Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
Join me and one of my fellow nerds, as we talk Christine (both book and movie), as well as some of the other happenings in the world of The Master!
If you wish to hear your favorite nerd live and in the flesh, breaking down the novel Insomnia (written by The Master, natch) and geeking out over more than a few things, click the link below, as she was a guest on The Dark Tower Radio Podcast, and got to participate in a great meeting of the minds! Long days and pleasant nights, and enjoy!
Lately, confusion seems to be rampant in our world.
As in, we are confused as to what the difference is between between the beast that we call a fact, and the lesser known distant cousin of the fact, otherwise known as an “alternative fact.”
Since I myself am a survivor of the Bowling Green Massacre, let me educate you on the difference between facts and alternative facts.
The following information is brought to you by BARF (Bureau of Alternative Real Facts.)
Fact: Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a classic movie, and should be required viewing for all school age children.
Alternative fact: Jupiter Ascending is classified as a film. And one that people are allowed to watch, to boot.
And now, for the factiest fact that you ever facting heard, motherfacters!
Joe Hill is a bad ass. A motherfacting bad ass, in fact.
And if you don’t agree with me, well then fact off, you facter!
And I assure, I survived my trip to Christmasland, although, between you and me, the inhabitants of that place are kind of hostile. In fact, they will suck the life right out of you…
So, gear up your Rolls Royce Wraith, strap in and get ready for the recap and review of NOS4A2.
And, as always:
The story begins by introducing the reader to a nurse named Ellen Thornton. Ellen works in a prison infirmary, where most of the patients are comatose and unresponsive to any form of human contact.
One of these patients is a man named Charlie Manx. Manx is extremely elderly, and was also convicted of terrible crimes: he was convicted of kidnapping and murdering young children.
One night, as Ellen is making her rounds, something unexpected happens: Manx appears to awake from him comatose state, and speaks to Ellen. He specifically refers to Ellen’s son by his full name, and makes references to some place he calls “Christmasland” and someone named the “Gas Mask Man.”
Ellen calls for the doctors, as she is badly frightened. However, Manx exhibits no sign of consciousness once the doctors arrive, and Ellen is not believed, despite the fact that Manx grabbed her hard enough to leave bruises, and the fact that Manx referred to her son by his full name.
The story then switches to the perspective of a young girl named Victoria McQueen, also known as Vic. Vic’s father Chris also calls Vic The Brat.
At first, Vic seems to be an ordinary young girl. However, we find out that Vic is anything but ordinary. Vic possesses the ability to teleport herself between faraway places. Vic does this by riding her bike, and envisioning a bridge she calls The Shorter Way Bridge, which seems to magically appear when Vic wants to find a lost object. The bridge takes Vic to the place where the object was lost, and then takes her back to her original location. However, Vic’s talent also comes at a cost: she experiences headaches and becomes extremely ill when she uses this ability.
We are then introduced to a troubled man named Bing Partridge. One day, as Bing is leafing through some old magazines, he comes across an ad promising employment in a place called “Christmasland.” The ad is not specific in regards to the job details, but Bing is enchanted, as he loves celebrating Christmas, which brings back happy memories for him. Bing sends away his application for employment in Christmasland, desperately hoping that he gets a response soon. We also learn that Bing killed both of his parents as a child, and spent time in a mental institution before he was released. Bing is employed as a janitor, and has access to certain kinds of gases that can turn a person into a zombie, along with his own gas mask.
Almost immediately, Bing begins to have visions of past Christmases with his parents, and begins to dream of Christmasland. However, days go by, and he does not get a response to his application.
Bing also begins to see a mysterious vehicle circling his work place. The vehicle is an old Rolls Royce Wraith, and is black. However, the driver of the vehicle continues to remain a mystery.
One day, Bing finally meets the driver of vehicle, who introduces himself as Charles Talent Manx. Manx convinces Bing to go for a ride in the vehicle, so he can describe the opportunity that awaits Bing in Christmasland, if Bing chooses to accept. Once he is in the vehicle, Bing begins to feel sleepy. Manx tells him that is okay, as Bing will be entering another reality of sorts.
Manx tells Bing that he saves children from a life of pain and abuse by taking them to an alternate reality he calls “Christmasland.” In Christmasland, the children never have to grow up, and it is always Christmas, every day, all year. Manx says that the children are his, but that Bing can do what he wishes to any parents or any other parties that may need to be subdued, as most will not want Manx to take their children away. Bing eagerly accepts the employment opportunity, and he and Manx get to work.
Over the years, several children vanish under mysterious circumstances. In many of these disappearances, a mysterious Rolls Royce Wraith is spotted. However, none of the disappearances are ever connected.
Vic is now a teenager. She has used her bike many times to create the Shorter Way Bridge, so that she can locate lost objects. Vic is also a budding artist who has received recognition for her work.
One day, Vic uses her talent to locate a missing photograph. In doing so, she badly startles the school janitor, who relapses back into alcoholism. Vic feels extremely guilty and begins to question her use of this ability. The Shorter Way Bridge makes another appearance, and Vic rides her bike through it.
The Shorter Way Bridge deposits Vic in a library somewhere in Iowa. There, she meets a young woman named Maggie, who seems to have been expecting Vic to make an appearance. Maggie dresses in a colorful manner. Maggie is also afflicted with a bad stammer, which makes her speech difficult to understand.
Vic is bewildered, but Maggie attempts to reassure her. Maggie tells Vic that while her abilities may be a bit unusual, she is not alone in being gifted with these abilities. According to Maggie, many highly creative people (Vic is an accomplished artist and Maggie is gifted in the use of language and also an accomplished Scrabble player) possess the ability to alter reality. Maggie compares this to someone who uses a knife to make cuts in various objects, and refers to these altered realities as “inscapes.”
We also learn that Maggie has the ability to create her own “inscapes” and alter reality. Sometimes, Maggie’s Scrabble tiles will spell out sentences on her own. This is how Maggie knew to expect Vic: her Scrabble tiles told her of “The Brat” (but not Vic’s name, as no proper nouns are allowed in Scrabble.)
Maggie also states that her Scrabble tiles have indicated that Vic can find someone or something known as “The Wraith.” Vic demands to know who or who “The Wraith” is, but Maggie tries to change the subject, telling Vic that The Wraith is bad news and dangerous to Vic.
At Vic’s insistence, Maggie breaks down and gives her what information she has on The Wraith. According to Maggie, The Wraith is another person who possesses abilities similar to hers and Vic’s. However, The Wraith uses his abilities for evil, as he kidnaps children to steal their souls so that he may achieve immortality, trapping the children in an “inscape” of his own creation. Maggie then sends Vic back home, warning her once again to stay away from “The Wraith” as he is dangerous.
When Vic returns home, she becomes extremely ill as a result of her latest journey. Her parents become extremely worried, and confiscate her bicycle, as they believe she has an unhealthy fixation. Vic eventually recovers, and resumes her normal, every day life.
In the meantime, more children disappear. Once again, a Rolls Royce Wraith is spotted when some of these disappearances take place, but the cases are never connected.
Vic grows into a troubled teenager, When she is fourteen years old, her parents divorce, and her father abandons Vic and her mother. Vic acts out, turning to alcohol and drugs. Her grades in school are mediocre, although her art teacher notes that Vic has a talent for art, although Vic does apply herself.
One day, after an argument with both of her parents, Vic sneaks back into her house and falls asleep. When she awakens, she searches for some of her belongings that were confiscated by her mother, and finds her old bicycle.
Vic begins to ride her bicycle, and remember happier times during her childhood. However, it is not long before the bicycle leads her to trouble, which happens to be the lair of Charles Manx, or The Wraith.
Almost right away, Vic realizes that something is not right. She encounters what she thinks is a young child, but the creature only resembles a child in name only, as it has sharp teeth and appears to be breathing some sort of vapor or smoke when it speaks.
Vic also encounters Charles Manx, who attempts to entice her. When Vic refuses, her Shorter Way Bridge vanishes, leaving her stranded. Manx also sets fire to the house, intending to trap Vic in the house so that she will perish from the fire.
However, Vic escapes the house. She is assisted by man named Lou Carmody, who happens to be in the area, riding his motorcycle. Lou takes Vic to a nearby gas station, so that she can attempt to get help. Vic realizes that she is actually in Colorado, instead of her home of Massachusetts, and that she has been missing for two days. Vic indicates that she has been kidnapped, as she knows that no one will believe her story about the Shorter Way Bridge.
As Vic is telling her story, Charles Manx and his vehicle make an appearance at the gas station. The men at the gas station attempt to apprehend Manx, and a fight ensues. However, Manx is apprehended in the end, and arrested for his crimes. The official story is that Vic was kidnapped, and there is no mention of any of the stranger elements to her story.
Some years later, Vic moves back to Colorado, under the pretense of attending art school. She pursues a relationship with Lou Carmody, and the two have a child together named Bruce Wayne Carmody, who they call Wayne. Vic loves Lou and Wayne, but is afraid to admit, as she feels that she is not good enough for either of them. Vic also receives troubling phone calls from children who state that they are residents of Christmasland. These phone calls frighten her, but she does not tell anyone about them.
Bing Partridge is never apprehended by the authorities for his role in Manx’s crimes. and anxiously awaits the return of Manx, as he believes that he will receive his eternal reward in Christmasland.
Vic notices that when she engages in some kind of creative active, such as painting, that phone calls from Christmasland stop. She keeps herself busy by painting motorcycles and also by writing and illustrating children’s books. However, the mysterious calls start again, and Vic’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Lou moves out of their house, taking their son with him, but he is worried about Vic. Vic then burns down her house in an attempt to silence the calls from Christmasland.
In the meantime, Manx’s vehicle has been purchased at an auction by a man and his daughter. One day, the vehicle comes to life, killing its new owner, as Bing has found it, so that he may reunite with Manx.
Charles Manx is thought to be deceased, but his body goes missing from the mortuary.
Vic is institutionalized for her erratic behavior, and comes to believe that her experiences with the Shorter Way Bridge and mysterious telephone calls are simply vivid hallucinations caused by her abuse of alcohol and other drugs. When she is released from the mental hospital, she temporarily moves back to Massachusetts to spend some time with her mother Linda, who is dying of cancer. Vic also makes plans to spend the summer with her son Wayne, as she feels that she has failed him as a mother.
Tragically, Linda passes away just as Vic is able to secure a cottage for the summer. However, Vic still makes plans to spend time with her son Wayne, and Lou sends him to his mother for the summer.
In the meantime, we find out that Bing has managed to steal the body of Charles Manx, who is actually still alive, although barely. Bing sets up camp in the house across the street from Vic’s childhood home, killing the home’s owners, and placing Charles Manx in the bedroom. Bing waits for Vic, as he intends to murder Vic, and hand Wayne over to Manx.
Vic returns to her childhood home sometime in July, as Lou has arrived in town to spend Fourth of July with his son. Vic is greeted by a face from her past: Maggie, the woman from Iowa whom she met as a child.
While Vic recognizes Maggie, she is not happy to see her, as she still believes Maggie to be a delusion from her past. Maggie begs Vic to help her stop Charles Manx, who she insists is alive and on the hunt for Vic and Wayne. Maggie hands Vic a file containing some paperwork on Manx, but Vic chases Maggie away from her house, and threatens to call the police.
Later, Wayne finds the folder on Manx and peeks at it, as he is curious. Bing spots Wayne from the house he is commandeering, but is unable to do anything, as Lou arrives, and Bing does not want to be seen. Bing realizes that Vic is in the neighborhood, and makes preparations to capture Vic and Wayne.
That evening, Vic speaks to Lou, and finds out that Wayne has mentioned Manx to his father. Vic tells Lou about her childhood experiences with the Shorter Way Bridge, and the real story of how she encountered Charles Manx. Vic recognizes that she may be delusion, and indicates this to Lou. Vic also tells Lou that she thinks Maggie was a patient at the mental hospital, who is sharing in Vic’s delusions. Vic makes plans to move back to Colorado that fall, so that she can be closer to Wayne.
Wayne believes that Charles Manx is nearby, and becomes frightened, even though he thinks that he is imagining things.
Vic and Wayne work on a motorcycle that was left at the summer cottage, fixing it up and giving it a new paint job. Vic decides to take the bike for a spin, and tells Wayne that she will return shortly.
Vic rides the bike, and is able to conjure the Shorter Way Bridge, just as she had been able to do as a child. However, Vic continues to believe that she is delusional.
Wayne waits at the house for his mother. He hears a knock on the door, and encounters Bing and Manx, who tell him they need to use the phone, as they have run Wayne’s dog Hooper over with their car.
