The Great Race: My Review of The Running Man

Lately, the world has been a bit topsy-turvy.

Maybe I am looking at it through a looking glass

Or did Barry Allen make an ill-advised trip, and travel back in time, so now that we have a paradox on our hands, so to speak?

(Not to be confused with our beloved Earth 2, where science accelerates at a rapid rate, and villains are the mayors of cities and heroes are well…kinda douchebags, actually.)

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!

And we may not have Leonard Snart as mayor, but hey, we have a Cheeto for president! So maybe that time travel did do something!

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.

He wrote of violence at school, corporate greed and of a dystopian government, that might actually not be fiction at this point.

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:

Continue reading

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Ride or Die: My Review of Christine

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 bra…

First dates…

First kisses..

First loves…

First vehicles…

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:


Synopsis

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.


My Thoughts

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.

Continue reading

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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???

 

http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/dark-tower-radio/e/48987589?autoplay=true

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Family Horrors: My Review of The Shining

Have you ever…

Lived with a person who the human version of a volcano, and you didn’t know if this person was the dormant kind of volcano, or the other kind?

Loved this person beyond all reason, but spent much of your time in fear of them, eventually fearing for your life?

Been isolated, through no fault of your own, with nowhere to turn?

Felt conflicted, not knowing whether to protect yourself, or devote yet more energy and resources to protect your loved one, from his or herself, in the hopes that this person would not self destruct, so that you guys could attempt to build a life together?

Spent untold hours blaming yourself for the awful situation, even though you were actually the reason for anything good in that situation, although you could not see it, because you were too mired in guilt, defending yourself from the attacks that you were sure that you caused?

Still felt sad, and even guilty, even after you escaped your situation?  Not knowing how you would go on without this person who you loved so much, but somehow finding a way?

So, why are we talking about a domestic abuse situation?

After all, that’s what I just described right?

Someone who was in an abusive relationship, but somehow managed to escape, but still have survivor’s guilt?

Well, you would be correct.  But as always, there is more to meet the eye…

You guessed, I have just described a Stephen King story!

stephen-king-cover-ftr

And it is one of his most famous, maybe even his most famous, with a movie that is perhaps even more notorious?

Redrum…

Yes, in case you haven’t guessed, I am referring to The Shining.

And let’s take a moment to acknowledge the red-headed stepchild of the family, otherwise known as The Shinning.  As we all know, all work and no play makes Homer something, something…

homer-2

But yes, that The Shining.  The same one that is such a huge part of our culture now.

The same one that is the subject of some pretty entertaining memes.

Admit, you have muttered “redrum” in *that voice.*

Or been petrified by blood coming out of the walls.

Or freaked out by people in animal costumes.

I could go on and on.  The Shining is a frightening book and movie.

the-overlook-hotel

But The Shining is so much more than just being scary.

The Shining is about family, and just what we will do to protect the ones we love the most.

The Shining is also about addiction and abuse, and how those can destroy a family from the inside out, even without the help of a haunted hotel.

In other words, for most of us, family is central.  And losing family is devastating, no matter the circumstances.  Over and over, King drives this theme home in The Shining.

So, welcome to this month’s read and review, and as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book begins with an introduction to the Torrance family, which consists of Jack, his wife Wendy and their five year old son Danny.  It is revealed that Jack has recently become unemployed from his job as a schoolteacher, and is interviewing for a position as the caretaker at a hotel called The Overlook Hotel, in Sidewinder, Colorado.

It turns out that the interview is just a formality, and Jack is hired for the position, although the hotel’s manager, Stuart Ullman, is reluctant to hire Jack, as Jack has had past problems with alcoholism and controlling his temper.  Jack assures Ullman that the alcoholism is no longer an issues, and that he and his family can handle the isolation that will come with the job, which will require Jack and his family to live at the hotel during the winter and be cut off from all civilization.

During a tour of the hotel, the maintenance man, Watson, shows Jack how to adjust the pressure of the boiler so that the hotel does not catch fire.  Jack also learns that the previous caretaker, Delbert Grady, murdered his family during his stint as a caretaker.  Watson also tells Jack that the hotel has had a few deaths, and one of those occurred during the previous summer.  An older woman, Mrs. Massey, stayed at the hotel with her much younger suitor.  When her suitor abandoned her, Mrs. Massey committed suicide in room 217, in the bathtub.

In the meantime, Danny and Wendy await Jack’s return.  The Torrance family has relocated from Vermont to Colorado, due to Jack’s job loss, and Wendy has some concern that the move has not been easy for Danny.  We also learn that Danny has been a victim of Jack’s temper, as Jack accidentally broke Danny’s arm a few years prior, due to Danny spilling beer on his school papers.

We also learn that Danny is gifted with some unusual abilities:  he sometimes has knowledge of future events, or events in the present that he would otherwise have no knowledge.  Danny sees these visions through his friend Tony, another boy only visible to Danny, and referred to as his “imaginary friend” by Jack and Wendy.  We learn through Danny that Jack and Wendy’s marriage has been troubled, due to Jack’s alcoholism, and that Danny has feared that his parents will divorce.

Danny has another frightening vision brought to him by Tony as he is outside waiting for his father to get home:  he sees himself in an unfamiliar place being chased by someone, and also sees the phrase “REDRUM.”  Danny becomes frightened and has no idea what this vision could mean.

Finally, Jack arrives home.  Danny is overjoyed to see his father and glad that his father got the job at The Overlook Hotel.  However, Danny thinks that he sees a bloody mallet in the front seat of his father’s car.  When he looks at the front seat again, Danny realizes that is just a bag of groceries.

Jack makes a trip with Danny to a pay phone, so that he call his friend Al Shockley, who helped him get the job at the Overlook Hotel.  Jack recalls how, during one drunken night, Al hit a bicycle that was left in the middle of the road while driving himself and Jack home.  It is this incident that prompted Wendy to ask for a divorce, but Jack is able to stop drinking, and Wendy decides to stay, as she loves her husband and son.

That night, Danny has yet another, and Tony warns him not to go to the Overlook for the winter.  Danny is frightened, but does not say anything to his parents, as he knows how important this opportunity is for his family.

The Torrance family then arrives at The Overlook Hotel.  Danny is still feeling uneasy, but does not tell his parents, as he is still aware how important this opportunity is for his family.

After his family arrives at The Overlook, Danny is introduced to the hotel’s chef, Dick Halloran.  Danny and Halloran take a liking to each other immediately.

Halloran is able to ascertain that Danny possesses psychic abilities, to which he refers to as “the shining.”  Halloran tells Danny that he is not alone in possessing this gift, as Halloran also possesses it, although his ability is not as strong as Danny’s.  Before Halloran bids Danny goodbye for the winter, he warns Danny that he may see things in the hotel, as the Overlook is an old hotel and several unpleasant events have occurred there.  Halloran tells Danny that what he sees are akin to pictures in a book, and that nothing should be able to harm him.  Halloran warns Danny to stay out of room 217, as he may experience something unpleasant in that room.

Ullman gives the Torrance family a tour of the hotel shortly after Halloran and the other employees leave for the winter.  True to Halloran’s statement, Danny sees what appears to be blood and brains on a wall.  However, Danny looks away, and the vision soon vanishes.

Several weeks pass uneventfully for the Torrance family.  Jack is finally able to work on his writing, and thinks that he may be able to finish the play he is working on.  Jack and Wendy notice that Danny is a little withdrawn, but think nothing of it.  Danny continues to push himself to learn how to read, so that he may be able to communicate with his friend Tony, who has shown him signs with written words in the past.

One day, Jack finds a wasp nest on the roof of the hotel.  He kills the wasps with a bug bomb, and gives the nest to Danny as sort of a souvenir.  Danny is thrilled with the nest, and puts it in his bedroom.

That night, Danny is getting ready for bed in the bathroom.  When he does not come out of the bathroom, Jack and Wendy become anxious, and Jack breaks down the door.  They find Danny in a trance, but are able to rouse him.  Danny does not remember what happened, so Jack and Wendy put him to bed.

Later on, in the middle of the night, Jack and Wendy are awakened by Danny.  Danny is being attacked by the wasps from the nest given to him by Jack earlier.  Jack is able to kill the wasps, but cannot understand why the poison he used earlier did not work.

The next day, Wendy and Jack take Danny to see a doctor in town.  The doctor examines Danny and is able to find nothing physically wrong with Danny.

The doctor asks Danny to try and summon Tony.  Danny falls into a trance again, but is unable remember anything when he comes to.  However, Danny tells the doctor that his mother had a sister who passed away as a child, which is information he did not previously have.  Danny also tells the doctor that his parents had previously contemplated a divorce, but have since changed their minds.  The doctor refuses to believe that there is anything unusual about Danny. and reassures Jack and Wendy that Danny is simply an imaginative child, and that he will eventually grow out of his unusual behavior.

While he is setting rat traps in the basement, Jack finds a scrapbook of sorts.  When he opens up the scrapbook, Jack finds much information in regards to the history of the Overlook.  It turns out that the Overlook has seen many changes in ownership and has also been the scene of some violent crimes.  Jack becomes absorbed in this history, and also begins to exhibit behaviors that he exhibited when he was drinking, such as wiping his lips and dry swallowing Excedrin.

Danny also begins exploring the hotel, without the knowledge of his parents.  He is again tempted by Room 217, despite Halloran’s warnings.  Danny is able to resist the temptation, but thinks that he sees a fire extinguisher come to life, turning into a snake.  However, once again, he does not tell his parents about this incident, as he understands how important the job at the hotel is for his family.

Jack makes a trip to the library to do more research on The Overlook Hotel.  He places a phone call to Stuart Ullman, goading Ullman in regards to the history of the hotel, stating that he will one day write a book about the hotel.  This angers Ullman, and Jack regrets his actions as well.

After speaking with Ullman, Jack receives a call from his friend Al Shockley.  It turns out that Al owns part of the hotel, and is angry at Jack for making that phone call.  Al forces Jack to promise not to call Ullman again, and to not write any books about the hotel.  Jack is angered, but agrees, in order to keep his job.

Both Wendy and Danny become worried about Jack.  They sense that Jack is having trouble coping with his alcoholism, but are unsure of how to help him.  Wendy asks Danny if he would like to leave The Overlook, and Danny agrees that he would.  However, Danny is not happy with the alternative option:  staying with Wendy’s mother, as Wendy and her mother do not get along.  Wendy agrees to stay at the hotel with Jack for the winter, and hopes that things will get better.

One day, as Jack is trimming the hedge animals in front of the hotel, he is badly frightened.  He thinks that the hedge animals have moved.  He tells himself that this is impossible, and likely a hallucination caused by his struggles to remain sober.

The weather worsens in Sidewinder, and the Torrance family begins to feel the hotel closing in on them.  The only means of communication is a CB radio.  They are otherwise cut off from the world, unable to leave the hotel.

One day, Danny finally gives in to temptation and visits room 217.  When he opens the bathroom door, he encounters the ghost of Mrs. Massey.  The ghost then attempts to strangle Danny.

While Danny is being attacked in Room 217, Jack and Wendy have dozed off in their quarters.  However, Jack awakens to the voice of his dead father on the CB radio, warning him that Danny has broken the rules and visited room 217.

Once Wendy and Jack come to their senses, Danny appears at the top of the stairs.  Danny is bruised and bleeding from his encounter with the ghost in room 217.

Almost immediately, Wendy blames Jack for Danny’s injuries, convinced that Jack tried to hurt Danny in his sleep.  She chases Jack off and locks herself and Danny in the bedroom.

Jack is angered by Wendy’s treatment of him, and retreats to the empty bar at the hotel.  Jack then begins to fantasize about drinking again.

The fantasies about drinking seem to become real as Jack strikes up a conversation with the bartender he believes would have been serving the hotel back in its prime.  Jack refers to this man as Lloyd, and requests that Lloyd serve him 20 martinis.  Lloyd also appears to commiserate with Jack over his troubles.

Finally, Jack realizes what he is doing and snaps out of his trance.  Wendy appears with Danny at the bar, and Danny begins to have convulsions.  Jack is able to bring Danny out of his catatonic state, and tries to find out what happened to Danny.

Danny tells his parents about what happened in room 2017, along with the other incidents that he has experienced during the family’s stay at the hotel.  Wendy also tells Jack how worried she and Danny have been about him, as he appears to be struggling with his alcoholism.  Jack heads to Room 217, to see if he can find anyone or anything there.

When Jack arrives at Room 217, he investigates it and does not find anything.  However, when he leaves the room, he notices that someone or something is watching him.  However, he tells his family that he did not find anything in the room.

Later that night, Jack and Wendy begin to argue over their situation.  Jack reminds Wendy that they are snowed in, and that an escape attempt may kill them.  However, Wendy remembers that the hotel has snow mobiles, and Jack reluctantly promises to test them out the next day, so that they may possibly escape the hotel.

That night, Jack struggles with his anger at his family, as he feels that he will have no other options if they leave the hotel.  He dreams that he sees a ghost of one his students in Room 217, and that he attacks that ghost.  However, the ghost then turns into his son.  Jack awakens to find himself standing over Danny’s bed, and shocked by his behavior.

In the morning, Jack takes a look at the snow mobile and finds it in working order.  However, he is unable to bear the idea of leaving the hotel for a fate unknown, and deliberately sabotages the snow mobile, so that his family will remain stranded at The Overlook.

The weeks pass without incident.  Danny tells his mother that he still afraid of the hotel, but that he understands that his family has no other options.

One day, Danny is outside playing on the hotel’s playground.  He is playing in the miniature version of the hotel when he begins to feel trapped inside, and very frightened.  Danny makes his way out of the playhouse, and heads back to the hotel.

Danny also has a bad scare when he heads back to the hotel:  he sees the hedge animals move, and they begin to chase him.  However, Danny is able to make it back to the hotel, where he collapses on the porch from fright and exhaustion.

Danny tells his parents what happened.  However, Jack does not believe him and tries to convince his son that the movement of the hedge animals was a figment of his imagination.  Danny realizes that Jack is lying and that Jack has also seen the animals move.  When he tries to tell his father this, Jack slaps him across the face, angering Wendy.

Jack and his family are awakened later that night by the sound of the elevator running.  The elevator had not previously been in use.  Jack gets up to investigate the noise, with Wendy and Danny in tow.

When he investigates the elevator, Jack does not find anyone or anything there.  However, the Torrance family finds evidence of a party, which includes streamers and balloons.  Wendy and Danny also hear noises associated with a party, such as people talking and music.  Jack denies that anything unusual is happening, and chalks up the issues with the elevator to a short circuit.

A few days later, Danny comes across an old clock that no longer appears to be working.  However, the clock comes to life, and the figures in it commit lewd acts.  The clock then stops, and Danny has another vision.  He sees the word REDRUM again, and realizes that it is murder spelled backwards.  Danny is terrified, and sends a telepathic plea to Dick Halloran for help.

Hallorann is in Florida, working at his winter job.  He receives Danny’s message, and realizes that the situation at The Overlook Hotel is serious, and that he must return to Colorado as soon as he can.

As Hallorann is looking for a flight to take him to Colorado, Wendy and Danny sense that the hotel is closing in on them..  The hotel is working through Jack, in order to get to Danny.  When Danny tries to leave his quarters, he is accosted by a man in a dog costume, who tries to attack him.  Danny continues to call to Hallorann for help, but the hotel senses what Danny is doing and puts a stop to it.

Finally, Hallorann is able to find a flight to Colorado, and heads to the hotel, hoping that he will not be too late.

