Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
If you wish to hear your favorite nerd live and in the flesh, breaking down the novel Insomnia (written by The Master, natch) and geeking out over more than a few things, click the link below, as she was a guest on The Dark Tower Radio Podcast, and got to participate in a great meeting of the minds! Long days and pleasant nights, and enjoy!
Lately, confusion seems to be rampant in our world.
As in, we are confused as to what the difference is between between the beast that we call a fact, and the lesser known distant cousin of the fact, otherwise known as an “alternative fact.”
Since I myself am a survivor of the Bowling Green Massacre, let me educate you on the difference between facts and alternative facts.
The following information is brought to you by BARF (Bureau of Alternative Real Facts.)
Fact: Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a classic movie, and should be required viewing for all school age children.
Alternative fact: Jupiter Ascending is classified as a film. And one that people are allowed to watch, to boot.
And now, for the factiest fact that you ever facting heard, motherfacters!
Joe Hill is a bad ass. A motherfacting bad ass, in fact.
And if you don’t agree with me, well then fact off, you facter!
And I assure, I survived my trip to Christmasland, although, between you and me, the inhabitants of that place are kind of hostile. In fact, they will suck the life right out of you…
So, gear up your Rolls Royce Wraith, strap in and get ready for the recap and review of NOS4A2.
And, as always:
The story begins by introducing the reader to a nurse named Ellen Thornton. Ellen works in a prison infirmary, where most of the patients are comatose and unresponsive to any form of human contact.
One of these patients is a man named Charlie Manx. Manx is extremely elderly, and was also convicted of terrible crimes: he was convicted of kidnapping and murdering young children.
One night, as Ellen is making her rounds, something unexpected happens: Manx appears to awake from him comatose state, and speaks to Ellen. He specifically refers to Ellen’s son by his full name, and makes references to some place he calls “Christmasland” and someone named the “Gas Mask Man.”
Ellen calls for the doctors, as she is badly frightened. However, Manx exhibits no sign of consciousness once the doctors arrive, and Ellen is not believed, despite the fact that Manx grabbed her hard enough to leave bruises, and the fact that Manx referred to her son by his full name.
The story then switches to the perspective of a young girl named Victoria McQueen, also known as Vic. Vic’s father Chris also calls Vic The Brat.
At first, Vic seems to be an ordinary young girl. However, we find out that Vic is anything but ordinary. Vic possesses the ability to teleport herself between faraway places. Vic does this by riding her bike, and envisioning a bridge she calls The Shorter Way Bridge, which seems to magically appear when Vic wants to find a lost object. The bridge takes Vic to the place where the object was lost, and then takes her back to her original location. However, Vic’s talent also comes at a cost: she experiences headaches and becomes extremely ill when she uses this ability.
We are then introduced to a troubled man named Bing Partridge. One day, as Bing is leafing through some old magazines, he comes across an ad promising employment in a place called “Christmasland.” The ad is not specific in regards to the job details, but Bing is enchanted, as he loves celebrating Christmas, which brings back happy memories for him. Bing sends away his application for employment in Christmasland, desperately hoping that he gets a response soon. We also learn that Bing killed both of his parents as a child, and spent time in a mental institution before he was released. Bing is employed as a janitor, and has access to certain kinds of gases that can turn a person into a zombie, along with his own gas mask.
Almost immediately, Bing begins to have visions of past Christmases with his parents, and begins to dream of Christmasland. However, days go by, and he does not get a response to his application.
Bing also begins to see a mysterious vehicle circling his work place. The vehicle is an old Rolls Royce Wraith, and is black. However, the driver of the vehicle continues to remain a mystery.
One day, Bing finally meets the driver of vehicle, who introduces himself as Charles Talent Manx. Manx convinces Bing to go for a ride in the vehicle, so he can describe the opportunity that awaits Bing in Christmasland, if Bing chooses to accept. Once he is in the vehicle, Bing begins to feel sleepy. Manx tells him that is okay, as Bing will be entering another reality of sorts.
Manx tells Bing that he saves children from a life of pain and abuse by taking them to an alternate reality he calls “Christmasland.” In Christmasland, the children never have to grow up, and it is always Christmas, every day, all year. Manx says that the children are his, but that Bing can do what he wishes to any parents or any other parties that may need to be subdued, as most will not want Manx to take their children away. Bing eagerly accepts the employment opportunity, and he and Manx get to work.
Over the years, several children vanish under mysterious circumstances. In many of these disappearances, a mysterious Rolls Royce Wraith is spotted. However, none of the disappearances are ever connected.
Vic is now a teenager. She has used her bike many times to create the Shorter Way Bridge, so that she can locate lost objects. Vic is also a budding artist who has received recognition for her work.
One day, Vic uses her talent to locate a missing photograph. In doing so, she badly startles the school janitor, who relapses back into alcoholism. Vic feels extremely guilty and begins to question her use of this ability. The Shorter Way Bridge makes another appearance, and Vic rides her bike through it.
The Shorter Way Bridge deposits Vic in a library somewhere in Iowa. There, she meets a young woman named Maggie, who seems to have been expecting Vic to make an appearance. Maggie dresses in a colorful manner. Maggie is also afflicted with a bad stammer, which makes her speech difficult to understand.
Vic is bewildered, but Maggie attempts to reassure her. Maggie tells Vic that while her abilities may be a bit unusual, she is not alone in being gifted with these abilities. According to Maggie, many highly creative people (Vic is an accomplished artist and Maggie is gifted in the use of language and also an accomplished Scrabble player) possess the ability to alter reality. Maggie compares this to someone who uses a knife to make cuts in various objects, and refers to these altered realities as “inscapes.”
We also learn that Maggie has the ability to create her own “inscapes” and alter reality. Sometimes, Maggie’s Scrabble tiles will spell out sentences on her own. This is how Maggie knew to expect Vic: her Scrabble tiles told her of “The Brat” (but not Vic’s name, as no proper nouns are allowed in Scrabble.)
Maggie also states that her Scrabble tiles have indicated that Vic can find someone or something known as “The Wraith.” Vic demands to know who or who “The Wraith” is, but Maggie tries to change the subject, telling Vic that The Wraith is bad news and dangerous to Vic.
At Vic’s insistence, Maggie breaks down and gives her what information she has on The Wraith. According to Maggie, The Wraith is another person who possesses abilities similar to hers and Vic’s. However, The Wraith uses his abilities for evil, as he kidnaps children to steal their souls so that he may achieve immortality, trapping the children in an “inscape” of his own creation. Maggie then sends Vic back home, warning her once again to stay away from “The Wraith” as he is dangerous.
When Vic returns home, she becomes extremely ill as a result of her latest journey. Her parents become extremely worried, and confiscate her bicycle, as they believe she has an unhealthy fixation. Vic eventually recovers, and resumes her normal, every day life.
In the meantime, more children disappear. Once again, a Rolls Royce Wraith is spotted when some of these disappearances take place, but the cases are never connected.
Vic grows into a troubled teenager, When she is fourteen years old, her parents divorce, and her father abandons Vic and her mother. Vic acts out, turning to alcohol and drugs. Her grades in school are mediocre, although her art teacher notes that Vic has a talent for art, although Vic does apply herself.
One day, after an argument with both of her parents, Vic sneaks back into her house and falls asleep. When she awakens, she searches for some of her belongings that were confiscated by her mother, and finds her old bicycle.
Vic begins to ride her bicycle, and remember happier times during her childhood. However, it is not long before the bicycle leads her to trouble, which happens to be the lair of Charles Manx, or The Wraith.
Almost right away, Vic realizes that something is not right. She encounters what she thinks is a young child, but the creature only resembles a child in name only, as it has sharp teeth and appears to be breathing some sort of vapor or smoke when it speaks.
Vic also encounters Charles Manx, who attempts to entice her. When Vic refuses, her Shorter Way Bridge vanishes, leaving her stranded. Manx also sets fire to the house, intending to trap Vic in the house so that she will perish from the fire.
However, Vic escapes the house. She is assisted by man named Lou Carmody, who happens to be in the area, riding his motorcycle. Lou takes Vic to a nearby gas station, so that she can attempt to get help. Vic realizes that she is actually in Colorado, instead of her home of Massachusetts, and that she has been missing for two days. Vic indicates that she has been kidnapped, as she knows that no one will believe her story about the Shorter Way Bridge.
As Vic is telling her story, Charles Manx and his vehicle make an appearance at the gas station. The men at the gas station attempt to apprehend Manx, and a fight ensues. However, Manx is apprehended in the end, and arrested for his crimes. The official story is that Vic was kidnapped, and there is no mention of any of the stranger elements to her story.
Some years later, Vic moves back to Colorado, under the pretense of attending art school. She pursues a relationship with Lou Carmody, and the two have a child together named Bruce Wayne Carmody, who they call Wayne. Vic loves Lou and Wayne, but is afraid to admit, as she feels that she is not good enough for either of them. Vic also receives troubling phone calls from children who state that they are residents of Christmasland. These phone calls frighten her, but she does not tell anyone about them.
Bing Partridge is never apprehended by the authorities for his role in Manx’s crimes. and anxiously awaits the return of Manx, as he believes that he will receive his eternal reward in Christmasland.
Vic notices that when she engages in some kind of creative active, such as painting, that phone calls from Christmasland stop. She keeps herself busy by painting motorcycles and also by writing and illustrating children’s books. However, the mysterious calls start again, and Vic’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Lou moves out of their house, taking their son with him, but he is worried about Vic. Vic then burns down her house in an attempt to silence the calls from Christmasland.
In the meantime, Manx’s vehicle has been purchased at an auction by a man and his daughter. One day, the vehicle comes to life, killing its new owner, as Bing has found it, so that he may reunite with Manx.
Charles Manx is thought to be deceased, but his body goes missing from the mortuary.
Vic is institutionalized for her erratic behavior, and comes to believe that her experiences with the Shorter Way Bridge and mysterious telephone calls are simply vivid hallucinations caused by her abuse of alcohol and other drugs. When she is released from the mental hospital, she temporarily moves back to Massachusetts to spend some time with her mother Linda, who is dying of cancer. Vic also makes plans to spend the summer with her son Wayne, as she feels that she has failed him as a mother.
Tragically, Linda passes away just as Vic is able to secure a cottage for the summer. However, Vic still makes plans to spend time with her son Wayne, and Lou sends him to his mother for the summer.
In the meantime, we find out that Bing has managed to steal the body of Charles Manx, who is actually still alive, although barely. Bing sets up camp in the house across the street from Vic’s childhood home, killing the home’s owners, and placing Charles Manx in the bedroom. Bing waits for Vic, as he intends to murder Vic, and hand Wayne over to Manx.
Vic returns to her childhood home sometime in July, as Lou has arrived in town to spend Fourth of July with his son. Vic is greeted by a face from her past: Maggie, the woman from Iowa whom she met as a child.
While Vic recognizes Maggie, she is not happy to see her, as she still believes Maggie to be a delusion from her past. Maggie begs Vic to help her stop Charles Manx, who she insists is alive and on the hunt for Vic and Wayne. Maggie hands Vic a file containing some paperwork on Manx, but Vic chases Maggie away from her house, and threatens to call the police.
Later, Wayne finds the folder on Manx and peeks at it, as he is curious. Bing spots Wayne from the house he is commandeering, but is unable to do anything, as Lou arrives, and Bing does not want to be seen. Bing realizes that Vic is in the neighborhood, and makes preparations to capture Vic and Wayne.
That evening, Vic speaks to Lou, and finds out that Wayne has mentioned Manx to his father. Vic tells Lou about her childhood experiences with the Shorter Way Bridge, and the real story of how she encountered Charles Manx. Vic recognizes that she may be delusion, and indicates this to Lou. Vic also tells Lou that she thinks Maggie was a patient at the mental hospital, who is sharing in Vic’s delusions. Vic makes plans to move back to Colorado that fall, so that she can be closer to Wayne.
Wayne believes that Charles Manx is nearby, and becomes frightened, even though he thinks that he is imagining things.
Vic and Wayne work on a motorcycle that was left at the summer cottage, fixing it up and giving it a new paint job. Vic decides to take the bike for a spin, and tells Wayne that she will return shortly.
Vic rides the bike, and is able to conjure the Shorter Way Bridge, just as she had been able to do as a child. However, Vic continues to believe that she is delusional.
Wayne waits at the house for his mother. He hears a knock on the door, and encounters Bing and Manx, who tell him they need to use the phone, as they have run Wayne’s dog Hooper over with their car.
Bing and Manx then proceed to kidnap Wayne. Wayne shouts for his mother, who is just now returning from her trip and does not realize what has happened.