Bing and Manx then proceed to kidnap Wayne. Wayne shouts for his mother, who is just now returning from her trip and does not realize what has happened.
However, Vic soon does realize what has happened, and runs to the car in an attempt to rescue Wayne. She fights Manx, who attacks her with a hammer. Bing shoots at Vic, but misses Vic and hits Manx in the ear instead. The men then escape, with Wayne trapped in the car.
Lou is at the airport, awaiting his flight. Lou receives a panicked call from Wayne. Wayne tells his father that he has been kidnapped, and then hangs up the phone. Lou then collapses, due to a sudden heart attack.
Wayne tries to escape, but Bing douses him with gas so that he cannot think and becomes very sleepy. Manx tells him that he is going to Christmasland, and that he will never see his parents again.
Vic meets with the authorities at her mother’s house. The FBI has been brought in, as the authorities believe that Wayne’s kidnapper may cross state lines. Lou also meets with Vic and the authorities. Vic’s mental illness is brought up by a FBI agent, Tabitha Hutter, who does not agree with Vic in regards to Manx returning and seeking vengeance. Vic also describes her earlier experience with the Shorter Way Bridge. Lou tells Vic that he believes her, and Vic tells Lou that she will do whatever she can to rescue their son.
Manx drives his vehicle through his inscape, giving Wayne a glimpse into Christmasland. Wayne falls into a trance, and becomes excited about living in Christmasland. However, the ghost of Wayne’s grandmother soon appears in the vehicle. She appears to be speaking in reverse, and gives Wayne a cryptic message before she vanishes: he must speak in reverse.
Manx then stops at Bing’s house so that he can rest and recover from his wounds. Wayne then notices that the vehicle has peculiar properties: objects seem to vanish and then reappear. Wayne also finds some Christmas ornaments. He becomes fixated on one that resembles a moon, but has a face.
Wayne is then questioned by Manx, who promises him a phone call to his mother. Manx tricks Wayne into giving him some information about Maggie, along with Vic’s new motorcycle, and does not allow Wayne a call to his mother.
At her home, Vic is growing more and more worried about her son. Lou is attempting to fix her motorcycle for her, so that she can conjure the Shorter Way Bridge and rescue Wayne. Vic receives a phone call. The caller is Maggie. Maggie tells Vic that her son is still alive, and that she will help however she can.
After Vic hangs up the phone, she is confronted by Agent Hutter, who has heard the entire conversation. Hutter attempts to arrest Vic, but Vic escapes from the house, and uses her motorcycle to drive away. Eventually, she is able to conjure the Shorter Way Bridge, and is able to arrive at the house where Wayne was being kept.
In the meantime, Manx leaves with Wayne in his vehicle, promising that he will take Wayne to Christmasland. Manx does not allow Bing to come with them, as he says that Bing has failed in his duties. Wayne’s personality is beginning to change, as he is horrified to remember that he pulled the wings off of a butterfly. Wayne is also fixated on his Christmas ornament, constantly touching it.
Vic realizes that Wayne and Manx have left, and becomes upset. A man allows her to use his phone. Vic does not realize that this man is actually Bing, until he attacks her.
Wayne continues to travel with Manx. He sees visions of Christmasland and is anxious to arrive. However, he receives a visit from the ghost of his dead grandmother, who again tries to warn him that he must think in reverse. However, Wayne dismisses the old woman’s ghost, as his personality has begun to change. Wayne has also begun to loose some of his teeth, and appears to be growing small fangs in their place.
Vic fights Bing. She manages to escape, but sets the house on fire. Before she escapes, she receives a call from Manx. Vic pleads with Manx to release Wayne but Manx refuses. Manx allows Vic to speak to Wayne. Vic senses that Wayne’s personality is changing due to his exposure to Manx, and tells Wayne that he must fight Manx, and that she will do whatever it takes to rescue him.
After she speaks to Wayne, Vic then speaks to Lou and Agent Hutter over the telephone. She tells Lou that she has a plan to stop Manx and rescue Wayne, but that she will need a large amount of explosive material to accomplish this. After Vic hangs the phone, Lou suffers from a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital.
Vic uses the Shorter Wayne Bridge to locate Maggie. She arrives at Maggie’s library in Iowa, which was destroyed by a flood a few years back. However, Maggie is there, and Vic recounts the events of the past few days.
Maggie tells Vic that Manx does possess the same abilities that they possess, but that he uses his abilities for evil. She tells Vic that Manx’s car must be destroyed in order to destroy Manx. Maggie also tells Vic that the use of their abilities comes at a cost: Maggie’s stammer has worsened, Vic’s brain has been damaged and Manx has lost all of his empathy, and now revels in the suffering of his others. The children Manx has kidnapped have also been stripped of their humanity, as they exist for pleasure only, and do not comprehend the suffering of others.
While Vic falls asleep asleep due to exhaustion, Maggie consults her Scrabble tiles for information in regards to Manx. As she does this, a young boy enters the ruins of her library with firecrackers. At first, Maggie thinks that it is a local child playing a prank, but realizes that the boy is Wayne, who is acting under the influence of Manx. Wayne utters some incomprehensible words (his human side knows that what he is doing is wrong) and lures Maggie out to Manx and his car.
Manx immediately attacks Maggie with his vehicle. Maggie puts up a fight and refuses to give any information about Vic, who is still asleep inside. Maggie is killed by the impact, and Manx exits the scene.
Lou has been hospitalized due to his heart attack. However, he escapes in search of his son. Agent Hutter and her partner are aware of the escape, and plan to use Lou to track down Vic, who they still believe to be responsible for her son’s kidnapping.
Vic arrives at her father’s house. Lou and her father are waiting for her, with the explosives that she has requested. However, the FBI agents have tracked down Vic, who refuses to surrender. Agent Hutter realizes that there may be something to Vic’s story, but her colleagues do not, and open fire on Vic and her family. Vic’s father is shot, but Vic escapes with Lou on her motorcycle.
Once again, Vic conjures the Shorter Way Bridge. She leaves Lou in handcuffs, as she feels that this a job for her only. Vic then makes her way into Christmasland, via her motorcycle and the Shorter Way Bridge, to confront Manx and rescue her son.
Manx sends his children after Vic, and they attack. Vic fights back and is stabbed by one of the children. The explosives go off, causing mass destruction. Wayne realizes that his mother has come to rescue him, and escapes from Manx, hopping on the motorcycle with his mother.
Vic escapes Christmasland with Wayne. Manx follows her, but his vehicle (and there Manx himself) is destroyed by a flock of bats that emerge from the Shorter Way Bridge.
Finally, Vic emerges with Wayne back into their world. Her job done, Vic perishes from her wounds and the effects of creating the bridge and traveling to Christmasland.
Several months later, Wayne is living with his father. Lou has lost weight after angioplasty procedure, and is in a relationship with Tabitha Hutter. However, Wayne knows that something wrong with him, as he is aroused by anything violent and even thinks that he can feel an extra set of teeth in his mouth.
One day, Lou and Tabitha take Wayne for a ride. They arrive at the house Manx had used to keep his children captive. Lou realizes that Wayne’s soul is trapped in one of Manx’s Christmas ornaments. Lou, Tabitha and Wayne begin smashing the ornaments. Several children that Manx had kidnapped emerge, restored to their human selves.
Eventually, the ornament containing Wayne’s soul is destroyed. Wayne sobs with relief, happy that his humanity has returned.
Okay, let’s talk to Captain Obvious for a moment. So, just bear with me.
Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, in case your head has been buried under a rock for…oh…the past 10 years or so.
(And hey, no judgement, being buried under a rock can be pretty comfy sometimes!)
And while I like to evaluate Joe Hill on his own merits, let’s be realistic.
Let’s get it out of our system, and talk about how he is the son of Stephen King.
Well, writing-wise that is.
We can leave the family drama for those better equipped to handle it, and not put TMZ out of a job.
Other than the fact that NOS4A2 reads a bit like an older King novel, in that it has build and will scare you into a change of pants, it is the novel that most screams: I am the son of the master of modern horror, and if you dare to forget it, well, let’s not even go there!
NOS4A2, in other words, has tons of Stephen King Easter eggs. In fact, this book may have even more King Easter eggs than some King books.
First of all, the obvious connection.
I can tell you that I definitely sleep better knowing that Charles Manx and The True Knot have some silent truce between themselves, that they both can go on (literally) sucking the life out of children and if one gets found out, we know that the other did not rat on them. Definitely useful information to have.
And, oohhh, direct reference to Derry, along with Pennywise’s Traveling Circus! Again, whenever I have trouble sleeping at night, I can rest in comfort knowing that Manx and Mr. Bob Gray were likely on a first name basis at some point!
Vic yelling “Hi-yo Silver!” as she jumps on her bike was added bonus. Not that I am complaining, although a few tears did spring to my eyes as I recalled some fond childhood memories of murderous clowns…
Then there is the similarity between The Sleigh House (geez, these jokes kill me sometimes) and Black House, another house in a King novel of the same name.
The way the children start coming out of the house at the end of both books is so similar, not to mention the fact that Charles Manx is pretty similar to Charles Burnside, another villain who gets his rocks off on kidnapping and hurting kids.
Is Jake Chambers one of Maggie’s creatives? An interesting question, but one for another day.
Oh, and apparently Bill Hodges and company had to hunt down a certain missing vehicle that just happened to be a Rolls Roy Wraith…funny how that works out!
Well, now that it is out of our system (feel better?), let’s talk about Joe Hill and NOS4A2 on their own merits.
So sorry, Uncle Stevie, you have been relegated to another blog entry!
One thing about NOS4A2…it is one scary book!
Well duh, it is written by Prince of Modern Horror, who is the son of the King of Modern Horror. So we shouldn’t be surprised by scary, right?
Yes and no. Am I entirely surprised that it’s scary?
No, I am not.
What is shocking is the fact that NOS4A2 is essentially a vampire story, but modernized.
After all, who isn’t familiar with Dracula?
Well, now we can add Charles Manx to that list of fictional vampires.
Now, Manx is not like Barlow or Dracula, at least on the surface.
He’s old, but not centuries old.
His victims are usually kids.
He drives a bad ass vehicle.
Somehow, I don’t think a rosary or garlic would phase him very much.
(Did anyone else think of this guy when Manx was introduced, by the way? Or is it just me?)
But, back to Manx.
He may not drink blood, like Barlow and Dracula.
But he is still a vampire, nonetheless.
His preferred food is not blood, but the souls of children. Since he is all modern-like.
As a bonus, like Barlow and Dracula, he has a human familiar in Bing, who may be even more demented than either Straker or Renfield, if that’s possible. At the very least, he holds his own.
And Manx does not need to be able to fly or even move quickly, as he has a vehicle that allows him to travel to back and forth between realities.
Who said that newer necessarily means inferior?
Manx can hold his own!
Speaking of holding one’s own, let’s talk about Vic for a moment.
Now, there is is someone who can hold her own and then some.
One thing I have noticed about Joe Hill is that he writes female characters extremely well.
Harper (The Fireman) was a great example of this.
Even Georgia and Merrin (Heart Shaped Box and Horns, respectively) were well written characters, despite the fact that that Georgia is the girlfriend of the main character in Heart Shaped Box, and Merrin is the dead girlfriend of Ig in Horns. Even though we mainly see them from the eyes of a male, both are fascinating and sympathetic.
But, Mr. Hill decided that having a woman as the interesting girlfriend of a main character just wasn’t good enough. And then Vic was born.
To put it simply, Vic kicks ass. There is no way around that statement.
While Vic may not always be easy to like, it is understandable as to why she may be unlikable at times, due to her upbringing (watching your dad wash his hands because they were bloodied due to beating your mom may cause a girl to have some issues.)
Vic’s character has a great arc.
She starts off as a spunky girl, morphs into a rebellious teenager, turns into a still troubled adult and then transforms into a mother who will stop at nothing to save her child from a vicious predator. And I loved every minute of it.
One of my favorite parts of the book is when Vic handcuffs Lou, leaving him behind so she can venture forth into Christmasland to save Wayne.
Vic was no damsel in distress. She knew that she had to be one the one to save (and ultimately sacrifice herself) in order to save her son.
Now, NOS4A2 may be a scary book.
But, like the books of dear old dad, it is so much more than that.
I love what this book has to say on art, artists and the creative process in genera.
I may be a bit biased, as someone who spends so much time creating her own “inscapes” but bear with me.
In fact, I love the idea of an “inscape” itself.
Because that is exactly what happens when someone creates something: it is actually an escape from the “real” world into an entirely new one, whether that is a painting, a book, a song, etc.
And let’s not kid ourselves. Those made up worlds become “real,” especially if the creator uses enough love and care in the creation of these worlds.