Jack becomes convinced that the hotel wants him, and not Wendy or Danny.  Jack encounters the ghosts of the hotel’s previous employees and guests, and is able to get drunk.  One of the ghosts, the ghost of Delbert Grady (the previous caretaker of the hotel), alerts Jack to the fact that Danny is trying to escape from The Overlook, and tells Jack that he must do whatever he needs to do to correct Danny.  Jack is also shown a vision in the clock:  a man beating a little boy with a roque mallet.  The clock then fills with blood, much to Jack’s disbelief.

Finally, Hallorann is able to find a flight to Colorado, and begins the trek to Sidewinder.

Wendy and Danny stay sequestered in their quarters, and are able to hear Jack in his drunken rage.  Wendy ventures out of their quarters to find food for her and Danny, and finds Jack passed out at the bar.  She realizes that Jack is somehow drunk, even though there is no alcohol anywhere in the hotel.

Jack regains consciousness, and begins to attack Wendy.  Wendy realizes that he intends to kill her and Danny.  Danny comes to the defense of his mother, and Jack also attacks Danny.  Wendy is able to finally subdue Jack by hitting him on the head with a glass.

Wendy and Danny drag Jack to the pantry, intending to lock him in there, for his safety and theirs.  Jack regains consciousness and fights them, but they are able to shut the door on him in the nick of time.

Even though they retreat to the their quarters, Wendy and Danny are still able to hear Jack’s protests, along with the elevator and other sounds that indicate that the hotel is coming to life.

The ghost of Delbert Grady finds Jack in the pantry.  Jack promises to kill Wendy and Danny, in exchange for his freedom.  The door is somehow unlocked, and Jack picks up a roque mallet, and looks to find his wife and son.

In the meantime, Hallorann continues to make his trek to The Overlook.  The hotel realizes what he is doing, and sends him a message, in an attempt to scare him off.  Hallorann fights it, and is determined to make his way to The Overlook.

Wendy begins to suspect that Jack has somehow escaped the pantry.  She heads downstairs, but this proves to be a mistake, as Jack is waiting for her.  Jack attacks her with the mallet, but Wendy defends herself with a knife.  She heads back upstairs, but an angry, inhuman Jack follows her, determined to kill her.

Finally, Hallorann arrives at the hotel, but is attacked by one of the hedge animals.

Wendy is able to flee from Jack, and hides in the bathroom.  She defends herself with a razor blade she finds in the medicine cabinet, all the while wondering where Danny is hiding, as she has been unable to find him.  She also realizes that the hotel has completely possessed her husband, and that Jack is no longer in control of himself.

Hallorann is able to fend off the hedge animal by lighting it on fire and makes his way into the hotel.  However, he is then attacked by Jack and loses consciousness.

Danny is in some kind of catatonic state.  He is visited by Tony, and realizes that Tony is a future version of himself, Daniel Anthony Torrance.  Tony tells Danny that his mother and Hallorann may be killed by Jack, unless Danny does something about it.  Tony then reminds Danny that he will remember what his father forgot, and vanishes.  Danny then returns to consciousness.

Finding himself in the attic on the third floor, Danny hears his father calling for him.  Resisting the urge to obey his father, Danny attempts to hide from Jack.

Wendy regains consciousness, and finds Hallorann.  She rouses him, and both hear the sounds of Jack on the prowl for his son.

Danny confronts the creature that had once been his father.  He tells his father that the hotel is using him, and will discard him once he has served its purpose.  Jack briefly makes an appearance, and tells Danny to run.

Danny then realizes that his father has not maintained the boiler, and that the hotel will go up in flames.  He runs, searching for his mother and Hallorann, so that they may escape before it is too late.

Wendy, Hallorann and Danny are reunited.  Halloran senses the urgency, and the three make their escape.  The hotel catches on fire shortly aftewards and is completely destroyed.

Even after they escape, the hotel tries to urge Hallorann to hurt Danny.  Hallorann fights the urge, and escapes with Wendy and Danny by using the snow mobile.  Soon, they reach civilization, away from the hotel and the haunted grounds.

Several months later, Hallorann has found work at lodge in Maine.  Danny and Wendy also stay at the lodge for the summer, but Wendy plans on relocating to Maryland, in favor of a new job and fresh start.  Danny is still saddened over the death of his father, but Hallorann reassures him that he will always be there for him, and that Danny will eventually recover from his ordeal.


My Thoughts

I have said it once, and I will say it again:  I appear to be incapable of reading anything that does not make me its emotional bitch in the end.

And The Shining is no different.

I have a few King books that are able to get to me on a personal level.  These include It, Bag of Bones and Rose Madder.

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Well, now I can add The Shining to that list.

And I would not be alone in that sentiment.  Out of all of King’s work, it seems like The Shining is the one that has had the biggest grip on popular culture.

Even non horror and non King fans get what “redrum” means.

The Shining is so compelling that Felicity was reading it in an episode of Arrow

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Jack Torrance, you have failed your hotel!

(OK, that one was admittedly bad.  Maybe Jack should have tried harder to save his city  hotel.  OK, I will stop now before someone sends the ghosts of the Overlook or perhaps Damien Darhk after me for making these bad jokes!)

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And there is a good reason why The Shining (both the book and movie) has the grip that it has on popular culture.  Actually, there are a few good reasons.

The Shining is scary.  Really scary.  Really fucking scary.  Fucking scary as hell, as a matter of fact.

OK, Captain Obvious is on board…

Stephen King wrote The Shining.  He is the King of scary.  So of course his books are scary, right?

Well, many times, King’s books are scary.  King does a lot of things besides scary (which he also does in The Shining, and which we will talk about later), but if you mention his name, the first word that comes up is scary.  That is what he is primarily known for:  writing books that will scare his Constant Constant Readers into a change of pants.

After all, who hasn’t been home alone except for the dogs, and felt her skin crawl while reading the likes of It, ‘Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, Revival or almost any other King book?

Stephen King's Pet Sematary (1985)

(Or is that just me?  OK, just checking, no judgement, right?)

Even The Body and 11/22/63 have creepy elements in them, and those are not traditionally billed as horror stories.

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Well, add The Shining to that list.  And believe me, it has earned that spot on the list.

First of all, there is the setting.  We have an isolated, abandoned hotel in the dead of winter.  Forget about the ghosts for a minute, and think about that instead.  Being trapped in the middle of nowhere is a real fear.  And The Shining plays upon that fear almost right from the opening pages, before we even have the pleasure of making the acquaintance of those lovely, hospitable creatures that call The Overlook Hotel home.

In fact, I could even rightfully argue that the hotel is a character, in and of itself, in much the same way that Danny, Wendy, Jack and Dick Hallorann are characters.

I find this utterly fascinating:  only King has the ability to turn an inanimate object, like an isolated hotel, into a compelling, fleshed out character.  Much love for The Master!

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But, I don’t want to forget about the ghosts.  No, let’s not do that!

Now, the build up to the ghosts is a nice, slow burn.  There are a couple of flashes here and there, like the blood and brains Danny sees in the one room on his first tour, along with the incident with the wasps.  But King spends the first half of the book getting us invested in Danny and his parents, and even the hotel.  So the ghosts take a back burner, at least at first.

But then King unleashes them.  And good things (or is it really scary things?) come to those who wait.  And the payoff is grand.

It had been many years since I read this book.  And a few details may have escaped me.  But lucky me, they came back to me on my re-read.

There is the ghost of Mrs. Massey.  Now, thanks to Kubrik and his movie, I have never really forgotten about her.  But she deserves mention here.  I may make jokes and kid around with all The Shining references, but here is my confession:  I do that to hide the fact that she still scares me into a change of pants, even to this day.

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(Again, we cool and no judgement, right?  Whew!)

Although Mrs. Massey scared me, and the guy in the dog costume scared me (who does that?  Who wears a dog costume and makes the rounds at a party, greeting people by barking?  Ew much?), along with the ghosts of Grady and Lloyd, I think the honor goes to…

You got it, the clock!

I know that a wind up clock is not what most people associate with this “redrum” of a book.  However, that is one seriously scary scene.  And it would actually be two scenes, as Danny sees the figures in the clock do some unspeakable things to each other after it comes to life, and then Jack also sees the same clock come to life, showing him a guy murder a kid with a roque mallet.  And then the clock fills with blood.  Nice touch, Sai King!

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Okay, we have paid the ghosts their due.

So let’s take away the ghosts now.  Let’s take away the spooky hotel.  Let’s take away a little boy’s mysterious, PSI powers.

We are doing away with anything and everything supernatural.

With most horror stories, if you took away all the supernatural elements, you would not have a story.  You would have the equivalent of a car with no engines, no tires, probably even no stereo to listen to the music on.

But this is where King separates himself from the pack, and shows us why he has earned the moniker “The Master.”

SK give me what I won

You can take away anything and everything supernatural in The Shining.

And you are not left with an empty vehicle that won’t go anywhere or play any music.

Rather, you have a vehicle that is functional.  It may have no “extras”, like the fancy tires and state of the art stereo system.

But this vehicle will run.  We can drive it, and it can still take us places and can be counted on for a journey.

In other words, The Shining is not just about ghosts.

The ghosts make the story fun, and provide some great scares (again, Mrs. Massey).  But they are not what makes this story so memorable and so effective on so many levels.

At its core, The Shining explores familiar territory.  Or familiar to anyone who has had to “adult” for more than thirty seconds of his/her life.

The Shining is about family.

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The Shining is about addiction and the devastating effects it has on the addict and the addict’s loved ones.

The Shining is about unemployment, and how devastating it can be to lose one’s job and place in the world.

In fact, the Torrance family’s stay at The Overlook Hotel could be seen as metaphor for being trapped in an abusive relationship.

In an abusive relationship, the abuser will use isolation as a tactic.  This is what my ex did to me:  he cut me off from everyone and everything that I loved.  And then the monsters were unleashed.

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Like Danny, I lived in fear.  I also constantly questioned myself and blamed myself, as Danny did, when his father and the hotel would do terrible things.  I believed, like Danny, that I had caused those things.

Like Danny, I believed that there was something I could do to keep the monsters at bay, and prevent the terrible things from happening.  I shouldered much responsibility for what happened, and looked for ways to prevent (like Danny avoiding certain parts of the hotel.)

But, like Danny, it became too much, and escape became necessary to save my life.  Danny agonized over the escape, and so did I.  Escaping from an abuser is never easy, as you are running from someone you love, sometimes a person you love beyond all reason.

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And the recovery is not easy, as evidenced by the end of the book.  Like Danny, I spent much time crying.

But, again, like Danny, I found the light.  Light is never so beautiful as when you escape that darkness.


Well, that’s it for the roller coaster otherwise known as The Shining.  Join me next month for a reunion of sorts, when we review and dissect the follow up to The Shining, aka Doctor Sleep!

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

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Connections

Even though The Shining is an early King work, it is still set squarely in the King universe, and shares some notable connections with other King books.  Here are the connections I found:

-The most obvious connection to another book is to Doctor Sleep, which follows the adventures of Danny Torrance in adulthood.

-The town of Sidewinder is mentioned in the novel The Talisman.

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-Danny has PSI abilities.  Many other characters in the King universe have these abilities, including Carrie White, Jake Chambers, Kyra DeVore (Bag of Bones) and the Breakers in The Dark Tower series.

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-Room 217 is the room that houses Brady Hartsfield in the Mercedes trilogy, which includes Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch.

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-In the book The Drawing of the Three, Eddie recalls a movie that he has seen, titled The Shining.  Even if Stephen King does not exist in every reality (or even most of them), apparently some version of The Shining does exist on more than one level of The Tower, and may even exist on all levels of The Tower.

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-The ghosts seen by Danny at The Overlook Hotel bear some resemblance to the “vagrant dead” mentioned in The Wolves of the Calla and The Song of Susannah.

Roland dance

-In the novel It, Dick Halloran makes a brief appearance in a story in a flashback regards to Derry’s history.  Hallorann saves the life of Wil Hanlon, who would later go on to father Mike Hanlon, one of the members of the Losers Club.

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Don’t Forget Your Napkin: My Review of The Eyes of The Dragon

Once upon a time, there was man known as Uncle Stevie.

Uncle Stevie liked to tell scary stories.

Simpsons SK

There were bad guys in Uncle Stevie’s stories.  Lots of bad guys.

In fact, he once told a story about a clown that killed children.

He told a story about a town that was invaded by vampires.

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He even told a story about a haunted hotel that tried to do bad things to a little boy with special talents.

But Uncle Stevie was not a bad man.  No, not at all.

In fact, Uncle Stevie had children of his own.  But those children could not read his stories, because they were children, after all.  Uncle Stevie did not know what to do.  He couldn’t scare his own children, but he wanted to write something they would like and not be scared of.  Uncle Stevie thought for a long time.

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One day, Uncle Stevie got an idea.  He decided to write a fairy tale of sorts, and dedicate it his daughter, Naomi.  Excited, Uncle Stevie got to work right away and wrote his new story.  It took him a long time, but he finally finished writing the story.

Uncle Stevie decided to call this new story The Eyes of the Dragon.  And his children were happy, since he finally wrote a story that they could read, and they liked it.

The story was actually sort of a fairy tale, although it was kind of long for a fairy tale.

But it read like a good fairy tale:  there were kings and queens.  And princes.  And even an evil sorcerer.  And the story took place in a magical land, far, far away.

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Although it was fairy tale, you could still tell that this story was written by Uncle Stevie.  There were some parts that were kind of scary, but not as scary.  And people did some bad things in the story, but never got punished like they would in a regular fairy tale.

In other words, The Eyes of the Dragon was a fairy tale, but you could tell it was written by the guy who writes scary stories.

And like Uncle Stevie’s other books, The Eyes of the Dragon would suck you right in to the land of princes and evil sorcerers, if you weren’t careful.  So kids liked it, and so did the grown-ups.

This nerdy grown-up decided she wanted to feel like a kid again.  So she read The Eyes of the Dragon this month.  Once again, she was captivated.  And enchanted.

Just like reading any other book written by Uncle Stevie.

So, here is her recap and review of The Eyes of the Dragon.  As always, watch out for the fierce beasts known as Spoilers!

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book introduces us to man named Roland.  Roland is the king of a land called Delain.  Roland is not hated in Delain, although he is not loved either.  Most people think that Roland is a competent king, and have no strong feelings towards him, one way or the other.

Roland is not a very bright man, and relies on the advice given to man by a man known as Flagg.  Flagg is Roland’s trusted adviser, and is also a man familiar with magic and its various uses.  There are many who do not quite trust Flagg, but no one dares to cross his path, as most people actually fear him.

At nearly 50 years old, Roland is still single, and this must be remedied, so that he can bear a son who will take over his royal duties one day.  Flagg introduces Roland to many women, and eventually, a woman named Sasha marries Roland.  Sasha is only 17 when she marries Roland, and is inexperienced in the ways of men.

Roland is also inexperienced in the ways of women, and has trouble bedding Sasha.  However, she becomes pregnant with the couple’s first child, Peter.  Peter is handsome and well liked, and takes after his mother.  Peter’s favorite toy is a dollhouse that was a gift to his mother.  The dollhouse is intricate and even has working parts, such as a small stove that heats up.  Peter spends hours playing with this dollhouse, making up fantastical stories to go along with it.  Peter also shows leadership skills at an early age, as he is able to exert his influence over people.  One day, Peter is able to prevent the unnecessary death of a horse.  Naturally, Flagg notices this and becomes uneasy.