However, Vic soon does realize what has happened, and runs to the car in an attempt to rescue Wayne. She fights Manx, who attacks her with a hammer. Bing shoots at Vic, but misses Vic and hits Manx in the ear instead. The men then escape, with Wayne trapped in the car.
Lou is at the airport, awaiting his flight. Lou receives a panicked call from Wayne. Wayne tells his father that he has been kidnapped, and then hangs up the phone. Lou then collapses, due to a sudden heart attack.
Wayne tries to escape, but Bing douses him with gas so that he cannot think and becomes very sleepy. Manx tells him that he is going to Christmasland, and that he will never see his parents again.
Vic meets with the authorities at her mother’s house. The FBI has been brought in, as the authorities believe that Wayne’s kidnapper may cross state lines. Lou also meets with Vic and the authorities. Vic’s mental illness is brought up by a FBI agent, Tabitha Hutter, who does not agree with Vic in regards to Manx returning and seeking vengeance. Vic also describes her earlier experience with the Shorter Way Bridge. Lou tells Vic that he believes her, and Vic tells Lou that she will do whatever she can to rescue their son.
Manx drives his vehicle through his inscape, giving Wayne a glimpse into Christmasland. Wayne falls into a trance, and becomes excited about living in Christmasland. However, the ghost of Wayne’s grandmother soon appears in the vehicle. She appears to be speaking in reverse, and gives Wayne a cryptic message before she vanishes: he must speak in reverse.
Manx then stops at Bing’s house so that he can rest and recover from his wounds. Wayne then notices that the vehicle has peculiar properties: objects seem to vanish and then reappear. Wayne also finds some Christmas ornaments. He becomes fixated on one that resembles a moon, but has a face.
Wayne is then questioned by Manx, who promises him a phone call to his mother. Manx tricks Wayne into giving him some information about Maggie, along with Vic’s new motorcycle, and does not allow Wayne a call to his mother.
At her home, Vic is growing more and more worried about her son. Lou is attempting to fix her motorcycle for her, so that she can conjure the Shorter Way Bridge and rescue Wayne. Vic receives a phone call. The caller is Maggie. Maggie tells Vic that her son is still alive, and that she will help however she can.
After Vic hangs up the phone, she is confronted by Agent Hutter, who has heard the entire conversation. Hutter attempts to arrest Vic, but Vic escapes from the house, and uses her motorcycle to drive away. Eventually, she is able to conjure the Shorter Way Bridge, and is able to arrive at the house where Wayne was being kept.
In the meantime, Manx leaves with Wayne in his vehicle, promising that he will take Wayne to Christmasland. Manx does not allow Bing to come with them, as he says that Bing has failed in his duties. Wayne’s personality is beginning to change, as he is horrified to remember that he pulled the wings off of a butterfly. Wayne is also fixated on his Christmas ornament, constantly touching it.
Vic realizes that Wayne and Manx have left, and becomes upset. A man allows her to use his phone. Vic does not realize that this man is actually Bing, until he attacks her.
Wayne continues to travel with Manx. He sees visions of Christmasland and is anxious to arrive. However, he receives a visit from the ghost of his dead grandmother, who again tries to warn him that he must think in reverse. However, Wayne dismisses the old woman’s ghost, as his personality has begun to change. Wayne has also begun to loose some of his teeth, and appears to be growing small fangs in their place.
Vic fights Bing. She manages to escape, but sets the house on fire. Before she escapes, she receives a call from Manx. Vic pleads with Manx to release Wayne but Manx refuses. Manx allows Vic to speak to Wayne. Vic senses that Wayne’s personality is changing due to his exposure to Manx, and tells Wayne that he must fight Manx, and that she will do whatever it takes to rescue him.
After she speaks to Wayne, Vic then speaks to Lou and Agent Hutter over the telephone. She tells Lou that she has a plan to stop Manx and rescue Wayne, but that she will need a large amount of explosive material to accomplish this. After Vic hangs the phone, Lou suffers from a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital.
Vic uses the Shorter Wayne Bridge to locate Maggie. She arrives at Maggie’s library in Iowa, which was destroyed by a flood a few years back. However, Maggie is there, and Vic recounts the events of the past few days.
Maggie tells Vic that Manx does possess the same abilities that they possess, but that he uses his abilities for evil. She tells Vic that Manx’s car must be destroyed in order to destroy Manx. Maggie also tells Vic that the use of their abilities comes at a cost: Maggie’s stammer has worsened, Vic’s brain has been damaged and Manx has lost all of his empathy, and now revels in the suffering of his others. The children Manx has kidnapped have also been stripped of their humanity, as they exist for pleasure only, and do not comprehend the suffering of others.
While Vic falls asleep asleep due to exhaustion, Maggie consults her Scrabble tiles for information in regards to Manx. As she does this, a young boy enters the ruins of her library with firecrackers. At first, Maggie thinks that it is a local child playing a prank, but realizes that the boy is Wayne, who is acting under the influence of Manx. Wayne utters some incomprehensible words (his human side knows that what he is doing is wrong) and lures Maggie out to Manx and his car.
Manx immediately attacks Maggie with his vehicle. Maggie puts up a fight and refuses to give any information about Vic, who is still asleep inside. Maggie is killed by the impact, and Manx exits the scene.
Lou has been hospitalized due to his heart attack. However, he escapes in search of his son. Agent Hutter and her partner are aware of the escape, and plan to use Lou to track down Vic, who they still believe to be responsible for her son’s kidnapping.
Vic arrives at her father’s house. Lou and her father are waiting for her, with the explosives that she has requested. However, the FBI agents have tracked down Vic, who refuses to surrender. Agent Hutter realizes that there may be something to Vic’s story, but her colleagues do not, and open fire on Vic and her family. Vic’s father is shot, but Vic escapes with Lou on her motorcycle.
Once again, Vic conjures the Shorter Way Bridge. She leaves Lou in handcuffs, as she feels that this a job for her only. Vic then makes her way into Christmasland, via her motorcycle and the Shorter Way Bridge, to confront Manx and rescue her son.
Manx sends his children after Vic, and they attack. Vic fights back and is stabbed by one of the children. The explosives go off, causing mass destruction. Wayne realizes that his mother has come to rescue him, and escapes from Manx, hopping on the motorcycle with his mother.
Vic escapes Christmasland with Wayne. Manx follows her, but his vehicle (and there Manx himself) is destroyed by a flock of bats that emerge from the Shorter Way Bridge.
Finally, Vic emerges with Wayne back into their world. Her job done, Vic perishes from her wounds and the effects of creating the bridge and traveling to Christmasland.
Several months later, Wayne is living with his father. Lou has lost weight after angioplasty procedure, and is in a relationship with Tabitha Hutter. However, Wayne knows that something wrong with him, as he is aroused by anything violent and even thinks that he can feel an extra set of teeth in his mouth.
One day, Lou and Tabitha take Wayne for a ride. They arrive at the house Manx had used to keep his children captive. Lou realizes that Wayne’s soul is trapped in one of Manx’s Christmas ornaments. Lou, Tabitha and Wayne begin smashing the ornaments. Several children that Manx had kidnapped emerge, restored to their human selves.
Eventually, the ornament containing Wayne’s soul is destroyed. Wayne sobs with relief, happy that his humanity has returned.
Okay, let’s talk to Captain Obvious for a moment. So, just bear with me.
Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, in case your head has been buried under a rock for…oh…the past 10 years or so.
(And hey, no judgement, being buried under a rock can be pretty comfy sometimes!)
And while I like to evaluate Joe Hill on his own merits, let’s be realistic.
Let’s get it out of our system, and talk about how he is the son of Stephen King.
Well, writing-wise that is.
We can leave the family drama for those better equipped to handle it, and not put TMZ out of a job.
Other than the fact that NOS4A2 reads a bit like an older King novel, in that it has build and will scare you into a change of pants, it is the novel that most screams: I am the son of the master of modern horror, and if you dare to forget it, well, let’s not even go there!
NOS4A2, in other words, has tons of Stephen King Easter eggs. In fact, this book may have even more King Easter eggs than some King books.
First of all, the obvious connection.
I can tell you that I definitely sleep better knowing that Charles Manx and The True Knot have some silent truce between themselves, that they both can go on (literally) sucking the life out of children and if one gets found out, we know that the other did not rat on them. Definitely useful information to have.
And, oohhh, direct reference to Derry, along with Pennywise’s Traveling Circus! Again, whenever I have trouble sleeping at night, I can rest in comfort knowing that Manx and Mr. Bob Gray were likely on a first name basis at some point!
Vic yelling “Hi-yo Silver!” as she jumps on her bike was added bonus. Not that I am complaining, although a few tears did spring to my eyes as I recalled some fond childhood memories of murderous clowns…
Then there is the similarity between The Sleigh House (geez, these jokes kill me sometimes) and Black House, another house in a King novel of the same name.
The way the children start coming out of the house at the end of both books is so similar, not to mention the fact that Charles Manx is pretty similar to Charles Burnside, another villain who gets his rocks off on kidnapping and hurting kids.
Is Jake Chambers one of Maggie’s creatives? An interesting question, but one for another day.
Oh, and apparently Bill Hodges and company had to hunt down a certain missing vehicle that just happened to be a Rolls Roy Wraith…funny how that works out!
Well, now that it is out of our system (feel better?), let’s talk about Joe Hill and NOS4A2 on their own merits.
So sorry, Uncle Stevie, you have been relegated to another blog entry!
One thing about NOS4A2…it is one scary book!
Well duh, it is written by Prince of Modern Horror, who is the son of the King of Modern Horror. So we shouldn’t be surprised by scary, right?
Yes and no. Am I entirely surprised that it’s scary?
No, I am not.
What is shocking is the fact that NOS4A2 is essentially a vampire story, but modernized.
After all, who isn’t familiar with Dracula?
Well, now we can add Charles Manx to that list of fictional vampires.
Now, Manx is not like Barlow or Dracula, at least on the surface.
He’s old, but not centuries old.
His victims are usually kids.
He drives a bad ass vehicle.
Somehow, I don’t think a rosary or garlic would phase him very much.
(Did anyone else think of this guy when Manx was introduced, by the way? Or is it just me?)
But, back to Manx.
He may not drink blood, like Barlow and Dracula.
But he is still a vampire, nonetheless.
His preferred food is not blood, but the souls of children. Since he is all modern-like.
As a bonus, like Barlow and Dracula, he has a human familiar in Bing, who may be even more demented than either Straker or Renfield, if that’s possible. At the very least, he holds his own.
And Manx does not need to be able to fly or even move quickly, as he has a vehicle that allows him to travel to back and forth between realities.
Who said that newer necessarily means inferior?
Manx can hold his own!
Speaking of holding one’s own, let’s talk about Vic for a moment.
Now, there is is someone who can hold her own and then some.
One thing I have noticed about Joe Hill is that he writes female characters extremely well.
Harper (The Fireman) was a great example of this.
Even Georgia and Merrin (Heart Shaped Box and Horns, respectively) were well written characters, despite the fact that that Georgia is the girlfriend of the main character in Heart Shaped Box, and Merrin is the dead girlfriend of Ig in Horns. Even though we mainly see them from the eyes of a male, both are fascinating and sympathetic.
But, Mr. Hill decided that having a woman as the interesting girlfriend of a main character just wasn’t good enough. And then Vic was born.
To put it simply, Vic kicks ass. There is no way around that statement.
While Vic may not always be easy to like, it is understandable as to why she may be unlikable at times, due to her upbringing (watching your dad wash his hands because they were bloodied due to beating your mom may cause a girl to have some issues.)
Vic’s character has a great arc.
She starts off as a spunky girl, morphs into a rebellious teenager, turns into a still troubled adult and then transforms into a mother who will stop at nothing to save her child from a vicious predator. And I loved every minute of it.
One of my favorite parts of the book is when Vic handcuffs Lou, leaving him behind so she can venture forth into Christmasland to save Wayne.
Vic was no damsel in distress. She knew that she had to be one the one to save (and ultimately sacrifice herself) in order to save her son.
Now, NOS4A2 may be a scary book.
But, like the books of dear old dad, it is so much more than that.
I love what this book has to say on art, artists and the creative process in genera.
I may be a bit biased, as someone who spends so much time creating her own “inscapes” but bear with me.
In fact, I love the idea of an “inscape” itself.
Because that is exactly what happens when someone creates something: it is actually an escape from the “real” world into an entirely new one, whether that is a painting, a book, a song, etc.
And let’s not kid ourselves. Those made up worlds become “real,” especially if the creator uses enough love and care in the creation of these worlds.
And when something happens to the people who populate these worlds, is the effect not felt in ours? When Harry Potter realizes that Voldemort has been resurrected, for example, did the reader not fear for him, and join him in his grief for a lost friend and classmate?