And when something happens to the people who populate these worlds, is the effect not felt in ours? When Harry Potter realizes that Voldemort has been resurrected, for example, did the reader not fear for him, and join him in his grief for a lost friend and classmate?
So it stands to reason that there are “creatives” out there, whose gift is especially powerful (like Joe Hill, his father, JK Rowling, Tolkien and countless others) who can use their knives to cut reality (in Maggie’s words) and create new realities.
And the knife is just the tool, like Maggie so eloquently stated.
Sometimes, the knife is not harmful, and results in children’s books, paintings, etc.
But sometimes, some sick individual (like Charles Manx, who is actually all too plausible) will create a new reality.
But this new reality is terrible, and only brings hurt to others.
And this is not uncommon, as so many predators who are similar to Charles Manx exist in our world. They believe that what they are doing is actually a good thing.
It is then up to someone (a Vic McQueen, if you will) to try to put a stop to it.
Sometimes, that is successful.
Sometimes, it is not. And that knife continues to cut, leaving blood behind.
Well, I am still a bit confused on what is a fact, and what is an alternative fact.
But I do not need an agency such as BARF to tell me that Joe is a fantastic writer, and that he will (hopefully) continue to churn them out, for many years to come.
So that’s it for NOS4A2. Join me later this month as we delve back into the world of dear old Dad, as we read and dissect an oldie but goodie, aka Christine!
There is just something about a new year.
I know that the calendar is simply a human construct, and really pretty meaningless, maybe even random, if you really think about it.
But I still love the concept of a new year.
It reminds me of when I buy new art supplies, for example. I know that I have bought most of this stuff before, and I am just recharging my already ample supply (luckily, my husband is understanding, although he would not agree that it’s not hoarding if it’s art supplies.)
But still, every time I
hoard buy new art supplies, I get that feeling of new possibilities. No limits. And I can start anew.
And that is how I feel about 2017.
Especially after the horror movie otherwise known as 2016, that will probably be struck from the history books.
Seriously, those school kids in the future will likely have some gap in their books (or whatever will pass for books in 2297) that covers 2015, 2017, 2018 and so forth.
But yet there will be a gap, in that 2016 will be skipped over. And I am sure that the parents (or robot nannies) of the future will have fun trying to explain that one.
In other words, 2016 was pretty scary. I mean, who wrote 2016…Stephen King or somebody?
Oh, speaking of which…
In case you forgot which blog you were reading…
Yes, we are starting out 2017 with a review of a Stephen King book…who knew?!
And for this month’s review, we are going back in time…
All the way back to the beginning, in fact.
Now, I know that King started off his writing career at a fairly young age, and spent years trying to get his work published.
In other words, I am sure there are lots of early works by The Master somewhere out there, for our reading pleasure.
But, for the purposes of this humble lil ole blog, we are going to focus on The Master’s first published book (and also the first of his books to be turned into a movie, which is still a classic.)
So, we are going to be reading and dissecting the novel Carrie.
The book with the infamous shower scene.
The book that makes you want to get a T-shirt that says “I survived my high school prom and all I got was this bloody T-shirt!”
(See what I did there?)
Carrie was the first published book by Stephen King.
It set the precedent for horror and also for book-to-screen adaptations.
Even non-King fans (gasp) can probably recite lines from the movie, and probably even know that is based on a Stephen King book.
Carrie is a huge part of popular culture. And there is a reason for that: it discusses themes that everyone can relate to, including puberty, bullying, parental abuse and a few others.
So, strap in, Constant Constant Reader, and get ready for the wild ride otherwise known as Carrie!
And, as always:
The book begins with an account of stones mysteriously falling from the sky, in the proximity of a house that a woman named Margaret White lives in, along with her toddler daughter Carrietta White. No one is ever able to explain why the stones fell from the sky, although people do not seem to be surprised that such an odd phenomena would occur in the vicinity of that particular house.
The story then jumps forward several years. Carrie White is now a teenager attending Ewen High School in Chamberlain, Maine. Carrie does not fit in at her high school and is bullied mercilessly by her peers.
The bullying reaches a peak one morning, when Carrie begins her first menstrual period at the age of nearly 17. Carrie does not understand what is happening to her and thinks that she is bleeding to death in the showers of the gym at her school.
Almost at once, the other girls begin to torment Carrie, throwing tampons and menstrual pads at her, demanding that she “plug it up.” Susan Snell, who generally does not bully other students, participates in tormenting Carrie, although Sue realizes that Carrie may not actually understand what is happening to her and that Carrie may also be genuinely terrified.
We then learn the story of Carrie’s birth. Her mother, Margaret White, was in denial that she was pregnant, as her religion proclaims that any sexual intercourse is a sin. Margaret gives birth to Carrie at home, with no medical assistance. Margaret was alone, because Carrie’s father had passed away several months earlier.
Ms. Dejardin, Carrie’s physical education teacher, puts a stop to the attack. She does not punish Sue and the other girls right away, but dismisses them so that she can help Carrie.
Ms. Desjardin then escorts Carrie to the principal’s office. She tries to explain menstruation to Carrie, but Carrie is too upset to listen. The principal, Mr. Morton, then dismisses Carrie for the day, after Ms. Desjardin gives him an explanation of what happened. Ms. Desjardin also states that she will punish those responsible for the incident, and Mr. Morton allows the punishment to be her own.
Carrie walks home from school, upset about the treatment she has endured from her classmates over the years. Carrie is also aware that she is different because she has the ability to move objects with her mind. This was demonstrated earlier when she forced a light bulb to explode and an ash tray to fall off Mr. Morton’s desk. Carrie is able to knock a child off his bicycle when he torments her as she as walking home, and realizes that she may be able to control this gift, with practice.
We then read the account of the incident from Carrie’s childhood when the stones fell from the sky. The incident is told from the perspective of Carrie’s former neighbor, who is being interviewed for a publication.
Carrie arrives home that morning, and finds the sanitary napkins her mother has hidden in the house. She is no longer frightened, as she realized that menstruation is a normal part of growing up, although she is embarrassed, as she previously thought that sanitary napkins were used to remove lipstick. Carrie also desires to break free of her mother’s constricting religious beliefs, and to fit in with her peers.
However, Carrie is also angry, and breaks a mirror in an expression of her anger.
The story then switches to the perspective of Sue Snell. Sue is dating a boy named Tommy Ross, who is the most popular boy in school. The two have recently become lovers, and Sue begins to contemplate a future with Tommy and realizes that she has fallen in love with him. That night, when the two are on a date, Sue confesses what happened that morning in the shower to Tommy, as she is upset with herself. Tommy listens to Sue and suggests that Sue apologize to Carrie for her part in the incident. However, Sue is unable to come up with a solution to her problem, and still feels badly for what happened.
That evening, Carrie faces the wrath of her mother, Margaret. Margaret believes that her daughter has sinned because she is now menstruating, and forces Carrie into a small closet to pray for forgiveness. Margaret also strikes her daughter. However, Carrie pushes back, threatening to make the stones come again if Margaret does not stop the abuse.
The next week, Ms. Desjardin confronts the students responsible for the attack on Carrie. Sue Snell is among these students, and accepts responsibility for her part in the incident. However, Chris Hargensen, one of the other responsible students and a school bully, refuses to accept the punishment, and tries to convince Sue and the others to walk out in protest of Ms. Desjardin and her punishment. Sue refuses, and Chris’ refusal results in a suspension and refusal of her prom tickets.
Chris’ father also refuses to accept his daughter’s punishment and attempts to bully the school administrators into reversing the punishment so that Chris can attend prom. The administration, however, stands up to him, and he backs down after he learns what his daughter did to Carrie.
Sue is also forced into a confrontation with Chris, as Chris is angry that Sue did not stand with her in protest of Ms. Desjardin’s punishment. However, Sue tells Chris that she accepts responsibility for her actions. Chris counters, telling Sue that she is a hypocrite and only accepting the punishment so that her prom ticket will not be refused. Sue realizes her hypocrisy, and wonders how to counter it.
Sue continues to feel remorse for her responsibility on the attack on Carrie, and finally has an idea of how to atone. Sue convinces Tommy Ross, her boyfriend, to ask Carrie to the prom. Sue is convinced that if Carrie attends prom, she may finally be able to fit in with her peers. Tommy is reluctant, but finally agrees to Sue’s request. After he agrees, he tells Sue that he loves her.
Tommy approaches Carrie one day between classes, and invites her to the prom. Carrie is skeptical, but is finally convinced and agrees to attend the prom with Tommy. After speaking with Carrie, Tommy realizes that she is far from repulsive.
Carrie decides to use her talent for sewing to make her own prom dress. Carrie also develops her other talent, known as telekinesis, and is able to move larger objects using her mind. She informs Margaret that Tommy has invited her to prom and that she has accepted the invitation. Margaret is furious and attempts to forbid Carrie from attending. Carrie fights back, using her newfound powers, and wins the battle. Carrie emphasizes her desire to fit in with her peers, much to the shock of Margaret.
Word spreads that Sue will not be attending prom and that Tommy will instead be taking Carrie to the prom. It also becomes evident that Chris Hargensen is planning something, although no one is sure what she is planning.
Billy Nolan, Chris’ boyfriend, breaks into a farm one night. Billy and his friends kill a couple of pigs, and drain the bodies of blood, taking buckets of blood with him when he leaves the farm.
Carrie sews her dress and begins to get ready to attend her senior prom. Margaret again fights with her, attempting to persuade Carrie not to attend, but once again, Carrie uses her powers to stand up to her mother. Carrie also tells her mother that she loves her after the confrontation.
Tommy arrives to pick up Carrie, who is extremely nervous, and has even considered not attending the prom. However, Carrie is pleasantly surprised even from the beginning of the evening, as her classmates and her date treat her with respect. The girls are impressed with her dress, and surprised by her talent for sewing. Carrie is further surprised to learn that she and Tommy have been nominated for Prom King and Queen.
While Carrie is attending the prom, her mother Margaret comes to the decision to kill her daughter when she comes home later that night. Margaret has noticed Carrie’s talent for moving objects with her mind from the time when Carrie was baby, and believes that Carrie’s gift is a sin. Margaret contemplated sacrificing her daughter many years ago, but did not. This time, however, she is determined to carry out her plan.
Chris and Billy also carry out their plans to play a prank on Carrie that evening. They sneak into the high school, where Billy has hidden buckets of the pig’s blood in the rafter. They plan to dump the blood on Carrie if she is crowned Prom Queen.
Carrie and Tommy are then nominated as Prom Queen and King. They are crowned onstage. However, when Carrie and Tommy enter the stage to accept their nominations, Chris pulls the strings, and Tommy and Carrie are doused with the pig’s blood. One of the buckets hits Tommy on the head, and he is rendered unconscious. The impact is so severe that Tommy dies in less than an hour.
The audience is first shocked, and then begins to laugh at Carrie, who is also in shock. Carrie escapes from the gymnasium, but uses her powers to unleash the sprinkler system. This causes an electrical fire, and students and teachers frantically attempt to escape from the school, which is now engulfed in flames.
Carrie wanders the town, in a state of madness. She begins to cause more destruction, using her powers to wreak havoc in the town of Chamberlain, Maine.
Eventually, while the town of Chamberlain burns to the ground, Carrie returns to her home. She is met by her mother, Margaret, who is armed with a butcher knife. Margaret then stabs Carrie, believing that she is committing an act mercy in ending her daughter’s life.
However, Carrie is not killed by her mother, as she envisions her mother’s heart coming to a stop. Margaret then dies after her heart comes to a complete stop.
Word of what has happened in Chamberlain reaches Billy and Chris, and they head back into town. However, they also run into Carrie, who takes revenge on them by using her powers to overturn their vehicle. Carrie is hit by the vehicle, and Billy and Chris are killed almost instantly.
Sue Snell is wandering the streets of Chamberlain. She appears to have some sort of telepathic connection with Carrie and knows that Carrie has killed her mother. She also realizes that Tommy and most of her friends have been killed.
Finally, Sue finds Carrie and realizes that Carrie dying. She still shares a telepathic bond with Carrie, although the bond is weakening because Carrie is dying. Carrie is convinced that Sue tricked her and is responsible for the events that occurred that night. However, Carrie probes Sue’s mind, and realizes that Sue bore no ill will towards her and only wanted to help her.
Carrie traps Sue in her mind as she is dying, so Sue also experiences Carrie’s death. Finally, Sue escapes Carrie’s clutches, and realizes that she has gotten her menstrual period, which had been a week late.
At least 409 people have died due to the destruction of the high school and the surrounding town. An autopsy of Carrie White has revealed unusual formations in her brain, and the governor appoints a committee to study the tragedy.