Queen Sasha is well loved by the people of Delain, and is able to influence Roland when he makes certain decisions.  She also insists upon making sure that Peter is taught manners and etiquette.  Specifically, she makes sure that Peter uses his napkin, no matter the circumstances.  This is a lifelong habit that becomes ingrained in Peter.

Eventually, Sasha becomes pregnant with the couple’s second child, Thomas.  Flagg distrusts Sasha, and plots to kill her.  He is successful in accomplishing this when Thomas is born, as he convinces Sasha’s midwife to sever a vital artery, so that Sasha dies from blood loss.

As Peter grows older, Flagg distrusts him more and more.  He realizes that if Peter were to become King, Flagg may be vanquished from Delain.  After much thought, Flagg decides to kill King Roland and pin the death on Peter, so that Thomas will become King.  Thomas lives in the shadow of his brother, as he is not handsome and smart like Peter, but is more like his father.  Since Thomas is feeling neglected, this makes it easy for Flagg to exert his influence over Thomas.

One autumn night, Flagg poisons a glass of wine and gives it to King Roland, who drinks the wine, not suspecting that anything is amiss.  While this is happening, Thomas is spying on his father by peeking through the head of Niner, a dragon slain by his father on a hunting expedition.  Thomas feels that something is amiss, but does not say anything.

Flagg plants evidence in Peter’s room that will be found after his father’s death.  Roland does not show any signs of illness for a few days, but dies a sudden, painful death.

Shortly after the death of Roland, preparations are made for the coronation of Peter as king of Delain.  However, the preparations are halted after Dennis, the royal butler, finds the evidence planted by Flagg in Peter’s room.  Peter is then tried and convicted for the murder of his father, and Thomas is crowned king of Delain.

Thomas is reluctant, but accepts his new title, but feels guilty for his complacence in his father’s death and the false accusations against his brother.  In the meantime, Peter is imprisoned in a tower known as Needle.  His cell is several stories off the ground.

Within a week of his imprisonment, Peter makes two demands:  that his mother’s old dollhouse be brought to him, and that he receive a napkin with every meal.  Peter sends a message to Anders Penya, the Judge General of Delain, with this demand.  With the help of Ben Stadd, Peter’s best friend, Anders is able to grant these requests.

Ben Staad stands by Peter in claims of innocence, and refuses to to believe that his friend could have committed such as act.  Even Anders Penya, who had questioned Peter in regards to the murders, begins to have his doubts in regards to Peter’s guilt.

The dollhouse is finally delivered to Peter, and he begins receiving his napkins at each meal.  Peter then removes a few threads from each napkin, and begins to weave a rope using the miniature loom in the dollhouse.  It is painstaking work, but Peter is patient, and spends the next five years making this rope so that he may escape his prison.  Peter also finds an old locket and letter one day, and realizes that Flagg has been spreading  his evil throughout the kingdom of Delain for several centuries.

In the meantime, Thomas attempts to rule over Delain as king.  However, he is a very unpopular king, as he has raised taxes on the kingdom, due to advice from Flagg, whom he has become dependent on.  Thomas is very unhappy and moody, due to the fact that he is not ready for the responsibilities as king, and the guilt over his father’s death.

One night, Thomas sleep-walks to his secret hiding spot, and re-enacts the night of his father’s death in his sleep.  This is witnessed by Dennis, Thomas’ royal butler.  Dennis is badly frightened by what he sees, and begins to question King Roland’s death.

A few days later, Dennis pays a visit to Anders Peyna, and tells his tale.  Peyna becomes distressed, realizing that he has falsely imprisoned Peter, the true king of Delain.

The next morning, Peyna sends Dennis back to Delain, advising him to be careful.  Peyna then heads north to the camp of the exiles, where many have fled to escape the situation in Delain.  Peyna plans to seek the help of Ben Staad, Peter’s old friend.  The Staad family are among those who have fled Delain.

Since Dennis is able to read and write, Peyna tells him to send a note to Peter in secret.  Dennis writes the note, and hides it among the napkins, in the hope that the note will reach Peter.

Peyna also speaks to Ben Staad, and sends Ben back to the kingdom of Delain to help Peter.  Ben is accompanied by a woman named Naomi Reechul, who drives a sled pulled by Husky dogs.  With Naomi’s help, Ben reaches the former home of Peyna.  In order to track down Dennis, Naomi has Frisky, one of her dogs, track Dennis’ scent, in the hopes that they may find him.

In the meantime, Peter has finished weaving his rope and plans his escape from Needle.  However, he has second thoughts when he receives Dennis’ letter, which states that Peyna does not believe Peter is guilty of murder and was in fact wrongfully imprisoned.

Peter re-thinks his plans to escape the next night, and uses his blood to write a note to Dennis.  He bundles it in a napkin, in the hopes that Dennis will find it.

Dennis lurks outside The Needle and catches a glance of Peter.  He also finds the note, and decides that he will do anything to help Peter.

Ben and Naomi are able to track down Dennis, with the help of Frisky.  The three then exchange stories, and make plans to rescue Peter.

That night, Flagg finally realizes that Peter means to escape, and begins to head up the stairs of Needle, to Peter’s cell.  Peter hears Flagg coming, and using his rope, begins to make his escape.

As he is making his escape, Peter’s rope breaks.  However, his fall is cushioned by a pile of napkins, which were loaded into a cart by Ben, Naomi and Dennis.  Peter falls, but survives, much to the anger of Flagg.

Flagg then chases Peter and his friends to the former chambers of King Roland.  Flagg says that he will kill Peter.  Peter then confronts Flagg with the knowledge of the murder of his father, along with Flagg’s past evil deeds.

Thomas then appears, with his father’s bow and arrow.  Flagg believes Thomas to be the ghost of Roland, which makes him forget about his plans to murder Peter.  This allows Thomas to shoot Flagg with his father’s bow and arrow.  The arrow then hits Flagg in the eye.  After he is hit by the arrow, Flagg vanishes, leaving only his clothes behind.

After the confrontation with Flagg, Peter is acquitted of his father’s murder.  Peter invites Thomas to stay in Delain, but Thomas declines.  Instead, Thomas says that he will spend his life tracking down Flagg, so that he may avenge his father and brother.  Dennis offers to accompany Thomas, and Thomas gratefully accepts the offer.

Thomas leaves Delain, and it is not known if he ever returns, although he did have many strange adventures.  Peter continues to rule in Delain as king, and Ben and Naomi eventually get married.


My Thoughts

Well, I did say that I wanted a break from the scary stuff.

In other words, I needed a break from watching Indianapolis Colts football!

NFL: Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts

Haha, just joking!  Even though the Colts are frightening to watch at the moment, I will still be loyal to them!

But seriously, The Eyes of the Dragon though…

The Eyes of the Dragon is a fairy tale.  And it is a fairy tale written by the King of Horror.

And…wait for it…

It is actually a good fairy tale written by The Master!  Who knew?

Stephen King

Ok, it’s confession time…I hope all both  of the readers of this blog have some tolerance and don’t judge me…

For many years, I put off reading this book.  There was something that just did not sit right with me, in regards to this book.

In my little mind, Sai King was not supposed to write fantasy children’s stories (although this one does have some adult themes, more about that later.)  He was supposed to write about the scary hotels, rabid St. Bernards, possessed vehicles, cursed burial grounds and all those other things that have kept me up at night over the years.

Church grumpy cat

In other words, there was no room for princes, evil wizards and faraway kingdoms.  Absolutely not allowed!

Well, as one might say in another faraway land created by King, “I cry your pardon.”

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I finally read The Eyes of the Dragon a couple of years ago.  And I enjoyed it then.

And when I re-read it this year, I was again reminded of what I had missed out on, due to my obstinate nature.

breaking bad

While The Eyes of the Dragon is not in my top 10 (too many others overshadow it), I still consider it to be one of King’s underrated gems.

And it even has tie-ins to some of my favorites, like The Dark Tower series.  And The Stand, which is one of my books of all time, period.

The Eyes of the Dragon could be considered to be a children’s tale.  And in many ways, it is. My parents read me fairy tales when I was child, and I was constantly reminded of those when I was reading this book.

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There is land that is far, far away, aka the kingdom of Delain.  King never specifies just where Delain is, but it is not on any map that exists in this world.

There are kings, queens and princesses.  King Roland, Queen Sasha and Prince Peter are almost “textbook” fairy tale characters if you will.  They are well loved by the people they rule over, and strive to the right thing.

And there is an evil wizard.  Flagg fits the bill of evil wizard perfectly:  he is a scheming, evil and ultimately prideful creature who does his best to wreak havoc wherever he goes (again, more about Flagg later.)

However, like almost all of King’s books, there is more than meets the eye (pun not intended) in The Eyes of the Dragon.

First of all, there is King Roland.  Now, I am not calling King Roland necessarily a bad guy, because he does try to do what is right.

However, King Roland is DEFINITELY not a bright man.  And time and time again, his actions remind of that fact.  Usually, it is the bad guys in fairy tales that are bumbling buffoons, not the good kings who want to do what is right.  But Roland is an exception in this book, and this actually makes the book more interesting, and adds a little depth to the story.

Then there is the character of Thomas, aka Thomas the Tax Bringer, whom I actually find to be one of King’s most fascinating characters.

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On the one hand, Thomas appears to be a bad dude.  When the narrator described how Thomas killed a dog because….well, just because, I immediately felt the need to go home and hug my dogs (luckily, they are the tolerant sort and don’t mind random hugs, unlike my cats, who revel in blood sport.)

But, on the other hand, I would agree with the narrator:  Thomas is not a bad boy.  Repeat:  Thomas is not a bad boy.

Now, Thomas may have done some pretty bad things.  Killing that dog, for instance.  And watching Flagg murder his father and not saying a word about that to anyone.

However, some of Thomas’ actions are understandable.

Thomas was basically screwed from the moment he came into existence.  When he was born, his mother died.  Even though that was not his fault, Thomas (and possibly others) blamed his birth on the death of his mother.  So he had to carry that guilt.

Then there is the fact that Thomas is the brother of Peter.  Growing up, it was my brother who had friends and was the musician.  I was just the awkward nerd that no one else noticed.  So of course, this created resentment with me, just as Thomas resented his brother, even though he did love Peter, as I love my brother.  Being in someone’s shadow and never being noticed for your accomplishments (and Thomas was actually a good archer) is difficult, and can be pretty depressing.  Thomas only wanted the approval of his father, and not getting it made him understandably upset.

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So, while some of Thomas’ actions were deplorable, at least they were understandable, given the context.  I don’t think that Thomas was an inherently evil character.  In fact, there is only one inherently evil character in this book.  We will talk about him in a bit.

One thing I love about The Eyes of the Dragon is that it is a fairy tale.  It tells of fantastical lands, kings and queens, magic, evil wizards and all that good stuff.

I also love that The Eyes of the Dragon is a Stephen King book.

So, Captain Obvious strikes again, right?

Well, let me explain a bit.

What I mean is that I love fantasy and fairy tales.  When I was a child, my parents had to constantly read to me from various books of fairy tales and fantasy stories, as they were my favorite.  We read Peter Pan.  We read the non- Disney version of Pinocchio (seriously, my parents wonder where my horror obsession comes from.  Read that one sometime.  It is far more disturbing than most “horror” stories.)

pinocchio-1

So, I feel at home when I read those types of stories.  They are my bread butter, you might say.  George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey and Madeleine L’Engle are just a few of my favorite authors.  The land of fantasy is my home.

But, despite the fact that The Eyes of the Dragon appears to be a fairy tale, it was written by the King of Horror.  And throughout the book, we are constantly reminded of that fact.

For one, The Eyes of the Dragon has some gruesome deaths.  Gruesome deaths are Sai King’s bread and butter, after all.  The death of Queen Sasha definitely counts as gruesome, as a mid-wife used a knife to cut a vital organ so that Sasha would bleed to death.  Not only is this gruesome, this is also one of the most tragic deaths I have ever come across in any book.

Speaking of gruesome, there is the death of King Roland.  Roland is poisoned, but not with just any poison.  No, only “Dragonsand” would do for Roland.  This was a poison that burned someone from the inside out…shudder.

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Most fairy tales end on “happily ever after.”  The evil is defeated, and justice is somehow served.  However, this is not the case in regards to The Eyes of the Dragon.

For one, Flagg is not defeated.  Sure, he exits the kingdom of Delain, but he still alive!  And read to make mischief wherever he can.  Seriously, I wonder if he found the world of The Stand because he got evicted from Delain?  Seems legit, right?

There is also Thomas.  I did say that Thomas was not a bad guy.  But he was also complicit in the murder of his father and imprisonment of his brother.  However, Thomas never faces any consequences for his actions, and basically leaves the kingdom in shame, although he leaves under the guise of doing something noble, aka tracking down Flagg so that Flagg can answer for his actions (wish I could find out how that worked out, actually.)

In other words, Thomas did not get a happy ending.  The only one who really got a happy ending was Peter, and maybe his friend Ben.  And Peter probably spent years trying to clean up the mess made by Flagg and his brother, so I am really not sure how happy his ending really was.

Ok, I saved the best for last.

Or is it the worst for last?  Maybe best of the worst for last?

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am talking about that bad guy that we all love to hate…

Can I get a round of loud booing for…

None other than Randall Flagg himself!

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Now, Randall Flagg is ubiquitous in the Stephen King universe.

He shows up, in one way or another, in so many different books.  And he seems to be the equivalent of the cockroach in the King universe:  he just won’t go away!

Or perhaps the equivalent of Von Miller:  a one man (or maybe one demon) wrecking crew who is impossible to game plan for.  Instead of see “Miller, V,” we have see Flagg, R.

Flagg is perhaps most associated with the novel The Stand.  A world has been ravaged by the super flu and trying to rebuild itself.  Of course, with no help from Flagg, R.

man in black

The Stephen King cockroach also makes several appearances in the Dark Tower series (both the books and the comics.)  In fact, he is part of the best opening line in history:  The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

(Again, see Flagg, R.)

And he is also a character in The Eyes of the Dragon.

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Out of all the different flavors of Flagg (kind of gross if you think of it that way, actually), I think that his character in The Eyes of the Dragon is my favorite flavor.  Not that I don’t think he’s great in all the other books, but there is just something about him in The Eyes of the Dragon that makes my heart go pitter-patter…

For one thing, he is pretty creative in this particular book.  I mean, a poison called Dragonsand?  Talk about a different, painful kind of death on the person you inflict it on!

He also has the old school, evil wizard feel to him in The Eyes of the Dragon.

He is crafty, cunning and enjoys evil for the sake of…well…evil.  There is no other way to put it.   We, as readers, tend to like to assign motivations to characters, to give them a reason for their actions.

Randall_Flagg_by_Clayman84

Well, there is no reason for Flagg’s actions in The Eyes of Dragon.  He is a bad guy who enjoys being a bad guy.  He does evil things because he likes it.  He only feels remorse when his plans fail and he is unable to unleash chaos  like he wants to.  He garners no sympathy from the reader.  In fact, the reader roots for him to die, and is disappointed when he doesn’t (one of the perks of being an evil wizard includes the ability to perpetually exist and stir up trouble everywhere, even breaking the inter-dimensional barrier.)

So it’s refreshing, actually.

Almost as refreshing as glass of wine that includes that extra touch of Dragonsand…


So, that’s it for The Eyes of the Dragon!

Join me next month as we return to the “real world…”

In other words, I will be reviewing and dissecting an oldie but goodie, otherwise known as The Shining.