So it stands to reason that there are “creatives” out there, whose gift is especially powerful (like Joe Hill, his father, JK Rowling, Tolkien and countless others) who can use their knives to cut reality (in Maggie’s words) and create new realities.
And the knife is just the tool, like Maggie so eloquently stated.
Sometimes, the knife is not harmful, and results in children’s books, paintings, etc.
But sometimes, some sick individual (like Charles Manx, who is actually all too plausible) will create a new reality.
But this new reality is terrible, and only brings hurt to others.
And this is not uncommon, as so many predators who are similar to Charles Manx exist in our world. They believe that what they are doing is actually a good thing.
It is then up to someone (a Vic McQueen, if you will) to try to put a stop to it.
Sometimes, that is successful.
Sometimes, it is not. And that knife continues to cut, leaving blood behind.
Well, I am still a bit confused on what is a fact, and what is an alternative fact.
But I do not need an agency such as BARF to tell me that Joe is a fantastic writer, and that he will (hopefully) continue to churn them out, for many years to come.
So that’s it for NOS4A2. Join me later this month as we delve back into the world of dear old Dad, as we read and dissect an oldie but goodie, aka Christine!
Come and check out your favorite nerd, live on the podcast known as Dark Tower Radio, where I palaver with a fellow nerd on King, horror, book, Dark Tower and all kinds of good stuff!
And yeah, I may sound even more nerdy live than on here…who knew???
Written last year, but re-blogging because I can!
Oh, and happy holidays, everyone!
Dear Constant Reader family,
I hope that you are doing well, and that your year has been happy and productive. I know mine certainly has!
And Molly is quite well, too. Although the evil grows stronger, day by day…
But enough about my blood family members. I love them to death (ha!) but let’s talk about my “other” family…
Yes, my “other” family…
I consider my characters to be my babies, so that makes them family, right?
And if killing off your main characters is a sign of love, well then, I love them to death as well!
So, where to start? Since so much is happening with these guys, it’s a little hard to keep track, but here goes nothing…
Let’s talk about my childe, Roland. With Roland, it begins and ends with him chasing an unknown male in dark clothing across an arid region. Gotta love Roland, although he can be a bit repetitive at times…
And then there are Roland’s friends…
In fact, I have trouble keeping track of them, it seems like he has a different group of friends each time…
Speaking of friends, those kids who live in Derry!
Poor Pennywise, always getting tripped up by those meddling kids!
But when I get tired of Derry, I take vacations to other scenic towns…
But I don’t get out nearly as often as I would like…I seem to be prone to car trouble!
Jack gets around, or so I hear. I don’t envy him though, especially when it comes to the houses he has to visit!
Although he does encounter some interesting folks along the way, I suppose.
Sometimes my children take it one step further and do some really crazy things…
Like traveling back in time, for instance. I hear November in 1963 is really nice, for instance, especially in the Dallas, TX area.
Every now and then I need to take a break. So I just stay in a remote hotel, because sometimes I need to get away from it all. Although I would advise against drinking anything suggested by the management at the hotel (and if Lloyd or Delbert offers to help you, my suggestion would be to run). I hear the red rum is a house specialty, though, so try it if you dare.
All in all, most of the family is doing quite well, health-wise at least. Well, except for Brady…I can never wake him up!
And then there is the matter of Annie…
She is a bit spoiled, always thinking she comes first. I don’t want to hobble her growth in any way, but I did have to take away the sharp objects from her, especially the axes. Cockadoodie children, I tell ya…what can you do but love them, right, Mr. Man?
I take care of my health too, so I can be in good shape to watch out for my family. I see my doctor on a regular basis (he is a little bald doctor, actually). I watch out for speeding vans now, when I am out walking. I avoid eating too much pie, especially if it’s a strawberry pie given to me by the white man from town. Most importantly, I get my flu shot every year! M- O- O- N, that spells good health, I’m told.
So, Constant Reader, I enjoyed this recap of my year, and I hope that yours has been a bloody good one as well. It is time for me to make my final Christmas preparations, I hear the bazaar will be closing soon, so I hope I don’t miss any good sales! I wish you a Happy Holidays, and may you get a bunch of
my books good books under the Christmas tree!
My life for you,
Little disclaimer: This letter was not actually written by The Master. It just comes from the imagination of one crazy nerd with too much time on her hands. But you knew that!
both all of my readers. Thanks for stopping by, and you guys are awesome, every single one of you. Peace out, and I hope your year has been a bloody good one!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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!
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!
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!
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.
–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.
–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.
-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.
-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.
–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.
-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.
By nature, most human beings possess dual natures.
It makes sense if you think about it, actually.
We have our public selves. That’s the self that we present to the world. That self is polite. That self observes “social mores.” That self knows not to cut in line, for example. Or it knows that we use eating utensils to eat, and not our fingers. Our Sunday best self, in other words.
And then there is the private self. That self has no problem eating with its fingers. Or maybe cursing at someone to get out of its way already. Some may call this the “id”, per Sigmund Freud. Or, if we want to be kinder, the casual Friday self.
Often, being creative requires one to get in touch with that darker side. Some of the best art is born from darkness, actually. Art can be a good outlet for that darkness, allowing the artist to express those dark desires. At the very least, people may admire the end result. Or perhaps the artist can even make a viable living by expressing that dark side.
Usually, that dark side is kept under wraps. Artist does his/her thing, perhaps gets praised for it in some way, lets off steam, and it’s done, right?
Well, most of the time…
However, (wait for it) if you are a character in a…you guessed it…Stephen King book, its not that simple. No, nothing in a Stephen King book is ever that simple, is it?
(In case you forgot which blog you were reading.)
One of my favorite novels by The Master is The Dark Half. On the surface, it is a horror novel. After all, someone’s pseudonym comes to life and does horrible things. And don’t get me started on sparrows…
But, as with most of King’s work, The Dark Half is much more that what it seems to be on the surface. This is a novel that has much to say about the creative process, and the effect that process can have on the writer and the writer’s loved ones.
Plus, it takes place in one of my favorite King towns, aka Castle Rock. And it has Alan Pangborn as a character…Pangborn has long been one of my favorite King book boos!
In other words, what’s not to love about The Dark Half? It has a fascinating villain, along with some creepy imagery. It’s perfect, in other words.
So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of The Dark Half.
And, as always:
The book begins in 1960, and we are introduced to a young boy named Thad Beaumont. Thad is an aspiring writer, and already receiving recognition for his writing. Thad has also begun to suffer from serious migraines, but his doctor is unable to find a cause. Along with the migraines, Tad hears the sound of birds.
One day, Thad collapses at the bus stop. He is rushed to the hospital, and his doctors believe that he may have a brain tumor. However, the doctors do not find a brain tumor when they operate on Thad. Instead, they find eyes, teeth and other body parts in Thad’s brain. The doctors believe that they have found an unformed twin that was digested by Thad in the womb. The doctors elect not to tell Thad’s parents the full truth in regards to their discovery, and Thad’s parents are led to believe that the doctors have found a brain tumor. The surgery is successful, and Thad is soon released and goes back to living a normal life.
We are again introduced to Thad, twenty five years later. Thad is married to a woman named Liz, and is the father of fraternal twins named Wendy and William. Thad is also a writer, but has only found success using the pseudonym of “George Stark.” Under George Stark, Thad has written crime novels that have achieved commercial success. The novels written under Thad’s own name have not been nearly as successful, commercially or critically.
Eventually, a man named Frederick Clawson discovers that Thad Beaumont and George Stark are the same man. Clawson attempts to blackmail Thad, but Thad discloses the fact that he is also George Stark in a People Magazine interview, and even holds a mock “funeral” for George Stark. Thad then decides that he will attempt to write a “serious” novel under his own name, and is even glad that George Stark is “dead”, as Stark appears to be a violent, insane man.
Shorty after the “death” of George Stark, strange things begin to happen. Homer Ganache, Tad Beamont’s caretaker, is beaten to death with his prosthetic arm. Frederick Clawson is also murdered. Thad’s fingerprints are somehow found at the scene of both crimes.
In the meantime, Thad writes a mysterious sentence in the novel he is working on. The sentence is “The sparrows are flying.” This sentence is also written in blood on the walls of Frederick Clawson’s apartment. Tad also begins to hear the sound of birds again.
The fingerprints are traced back to Thad, and Thad is questioned by Sheriff Alan Pangborn, who is certain that Thad is guilty of both murders. However, Pangborn becomes less convinced once he speaks to Thad, and everyone is mystified by the murders.
Thad visits his doctor and undergoes a CAT scan, as he has been hearing the bird sounds again. At his office at the university, he appears to go into a trance, where he writes some seemingly random words on a piece of paper. This incident frightens Thad, and he burns the piece of paper.
In New York City, a woman named Miriam is attacked by a blonde man who calls himself George Stark. The man forces Miriam to place a call to Thad, and Miriam tells Thad that she is being attacked. Miriam turns out to be the ex-wife of Thad’s agent, Rick.
Thad is frantic, and finally reaches Sheriff Pangborn. He has Pangborn check on Miriam in New York, and tells Pangborn that Miriam’s attacker is calling himself George Stark. Thad also gives Pangborn the names of everyone associated with the People magazine article on himself and George Stark. Thad gives Pangborn a description of Stark, and tells him that he will fill him on the rest of the details in person.
In the meantime, in New York, the man calling himself George Stark murders three more people associated with the People magazine article in gruesome fashion, along with two police officers. One of the murdered people is Rick, the ex-husband to Miriam. While the murders occur, Thad dreams of them in his home in Maine.
The next morning, Thad tells Sheriff Pangborn everything, including the headaches he experienced as a child, and of how George Stark came to be. Thad is convinced that George Stark has come to life, and is seeking revenge for his “death.” Pangborn is skeptical, but says that he will speak to Thad’s doctors, including the doctor who operated on Thad as a child, to see if he can get any more leads.
The authorities wire-tap Thad’s phone, in an attempt to track down Stark. Shortly after the phone is tapped, Stark calls back, and says that he has killed more people. Later, it is discovered that Thad’s voice print and Stark’s voice print are nearly identical.
Pangborn also places a call to the doctor who operated on Thad as a child, and leaves a message for the man to call him back.
Thad also speculates that he knows exactly what George Stark wants: for Thad to write another novel under Stark’s name. Thad contemplates doing just that, if it will put an end to Stark’s violent rampage.
One day, Thad makes a trip to the local grocery store and receives a phone call from George Stark while he is shopping. This call confirms Thad’s suspicions: Stark does indeed want Thad to write another novel under the Stark name. Stark threatens to hurt Thad’s family if Thad does not comply.
Over the next few days, Thad and his family are on edge, as they wait for Stark to make another appearance. One afternoon, Thad and Liz’s infant daughter, Wendy, takes a tumble from the stairs and receives a bruise. Later that evening, Wendy’s twin brother, William, also receives a bruise in the same place on his body, even though he was not physically injured. This gives Thad some insight into George Stark and his relationship with Stark, even though he is still not sure what to do about Stark.
Thad attempts to communicate with Stark in his study one afternoon. When he does so, he finds out that Stark needs him to write another book because Stark is dying and will only live if Thad writes another book. Thad also sees a large group of sparrows outside of his house, and is forced to stab himself in the hand with a pencil, courtesy of George Stark.
In the meantime, in New York City, George Stark experiences what Thad is experiencing, and also stabs himself in the hand with a pencil. We also learn that Stark’s body is deteriorating, presumably because Thad has not written any George Stark novels. Stark leaves New York City, and makes his way to Maine and Thad.
One day, Thad goes to his office at the university where he is employed during the school year, under the guise of doing some work. However, Thad is really attempting to get in touch with Stark again. Stark contacts him on the phone of one of Thad’s colleagues, and again demands that Thad begin work on a new novel. Thad also finds out that Stark is calling from Thad’s house, and also sees a large group of sparrows again.
Thad’s colleague Rawlie explains the significance of sparrows in folklore: sparrows are psychopomps, or harbringers between the living and the dead. The job of the sparrows is to guide lost souls back into the land of the living.
After speaking to Stark, Thad agrees to meet him at his and Liz’s summer home in Castle Rock. Stark tells Thad that his wife and children are unharmed, but he has killed the two police officers who were supposed to protect Liz and the twins.
On the way to his summer home, Thad calls his colleague, Rawlie, and requests his help. He meets Rawlie, and takes Rawlie’s car, so that he can drive it to his summer home. While he is talking to Rawlie, Thad sees another large group of sparrows.
Sheriff Pangborn is finally able to speak to the doctor who operated on young Thad. The doctor tells Pangborn that he did not actually remove a tumor from Thad’s brain. Rather, he removed body parts of an unformed twin which had been consumed by Thad while he was still in the womb. The doctor also tells Pangborn that a large group of sparrows was seen outside of the hospital during the operation.