Sue Snell survives the devastation and writes a book about the events.
The town of Chamberlain effectively becomes a ghost town, as people begin to leave. More bodies are discovered, and the funeral business becomes the most active business in Chamberlain.
Some years into the future, a woman writes a letter to her sister. The letter describes an incident with the woman’s infant daughter, who apparently has the ability to move objects with her mind. However, the woman does not fear her daughter, but reveres her instead, believing that the little girl will accomplish great things in the future.
Well, you know what they say…
Big things come in small packages.
Yes, this cliche may be overused, but I cannot think of a better description of the book Carrie.
It may not be a big book, but it packs a big wallop.
Carrie is King’s first published work. King has compared it to a cookie baked by a 6 year old: you can tell it’s a cookie, and it has some nice flavorings, but that cookie is misshapen, burnt on the bottom, etc.
Well, that cookie is some mighty fine eating, and an appetizer for great things to come!
There are so many great things about this little book that it is hard to know where to start our discussion.
First of all, all Carrie has some great villains. And no, the title character is not one of them, although we will discuss her in a bit as well.
No, the villains in this story are Carrie’s mother and her classmates, which mainly include Chris Hargensen.
As I have stated before, one of King’s major strengths as a writer is his ability to write about “real life.”
Making the statement that King writes horror is a severe underestimation of King’s work, almost like making the statement that Aaron Rodgers plays football.
In other words, there is so much more to King (as there is to Aaron Rodgers, as the Dallas Cowboys found out this weekend.)
King writes horror stories, but when you strip away the horror, his stories are about people.
And one of the things that people do is not be nice to each other.
You know, like sheltering your kid her whole life, locking her up in a prayer closet when she does normal kid things and oh, not telling her about the “birds and the bees?”
Margaret White is one of King’s best human villains.
When one says the name Stephen King to most people, they may think of Pennywise the Clown, a girl who can start fires or maybe of the title character of the book we are discussing, who “lost” it and destroyed her high school.
Most people are not going to think of religious fanaticism and how dangerous that fanaticism can be be to an impressionable teenager who only wants what most teenager want, i.e. to fit in with her peers somehow, and to not be the butt of EVER SINGLE horrible practical joke every bully somewhere has dreamed up.
What is great (or is it horrible?) about the character of Margaret White is that she is so plausible.
Margaret White exists in this world today.
Any time I read an article about some kid dying because the parents refused medical treatment for religious reasons, or some adult that escaped a household run by religious fanatics who insisted on homeschooling their children and not allowing their children to date before marriage, I think of Margaret White.
Granted, the outcome in Carrie may be a bit extreme, as most kids don’t kill their abusive parents and many are able to flee those conditions and eventually make better lives for themselves.
But Margaret White still exists. And she is dangerous, as most people do not recognize the actions of the Margaret Whites in our world for what they are: child abuse.
Child abuse does not always mean that a parent hits his/her and leaves bruises (although Margaret was guilty of this, and this is still tragically all too common.)
Instead, child abuse can be more insidious, as when the parent controls all actions of the child, and does not allow opposing viewpoints in the child’s life.
Child abuse can also consist of a parent forcing their viewpoints on their child, and punishing the child for daring to have an opposing viewpoint (the prayer closet in action.)
The book Carrie also has another villain, besides Margaret White.
Or should I say, a set of villains?
In case I am not being clear, I am referring to Chris Hargensen, along with the other sickening half of the dynamic duo…
Yes, Chris is some sort of demented Batman, and that would make Billy some kind of creepy, greasy Robin, I suppose.
When I read about the bullying experienced by Carrie, and the actions (and lack of actions) by her classmates, I was reminded of one of my favorite books as a child.
Judy Blume is similar to King, in that she writes “real life.”
Along with educating me about my anatomy, Ms. Blume also discussed bullying at length in almost all of her books.
However, Blubber was a book devoted to the subject of bullying.
In this book, children gang up on a particular classmate, bullying her ostensibly due to her weight (the title is the cruel nickname they have come up with for this child, in fact), although the real reasons may be a little deeper.
However, Blubber is not told from the perspective of the bully. Nor is it told from the perspective of the victim.
Rather, it is told from the perspective of a bystander, Jill. Throughout the book, we watch Jill evolve, from a fellow bully to a victim to finally someone who becomes enlightened and a more compassionate person.
When I was reading Carrie, I was struck by the similarity between Chris Hargensen and the bullies in the book Blubber, along with the similarity between Sue Snell and the Jill character in Blubber.
Like the bully in Blubber, Chris is charismatic. At the beginning, Chris able to get others to do her bidding.
This includes her not very bright, but very cruel boyfriend, Billy Nolan.
In fact, unlike Chris, Billy does not care very much about Carrie White. He just wants to dump a bucket of pig’s blood on someone, for the thrill of it. Interestingly, Billy also seems to be the only one who understands that criminal charges would be brought against him and Chris if they were caught.
However, throughout the novel, Chris’ “friends” begin to turn away from her.
One of these friends is Sue. Much like the Jill character in Blubber, Sue goes along with the crowd at first.
She wants to be accepted and does not want to “rock the boat.”
However, much like Jill in the book Blubber, Sue begins to evolve.
She does not want to miss her prom, but realizes the effect that the bullying has had on Carrie White.
As the events of the story unfold, Sue begins to evolve.
She realizes that there is more to life than high school, her friends and even Tommy, her boyfriend.
Sue is able to put herself into the shoes of Carrie, and realizes what a horrible time that Carrie has had throughout her life.
This prompts her to “loan” Tommy to Carrie for an evening, so that Carrie may have a few hours of happiness.
And when things go horribly wrong, Sue begins to feel a sense of responsibility.
Sue also reminds us that Carrie was a person, with real thoughts and feelings.
Carrie also seeks out Sue, as her life is ending, and realizes that Sue is not to blame for what happened.
In fact, it seems if Sue is able to offer Carrie one of the few bits of compassion that Carrie has ever received in her life, which eases Carrie’s suffering just a little as she dies.
And last but not least, let’s talk about the title character herself, Carrie.
Now, I know that Carrie is not a terribly long book, and there is not a lot of room to get to know characters on an in-depth basis.
However, King does a good job with the character development in this book. In fact, he does more than good, considering the length of the book.
In the past, people have indicated a dislike for Carrie as a person. Or they simply pity her. Even King has indicated that Carrie is not really a likable character.
However, I respectfully disagree with The Master on that (gasp.)
Maybe it’s because I was bullied as a child. Or maybe it’s because I survived an abusive marriage.
But I find the character of Carrie White to be fascinating, and to me, she is one of King’s more interesting characters.
Throughout much of the book, we see Carrie through the eyes of Carrie herself. And the picture is not flattering, as it would appear that she is overweight and suffering from acne.
However, I was struck when I read the part where Tommy asks her to the prom, and notices that she was “far from repulsive” but this was “the first time he had really looked.”
So was Carrie just invisible when she was not being bullied? I tend to believe this, because I spent most of my childhood being bullied and trying to remain invisible so I would not be bullied. In fact, when my ex boyfriend told me that the guys at our college thought that I had the best legs on campus, I was struck speechless. Really, I don’t think that I even knew that I had legs, much less legs that others may consider to be attractive.
But that’s how it is when you try to remain invisible: you lose sight of yourself, and become invisible to even your own eyes, so you don’t see what others may marvel over.
Throughout the book, Carrie does begin to emerge from her shell. And I began to like that girl on her own merits, much like Tommy Ross.
For starters, I thought Carrie to be a strong woman.
She survived bullying and abuse (from both her peers and her mother) for years, and basically did not flinch. In fact, she tried to take some of the bullying with good humor, even though she (understandably) lost her sense of humor pretty quickly.
To top it off, Carrie did not have a support system at home. Most of us who are bullied have family and friends outside of school, so that we have something worth living for. Carrie did not, although she had a mother who considered anything that may bring her daughter happiness to be a sin.
So anyone who can survive as long as Carrie did under those circumstances is somebody to be admired, not pitied. And I like strong people, as well as admire them. I like people who somehow find a way to push through it, even when the circumstances are not good.
“Hurt people hurt people.”
This is a quote from Laverne Cox, in regards to bullying and harassment. And it applies so well to this book.
Carrie was definitely one of the hurt people.
Her bullies could not even allow her a few moments of happiness, when she was invited to prom by the most popular boy in school and then crowned Prom Queen. At that point, even some of her classmates, like Tommy, had begun to like Carrie on her own merits.
But then a horrible prank was played on her, and as they say, the rest was history.
And my question is: why wouldn’t Carrie “snap” after enduring that kind of prank?
In fact, why wouldn’t anyone “snap” after enduring that kind of prank?
Throughout the book, the scientific articles are focused on the telekinesis aspect. Should something be done to prevent children from being born with this ability? Can we isolate this gene that is responsible for “Typhoid Mary’s?” Should we test children for “TK ability,” as we test them for tuberculosis? And so forth.
But never once is the most important question asked: What causes people to lash out, as Carrie did?
Personally, I was amazed that Carrie did not lash out sooner, due to the abuse that she endured.
Throughout the book, Carrie is not portrayed as someone prone to violence.
She may have fantasies in regards to revenge on her tormentors, but that would be perfectly normal, in my book.
But constant bullying changes people. I am living proof of that. My childhood ought to be behind me, but it isn’t.
I spent my life being told I was not good enough. So I married an abusive man, because I didn’t think I deserved any better. In other words, I internalized that message.
I still have difficulty making friends. Bullying causes major trust issues, so it is hard to open to people so that they can really get to know you.
So it is no wonder that Carrie used her powers to destroy her school and her town, along with killing her mother.
She had nothing left to live for, as Tommy was killed by the falling buckets. And no friends, as everyone laughed at her when she was hurt. And her mother was the cause of this humiliation, as she failed to educate her daughter in regards to her own body.
So it seems to me that telekinesis is not the problem.
Rather, the problem is man’s inhumanity to man.
The telekinesis is a distraction.
We don’t need to worry about testing kids for TK or isolating any type of gene.
Rather, we need to test kids for bullying tendencies, along with testing parents for abuse tendencies.
Until we recognize bullying and abuse for what they are, hurt people will just continue to hurt people.
And the legacy of the Carrie Whites of the world will continue to live on, with horrific consequences.
Well, that’s it for that tiny package known as Carrie…what a start to the new year!
Join me next month for the read and review of the greatest love story of all time between a boy and his car, aka the novel Christine!
Tune in next month…
Same bat time, same bat channel!
Even though Carrie is the first published Stephen King novel, it connects to his other works, just like nearly every other King novel. Here are some of the connections I found:
-The events in Carrie are referenced by a character in the novel The Dead Zone, and mention is made of a movie based on those events.
-Carrie’s telekinetic abilities are similar to abilities possessed by several other King characters, including Ted Brautigan in Low Men in Yellow Coats (part of the collection Hearts in Atlantis), Kira DeVore (Bag of Bones), Jake Chambers (The Dark Tower series), Danny Torrance (Doctor Sleep and The Shining), Abra Stone (Doctor Sleep), Tyler Marshall (Black House) and several others.
-In the King universe, Breakers are people who possess psychic abilities and are recruited by the Crimson King and his Low Men (Hearts in Atlantis, Black House and The Dark Tower series) to destroy The Dark Tower, the nexus of all existence. If Carrie had lived, it seems she most certainly would have caught the eye of The Crimson King and his Low Men.
-Religious mania is a running theme in King’s work. Margaret White is similar to several other religious maniacs, including Sylvia Pittson (The Gunslinger, Wizard and Glass) and Mrs. Carmody (The Mist, part of the collection Skeleton Crew.)
-Margaret White is employed by Blue Ribbon Laundry. This establishment is featured in the short story The Mangler (part of the collection Night Shift) and in the novel Roadwork, which was originally published as a Richard Bachman novel.
So, it’s summertime.
Not only is it hot, but the offerings on television are a bit scant, so to speak.
Although, really, I was craving a dose of the 80’s.
But The Goldbergs are also on vacation. And I needed something new and fresh, and none of the 80’s movies or TV shows in my collection were cutting it!
But luckily, Netflix decided to oblige me…
I heard that there was new show out. It could satisfy that 80’s craving…check.
I’m a huge fan of horror and it was scary…check.
It paid homage to some writer guy I am obsessed with…check.
Oh, and it was actually well-acted and directed…check.
In other words, I am referring to the Netflix show known as Stranger Things.
Yes, I jumped on the Stranger Things bandwagon!
No I didn’t get a t-shirt, but it was one hell (or is it upside down?) of a ride!
