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!
Lately, the world has been a bit topsy-turvy.
Maybe I am looking at it through a looking glass…
Maybe I traveled into an alternate reality, where Superman is the adopted son of undocumented migrant workers, and has a really, really close relationship with Zod, and Batman is literally backwards, and kind of sucks…
Well, actually no.
Not that I am knocking on any of the above, and wouldn’t be open to a little possible experimentation…
Although I could argue that Barry Allen and his ill-advised time travel has had some kind of effect on my reality…
After all, the Cubs are World Series champions!
Now, if only it had won me the lottery…
Or at least given me cool super powers!
Okay, back on topic…
I have actually traveled to alternate reality, even though that trip to Earth 2 is still on my bucket list.
In other words, I have read a book written by that Bachman fella…
Well, I am really not sure if those guys are one in the same, even if that whole story about death from cancer of the pseudonym is slightly suspicious…
Hey, you never know. If young boys and and middle-aged priests can “die” in one world, and be re-born into another (cooler) world, maybe writers can be stricken with cancer of the pseudonym, and end up being re-born on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower, where the writer in question takes a grisly sort of janitorial type of job, collecting macabre souvenirs as a form of payment…
Okay, again back on topic.
So, I read a Stephen King book.
Yeah, water is wet, the sun rises in the east, and Cheetos make terrible leaders of the free world…
So what else is new?
Well, this book is actually new, at least somewhat.
As most of us probably know, early in his career, The King of Horror decided that he would like to write non-horror stories, every now and again.
While King has actually written some fantastic books that can be classified as not horror (The Talisman, 11/22/63, Different Seasons and The Eyes of the Dragon all readily come to mind), early on his career, he was bound by some silly rules about how many books he could publish in a year.
Somebody thought that there was such a thing as too many Stephen King books! And they thought I was the crazy one!
So King did what any sensible King of Horror would do. He created a pseudonym.
As far as I know, this pseudonym did not come to life and murder people, forcing a flock of birds to be called, so they could carry him off, kicking and screaming.
(However, if he is employed by the friendly folks known as SAMCRO, all bets are off, as you gotta do what you gotta do to survive over there in the charming town of Charming, California.)
King named this pseudonym Richard Bachman. And for a while, that Bachman fella did pretty well for himself.
He wasn’t a horror writer, per se. No, Bachman explored the darkness of human nature. Man’s inhumanity to man, in other words.
And Bachman also wrote of our obsession with television, and our need to be constantly entertained, even at the expense of the feelings (and maybe even lives) of our fellow man.
In other words, I am currently reading The Running Man.
Dicky Bachman has come out to play.
So let’s indulge him, as we read and dissect The Running Man.
And, as always:
When one thinks of horror, often one thinks of horror movies.
These movies are fantastical in some ways. We all know that someone cannot possibly be shot 23,889,209 times and still get up to chase sexually precocious teenagers and kill them in inventive ways (although that is a good way to burn that free 100 or so minutes you may have that day. More if you watch the cut scenes on the “extras” menu.)
But often, real life can contain plenty of horror…
But seriously, just turn on the news any given night, and tell me that man’s inhumanity to man is not the most horrific thing out there?
And there is one guy who understands this very well, and who has written some compelling literature on the subject, as a matter of fact…
You guessed it, we are talking about Stephen King!
*insert shocked look right about here*
King has been called The Master of Modern Horror (but you can call him The Master for short), and for good reason.
A rabid St. Bernard that makes you want to avoid car trouble at all costs?
Check and mate!
While most of the above horrors are not actually “real horrors,” one of King’s greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to include elements of realism in his writing.
So we associate The Shining the famous phrase “Redrum” (spell it backwards, for the uninitiated), along with a haunted hotel and a scary lady who is a permanent residence of a room with a famous number
There is also the matter of the guy in the dog costume…
Well, back to my point.
Which is that King can insert reality into his works. The Shining is a great example of this, because it deals with alcoholism, unemployment, child abuse and the list goes on.
In other words, we can relate the above list, since we have all experienced at least one of those things in our lifetime.
And that is what makes the story so terrifying: since we can relate to those topics, it is not that far out of left field that there may be a haunted hotel somewhere out there, where we avoid room 217 (or 237), along with the hedge animals and fire extinguishers, because if it can happen to the seemingly normal Torrance family, it sure can happen to us.
King writes about people. These people may be placed into extraordinary situations, but they are still people, who could, at least theoretically, be any one of us.
And these people do not always fight supernatural monsters, Often, humans are the monsters, and what a human can do to a fellow human is far worse than what a haunted hotel or even a rabid St. Bernard can do to us.
One of King’s books that deals with man’s inhumanity to man (or, more appropriately, woman) is Gerald’s Game.
Gerald’s Game contains hardly any elements of the supernatural, but it is still a frightening read. The monsters in this book are human, so the scenario is one that is plausible for anyone.
So strap in (but don’t handcuff yourself), and get ready for the ride that is Gerald’s Game.
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!
Many people remember their teen years with some sort of fondness.
And that is understandable, to a point.
After all, many milestones are reached during adolescence…
First vehicles that you fall in love with, and said vehicle demands exclusivity almost immediately, and luuvvvs you soooo much that she (since cars always a she, after all) will not allow you to date anyone else, see your friends or hang out with your family…
Well, adolescence in the Stephen King universe is not normal adolescence, after all.
Last month, it was the prom that we reminisced about so fondly.
And this month, we are going to talk about the first love, along with the first vehicle.
In other words, we will be reading and dissecting King’s novel, Christine.
(Yeah, this is the part where I should tell you we are talking about a Stephen King book. Quit acting surprised, you knew it was coming!)
As always, King is one of the few writers who can capture childhood, along with adolescence.
And Christine is a book that has a lot to say on this subject.
So fasten your seat belts, and let’s hop into a certain bright red homicidal 1958 Plymouth Fury…you know you will be in one Hell (literally) of a ride!
And, as always:
The book begins by introducing us to a young man named Dennis Guilder. Dennis has just turned 17 and will be starting his senior year in high school. Dennis’ best friend is another young man named Arnold “Arnie” Cunningham, who has also just turned 17 and attends the same high school as Dennis.
Dennis is athletic and popular, and well liked by his peers. Arnie, however, is a loner and is constantly bullied. Despite the fact that they are polar opposites in so many ways, Dennis and Arnie remain best friends, even throughout junior high and high school.
One day, as Arnie and Dennis are returning home from their summer job, Arnie notices an old car for sale. The car is a 1958 Plymouth Fury and does appear to be in good condition.
Arnie speaks to the owner of the car, an old man named Roland LeBay. Almost immediately, Dennis dislikes the old man. Arnie, however, is determined to purchase the vehicle, and bargains with LeBay. Since it is not pay day, Arnie puts down $25 on the car, which LeBay sells to him for $250, with the expectation that Arnie will purchase the vehicle the next day. Dennis is upset and tries to talk Arnie out of the deal, but Arnie will not budge, and appears to be besotted with the vehicle, which LeBay refers to as “Christine.”
When Arnie returns home that night, he informs his strict parents that he purchased a car. They are upset, especially his mother, Regina, but Arnie still refuses to back down.
The next day, Arnie purchases Christine, and attempts to drive her home. Initially, Christine will not start, but Arnie somehow coaxes the vehicle into starting. Dennis sits in the car for a moment, and gets a very bad feeling about it. On the way home, the car gets a flat tire, and Arnie is forced to change the tire on a resident’s lawn, which very nearly results in a fight between Arnie and the resident.
Arnie makes the decision to temporarily house Christine at Darnell’s Garage. Darnell’s Garage is owned by Will Darnell, a common crook rumored to have dealings with organized crime, but really Arnie’s only choice if he wants to keep Christine. Arnie believes that he can fix up Christine and turn her into something special, although Dennis is skeptical, and even begins to have nightmares about Arnie’s vehicle.
Arnie begins to spend more and more time making repairs to Christine, and less time with Dennis and the rest of his family.
One night, Dennis and Arnie stop for pizza on the way home from work. Arnie has a black eye, and Dennis asks about it. Arnie tells Dennis that he got into a fight with Buddy Reperton, a local thug, at Darnell’s Garage. Reperton smashed a headlight on Christine, and this made Arnie furious. Arnie was also able to injure Reperton before Darnell stepped in. Dennis becomes worried, and does not want Arnie to continue to use Darnell’s Garage as a home for Christine.
One evening, Dennis gets the idea that Arnie can park Christine at LeBay’s house, possible in exchange for some minor chores and a little money. However, Dennis discovers that LeBay has died, so this may not be an option for Arnie.
Arnie is in shock over the death of LeBay, and insists on attending his funeral. Dennis accompanies Arnie, and meets George, LeBay’s brother. Dennis tries to talk George into letting Arnie park Christine at his deceased brother’s house, but George refuses, telling Dennis that Arnie should get rid of the car, as it is bad news. Dennis is curious, and agrees to meet with George later that evening so that he can obtain some more information on Christine’s history.
Later that evening, Dennis meets with George. George gives Dennis a background on Roland and his vehicle. Roland was always angry and bitter, even as a child. Roland joined the army as a young man and became a mechanic, and a brilliant one at that. However, Roland could not let go of his anger, as evidenced by the letters he sent to his family.
Eventually, Roland got married and became a father. He also finally purchased a vehicle of his own, a 1958 Plymouth Fury who named Christine. Roland became obsessed with the vehicle, devoting much of his time and money to it.
One day, Roland’s young daughter choked on a piece of hamburger while riding with her parents in the vehicle. Roland and his wife are unable to save their daughter, and she dies. Roland’s family begs him to give up the vehicle, but he refuses.
The vehicle also claimed another victim: Roland’s wife, who committed suicide in the vehicle, via the fumes from the exhaust hose. Roland still refuses to give up the vehicle, and spends the rest of days alone, only selling the vehicle to Arnie when it becomes evident that he will die soon.