Pangborn also receives a report of a stolen vehicle. The stolen vehicle is an Oldsmobile Toranado, which happens to be the vehicle that Thad described George Stark as driving. After receiving the report of the officers killed at Thad’s home, Pangborn deduces that Thad may be headed to his summer home, and follows him there.
Stark arrives at the summer home with Liz and the children. He ties Liz up after discovering a pair of sewing scissors that she had hidden on her skirt. Pangborn also arrives at the summer home, but Stark also captures him and ties him up.
Soon, Thad also arrives at the summer home, and sees that Stark is holding Pangborn and his family hostage. Thad also notices the large group of sparrows, which Stark does not appear to see.
Stark demands that he and Thad begin writing a new novel, and Thad complies. Stark holds Thad’s children as hostages, using them as a collateral of sorts. Liz and Pangborn are forced into another part of the house.
For a time, Stark and Thad work on the new novel. Previously, Stark had literally been deteriorating, but his wounds begin to heal. Suddenly, the sparrow descend upon the house.
The sparrows invade the house and head for Stark. Stark attacks Thad and tries to run from the sparrows but is unsuccessful. The large group of sparrows descend upon Stark, and literally carry him away from Thad and his family.
Some time later, Thad meets with Sheriff Pangborn at his summer house, which has nearly been destroyed by the incident with Stark and the sparrows. Pangborn is still having trouble believing what happened, but knows that he has witnessed something unbelievable. With Pangborn’s blessing, Thad sets fire to the house.
For a time, Thad watches the flames, and then leaves with his family. Pangborn wonders what will become of Thad’s marriage, as Liz has witnessed what Thad is capable of creating.
The Dark Half.
In other words, never a more appropriate title. Especially the second word in the title.
Stephen King has been known, obviously, for his dark subject matter (no pun intended.)
Novels like Pet Sematary, Thinner, The Long Walk, The Dead Zone, Roadwork and quite are few others are books are known to be especially bleak. The Dark Half is another one that it bleak. And I think that The Dark Half may be one of his bleakest, possibly almost as bleak as Pet Sematary.
One of the things I noticed about The Dark Half is the character development. King is known for creating likable characters. I mean, who doesn’t love a Stu Redman, Eddie Dean, Beverly Marsh or even ole long tall and ugly himself?
However, I cannot say the same thing about the characters in The Dark Half. In fact, I would have to say that my favorite character in The Dark Half is the minor character, aka Sheriff Alan Pangborn.
This isn’t to say that I actively disliked Thad Beaumont, who is the protagonist and so-called “good guy.” I just found little to like about him, and thought that he was more of a prop for the bad guy, George Stark.
I would characterize The Dark Half as a book that is more plot driven than character driven. There is nothing wrong with this, either. I actually find the premise of this book fascinating, and yet another underrated Stephen King book.
One of the things I find fascinating about The Dark Half is actually George Stark himself. And there are a few reasons why I find him so interesting.
For one, he is just evil. Pure evil.
With some of King’s bad guys (Jack Torrance comes to mind), sympathy can be summoned. Sure, the person is bad, but they are human underneath it all, and may actually have reasons for being bad, even if we don’t necessarily understand or agree with those reasons.
Not so with George Stark. There is nothing good about George Stark. Nothing good at all. The man (and I use that word loosely, more on that later) is just evil incarnate.
He’s ruthless. He’s vindictive. And creative. He may not be able to write a story by himself, but he sure comes up with inventive, horrible ways to kill people.
In fact, I did think a bit of this guy when I read about Stark:
It’s true that this guy may be a little more humane than Stark, but still, the comparison stands.
And there is just some about a guy who is evil simply for the sake of being evil…in other words, I love it!
Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog…
So what the hell is Goofy?
Or, in this case, what the hell is George Stark?
The Master does tease a bit about Stark, but trying to determine his true origin is almost as difficult as trying to determine Goofy’s true species.
We know that Thad had an un-formed twin that he absorbed as an infant. And that parts of that un-formed twin were found in Thad’s brain, of all places.
Somehow, this un-formed twin became an issue right when Thad hit puberty, and developed his writing talent. The doctors removed it. And there was nothing unusual then, other than a large flock of sparrows that invaded the hospital where Thad was staying.
Then, years later, Thad’s wife miscarries. She was pregnant with…twins. Not coincidentally, George Stark comes into being. And Thad starts becoming somewhat successful as writer, using the George Stark pseudonym.
Then, Stark “dies” again, although he refuses to stay dead, and makes life miserable for a lot of people, including the man who is either his creator, or maybe just his brother, aka Thad. And then the sparrows come back, although Stark cannot see them. However, Thad is aware of their presence.
My theory is that Thad has the ability to create twins. After all, he fathered twins twice. He himself was a twin.
So did he create Stark? I think that he did, actually. I think Thad was perhaps blessed (or maybe cursed) with that ability to create and harbor other personalities, much like Susannah Dean of the Dark Tower series. And Thad’s ability to create and harbor these other personalities seems to be directly linked to his creative ability. In fact, maybe Thad’s ability to create other personalities is an extreme manifestation of his writing talent, similar to how Edgar Freemantle (Duma Key) is able to alter reality with his paintings.
Another reason why I love The Dark Half is because this is a book that has a lot to say about the subject of creativity.
Additionally, many of King’s characters happen to be writers, or artists of some kind at, at the very least. Mike Noonan, Bill Denbrough, Ben Mears and Jake Epping are all King characters that dabble in writing of some form. Even poor Jack Torrance (The Shining) was an aspiring writer. Writing is something that King is familiar with (for obvious reasons), so it often gets incorporated into his stories.
However, King is not merely content to incorporate writers as characters into his stories. Since he is The Master, he needs to take an extra step or four.
In other words, King often writes about writing, not just the writer. In fact, the art of writing is a major plot point to several of his stories, including Bag of Bones, Misery and even The Dark Tower.
The effect of fiction on both the writer and the reader is another major theme in many of King’s works. Again, Misery, The Dark Tower, Finders Keepers and Bag of Bones, along with several other stories, also address this theme.
And it could be argued that The Dark Half addresses all of these themes in one fell swoop.
We have the main character, Thad Beaumont, who is a writer. Thad struggles to obtain the kind of success he wants, since the “literary” books that he writes do not sell well, and he is forced to rely on the “pulp” books about Alexis Machine to pay the bills. This is a struggle, and causes Thad to question where he fits in as a writer.
Obviously, The Dark Half deals with the effect of fiction on the reader. When he wrote as George Stark, Thad found a rabid fan base. When Thad writes as himself and not George Stark, his fans (although they could really be considered Stark’s fans) are disappointed, and refer to his work as “terrible.” Often, fans of a particular offer become entitled, and grow angry when the author does not “deliver.”
The effect of fiction on the writer is also addressed in The Dark Half. Thad claims to want to write a “serious” novel, but it seems his heart is never in it. He blames the distraction of George Stark on not being able to write his “serious” novel, However, Thad gets enjoyment when he starts writing the novel that Stark demands of him. Again, this causes Thad to question just where he fits in as a writer, and just what success means. Does success include writing something that he himself is satisfied with? Does it include pleasing his fans? Does include “critical” success?
As most Constant Readers know, Stephen King, for a time, wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. In King’s mind, writing under the Bachman name would allow him to step outside his “genre,” or write works that were not “just horror.” King had become typecast as a horror writer, and feared that he would be unable to explore any other type of writing, as people had come to expect him to write horror stories, and nothing else.
Of course, anyone who pays attention to King should know that he is a great writer, period. He does write scary stories, but there is so much more to King than “horror.” The Dark Tower series is an epic fantasy series, much like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. 11/22/63 is a story about time travel and King’s feelings in regards to the Vietnam War. The collections Hearts in Atlantis and Different Seasons both contain stories that cannot be classified as horror stories. In fact, it can be argued that King’s strength is writing about ordinary people faced with extraordinary situations. This is evident even in his books that are horror stories, in characters such as Danny Torrance, the members of The Losers Club, Jack Sawyer (The Talisman and Black House) and so forth. King’s writing is so effective because people can relate to it, and the situations become that much more believable,
But early on in King’s career, he likely felt compelled to write horror fiction, at least under his own name. People had come to expect that, after all, and wouldn’t read something outside the horror genre, something that dealt with “real life situations.” Even today, there are people who are still prejudiced in regards to King: they either still think he “only writes scary stories” or have no interest in the non-horror works written by King. I have known more than a few people who have complained about that Dr. Sleep is not a direct sequel to The Shining, despite the fact that The Shining was written when King was much younger and in the beginning stages of his problems with drugs and alcohol. Their reactions are similar to a fan’s reaction to Thad’s work not written under the George Stark name: they are unable to read it, because it is not the formula they had grown used to.
In order to write other types of fiction, King developed the pseudonym of Richard Bachman early on in his career. Under the Bachman pseudonym, he was finally free to write other types of fiction, i.e. not horror fiction. And with the exception of Thinner, most of the Bachman books do not contain supernatural themes. Roadwork, The Long Walk, Rage and The Running Man are all disturbing on some level, but they are disturbing because they deal with “real life horrors,” such as the exploitation of our youth, corporate greed and our need to be entertained via television. In other words, Bachman’s work may be a little more mainstream, even though the Bachman books could still be considered to be in the horror category, although not the supernatural or fantastical horror category.
For several years, Bachman, like George Stark did for Thad, provided King an outlet to explore other types of writing. However, all good things must come to end. Like Thad, King was forced to kill off his “twin” when it was discovered that Richard Bachman and Stephen King were in fact the same person. And, like Thad, King went about the “murder” in humorous fashion, even saying that Bachman passed away from “cancer of the pseudonym.”
(Side note: Bachman never died. He just works on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower, helping Jax and his friends dispose of dead bodies, demanding to listen to music when he works.)
But, like George Stark, Richard Bachman will not stay dead. Eventually, Bachman emerged in other King works, like the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, Misery and Cujo, which are all books that contain themes of real life horror, as opposed to supernatural horror. Dicky Bachman even managed to publish posthumous works, such as The Regulators and Blaze.
In other words, an artist’s “dark side” can never truly be killed. Richard Bachman is still alive and well, manifesting himself through the works of Stephen King. And George Stark may have been carried off to parts unknown by an unimaginably large group of sparrows, but do we really believe that was the end of him?
Darkness lives in all of us. And like it or not, it is a vital part of the creative process. And any attempts to bury that darkness will backfire on us. Eventually, the darkness will be unleashed. And the world is not usually able to accept or handle that darkness.
Well, that’s it for The Dark Half! Join me next month, when I review and dissect Black House.
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Like of all of King’s work, The Dark Half is set squarely in the King universe and is connected to several other King books. Here are some of the connections I found:
-Part of The Dark Half is set in the town of Castle Rock. Castle Rock is the setting for several King books and short stories, including The Dead Zone, The Body (Different Seasons), Needful Things and Cujo.
-Thad Beaumont is mentioned by Mike Noonan in the book Bag of Bones. It is revealed that Thad commits suicide several years after the events in The Dark Half.
-Alan Pangborn is a major character in the book Needful Things. Pangborn also alludes to Thad’s suicide and the fact that his wife divorces him shortly after the events in The Dark Half.
-The town of Ludlow is mentioned. Ludlow is the setting for the novel Pet Sematary.
-The town of Harlow is also mentioned. Part of the novel Revival takes place in Harlow.
So, the month of June is upon us.
And we all know what that means…
Yes, it’s my birthday month. Yes, I really will be 38 years old (ugh.) And yes, I accept donations of any kind. I prefer cash, but checks are ok too…haha!
But, that’s not actually why this month is special (even if my birthday is pretty special…duh.)
No, the month of June is special because of Stephen King.
(Don’t forget, it is this blog, after all. The Master trumps everything, even the birthday month of yours truly.)
And it’s not because of the book The Dark Half, which could be construed to be a book written about Thad Beaumont, the ultimate Gemini…but I digress.
June is special, or has been special the past couple of years, because The Master has been releasing his Mercedes trilogy books the first week of June.
The fact that he releases these books right before my birthday (back to that again, yes) is a nice courtesy, don’t you think?
And June of 2016 is extra special, because we have the release of End of Watch, the third and final (maybe) book of this series.
So finally, we find out what will happen to good old Bill Hodges, along with his friends Jerome and Holly.
Finally, Hodges gets to square off one more time against his nemesis, Brady. And quite possibly put this obsession to bed, one way or another.
So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of End of Watch.