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

batman and robin


Connections

Although it takes place in the “faraway” land of Delain, there are indications that The Eyes of the Dragon is indeed a part of the Stephen King universe.  Here are some of the connections that I found:

easter eggs 1

-The most obvious connection to King’s other books is the character of Randall Flagg.  Flagg appears in several other King works, including The Gunslinger, Wizard and Glass, The Dark Tower, The Stand, The Wastelands, The Wind Through the Keyhole and even in the title story of the collection Hearts in Atlantis.  Flagg apparently possesses the ability to travel to other worlds, and can perhaps even travel through time.

Mother Abigail

In The Drawing of the Three, Roland speaks of an encounter with Thomas and Dennis, while they are on a quest to find Flagg.  It is not known if Thomas and Dennis are ever able to confront Flagg and force him to answer for his crimes against Delain.  In fact, it is doubtful if their quest was ever successful, and it is more likely that this quest eventually results in the deaths of both Thomas and Dennis.

The_Lady_of_Shadows_by_synpro

-King Roland shares a first name with with Roland Deschain, the main character in King’s Dark Tower series.  However, this is all the two share, as Roland Deschain is clever and skilled, unlike his Delain counterpart.

Roland 2

-Peter’s time in The Needle can be said to be similar to Andy Dufresne’s imprisonment in Shawshank State Prison in the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (part of the collection Different Seasons), as Andy was also imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit.  Like Peter, Andy Dufresne also spent years devising and ingenious escape plan, under the noses of his captors.

Red 1

-Randall Flagg owns a two-headed parrot.  Parkus, the man responsible for law and order in the Territories in the novels Black House and The Talisman, also owns a similar creature.  It is unknown if these creatures are one in the same, or merely just similar.

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-Mention is made of Rhea of the Coos.  Rhea is a major character in the novel Wizard and Glass, as well as The Dark Tower comics.

rhea of the coos

The Final Concert: My Review of End of Watch

So, the month of June is upon us.

And we all know what that means…

Yes, it’s my birthday month.  Yes, I really will be 38 years old (ugh.)  And yes, I accept donations of any kind.  I prefer cash, but checks are ok too…haha!

But, that’s not actually why this month is special (even if my birthday is pretty special…duh.)

No, the month of June is special because of Stephen King.

Stephen King

(Don’t forget, it is this blog, after all.  The Master trumps everything, even the birthday month of yours truly.)

And it’s not because of the book The Dark Half, which could be construed to be a book written about Thad Beaumont, the ultimate Gemini…but I digress.

dark half 5

June is special, or has been special the past couple of years, because The Master has been releasing his Mercedes trilogy books the first week of June.

The fact that he releases these books right before my birthday (back to that again, yes) is a nice courtesy, don’t you think?

And June of 2016 is extra special, because we have the release of End of Watch, the third and final (maybe) book of this series.

So finally, we find out what will happen to good old Bill Hodges, along with his friends Jerome and Holly.

Finally, Hodges gets to square off one more time against his nemesis, Brady.  And quite possibly put this obsession to bed, one way or another.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of End of Watch.

As always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book begins with a flashback to the Mercedes Massacre, which had occurred in 2009.  The flashback is told from the perspective of Rob and Jason, two paramedics who are called to the scene after a then unknown killer uses a stolen Mercedes as a weapon to kill and injure several people at a job fair.  One of the victims is Martine Stover, who is unconscious when Rob and Jason arrive at the scene.  Rob and Jason manage to save Martine from death, but it appears that Martine’s injuries have made her a quadriplegic.  Rob and Jason are saddened by the deaths and injuries, and hope that the perpetrator faces justice.

The book then flashes forward to January 2016.  Bill Hodges is awaiting an appointment with his doctor, when he receives a call from his soon to be retired former partner, Pete Huntley.  Huntley tells Hodges about his final case, which looks to be a murder-suicide.  One of the victims is Martine Stover, who was rendered a quadriplegic after the Mercedes Massacare.  Huntley tells Hodges that Martine appears to have been murdered by her mother, and that her mother then committed suicide.

Hodges picks up Holly Gibney, the woman who is his partner in the private investigation firm that he started after his retirement.  He then meets with Huntley and his partner, Izzy, at the crime scene.  It is confirmed that Martine’s mother used oxycontin and vodka to kill her daughter and herself.  Hodges thinks there is nothing special about the case, but Huntley believes otherwise.

Huntley tells of another murder-suicide that occurred the previous year.  Keith Frias and Krista Countryman were also victims of the Mercedes Massacre.  The two had met in a therapy group, and had planned to get married.  However, they committed suicide by overdosing on pills one day, and died in each other’s arms.  Holly notices a mysterious letter Z in the bathtub where Martine died.  Hodges and Holly are reminded of Brady Hartsfield, the man responsible for the Mercedes Massacre.  Hartsfield was stopped by Holly and Hodges, but not before he was able to manipulate several people into committing suicide.  One of these victims was Olivia Trelawney, Holly’s cousin and the owner of the Mercedes used in the murders.  Hartsfield was able to steal the vehicle and use it to murder several people, and was also able to manipulate Olivia into committing suicide.

On the drive back to the office, Holly voices her suspicions to Hodges.  She tells him that she investigated the upstairs room to the house, and discovered a computer.  The computer contained no indication that either Martine or her mother had ever researched suicide.  Holly also finds a Zappit, which is an electronic device used for playing games.  She and Hodges both feel that this is odd, as neither woman was an expert on gadgets.  Holly says that she will be tracking down Nancy Alderson, the housekeeper employed by Martine Stover and her mother, in the hopes that the housekeeper can shed some light on the mystery.

Hodges is able to speak to Nancy Alderson, the housekeeper for Martine and her mother.  Nancy is extremely surprised by the deaths of Martine and her mother, telling Hodges that Martine had accepted her condition, and that she also got along well with her mother.  Nancy also sheds light on the mystery of the Zappit, telling Hodges that the gadget was a gift for filling out a questionnaire.  It is also revealed that a mysterious man in a parka had been seen around the house, and that he would look into the windows of the house.

Holly and Hodges have lunch that day.  Hodges points out that the Zappit is actually an outdated piece of technology, and that Martine may have fallen victim to a scam.  Hodges also checks out the house across the street from Martine Stover, and discovers the casings to a pair of binoculars, indicating that someone may have been watching Martine and her mother.  Hodges also finds a letter Z carved into the wall of the garage.  Someone driving down the street in a Chevrolet Malibu is also spying on Hodges, but Hodges is distracted by a terrible pain in his knee and his stomach, and is reminded of his doctor’s appointment that he has rescheduled for the next day.

That night, Hodges speaks to Holly and schedules a meeting with her and Huntley, before his doctor’s appointment.  Hodges’ health also appears to worsen, as he vomits blood later that night.  Hodges becomes extremely worried about his future.

Meanwhile, something strange occurs at the hospital where Brady Hartsfield is a patient.  Brady is thought to be comatose, but speaks to Nurse Valdez, badly startling her.

Earlier that day, a nurse named Ruth Scapelli had paid a visit to Brady Hartsfield.  Nurse Scapelli had expressed her disdain for Brady by twisting his nipples, as she believed that Brady had given her an obscene gesture earlier.  Nurse Scapelli is paid a visit that night by Dr. Barbineau, Brady’s doctor.  Barbineau tells Nurse Scapelli that he knows of her earlier actions, and that she will face consequences for them.  After Dr. Barbineau leaves, Nurse Scapelli receives a visit from what appears to be Brady Hartsfield.  Brady appears to flicker in and out of existence, but starts to convince Nurse Scapelli that she is worthless, and that no one will help her now that she caught breaking the rules.

Later that night, Hodges is unable to sleep, so he gets up and turns on his computer.  He discovers he has a message on program called Debbie’s Blue Umbrella, which is the program that he had used to talk to Brady Hartsfield.  The message is from someone named Z-Boy, and simply states;  He’s not done with you yet.

Hodges and Holly meet with Huntley and Izzy the next morning.  The meeting does not go well, as Izzy is upset that Holly took the Zappit from the scene, possibly compromising evidence.  Huntley and Izzy also feel that the investigation should be closed as a murder suicide.  This upsets Holly, but Hodges comforts her, telling her that they are done with the case yet, as he hurries to his doctor appointment.

At his doctor appointment, Hodges receives some terrible news:  he has been diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer, and learns that he may only live for another year.  His doctor urges him to see a specialist right away, but Hodges declines, saying that he needs to think things through first.

The body of Ruth Scapelli is discovered later that day.  Nurse Scapelli’s daughter had contacted the police earlier, after receiving a strange email from her mother.  The cause appears to be suicide, but there is a letter Z written in blood on the floor.

We also learn that Brady Hartsfield has been given experimental drugs by Dr. Babineau, in the hopes that Brady will regain consciousness at some point.  Dr. Babineau does not have much hope for his patient, and eventually stops giving him the medication, as it appears that Brady is still in a vegetative state.

However, Brady has regained some form of consciousness, and is aware of the actions of the doctors and nurses in his hospital room.  Brady has also gained some form of telekinesis, as he is able to move objects without touching them.

One day, Brady discovers another PSI ability:  he has the ability to switch consciences with other people.  In other words, he can momentarily take over the minds of other people, in certain instances.  Brady realizes that he needs to practice using his new abilities, and alerts the doctors and nurses that his head hurts, along with asking for his mother.

After Hodges discovers the message on his computer, he returns to work and hides his cancer diagnosis from Holly.  Hodges and Holly discuss Brady Hartsfield.  Hodges believes that Brady is not actually unconscious, and may have somehow convinced a nurse to commit suicide.  Hodges decides that he will pay another visit to Brady, and Holly urges him to be careful, as she believes that Brady may now be gifted with PSI abilities.

While Hodges riding the bus to the hospital where Brady is a patient, he is preoccupied with thoughts of his health, and does not notice the Chevrolet Malibu, or the old man in a parka who appears to be watching him.

Holly suspects that Hodges is not telling the truth about his health, and sneaks a peek at his computer files while he is gone.  She finds out that he has terminal cancer, and becomes very upset.

Hodges also receives a call from his former partner Huntley, who informs him that the Zappit may have a virus on it, as it is not functional, and there is no way that Martine Stover or her mother could have used it.  Huntley also tells Hodges to stop badgering him and his partner Izzy, as his input is no longer wanted.

While Hodges is on his way to the hospital, his neighbor, 16 year old Barbara Robinson (sister of Jerome) has made her way into a dangerous part of town.  Barbara is African American, but feels she has very little understanding of her culture, due to her family’s relative wealth and success.  Barbara is also in possession of a Zappit device.  The apparition of a young man appears in a store window, and convinces Barbara to commit suicide.  Barbara steps in front of a bus, ready to do just that.

Back at the hospital, Dr. Babineau, who is actually under the control of Brady, informs Brady that Hodges has figured out what he is doing.  Brady becomes furious, but is still trying to convince Barbara Robinson to commit suicide, as she is associated with Hodges.

Barbara’s attempt at suicide is interrupted by the arrival of a young man who takes her Zappit.  Barbara becomes furious and tries to get the gadget back from him.  Barbara grabs her device back, and runs right into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

Brady orders Dr. Babineau to keep Hodges out of his room, as he is flushed and does not actually appear comatose.  Dr. Babineau agrees to do what he can.

In the meantime, Tanya Robinson, Barbara’s mother, receives a call from the police, letting her know that something has happened to her daughter.

When Hodges arrives at the hospital, he is refused visitation of Brady, by Dr. Babineau.  Hodges brides an intern to take a message to Nurse Norma Wilmer, who has helped him the past.

Jerome Robinson, who is in Arizona volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, receives a call from Holly, who tearfully informs him of Hodges’ cancer diagnosis.  Jerome also receives a call from his mother, who tells him that something has happened to his sister Barbara.

Hodges meets with Nurse Wilmer, and agrees to meet her for a drink.  Hodges then receives a call from Tanya Robinson, and rushes back to the hospital.

At the hospital, Hodges finds that Barbara has a broken leg, but is not otherwise severely injured.  She also tells Bill that the young man pushed her out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, preventing a much worse injury, maybe even saving her life.  Hodges makes contact with the police station where the young man is being held, so that he may question him about the incident.

Hodges receives a call from Holly, who is upset and confesses to her snooping regarding his health.  Holly picks up Hodges, and together they head to the police station to talk to the young man who may have saved Barbara Robinson’s life.

Holly and Hodges learn the name of the young man who was responsible for saving Barbara’s life:  Dereece Neville.  Dereece is also a star athlete and a good student, and will likely go to college on a scholarship.  The police have told him that he is free to leave, but he has elected to stay at the police station until he finds out that Barbara is all right.

When Hodges speaks to Dereece, he confirms that Barbara was carrying a Zappit device.  Dereece though that Barbara was under the influence of some substance, but tells Hodges that Barbara appeared to return to her normal self once the Zappit device was taken away from her.

Later on, Hodges meets Nurse Wilmer for a drink.  The nurse agrees to see if she can find Brady’s so-called visitor list for Hodges, and tells Hodges that she thinks that Dr. Babineau may be experimenting on Brady.  She also confesses that she and some of the other nurses believe that Brady can move objects with his mind.

Holly visits Barbara at the hospital.  Barbara confesses to Holly that she has been feeling depressed, as she has experienced harassment at school and other places due to the fact that she is African American.  She also tells Holly that a strange man gave her the Zappit for filling out a questionnaire.  Barbara tells Holly that she has heard of the voice of a young, who convinced her to commit suicide.  Barbara also tells Holly that one of her friends may also have a Zappit, which could be dangerous.

At the hospital, Brady switches consciousness with one of the orderlies, named Brooks.  It appears that Brady is using Brooks’ body to hand out Zappits and spy on Hodges.

We also learn how Brady used the Zappit device to control the body and mind of others.  Once Brady discovered his ability to take over the minds of certain other people, he also discovered a game on the Zappit that had an hypnotic effect on certain people.  Brady was able to use this device to take over the body of Brooks and Dr. Babineau, along with other people.

Brady takes over the body of Brooks, and shows up on the doorstep of Dr. Babineau.  He attacks the doctor’s wife, and takes over Babineau’s body, which is younger and stronger than Brooks’ body.

Hodges visits Dinah Scott, one of Barbara’s friends, who also owns a Zappit device.  Hodges learns that Dinah obtained the device as a consolation prize for a missed concert.  The concert was cancelled due to Brady Hartsfield attempting to set off a bomb.  Brady was stopped by Holly, Jerome and Hodges.  Hodges takes the device from Dinah, so that he can possibly use it to track down more clues.  Hodges brings up the fishing game (the game that is being used by Brady to hypnotize people) and confirms that it does indeed have a hypnotic effect.

We also learn that Brady has bribed a woman named Freddi, one of his former coworkers, to accept questionable packages at a condo that has been set up for this purpose.  Freddi begins to suspect that Dr. Babineau is actually her former coworker.  Brady has Freddi execute a computer program that he needs for his future plans.  When he determines that the computer program works, Brady attacks Freddi so that she will remain quiet.

That night, Hodges receives a call from Holly.  Sunrise Solutions, the company that was giving away the Zappit, was not actually a sponsor of the cancelled concert.  Holly also advises to see Barbara, as Barbara is still suffering the effects of Brady’s invasion of her mind.  Hodges also receives a call from Huntley, telling him that Nurse Scapelli, Brady’s nurse who committed suicide the day before, also owned a Zappit.  Huntley also tells Hodges that Martine Stover’s mother had purchased a computer for her daughter, which is not the act of someone planning to commit a murder-suicide.