The story makes Dennis uneasy, even when he returns home. Dennis also has an unsettling conversation with his father in regards to Will Darnell and his dealings, which confirms some of Dennis’ suspicions that Darnell may be more than a small time crook.
School begins, and Dennis becomes busy with the start of his senior year. Arnie is also busy, attempting to restore Christine to her former glory. Dennis notices that Arnie’s complexion begins to improve (he had previously had a terrible case of acne) and that Arnie also becomes more confident in himself.
One day, as Dennis and Arnie are eating lunch, they are confronted by Buddy Reperton and his band of friends. A fight breaks out, and a teacher is called in to stop the fight. The fight results in Buddy Reperton’s expulsion from the school, and the suspension of some of his friends. Dennis is shaken, but is again surprised to see Arnie fight back against the bully.
Arnie’s confidence continues to grow. He asks Leigh Cabot, a beautiful transfer student, out on a date, and she agrees to go out with him. Arnie and Leigh attend a football game together, and Leigh meets Dennis. Dennis is a little jealous of Arnie, as he also has a crush on Leigh, but is happy for his friend.
That afternoon, Dennis plays football, like normal. However, he is injured in the game. The injuries are severe, and Dennis spends several weeks in the hospital recovering. Thoughts of Arnie and Christine, along with Leigh, are never far from his mind.
The book then changes to the perspective of Arnie, Leigh and the other characters. Nearly everyone is concerned for Arnie, and they sense that his obsession with the car may be unhealthy. The relationship with Arnie and his mother becomes strained, and they fight constantly over the vehicle. Leigh also dislikes Arnie’s car intensely, and feels uncomfortable when she rides in it.
One night, Arnie’s father, Michael, takes a ride with Arnie in Christine, and has a serious conversation with his son. He suggests that Arnie park his vehicle at the airport, as opposed to Darnell’s Garage. At first, Arnie is not happy with this suggestion, but agrees to it, as sort of a truce between himself and his family.
In the meantime, Buddy Reperton and his friends seek revenge on Arnie, as they blame Arnie for Buddy’s expulsion from school. So one night, Buddy and his friends are able to sneak into the airport garage. Once in the garage, they find Christine and vandalize the vehicle.
One day after school, Arnie heads to the airport garage with Leigh, to show off his progress with his work on Christine. Arnie then discovers the vandalism to Christine, and becomes very upset.
Arnie argues with his parents over Christine and the vandalism. He is reluctant to report the incident, but his father insists on doing so. Arnie’s parents offer to replace Christine with a newer vehicle, but Arnie refuses, and states that he will restore Christine himself.
Christine seeks revenge on those who vandalized her. She begins with with Moochie Welch, who was involved in the prank. Christine chases down Moochie one night, running him over multiple times.
Arnie learns about Moochie’s death, and appears to be shocked. He denies any involvement to local police, and his parents also confirm his alibi. Arnie is also questioned by a state police officer. The officer does not believe Arnie’s story, but cannot take any action, as he has no concrete evidence that Arnie was involved in Moochie’s death. The officer also notices that Christine is nearly restored back to her prior condition, despite the fact that prior reports stated that she was damaged beyond repair.
One evening, Buddy and his friends are driving around town. Buddy is still angry over being expelled from school, and has no remorse over vandalizing Christine. Buddy and his friends then notice another vehicle which appears to following them. It does not take long for Buddy to realize that the vehicle is Christine, and she appears to be driving herself.
Chrstine chases Buddy down, and runs him over, killing him. Before he dies, Buddy sees the ghost of an old man, which can only be Roland LeBay.
Arnie feels badly that he has been neglecting Leigh, and he takes her shopping and out for dinner one weekend. On the way home, Arnie and Leigh pick up a hitchhiker and drive him into town on their way home.
On the drive home, Leigh is eating a hamburger. She then begins to choke on the hamburger, but she is saved by the hitchhiker, who uses the Heimlich maneuver on her, over Arnie’s protests. Leigh is badly shaken by the incident, and realizes that she would have died if it had not been for the hitchhiker. When she is choking, Leigh believes that Christine’s dashboard lights turn into eyes, and that the car tried to kill her.
When Arnie drops Leigh off at home, Leigh demands that Arnie get rid of Christine, as she believes that the vehicle is evil. Arnie refuses, and the two argue. Arnie then storms off, leaving Leigh in tears.
Arnie is again questioned by Junkins, the state cop who questioned him in regards to Moochie’s death. Arnie provides an alibi for the night of Buddy Reperton’s death, and tells the state cop that there is no evidence that he was involved in Buddy’s death. Junkins does not believe Arnie, and vows that Arnie will one day face justice.
Arnie’s personality begins to change, and everyone notices, including Arnie. Arnie’s speech and mannerisms become similar to those of Roland LeBay, and Arnie even believes that he sees LeBay sitting in his vehicle.
One day, Arnie runs another errand for Will Darnell, his boss. The state cops, however, have closed in on Darnell, who is arrested. Arnie is also arrested, as the vehicle he was driving contains untaxed cigarettes. Arnie’s parents are shocked by the arrest, but Arnie is eventually released from jail, and will likely not have a mark on his permanent record, due to his age.
Christine then seeks revenge on Darnell when Arnie is out of town for the Christmas holidays. She traps Darnell inside of his house, and runs him over. Darnell’s death is news, due to his pending criminal charges, and most people assume that his death was related to his criminal dealings.
Leigh, however, makes the connection between Darnell’s death and a few others. She believes that Christine is the cause of those deaths, as does Dennis. Dennis and Leigh team together, and research Christine’s history. Dennis then begins to develop feelings for Leigh, but is hesitant, due to his friendship with Arnie.
Dennis spends New Year’s Eve with Arnie. He is struck by the changes in Arnie’s personality, which he realizes is actually LeBay’s personality. Dennis is unsettled, and becomes even more frightened for Arnie.
On the way home that night, Dennis witnesses Arnie transform into Roland LeBay. When he glances through Christine’s mirror, he also sees the ghosts of Christine’s victims. His town is also transformed into what it looked like in the 1950’s, when LeBay was still alive.
Christine then claims another victim: Junkins, the state cop who investigated Darnell, and who also set his sights on Arnie, hoping to charge him with the murders of Buddy Reperton and Christine’s other victims. Dennis and Leigh realize that they must destroy Christine.
Dennis speaks to LeBay’s brother, George. George reveals more of LeBay’s early life, and the picture painted is disturbing, as people who harmed LeBay were likely to become injured or even dead. George also states that the deaths of LeBay’s wife and child may not have been accidental. Dennis then informs LeBay that he intends to destroy Christine. After his conversation with LeBay, Dennis begins to make some phone calls.
One day, Dennis and Leigh are talking in Dennis’ car in the parking lot of a local restaurant. Arnie appears, and realizes that Dennis is in love with Leigh. This infuriates Arnie, who has fixated on Leigh, determined to make her love him again. Dennis is frightened for Leigh, as he realizes that it is actually the ghost of LeBay who has fixated on Leigh, and that LeBay will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
Dennis confronts Arnie one morning in the school parking lot. He tells Arnie that LeBay has possessed, but that he can fight him. Arnie tries to fight, but LeBay is stronger. Arnie and Dennis then get into a physical fight. Dennis challenges LeBay, telling him to meet him that night at Darnell’s garage, and to bring Christine.
Leigh and Dennis wait for Christine at Darnell’s garage. Christine soon appears, along with the body of Michael Cunningham, Arnie’s father. Dennis and Leigh battle Christine with a wrecking truck that Dennis had obtained earlier that day. They are able to destroy the car, but are injured in the process.
Dennis awakens in the hospital the next day and inquires about Arnie. A FBI agent named Mercer tells him that Arnie and his mother were killed in a car accident on the highway right after Christine was destroyed. Witnesses saw a third person in the vehicle, which could only be the ghost of Roland LeBay, who attempted to possess Arnie after Christine was destroyed. Dennis tells his story to the FBI agent, and Leigh corroborates it.
Dennis and Leigh graduate from high school and date for about two years. Eventually, they drift apart and Leigh moves to New Mexico. She marries and becomes the mother of twin girls.
Dennis becomes a junior high school history teacher. He recovers from his injuries, even though his leg still pains him at times. He sometimes experiences nightmares in regards to Christine, but they become less frequent.
One day, Dennis receives the news that a young man named Sandy was killed after being hit by a vehicle. Dennis begins to wonder if Christine has somehow regenerated, and if she will find him and seek revenge.
Well, that was quite a ride…
Okay, okay…I will brake from the bad car jokes…
But seriously, wow, this book was really quite the ride.
Now, Stephen King writes scary stuff. Duh, he is the King of Horror, and we all know this. And Christine has plenty of scary moments (more on that later.)
But really, King’s major strength as a writer is his ability to write about reality, as strange as that may seem to some.
In other words, King does not just write about monsters, like possessed cars, haunted hotels and evil clowns.
He writes about people.
And that’s why we love him. Once again, he is our literary Everyman.
And there are plenty of Everyman moments in Christine. When Christine is mentioned, most people think “Car bad. Very very bad. Arnie go crazy. I hate rock and roll.”
(Well, something like that. And yes, it may owe a little bit to the movie of the same name, thanks to John Carpenter, God love him.)
One of my favorite parts in this book was the description of the friendship between Arnie and Dennis.
There are some people, in the Hell otherwise known as high school, who are actually popular because they are…wait for it…genuinely nice people…gasp…
Dennis Guilder is proof of the above. His friendship with Arnie is an exception rather than a rule in the Hell known as high school (yes, I keep using that word. Hell. And yes, I do know what it means, aka the DMV and high school. Hell has less screaming, though, than either of those.)
But it is proof that there are some out there with actual character, who can see beyond the surface, and who is willing to dig for gold.
I loved the fact that Dennis and Arnie built ant farms as children. There is just something endearing in that. Maybe it’s because that is a project that requires investment and patience, much like being Arnie’s friend.
But, as I stated before, Christine is scary. And actually, it is a lot scarier than what I had previously given it credit for.