The book begins with a flashback to the Mercedes Massacre, which had occurred in 2009. The flashback is told from the perspective of Rob and Jason, two paramedics who are called to the scene after a then unknown killer uses a stolen Mercedes as a weapon to kill and injure several people at a job fair. One of the victims is Martine Stover, who is unconscious when Rob and Jason arrive at the scene. Rob and Jason manage to save Martine from death, but it appears that Martine’s injuries have made her a quadriplegic. Rob and Jason are saddened by the deaths and injuries, and hope that the perpetrator faces justice.
The book then flashes forward to January 2016. Bill Hodges is awaiting an appointment with his doctor, when he receives a call from his soon to be retired former partner, Pete Huntley. Huntley tells Hodges about his final case, which looks to be a murder-suicide. One of the victims is Martine Stover, who was rendered a quadriplegic after the Mercedes Massacare. Huntley tells Hodges that Martine appears to have been murdered by her mother, and that her mother then committed suicide.
Hodges picks up Holly Gibney, the woman who is his partner in the private investigation firm that he started after his retirement. He then meets with Huntley and his partner, Izzy, at the crime scene. It is confirmed that Martine’s mother used oxycontin and vodka to kill her daughter and herself. Hodges thinks there is nothing special about the case, but Huntley believes otherwise.
Huntley tells of another murder-suicide that occurred the previous year. Keith Frias and Krista Countryman were also victims of the Mercedes Massacre. The two had met in a therapy group, and had planned to get married. However, they committed suicide by overdosing on pills one day, and died in each other’s arms. Holly notices a mysterious letter Z in the bathtub where Martine died. Hodges and Holly are reminded of Brady Hartsfield, the man responsible for the Mercedes Massacre. Hartsfield was stopped by Holly and Hodges, but not before he was able to manipulate several people into committing suicide. One of these victims was Olivia Trelawney, Holly’s cousin and the owner of the Mercedes used in the murders. Hartsfield was able to steal the vehicle and use it to murder several people, and was also able to manipulate Olivia into committing suicide.
On the drive back to the office, Holly voices her suspicions to Hodges. She tells him that she investigated the upstairs room to the house, and discovered a computer. The computer contained no indication that either Martine or her mother had ever researched suicide. Holly also finds a Zappit, which is an electronic device used for playing games. She and Hodges both feel that this is odd, as neither woman was an expert on gadgets. Holly says that she will be tracking down Nancy Alderson, the housekeeper employed by Martine Stover and her mother, in the hopes that the housekeeper can shed some light on the mystery.
Hodges is able to speak to Nancy Alderson, the housekeeper for Martine and her mother. Nancy is extremely surprised by the deaths of Martine and her mother, telling Hodges that Martine had accepted her condition, and that she also got along well with her mother. Nancy also sheds light on the mystery of the Zappit, telling Hodges that the gadget was a gift for filling out a questionnaire. It is also revealed that a mysterious man in a parka had been seen around the house, and that he would look into the windows of the house.
Holly and Hodges have lunch that day. Hodges points out that the Zappit is actually an outdated piece of technology, and that Martine may have fallen victim to a scam. Hodges also checks out the house across the street from Martine Stover, and discovers the casings to a pair of binoculars, indicating that someone may have been watching Martine and her mother. Hodges also finds a letter Z carved into the wall of the garage. Someone driving down the street in a Chevrolet Malibu is also spying on Hodges, but Hodges is distracted by a terrible pain in his knee and his stomach, and is reminded of his doctor’s appointment that he has rescheduled for the next day.
That night, Hodges speaks to Holly and schedules a meeting with her and Huntley, before his doctor’s appointment. Hodges’ health also appears to worsen, as he vomits blood later that night. Hodges becomes extremely worried about his future.
Meanwhile, something strange occurs at the hospital where Brady Hartsfield is a patient. Brady is thought to be comatose, but speaks to Nurse Valdez, badly startling her.
Earlier that day, a nurse named Ruth Scapelli had paid a visit to Brady Hartsfield. Nurse Scapelli had expressed her disdain for Brady by twisting his nipples, as she believed that Brady had given her an obscene gesture earlier. Nurse Scapelli is paid a visit that night by Dr. Barbineau, Brady’s doctor. Barbineau tells Nurse Scapelli that he knows of her earlier actions, and that she will face consequences for them. After Dr. Barbineau leaves, Nurse Scapelli receives a visit from what appears to be Brady Hartsfield. Brady appears to flicker in and out of existence, but starts to convince Nurse Scapelli that she is worthless, and that no one will help her now that she caught breaking the rules.
Later that night, Hodges is unable to sleep, so he gets up and turns on his computer. He discovers he has a message on program called Debbie’s Blue Umbrella, which is the program that he had used to talk to Brady Hartsfield. The message is from someone named Z-Boy, and simply states; He’s not done with you yet.
Hodges and Holly meet with Huntley and Izzy the next morning. The meeting does not go well, as Izzy is upset that Holly took the Zappit from the scene, possibly compromising evidence. Huntley and Izzy also feel that the investigation should be closed as a murder suicide. This upsets Holly, but Hodges comforts her, telling her that they are done with the case yet, as he hurries to his doctor appointment.
At his doctor appointment, Hodges receives some terrible news: he has been diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer, and learns that he may only live for another year. His doctor urges him to see a specialist right away, but Hodges declines, saying that he needs to think things through first.
The body of Ruth Scapelli is discovered later that day. Nurse Scapelli’s daughter had contacted the police earlier, after receiving a strange email from her mother. The cause appears to be suicide, but there is a letter Z written in blood on the floor.
We also learn that Brady Hartsfield has been given experimental drugs by Dr. Babineau, in the hopes that Brady will regain consciousness at some point. Dr. Babineau does not have much hope for his patient, and eventually stops giving him the medication, as it appears that Brady is still in a vegetative state.
However, Brady has regained some form of consciousness, and is aware of the actions of the doctors and nurses in his hospital room. Brady has also gained some form of telekinesis, as he is able to move objects without touching them.
One day, Brady discovers another PSI ability: he has the ability to switch consciences with other people. In other words, he can momentarily take over the minds of other people, in certain instances. Brady realizes that he needs to practice using his new abilities, and alerts the doctors and nurses that his head hurts, along with asking for his mother.
After Hodges discovers the message on his computer, he returns to work and hides his cancer diagnosis from Holly. Hodges and Holly discuss Brady Hartsfield. Hodges believes that Brady is not actually unconscious, and may have somehow convinced a nurse to commit suicide. Hodges decides that he will pay another visit to Brady, and Holly urges him to be careful, as she believes that Brady may now be gifted with PSI abilities.
While Hodges riding the bus to the hospital where Brady is a patient, he is preoccupied with thoughts of his health, and does not notice the Chevrolet Malibu, or the old man in a parka who appears to be watching him.
Holly suspects that Hodges is not telling the truth about his health, and sneaks a peek at his computer files while he is gone. She finds out that he has terminal cancer, and becomes very upset.
Hodges also receives a call from his former partner Huntley, who informs him that the Zappit may have a virus on it, as it is not functional, and there is no way that Martine Stover or her mother could have used it. Huntley also tells Hodges to stop badgering him and his partner Izzy, as his input is no longer wanted.
While Hodges is on his way to the hospital, his neighbor, 16 year old Barbara Robinson (sister of Jerome) has made her way into a dangerous part of town. Barbara is African American, but feels she has very little understanding of her culture, due to her family’s relative wealth and success. Barbara is also in possession of a Zappit device. The apparition of a young man appears in a store window, and convinces Barbara to commit suicide. Barbara steps in front of a bus, ready to do just that.
Back at the hospital, Dr. Babineau, who is actually under the control of Brady, informs Brady that Hodges has figured out what he is doing. Brady becomes furious, but is still trying to convince Barbara Robinson to commit suicide, as she is associated with Hodges.
Barbara’s attempt at suicide is interrupted by the arrival of a young man who takes her Zappit. Barbara becomes furious and tries to get the gadget back from him. Barbara grabs her device back, and runs right into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
Brady orders Dr. Babineau to keep Hodges out of his room, as he is flushed and does not actually appear comatose. Dr. Babineau agrees to do what he can.
In the meantime, Tanya Robinson, Barbara’s mother, receives a call from the police, letting her know that something has happened to her daughter.
When Hodges arrives at the hospital, he is refused visitation of Brady, by Dr. Babineau. Hodges brides an intern to take a message to Nurse Norma Wilmer, who has helped him the past.
Jerome Robinson, who is in Arizona volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, receives a call from Holly, who tearfully informs him of Hodges’ cancer diagnosis. Jerome also receives a call from his mother, who tells him that something has happened to his sister Barbara.
Hodges meets with Nurse Wilmer, and agrees to meet her for a drink. Hodges then receives a call from Tanya Robinson, and rushes back to the hospital.
At the hospital, Hodges finds that Barbara has a broken leg, but is not otherwise severely injured. She also tells Bill that the young man pushed her out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, preventing a much worse injury, maybe even saving her life. Hodges makes contact with the police station where the young man is being held, so that he may question him about the incident.
Hodges receives a call from Holly, who is upset and confesses to her snooping regarding his health. Holly picks up Hodges, and together they head to the police station to talk to the young man who may have saved Barbara Robinson’s life.
Holly and Hodges learn the name of the young man who was responsible for saving Barbara’s life: Dereece Neville. Dereece is also a star athlete and a good student, and will likely go to college on a scholarship. The police have told him that he is free to leave, but he has elected to stay at the police station until he finds out that Barbara is all right.
When Hodges speaks to Dereece, he confirms that Barbara was carrying a Zappit device. Dereece though that Barbara was under the influence of some substance, but tells Hodges that Barbara appeared to return to her normal self once the Zappit device was taken away from her.
Later on, Hodges meets Nurse Wilmer for a drink. The nurse agrees to see if she can find Brady’s so-called visitor list for Hodges, and tells Hodges that she thinks that Dr. Babineau may be experimenting on Brady. She also confesses that she and some of the other nurses believe that Brady can move objects with his mind.
Holly visits Barbara at the hospital. Barbara confesses to Holly that she has been feeling depressed, as she has experienced harassment at school and other places due to the fact that she is African American. She also tells Holly that a strange man gave her the Zappit for filling out a questionnaire. Barbara tells Holly that she has heard of the voice of a young, who convinced her to commit suicide. Barbara also tells Holly that one of her friends may also have a Zappit, which could be dangerous.
At the hospital, Brady switches consciousness with one of the orderlies, named Brooks. It appears that Brady is using Brooks’ body to hand out Zappits and spy on Hodges.
We also learn how Brady used the Zappit device to control the body and mind of others. Once Brady discovered his ability to take over the minds of certain other people, he also discovered a game on the Zappit that had an hypnotic effect on certain people. Brady was able to use this device to take over the body of Brooks and Dr. Babineau, along with other people.
Brady takes over the body of Brooks, and shows up on the doorstep of Dr. Babineau. He attacks the doctor’s wife, and takes over Babineau’s body, which is younger and stronger than Brooks’ body.
Hodges visits Dinah Scott, one of Barbara’s friends, who also owns a Zappit device. Hodges learns that Dinah obtained the device as a consolation prize for a missed concert. The concert was cancelled due to Brady Hartsfield attempting to set off a bomb. Brady was stopped by Holly, Jerome and Hodges. Hodges takes the device from Dinah, so that he can possibly use it to track down more clues. Hodges brings up the fishing game (the game that is being used by Brady to hypnotize people) and confirms that it does indeed have a hypnotic effect.
We also learn that Brady has bribed a woman named Freddi, one of his former coworkers, to accept questionable packages at a condo that has been set up for this purpose. Freddi begins to suspect that Dr. Babineau is actually her former coworker. Brady has Freddi execute a computer program that he needs for his future plans. When he determines that the computer program works, Brady attacks Freddi so that she will remain quiet.
That night, Hodges receives a call from Holly. Sunrise Solutions, the company that was giving away the Zappit, was not actually a sponsor of the cancelled concert. Holly also advises to see Barbara, as Barbara is still suffering the effects of Brady’s invasion of her mind. Hodges also receives a call from Huntley, telling him that Nurse Scapelli, Brady’s nurse who committed suicide the day before, also owned a Zappit. Huntley also tells Hodges that Martine Stover’s mother had purchased a computer for her daughter, which is not the act of someone planning to commit a murder-suicide.
In the meantime, Brady has completely abandoned his own body and taken oven Dr. Babineau’s mind. He heads back to Dr. Babineau’s house and speaks to Brooks, telling Brooks that he murdered Babineau’s wife. Brooks is upset, but Brady tells him that he was hypnotized and unable to help himself.
Freddi regains consciousness. It turns out that she is not dead, as her pack of cigarettes protected her from Brady’s bullet. Freddi is hesitant to call 911, she is involved in some illegal activities. She wants to leave town, but is afraid that Brady will track her down.
