk about the Wendigo.

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In re-reading this book, I came to a realization of what a big role the Wendigo actually plays in the events that transpire in this story.  And I did not realize what a large role this entity plays in the fate of…well, pretty much everyone is what it boils down to.

As I said before, when I was younger, I blamed Louis for much of what happened.  My though was that he should have known better and been able to fight against the unnatural forces that ended up destroying him and his family.

However, I no longer feel that way.  I believe that Louis was actually just another pawn in a horrific game.  In fact, I believe that everyone was a pawn in that game, even Jud Crandall.

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The Wendigo clearly had its designs on Jud for a long, long time.  And this is not really Jud’s fault, he fought the Wendigo because he was forced to fight it, due to someone else burying a human in those burial grounds.  Jud was also just trying to help his friend Louis teach his daughter some lessons about death.  Jud had no idea just how far out of control events would spiral, when Louis performed an experiment that should not have been performed.  In fact, I believe the Wendigo used the Creed family to get to Jud, as revenge for being defeated all those years ago.

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When reading this book, I was struck by the apparent influence that the Wendigo had over the town of Ludlow.  For example, the driver of the truck which hit and killed Gage stated that he felt compelled to speed for no reason when passing through Ludlow.  I don’t think that this was just a coincidence, rather I think this is just one piece of evidence of how much control the Wendigo really has.  I may even be able to make that same argument in the case of Church the cat, who felt compelled to cross the street for no reason, resulting in his death and Louis finding out about the burial grounds, which was a secret that should have stayed a secret.  Early on, the Wendigo was working its horrible power for its own gain.

I love how King subtly works the the mythology of the Wendigo throughout this book, even right up to the very end of it.  Louis sees the Wendigo as he takes Rachel’s body to the burial grounds, but his co-worker Steve also sees the Wendigo and is touched by its evil.  I also noticed that Steve has noted the run of bad luck of the people around him that year.  This is just not in regards to what happened to the Creed family in recent months, but it also appears that other people around Louis have had a run of bad luck.  Additionally, Steve is nearly pulled into Louis’ madness, but is able to resist it.  Interestingly enough, Steve moves far away from Ludlow shortly after that encounter, and never returns again.

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So is the town of Ludlow, Maine controlled by the entity known as the Wendigo, in much the same way that Derry, Maine is controlled by Pennywise the Clown?  I actually think the answer may be a resounding “yes.”  The citizens of Ludlow are protective, in a way, of the burial grounds and the Wendigo, in much the same way that the citizens of Derry were protective of Pennywise the Clown.  Like Derry, the Wendigo is a part of Ludlow, and anyone who interferes (like Jud and Louis) will be forced to pay in the form of some unpleasant consequences.

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Well, that’s it for the dark journey known as Pet Sematary.  But it is a journey worth taking, as I gained much from this re-read.  Join me next month as we spend a few sleepless nights in Derry.  In other words, we will be reviewing and dissecting the book Insomnia next month.

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

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Connections

Pet Sematary is set squarely in the middle of the Stephen King universe.  I did not find a of connections, but here are the few that I found:

-Rachel Creed passes by a sign for the town ‘Salem’s Lot and thinks that it is not a nice name for a town.  ‘Salem’s Lot, course, is the setting for the book of the same name, along with two other King short stories, One for the Road and Jerusalem’s Lot, both are which a part of the collection Night Shift.

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-The town of Derry is mentioned a few times. Derry is the setting for several King novels, including It, Insomnia and Bag of Bones.

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-Louis thinks of a medical case where a fetus consumes an un-formed twin.  This is the premise of the novel The Dark Half.

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My Top 10 Scariest Stephen King Books

So, it’s that time of year again…

Yes, Halloween is drawing upon us…

The season for scary stuff!

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

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

Oakland Raiders v Indianapolis Colts

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

Yes, a little therapy from The Master!

stephen-king-cover-ftr

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

Yes, Stephen King is scary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and as always:

Homer spoiler


 

10)  Rose Madder

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

And woman.

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

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

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

norman daniels


 

9)  From a Buick 8

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

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

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

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

From_a_Buick_8_by_nosprings


8)  Revival

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

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

MaryShelley2

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

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

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

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7) Desperation / The Regulators

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

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

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

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6)  The Stand

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

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

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

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5)  Black House

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

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

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

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4)  ‘Salem’s Lot

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

But, wait…there’s more!

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

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

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

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

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

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3) The Shining

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

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

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

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2)  It

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

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

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

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Enter Pennywise the Clown!

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

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

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

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

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Pet Sematary

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

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

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

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

Stephen King's Pet Sematary (1985)

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

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

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

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Ghosts are scary…

Vampires are scary…

Haunted hotels are scary…

Heck, Indianapolis Colts football is scary!

But what is the scariest thing of all?

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

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

Happy reading!

RoaldDahl