In the meantime, Brady has completely abandoned his own body and taken oven Dr. Babineau’s mind.  He heads back to Dr. Babineau’s house and speaks to Brooks, telling Brooks that he murdered Babineau’s wife.  Brooks is upset, but Brady tells him that he was hypnotized and unable to help himself.

Freddi regains consciousness.  It turns out that she is not dead, as her pack of cigarettes protected her from Brady’s bullet.  Freddi is hesitant to call 911, she is involved in some illegal activities.  She wants to leave town, but is afraid that Brady will track her down.

Early the next morning, Hodges receives a call from Huntley informing him that Brady has died.  The cause appears to be a suicide, via an overdose of prescription medication.  However, both Hodges and Holly are skeptical that this is the last of Brady Hartsfield.

Hodges places a call to the bankruptcy trustee who had represented Sunrise Solutions.  The attorney tells Bill that he received a call from someone calling himself Myron Zakim, who had bought several Zappit units when the companies assets were liquidated.  Hodges also speaks to Nurse Wilmer, who is skeptical that Brady committed suicide, and tells Hodges that besides himself, the only other person to ever visit Brady was an unrelated woman.

Holly returns to the office with Jerome, and she and Hodges bring Jerome up to speed on what has been going on.  Holly conducts some research, and finds out that there has been some concern over the fishing game on the Zappit, which seems to have a hypnotic effect on some people.

Hodges then receives a call from Huntley, informing him of the murder of Dr. Babineau’s wife.  Huntley also tells Hodges that Brooks has confessed to the murder, and appears to be under the influence of someone or something.  Huntley confirms that the pills found in Brady’s mouth were not ones that he was prescribed, and that there are questions as to how he was able to obtain them.

While inspecting the Zappit, Jerome falls under a trance, and tells Holly and Hodges that he is viewing his own funeral, which is beautiful.

We learn that Brady is using his newfound abilities, along with the program created by Freddi, in order to induce mass suicide.  He tries to invade the mind of a young woman named Ellen, but she is unsuccessful in her suicide attempt, which frustrates Brady.

Holly is able to bring Jerome out of his trance state.  Hodges deduces that Brady is behind it somehow, and that he distributed the devices to the young girls who attended the concert as a form of revenge.  Holly also discovers that there is a new program on the devices that has just become active, and it appears to be a program that encourages people to commit suicide.  Hodges then attempts to trace the source of the program, so that it can be destroyed.

Brady reminisces about how he came to control Dr. Babineau, by blackmailing him (after he had taken over Brooks’ consciousness) in regards to the experimental drugs that were being given to Brady.  Brady uses Dr. Babineau’s body, along with his money, to carry out his plan to induce mass suicide.

Freddi attempts to crash Brady’s mass suicide program but is unsuccessful.  Brady figures out that she is still alive, and becomes furious.

Hodges, Holly and Jerome connect Freddi to Brady, as they spoke to her when they were previously investigating the Mercedes Massacre.  They track Freddi to her apartment, where she is packing her bags, in an attempt to leave town. Jerome discovers the device that is sending the signals to the Zappit devices that Brady purchased, and destroys the device.  Freddi also tells Hodges and his friends that Brady is not dead, and they learn the story of how Freddi came to be involved with Brady and his plan.

In the meantime, a young gay man commits suicide in front of his father, while he is under the influence of Brady Hartsfield.

Holly begs Hodges to shut down the suicide website that has now infected several Zappit devices.  Hodges places some phone calls to the police department, and finds out that Huntley has officially retired from his duties as a police officer.  Hodges is only able to speak to Izzy, who reluctantly agrees to help.  Hodges deduces that Dr. Babineau/Brady may have headed to Dr. Babineau’s vacation home, and makes plans to head there too.

An overweight young woman commits suicide by overdosing on pills, while she is under the influence of Brady.

Hodges and Holly head to Babineau’s cabin, leaving Jerome behind, as they do not want him to be involved in what could potentially be a messy situation.  Hodges and Holly learn of three more suicides that Brady likely had a hand in.

Holly and Hodges arrive on the property and are almost immediately accosted by Brady.  Brady forces Hodges to play the fishing game on the Zappit, telling him that if he scores a certain number of points, he will allow Holly to live.  As Hodges plays the game, he feels Brady invading his mind.

Hodges fights Brady, hitting his face with a ceramic pen holder.  Brady then fires his gun, and shoots Hodges in the shoulder.  Holly regains consciousness, and begins shooting at Brady with her gun.  However, she is unable to get a clear shot, and Brady gets away from her.

However, Brady is not able to run far, as Jerome comes to the resuce in a Sno-Cat.  He tells Holly and Hodges that Barbara told him to come help them, as she thought Brady would kill them.  Jerome runs over Brady with the vehicle, but that does not kill him.  Brady begs for mercy, and Jerome shoots him.  Hodges receives a text message from his daughter wishing him a happy birthday, and passes out.

A few days later, Hodges, Holly, Huntley, Barbara and Jerome celebrate Hodges birthday at the hospital.  Huntley tells of several more suicides and suicide attempts that have occurred due to Brady’s program, but thinks that the situation will be under control soon.  Hodges has begun his cancer treatments, although the prognosis is not good.  However, his friends still have hope for him.

Eight months later, Hodges loses his battle with cancer.  A funeral is held.  Hodges’ company was left to Holly, who hires Huntley so that the detective work can continue.  Jerome and Holly decide to attend a movie, and leave an empty seat between them, so that they may remember their friend.


My Thoughts

Oh, so much to say, and so few words to say it in, unless I want the word count to be sky high in this post…the struggle is real, yo!

In the past, I have thought of the books in the Mercedes trilogy as Bachman books.

As we all know, Bachman faked his death from cancer of the pseudonym, and really works as a guy who drives a funny looking motorcycle and helps out Jax and his friends on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower.  Oh, and he likes to take macabre souvenirs…

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And I still think of these books as Bachman books, make no mistake about it.

However, End of Watch had much more of a Stephen King flavor, if you will.

For one thing, there was the supernatural element.

Typically, most of Bachman’s work does not contain anything supernatural. Books like Rage, Roadwork, The Long Walk and so forth are about human fuckery, as opposed to haunted hotels, sewer dwelling clowns, evil shop owners and the long list of other supernatural pests that haunt the King universe.  Human fuckery does play a part in most if not all of King’s work, but there is usually a supernatural backdrop.  Not so in the Bachman universe, as most of his stories can be considered “real world” stories.

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End of Watch still had a “Bachman flavor.”  In other words, we had the real world:  a murderer at large, who posed a threat to a lot of people.

However, enter the supernatural.  The murderer (Brady) now possesses supernatural powers, which make him even harder to stop.  And no, this is not King taking the easy way out, and writing what he knows.  The fact that Brady acquired PSI abilities made the story that much more interesting, and provided that much more suspense, as Hodges and everyone else needed to figure out what was going on in order to put a stop to Brady.

In other words, we have King doing what he does best:  writing a damn good story that we don’t want to put down, until we finish it.

For the record, I should stop being surprised by Sai King.  He may write about the supernatural or the fantastic, but he constantly weaves “real world” issues into his stories, even if they are horror stories.  In The Drawing of the Three, we get a discussion on mental illness, along with racism.  In Insomnia, we discuss aging and how our society treats it (not kindly, for the most part.)  In Misery, we glimpse how fiction can have a huge impact on the reader, and the writer as well.  A novel like The Gunslinger could be considered a good metaphor for addiction.  I could go on.  And on…

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End of Watch is no different.  I was pleasantly surprised at the glimpse I got into Barbara Robinson’s life.  Barbara may have looked like she had everything under control, and had everything a person (or a teenage girl, at any rate.)  But appearances are deceiving, and Barbara is no different.  I understand the pain of not having a peer group quite well, as I don’t find too many other nerds I can relate to (although the internet is wonderful.)  Now, this is not the same a Barbara’s pain, as she is the only African American in her school.  But my heart broke for her when she described how she was treated when she went out on a date with a white boy, and I understood the feeling of disconnect quite well.  Often, we don’t really know what a person may be going through at any one moment, and that someone can appear outwardly happy, but that person is really experiencing a great deal of pain inside.  And this is probably the case more often than not.

King’s description of Barbara Robinson and her inner battles was probably not “necessary” to the story, but it sure did add a great deal of depth to the story.  And that is why King is The Master.

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And we have the character of Holly, who has turned out to be one of King’s most fascinating characters, in this little old blogger’s humble opinion.

With Holly, King has created a strong female character.  And one who we can relate too, as Holly is not perfect.  I would guess that Holly is somewhere on the autism spectrum, given her quirks.  Holly has also suffered her share mental health issues, as she candidly talks about her suicide attempts.

I love how Holly, over the three books, has broken free from her prison.  In Mr. Mercedes, she is almost a minor character, at least at first.  However, she becomes a major player in the chase for Brady, and saves the day at the end, by hitting him on the end.  This allows Holly to stand up to her non-supportive family, and start living life on her terms.

In Finders Keepers, Holly continues to be an integral part of Hodge’s team and life.  She uses her smarts and computer skills to help track down the bad guys, and also keeps Hodges at least somewhat grounded, as she looks after him, in almost the same way that spouse would.

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And in End of Watch, Holly continues to shine.  She talks to Barbara after her suicide attempt, and is the only able to get Barbara to open up (this really was one of the most beautiful moments in the book.)  She fights Brady again.  And she will be responsible for the continuation of Hodges’ legacy, as she the business has been left in her (more than) capable hands after his death.

Will Holly continue to be a presence in the Stephen King universe?  Hopefully, us Constant Readers will be so lucky as to catch another glimpse of her.  But only time will tell.

Then, there is the ending, along with the build-up to said ending.

So let’s talk about that.

Now, when I first heard the title of the final novel in the Mercedes trilogy (which I had to look up the meaning of…gotta love Google!), I cautioned myself not to take anything too literally.

“End of watch” is police-speak for the death of an officer, but this is Stephen King.  He is always full of surprises, right?  The title could mean anything, so don’t read too much into it, right?

Well, sometimes we need to take things literally.  The title to the final book in this trilogy is meant to be taken literally: it is the end of watch for our beloved Bill Hodges.

I was somewhat reminded of this season of Arrow, in fact.  At the beginning of the season, Damian Darhk tells Lance that he will kill his daughter if Lance does not comply.

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And the show teased a funeral of a major character, from the first episode of the season.

But I told myself not to take things too literally.  After all, anything could happen, right?

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Well, it turned out that Darhk’s threat could in fact be taken at face value.  Laurel Lance, aka the Black Canary, was killed, and Damian Darhk was in fact responsible for her death.  In other words, he carried through on his threat.

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And Stephen King also carried through on his threat, with the death of Hodges.  Seriously, the man likes to kill off main characters.  Maybe the tears of his readers provide seasoning for his food?  Well, I guess that’s one way of making sure that chicken turns out right…kill off a major character, and use the tears from your readers as seasoning.  Works every time!

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The second I found out that Hodges had pancreatic cancer (and you know you had to read up until that point to find out what was the matter with him, because, like Holly, you didn’t buy the whole ulcer theory), it felt like I found out that a friend or family member had terminal cancer.

Because that is what Stephen King characters do:  they become friends, or maybe even family.  And finding out that your friend or family member has terminal cancer is hard.  In fact, my heart felt heavy the day I finished reading that part of the book.  And I thought to myself that maybe the title can be taken literally, even though I still held on to a thin thread of hope that somehow Hodges would conquer his cancer.

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Finding out that Hodges had cancer also made the story that much more tense and suspenseful.  I knew that Hodges was ill, but I still wanted him to have the satisfaction of defeating Brady.  Ka is a wheel, as some other King character stated.  It started out with Brady, and it ended with Brady.  And if anyone deserved some closure, it would be Hodges.

I also feared that Hodges would die in his attempt to take down Brady.  And that ending would not have worked for, as that would have meant that Brady would have still won, even if Brady himself died.

But my man did not let me down.  Even while in the grip of terminal cancer, Hodges (and his friends) still managed to kick some major ass.  So Hodges won, and Brady lost.

The last chapter in the book made my eyes just a little bit leaky (seriously, what is wrong with my plumbing these days?)

I had hope that Hodges could beat cancer as well, but deep down, I knew that hope was futile.  But still, there was that tiny glimmer.

So I was saddened at the end, although not too surprised.  Hodges passed on to the clearing at the end of the path.

Holly and Jerome did something beautiful to remember their friend, by placing a popcorn box in an empty seat at the movie theater.

In other words, they saved him a seat.  And that’s what you always do for your friends, as they will always be there, right by your side.  In life and death.

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So this concludes The Mercedes trilogy.  To paraphrase a certain famous King character, ka is a wheel that comes back to where it started.  And that was the case for William Kermit Hodges.  He came back to where he started.  And he ended it in grand fashion.  A true gunslinger, right to the end.

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RIP, Hodges.  You will live in my memory forever.

That’s the great thing about Stephen King characters.  Somewhere out there, there is a Constant Reader discovering his characters for the first time.  And since they are always being discovered, they can never die.

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Join me next week as I review and dissect the underrated gem otherwise known as The Dark Half.

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

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Connections

Just for fun, here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in End of Watch:

-Brady’s hospital room is room 217.  Room 217 is a room that has significance in the novel The Shining.

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-Brady awakens from his coma with PSI abilities.  This is similar to what happens to Johnny Smith in the book The Dead Zone.

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-There is a character named Brooks in the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which is a part of the collection Different Seasons.

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-Brady’s abilities are similar to the abilities of several other characters, including Carrie White, from the novel Carrie.

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-A pink Zappit device is mentioned.  In the short story UR (part of the collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams), there is a pink Kindle device that is able to access stories and books from alternate realities, along with newspaper articles from the future.

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-The song Don’t Fear the Reaper, by Blue Oyster Cult, is mentioned.  This song is also mentioned in the book The Stand.

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Top 10 Women in Stephen King Books

I am a nerd (well, duh).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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There was also Dr. Crusher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, as always:

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10.  Jo Noonan (Bag of Bones)

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

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

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

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

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

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


9.  Abra Stone (Dr. Sleep)

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

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

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

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

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


8)  Margaret White (Carrie)

No story is complete without a good bad guy.

Or bad gal, as the case may be.

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret White

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


7.  Dolores Claiborne (Dolores Claiborne)

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

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

Dolores C 2

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

Dolores C

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

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


6)  Sadie Dunhill (11/22/63)

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

11-22-63 30

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

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

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

card-1963

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


5.  Susan Delgado (Wizard and Glass)

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

Roland and Susan

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

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

cuthbert and alain

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


4) Susannah Dean (The Dark Tower series)

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

Roland and horn 1

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

Tet 1

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

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

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

Susannah 1

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


3)  Lisey Landon (Lisey’s Story)

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

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

lisey_1

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

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

night booya moon

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

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


2)  Rose McLendon (Rose Madder)

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

Rose Madder 1

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

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

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

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

Rose Madder 2

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


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

drum-roll-please

Allow me the pleasure of introducing…

Beverly Marsh (It)

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

Beverly 1

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

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

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

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

Beverly 3

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

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

Pennywise 14

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

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

Beverly 2

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


So there you have it.

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

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

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

RoaldDahl

The Terrible, Awful, No Good, Very Bad Day: My Review of Song of Susannah

Bad days…

Yep, we have all had them.  I have had my share, despite my loving husband and the rest of my four-legged family  (although reading and writing about Stephen King always makes me feel better!)