First of all, we have Christine herself. Notice how I say “herself,” and not “itself.”
In other words, Christine may technically be an “object”, but she (again, with the pronouns) is definitely a character in her own right.
And that is the genius of King: he writes wonderful characters who are people (and even animals.) However, he can turn anything into a character. In fact, I am sure a novel will be out one day that features a plastic Wal-Mart bag who we either end up rooting for, in its quest to not be replaced by paper bags, or perhaps we learn to fear Wal-Mart plastic bags because this one tries to take over a store in its anger over being replaced by the paper bags and ends up killing the customers in a totally gruesome manner…
(And yes, that book will be a “take my money now situation,” natch.)
Well, humor aside, Christine may be a vehicle, but she is a character in her own right. And a villain, to boot (King has written more than a few of those, both human and inhuman.)
And one scary character as well.
The scenes when Christine in on the rampage are some of the most frightening scenes that I have ever read in any book, let alone a King book.
In particular, the scene when Christine hunts down Buddy Reperton particularly stands out in my mind. Now, Buddy really did have that coming to him. He was an asshole, there is no other way around it. But still, being hunted by Christine and being toyed with in much the same manner as a cat toys with a mouse that it is about to kill…yikes is all I can say!
And the little touch at the end, when Buddy sees the ghost of Roland LeBay is just what the doctor (or is it writer?) ordered to scare us Constant Constant Readers into a change of pants!
Speaking of which, Roland LeBay…
Let’s talk about him for a bit.
Somehow, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Or, as a certain well-known and beloved character in the Dark Tower series may have stated: Coincidence has been cancelled!
The two share a name, but they could not be more different, right?
Well, they are pretty different. But there does seem to be an underlying theme.
And that theme would be obsession.
Think about that for a moment.
Roland Deschain is obsessed with his Tower.
In fact, he is so obsessed that he is willing to sacrifice his spiritual son so that he can progress in his quest.
Roland LeBay is obsessed with his vehicle.
In fact, he is so obsessed that he is willing to let his daughter choke to death, and refuses to get rid of the vehicle even after her death.
So yeah, sounds pretty familiar, huh?
However, I think #teamLeBay wins the obsession contest over #teamDeschain.
#teamDeschain is at least capable of showing some humanity at certain points, and does try to redeem himself. So he loses this contest, although this is contest one probably does not want to win.
In fact, #teamLeBay is so obsessed with this vehicle, that it carries over to his death. The ghost of Roland LeBay is the other major player in this story, even though it gets overshadowed by the crazy vehicle.
But I need to give the ghost of LeBay its due.
After all, it is seen several times in the story.
The scene where Arnie is eating pizza in Christine, and sees LeBay sitting next to him, is tres creepy. I didn’t know whether to laugh at the piece of pizza that went MIA, or shudder even more.
What was even scarier was the fact that Arnie also saw himself in LeBay’s ghost (more on that later, though.)
I think the scariest scene in the book is the scene when Arnie drives Dennis home via Christine on New Year’s Eve.
Dennis sees the ghost of LeBay in the rear view mirror. Somehow, that’s gruesome right there. Just looking in the rear view mirror…
What do you see?
Oh, nothing, ghosts of dead, decaying, rotting bodies of evil guys and stuff…
And the fact that Christine was able to momentarily travel back in time, taking Arnie and Dennis back to the 1950’s…wow!
Suddenly the streets are not familiar, and Dennis can’t find his house, because it hasn’t been built yet.
Wow, wow and wow again.
There was a wonderful, dreamlike surreal quality to that scene that I just loved. You are pretty sure that Dennis is not hallucinating any of it, but you aren’t 100% sure. And that makes it even more frightening.
Another thing to love about this novel is the fact that it addresses a taboo topic: bullying.
Now, Christine is a scary book. It has ghosts and a possessed car. And those also make for a great story.
But at its heart, Christine is a novel about bullying, and how it affects people.
Too often, people tend to dismiss bullying. They will say it’s kid stuff. They will tell the victim to ignore it, and it will go away.
In other words, kids have no rights. I was bullied constantly as a child. But I was a child, and I had no rights. If I was an adult, I could file a police report for either harassment or assault, and start a paper trail.
But children don’t have that option. Children are forced to see the bullying as some twisted “rite of passage.”
And people wonder how we get a Carrie White, or Arnie Cunningham.
Again, it goes back to Laverne Cox: Hurt people hurt people.
And like Carrie White, Arnie was a hurt human being.
In the book, various characters, such as Dennis, talk about how Arnie has “changed.”
My question is: did Arnie really change?
My answer: no, he didn’t.
Sure, he may have hid his pain for a long time, and managed to convince everyone (his parents, Dennis, etc) that he was okay.
However, Arnie was actually pretty similar to the deceased Roland LeBay in a lot of ways.
LeBay was obviously an angry person throughout his life. He was a man who never really loved anyone or anything, other than Christine, his vehicle. They were a match made in hell.
Arnie Cunningham was also angry man. He may not have shown his anger in the way that LeBay did, but it was obvious that he was angry.
An ex of mine once told me that “depression is anger turned inwards.” I think this is actually a good description of Arnie Cunningham.
Arnie spent his life being marginalized.
He was bullied at school. Most of the other kids would not accept him. In the world of high school, Dennis Guilder is an exception, not a rule.
Even at home, he was marginalized by his parents. Arnie had talent as a mechanic, but his parents would not accept that, and put pressure on him to attend college, rather than pursuing his talent for working with cars.
So, is it any wonder that Christine and the ghost of Roland LeBay were able to exert their influence on Arnie? After all, kindred spirits.
The fact that when Arnie saw the ghost of LeBay in Christine, and then saw an older version of himself is telling. After all, the two really are cut from the same cloth: angry, never experienced any type of true love.
And that is the only antidote for an Arnie Cunningham or Carrie White: we must have a world where everyone, even the “ugly pizza faces,” can find love or acceptance.
There may not be possessed vehicles in our world which are capable of exacting revenge on bullies, but there are worse things, such as bombs and guns. Until we realize this, our Arnie Cunningham’s will remind us that bullying has unpleasant consequences.
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???
There is just something about a new year.
I know that the calendar is simply a human construct, and really pretty meaningless, maybe even random, if you really think about it.
But I still love the concept of a new year.
It reminds me of when I buy new art supplies, for example. I know that I have bought most of this stuff before, and I am just recharging my already ample supply (luckily, my husband is understanding, although he would not agree that it’s not hoarding if it’s art supplies.)
But still, every time I
hoard buy new art supplies, I get that feeling of new possibilities. No limits. And I can start anew.
And that is how I feel about 2017.
Especially after the horror movie otherwise known as 2016, that will probably be struck from the history books.
Seriously, those school kids in the future will likely have some gap in their books (or whatever will pass for books in 2297) that covers 2015, 2017, 2018 and so forth.
But yet there will be a gap, in that 2016 will be skipped over. And I am sure that the parents (or robot nannies) of the future will have fun trying to explain that one.
In other words, 2016 was pretty scary. I mean, who wrote 2016…Stephen King or somebody?
Oh, speaking of which…
In case you forgot which blog you were reading…
Yes, we are starting out 2017 with a review of a Stephen King book…who knew?!
And for this month’s review, we are going back in time…
All the way back to the beginning, in fact.
Now, I know that King started off his writing career at a fairly young age, and spent years trying to get his work published.
In other words, I am sure there are lots of early works by The Master somewhere out there, for our reading pleasure.
But, for the purposes of this humble lil ole blog, we are going to focus on The Master’s first published book (and also the first of his books to be turned into a movie, which is still a classic.)
So, we are going to be reading and dissecting the novel Carrie.
The book with the infamous shower scene.
The book that makes you want to get a T-shirt that says “I survived my high school prom and all I got was this bloody T-shirt!”
(See what I did there?)
Carrie was the first published book by Stephen King.
It set the precedent for horror and also for book-to-screen adaptations.
Even non-King fans (gasp) can probably recite lines from the movie, and probably even know that is based on a Stephen King book.
Carrie is a huge part of popular culture. And there is a reason for that: it discusses themes that everyone can relate to, including puberty, bullying, parental abuse and a few others.
So, strap in, Constant Constant Reader, and get ready for the wild ride otherwise known as Carrie!
And, as always:
The book begins with an account of stones mysteriously falling from the sky, in the proximity of a house that a woman named Margaret White lives in, along with her toddler daughter Carrietta White. No one is ever able to explain why the stones fell from the sky, although people do not seem to be surprised that such an odd phenomena would occur in the vicinity of that particular house.
The story then jumps forward several years. Carrie White is now a teenager attending Ewen High School in Chamberlain, Maine. Carrie does not fit in at her high school and is bullied mercilessly by her peers.
The bullying reaches a peak one morning, when Carrie begins her first menstrual period at the age of nearly 17. Carrie does not understand what is happening to her and thinks that she is bleeding to death in the showers of the gym at her school.
Almost at once, the other girls begin to torment Carrie, throwing tampons and menstrual pads at her, demanding that she “plug it up.” Susan Snell, who generally does not bully other students, participates in tormenting Carrie, although Sue realizes that Carrie may not actually understand what is happening to her and that Carrie may also be genuinely terrified.
We then learn the story of Carrie’s birth. Her mother, Margaret White, was in denial that she was pregnant, as her religion proclaims that any sexual intercourse is a sin. Margaret gives birth to Carrie at home, with no medical assistance. Margaret was alone, because Carrie’s father had passed away several months earlier.
Ms. Dejardin, Carrie’s physical education teacher, puts a stop to the attack. She does not punish Sue and the other girls right away, but dismisses them so that she can help Carrie.
Ms. Desjardin then escorts Carrie to the principal’s office. She tries to explain menstruation to Carrie, but Carrie is too upset to listen. The principal, Mr. Morton, then dismisses Carrie for the day, after Ms. Desjardin gives him an explanation of what happened. Ms. Desjardin also states that she will punish those responsible for the incident, and Mr. Morton allows the punishment to be her own.