Now, I didn’t binge. Despite my love for this show, it still is a fine wine that needed to be savored.
So I forced myself to slow down.
In other words, I finished watching the show in about a week. And I still felt that I rushed it a bit, since there was so much good stuff to savor!
Like the 80’s aspect of it…nostalgia rules!
The Stephen King references…The Master himself even earned a direct reference…but I know he won’t let the fame get to his head!
And this show was scary…I had to hide my eyes and grip my poor dog really hard watching some parts…good thing dogs are tolerant of their human slaves, even when the human slaves are watching scary stuff on TV!
In other words, there are so many reasons to love Stranger Things. The show really does have a little something for everyone, and is so well done.
So, I deemed this show worthy of a post on this little old blog. And I narrowed down the number of reasons to love this show…
Wait for it…
(See what I did there? You are welcome!)
So, here is my list of 11 reasons as to why Stranger Things is an awesome show. It may be a bit redundant in parts, but I feel each reason earned its place on the list and is worthy of discussion.
Time to break down and discuss this show, so buckle in for the ride!
And, as always:
It is scary
Some of you may be scratching your heads, and wondering if Captain Obvious has taken over this blog. And I don’t begrudge you for that thought. After all, this show is billed as being in the horror category, so of course it’s scary, right?
Well, not necessarily. Both the big and small screen are filled with all kinds of abominations these days that call themselves horror. And when I refer to them as abominations, that does not necessarily mean they are the good kind of abomination…
So, let’s break it down and discuss it.
When I watched Stranger Things, I felt warm and fuzzy at times. After all, nostalgia, right? And I laughed. I mean who wouldn’t laugh? After all, Dustin’s antics, floating Eggo waffles and Steve’s hair…all of those are pretty chuckle-worthy, in my opinion.
And, as quickly as I felt the warm and fuzzy, or went into a mad fit of giggling over a Dustin one-liner, I found myself holding on to my dog for dear life (like I said, she’s tolerant) and trying not to be scared into a change of pants. The show was that effective.
First of all, there was the concept of the Upside Down. An alternate dimension that sucks in a little kid. forcing him to communicate using Christmas lights? One of man’s greatest fears is the fear of the unknown. And an alternate dimension fits that category perfectly, as that would be one of the few frontiers left.
Nancy is briefly sucked into that alternate dimension, and seeing it through her eyes was just frightening. No wonder she needed a little company that night. I don’t think I would ever sleep again!
There is also The Monster. Although the politically correct name for him (it?) is Mr. Tulip-Head. So I shall refer to him by his proper name in this post, so no tentacles are ruffled!
And Mr. Tulip-Head is not one to be trifled with, yo!
Not only is he an extra-dimensional monster that is a predator (you could say that the town of Hawkins was his haunt, as in haunt meaning a place where animals feed), he seems to force slug-like creatures down people’s throats, in an attempt to either kill them, or perhaps an attempt to reproduce…
I tell you, if Will has a mini Mr. Tulip-Head come busting out of him, per the infamous scene in the movie Alien…well, I won’t be surprised at all! And you can say you heard it here first!
Did anyone else think sushi when Will puked up that tentacle, by the way?
Ok, so that was just me then…
Well, nevermind, I guess…
It is Nerd Heaven
From the opening scene of Stranger Things, the tone is set. The audience realizes that it will be treated to a…
I know, something nerdy making it on to this blog? Can you imagine!?
At the beginning of the first episode, the boys are playing Dungeons and Dragons. And using all the technical terms, like Demi-Gorgon. And trust me folks, it only gets nerdier.
Obviously, we have Mike, Will and the rest of the gang. Right from the beginning, the writers of the show let us know that they are the nerds among their peer group. This title includes the good grades, unusual hobbies (D&D and membership in the audio-visual club), and the other, not positive attributes of nerdiness, such as the empty social calendar and merciless bullying.
Not only is D&D present throughout the series (as a useful metaphor, no doubt), there are so many little details that made my nerdy heart go pitter-patter.
We have the teacher that has a hot date with a pretty girl explaining the special effects in a horror movie. Who needs brawn and muscles when you have a guy that can give a technical break down of the special effects in a scary movie to put your mind at ease?
There is the sensory deprivation chamber. I loved how the boys, Hop and Joyce speculated on how to create one, and then hit upon the idea of using salt water. It added some credibility to the series, although I think I will skip making one in an attempt to visit another dimension, as this one without Mr. Tulip-head is just fine, thank you!
I also loved it when the guys talked to the science teacher (the same expert on special effects in movies), about the existence of other dimension, and how to access those dimensions. As a teenager, I read tons of books on physics, along with science fiction and fantasy novels covering that same topic (A Wrinkle in Time is a favorite of mine) and it is a subject of endless fascination for me, even in adulthood. So to see it addressed on this show (the analogy with the acrobat and flea on the tightrope is an excellent) gave me goosebumps. And goosebumps of the good variety.
If I actually had a friend group as a child, I hope that group would have contained a Dustin, a Mike, a Will and a Lucas. After all, nerd power!
It has strong feminist leanings
The formula looks something like this: a scary monster (or serial killer) is on the loose, somehow. There are all kinds of hints, but both the teenagers and adults ignore the warning signs. The teenagers are left to their own devices. In other words, teenagers of the opposite sex gather together, and “own devices” turns out to mean “having sex.” So most of the teens pair off, and conveniently find fully furnished bedrooms. And then they have sex. Well, except for a couple of virtuous kids, who are either uncomfortable with the idea of dating before marriage, or the nerdy guy (or girl, but usually a guy) who is rejected by the beautiful member of the opposite sex for either the jock or cheerleader.
Apparently, nothing angers a movie villain more than sexually active teenagers. And the kinkiness of the sex involved is directly proportional to how quickly (and even how gruesomely) the teenagers get dispatched. It is then up to the virtuous guy or girl to face the killer, and defeat the killer, who just won’t stay dead, even after being riddled with a large number of bullets that would take down any non horror movie villain.
Or something like that, at any rate. Formulaic, in other words.
Now, Stranger Things may be a tribute to the 80’s and all things horror, but one thing it is not is formulaic. This includes its treatment of the teenage girl. In fact, Stranger Things stands the formula on its head, and can be argued to make a strong feminist statement by doing so.
Well, no. Although my friends and family may argue otherwise, but you can’t miss what you never had, right?
And yes, Stranger Things does make a strong feminist statement, and here’s why.
Nancy becomes involved with Steve, and sneaks out to a party, lying to her parents and convincing poor Barb to cover for her. Pretty typical teen behavior, in other words.
Not surprisingly, Nancy and Steve have sex. The other couple at the party has sex. And poor Barb is left to her own devices.
Standard horror fare, in other words.
But then, we veer away from the standard horror. Nancy survives her first time, although Steve behaves in a pretty boorish manner (in other words, a teenage boy.) Barb, however, does not survive that night, as she is attacked by Mr. Tulip-Head. Apparently, Mr. Tulip-Head did not get the memo from Jason or Michael Myers, and does not attack the teenagers engaged in premarital sex. Rather, he behaves like a typical predator, and attacks the isolated member of the herd, aka Barb.
It takes a bit, but Nancy realizes that Barb is missing. She confesses her lie to her mother and speaks to the police, naturally leaving out that she and Steve had sex that night. I mean, it’s not like her sex life is anybody’s business but hers, right?
Furthermore, Nancy lets her mother know this, in no uncertain terms. Yes, she had sex and Barb is now missing. But the two are NOT related, nor should they be seen as related. Because, you know, becoming sexually active and an extra-dimensional monster that had been unleashed due to the irresponsible actions of a shady operation in town are NOT related, so let’s focus on the important thing here: now two children are missing, and maybe our town is in danger, so let’s do something before more people turn up missing?
In other words, quit punishing women for being sexual! Being sexual should not lead to death! And a women’s sex life is no one’s business but her own! Yeah, go Stranger Things!
Plus, Nancy kicks ass anyway. She threw down some serious shade against Mr. Tulip-Head, and they boys just kind of followed her lead.
In other words, I can’t give Nancy enough love.
It is 80’s heaven
And let me count the ways…
Where do I even start? This show just has so much 80’s…
We have the decor in the houses. Someone took some great care to make sure that the houses looked like something you would see back in 1983, from the wall paper down to the carpeting. So there’s that.
We get 80’s music. The Clash? How much more 80’s can you get?
And movie references. Don’t forget those. Joyce surprising Will with tickets to go see Poltergeist. And then Will disappearing, in much the same manner as Carol Anne Freeling. It’s true that Joyce developed an obsession with all things electronic and not the TV, but the concept is still the same.
I saw elements of The Goonies and Stand by Me. In fact, the story arc of Mike and his friends is kind of similar to these two movies: plucky misfit kids have a crazy adventure together and test their friendship in the process. Well, just add in extra-dimensional monsters and shady government operatives. But still not too far off.
The television that happened to be playing an episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe…squee!
Throw in a little John Hughes as well. The girl must choose between two guys: one is kind of a lovable meathead, and the other is artistic and introspective, and the sworn enemy of the aforementioned meathead…
Then there is the character of Hop, who had a kind of Indiana Jones vibe…swoon…
So much nostalgia.
I grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s (I am 38, for all you nosy folk), and when I watched Stranger Things, I was (at least momentarily), transported back to my childhood, and was reminded of a time in my life when things were a little less complicated.
And no, I am not looking back with rose-colored glasses. That’s 3 D glasses I am using, thank you very much!
Now excuse me, I have to go find some leggings that coordinate with my banana clip…battling extra-dimensional monsters will just have to wait!
The nods to different types of horror
Well, we just talked about how the show is scary. So of course, since it is a show in the horror category, right?
Captain obvious strikes again!
Actually, this reason is more in regards to the fact of how the show paid homage to so many different types of horror.
First of all, we have the 1980’s horror aspect. When I watched, I was reminded of all the 80’s classics: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and the Halloween movies. Those movies had teenagers or young adults as their protagonists, just like Stranger Things.
One of the main points of the show was the fear of the unknown. Again, I was reminded of John Carpenter (The Thing.) The premise of The Thing is a life form that is not understood, just like Mr. Tulip-Head in Stranger Things. That creature is definitely not understood, nor would understanding be a good thing (although it may result in one being forced to ingest slugs.)
I was also reminded of the movie Alien, which (again) deals with the fear of the unknown. And has a strong female protagonist. Nancy and Ellen Riply…now that would be a dangerous combo!
And I was also reminded of H.P. Lovecraft…
Yes, a show that is a mix of Stephen King’s It and The Goonies also has some nods to Lovecraft…who knew?
The idea that Will had been touched by the unknown (after he pukes up a slug and seems to be back in the Upside-Down momentarily) and forever changed is also something that is distinctively Lovecraftian. One of the running themes in Lovecraft’s stories is that knowledge is not necessarily always a good thing, and Will experiencing life in another dimension was not necessarily a good thing. In fact, I think that experience will have some pretty severe repercussions, but only time (and a second season) will tell.
In fact, I found the end of this season to be pretty unsettling, as the camera shots and the shots of the stars in the sky seemed to imply that someone (or something) had its eye on Will, his friends, Nancy, Jonathan and the whole town of Hawkins, Indiana. And that someone or something was not friendly. Not friendly at all.
It is a HUGE homage to Stephen King
While we are on the subject of horror and scary things…
This reason may be a bit redundant.
After all, Stephen King is a horror writer. And he is scary. He is even tied into the 1980’s (It, Pet Sematary, Cujo and Firestarter are all 80’s books.) He even ties into the feminist part, since he is also capable of writing strong female characters.
But, he is The Master. And The Master deserves his own entry. Not to mention the fact that there are aspects to this show that are distinctly Stephen King.
We do have one character specifically asking another character if she has read a Stephen King book. Hey, if you are going to drop a bunch of King Easter eggs, you may as well admit it, right?
The fact that Eleven’s mother was drugged in order to enhance latent PSI abilities is a direct reference to the book (and movie) Firestarter. In Firestarter, a man and woman are drugged as part of an experiment. The man and woman fall in love, marry and have a child. The child is gifted (or perhaps cursed) with the ability to start fires with her mind. This is similar to Eleven’s situation, in that her mother was drugged, and then gave birth to a child with PSI abilities (aka Eleven.)
Plus, I am pretty sure that Hawkins Laboratory is actually an operative of The Shop…
People, especially children, with extraordinary abilities, are a major theme in King’s work. The Shining, Carrie, Everything’s Eventual, Dr. Sleep and Firestarter are just some examples. In fact, in the Dark Tower series, people with these abilities even have a name: Breakers. And Eleven definitely classifies as a Breaker. Don’t worry, I won’t tell the Low Men!