Like I said, we all have them…even Batman!

joker and harley

And if Batman can have a bad day every now and then, our favorite ka-tet can also have a bad day too…like I said, no one is immune to bad days…no one!

Ka_tet_by_Cordania

And boy, did our ka-tet have a doozy of a day!  Roland and company were literally all over the place, and had to deal with quite a few pests, which included not only your run of the mill goons sent by the gangster who should already be dead because he was killed in the second book of the series, but also a crazy elemental who has a maternal instinct so strong that she is capable of murder or worse…

Nope, just does not sound like a good day for our heroes.  Not in the slightest.  But luckily, they are gunslingers!  And like Batman, gunslingers always know what to do, right?

Well, maybe.  Unlike Batman, our heroes don’t have cool toys to help them through a bad day.  But like Batman, they are smart and resourceful, so they may just pull through even the worst of days…

Well, let’s find out!  Here is my review of The Song of Susannah!

Mia 1


 

Synopsis

The Song of Susannah picks of where The Wolves of the Calla left off:  Susannah has gone missing, and the rest of the tet remains in Calla Bryn Sturgis.  Eddie is frantic, and wants to try to rescue his wife before it is too late.  Father Callahan is in shock, as he has found out that he is actually a character in a book called ‘Salem’s Lot, and may actually be the creation of a writer named Stephen King.

salem's lot

Roland and his friends request the assistance of the Manni, Calla Bryn Sturgis’ equivalent of mystics or holy men, in order to travel out of Mid-World to save Susannah, and to also help Calvin Tower, who is being harassed by gangsters to sell the vacant lot in New York City which contains a rose that is “the real world” equivalent of The Dark Tower.  Eddie and Roland are transported to 1977 Maine.  Father Callahan and Jake are also transported to New York, but arrive in the year 1999.  Oy was originally supposed to remain behind in Calla Bryn Sturgis, but someone (or something) else has other ideas, and Oy is transported with Jake and Father Callahan.

Rose

The story then switches over to the perspective of Susannah, who is now at least partially controlled by the being known as Mia.  Susannah and Mia has traveled to New York City, and it is the year of 1999.  Both women are bewildered, but Susannah uses a small scrimshaw turtle in her possession that hypnotizes people to get money from a man, who also gets her a hotel room.  Susannah finds out that Mia may have given away the location of Eddie and Roland to agents of the Crimson King, and becomes angry with Mia.  Susannah also discovers that she still has some control of her mind and body, and receives a message from Eddie to stall Mia from giving birth.  Susannah is able to do this using some visualization techniques, but knows this is only a temporary solution.

Susannah 1

Susannah also demands answers from Mia in regards to the baby that they are carrying.  Mia and Susannah travel to a construct created by Mia’s mind, and Mia explains that she made a deal with a man known as Walter.  Mia surrendered her own demonic immortality in exchange for the ability to bear a child.  However, Mia was unable to naturally conceive a child, as demons are sterile.  When Susannah was raped in the speaking ring while Jake crossed over from his world in Mid-World, she was actually impregnated, as this particular demon had also had intercourse with Roland in its female form (demon elementals are actually hermaphrodites) and had preserved Roland’s semen.  Walter then employed advanced technology to take the fetus from Susannah’s womb and had also mixed the semen of the Crimson King with Roland’s, and was then able to transfer the baby to Mia’s body, in much the same way someone would fax a document to another person.  This explained why Susannah experienced some symptoms of pregnancy while still menstruating.  Susannah is angered, but promises Mia she will still help her have the baby, which will not be human and may try to kill its mother(s).

In the meantime, Roland and Eddie are transported to 1977 Maine and almost immediately are forced into a gun battle at a general store with Enrico Balazar’s gangsters, who are also working for the Crimson King.  Two of the customers are shot, but Roland and Eddie are able to escape with the help of a crafty man named John Cullum.  Roland and Eddie are able to locate Calvin Tower, and realize that Tower has not kept his whereabouts secret.

Balazar 1

Eddie becomes angered by the actions of Calvin Tower, and confronts the man in his home as Roland and Aaron Deepenau watch.  Roland and Eddie then convince Tower that he must sell them the lot that houses for the road for $1, so that the rose may be protected from the Sombra Corporation and North Central Positronics, both of which are companies created specifically for the purpose of aiding the Crimson King in his quest to destroy the Tower.  Roland and Eddie inform Calvin that he is selling his lot to the Tet Corporation, which consists of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy.  Tower is resistant at first, but is eventually persuaded by Roland and Eddie to sell the lot.  It is revealed that one of Roland’s ancestors had a connection to Tower’s ancestors, and that Calvin’s family has been sworn to protect the Rose and the Tower.  Eddie also gives Tower some advice on future investments.  Eddie then inquires about a writer named Stephen King, and John Cullum confirms that he resides in the area.  Eddie convinces Roland that they must visit the writer, and Roland reluctantly agrees.

stephen-king-cover-ftr

Roland and Eddie then find the house of Stephen King with very little trouble.  Both men feel drawn to the place, and realize that they have encountered something special.  King faints upon meeting Roland, but does not recognize Eddie (as King has created Eddie yet).  Eddie and Roland learn that King is a conduit and his purpose is to tell their story.  Eddie and Roland also realize that King is in danger, and has been in the sights of the Crimson King for many years.  Eddie worries that King’s vices (mainly his drinking) may result in his demise.  King undergoes hypnosis under Roland, and Roland reminds him of his purpose in life:  to tell the story of the Tower. Roland and Eddie then leave King’s residence, hoping that King will live to tell their tale. King then awakens, and has forgotten about the visit.  King also becomes inspired to start the second book in the series:  The Drawing of the Three.

3 doors

Meanwhile, back in 1999 New York City, Susannah continues to attempt to delay Mia’s labor but this becomes increasingly difficult.  Susannah and Mia travel to a restaurant called The Dixie Pig, which is really a gathering spot for the Low Men, and also provides a portal back to Mid-World.  Susannah leaves behind a small, magical scrimshaw turtle figurine, in the hopes that the object will assist her friends in finding her later on.  Susannah and Mia are then transported to Fedic, a town located in Thunderclap, and Mia’s labor begins.

Dixie pig 1

Jake, Father Callahan and Oy have also been transported to 1999 New York City.  Jake discovers the scrimshaw turtle, which gives him that Susannah may still be alive. Jake and Father Callahan also track down Black 13, but nearly succumb to its sinister intentions.  However, Father Callahan is able to put the evil object “back to sleep.” Susannah has also left a telepathic message with a preacher, and Jake, Oy and Father Callahan are able to track Susannah and Mia to the Dixie Pig.  Jake and Father Callahan enter the restaurant with their weapons drawn and ready to kill.  Neither has any hope of surviving the encounter.

Jake and Oy 3

The book ends with the diary entries of Stephen King.  The diary spans from 1977 to 1999, and details King’s struggles with addiction, his writing and his many near-death experiences.  However, the diary is concluded with an article from a newspaper that states King was killed on June 19th, 1999, after he was struck by a mini van while taking an afternoon walk.

Black_13


 

 

My Thoughts

Whew, Song of Susannah

Not that “whew” is a bad thing, but it is the first thing that comes to mind when this book is mentioned.

Song of Susannah does have a different tone than any of the other books.  One of its biggest criticisms is that it feels “rushed”, as if the master himself needed to get this one out of the way to go on to bigger and better things…

And I get this criticism, I really do.  Song of Susannah is short, but it is almost like an over-packed suitcase that someone put too much in because he/she didn’t want to pay the airlines those pesky extra fees (really, I would know nothing about this).

But after I finished my read this go-around, I got to thinking (*insert danger right here, I know*).  And one of my thoughts was:  Is the rushed feeling something that King did on purpose?  Did he want us to feel rushed, when we read it, perhaps to set the mood for the last book in the series?  Did he want to create a sense of urgency, because things became urgent for our favorite ka-tet?  In other words, did he want to convey that “shit just got real?”

And the more time I spend thinking about it in this way, the more I think that I may be right.  The first three books could be almost meandering at times.  Sure, there was urgency in them (Eddie heroine addiction, saving Roland from Detta and Jake’s “birth” in Mid-World all come to mind), but the first three more have the feel of making love, where your lover takes his/her time, getting to know every inch of your body and is eager to find out what makes you tick, and just covers you with deep, slow kisses…

DT door 1

And if the first three are the literary equivalent of making love, Song of Susannah is the literary equivalent of a quickie.  Song of Susannah is urgent, and does not take the time to get to know you.  It will still kiss you, but the kisses are greedy and even a little rough at times.  Song of Susannah shoves you against the wall, grasping you with its rough hands, and will do its business with you, not caring that your clothes are not fully removed, or even that you are in the kitchen instead of the bedroom.  And this is perfectly fine, as you are eager to move forward, and the sense of urgency has been growing…

And there is nothing wrong with a quickie, literary or otherwise.  In fact, a quickie can have its charms, and Song of Susannah has many of those.

Susannah 1

One of the charms of Song of Susannah is the title character herself, Susannah Dean.  Previously, Susannah’s character had not been emphasized as much, with Roland, Eddie and Jake receiving most of the attention.  However, this changes in Song of Susannah, and Susannah’s thoughts and feelings are now front and center.  In particular, we get to see Susannah’s interaction with Mia, who has possessed her body and will stop at nothing to deliver her offspring, although there is the risk that the offspring may kill both of its “mothers”, along with its father.  The origin story that Mia provides to Susannah is fascinating, along with the explanation of how her offspring ties to Roland.  Susannah is still loyal to her ka-tet and desperately wishes to be reunited with them, especially her husband, Eddie, but also feels a pull of sympathy towards Mia, who she knows has bought the lies, hook, line and sinker,told by the Crimson King and his henchmen.  Through the eyes of Susannah, Mia becomes a somewhat sympathetic character, even though she is still not on the side of the “white” (Roland and company) and is one of “the bad guys.”

Castle Discordia

Even though the emphasis on Song of Susannah is on Susannah herself, a few other characters shine through.  One of these characters is Eddie Dean.  Previously, Eddie was a heroine addict.  Eddie became “clean” after his forced entrance into Mid-World, despite the fact that he fought Roland tooth and nail, and even tried to kill Roland, in an attempt to get back into “the real world.”  But Eddie then falls in love with Susannah, and stays with Roland in Mid-World to help Roland further his quest.  In Song of Susannah, Eddie’s love, Susannah, is taken away from him.  And then Eddie is taken away from Mid-World, and thrust back into the “real world,” giving him a chance to pick up his old habits again.  However, even though Eddie has had his rock taken away from (Susannah), he does not succumb to the temptation, and even behaves admirably, fighting in another gun battle with Roland and then helping to persuade Calvin to sell the vacant lot so that the rose (and therefore the Tower itself) can be protected.  Eddie easily could have lapsed back into his old ways, but behaves admirably instead.  In other words, he (again) proves himself to be a true gunslinger.

Eddie 1

Of course, no discussion on Song of Susannah would be complete without addressing the elephant in the room…

elephant in the room 1

Yes, its time to get meta.  Meta-fiction, that is.

Stephen King included himself as a character in the Dark Tower series.  This decision is controversial, to say the least.  Often, the reaction to this decision is something like this:

lion licking

The reaction is also varied:  some love it, some hate it.  And there is also the persistent rumor that one day King will rewrite the series, and not include himself as a character in it.

Stephen King

However, King meeting his own characters in Song of Susannah was one of my favorite parts of the book.

There, I said it.  And let me repeat myself:  KING MEETING HIS OWN CHARACTERS IN SONG OF SUSANNAH WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITE PARTS OF THE BOOK.

See, I even used all caps, in case you didn’t hear me!

Oftentimes, as a artist, your creations can feel as if they are part of you.  And they can become real.  I dabble in painting, drawing and so forth, and when I am really working on a painting or drawing, I feel as if I am part of that piece of art.  In other words, part of me lives in my artwork, and continues to live in that artwork, even when it is “finished.”  A little piece of me goes into everything that I create.  In fact, you might even say that my artwork is “alive”, in some sense.

So imagine how Ser King must have felt.  King has been working on this series from the very beginning, and it has never been very far from him.  And like his characters in the book, he must have felt a sense of urgency to finish writing the series, due to some interesting letters from fans, and his own internal pressure.

Roland 12

And as the pressure mounted, the world of Roland and his friends likely became more vivid to King.  Maybe he began to dream about them.  Or perhaps he heard their voices, calling out to him to finally finish the tale.  Or maybe they paid him a visit…

Yes, maybe the characters paid him a visit.  Like I said, I feel that my artwork lives, in some way.  And I am sure that King feels the same way:  his artwork also lives.  And sometimes, art imitates life.  Or does life imitate art?  Either way, by including himself as a character, I believe that King was trying to drive home a point:  artists really do live in their own little world.  And that world can sometimes feel more “real” that the so-called “real world.”  And an artist’s creations are never far from him/her, and can cry out to the artist, begging to be “finished.”

Dark Tower 3


 

So that’s it for Song of Susannah.  Join me and our heroes on the last leg of this fantastic journey, as we review and dissect the final book:  The Dark Tower.  Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!

batman and robin


 

Connections

Just for fun, here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in Song of Susannah.

-Eddie tells Roland that he sees a “death bag”, or black aura, surrounding Stephen King.  This brings to mind the black auras seen by Ralph Roberts in Insomnia, when he encountered people (or animals) who were near death.

atropos

 

-Roland thinks of Susannah’s proclivity to be able to “house” another personality, given the fact that Detta was another personality of Susannah’s for so long, and now Mia has also taken up residence in Susannah’s mind.  Another character in the King universe with this proclivity was Thad Beamount in The Dark Half.  Tad’s mind housed George Stark, who was eventually given life and was also able to cause trouble, in much the same manner as Mia.

Dark half 1

-When Roland speaks Calvin Tower in regards to his and Tower’s ancestors, the subject of dragons rears its head.  Roland states that one of his ancestors wanted to kill a certain dragon, but that dragon had already been killed.  This may be in reference to Niner, the dragon who was slain by King Roland in the book The Eyes of the Dragon.   Randall Flagg also made an appearance in this book, so this is another confirmation that Roland’s world and the world in The Eyes of the Dragon are likely the same world.

Eyes of the Dragon 1

-The Rose is said to have healing powers, and seems to be able to cure almost any ailment.  The Rose seems to be similar to the Talisman in the book of the same name.  In the book The Talisman, once Jack Sawyer found The Talisman, he was able to cure his mother and her Territories Twinner of the cancer that was killing both women.  It is possible that the Talisman may be another world’s manifestation of the Rose.  In other words, the two may be Twinners.

Talisman 2

 

-Again, Breakers are mentioned in Song of Susannah.  Breakers also play a role in a few other books and short stories, including Hearts in AtlantisEverything’s Eventual and Black House. Characters with PSI abilities are rampant in the King universe, and include Carrie White, Abra Stone, Dinky Earnshaw, Ted Brautigan and Danny Torrence, among others.

Dinky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting the Band Back Together: My Review of Finders Keepers

Well, looky here folks…

Christmas came over six months early this year!

Christmasland 1

Um no, my birthday is in June and it is an awesome day but that’s not what I’m talking about!

Nope, the master has graced us with a new book!  And a couple weeks before my birthday…how considerate of him!