Carrie walks home from school, upset about the treatment she has endured from her classmates over the years. Carrie is also aware that she is different because she has the ability to move objects with her mind. This was demonstrated earlier when she forced a light bulb to explode and an ash tray to fall off Mr. Morton’s desk. Carrie is able to knock a child off his bicycle when he torments her as she as walking home, and realizes that she may be able to control this gift, with practice.
We then read the account of the incident from Carrie’s childhood when the stones fell from the sky. The incident is told from the perspective of Carrie’s former neighbor, who is being interviewed for a publication.
Carrie arrives home that morning, and finds the sanitary napkins her mother has hidden in the house. She is no longer frightened, as she realized that menstruation is a normal part of growing up, although she is embarrassed, as she previously thought that sanitary napkins were used to remove lipstick. Carrie also desires to break free of her mother’s constricting religious beliefs, and to fit in with her peers.
However, Carrie is also angry, and breaks a mirror in an expression of her anger.
The story then switches to the perspective of Sue Snell. Sue is dating a boy named Tommy Ross, who is the most popular boy in school. The two have recently become lovers, and Sue begins to contemplate a future with Tommy and realizes that she has fallen in love with him. That night, when the two are on a date, Sue confesses what happened that morning in the shower to Tommy, as she is upset with herself. Tommy listens to Sue and suggests that Sue apologize to Carrie for her part in the incident. However, Sue is unable to come up with a solution to her problem, and still feels badly for what happened.
That evening, Carrie faces the wrath of her mother, Margaret. Margaret believes that her daughter has sinned because she is now menstruating, and forces Carrie into a small closet to pray for forgiveness. Margaret also strikes her daughter. However, Carrie pushes back, threatening to make the stones come again if Margaret does not stop the abuse.
The next week, Ms. Desjardin confronts the students responsible for the attack on Carrie. Sue Snell is among these students, and accepts responsibility for her part in the incident. However, Chris Hargensen, one of the other responsible students and a school bully, refuses to accept the punishment, and tries to convince Sue and the others to walk out in protest of Ms. Desjardin and her punishment. Sue refuses, and Chris’ refusal results in a suspension and refusal of her prom tickets.
Chris’ father also refuses to accept his daughter’s punishment and attempts to bully the school administrators into reversing the punishment so that Chris can attend prom. The administration, however, stands up to him, and he backs down after he learns what his daughter did to Carrie.
Sue is also forced into a confrontation with Chris, as Chris is angry that Sue did not stand with her in protest of Ms. Desjardin’s punishment. However, Sue tells Chris that she accepts responsibility for her actions. Chris counters, telling Sue that she is a hypocrite and only accepting the punishment so that her prom ticket will not be refused. Sue realizes her hypocrisy, and wonders how to counter it.
Sue continues to feel remorse for her responsibility on the attack on Carrie, and finally has an idea of how to atone. Sue convinces Tommy Ross, her boyfriend, to ask Carrie to the prom. Sue is convinced that if Carrie attends prom, she may finally be able to fit in with her peers. Tommy is reluctant, but finally agrees to Sue’s request. After he agrees, he tells Sue that he loves her.
Tommy approaches Carrie one day between classes, and invites her to the prom. Carrie is skeptical, but is finally convinced and agrees to attend the prom with Tommy. After speaking with Carrie, Tommy realizes that she is far from repulsive.
Carrie decides to use her talent for sewing to make her own prom dress. Carrie also develops her other talent, known as telekinesis, and is able to move larger objects using her mind. She informs Margaret that Tommy has invited her to prom and that she has accepted the invitation. Margaret is furious and attempts to forbid Carrie from attending. Carrie fights back, using her newfound powers, and wins the battle. Carrie emphasizes her desire to fit in with her peers, much to the shock of Margaret.
Word spreads that Sue will not be attending prom and that Tommy will instead be taking Carrie to the prom. It also becomes evident that Chris Hargensen is planning something, although no one is sure what she is planning.
Billy Nolan, Chris’ boyfriend, breaks into a farm one night. Billy and his friends kill a couple of pigs, and drain the bodies of blood, taking buckets of blood with him when he leaves the farm.
Carrie sews her dress and begins to get ready to attend her senior prom. Margaret again fights with her, attempting to persuade Carrie not to attend, but once again, Carrie uses her powers to stand up to her mother. Carrie also tells her mother that she loves her after the confrontation.
Tommy arrives to pick up Carrie, who is extremely nervous, and has even considered not attending the prom. However, Carrie is pleasantly surprised even from the beginning of the evening, as her classmates and her date treat her with respect. The girls are impressed with her dress, and surprised by her talent for sewing. Carrie is further surprised to learn that she and Tommy have been nominated for Prom King and Queen.
While Carrie is attending the prom, her mother Margaret comes to the decision to kill her daughter when she comes home later that night. Margaret has noticed Carrie’s talent for moving objects with her mind from the time when Carrie was baby, and believes that Carrie’s gift is a sin. Margaret contemplated sacrificing her daughter many years ago, but did not. This time, however, she is determined to carry out her plan.
Chris and Billy also carry out their plans to play a prank on Carrie that evening. They sneak into the high school, where Billy has hidden buckets of the pig’s blood in the rafter. They plan to dump the blood on Carrie if she is crowned Prom Queen.
Carrie and Tommy are then nominated as Prom Queen and King. They are crowned onstage. However, when Carrie and Tommy enter the stage to accept their nominations, Chris pulls the strings, and Tommy and Carrie are doused with the pig’s blood. One of the buckets hits Tommy on the head, and he is rendered unconscious. The impact is so severe that Tommy dies in less than an hour.
The audience is first shocked, and then begins to laugh at Carrie, who is also in shock. Carrie escapes from the gymnasium, but uses her powers to unleash the sprinkler system. This causes an electrical fire, and students and teachers frantically attempt to escape from the school, which is now engulfed in flames.
Carrie wanders the town, in a state of madness. She begins to cause more destruction, using her powers to wreak havoc in the town of Chamberlain, Maine.
Eventually, while the town of Chamberlain burns to the ground, Carrie returns to her home. She is met by her mother, Margaret, who is armed with a butcher knife. Margaret then stabs Carrie, believing that she is committing an act mercy in ending her daughter’s life.
However, Carrie is not killed by her mother, as she envisions her mother’s heart coming to a stop. Margaret then dies after her heart comes to a complete stop.
Word of what has happened in Chamberlain reaches Billy and Chris, and they head back into town. However, they also run into Carrie, who takes revenge on them by using her powers to overturn their vehicle. Carrie is hit by the vehicle, and Billy and Chris are killed almost instantly.
Sue Snell is wandering the streets of Chamberlain. She appears to have some sort of telepathic connection with Carrie and knows that Carrie has killed her mother. She also realizes that Tommy and most of her friends have been killed.
Finally, Sue finds Carrie and realizes that Carrie dying. She still shares a telepathic bond with Carrie, although the bond is weakening because Carrie is dying. Carrie is convinced that Sue tricked her and is responsible for the events that occurred that night. However, Carrie probes Sue’s mind, and realizes that Sue bore no ill will towards her and only wanted to help her.
Carrie traps Sue in her mind as she is dying, so Sue also experiences Carrie’s death. Finally, Sue escapes Carrie’s clutches, and realizes that she has gotten her menstrual period, which had been a week late.
At least 409 people have died due to the destruction of the high school and the surrounding town. An autopsy of Carrie White has revealed unusual formations in her brain, and the governor appoints a committee to study the tragedy.
Sue Snell survives the devastation and writes a book about the events.
The town of Chamberlain effectively becomes a ghost town, as people begin to leave. More bodies are discovered, and the funeral business becomes the most active business in Chamberlain.
Some years into the future, a woman writes a letter to her sister. The letter describes an incident with the woman’s infant daughter, who apparently has the ability to move objects with her mind. However, the woman does not fear her daughter, but reveres her instead, believing that the little girl will accomplish great things in the future.
Well, you know what they say…
Big things come in small packages.
Yes, this cliche may be overused, but I cannot think of a better description of the book Carrie.
It may not be a big book, but it packs a big wallop.
Carrie is King’s first published work. King has compared it to a cookie baked by a 6 year old: you can tell it’s a cookie, and it has some nice flavorings, but that cookie is misshapen, burnt on the bottom, etc.
Well, that cookie is some mighty fine eating, and an appetizer for great things to come!
There are so many great things about this little book that it is hard to know where to start our discussion.
First of all, all Carrie has some great villains. And no, the title character is not one of them, although we will discuss her in a bit as well.
No, the villains in this story are Carrie’s mother and her classmates, which mainly include Chris Hargensen.
As I have stated before, one of King’s major strengths as a writer is his ability to write about “real life.”
Making the statement that King writes horror is a severe underestimation of King’s work, almost like making the statement that Aaron Rodgers plays football.
In other words, there is so much more to King (as there is to Aaron Rodgers, as the Dallas Cowboys found out this weekend.)
King writes horror stories, but when you strip away the horror, his stories are about people.
And one of the things that people do is not be nice to each other.
You know, like sheltering your kid her whole life, locking her up in a prayer closet when she does normal kid things and oh, not telling her about the “birds and the bees?”
Margaret White is one of King’s best human villains.
When one says the name Stephen King to most people, they may think of Pennywise the Clown, a girl who can start fires or maybe of the title character of the book we are discussing, who “lost” it and destroyed her high school.
Most people are not going to think of religious fanaticism and how dangerous that fanaticism can be be to an impressionable teenager who only wants what most teenager want, i.e. to fit in with her peers somehow, and to not be the butt of EVER SINGLE horrible practical joke every bully somewhere has dreamed up.
What is great (or is it horrible?) about the character of Margaret White is that she is so plausible.
Margaret White exists in this world today.
Any time I read an article about some kid dying because the parents refused medical treatment for religious reasons, or some adult that escaped a household run by religious fanatics who insisted on homeschooling their children and not allowing their children to date before marriage, I think of Margaret White.