Traveling between realities is also a huge theme in King’s work. In fact, this also has a specific name: going Todash. And the space in between realities is called the Todash space, and monsters lurk in the Todash space. When Eleven was in the blackness and first encountered that monster…I would say that was a pretty good representation of Todash space!
In King’s books, there are doors that lead to realities. They are known as “thinnies,” and allow travel to different worlds and even different time periods. Eleven was able to use her PSI abilities to make one of these doors. And, as far as we know, that door still exists at Hawkins Laboratory, with the potential for more creatures (The Mist comes to mind) to cross over to the Stranger Things level of The Tower…
Yeah, I said it. I gave Stranger Things its own level on The Dark Tower. So if Roland and his ka-tet, or perhaps Danny Torrance, end up employing the services of a certain girl with a fondness for Eggo waffles…well, you heard it from me first, folks!
It gives an honest portrayal of small town life
I am someone who grew up in a small town, so I feel qualified to write about this topic. And it is something that has come up in many a blog post, mainly in the Stephen King related posts, as small towns are as vital to a Stephen King novel as kids with PSI abilities, homicidal clowns and rabid St. Bernards.
I have discovered that the only people who really understand the small town are those who have spent time in the small town (like Stephen King, obviously.)
You have one extreme that sees the environment as charming, quaint, maybe even bucolic. Can kids really go missing in a small town? You can leave your doors unlocked, right? The locals are charming!
Then, there is the other extreme: people who see the small town populated by the likes of the Peacock family, with no access to modern technology (what plumbing?) and just a general ignorance of the outside world, period.
The truth is that small towns are complex. Stephen King hits on this in books like Needful Things, It, ‘Salem’s Lot and many, many others. Stranger Things also hits on this, and in only eight episodes. I am sure that this theme will be discussed more in (hopefully) upcoming seasons as well.
On the the one hand, there is a sense of community in a town like Hawkins, Indiana. People rally together to comfort Joyce and help search for Will when it is believed that he is still alive. People are at ease with each other, because if they don’t know you, they probably went to school with one of your parents. Or worked with your best friend at the local factory.
But small towns have a sense of ugliness about them too. I can personally testify to this. And Mike and his friends can as well. The bullies hurl a racial slur at Lucas early on. Steve is able to spread rumors and ruin Nancy’s “reputation” fairly quickly. The lack of concern for Barb after she disappears is downright disturbing. People quickly assume that Barb is a runaway, and no effort is made on her behalf. And that is part of small town life: the people in the town do not want to believe that something may be amiss, and will try to cover it up.
So how long have the inhabitants of Hawkins Laboratory suspected, at least somewhere deep down, that something was amiss in their town? Obviously, Dr. Brenner (who will be referred to in this blog as Dr. Pedophile, due to his disgusting nature) has been performing unethical experiments for a long time. At the very least, these experiments produced poor Eleven, and a woman in a vegetative state (likely the mother of Eleven.)
But Eleven is the 11th. The 11th of what? Are there others like her? If so, what happened to them? And what do the people living in the town know? What other skeletons will emerge?
The show has been renewed for a second season, so I am sure we will be finding out a lot more about Hawkins, Indiana, and its secrets.
Now, all of the characters are fabulous. Let me just get that out there, less I ruffle the tentacles of Mr. Tulip-Head, and any other monsters that resemble flora gone terribly wrong!
Along with Old Tulip-Head, I have much love for the characters in this show. Even the bad guys, like Dr. Pedophile. They are well drawn-out and believable, even when they are behaving in ways that may make one scratch his or her head (talking to you, Sheriff Hop.)
But there is one character that deserves his own entry.
So, without any further ado…let me introduce Dustin!
And if you don’t love Dustin, then you are definitely in the same category as people who kick puppies and listen to Nickelback!
Ok, I may be joking. About the kicking puppies bit, anyway.
On the surface, Dustin is lovable. Actually, everything about him is lovable, from his love of chocolate pudding, to his smile and even that speech impediment!
But, there is much more to Dustin than his ability to track down chocolate pudding and that charming smile of his.
Dustin is the glue that holds his group of friends together. It is true that Mike is the brains, and Lucas is a fighter.
However, if it weren’t for Dustin, the group may have fallen apart. Mike and Lucas were constantly at odds with each other, especially when Eleven was added to the fold. In fact, things got physical, and Lucas was thrown in the air by Eleven for his troubles.
But due to Dustin’s insightful nature (he did understand that he could not have the same place in Mike’s life, because he didn’t come into it until fourth grade), Lucas and Mike were able to come to an agreement and reconcile. Dustin played the mediator, getting each side to compromise with each other, so that they did not compromise their mission: saving Will from what was literally Hell.
Dustin has been compared to Vern Tessio, a character in the movie Stand By Me. Superficially, there is something to that, as both Vern and Dustin provide comic relief and are the easy going friends who try to keep the peace.
But as a wise man pointed out: Dustin would never forget where he left his pennies.
This is Dustin. He’s our friend and essential to keeping us from killing each other so that we don’t leave our other friend some place that is not on any map!
Much of Stranger Things is about friendships, and the relationships the characters have with each other.
Obviously, we have Mike, Will, Lucas and Dustin. The OF, or Original Friendship, if you will. When Will goes missing, Mike will stop at nothing to find Will so that his group can be whole again.
Then, there is Eleven. Mike and Eleven seem to bond immediately, and Eleven slowly becomes something more than a human flashlight to Mike, even though he is still desperate to find his missing friend.
In fact, it could be argued that Eleven’s presence makes all the boys better people, although this is especially true for Mike, whose relationship with Eleven opens his eyes, and causes him to grow up a little.
We also have Nancy and Barb. Barb starts off as Nancy’s friend who is willing to do anything for her, including lying to her parents so that she can sneak out and spend time with Steven. However, Barb disappears into the Upside-Down, a seeming victim of the Mr. Tulip-Head. Like Will, Nancy is forced to grow up, as she searches for Barb, and encounters the callous reaction of law enforcement and even her parents, who refuse to believe that Barb is anything other than a teenage runaway.
There is the relationship between Nancy and Jonathan. Jonathan is frantically searching for his brother, and Nancy is frantically searching for her friend. The two bond in their mutual tragedy and work together to defeat the evil that is trying to destroy their town. Nancy develops a respect for Jonathan, viewing him as a person, rather than the “weird kid” that her peers see him as. Jonathan also develops a respect for Nancy, and seems to feel something more than friendship for her, even though Nancy reconciles with Steve.
Steve also bonds with Jonathan, and seems to genuinely feel remorse for the bullying. However, that friendship seems to be tentative at best, given that both men have feelings for Nancy.
In other words, people had “frenemies,” even back in the ancient times!
It tackles taboo topics
It is no secret that horror and “taboo” topics are linked. Almost every horror movie features sex of some kind (Friday the 13th and its approximately 725 sequels are a great example of this.) Candyman is another movie that deals with taboo topics, because it addresses racism.
And don’t even get me started on Stephen King, The King of Taboo Topics (pun intended.) King books run the gamut, from domestic violence, to bullying, to substance abuse and even to the death of a child. When “real-world” issues are included alongside the supernatural ones, the the story becomes that much more believable.
Stranger Things is no different, in that it also deals with taboo topics. The show begins with every parent’s worst nightmare: the disappearance of a child. And it only gets more taboo from there.
Early on in the series, we witness the bullying that Mike and his friends endure. Lucas is treated to a racial epithet. Dustin is harassed due to his speech impediment. And it gets worse, as the bullies make some disparaging remarks about Will’s supposed death, when they are supposed to be mourning the loss of their classmate.
Mike is not the only character who experiences bullying. Jonathan is also harassed for being different, and this harassment is experienced at the hands of Steve. Steve is also insensitive to the disappearance of Will, and to the disappearance of Barb, the best friend of the girl he claims to love.
We have the character of Sheriff Hopper. Hop’s character is a walking bundle of taboos, actually.
First of all, Hop is a substance abuser. He is an alcoholic, much like Jack Torrance in The Shining. Not surprisingly, he is also a womanizer, using sex and alcohol to escape his demons.
Hop has also experienced the ultimate tragedy: he has lost a child. Not surprisingly, this experience has shaped him into the man that he is. The loss cost him his marriage, and his ex wife has moved on and started a new family. Hop attempts to do this, but struggles mightily. However, when he meets Eleven and spends time in the Upside Down so that he can rescue Will, Hop is able to begin healing. It could even be said that Will and Eleven are surrogate children of Hop.
Often, subjects are “taboo” and therefore frightening because we choose to keep them in the dark. But when the light is turned on, the monsters are no longer as formidable as they once were.
Now, I know that I said I had made this list with no particular order in mind. But, like Maury Povich might say, this post has determined that to be a lie!
There is one aspect of Stranger Things that deserves her own entry, and should be in the spotlight, at least for a minute.
I mean, after all, it would be an Upside Down kind of logic if I didn’t pay her homage, right?
So, without any further ado…
Here is my favorite thing about Stranger Things!
Yes, in case you have not figured it out, I am talking about our favorite telekinetic, Eggo waffle loving, mouth breather hater with a cute buzz cut adolescent, aka Eleven!
Eleven is bad ass. I can’t think of any other way to put it.
She is here to kick ass and eat Eggo waffles, and she’s almost out of waffles!
In all seriousness, I just love Eleven. How can you not? People who hate Eleven are like people that listen to Nickelback!
Eleven is one tough chick.
She started out as an experiment. She doesn’t know her real parents. The only parental figure that she’s ever known is a creepy scientist, known as Dr. Pedophile for the purposes of this blog.
And to Dr. Pedophile, she is nothing but his lab experiment, to be used as how he sees fit. And he uses her to open gateways that should never be opened, and to explore what should remain unknown. When she escapes, his concern is not for her as a person, but as his test subject that someone else may access.
Eleven is forced to face things that would frighten people three times her age to death. Yet, she somehow does it, in the name of helping a boy that she has never met.
She is also fiercely loyal to her friends, although she has only known Mike, Lucas and Dustin for a short time. She makes the bully pee his pants…that is true friendship right there!
Even though Eleven has been raised in a lab, she still manages to exhibit the most humanity of anyone on the show. Nearly everyone on the show has an agenda: Mike and his friends want to find Will, Hop wants to expose Hawkins Laboratory, Nancy is looking for revenge for Barb. But not Eleven. The only thing Eleven is looking for (besides waffles) is love and acceptance. And she does manage to find that, if only for a short time.
However, Eleven’s happiness is tragically cut short, when she makes the ultimate sacrifice: she battles an extra-dimensional monster, and seemingly sacrifices herself so that her friends may live.
Often, bad ass can come in small packages. And Eleven is a lot of bad ass in one small package. But sometimes, small packages have the most give, just like Eleven.
So, there you have it. Eleven reasons why I love Stranger Things. Sure, maybe I missed a few, but I think I got most of them. Hopefully, I don’t incur the ire of Mr. Tulip-Head and his merry band of slugs1
This is Stranger Things. Its my show and it’s crazy…crazy awesome, that it is!
So, if you haven’t watched this show, I have given you eleven reasons to make sure that Netflix subscription is up to date…
So flop down on your couch, and prepare for one epic binge session!
I have read this particular book more times than I can count (and seen the movie, too.)
The themes resonate with me, and I just love the story line. I also love the characters, as they are unforgettable. Stu Redman, Tom Cullen, Nick Andros, Nadine Cross, Harold Lauder…they are forever etched into my brain. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So imagine my excitement when I heard about a “new” The Stand. Not better or anything like that (as if, right?) but another re-imagining, if you will. The same kind of story, just told in a new way.
Sign me up, I said! I’m there, no questions asked!
Well, after the months of anticipation, I finally got the “new” The Stand, aka The Fireman. And The Fireman is written by none other than The Master 2.0, aka Joe Hill.
I have read everything that Joe Hill (the son of The Master, aka Stephen King) has ever written. And he has quickly established himself as one of my favorite writers. He comes by the moniker The Master 2.0 honestly. Joe is certainly a chip off the old block, and may (gasp) even do some things better than the old block, although only time will tell on that statement.
So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of Joe Hill’s latest novel, The Fireman.
And, as always:
At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to a young woman named Harper Grayson. Harper is a school nurse, and loves her job. We also learn that there is a massive epidemic that is slowing taking over Harper’s world. The doctors and scientists refer to this plague as Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To the general public, it is known as Dragonscale. Anyone afflicted with Dragonscale first develops black and gold marks across his/her body. At some point, the person afflicted with Dragonscale bursts into flame, dying an agonizing death. There is no known cure for Dragonscale.