Stephen King

And Finders Keepers was a great gift.  Not that anything was wrong with Mr. Mercedes, but oh man, Finders Keepers!  If Finders Keepers is what I got for my upcoming (eek) 37th birthday, then I can’t imagine what my present (The Suicide Prince) for my 38th birthday will be like…already looking forward to next year’s birthday release of the third book in this series.  Thanks Uncle Stevie, you know me too well!

i-want-my-cake-and-now-ive-got-it

But seriously, Finders Keepers was a fantastic read, and really does have me excited for the release of the third and final book.

FK 3

With all that being said, here is my review of Finders Keepers

And as always…

Spoiler alert

 

 

 

 


 

Synopsis

Finders Keepers begins with a murder in 1978.  The reader is introduced to Morris Bellamy, who is obviously troubled.  Morris and his friends break into the home of John Rothstein, who is a famous writer admired by Morris.  Morris and his friends steal cash from Rothstein, and Morris also takes some notebooks belonging to Rothstein that contain letters, musings and even a draft to a novel.  Morris becomes upset at Rothstein for what he believes is the wrong treatment of a characters in Rothstein’s novels, and murders him.  Morris and his friends escape, but Morris then murders his friends, and hides the cash and notebooks in the woods near his house.  Morris is later imprisoned on unrelated charges, and spends over 30 years in prison.

The novel then shifts shifts to 2009, and tells the story of Tom Saubers and his family.  Tom is unemployed and desperately seeking employment, so he attends a job fair in his city.  Tom becomes one of the victims of the Mercedes Massacre when he is injured by a Mercedes that is deliberately driven into the crowd waiting in line at the job fair.  The driver turns out to be Brady Hartsfield, who is later apprehended when he tries to place a bomb at a concert.  Tom and his family were suffering before the Mercedes Massacre, but their situation becomes even worse, as Tom is unable to work.  The family is forced to move and fears losing their home.  The oldest child, Peter, becomes worried about his parents and fears their financial situation will cause them to divorce.  Peter takes a walk in the woods near his house one day, and finds the cash and notebooks buried by Morris Bellamy.  Peter finds a way to make it appear that the cash is being anonymously mailed to his family, and the family receives several hundred dollars in cash per month for the next four years.  Pete considers selling the notebooks of John Rothstein, as his family is still needy, and speaks to an owner of a used bookstore, Andrew Halliday.  Andrew also happens to be a former friend of Morris Bellamy.  Andrew threatens Peter and attempts to blackmail Peter into handing over the manuscripts, but Peter stands firm in his insistence that Andrew share in any proceeds he receives for the notebooks.  Peter then hides the notebooks at a recreation center.

In the meantime, Morris is paroled from prison, and begins to wonder about the money and the notebooks that he buried so many years ago.

The story then switches over to the perspective of Bill Hodges, the primary character in Mr. Mercedes.  Hodges has now opened his own detective firm called Finders Keepers, and specializes in apprehending fugitives, especially ones that have defrauded wealthy people.  He is assisted by Holly Gibbey, another character in Mr. Mercedes, who also happened to be the cousin of Janey, the woman who Hodges had a brief relationship with, before she was killed by a car bomb that was meant for Hodges.  Jerome Robinson, the third member of the trio, stays in touch with Hodges, but is attending Harvard and unable to assist Hodges with most of his cases.  Hodges has also made several positive changes in his life, including adapting to a healthier diet and exercise program.  However, he still feels remorse over the death of Janey and feels responsible for it.  He also remains close to Jerome’s family, and is considered an honorary member of that family.  Hodges visits Brady Hartsfield, the Mercedes killer, in the hospital, every so often.  Hartsfield is supposedly in a vegetative state, but Hodges sometimes doubts that Hartsfield is actually in that particular state.

Jerome’s younger sister Barbara pays a visit to Hodges in his office.  Barbara brings Tina Saubers, the younger sister of Peter, with her, because she has heard a troubling tale from Tina.  Tina has deduced that Peter is responsible for the “mystery money” and worries that her brother may have committed a robbery or other illegal act to obtain it.  Tina tells the story to Hodges and to Holly, and also mentions that Peter may be in possession of some old notebooks.  Hodges agrees he will speak to Peter when the next school day ends.  Barbara also tells the tale to Jerome, who is back in town for the weekend, and Hodges and Jerome make a plan to follow Peter and confront him.  Holly also spends time thinking about the new case, and believes that the notebooks may actually be an important detail.

Morris Bellamy tracks down his old friend Andrew, and confronts him at his bookstore.  He threatens Andrew into giving up the name of the now owner of the stolen notebooks, and then beats Andrew to death in his own store.

Hodges confronts Peter outside of his high school, and tries to obtain information regarding the “mystery money.”  However, Hodges is not successful in obtaining any information from Peter, and has Jerome tail him.

Peter enters the bookstore, and discovers the body of Andrew Halliday.  He also encounters Morris Bellamy and is nearly shot by him, but manages to escape.  Peter then contacts Hodges and arranges to meet him again, but takes a detour to his house, as he receives a call from Bellamy indicating that his family is in danger.  Peter rushes home to find his mother shot in the head by Bellamy, and his younger sister kidnapped.

Peter tracks down Bellamy at the original hiding spot for the notebooks.  Bellamy uses Peter’s younger sister as bait, and Peter leads Bellamy to the recreation center where the notebooks are hidden.  Peter and Bellamy scuffle over the notebooks, and Peter douses them with gasoline to burn them.  Hodges and his friends track down Peter and Tina, and are able to rescue them from the now burning recreation center.  Morris is left in the recreation center, and is burned alive.  The notebooks are also destroyed by the fire.

The story then moves ahead a few months.  Peter’s mother has recovered from her bullet wound and is doing well.  Tina has also recovered from her ordeal and has resumed a normal life.  Peter has been offered a job by a major newspaper.  The newspaper wants him to write summaries of the writings of John Rothstein, and will pay him $15,000 for the job.  Jerome will be returning to college for his senior year.  Holly has gained even more confidence and will take a trip to visit her mother on her own.  Everyone is doing well, except for Hodges.  Jerome and Holly worry that his fixation on Brady Hartsfield has become unhealthy.

Hodges makes another visit to the hospital to check on Hartsfield, after he receives news that a nurse has committed suicide under suspicious circumstances.  Hodges also learns that some employees at the hospital believe that Brady has the power to move objects with his mind, as he has heard stories of odd things that seem to occur around Brady.  Hodges pays another visit to Brady but nothing seems to have changed.  However, once Hodges leaves Brady’s room, a picture falls over, confirming that Brady is not what he seems to be.

 

 


 

My thoughts

So let me start off by saying this:  I liked Mr. Mercedes.  I really did.  I have a lot of like for Mr. Mercedes, in fact…

mr. mercedes 1

And I would also like to set the record straight on one other matter;  I loved Finders Keepers!  Much love for Finders Keepers!

For the record, this does not diminish my feelings for Mr. Mercedes in any way.  I just happen to think that Finders Keepers is the stronger of the two books.  And if the trend continues with the third book in the series, I may have to write another statement to reassure the master that my feelings for the other two books are still valid…

Last year, when I read Mr. Mercedes, I immediately thought of Bachman

Cleaner 3

You know, Bachman?  That guy who died of cancer of the pseudonym.  Although we all know he is not really dead, he is actually still alive on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower, disposing of dead bodies as we speak and requesting that 80’s music be played while he is working…

Roland 2

In all seriousness, Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers have the feel of a Richard Bachman book.  The story line is of the “real world” and the supernatural aspect is practically non-existent (although if the ending of Finders Keepers indicates what I think it indicates, that may change in the third book).

One of Bachman’s, er King’s, strengths as a writer is his ability to incorporate reality into his works, which makes them that much more believable.  This is particularly evident in books like The Shining, in which themes such as financial problems, domestic abuse, alcoholism and divorce were prevalent.

redrum

Like The Shining, Finders Keepers was also rife with “real world” themes.  And this Constant Reader could emphasize with the struggles of Peter and his family.  I have lost my job.  My husband has also lost his job.  We came close to losing our house.  We have had to rely on the kindness of friends and family to get by.  Although our situation has much improved, I have not forgotten our struggles, and I never will.  And if I had found a box full of money while out walking in my neighborhood (hey, work with me and suspend disbelief for just a minute), I would have used it to help my family, just like Peter.  And I would have felt no guilt.  The money may have had “blood” on it, but anyone who uses that kind of money to help his/her family is not a bad person in the slightest.  I admired Peter in his conviction to help his family and keep it together.  Because without family, what is there?

As I have mentioned before, Uncle Stevie has quite the sense of humor.  And it will show up where it is least expected.  You know, like in a book about a crazy obsessed fan who murders his favorite writer because he didn’t like the ending to the latest book?

Yes, Finders Keepers had some funny moments.  Tina describes the arguments between her parents as “arkie barkies” (I am stealing that one, thanks Uncle Stevie!)  “Shit don’t mean shit” was a popular phrase uttered throughout the book (imagine if we Constant Readers could get that one trending on social media!)  And perhaps my favorite no my mind is not in the gutter   was the description of the act of copulation… in other words, a guy putting his “John Hopkins” into a woman’s “Sarah Lawrence”…good one there, Sai King!

Finders Keepers also incorporated an element of creepiness that was not present in Mr. Mercedes.  Mr. Mercedes was a bit unsettling, and suspenseful, but the story took place before the obsession…

Raylan and Boyd 1

Well, maybe not quite like these two guys!

Maybe more like a certain friendly neighborhood gunslinger who spends his time chasing a man dressed in dark colors across a region that sees little rain?

Roland 2

Yes, Brady Hartsfield is the creepy element in this book.  And Hodges concern obsession (calling a spade a spade) is also unsettling.  And the ending…whew!  That ending left frightened for Hodges and anyone even remotely associated with Hodges (Hodges third cousin once removed better watch his/her back…you don’t mess with Brady Hartsfield!)  I have a feeling that the third book in this series will deliver, and we are in for a bang (no pressure, Sai King.  No pressure at all)!  Brady Hartsfield was a bad enough guy before he slipped into a vegetative state (although the jury is still out on that), but Brady with PSI powers?  Not good at all!

Writers and writing are a big theme in King’s works.  The Dark Half talks about the effect of fiction on the writer.  Misery discusses the effect of fiction on the reader.  The Dark Tower series even takes a stab at this theme, as Stephen King is a character in his own books (that’s meta-fiction, for the uninitiated).

Finders Keepers continues on with these themes.  Morris Bellamy becomes obsessed with John Rothstein, and that ultimately becomes his own un-doing.  Peter also develops an obsession, and narrowly escapes being killed by that obsession.  Obsession and addiction are also huge themes in King’s work (The Dark Tower series could be said to be a metaphor for the journey of an addict), and King successfully weaves these themes into Finders Keepers, adding a level of depth and richness, which makes a what appears on the surface to be a simple detective novel, into something that is far beyond a simple detective novel.


 

Christmas in June?  Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!  In other words, Finders Keepers works very well when one wants to celebrate Christmas in June.  Or maybe Thanksgiving in June.  And I am sure some culture has celebrated New Year’s Day in June.  Or heck, get Finders Keepers if you want to give a Flag Day present to yourself!

Who am I kidding?  New Stephen King books do not need a holiday behind them!  So no matter what you celebrate, treat yourself and read Finders Keepers, and take a holiday into the awesomeness known as the Stephen King universe!

 

Christmas 1

 


Connections

Again, here we go with the connections.  There are enough of them in Finders Keepers to remind you that you are, in fact, reading a Stephen King novel.  So here is what I found:

-Burt Hodges apprehends a criminal who has been accused of stealing a car (among other crimes).  This vehicle just happens to be a Rolls Royce Wraith.  The Rolls Royce Wraith also happens to be the vehicle owned by Charlie Manx, the main villain in the book NOS4A2 by Joe Hill.  This connection is worth noting because there are tie-ins in Joe Hill’s work to King’s work, especially in NOS4A2.  Charlie Manx is also mentioned in passing by Dick Halloran in the book Dr. Sleep, during a flashback experienced by Danny Torrance.

Charlie Manx 1

-Brady Hartsfield is housed in Room 217 in the hospital.  217 is also the room number to a famous haunted room in the novel The Shining.

the-overlook-hotel

-Jerome’s alter ego, Tyrone Feelgood, makes a brief appearance.  Tyrone’s manner of speaking is similar to Detta Walker’s speech in The Drawing of the Three.

Susannah 1

-Andrew Halliday’s pin number consists of the digits 9118.  9+1+1+8 = 19.  As most Constant readers know, 19 is a significant number to King and his work, especially to Roland and his friends in the last 3 books of the Dark Tower series.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-Pete Saubers’ mother refers to her son as a “do-bee.”  “Do-bee” is a phrase used by Craig Toomey in the novella The Langoliers (which is a story in the collection Four Past Midnight), and also by Jack Mort in The Drawing of the Three.

Jack Mort

-Andrew Halliday was the owner of a used bookstore and had an obsession with books, especially rare books.  Another character in King’s work is the owner of a used bookstore and is obsessed with rare books:  Calvin Tower in the Dark Tower series, who first appears in The Wastelands.  It is possible that Tower and Halliday are Twinners of sorts, as both are owners of used bookstores, both are obsessed with rare books and both are even described as being overweight.

Calvin Tower 2

 

-Morris Bellamy is described as having lips that are extremely red.  In the book Black House, the villain Charles Burnside is also described as having lips that are very red.  This may be another example of people who are Twinners, or doppelgangers to each other.

gorg_and_mr_munshun

-Brady Hartsfield has been in a comatose state, but appears to have awakened with PSI powers.  This is similar to what happened to Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone, as Johnny awakened from a five year long coma with the ability to see future events.  Brady’s powers are also similar to Carrie White’s telekinetic powers in the novel Carrie, as she had the ability to move objects with her mind.

carrie-1

Time to Save Someone’s Life: My Review of Wolves of the Calla

 

Well, going back to work after a vacation can really suck.  I have been back from my vacation for a few weeks, and am finally get back into the swing of things.

So, yes, it can be rough.  Really rough sometimes.

Maybe sometimes, you feel like you are getting thrown to the wolves…

Just like our favorite ka-tet!

Ka_tet_by_Cordania

 

Yes, they had a nice vacation, even if the weather was a little rough.  And they were treated to a couple of stories by their friendly neighborhood gunslinger.

starkblast 1

But now, its back to work for them.  Although really, I don’t think gunslingers ever have much time off (kind of like people who work in the tax resolution industry).  And its a tough job they have ahead of them, as they will be responsible for saving the lives of several someones.  And will literally be thrown to the wolves…

South Park wolf

The Wolves of the Calla, that is.  And these aren’t your ordinary every day wolves…no sir!  So let’s find out what makes these wolves so special.  That’s right, read my review of The Wolves of the Calla right here!


 

Synopsis

Wolves of the Calla begins in a small village (presumably located in Roland’s world) that we learn is named Calla Bryn Sturgis.  The villagers gather in the town hall, to discuss an important matter.  We learn that the villagers are again facing the prospects of some their children being kidnapped by creatures they call “wolves.”  The children are kidnapped every generation, and a robot named Andy always brings warning.  Any child who is a twin and between the ages of three and thirteen is in danger.  Only one twin in any set of twins will be kidnapped, and will be returned what the villagers call “roont“.  This means that the children return with almost no mental facilities, and will also be cursed to grow into extremely large adults who are unable to care for themselves, and will die an early, extremely painful death.

Callabrynsturgis

Tian Jaffords, who is the father of two sets of twins, was warned by Andy of this round of kidnappings.  Tian’s sister Tia was kidnapped the last time the wolves paid the village a visit, and is now little better than an idiot.  Tian wishes to fight the wolves, but not all of the villagers agree with him, and there is much arguing during the meeting.  However, the meeting is interrupted by an elderly gentleman, who informs the villagers that gunslingers are nearby, and that they gunslingers may be able to help the village with its problem.