Granted, the outcome in Carrie may be a bit extreme, as most kids don’t kill their abusive parents and many are able to flee those conditions and eventually make better lives for themselves.
But Margaret White still exists. And she is dangerous, as most people do not recognize the actions of the Margaret Whites in our world for what they are: child abuse.
Child abuse does not always mean that a parent hits his/her and leaves bruises (although Margaret was guilty of this, and this is still tragically all too common.)
Instead, child abuse can be more insidious, as when the parent controls all actions of the child, and does not allow opposing viewpoints in the child’s life.
Child abuse can also consist of a parent forcing their viewpoints on their child, and punishing the child for daring to have an opposing viewpoint (the prayer closet in action.)
The book Carrie also has another villain, besides Margaret White.
Or should I say, a set of villains?
In case I am not being clear, I am referring to Chris Hargensen, along with the other sickening half of the dynamic duo…
Yes, Chris is some sort of demented Batman, and that would make Billy some kind of creepy, greasy Robin, I suppose.
When I read about the bullying experienced by Carrie, and the actions (and lack of actions) by her classmates, I was reminded of one of my favorite books as a child.
Judy Blume is similar to King, in that she writes “real life.”
Along with educating me about my anatomy, Ms. Blume also discussed bullying at length in almost all of her books.
However, Blubber was a book devoted to the subject of bullying.
In this book, children gang up on a particular classmate, bullying her ostensibly due to her weight (the title is the cruel nickname they have come up with for this child, in fact), although the real reasons may be a little deeper.
However, Blubber is not told from the perspective of the bully. Nor is it told from the perspective of the victim.
Rather, it is told from the perspective of a bystander, Jill. Throughout the book, we watch Jill evolve, from a fellow bully to a victim to finally someone who becomes enlightened and a more compassionate person.
When I was reading Carrie, I was struck by the similarity between Chris Hargensen and the bullies in the book Blubber, along with the similarity between Sue Snell and the Jill character in Blubber.
Like the bully in Blubber, Chris is charismatic. At the beginning, Chris able to get others to do her bidding.
This includes her not very bright, but very cruel boyfriend, Billy Nolan.
In fact, unlike Chris, Billy does not care very much about Carrie White. He just wants to dump a bucket of pig’s blood on someone, for the thrill of it. Interestingly, Billy also seems to be the only one who understands that criminal charges would be brought against him and Chris if they were caught.
However, throughout the novel, Chris’ “friends” begin to turn away from her.
One of these friends is Sue. Much like the Jill character in Blubber, Sue goes along with the crowd at first.
She wants to be accepted and does not want to “rock the boat.”
However, much like Jill in the book Blubber, Sue begins to evolve.
She does not want to miss her prom, but realizes the effect that the bullying has had on Carrie White.
As the events of the story unfold, Sue begins to evolve.
She realizes that there is more to life than high school, her friends and even Tommy, her boyfriend.
Sue is able to put herself into the shoes of Carrie, and realizes what a horrible time that Carrie has had throughout her life.
This prompts her to “loan” Tommy to Carrie for an evening, so that Carrie may have a few hours of happiness.
And when things go horribly wrong, Sue begins to feel a sense of responsibility.
Sue also reminds us that Carrie was a person, with real thoughts and feelings.
Carrie also seeks out Sue, as her life is ending, and realizes that Sue is not to blame for what happened.
In fact, it seems if Sue is able to offer Carrie one of the few bits of compassion that Carrie has ever received in her life, which eases Carrie’s suffering just a little as she dies.
And last but not least, let’s talk about the title character herself, Carrie.
Now, I know that Carrie is not a terribly long book, and there is not a lot of room to get to know characters on an in-depth basis.
However, King does a good job with the character development in this book. In fact, he does more than good, considering the length of the book.
In the past, people have indicated a dislike for Carrie as a person. Or they simply pity her. Even King has indicated that Carrie is not really a likable character.
However, I respectfully disagree with The Master on that (gasp.)
Maybe it’s because I was bullied as a child. Or maybe it’s because I survived an abusive marriage.
But I find the character of Carrie White to be fascinating, and to me, she is one of King’s more interesting characters.
Throughout much of the book, we see Carrie through the eyes of Carrie herself. And the picture is not flattering, as it would appear that she is overweight and suffering from acne.
However, I was struck when I read the part where Tommy asks her to the prom, and notices that she was “far from repulsive” but this was “the first time he had really looked.”
So was Carrie just invisible when she was not being bullied? I tend to believe this, because I spent most of my childhood being bullied and trying to remain invisible so I would not be bullied. In fact, when my ex boyfriend told me that the guys at our college thought that I had the best legs on campus, I was struck speechless. Really, I don’t think that I even knew that I had legs, much less legs that others may consider to be attractive.
But that’s how it is when you try to remain invisible: you lose sight of yourself, and become invisible to even your own eyes, so you don’t see what others may marvel over.
Throughout the book, Carrie does begin to emerge from her shell. And I began to like that girl on her own merits, much like Tommy Ross.
For starters, I thought Carrie to be a strong woman.
She survived bullying and abuse (from both her peers and her mother) for years, and basically did not flinch. In fact, she tried to take some of the bullying with good humor, even though she (understandably) lost her sense of humor pretty quickly.
To top it off, Carrie did not have a support system at home. Most of us who are bullied have family and friends outside of school, so that we have something worth living for. Carrie did not, although she had a mother who considered anything that may bring her daughter happiness to be a sin.
So anyone who can survive as long as Carrie did under those circumstances is somebody to be admired, not pitied. And I like strong people, as well as admire them. I like people who somehow find a way to push through it, even when the circumstances are not good.
“Hurt people hurt people.”
This is a quote from Laverne Cox, in regards to bullying and harassment. And it applies so well to this book.
Carrie was definitely one of the hurt people.
Her bullies could not even allow her a few moments of happiness, when she was invited to prom by the most popular boy in school and then crowned Prom Queen. At that point, even some of her classmates, like Tommy, had begun to like Carrie on her own merits.
But then a horrible prank was played on her, and as they say, the rest was history.
And my question is: why wouldn’t Carrie “snap” after enduring that kind of prank?
In fact, why wouldn’t anyone “snap” after enduring that kind of prank?
Throughout the book, the scientific articles are focused on the telekinesis aspect. Should something be done to prevent children from being born with this ability? Can we isolate this gene that is responsible for “Typhoid Mary’s?” Should we test children for “TK ability,” as we test them for tuberculosis? And so forth.
But never once is the most important question asked: What causes people to lash out, as Carrie did?
Personally, I was amazed that Carrie did not lash out sooner, due to the abuse that she endured.
Throughout the book, Carrie is not portrayed as someone prone to violence.
She may have fantasies in regards to revenge on her tormentors, but that would be perfectly normal, in my book.
But constant bullying changes people. I am living proof of that. My childhood ought to be behind me, but it isn’t.
I spent my life being told I was not good enough. So I married an abusive man, because I didn’t think I deserved any better. In other words, I internalized that message.
I still have difficulty making friends. Bullying causes major trust issues, so it is hard to open to people so that they can really get to know you.
So it is no wonder that Carrie used her powers to destroy her school and her town, along with killing her mother.
She had nothing left to live for, as Tommy was killed by the falling buckets. And no friends, as everyone laughed at her when she was hurt. And her mother was the cause of this humiliation, as she failed to educate her daughter in regards to her own body.
So it seems to me that telekinesis is not the problem.
Rather, the problem is man’s inhumanity to man.
The telekinesis is a distraction.
We don’t need to worry about testing kids for TK or isolating any type of gene.
Rather, we need to test kids for bullying tendencies, along with testing parents for abuse tendencies.
Until we recognize bullying and abuse for what they are, hurt people will just continue to hurt people.
And the legacy of the Carrie Whites of the world will continue to live on, with horrific consequences.
Well, that’s it for that tiny package known as Carrie…what a start to the new year!
Join me next month for the read and review of the greatest love story of all time between a boy and his car, aka the novel Christine!
Tune in next month…
Same bat time, same bat channel!
Even though Carrie is the first published Stephen King novel, it connects to his other works, just like nearly every other King novel. Here are some of the connections I found:
-The events in Carrie are referenced by a character in the novel The Dead Zone, and mention is made of a movie based on those events.
-Carrie’s telekinetic abilities are similar to abilities possessed by several other King characters, including Ted Brautigan in Low Men in Yellow Coats (part of the collection Hearts in Atlantis), Kira DeVore (Bag of Bones), Jake Chambers (The Dark Tower series), Danny Torrance (Doctor Sleep and The Shining), Abra Stone (Doctor Sleep), Tyler Marshall (Black House) and several others.
-In the King universe, Breakers are people who possess psychic abilities and are recruited by the Crimson King and his Low Men (Hearts in Atlantis, Black House and The Dark Tower series) to destroy The Dark Tower, the nexus of all existence. If Carrie had lived, it seems she most certainly would have caught the eye of The Crimson King and his Low Men.
-Religious mania is a running theme in King’s work. Margaret White is similar to several other religious maniacs, including Sylvia Pittson (The Gunslinger, Wizard and Glass) and Mrs. Carmody (The Mist, part of the collection Skeleton Crew.)
-Margaret White is employed by Blue Ribbon Laundry. This establishment is featured in the short story The Mangler (part of the collection Night Shift) and in the novel Roadwork, which was originally published as a Richard Bachman novel.
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!
Once upon a time, two stories got together.
They fell in love, and got married.
One day, there was so much love that a new story came into existence.
And that new story was kind of like its parents.
It dealt with many of the same themes and messages.
But make no mistake, that new story was also distinct from its mom and dad stories.
It had its own voice, along with a large cast of characters and a pretty awesome villain, to boot.
So, what was this story named?
Surely, it had to have an awesome name to live up to all this hype, right?
Well, since you asked, the name of this story is…
Yes, *that* Needful Things, written by none other than The Master himself!
You are visiting the right blog, in case you were wondering.
Where this month (much like the book in question), we end 2016 with a bang!