Early the next morning, Hodges receives a call from Huntley informing him that Brady has died. The cause appears to be a suicide, via an overdose of prescription medication. However, both Hodges and Holly are skeptical that this is the last of Brady Hartsfield.
Hodges places a call to the bankruptcy trustee who had represented Sunrise Solutions. The attorney tells Bill that he received a call from someone calling himself Myron Zakim, who had bought several Zappit units when the companies assets were liquidated. Hodges also speaks to Nurse Wilmer, who is skeptical that Brady committed suicide, and tells Hodges that besides himself, the only other person to ever visit Brady was an unrelated woman.
Holly returns to the office with Jerome, and she and Hodges bring Jerome up to speed on what has been going on. Holly conducts some research, and finds out that there has been some concern over the fishing game on the Zappit, which seems to have a hypnotic effect on some people.
Hodges then receives a call from Huntley, informing him of the murder of Dr. Babineau’s wife. Huntley also tells Hodges that Brooks has confessed to the murder, and appears to be under the influence of someone or something. Huntley confirms that the pills found in Brady’s mouth were not ones that he was prescribed, and that there are questions as to how he was able to obtain them.
While inspecting the Zappit, Jerome falls under a trance, and tells Holly and Hodges that he is viewing his own funeral, which is beautiful.
We learn that Brady is using his newfound abilities, along with the program created by Freddi, in order to induce mass suicide. He tries to invade the mind of a young woman named Ellen, but she is unsuccessful in her suicide attempt, which frustrates Brady.
Holly is able to bring Jerome out of his trance state. Hodges deduces that Brady is behind it somehow, and that he distributed the devices to the young girls who attended the concert as a form of revenge. Holly also discovers that there is a new program on the devices that has just become active, and it appears to be a program that encourages people to commit suicide. Hodges then attempts to trace the source of the program, so that it can be destroyed.
Brady reminisces about how he came to control Dr. Babineau, by blackmailing him (after he had taken over Brooks’ consciousness) in regards to the experimental drugs that were being given to Brady. Brady uses Dr. Babineau’s body, along with his money, to carry out his plan to induce mass suicide.
Freddi attempts to crash Brady’s mass suicide program but is unsuccessful. Brady figures out that she is still alive, and becomes furious.
Hodges, Holly and Jerome connect Freddi to Brady, as they spoke to her when they were previously investigating the Mercedes Massacre. They track Freddi to her apartment, where she is packing her bags, in an attempt to leave town. Jerome discovers the device that is sending the signals to the Zappit devices that Brady purchased, and destroys the device. Freddi also tells Hodges and his friends that Brady is not dead, and they learn the story of how Freddi came to be involved with Brady and his plan.
In the meantime, a young gay man commits suicide in front of his father, while he is under the influence of Brady Hartsfield.
Holly begs Hodges to shut down the suicide website that has now infected several Zappit devices. Hodges places some phone calls to the police department, and finds out that Huntley has officially retired from his duties as a police officer. Hodges is only able to speak to Izzy, who reluctantly agrees to help. Hodges deduces that Dr. Babineau/Brady may have headed to Dr. Babineau’s vacation home, and makes plans to head there too.
An overweight young woman commits suicide by overdosing on pills, while she is under the influence of Brady.
Hodges and Holly head to Babineau’s cabin, leaving Jerome behind, as they do not want him to be involved in what could potentially be a messy situation. Hodges and Holly learn of three more suicides that Brady likely had a hand in.
Holly and Hodges arrive on the property and are almost immediately accosted by Brady. Brady forces Hodges to play the fishing game on the Zappit, telling him that if he scores a certain number of points, he will allow Holly to live. As Hodges plays the game, he feels Brady invading his mind.
Hodges fights Brady, hitting his face with a ceramic pen holder. Brady then fires his gun, and shoots Hodges in the shoulder. Holly regains consciousness, and begins shooting at Brady with her gun. However, she is unable to get a clear shot, and Brady gets away from her.
However, Brady is not able to run far, as Jerome comes to the resuce in a Sno-Cat. He tells Holly and Hodges that Barbara told him to come help them, as she thought Brady would kill them. Jerome runs over Brady with the vehicle, but that does not kill him. Brady begs for mercy, and Jerome shoots him. Hodges receives a text message from his daughter wishing him a happy birthday, and passes out.
A few days later, Hodges, Holly, Huntley, Barbara and Jerome celebrate Hodges birthday at the hospital. Huntley tells of several more suicides and suicide attempts that have occurred due to Brady’s program, but thinks that the situation will be under control soon. Hodges has begun his cancer treatments, although the prognosis is not good. However, his friends still have hope for him.
Eight months later, Hodges loses his battle with cancer. A funeral is held. Hodges’ company was left to Holly, who hires Huntley so that the detective work can continue. Jerome and Holly decide to attend a movie, and leave an empty seat between them, so that they may remember their friend.
Oh, so much to say, and so few words to say it in, unless I want the word count to be sky high in this post…the struggle is real, yo!
In the past, I have thought of the books in the Mercedes trilogy as Bachman books.
As we all know, Bachman faked his death from cancer of the pseudonym, and really works as a guy who drives a funny looking motorcycle and helps out Jax and his friends on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower. Oh, and he likes to take macabre souvenirs…
And I still think of these books as Bachman books, make no mistake about it.
However, End of Watch had much more of a Stephen King flavor, if you will.
For one thing, there was the supernatural element.
Typically, most of Bachman’s work does not contain anything supernatural. Books like Rage, Roadwork, The Long Walk and so forth are about human fuckery, as opposed to haunted hotels, sewer dwelling clowns, evil shop owners and the long list of other supernatural pests that haunt the King universe. Human fuckery does play a part in most if not all of King’s work, but there is usually a supernatural backdrop. Not so in the Bachman universe, as most of his stories can be considered “real world” stories.
End of Watch still had a “Bachman flavor.” In other words, we had the real world: a murderer at large, who posed a threat to a lot of people.
However, enter the supernatural. The murderer (Brady) now possesses supernatural powers, which make him even harder to stop. And no, this is not King taking the easy way out, and writing what he knows. The fact that Brady acquired PSI abilities made the story that much more interesting, and provided that much more suspense, as Hodges and everyone else needed to figure out what was going on in order to put a stop to Brady.
In other words, we have King doing what he does best: writing a damn good story that we don’t want to put down, until we finish it.
For the record, I should stop being surprised by Sai King. He may write about the supernatural or the fantastic, but he constantly weaves “real world” issues into his stories, even if they are horror stories. In The Drawing of the Three, we get a discussion on mental illness, along with racism. In Insomnia, we discuss aging and how our society treats it (not kindly, for the most part.) In Misery, we glimpse how fiction can have a huge impact on the reader, and the writer as well. A novel like The Gunslinger could be considered a good metaphor for addiction. I could go on. And on…
End of Watch is no different. I was pleasantly surprised at the glimpse I got into Barbara Robinson’s life. Barbara may have looked like she had everything under control, and had everything a person (or a teenage girl, at any rate.) But appearances are deceiving, and Barbara is no different. I understand the pain of not having a peer group quite well, as I don’t find too many other nerds I can relate to (although the internet is wonderful.) Now, this is not the same a Barbara’s pain, as she is the only African American in her school. But my heart broke for her when she described how she was treated when she went out on a date with a white boy, and I understood the feeling of disconnect quite well. Often, we don’t really know what a person may be going through at any one moment, and that someone can appear outwardly happy, but that person is really experiencing a great deal of pain inside. And this is probably the case more often than not.
King’s description of Barbara Robinson and her inner battles was probably not “necessary” to the story, but it sure did add a great deal of depth to the story. And that is why King is The Master.
And we have the character of Holly, who has turned out to be one of King’s most fascinating characters, in this little old blogger’s humble opinion.
With Holly, King has created a strong female character. And one who we can relate too, as Holly is not perfect. I would guess that Holly is somewhere on the autism spectrum, given her quirks. Holly has also suffered her share mental health issues, as she candidly talks about her suicide attempts.
I love how Holly, over the three books, has broken free from her prison. In Mr. Mercedes, she is almost a minor character, at least at first. However, she becomes a major player in the chase for Brady, and saves the day at the end, by hitting him on the end. This allows Holly to stand up to her non-supportive family, and start living life on her terms.
In Finders Keepers, Holly continues to be an integral part of Hodge’s team and life. She uses her smarts and computer skills to help track down the bad guys, and also keeps Hodges at least somewhat grounded, as she looks after him, in almost the same way that spouse would.
And in End of Watch, Holly continues to shine. She talks to Barbara after her suicide attempt, and is the only able to get Barbara to open up (this really was one of the most beautiful moments in the book.) She fights Brady again. And she will be responsible for the continuation of Hodges’ legacy, as she the business has been left in her (more than) capable hands after his death.
Will Holly continue to be a presence in the Stephen King universe? Hopefully, us Constant Readers will be so lucky as to catch another glimpse of her. But only time will tell.
Then, there is the ending, along with the build-up to said ending.
So let’s talk about that.
Now, when I first heard the title of the final novel in the Mercedes trilogy (which I had to look up the meaning of…gotta love Google!), I cautioned myself not to take anything too literally.
“End of watch” is police-speak for the death of an officer, but this is Stephen King. He is always full of surprises, right? The title could mean anything, so don’t read too much into it, right?
Well, sometimes we need to take things literally. The title to the final book in this trilogy is meant to be taken literally: it is the end of watch for our beloved Bill Hodges.
And the show teased a funeral of a major character, from the first episode of the season.
But I told myself not to take things too literally. After all, anything could happen, right?
Well, it turned out that Darhk’s threat could in fact be taken at face value. Laurel Lance, aka the Black Canary, was killed, and Damian Darhk was in fact responsible for her death. In other words, he carried through on his threat.
And Stephen King also carried through on his threat, with the death of Hodges. Seriously, the man likes to kill off main characters. Maybe the tears of his readers provide seasoning for his food? Well, I guess that’s one way of making sure that chicken turns out right…kill off a major character, and use the tears from your readers as seasoning. Works every time!
The second I found out that Hodges had pancreatic cancer (and you know you had to read up until that point to find out what was the matter with him, because, like Holly, you didn’t buy the whole ulcer theory), it felt like I found out that a friend or family member had terminal cancer.
Because that is what Stephen King characters do: they become friends, or maybe even family. And finding out that your friend or family member has terminal cancer is hard. In fact, my heart felt heavy the day I finished reading that part of the book. And I thought to myself that maybe the title can be taken literally, even though I still held on to a thin thread of hope that somehow Hodges would conquer his cancer.
Finding out that Hodges had cancer also made the story that much more tense and suspenseful. I knew that Hodges was ill, but I still wanted him to have the satisfaction of defeating Brady. Ka is a wheel, as some other King character stated. It started out with Brady, and it ended with Brady. And if anyone deserved some closure, it would be Hodges.
I also feared that Hodges would die in his attempt to take down Brady. And that ending would not have worked for, as that would have meant that Brady would have still won, even if Brady himself died.
But my man did not let me down. Even while in the grip of terminal cancer, Hodges (and his friends) still managed to kick some major ass. So Hodges won, and Brady lost.
The last chapter in the book made my eyes just a little bit leaky (seriously, what is wrong with my plumbing these days?)
I had hope that Hodges could beat cancer as well, but deep down, I knew that hope was futile. But still, there was that tiny glimmer.
So I was saddened at the end, although not too surprised. Hodges passed on to the clearing at the end of the path.
Holly and Jerome did something beautiful to remember their friend, by placing a popcorn box in an empty seat at the movie theater.
In other words, they saved him a seat. And that’s what you always do for your friends, as they will always be there, right by your side. In life and death.
So this concludes The Mercedes trilogy. To paraphrase a certain famous King character, ka is a wheel that comes back to where it started. And that was the case for William Kermit Hodges. He came back to where he started. And he ended it in grand fashion. A true gunslinger, right to the end.
RIP, Hodges. You will live in my memory forever.
That’s the great thing about Stephen King characters. Somewhere out there, there is a Constant Reader discovering his characters for the first time. And since they are always being discovered, they can never die.
Join me next week as I review and dissect the underrated gem otherwise known as The Dark Half.
Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!
Just for fun, here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in End of Watch:
-Brady’s hospital room is room 217. Room 217 is a room that has significance in the novel The Shining.
-Brady awakens from his coma with PSI abilities. This is similar to what happens to Johnny Smith in the book The Dead Zone.
-Brady’s abilities are similar to the abilities of several other characters, including Carrie White, from the novel Carrie.
-A pink Zappit device is mentioned. In the short story UR (part of the collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams), there is a pink Kindle device that is able to access stories and books from alternate realities, along with newspaper articles from the future.
Well, I am in recovery today, folks.