One day, Harper and several of her students witness a man burst into flames, due to the effects of Dragonscale. This is a traumatic experience for Harper. She returns home later that night and speaks to her husband, Jakob, who insists that she not continue working at the school, as Jakob is deathly afraid of becoming infected with Dragonscale.
Some months later, we learn that Harper is volunteering at a local hospital that mainly houses patients with Dragonscale. The job is hard, as so many have died from the effects of Dragonscale, but Harper sticks with it.
One day, a man in a fireman’s suit brings in a little boy who is very ill. The man becomes belligerent, stating that the boy’s case is an emergency. After some arguments with the head nurse, the boy is examined and found to have a ruptured appendix. It is also discovered that the boy’s name is Nick, and he is deaf. The doctors operate on the boy, and he stays in the hospital for three days. On the fourth day, the boy has disappeared. The staff at the hospital is puzzled over this, as his room was located on an upper floor, and there are no signs of any forced entry.
While volunteering at the hospital, Harper meets a woman named Renee. Renee is positive and upbeat, doing her best to make sure that those afflicted with Dragonscale get some happiness during their last days. Renee reads to the children, and is not afraid to comfort the dying. Harper becomes friends with Renee, and is devastated to learn that Renee is infected with Dragonscale. One day, while reading to the children, Renee realizes that she will be overcome by the Dragonscale, and makes an exit from the hospital. It is presumed that Renee passes away from the disease, but her body is never found.
Shortly after Renee’s death, the hospital where Harper is volunteering burns down. Her husband, Jakob, offers her comfort, and tells her that he is determined to enjoy life, even if there is not much of that remaining for them. That night, Harper and Jakob make love, and conceive their first child.
Harper soon finds out that she is pregnant. Shortly afterwards, she she also finds out that she has somehow contracted Dragonscale. Upon learning this news, Jakob becomes hysterical and leaves their home. Jakob also begins to pressure Harper to end her life, even though Harper is opposed to this, as she is pregnant.
As the weeks pass by, the hysteria mounts. Infected people are rounded up and put into concentration camps. Some people take it upon themselves to rid the world of infected people, and resort to violence to do so. Harper even receives a visit from some mysterious people in Halloween costumes, who somehow know that she is pregnant and offer prenatal vitamins to her. Harper sees a man in a fireman costume when she sees these people.
One day, Harper makes the call to her brother Conor to let him know that she is pregnant and also infected with Dragonscale. Conor and his wife become very upset at the news, but Harper begs them to take care of her baby, as she is convinced that she can still deliver a healthy baby.
Shortly after the conversation with her brother, Harper receives a visit from Jakob. Jakob is hysterical and is convinced that he has contracted Dragonscale, even though Harper is not convinced of this. Harper is frightened of Jakob, as he has come armed with a gun.
Jakob attacks Harper, but she retaliates by attacking him with a wine glass and is able to escape. She then encounters the mysterious fireman she first met at the hospital, along with a woman named Allie who is wearing a Captain America costume. The fireman fends off Jakob, and Harper realizes that he is also infected with Dragonscale. However, the fireman appears to be able to control the effects of Dragonscale, and is even able to use the affliction as a sort of weapon.
The fireman and Allie lead Harper to a refugee camp that has been set up for those afflicted with Dragonscale. There, Harper encounters Renee, the nurse who she thought had died from the effects of Dragonscale. She also meets a man named Tom Storey, who is referred to as Father Story. We also learn that the fireman’s name is John. Harper is treated for her fractured ankle at the camp, and others also tell her that the Dragonscale can be controlled, and that death is not automatic. Harper also learns that Nick, the deaf boy who was suffering from appendicitis at the hospital, is also a resident at the camp. She also meets a woman named Carol, who is the daughter of Father Storey.
Later on, Harper speaks to Renee, who tells her the story of how she survived the Dragonscale and learned to control it, as opposed to letting it control her. It appears that the Dragonscale responds negatively to distress and positively to happier emotions.
As the months go by, Harper struggles to adjust to life at the camp. The camp begins to run low on supplies, and begins rationing food. Harper also learns that the members of the camp were forced to kill another member, Harold Cross, who was going to betray them to the outside world. This would allow the Cremation Squads, a group of people who have taken it upon themselves to destroy those who are infected with the Dragonscale, to find the camp. Harper also begins to exhibit signs of infection, such as smoke coming from her skin, but still is not able to control the effects of the Dragonscale.
One morning, Harper awakens. Her clothes are burning and she begins to feel that she is going to succumb to the Dragonscale. She heads outside for a walk, and thinks that she hears John, the fireman who secludes himself from the rest of the camp, telling her not to give up. This encourages Harper, and she returns to the camp, feeling somewhat at peace with herself.
Harper volunteers for kitchen duty the first day the rationing comes into effect. She feels a joy when she realizes that people are volunteering to skip a meal so that others may eat. She begins to sing a song from Mary Poppins, and feels a sort of euphoria that is so intense that she even temporarily forgets her own name. At this point, Harper has learned how to control the effects of the Dragonscale, and begins to feel more optimistic.
It is soon revealed that someone is stealing items from women’s dormitory. Father Storey makes a plea for that person to come forward, but no one does. Harper becomes a victim of the thief, who steals the care package that she has made for her unborn child. However, Harper momentarily forgets about the thief, when the fireman, John, makes his way into the camp and tells Harper that he needs her assistance, as there are two more refugees who have made their way into the camp.
While searching for medical supplies to assist the refugees, Harper finds a notebook that had been kept by Harold, the traitor who was killed a few months earlier. Harper puts the notebook aside for the moment, and makes her to the rescue mission.
The rescue mission proves to be difficult, as the group is attacked by a Cremation Squad, which is a group of people who have taken it upon themselves to kill anyone who they believe is infected with Dragonscale. John the fireman is able to distract the squad, and is able to escape with Harper’s help, even though he is injured. Harper notices her husband Jakob on the squad, but he does not recognize her.
Harper helps John back to his cottage, and does her best to tend to his injuries. She is summoned back to the main camp, however, because Tom Storey has also been badly injured. Harper attempts to save Father Storey with her makeshift equipment. He does not die, but does slip into a coma for two months.
The two convicts are accused of attempting to kill Father Storey, despite the lack of evidence. Harper and Renee speak out against this, stating that keeping the men as prisoners in inhumane conditions is wrong.
Harper then heads back to her house, as she needs supplies. She is surprised by the appearance of her husband, Jakob, and two fellow members of his Cremation Squad. One of these men is the Marlboro Man, who is also a conservative radio talk show host. Harper is able to hide from the men, and heads back to the camp several hours later.
After she returns to the camp, Harper heads over to John the fireman’s house. She treats him for his injuries to the best of her ability, and learns the story of how he came to know Carol’s sister Sarah, who was the mother to Allie and Nick. Harper begs John to teach her how to control the Dragonscale, but he refuses. John tells Harper that he can use the Dragonscale to provide a distraction, so that she can obtain some desperately needed medical supplies.
When Harper returns to the camp, she finds out the other residents are angry with her, as they feel she could have betrayed their secrets. Carol has punished Allie for neglecting her duties and letting Harper leave by placing a stone in her mouth so that she cannot speak. Harper tells Allie that she will not accept the punishment, and Allie doesn’t have to either. However, Allie ignores Harper and continues to play martyr.
Harper speaks to Renee, and the two worry about the direction that the group is taking, as they feel that Carol has become a dictator.
The next day, Harper is brought to Carol. She also encounters one of the convicts who was previously rescued, named Gil, in Carol’s quarters. Gil tells the story of how he and his friend Mazz escaped from prison, as they realized that people who were claiming to help them actually intended on killing them, as they witnessed several infected prisoners being shot. Carol tells Gil that he still must remain in the camp’s prison, as she believes that Mazz was actually responsible for injuring her father and that Gil was an accomplice. Harper also outlines John’s plan for obtaining medical supplies. Carol is reluctant, but still tells Harper to put the plan in motion as soon as possible.
After the confrontation with Carol, Harper is attacked by group of girls, who pelt her with snowballs and force a stone into her mouth as punishment. Allie is among the group, but does nothing to stop the attack.
The attempt to obtain medical supplies turns violent when the group hijacks an ambulance. Several people are murdered and injured. Harper attempts to help the injured, but is rebuffed by other members of the group. Harper and her group are then attacked by a group led by Jakob and his friend the Marlboro Man. Several members are killed, but Harper and a few others manage to escape, as what appears to be a phoenix shows up at the right time.
When Harper returns to the camp, she finds out that Father Storey has a close call with death but is still alive. Carol is distraught, and tells Harper that she is only allowed to stay at the camp to care for her father. Carol tells Harper that if Father Storey passes away, she will be forced to leave the camp.
Harper then receives a letter from Allie apologizing for her actions. She speaks with another member of the camp, Michael, and learns that it was Allie who told the John the fireman what was happening when the group hijacked the ambulance, and that John sent over the phoenix to distract the Cremation Squad. Michael talks of leaving the camp with Harper, Allie and other members who are unhappy with Carol’s rules.
Harper then visits John, and finds out that he has pneumonia. She talks of leaving the camp, but tells John that he should lead that group, as she feels that she needs to stay to give birth to her baby. Harper administers what treatment she can to John, and learns the story of how John, Allie, Nick and Tom learned to control the effects of the Dragonscale through singing. However, John does not give any details as to how Sarah, who was never infected with the Dragonscale, died.
Back at the infirmary, Harper reads the journal of Harold Cross, the man who was thought to be a traitor. She learns that there is an island for those infected with Dragonscale, known as Martha Quinn Island. An internet search on a contraband cell phone confirms that this island is real. Shortly after Harper digests this news, she receives another surprise: it appears that Tom Storey has awakened from his coma. However, Harper is not able to get any information from Tom, as he appears to go back to sleep.
John, Harper and several other members meet at John’s cottage one night to discuss plans for a possible escape from the camp. Harper is chosen to be the leader of the group, due to her calm manner. Harper stays behind when the others leave. She shares a kiss with John, and learns the full story behind Sarah’s death. Apparently, Nick had figured out how to fully control the Dragonscale, and taught John how to do so. Sarah deliberately infected herself with Dragonscale, as she considered it a blessing, and not a curse. However, Sarah did not allow for the infection to be in her body for a long enough time (according to Harold Cross’ notes, one needed to be infected for at least six weeks before the Dragonscale spread to the brain) and burned to death before she could control the infection. However, not all of Sarah burned, as a part of essence remains in John’s cottage.
When Harper awakens the next morning, she finds out that Tom Storey has regained full consciousness. And Tom has news to share: he tells Harper that Carol, his daughter, deliberately set up Harold Cross to be murdered by a Cremation Squad, in order to make an example of him. Father Storey asks that John be brought back to the camp, along with Allie, Nick and Carol, so that he may have his family by his side.
After receiving this information, Harper pays a visit to John’s cottage, and brings him back to the camp, so that he can speak to Tom Storey. However, they are attacked by Michael, who actually is on the side of Carol and is not interested in fleeing the camp. Michael also set up Harold Cross to be murdered by the cremation squad. Michael also attempted to have Harper killed, as he was the one who set the Cremation Squad upon her when she returned to her home for medical supplies. Michael has killed Tom, and plans on framing Harper for the murder. He forces Harper to inject herself with insulin, to make it look like a murder and attempted suicide.
When Harper awakens, she faces Carol, along with an angry mob. Harper, John and their followers are accused of conspiring to kill Tom Storey with intent of turning the camp into a prison camp. Mazz, one of the rescued prisoners, also comes forward as a double agent. The mob then begins to pelt John with stones.
Harper begins to fight, and finds that she can use the Dragonscale to do so. She is able to rescue John, and she, Allie and John attempt to escape. They realize that Nick, the young deaf boy, is also helping them, as Nick uses the Dragonscale to create a giant hand that is termed the Hand of God.
However, all is not well, as Nelson Heinrich, thought to have been killed in the heist of the ambulance and medical supplies, has led a Cremation Crew to the camp. Harper, John, Allie and the rest of the members take shelter in the empty church. There, Carol and her followers commit a sort of mass suicide, going up in flames while singing.
Renee and Gil find a firetruck, and use that to defeat the Cremation Squad, which includes Harper’s ex husband Jakob, and the Marlboro Man. However, Gil is shot in the process and loses his life. Nick leads Harper and the rest of the survivors to a sandy pit, and confesses that he was the thief who had been stealing supplies. John does not come along, but promises Harper and the others that he will meet up with them in a day or two.
At the hideout, Nick tells the story of how Michael tricked him into stealing the items. Shortly afterwards, John the fireman returns. John makes another trip to gather food and supplies, and the survivors also hold a funeral for Gil. John and Harper make plans to leave for Maine for Martha Quinn Island, as there are still Cremation Squads hunting the group.