Or maybe a stink bomb…now that would be more appropriate, wouldn’t it?
So, strap in, and get ready for one Hell (this is a Stephen King book, after all) of a ride, as we review and dissect one of my all-time favorite Stephen King books!
And, as always:
Needful Things begins with an introduction of the town Castle Rock, by an unknown narrator. The narrator seems familiar with the town and its inhabitants, describing, in particular, the various feuds and rivalries between the inhabitants, and some things that the inhabitants would wish to keep secret. The narrator also advises the reader that new store, named Needful Things, has opened in Castle Rock, and that the new store will bring some kind of change to the town.
There is much talk and gossip about the new store in town. However, the store’s first customer is an eleven year old boy by the name of Brian Rusk.
Brian wanders into Needful Things one fall afternoon. There he meets the owner, a man by the name of Leland Gaunt.
Almost immediately, Brian takes a liking to Mr. Gaunt, and is in awe of the new store. When Mr. Gaunt asks Brian what he desires, Brian replies that he would like a 1956 Sandy Koufax baseball card to complete his collection.
Somehow, Gaunt is able to produce that exact baseball card, much to Brian’s amazement. The card is signed by Koufax, and even has the name “Brian” written on it.
Even though Brian has very little money, Gaunt sells him the card. Gaunt also makes Brian promise to do something for him. The deed is never specified, but Brian walks out of the store and is very happy.
When the store finally opens for business, it receives another visitor: Polly Chalmers.
Polly is a long time resident of Castle Rock, although she spent several years living elsewhere. Not much is known about Polly, other than the fact that she became pregnant, left town and possibly attended business school. Polly keeps to herself and does not reveal much about her past. Polly also suffers from a painful case of arthritis, and is desperate for a cure.
Polly also immediately takes a liking to Gaunt. She pays him a visit and brings him a cake, and they chat about the town. Polly reassures Gaunt about his new store, telling him that he will likely have many more customers.
That claim proves to be true, as Gaunt receives several more visits from the townspeople that day. Some even purchase items from him, negotiating the prices with Gaunt.
The book then introduces us to a man named Alan Pangborn. Alan is the sheriff of Castle Rock. Alan has recently lost his wife and younger son due to a car accident and is mourning their deaths. Alan is also in a relationship with Polly Chalmers.
Later that evening, a man named Hugh Priest is walking down the street, and notices a fox tail for sale in the window of the new store. Hugh also notices that Needful Things appears to be open for business, even though the hour is very late. Hugh is alcoholic whose life is beginning to fall apart due to his drinking. When he sees the fox tail, he is reminded of his high school days and happier times.
Hugh walks into the store and meets Gaunt. He purchases the fox tail from Gaunt, and makes a promise to play a prank on a woman named Nettie Cobb, who is Polly’s housekeeper.
The new store does more business the next day. Myra Evans, the best friend of Cora Rusk (Brian’s mother) purchases a picture of Elvis from Gaunt, and makes a promise to play a prank on another person in town.
Nettie Cobb, Polly Chalmers’ housekeeper, also becomes a customer of the new store. Nettie is a troubled woman, as she has spent time in a mental institution, after killing her abusive husband in self defense. She was released as part of a work rehabilitation program, and came to work for Polly Chalmers. Nettie purchases a piece of carnival glass, and agrees to play a prank on Danforth “Buster” Keeton, a town selectman.
Meanwhile, Alan has a busy day as sheriff. He has his deputy, Norris Ridgewick, write Keeton a ticket for parking in a handicapped spot. Keeton becomes irrationally angry at this, and attacks Ridgewick after he receives the ticket. Alan is able to break the fight up, but wonders why Keeton is so angry over a five dollar ticket, and speculates that Keeton may be deeply troubled.
Alan also meets with the Reverend William Rose, the pastor of the local Baptist church. Reverend Rose is upset because the Catholic church in town will be sponsoring a bingo night in the name of charity, and the Baptist church believes that gambling in any form is a sin. The reverend tries to convince Alan that this is illegal, but Alan has done his research, and tells the reverend that the Catholics will be able to sponsor their gambling night. This upsets Reverend Rose, but he finally leaves the police station.
That afternoon,, Alan meets Polly for coffee, and they talk about the new store. Polly is actually pleased that Nettie visited the new store, as Nettie is timid and tends to shy away from new experiences. Polly also mentions that Gaunt returned the cake container, along with a note inviting her to visit the store that Sunday, as he has an item for sale that may be of interest to Polly.
Brian realizes that it is time to play the prank that he promised Gaunt that he would play. Brian convinces himself to play the prank, as he fears his new baseball card may be taken away from him if he does not fulfill his promise to Gaunt. Brian has not told anyone of the purchase of the card, as he fears that the fact that he now owns an expensive card may rouse suspicion.
Brian heads to the house of a woman named Wilma, who is a neighbor of Nettie Cobb’s. The two women have been feuding for some time, and simply do not get along. Brian smears mud on Wilma’s wash that is drying on the clothesline. He feels some satisfaction after playing the prank, and heads back home to enjoy his new baseball card.
When Wilma returns that evening, she discovers her ruined sheets and becomes angry. Wilma also assumes that Nettie is responsible, and places a threatening phone call to Nettie. This upsets Nettie, who has no idea why Wilma is angry, but vows to not let Wilma bully her any more.
Deputy Norris Ridgewick passes by the store and his attention is captured by a fishing rod. Ridgewick agrees to buy the fishing rod from Gaunt, and agrees to play a prank on another citizen of the town.
Gaunt makes several more deals with various citizens of Castle Rock, where his customers buy items from them that they deeply desire, and agree to play (seemingly) harmless pranks on other citizens of the town.
Danforth “Buster” Keeton also pays a visit to Needful Things and Leland Gaunt. Keeton has become increasingly unstable and paranoid over the past several years, as he has become addicted to gambling and has been stealing from the town’s treasury to finance his gambling habit. Keeton is now under the threat of an audit, which means that his embezzling will be discovered.
Keeton purchases a horse racing game from Gaunt, which he believes will help him predict the winner of the actual horse races. Keeton also promises to play a prank for Gaunt, as payment for the horse racing game.
The next morning, Alan drops by Needful Things, hoping to meet with the owner. Gaunt is in the store, but Alan does not see him. Gaunt does not trust Alan, and does not want to meet him.
Polly sits on her porch, anticipating that she is going to experience a very bad bout of pain from her arthritis. Polly also recalls her past, which she has not been honest with Alan. When Polly was 17, she became pregnant out of wedlock with her son, Kelton. She refused to marry the father or accept any help from her parents, who were ashamed of her. Polly ran away to the West coast and ended up in California. One night, while she was working, she left Kelton with a babysitter. There was a fire at her apartment that killed both her son and his babysitter. Eventually, Polly returned to Castle Rock, as she realized it was her true home. However, she never told Alan the truth about her son, telling him instead that Kelton died of SIDS at three months old. Polly knows that she must reveal the truth to Alan, sooner or later, but is not sure how to do that.
That night, Polly’s prediction about her arthritis proves to be correct and she is in terrible pain, and has trouble sleeping. The next day, Nettie pays Polly a visit and becomes very worried about Polly’s health. Polly is grateful for the concern, but tells Nettie not to worry and that she will be okay.
After Nettie leaves her house, Hugh Priests breaks into her home, in order to play the prank that Gaunt has ordered him to play. Hugh kills Nettie’s dog Raider with a corkscrew, and leaves a threatening note on Raider’s collar.
Nettie leaves Polly’s house, and is ordered by Gaunt to play a prank on Buster Keeton. She complies, breaking into Keeton’s house and leaving several parking tickets with obscene messages, signing one of the tickets as Norris Ridgewick.
Brian Rusk also realizes that he must finish paying for his baseball ticket. Again, he heads to Wilma Jerzyck’s house, and throws several rocks with the windows, with threatening notes.
Nettie returns to her home. She finds Raider’s corpse and is heartbroken and angry that someone has killed him. She also notices the note, and believes that Wilma has killed her dog in retaliation for something. Nettie finds a large, sharp kitchen knife, and heads to Wilma’s home.
In the meantime, Wilma returns to her home and finds the broken windows and the note. She is furious, and assumes that Nettie is responsible. Wilma also finds a large, sharp night, and leaves her house, looking for Nettie.
Wilma and Nettie meet on the sidewalk, and immediately exchange words. This escalates to blows and the two women begin to stab each other. Both women are able to inflict fatal blows on each other, and both die in the ensuing fight.
Polly begins to feel a little better and decides to take Gaunt up on his offer, meeting him at his shop. Gaunt seems to understand how much pain that Polly is in, and offers her an Egyptian charm he calls an “azkah.” Polly is skeptical, but Gaunt convinces her to try the charm, telling her that she has nothing to lose by trying. Polly begins to feel better even before she leaves the store, but realizes that Gaunt had put her in a trance.
Keeton returns home from a rare, pleasant outing with his wife, Myrtle, and finds the fake tickets. He is humiliated and attempts to remove all of the tickets, but his paranoia and instability become apparent. Myrtle is worried about her husband, but is unable to reach him.
Alan and Norris complete the investigation on Nettie’s death. Something does not sit right with Alan, but he does not know what. He sends Norris home for the night, telling him to enjoy his fishing trip that Norris has planned for the next day.
Norris returns to the police station and changes back into his civilian clothes. He finds a package on his desk, but does not know who the package is from. When he opens it, his hand is snapped by a rat trap, and Norris nearly loses his fingers. Norris is outraged and humiliated, and is also convinced that Keeton is responsible for the trick.
A prank is played on the Reverend William Rose, in the form of a nasty note left in the parsonage. The note is signed by the concerned Catholic men of Castle Rock, but is left there by a young man named Ricky, who has played the prank in exchange for an item from Needful Things.
Gaunt watches over the town in the apartment above his shop, which is void of any furnishings. He is planning something unpleasant for the town of Castle Rock, and various citizens stir in their sleep, plagued by disturbing dreams.