No, I didn’t go out and partake in a wild night of drinking, where I did things (like get married, hehe), that I have to piece together the next morning.
And what a ride it was…
I’ve always been kind of curious to see what Quentin Tarantino’s take on a period horror drama would be (seriously, I want to see Quentin Tarantino’s take on pretty much anything, but I digress.)
And I got my wish last night.
In other words, I got my period horror drama (as always.)
But, there was comedy.
There was a gunfight.
And there were ridiculous lines that may have seemed ridiculous, but somehow, they still worked.
In other words, Quentin Tarantino is an un-credited writer for Penny Dreadful. I tell you, it’s the only thing that makes sense, as this was an entirely new turn for a show that has been filled with surprises almost from the get-go.
So, buckle yourselves in, and prepare for the recap and review of No Beast So Fierce. And try not to fall out of your seat, ok?
And, as always:
The episode begins with Renfield meeting with Dracula, begging Dracula to feed him. Renfield discloses the names of some of Vanessa’s friends, including Malcolm and Ethan. Dracula then allows Renfield to feed on a nearly dead corpse, reminding Renfield of who is really in charge.
Vanessa pays a visit to Dr. Lyle and requests his assistance. Lyle tells her that he is leaving for Egypt, and that this time, the visit may be permanent. Vanessa is heartbroken to be losing yet another friend, but Lyle gives her the name of another acquaintance who may be able to help her.
Back in America, the stand-off between Ethan and his father Jared is interrupted by the arrival of Inspector Rusk, who announces that he is arresting Ethan, so that Ethan may stand trial for his crimes.
Caliban has recovered some memories of his past life, and looks in on his sleeping son. The boy is ill and in discomfort, but recognizes his father’s voice. However, once the boy opens his eyes and sees Caliban in his form as the Creature, he begins to scream. Caliban is heartbroken, but vows to obtain medicine so that his son may be cured.
Vanessa attends a fencing match, per the instruction of Dr. Lyle. She finally meets Lyle’s friend, Catriona Hartdegen. Catriona is an accomplished female fencer, despite the accusations against her of cheating. Vanessa tells Catriona her story, and requests help in her fight against Dracula. Catriona agrees, but reminds Vanessa not to isolate herself, as there is strength in numbers.
Vanessa then has a drink with Dr. Seward. Dr. Seward tells Vanessa that she understands what it is like to be alone, as she killed her husband in self-defense and was forced to stand trial for murder. Dr. Seward encourages Vanessa to seek the company of Dr. Sweet, to decrease her risk of isolation.
At Dorian’s mansion, Lily teaches a self-defense workshop of sorts to prostitutes who are forced to endure abuse from men. Lily uses Dorian as a model to demonstrate her techniques. However, Justine cuts Dorian’s throat in the demonstration. This prompts concern from Dorian, who states that Justine has forgotten her place in their lives.
Malcolm, Ethan, Jared and Inspector Rusk sit down to a dinner in Jared’s ranch. Jared forces Ethan to say Grace, and harasses Ethan until he complies. This prompts Malcolm to come to Ethan’s defense, reminding Jared that his son is still a good man, no matter what the accusations against her are. Hecate also tells Ethan that she will unleash her magic, if he will just give her the word.
Victor then visits Lily at Dorian’s mansion. He is held at knife-point by Justine, and tries to convince Lily to allow him to inject the serum into her, telling her that it will make her memories of her troubled past vanish. Lily refuses, and Justine offers to slit Victor’s throat. Dorian says that this act of violence would be senseless, and Lily ultimately agrees. She frees Victor, but states that she may have use for Victor and his services at a later time.
Vanessa visits Dr. Sweet at the natural history museum, and confesses her troubles to him, stating that she is being hunted by a creature called “Dracula.” Dr. Sweet is not frightened, and tells Vanessa that he loves her for what she is. The two then consummate their relationship.
Violence erupts at Jared’s mansion back in America. Jared shoots Ostow, who had accompanied Inspector Rusk in his quest to bring Ethan to justice. Rusk then asks Ethan and Hecate about the snakes that were conjured in the desert. Ethan and Hecate then spring to action, as does Malcolm. Hecate reverts to her nightcrawler form and is shot by Rusk. Rusk is then shot by Ethan. Malcolm is cornered by one of Jared’s bodyguards, but is saved by the sudden appearance of Kaetenay, who has recovered from the snake bites.
Hecate dies in Ethan’s arms. Ethan teams with Malcolm and Kaetenay, and they find Jared in his chapel. Ethan shoots the gun out of his father’s hands, and his father taunts him to pull the trigger. Ethan is unable to pull the trigger, and walks away from his father. Jared then taunts Ethan further, promising him that he will still hunt him down. Malcolm then shoots Jared, killing him instantly.
So. Much. Going. On. In. This. Episode.
Where to start, then?
Well, let me begin with my favorite character of the series, aka Caliban aka The Creature.
It is true that poor Caliban only had but a few lines of dialogue in this episode…
But let me reiterate: poor Caliban!
His son recognized his father’s voice. And started talking about joining the angels (my heart was torn out of my chest.)
And then his poor soon opened his eyes. And (rightfully) screamed his head off.
Then we saw Caliban openly weep, vowing to obtain medicine to cure his son. And not seeming to care to be back in his family’s life, either. All he wants to do is something so that his son no longer has to suffer.
I never thought of him as The Creature. I have called him Caliban because…well…because I just happen to like the name, and I think it suits him.
But now it is especially hard to think of him as The Creature. He has displayed probably more humanity than almost anyone else on the show, and has been responsible for so many Feels. So calling him The Creature is a disservice, and I will hear none of it!
Next, T-Dal. Let’s talk about T-Dal.
Timothy Dalton has been officially upgraded to T-Dal. And he has earned it.
Malcolm Murray is a bad ass. Malcolm Murray can throw down some serious shade. You do not want to meet Malcolm Murray in a dark alley.
Last week, Malcolm Murray referred to Jared Talbot as “vainglorious”, and then complimented his whiskey. In the same breath. I thought that couldn’t be beat.
Oh, how wrong I was. After watching this week’s episode, I need to recant the error of my ways…
Malcolm telling Kaeteney that he was too mean to die. In the midst of a gunfight that would make this guy proud:
Malcolm 1, rest of the world, 0.
Malcolm standing up for Ethan, trying to get him out of saying Grace.
Malcolm 2, rest of the world 0.
Malcolm putting a much deserved bullet into Jared’s skull, after Ethan backed down (see a pattern here?)
Malcolm 3, rest of the world forfeits and concedes to Malcolm.
In other words, the moniker T-Dal is a sign of respect, and to not use it is just sacrilege, dammit!
Also, I need a moment here…
Yes, a moment to mourn the fallen, as there were a few in this episode.
Such as Hecate. Technically, she is a villain, who did some pretty terrible things last season. But her ill-advised hookup with Ethan was such fun to watch, in a car wreck sort of way. So, we can mourn her.
We also have Jared Talbot. Two episodes just were not enough. Is there more Ethan backstory that could be told in flashbacks, so we can get more of you?
Inspector Rusk. Or rather, Bartholomew “I am a stubborn bastard who just cannot fucking die already” Rusk. But finally, you met your end. And went out in a blaze of glory, as you should have. Kudos, buddy. Now let’s reunite the Scoobies in London already.
Ethan was another reason why I loved this episode. I have always loved Ethan’s character (even that crazy wolf half), but this episode was quite important for Ethan.
First of all, some of Ethan’s lines were comedy gold. Well, maybe comedy that is blacker than how my dad takes his coffee, but that’s still comedy.
Ethan saying Grace, but perverting it the way he did has to be the best thing I have seen on television in 2016. Maybe even ever. Or at least it makes my top 10 list. And this is not just for Penny Dreadful. We are talking about television, period.
The (literally) bloody dinner, and the gunfight that followed it, was also some television gold. Again, if Quentin Tarrantino was a secret writer for Penny Dreadful (there can be no other explanation, natch), then this is how it would unfold. Ethan and Hecate casually cutting their meat, while a dead body sits at the table, along with Hecate chomping at the bit to (again, literally) unleash all Hell on Jared and co. Doesn’t get much better than that.
This episode was also important for Ethan’s character, in that he appears to have come back to the side of the good.
Ethan was given the chance to unleash Hecate and her magic on his father. He did not do that, and chose to fight for himself. And he actually mourned Hecate, as opposed to treating her like something to be used. In other words, he behaved like a decent human being.
But more importantly, Ethan had the chance to kill his father. He has only been talking about that all season, after all.
However, Ethan was unable to pull the trigger. Instead, Malcolm stepped in to protect his surrogate son. In other words, Ethan talked a good game, but refused to walk down a dark path from which there was no return.
So, has the apocalypse been averted? On Ethan’s end at least, the answer appears to be yes, as he has returned to the side of the light. Now to just get the band back together and square off against Dracula, the ultimate Big Bad…
So, that’s it for No Beast So Fierce. Tune in next week for the review and dissection of the seventh episode, titled Ebb Tide.
Tune in next week, same bat time, same bat channel!
As I have stated before, one of Stephen King’s strengths as a writer is that he writes about “real life”, and is able to write about it very well.
And this is a good thing for a few reasons.
For one, it makes the stories more believable. The Shining is a good example of this. We may know the book for the scary hotel and the lecherous ghost in a certain famous room, but much of the book centers around the Torrance family and their problems, which include financial issues, abuse and substance abuse. These are all topics we are familiar with, so when the familiar is juxtaposed with the supernatural, it makes the supernatural that much more believable.
In other words, seeing Jack’s struggles with addiction and his need to provide for his family adds an element of credibility, and suddenly we can believe that an old hotel is really haunted by angry ghosts that want to use you as a human battery of sorts, because you really do have those psychic abilities.
(Ok, maybe a stretch on the psychic abilities part. But, still you never know.)
King also creates great characters. These characters also add to the story, allowing one to emphasize with the horrible situations they are put in.
In fact, King has the ability to create a sympathetic “good guy” and a great bad guy. Both of these are essential to any good story.
Actually, bad guys are unfortunately a part of real life…
Coincidentally (or maybe not), one of King’s most iconic bad guys is, in fact, a politician.
Again, real life can actually be much scarier than a clown in the sewers or a haunted hotel.
With it being an election year that has proved to be horror show that scares even motherfuckers like Stephen King, there was only one thing to do.
That’s right: a read and review of The Dead Zone! Makes perfect sense!
So join me, if you will, on my recap and dissection of The Dead Zone…hope you don’t scare easily!
Oh, as always:
The prologue of the book features two people. One is a young boy by the name of Johnny Smith. Johnny suffers a head injury as a child due to an ice-skating accident. This accident is not serious, but it does briefly render Johnny with precognitive abilities. However, these abilities soon become dormant, and the rest of Johnny’s childhood is normal.
The other person is a man named Greg Stillson. In the beginning of the book, Stillson is a young man who does door-to-door sales, but aspires for something better for himself. However, there is something not quite right about Stillson, as he is shown to be a cruel man. On one of his stops, Stillson kicks a dog to death out of anger, and proceeds to cover the act up so that he will not be caught.
Several years later, Johnny has graduated from college and secured a job as a teacher. He is also dating a young woman named Sarah Bracknell. One fall night, Johnny and Sarah attend a fair. Johnny wins big in one of the gambling games and plans to consummate his relationship with Sarah. However, Sarah becomes ill, and Johnny takes a cab back to his apartment.
Tragedy strikes on the cab ride back to Johnny’s apartment: the cab collides with another vehicle. The driver of the cab is killed, along with the passengers in the other vehicle. Johnny survives the accident, but suffers from severe brain damage and falls into a coma.
For nearly five years, Johnny remains in the coma. His parents, Herb and Vera Smith, are grief-stricken. However, Herb is able to cope with the accident a little better than Vera, who succumbs to a sort of religious mania, and begins to subscribe to beliefs that can only be described as “fringe science.” Sarah is also grief-stricken, but falls in love with a man named Walt Hazlett and has a son by him.
While Johnny is in the coma, a killer that becomes known as the Castle Rock begins to terrorize the town of Castle Rock. Several women are murdered, but the murders go unsolved.
One day, Johnny awakens from his coma. His mobility is limited, and he lacks control over certain bodily functions, but he is coherent and remembers his name, his parents, etc. Johnny is also devastated to find out that Sarah has re-married, but holds no ill will against her.
Almost as soon as he awakens from his coma, Johnny begins to manifest precognitive abilities. When Sarah visits him in the hospital, he is able to touch her and tell her where she lost her wedding ring. He is also able to touch one of his doctors, Dr. Weizak, and determine that Weizak’s mother did not die in the Holocaust, after all, and is living in California. Both of premonitions are subsequently verified, and bring attention to Johnny.