Callahan 1

 

We then learn that Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy are continuing on the Path of the Beam.  However, Eddie realizes that the action is about to pick up.  The group also begins to inexplicably see the number 19 nearly everywhere, and wonders about the significance, if any.

The-dark-tower-19

That night, Eddie, Jake and Oy go to-dash, or travel to another world after eating what Roland calls “muffin-balls.”  Eddie and Jake travel to the bookstore in New York City that Jake had visited in The Wastelands and observe Jake’s past self.  They also learn that the owner of the bookstore, Calvin Tower, is being threatened by the same mobsters who were responsible for the death of Henry Dean some years later.  Calvin Tower is the owner of a lot that houses the “real world’s” version of The Dark Tower:  a lone rose that grows where no rose should.  Eddie and Jake realize that keeping the rose safe is key to also keeping The Dark Tower safe, and pledge to do anything they can to protect the rose.

Calvin Tower 2

That same night, Roland and Susannah also go on a journey.  However, neither travels to another world.  Roland follows Susannah in secret, as his suspicions have been growing.  Susannah appears to be pregnant, although she is not showing the typical signs of a pregnancy.  Roland determines that another being who is called Mia has stolen Susannah’s body, and that it is Mia who is pregnant.  Roland is troubled, and knows that he needs to discuss this Eddie, as Susannah’s life could be in danger.

Mia 1

 

The following day, Roland and his friends encounter Father Callahan and some of the villagers from Calla Bryn Sturgis, along with the robot, Andy.  The villagers tell Roland of their problem, and ask for the gunslingers’ help.  Roland agrees to help them, as he, Eddie, Jake, Susannah and Oy are bound by the gunslingers’ creed.

That night, Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy all go to-dash, visiting New York City.  However, Mia has taken over Susannah’s body, giving Susannah temporary use of her legs.  The ka-tet visits the rose that is the manifestation of The Dark Tower.  Susannah chooses not to go near the rose, as Mia feels that her pregnancy will be endangered by the presence of the rose.  Roland agrees with Jake and Eddie that the rose must be protected at all costs, but is unsure of how that will be accomplished.  The tet then returns to Mid-World, and Mia exits Susannah’s body for the time being.

Rose

 

 

Roland and his friends then take up residence in Calla Bryn Sturgis, with less than a month to find a solution to the villagers’ problem with the “wolves” that have been plaguing the village for so long.  Jake makes friends with a boy slightly older than him named Benny Slightman.  Benny’s father, Ben Slightman, is a ranch hand for Wayne Olverholser, one of the wealthiest men in the Calla.   It is noted that Ben Slightman is the only person in the village who wears eyeglasses.

Roland, Jake, Susannah, Eddie and Oy then begin to speak to the villagers to gain intelligence on the “wolves”, and also to earn the trust of the villagers, so that Roland may convince the village that they have a chance to defeat the “wolves.”  There is a party held for the tet one night, and Roland impresses the people of the Calla (thus gaining their confidence) by dancing a dance called the “commala.”  This dance is hard on Roland, as he is suffering from a form of arthritis he refers to as the “dry twist”, but helps him to come across as more “human.”

Roland dance

The tet also speaks to Father Callahan, and learns of his time in a town called ‘Salem’s Lot.  They learn that Father Callahan is from the “real world”, and was born into Mid-World in much the same manner as Jake Chambers:  he died in the “real world” but actually somehow traveled into Roland’s world upon his death.  In fact, Father Callahan was transported to the same way station as Jake upon his death, and also encounters the Man in Black.  Father Callahan is also given an extremely dangerous responsibility:  he is forced into guardianship of Black 13, one of the most dangerous pieces of Maerlyn’s Rainbow.  Black Thirteen enables the user to travel between worlds, but also has the ability to drive the user insane, as it can deep into secrets in one’s mind that are best left alone.  Father Callahan requests the tet’s help in disposing of this object.

Black_13

 

Susannah’s bizarre nocturnal journeys continue.  Roland speaks to Eddie, and lets him know of the pregnancy and that  Susannah’s body is being co-opted by Mia, who is actually pregnant with a creature that is not human.  Jake also discovers Susannah’s journeys and speaks to Roland about it.  Roland and Eddie begin to fear for Susannah’s safety.  Eventually, Susannah also confesses that she too is aware of the pregnancy.  Roland chooses to simply keep an eye on Susannah, as the problems in Calla Bryn Sturgis and the problems in New York regarding the rose are simply too consuming at the moment.

In the meantime, Roland and his friends continue to also worry about protecting the rose in New York, as Roland makes plans for dealing with the “wolves.”  Eddie speaks to an old man who provides some valuable information on the wolves, as the man claims to have had a friend who killed a “wolf” many years ago.  However, we are not told of what this detail is.  Eddie also plans to use Black 13 to make a trip to 1977 New York, as he is aware time is moving forward there, and he does not have much time to help Calvin Tower.

Eddie then makes the trip to 1977 New York, via Black Thirteen.  He is able to scare away the mobsters who have been threatening Calvin Tower, but warns Tower that he must leave town quickly.  While in the bookstore owned by Tower, Eddie sees a book written by someone named Ben Slightman, and realizes that Ben Slightman of Calla Bryn Sturgis is actually a traitor.  Eddie also has Calvin Tower leave the zip code of where he will flee too on a fence near the vacant lot that houses the rose.

Balazar 1

Jake makes another nocturnal journey, as he also begins to have suspicions about Ben Slightman.  Jake sees Andy and Ben conspiring, and also realizes that Ben Slightman is a traitor, and that Slightman is the one who is revealing details on the village to the organization that sends the “wolves” to kidnap the children.  It is also revealed that there are cameras all over the village that are used to spy on the villagers.  The wolves kidnap the children who are twins because the children’s brains contain an enzyme that enhances powers of telepathy.

Jake and Oy

 

Roland then begins to formulate a plan to fight the Wolves, as the time draws near.  Father Callahan is also sent back to 1977, to assist Calvin Tower in saving some valuable books.  The night before the Wolves are scheduled to attack, Roland has the village gather the affected children into one place, so that he and the tet can attempt to keep them safe from the Wolves.  Roland also assigns roles to various villagers.  Some will help fight the Wolves, and others will help mind the children.  Roland confronts Slightman the Elder, and tells him that he knows that he is the traitor.  Slightman promises Roland that he will help fight the Wolves, but Roland is skeptical.  Eddie also confronts Andy and destroys him, as Andy is responsible for the kidnapping and torture of several generations of children.

The Wolves then attack the next morning, as scheduled.  Roland then has Jake lead the children to the rice fields, but actually has others leave behind belongings of the children, such as articles of clothing, to trick the Wolves into thinking the children are hidden in the caves.  Roland also reveals to the villagers that the Wolves are actually robots, and that they can be killed by shooting the “thinking cap” on their heads.  This enables the tet to defeat the Wolves.  However, this comes at the cost of the lives of a couple of villagers.  One is Margaret Eisenhart, the wife of Slightman the Elder’s employer.  The other is Benny Slightman, who had become a close friend of Jake Chambers.’  Benny’s death leaves his father childless, and Jake angry and shaken.

Jake 2

Susannah has gone into labor during the fight with the wolves because Mia is now ready to give birth to her “chap.”  Susannah is able to hold off the birthing process, however, and fights alongside her friends.  However, once the fight is over, Mia takes over Susannah’s body and steals Black 13 to travel to another world to complete the birthing process.  The book ends with Susannah vanishing, and her friends frantically searching for her.

 

Susannah 1


 

 

My Thoughts

So many thoughts, so little time…but I will try to summarize them here without rambling too much (ha).

First of all, Wolves of the Calla is all western.  Obviously, the theme for the entire Dark Tower series centers around westerns, but the western motif is most prevalent in Wolves of the Calla, in my opinion.

In fact, I couldn’t help thinking of this classic from my childhood.

Three-Amigos3

And I think this is not a bad comparison, given how even Eddie states that he feels like he has walked on to the set of a western movie.  Eddie also states that he feels like the whole business with the village that is troubled by the Wolves is staged, and the entire book does have that feeling.  It feels that King is setting the reader up for something major to happen, making him/her eager to rush to the next book in the series.

I also love that Wolves of the Calla further develops the character of Roland.  The Drawing of the Three, The Wastelands and Wizard and Glass also do this, but Wolves of the Calla just adds to this character development.  For example, Roland shows vulnerability when we are told he has a form of arthritis referred to as “dry twist” (my fingers hurt just typing that phrase, actually).  Again, it is reinforced that Roland has chinks in his armor, and sometimes even friendly, neighborhood gunslingers need help.

Roland 2

Speaking of help, Roland gets plenty of it from Rosalita.  This starts with Rosalita and her cat oil, which gives Roland some relief from his “dry twist.”  Roland then takes Rosalita as a lover.  While we know that these two cannot possibly continue to be a couple, and that Roland’s heart is with Susan Delgado (where it will always remain),  However, their brief courtship (if we can even call it that, since most of their time is spent in Rosalita’s bed) is still very sweet, and even sad, as we know that it will be ending all too soon, leaving Roland once again alone and even vulnerable.

Susan Delgado 6

And then there is Andy.  The robot we all love to hate…

Bender

Well, that’s the wrong robot, actually.  But somehow, I can still almost hear Andy saying “bite my shiny metal ass!” to Eddie, and getting that ass kicked even harder by Eddie…teehee.

Andy 1

Not only was Andy a great villain in this book, he suffered one of the greatest deaths I have had the pleasure of reading about in any book, let alone a Stephen King book.  And he was disposed of by my main man, Eddie Dean.  I am pretty sure Eddie’s bad ass quotient increased exponentially after he disposed of Andy.

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Wolves of the Calla is also the first book in the series to mention the number 19.  In fact, the entire book is littered with references to that particular number (which will become significant pretty shortly).  I blame this book for my obsession with that number, and I am sure it is also responsible for a lot of other obsessions.  Unless I am alone in my excessive geekiness (now that’s a thought scarier than anything King ever wrote!)

Father Donald Callahan.  Yes, the damned priest from Salem’s Lot.  So, if you spent years wondering about whatever happened to that poor priest who fled ‘Salem’s Lot after being forced to drink the blood of a vampire (not bitten, there is a big difference, which is discussed at length in Wolves of the Calla), let’s see a show of hands!

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Ok, good, I am not alone (in this thought, at least).  Who didn’t wonder about poor Donald Callahan, whose faith wavered just a teeny bit, resulting in the vampire Barlow being able to capitalize on the situation, and therefore (seemingly) be able to damn the poor priest for eternity?  At the end of ‘Salem’s Lot, Father Callahan is shown committing an ultimate act of cowardice:  fleeing the damned town just when it needs him the most, and leaving the dirty work to poor Ben Mears and Mark Petrie, who weren’t even able to completely finish the job.

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I always felt that Donald Callahan was too good for that ending.  He may have been a coward, but I liked the guy.  I identified with him.  Who hasn’t struggled with his/her faith (religion or just faith in humanity in general) after seeing the horrors humans are capable of inflicting on one another?  Callahan saw plenty of horror even before his confrontation with the vampires (his first, at any rate).  And it could not have been easy for him to continue to believe in a God who would (supposedly) allow such cruelty.  Callahan was human, and his faith wavered.  And he turned to alcohol, which is actually understandable.  However, I never thought of him as a bad man, just as a good man who felt alone and lost his way.  In other words, I thought Callahan deserved much more than that ending given to him in ‘Salem’s Lot.

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Apparently, Stephen King felt the same way.  So how do you tie up a loose end like an alcoholic priest who fled when his town needed him the most?  That’s easy, just make him a part of Roland’s tet!  And bonus points for giving him a fascinating back story!

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And King did exactly this.  And it worked.  It worked very well, in fact.  Somehow, the blending of what many consider to be the first modern vampire story and an epic fantasy series with a western motif just makes sense.  Only the genius that is Stephen King could blend two seemingly unrelated stories and have it work so well.  This merger is one of my favorite parts of the book, and it actually helped put my poor brain to rest (sort of, I’m pretty sure after the question of Donald Callahan was put to rest, my brain came up with  new questions to keep me up at night.  Something compelling, like “do penguins have knees” or some other piece of absurdity).

The fact that Donald Callahan was born into Mid-World on December 19th, which is the birthday of my awesome grandfather, is just an added bonus to a series of books that is already awesome

 

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So that’s it for Wolves of the Calla.  It seems that the tet will be in for a really long day soon.  A really long day…

In other words, tune in for my review of Song of Susannah next week…same bat time, same bat channel!

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Connections 

Yep, time for the connections to other King books!  Here are the ones I found:

-Eddie thinks of a tabloid magazine called The Inside View.  This particular magazine is mentioned in several other King works, including The Dead Zone.

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-Roland and his ka-tet encounter the spirits of dead people who are apparently unable to move on.  Roland refers to them as “the vagrant dead” or “vags.”  These entities seem to be similar to the spirits encountered by Danny Torrence during his time in the Overlook Hotel as a child in the novel The Shining.  Danny, along with Abra Stone, also encounters these entities in adulthood in the novel Dr. Sleep.  Again, this connection reinforces the inter-connected-ness between all of King’s works, no matter how far removed they seem from The Dark Tower series.

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-Tian Jaffords speaks of an “opoponax feather” during a meeting of the villagers of the Calla Bryn Sturgis.  This feather gives the one who holds the right to speak and be heard.  “Opoponax” is a word thought of by Jack Sawyer in the novel Black House, and is used to bring his attention to an important matter.  This is very similar to how the feather is used by the villagers in Wolves of the Calla:  the feather is used to bring attention to important matters.

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Wolves of the Calla features “low men“, or creatures than may appear a combination of human and animal, but are actually supernatural agents of the Crimson King.   Low men are also featured in the short story “Low Men in Yellow Coats“, a story in the collection Hearts in Atlantis.  Hearts in Atlantis also features Ted Brautigan, who is likely a Breaker.  Brautigan is also pursued by the Low Men, in much the same way as Father Callahan was pursued by the Low Men before his death and subsequent “birth” into Mid-World.

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Wolves of the Calla speaks of characters going to-dash, or traveling to another reality.  This concept is also used in several other King books, including Bag of Bones, when Mike Noon and Kira travel back in time to Fryeburg Fair.

-Father Callahan also speaks of going to-dash, and watches the funeral of Ben Mears, where Mark Petrie gives a eulogy for Ben.  Ben and Mark are two of the major characters in the book ‘Salem’s Lot.

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-Father Callahan also speaks of a “doorway” that leads to 1963.  Eddie speculates that one could try to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but Callahan advises Eddie against changing history.  This is a possible precursor to the events in the book 11/22/63, in which the main character Jake Epping does indeed attempt to change history.

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-However, the most major connection to King’s other work in Wolves of the Calla is Donald Callahan himself.  Donald Callahan was a major character in the book ‘Salem’s Lot.  This book featured a town that was overtaken by vampires, and Father Callahan was one of those who attempted to stand against the vampires.  However, his faith waivers, and he is forced to drink the blood of a vampire.  After Callahan drinks the blood of a vampire, he flees town in disgrace.  He is also granted some powers that are perhaps similar to those of someone like Ted Brautigan, who is one of the Breakers.  Wolves of the Calla gives us even more information on Father Callahan’s story and further solidifies the King universe.

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