Pranks continue to be played on the unsuspecting citizens of Castle Rock, including the Baptist church, which receives a threatening note believed to be from the Catholic church.
More trouble rolls into Castle Rock: Ace Merrill, a former resident of Castle Rock, decides to return to town. Ace was arrested by Alan several years ago in a drug bust. Ace has been released from prison and is still a cocaine addict. Ace also owes money to some unsavory people due to his drug habit, and has been given a deadline of November 1st to pay back the money, or he will be killed.
Ace happens to notice a “for hire” sign on the window of Needful Things. He also notices what he thinks to be a book about hidden treasure in New England that is written by his late uncle, Reginald Merrill. Ace has been convinced that his uncle had held out an inheritance that should have been due to Ace, and his greed is sparked.
Ace enters the store and speaks to Gaunt. Gaunt convinces Ace to work for him so that Ace can pay back the money he owes to his creditors. Gaunt also sells Ace the book on buried treasure, telling him that maybe the book will lead him to his fortune.
Alan soon finds out that Ace is back in town and confronts him. Ace tells Alan that he has no intention of staying in town and that he will leave soon.
Brian Rusk begins to feel extremely guilty over his role in the deaths of Wilma and Nettie. However, he receives a call from Gaunt advising him that he was not seen by anyone, and that he will be able to lie if necessary. Brian does not feel any better, and begins to have thoughts of suicide.
Sally Ratliffe, the speech teacher at the local junior high school, becomes the latest victim of a prank. Sally is engaged to Lester Pratt, the physical education teacher. Both are devout Baptists and seem devoted to each other. However, Sally finds what appears to be a love note from Lester’s ex-girlfriend in his vehicle. Sally is extremely upset when she finds this, but calms down a bit when she returns home and begins to meditate.
Ace completes his first job for Gaunt. He travels to Massachusetts and picks up a vehicle, per the instructions of Gaunt, along with a large amount of guns and ammunition. Ace notices that the there is something strange about the car, as it appears to drive itself, but he return the car and the rest of his cargo to Gaunt, and then proceeds to hunt for treasure.
Polly buries Nettie, and has Alan drop her off at Gaunt’s shop, so that she can pay for the azka charm. Alan is skeptical about the charm, even though Polly is feeling better than she has in years. The two argue, but Alan convinces Polly to pay for the charm with a check, so that she can cancel the payment if necessary.
When Polly enters the shop, Gaunt senses that she is troubled, and tells her that he will accept a check. He also tells Polly that she must play a prank on someone, and that someone is Ace Merrill. Polly agrees to the prank, and leaves the store with her azka charm.
Alan deduces that Brian Rusk may have either been involved somehow in the deaths of Nettie and Wilma. Alan believes that Brian either played the prank, or perhaps witnessed it. He tries to speak to Brian, but Brian seems distressed and will not open up to Alan. Alan is then interrupted and called back to the station.
In the meantime, pranks continue to be played on various citizens of Castle Rock, with varying consequences. In one instance, it is revealed that the principal at the middle school is involved in pedophilia. In another instance, Lester Pratt, the fiancee of Sally, finds the wallet of Sally’s ex boyfriend in his vehicle, along with a picture of Sally and her ex, leaving Lester to believe that Sally is cheating on him.
Polly returns home and finds a letter waiting for her. The letter appears to reveal that Alan has made some inquiries about her past and the death of her son, Kelton. Polly is furious and calls Alan when he is at work and ends their relationship.
Alan is bewildered by the phone call from Polly, but has to put his feelings aside, as fingerprints were discovered at Nettie’s house. The fingerprints do not belong to Nettie, but actually belong to Hugh Priest. Alan suspects that Hugh killed Nettie’s dog, and sets out to arrest him.
Chaos erupts in the town, as people begin to seek revenge against those who they believe to be responsible for the tricks that were played on them. One of Alan’s deputies, John LaPointe, is attacked by Lester Pratt at the police station, as Lester believes John was dating Sally behind his back. Sheila, the dispatcher, attacks Lester and kills him, defending John. The phones at the police station begin ringing off the hook, and Alan is bewildered.
Brian Rusk is unable to shake his distress. Brian ends his life in his father’s garage, shooting himself with his father’s rifle. Before his death, Brian makes his horrified younger brother Sean promise to never set foot in the store Needful Things.
Polly then makes good on her promise to play a prank on Ace Merrill. She buries some torn pictures and stamps in a coffee can on some abandoned property, along with a letter addressed to Ace. Polly questions her actions and her argument with Alan, but still plays the prank anyway.
Shortly after Polly buries the coffee can, Ace uses his book and maps and tracks down the location where the can is buried. Ace eagerly digs and finds the coffee can, thinking that he has found buried treasure from his uncle. However, his hopes are dashed when he finds the letter. The letter appears to be written by Alan Pangborn and taunts Ace, telling him that his uncle left his treasure to Alan and not Ace. Ace becomes furious, and vows to find Alan.
Chaos continues to erupt in the town. Danforth Keeton finally becomes completely unhinged and kills his wife, Myrtle, beating her to death with a hammer. Hugh Priest is also killed by the bartender who believes Hugh played a prank on him. Alan Pangborn is bewildered, and attempts to question Sean Rusk, Brian’s younger brother, as he is unable to obtain any information from Cora Rusk, Brian’s mother, who appears to be in a daze.
While the chaos erupts in Castle Rock, Gaunt continues to make sales. This time, he is selling guns, and the guns appear to have poison bullets. It is also revealed that Gaunt is extremely old, and has been in this business for many centuries, causing chaos wherever he appears.
Alan is finally able to question Sean Rusk, and is disturbed by what he finds out. Sean tells him that Brian made him promise not to ever enter the store known as Needful Things before his death. Sean tells Alan about the baseball card that Gaunt sold to Brian, along with the sunglasses sold to his mother, Cora, and that Cora believes that those sunglasses allow her to visit with Elvis Presley. Alan realizes that Brian was responsible for the pranks played on Wilma, and that Gaunt is the one actually responsible for the chaos in town. Alan issues out a warrant for Gaunt’s arrest, and realizes that he must find Gaunt.
Gaunt recruits both Keeton and Ace to help him in his final act of mischief in Castle Rock: he plans on using dynamite to destroy the town.
A stink bomb is set off in the Baptist Church. The Baptists blame the Catholics, and the two groups meet with vengeance in mind. The Catholics and the Baptists begin to fight, and people are badly hurt and even killed in the brawl, as both groups are intent on destroying the other.
Alan is on the hunt for Gaunt. He vows vengeance on Gaunt, for his actions in Castle Rock.
Norris Ridgewick plans on committing suicide. He believes that he is at least partially responsible for the chaos in town, as he purchased an item from Gaunt and played a prank. However, something makes Norris realize that committing suicide is not the answer. Norris then sees the fishing rod he purchased for what it is: a piece of old bamboo. Norris escapes from his noose and destroys the fishing rod, and vows that he will seek revenge on Gaunt.
Polly also has a revelation: the letter she found earlier that day was addressed to Patricia Chalmers. However, Polly had always been known as Polly during her time in San Francisco. Therefore, Polly realizes that the letter was a fake, and that Alan has not made any inquiries into her past.
Polly rips the azka charm away from her chest. When she does, a spider escapes from the charm. Polly realizes that this is the manifestation of her arthritis pain, which never really went away, but was transferred elsewhere. Polly chases the creature into her bathroom, and begins to attack it.
Alan finally arrives at Needful Things and notices that the store that the store appears to be abandoned. However, Alan finds a note from Gaunt, along with a video tape claiming to capture the last moments of his deceased wife and son. Alan pops the video into the VCR, and prepares to watch.
Polly continues to battle the spider, attacking it with her mouth and then a toilet plunger. Finally, she defeats the creature, and realizes that she must find Alan.
Keeton and Ace begin the destruction of the town, using the dynamite. They are seen by Norris, who orders them to halt.
Unable to stop himself, Alan watches the video tape. The tape appears to show his wife car being hit by none other than Ace Merrill, whom Alan had previously arrested for selling drugs. Alan becomes angry, and wants to seek revenge on Ace, who he now believes to be responsible for his wife and son’s death.
Norris attempts to arrest Ace and Keeton. However, he is shot, and Ace escapes, looking for Alan.
While Norris is attempting to restore order, several buildings in Castle Rock begin to explode.
Polly finds Alan, and begs him to stop his search for Ace. She is able to get through to Alan, who realizes that something is wrong with the video tape that he watched.
Ace interrupts the conversation, by pointing a gun at Polly. Alan then has his own revelation: in the video tape, his wife’s seat belt is shown to be buckled. However, Alan recalls that this was not the case and realizes that he has been tricked.
Alan also sees Gaunt leaving the store, with a valise that appears to contain the souls of his unhappy customers. Alan has brought a container that has paper snakes with him. This was something that his son, who enjoyed practical jokes, had purchased before his death.
Alan unleashed the joke on Gaunt. The snake springs from the can, and is actually a real snake, not a paper one. Gaunt is fooled, and grabs for the snake. The snake bites Gaunt, and he screams in pain. Alan takes advantage of this, and grabs Gaunt’s valise.
Polly breaks free of Ace’s grip and attacks him. Norris sees his opportunity and shoots Ace, killing him instantly.
Alan continues to use his magic tricks to fool Gaunt, and demands that he leave town. Alan brings out some trick flowers, which turn into a blazing bouquet of light. Again, Alan casts out Gaunt. The valise bursts open, and the trapped souls escape, free to make their journey to their final destiny.
After the valise is opened, Gaunt escapes the town, in his Talisman Tucker. However, the Talisman transforms into a horse with burning red eyes, and Gaunt transforms into a dwarf. Gaunt and his supernatural vehicle then vanish, and Castle Rock returns to normal.
Polly, Alan and Norris leave town, to seek medical attention for Norris. They are heartbroken over the destruction of the town, but relieved that Alan has defeated Gaunt. Alan tries to let go of his grief for his wife and son, so that he continue to live his life.