Johnny continues with his physical therapy and rehabilitation, even though it is painful for him. One day, he touches his physical therapist, and has a premonition that the woman’s house has caught on fire. Luckily, the fire department catches the fire on time, and no serious damage is done to the woman’s house. However, this incident continues to bring more unwanted attention upon Johnny, in the form of curious reporters.
Shortly after the incident with his physical therapist, Johnny is hounded by news reporters who are curious about his abilities. With Dr. Weizak at his side, Johnny attempts to answer some of their questions. When he touches one reporter, Johnny is able to obtain some information about the reporter’s deceased sister, and there is no explanation as to how Johnny could have obtained this information. The reporter becomes angry and calls Johnny a charlatan, even though the information is not false.
However, Johnny is distracted from the reporters when he finds out that his mother is in the hospital, as she has suffered a stroke. Vera passes away shortly after Johnny’s arrival at the hospital, and Johnny and his father are devastated.
While Johnny is recovering from his accident, Greg Still becomes the mayor of a small town in New Hampshire and is on a rise to power. However, his methods of keeping order in his city are unorthodox, to say the least, and some question his legitimacy.
After the death of his mother, Johnny moves back into his childhood home with his father. Shortly after he moves back home, Johnny is approached by a man named Richard Dees. Richard Dees works for a tabloid magazine called The Inside View, and offers Johnny a job at the magazine that promises to be quite lucrative. Johnny becomes angry, and chases the reporter off his property, threatening to hurt Dees if he ever returns.
Sarah visits Johnny a few days after the incident with Richard Dees. Even though she is happily married to Walt, Sarah consummates her relationship with Johnny, reminding Johnny on what he has missed. Sarah then leaves, and she and Johnny agree not to contact each other again.
The weeks and months pass by, and Johnny struggles to return to a normal life. An article accusing him to be a charlatan is published in The Inside View, in retribution for his refusal to work for the tabloid. However, Johnny ignores the article, and the publicity surrounding him begins to die off.
One day, Johnny receives a call from Sheriff George Banner in regards to the Castle Rock Strangler murders. Sheriff Bannerman requests Johnny help in solving the case, as the case has remained unsolved for several years and quite a few women have fallen victim to the murderer. Initially, Johnny refuses to help, as he feels that he is being mocked.
However, when Johnny watches a news report on the murders, he changes his mind and agrees to meet with Sheriff Banner. He meets with Sheriff Bannerman in a local diner, and finds out that the latest victim of The Castle Rock Strangler was a nine year old girl. Johnny heads back to the police station with Bannerman, so that he can touch something that may have belonged to the killer, and hopefully get some information on the murderer.
When Johnny touches the cigarette carton that may have belonged to the murderer, he does not get any information. However, Johnny heads to the site where the murder occurred, in the hopes that he will be able to obtain some information from the area. And Johnny is successful in making this visit, and reveals the murderer to be Frank Dodd, who is actually one of Sheriff Bannerman’s deputies. When Johnny makes this revelation, Sheriff Bannerman is angered, but agrees to at least investigate the possibility that Frank was involved in these murders.
The sheriff and Johnny then head to Frank’s house to confront him in regards to the murders. When they arrive, they find that Frank has somehow figured out that he has been caught, and has committed suicide by slitting his throat with a razor. He has also written “I confess” on his bedroom mirror in red lipstick.
After The Castle Rock Strangler has been caught, Johnny’s life has been turned upside down. He is hounded by the press, and loses a teaching contract that he had previously secured.
The years pass, and Johnny eventually moves to a nearby town and obtains a job tutoring a high school boy named Chuck. Johnny is quite good at his job, and helps Chuck overcome his difficulties with reading.
Greg Stillson continues to gain popularity as a politician, and runs for a seat in The House of Representatives. Johnny is somewhat skeptical of Stillson, but does not pay him much mind, as he continues to try to live a normal life.
One afternoon, Johnny attends a rally to hear Greg Stillson speak. Johnny is able to shake Stillson’s hand, and has one of his premonitions: he sees Stillson being elected president and wreaking havoc on the United States and the rest of the world. This frightens Johnny badly, causing him to faint. When he awakens, he is questioned by the police, but released, as they cannot charge him with a crime.
Johnny continues to work with Chuck, and to live his life. However, Greg Stillson is never far from his mind, and Johnny decides that something needs to be done about him, although he does not like the idea of killing, even a psychopath like Stillson. Johnny begins to keep obsessive notes on Stillson, and wonders just what he can do.
One night, Chuck gives Johnny a hug, thanking him for his help. Johnny has another premonition. He sees the restaurant that is hosting a graduation party that Chuck is planning on attending get struck by lightening, killing several students. One of these students may be Chuck. Johnny convinces Chuck not to attend the party, and Chuck agrees, hosting a party of his own at his parent’s house. Later that night, Johnny hears a radio broadcast that there has been a fire at that restaurant, and that 75 people were killed in the fire, which was caused by a lightening strike.
After the incident at the restaurant, Johnny flees New England and heads to Florida. He is determined to stop Stillson at any cost, and purchases a gun. He then heads back north, in the hopes of catching Stillson at a town hall meeting in Jackson, New Hampshire.
At the meeting, Johnny fires his gun at Stillson. In order to defend himself, Stillson grabs an infant and uses the boy as a human shield. A nearby reporter takes a picture of Stillson’s act of cowardice. In the meantime, Johnny is shot by Stillson’s bodyguards and dies almost instantly, but knows that even though he was unable to shoot Stillson, he has still completed his mission.
Once the picture of Greg Stillson’s act of cowardice is brought to the public’s attention, his political career is killed, and the world is safe from the nuclear war that otherwise would have occurred. It is also discovered that Johnny Smith was suffering from a brain tumor and had only months to live. His letters to his father and Sarah indicate that he was of clear mind in his decision to stop Stillson.
Sarah visits Johnny’s grave, and feels distressed. However, she feels a ghostly, gentle hand on her cheek, and knows that Johnny is not truly gone.
The Dead Zone. Many know Stephen King as the guy who writes scary stories. And they would not be wrong, some of King’s material can scare someone right into a change of pants.
But then, you have the underrated gem otherwise known as The Dead Zone. In other words, the other Stephen King. And people often forget that King does indeed have another side. And this side is not the one that can scare you into a change of pants.
No, one of the things that the other Stephen King is good at is feelsies.
Yes, the guy that can (literally) scare the crap out of you can also reduce you to tears, and not the kind of tears brought on by a certain homicidal clown or by a creepy woman who has taken up resident in the bathtub in a certain famous (or is it infamous?) room in a haunted hotel.
No, these are the kind of tears that you shed for the human condition, which is actually one of the most fucked up conditions of all time.
And The Dead Zone is a constant reminder of this, even from the very beginning. Tragedy does not wait to strike in The Dead Zone.
Rather, it rears its ugly head right away, as Johnny falls into the coma right away. When Johnny falls into a coma, his life is forever changed. He was a young man with a bright future with the woman he loved. However, the accident changes everything for Johnny. He is no longer the young man with a bright future, the young man who made being a high school teacher look effortless, the young man who had a beautiful girlfriend who he planned to marry. He is now a vegetable, and even his father prays for death for him, so that he can receive some form of mercy.
The lives of Johnny’s loved ones are irrevocably changed as well. His parents have effectively experienced the death of their only child. To witness your only child suffer like that…it’s no wonder that Vera basically went insane, and Johnny’s father prayed for his death, so that he would not have to witness his only child suffering. Who could blame them?
And there was another victim to tragedy: Sarah Bracknell. It is true that Sarah was not married to Johnny, or even engaged to him. Sarah’s tragedy was the future that never came to be: her marrying Johnny, building a life with him, possibly even having children together. However, the accident robbed Sarah of that, and made her live with “the what if” for the rest of her life.
The tragedy continues, even when Johnny awakens from his coma. “The world has moved on” (in the words of another famous King character.) Johnny has missed out on almost five years of his life. Not only does Johnny not know who the president of the United States is, he has missed out so many other things, like his career and his family. And perhaps the saddest part is that Sarah has moved on and married another, so he has also lost the love of his life, along with the five years he will never get back.
Stephen King often writes about ordinary people placed into extraordinary situations. The Stand, It, The Shining and even the Dark Tower series are all examples of this. And The Dead Zone is, as well.
At first glance, the ability to predict the future may seem like a good thing. After all, knowing that something terrible with happen gives us a chance to prevent it, and preventing something terrible from happening is always a good thing, right?
More like nope, at least in The Dead Zone. Johnny’s abilities make him a pariah. They frighten other people, because most people fear what they don’t understand. Often, Johnny’s knowledge brings some unwelcome revelations. Sheriff Bannerman punched Johnny for accusing Frank Dodd of being the Castle Rock strangler. Bannerman literally needed to have the evidence in front of his face before he would even entertain the notion. And even then, he wasn’t convinced. Bannerman was only fully convinced when he got a written confession from Dodd, and by then it was too late for Dodd to face justice.
Johnny’s abilities also put him in a moral predicament. He knows that a nuclear war will ensue if Greg Stillson becomes president. But is there any way to prevent this from happening, without resorting to actions which make Stillson such an awful person (as Stillson has shown he is not above murder, by killing law enforcement officials who possibly would have put a stop to his political career)? However, unlike Stillson, Johnny is not someone who can so easily resort to murder. Johnny struggles hugely with his decision, and often (rightfully) curses his “gift”, which has caused so much turmoil in his life.
Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?
Throughout my re-read of The Dead Zone, I wondered this. A lot, actually.
And I think we all know what I am referencing…
Although I will also take a dig at Her Nibs here, just to show I am not just picking on The One Who Won’t Be Named.
In all seriousness, the resemblances to our current political climate is just unreal. That’s the only word I can think of to describe it.
King’s description of Stillson’s antics at his rallies is so strikingly similar to Donald Trump’s antics. In one scene, Stillson crawls across the stage like a dog. In another scene, Still promises “free hot dogs for all.” I am sure that if I actually watched some Donald Trump rallies (while we are on the subject of being scared into a change of pants), I would find footage of The Donald crawling across the stage like a dog. Probably barking too.
And don’t even get me started on the subjects of hot dogs, since Mr. Trump has so generously let us known that his…ummm…man parts are fully functioning and of proper size. Actually, if you never want to eat hot dogs ever again after reading this paragraph, I won’t hold it against you!
But, let’s get serious again. Stillson founded his platform on hate, just like Mr. Trump. Donald Trump has been repeatedly promising us that wall that Mexico will so magnanimously fund. Stillson also had a hatred of the “outsiders”, promising his constituents that he would eradicate them. Both Trump and Stillson attracted a certain type of voter: white, lower middle class, ignorant and convinced that their problems were causes by “the outsiders” (Muslims, an African America president with a “foreign” name, any “foreigners”, etc), and not by a system that is inherently unfair to anyone who is not rich, like Stillson and Trump. So both men were able to take the rising fear experienced by their supporters, and got the results that they wanted: supporters who are frightened, and because they are frightened, are actually zealots as opposed to supporters.
When reading this book, I was also struck by the description of the violence at Stillson’s rallies. One woman had a miscarriage. People broke bones and suffered other injuries.
Like I said, art sometimes imitates life. And I may be insufferable in regards to the jokes I have been making about Trump and Stillson lately. But then King throws in a detail, like the fact that a woman suffered a miscarriage due to the violence at one of Stillson’s rallies. I can also watch footage of violence at Trump rallies, as there has plenty. And I can’t joke any more, since I am reminded of the horrible problem we have in this country, where these types of incidents are accepted. Footage like this is much, much scarier than anything that has ever come out of the mind of Stephen King.
Johnny Smith prevented Greg Stillson from starting a nuclear war. This is a scenario that would be all too plausible if Donald Trump was to be elected the leader of the free world. When someone uses fear as his/her campaign platform and actually gets elected, what else can we expect? The campaign was not based on rationality, so why would any decisions, especially the important ones, be based on rationality? In other words, campaigns based on hate and fear do not end well, and will probably end in disaster.
In school, I remember reading Animal Farm. 1984 also may have been required reading. However, The Dead Zone was not required reading. And that was a damn shame. Perhaps, if this book was required reading in high school, “Making America great again” would not be a political platform in 2016.
Well, that’s it for The Dead Zone. Join me next month for the review and dissection of another Castle Rock tale, The Dark Half. And there will be a bonus recap and review, as the final installment of The Mr. Mercedes trilogy, End of Watch, will be released next month.
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Just for fun, here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in The Dead Zone:
-Sheriff George Bannerman also makes an appearance in the novella The Body (part of the collection Different Seasons), and in the book Cujo.
-The events from the book Carrie are referenced.
-Beverly Marsh mentions the Castle Rock Strangler in the book It.