An unnamed narrator advises the reader that a new store has opened in the town of Junction City, Iowa. The store is named Unanswered Prayers and is presumably owned by Leland Gaunt.
Well, this was unexpected.
When I planned to read and review Needful Things, I purposely picked the month of December to do this.
I mean, Black Friday Christmas shopping, people losing their minds over big screen TV’s and Barbie dolls…
It fit, in other words.
Well, then this happened.
Just when you thought only Stephen King could scare you, huh?
Whoa, I take that back. Sorry Molly, didn’t mean to ruffle your evil fur!
At first was I was like:
Then I was all:
But now I go back and forth…
Either at this end:
Or at this end:
And what, you are probably asking, does the dried up, racist Cheeto that is the bane of existence to *kitty cats* everywhere have to do with this month’s read and review?
Well, I see a lot of parallels. So, let’s get to talking about the book and discuss those.
Again and again, as I have been re-reading the King classics, I have been reminded of something: The Master has the ability to create characters who are so realistic that they practically jump off the page and make you want to ask them out for coffee.
There is Polly Chalmers. She fled the small town life and wanted to forge her own path. People can’t even decide if she is from Castle Rock (even though she was born there and spent most of her childhood there) or if she is from “Outside,” as they put it, because she spent so many years away. Being from a small town in Indiana, this struck a chord with me. I may consider myself to be “from” Bloomington, Indiana, but I am sure there are some that would debate me on that, because I left to forge my own path. Small towns, aren’t they so (not) funny?
There is Alan Pangborn. Let me confess, if I ran into Alan Pangborn, I would have much more than “coffee” on my mind…*let awkward throat clearing commence.* Alan is the consummate good guy, even though he does have his vulnerabilities. And he loves magic tricks (magicians are always hot, duh.) Those magic tricks do everything from put frightened kids at ease to save the day! How much hotter can you get?
Let’s also not forget the character of Brian Rusk.
Now, as I’ve stated many times before, King likes to write about topics that many would consider to be taboo.
*That* scene in the sewers in It, anyone?
Things that so-called nice people don’t talk about, at least in public.
However, I think the most “taboo” that King has ever gone is his portrayal of the character Brian Rusk.
In the beginning, Brian is innocent.
He’s a good kid. He loves his family. He collects baseball cards. He has a crush on his speech teacher.
However, he loses his innocence, by becoming Gaunt’s first customer.
Gaunt takes that innocent love of baseball cards, and uses it to further his plans for the destruction of Castle Rock.
He forces Brian to play pranks on other citizens of the town, in the name of “paying” for that beloved baseball card.
So Brian is rather rudely pushed into adulthood, when he is forced to take responsibility for what he feels to his role in the deaths of Wilma and Nettie.
However, not all of the child has left Brian.
And because of that, he is unable to cope with his supposed role in a horrific tragedy, and sees no way to live with it.
So, he does the unthinkable, and ends his life at eleven years old.
I have read this book several times, but I am never prepared the part where Brian commits suicide.
I tend to see Needful Things as one of King’s more humorous works (Brian’s mother’s obsession with Elvis and her interaction with Gaunt may have something to do with that, along with the fact that I find the phrase “I’ll be butched” hilarious), although the humor in it is dark.
But at the same time, I find this book to be tragic too, because of the fact that someone who is still a child is forced into adulthood long before before he should be, and this child does not see any way to cope with this tragedy other than taking his own life.
In fact, this may be one of the most tragic incidents in any book I have ever read, let alone a King book.
And we have our bad guy, Leland Gaunt.
We also have another character: the town of Castle Rock itself.
And the inter-play between these two characters is just fascinating.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do think that Gaunt is a cool bad guy.
In fact, this guy came to mind:
Somehow, the idea of The Tall Man driving a Talisman Tucker (why does even typing that out make me shiver, and shiver in a Lovecraftian way?) is not that far off, actually.
But he does have his place in the King universe, so I pay him respect.
However, what was striking to me when I re-read Needful Things, was the fact that most of the horror was of the non-supernatural variety.
Sure, Gaunt planted the seeds, but the ground was already fertile anyway. Most of the people playing the pranks just needed a little “watering” to grow the seeds of hate and resentment, and off they were, once they got a little drink of that water.
It is a known fact that King excels at writing characters that are realistic and believable. In fact, this is my favorite thing about King’s work: he writes believable people and believable situations.
After all, who hasn’t dealt with addiction, unemployment, the loss of a loved one, terminal illness, parenthood and the many other scenarios that crop up in all of King’s works, even the ones billed as “horror”?
Small towns are almost human in some ways, and can be complex characters. This is definitely the case with Needful Things and its small town character of Castle Rock.
In the beginning of the book, we have that coy narrator (and oh, I so want to know who that is) introducing to the town of Castle Rock and its inhabitants. It is actually akin to gossiping with someone, maybe a family member or friend, or perhaps a coworker, who just seems to have all the dirt on everyone.
This introduction is brilliant, because it sets up the story so beautifully.
In any organization, whether it be a work place, a family or perhaps a small town, you have all these little interconnections.
There are the people, of course, who are friends and know each other well, perhaps even intimately.
There are the people who are passing acquaintances. They don’t dislike each other, but they don’t really like each other, either.
Then there are the people who can’t be in the same room with each other.
The people who are the end of the candle to their counterparts’ matches.
In other words, get them together, and you will have a fire, perhaps even an explosion.
In one part of the book, Gaunt even compares his scheme to electrical wiring. If you do it just right, you can connect a couple of wires and have an explosion. I found this to be apt, for the events that transpired in this book.
As stated before, Gaunt is one bad dude. No question about that.
However, most of the horror from Needful Things is of the human variety.
People playing pranks on one another to make others think that their sworn enemies were responsible is actually something that happens pretty frequently in “real life.”
Right away, anyone who was the victim of a prank was quick to blame his/her sworn enemy.
Alan Pangborn, the most level headed of them all, even fell victim to this.
And the results of this prank were just horrible.
Well, not entirely horrible. I did get a good chuckle when the Baptists and Catholics were victimized by the stink bomb and created their own Barf-o-Rama.
But I was still horrified when people began to hurt and even kill each other, and it was basically for nothing.
Nettie and Wilma killing each other was bad.
Well, Wilma dying wasn’t that sad (crazy bitch) but Nettie’s death was one of the saddest in the book. She had tried so hard to get her life together, but she was knifed to death over some muddy sheets. Muddy sheets that she was not responsible for.
A few citizens, like Polly, Norris and Alan, saw the error of their ways.
However, most did not, and the results were horrific.
And the town of Castle Rock literally went up in flames.
What is happening in our country right now is not unlike what happened in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine.
We have a stranger that has suddenly appeared in town.
It is true that Donald Trump is (probably) not a supernatural creature, but I will take Gaunt or even The Tall Man over Trump any day.
Trump has done exactly what Gaunt has done.
He has swooped into our country.
He is selling people dreams. At least, he would like us to believe that he is selling us dreams.
He has made promises, and those promises sound good. After all, who doesn’t want the manufacturing jobs to return to this country? Those jobs gave everyone, no matter his/her background, a shot at the good life, the so-called American Dream.
For reasons beyond most people’s control, significantly fewer people are now able to obtain this dream.
But we have Gaunt, er Trump, swooping into town. And he has sold something.
But like the sales made by Gaunt, that something will have a price tag attached to it.
Already, we are witnessing the true price of allowing a man like Trump into our country.
Like Castle Rock, America has gone crazy.
Since Trump was elected, the “pranks” have begun.
We may not be flinging mud at each other’s sheets, but like the citizens of Castle Rock, we are attacking each other, nonetheless.
There has been racist graffiti scrawled on walls.
People of the non-Caucasian persuasion have been attacked for being…well…of the non-Caucasian persuasion.
People have decided to let their hate loose, and it has not been pretty.
Castle Rock literally burned to the ground after the boogeyman paid it a visit.
Will the same thing happen to America?
The boogeyman is here, and he is already working his magic, and he has not even moved into his suite at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, although I don’t think that he even needs to, in order to accomplish his goals.
But, I try to hold on to something positive.
After all, Castle Rock may have gone up in flames.
But it was able to emerge from the ashes, and eventually it rebuilt itself.
Fire can be used to destroy, but it can also be used to create.
Perhaps, like Castle Rock, this country may burn to the ground (hopefully only in the metaphorical sense.)
But maybe it can also emerge from the ashes and be reborn.
Being reborn is not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, death and rebirth lead to new beginnings. And new beginnings are often desperately needed.
Well, that’s it for Needful Things!
And I have to pat myself on the back, actually.
I was able to stick to a New Year’s resolution!
I read at least one King book a month and reviewed it, just like I said I would.
So, it goes without saying that I plan to continue this trend into 2017 and beyond.
I don’t know what my plan is, but I am sure I will figure something out.
There is that Richard Bachman fella…I heard that he is kinda like The Master, actually.
There is also The Master 2.0, aka Joe Hill, who has some books that are worth exploring as well.
So, what will next year hold?
Well, guess that is up to me!
So, we will talk next year!
Until then, happy holidays to all!
Like all of King’s works, Needful Things is set squarely in the King universe. Here are some of the connections that I found:
-Ace Merrill is a character in the short story The Body, and references the events in that story.
-Norris Ridgewick also makes an appearance in the novel Lisey’s Story.
-Alan Pangborn is a character in the novel The Dark Half, and references the events in that story.
-In the novel Bag of Bones, Mike Noonan encounters Norris Ridgewick and inquires after Polly Chalmers and Alan Pangborn.
-Reference is made to Shawshank State Prison, which is the setting for the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.
-Junction City, Iowa is the setting for the novella The Library Policeman, which is part of the collection Four Past Midnight.
-Gaunt’s Talisman Tucker appears to be similar to the vehicles driven by the Low Men in the Dark Tower series and the story Low Men in Yellow Coats, which is part of the collection Hearts in Atlantis. Gaunt’s vehicle also appears to be similar to the title “vehicle” featured in the novel From a Buick 8.