The next morning, John, Harper and the rest of the survivors head for Maine via a truck, in an attempt to get to Martha Quinn Island. Renee sees a cat that she thinks to be her cat, Mr. Truffles, and the group votes to bring the cat along, although John is not happy about this, as he feels the cat may be a danger to them. After a tense inspection, the group passes a checkpoint and arrives in Maine, which has been destroyed by the Dragonscale.
The survivors are then attacked by Harper’s ex-husband, Jakob, who has tracked them down to Maine. Harper battles her ex-husband, and is saved by a woman of flames, who is the essence of Sarah, Nick and Allie’s mother. Jakob is literally burned alive. John also survives the attack, but is badly hurt. The essence of Sarah bids her goodbyes to John, Nick and Allie, and then literally winks out of existence.
Harper and her friends continue on their way to Martha Quinn Island. However, Harper grows increasingly worried about John, who contracts pneumonia in addition to the rest of his injuries.
As the group makes its way to Martha Quinn Island, they find supplies and provisions along the way. However, the healthy people greet them with mistrust, and do their best not to make any contact with those infected with Dragonscale. Someone also leaves antibiotics for John, who then begins to show signs of recovery.
Finally, the group makes it to Martha Quinn Island. However, on the boat ride to the island, Harper finds out that they have been tricked: there is no island for survivors. Instead, the infected are euthanized, in attempt to rid the world of Dragonscale. John confronts Jim, the captain of the boat, and is shot in the stomach. However, John uses the power of the Dragonscale to burn the boat and their attackers, saving Harper and the others. The group is then rescued by Don Lewiston, another survivor from Carol’s camp who had previously gotten a head start to Martha Quinn Island. Once they are on Don’s boat, Harper gives birth to a baby girl. The baby is also infected with Dragonscale. Harper names her Ashley.
Don speaks of other islands for those infected with Dragonscale, and Harper and her friends agree to set sail for them, in the hopes that they will be able to survive in the new world they now inhabit.
Well, let me just say this much:
Joe Hill, you are on fire!
Seriously, this book was smoking, and fanned the flames of my love for Joe Hill and his writing!
Ok, we got that out of the way, aka the obligatory fire puns that I intended to burn you with (see what I did there.)
So, let’s get something else out of the way…
As I have said before, Joe Hill may be the son of The Master, but he is definitely his own man. And I love that about him.
However, there were so many nods to The Master, and I had so many fan girl moments…
So let’s talk about those…
First of all, the homage to The Stand. My favorite King book of all time. So of course, the fan girling was intense.
For instance, a deaf kid who just happened to be named…Nick?! You bet! My number one book boo exists on the Joe Hill level of The Tower…who knew???
The many references to Watership Down!, and the guy who claimed he couldn’t get into into a book about rabbits, but loved the book anyway…sound like our favorite redneck from East Texas, anyone?
A character named Harold Cross? Is he the unfortunate lovechild of the couple we loved to hate in The Stand?
And the homage went way beyond even The Stand…
Nozza-la, anyone? Hey, you gotta take what you can get, you can’t be picky about soda in the post apocalyptic world. Now excuse me while I take a look at my Takuro Spirit, can’t seem to find anyone to service this particular vehicle for some reason…
The mention of Tom Gordon…a girl can love him, right?
Ok, enough with the bad jokes…time to take a stand against them…haha!
I also loved the references to pop culture in this book, along with the humor. Someone is definitely a chip off the old block.
I mean, he had Glenn Beck catch fire and burn to death…giggle snort…this brought a much needed smile to me that day!
Although he was bit harsh on JK Rowling. But somehow, it’s fitting that the masses would turn on her for trying to help those who contracted the ‘scale…
Time to talk about Harper Willowes, our main character.
This book may be titled The Fireman, but make no mistake about it: this is Harper’s book (sorry John, you are still awesome anyway!)
And now we have Harper Willowes.
In other words, Harper is a bad ass woman. Extremely bad ass. And she did most of this bad assery while she was pregnant…mind = blown!
Anyone who escapes from an abusive relationship is a bad ass, in my book. And Harper did that, relatively early in the story, when she got away from Jakob (really, this guy should top a list of book douches. Beats women and listens to conservate talk radio…real winner right there!)
While John the Fireman may be the camp’s X Factor, Harper Willowes is really the camp’s heart. Her fellow survivors come to depend on her, and not just for her nursing skills. Harper is able to remain calm and rational, when most people are not. She is even able to remain calm and rational in regards to her child, whom she considers turning over to adoptive parents once he/she is born, so she does not pass the ‘scale on to her child.
Harper is someone you want on your side at any time (although I will skip the Mary Poppins, thanks), but especially in a time of crisis. There is something to be said for someone of that nature, as I can think of few people that I know personally whom I could trust in a time of crisis…makes me actually wish Harper was real.
Joe Hill did a good job with his previous female characters, such as Georgia (Heart Shaped Box), Vic (N0S4A2), Merrin (Horns) and now Harper (The Fireman.) Finding a good female character in any book can be a problem, but so far, Joe Hill is stepping up to the plate nicely in this regard.
So, let’s talk about the structure of this book, and the ending.
Especially about the ending, but more on that later.
A prevailing theme in this book was the fact that our greatest enemy is…well…us. I was constantly reminded of that old Pogo cartoon, where one character tells another that he has met the enemy, and the enemy is us.
This book did not need an evil wizard (although there is nothing wrong with those) in order to be scary. Nor did it need need an infectious horrible disease that kills people in horrible ways (nothing wrong with that though, either, natch.)
Instead, humans were the bad guys in this book. We had the members of The Cremation Squads. Just the name of that is horrible enough. They also carried out that first word, burning those believed to be infected with Dragonscale, in the name of keeping everyone else safe. So definitely pretty horrible.
But we also had fanaticism, aka “Mother” Carol and her band of zealots. And these guys were supposed to be on the side of the good! However, their treatment of those who had the nerve to disagree with them was almost as bad as what the Cremation Squad did those infected with the ‘scale.
Fanaticism is something that comes up often in the works of Papa King, and Mr. Hill seems to be a chip off the old block in that regard as well. I was constantly reminded of Ms. Carmody in The Mist, and how her religious fanaticism was almost as big a threat as the inter-dimensional monsters. Her fanaticism was also about as useful as Carol’s fanaticism when the big showdown came, and both women ultimately proved themselves useless in the fight against the greater enemy.
Joe Hill spent a great deal of time discussing how those infected with Dragonscale were treated, and the parallels I drew were disturbing, to say the least.
Throughout time, there has always been some sort of threat. At least, we are led to believe we need to be afraid of something. After all, if there is not someone or something to fear and persecute, then what good is being human, right?
We have had Ebola virus. The internet gets really interesting, when it finally becomes public knowledge that there have been people infected with Ebola who have been traveling in and out of our country (and others) for decades. Suddenly, everyone becomes an expert in biology and obtains medical license, and knows the best way to handle those infected (hint: it usually involves something much more inhumane than offering the sick chicken noodle soup.)
There is the Islamo-phobia that Glenn Beck, Donald Trump and the rest of the Faux News crowd is intent on perpetuating. After all, if I am not in constant fear of a terrorist attack by Muslims (since white Christians never commit those, natch), then I am just not a good American!
Way back when, we had the Jewish refugees. Many requested refugee status when things started to go south in Germany, and were denied. Or if they did manage to migrate here, they were shunned, almost as if they had a disease that people feared because most did not understand it.
Sounds pretty familiar, huh? I have said it before and I will say it again: human fuckery is the worst kind of horror there is. And Joe Hill drives home that point again and again, in The Fireman.
Ok, let’s talk about the ending to this one.
I admit it, I grew complacent.
What can I say, it was last week…I was naive back then!
This ending has left me to conclude that Joe Hill is a genius. Seriously, he needs to win a Pulitzer prize!
Now, I should have had a clue. They were calling the so-called sanctuary “Martha Quinn Island”, after all. Not that there’s anything wrong with Martha Quinn, but she is sort of a relic (gah, I just got old.)
Joe Hill was born in 1972, and is only six years older than I am. In other words, we are of the same generation.
And my generation tends to idealize the 1980’s, in much the same way that my parents continue to idealize the 1960’s.
So naming the so-called sanctuary after an 80’s icon is just somehow fitting. We want to believe that the 1980’s were a simpler time, in much the same way that we want to believe that there just has to be a sanctuary somewhere that will take care of in our time of need. How could there not be?
I was struck by how easy it was to lull (most) of the survivors, once they had escaped Carol, along with the defeat of the Cremation Squad. It reminded of the rabbits in Watership Down! who are actually captives of a farmer who raises them for food, but they don’t know they are captives. Like Harper and the other survivors, they become complacent. And of course, they don’t come to a good end.
Honestly, the ending shocked me a bit, but in the end (see what I did there), I was not entirely surprised by this ending. And I believe that this ending was the only ending and therefore the right ending.
Unfortunately, nothing is ever so cut and dried in “real life.” We want to believe that there is still good out there, and that there are people who have our best interests at heart. Oftentimes, we allow ourselves to be fooled, even though we know that we should be more aware. We don’t want to believe that we will lose that job that we have had for years. We get married, and think that we will live happily ever after. We don’t want to believe that anyone we love can die, much less die before their time. And we would like to believe that if there was a plague that resulted in us contracting a disease that could potentially result in a painful death, that there would be people out there dedicated to possibly curing the disease, as opposed to simply eradicating those afflicted with the disease.
But again, human fuckery rears its ugly head. It probably started with human fuckery, and then it ends with human fuckery. Joe Hill reminds us this yet again.
But with this ending, Joe Hill also gives us something else: hope. After all, Harper safely delivers her baby. And she will keep her baby, as the baby is also infected with Dragonscale. Harper may have lost John, but Nick, Renee, Allie and the others survive. And if they survived, along with their rescuer Don, there may well other survivors. And maybe, just maybe, there will be a chance to rebuild.
Fire can be used to destroy. But like almost everything, fire has a dual nature. Fire can be used to create as well. And sometimes, everything must be destroyed, if we are ever to have a chance to emerge from the ashes, much like a phoenix, and attempt to rebuild.
Stephen King has said that if he passes away and leaves any unfinished manuscripts, he is not worried because he knows that Joe Hill is more than capable of finishing those manuscripts. And this is a comforting thought, indeed.
And it’s also a comforting thought that Joe Hill is just getting started, and that we are only at the beginning of a great writing career. And I can’t wait to find out where that career will lead.
In life, sometimes you take journeys. Sometimes these are physical journeys (I have had a few myself).
Sometimes, there are other kinds of journeys as well…
Well, I am sure most of us (me included) don’t take a journey like that often
ever but that game last night sure was was ride, at any rate…whew! And this little old blog sends you love, Ser Peyton!
Or, if you are more like me, you take literary journeys. Oh, too nerdy for you! Well, sorry, guess someone forgot what blog this was again!
And I have traveled alone, and I have traveled with others. Now traveling alone is not a bad thing. But sometimes, having a companion has its advantages. A Sam Gamgee, maybe. Or if you are Peyton Manning, a Von Miller (and it doesn’t hurt to perhaps throw in a Chris Harris, or maybe an Aquib Talib or two, for that matter).
In other words, great journeys are not usually accomplished alone, whether they are to destroy a pesky ring, or to obtain a pesky second (Super Bowl) ring. Even this guy can testify to that!
Yes, you are definitely reading this blog and forgot to heed all the previous warnings!
Reading the Dark Tower series is a journey. And I have taken that journey on my own. And it was great, of course.
But I have taken it with friends, too.
Well, I wasn’t talking about these guys, per se. If I was relying on them for friendship, well that is a recipe for guaranteed heartbreak, and I will leave it at that.
Nor am I talking about the followers on my blog and social media account, who were with me every step of the way in my latest re-read and review of the entire series. I do appreciate
both all of you very much though, and much love to everyone!
Rather, I am talking about works such as this one:
And this one:
Well, they may be books, but to any Constant Reader who is also obsessed with the Dark Tower series, they are almost as invaluable as a Sam Gamgee or Vonn Miller. They aid in the journey, so that journey becomes that much richer. These books have also made me become a much better reader, as I have picked out some details I missed on previous re-reads, which made me feel like the kid who found the Easter Egg that everyone else missed because everyone else did not know where to look.
Recently, I have the please of talking to one of the creators of my companions, aka Bev Vincent. I was curious as to what goes on when creating works like these to aid in this journey that I have taken so many times. And Mr. Vincent was gracious enough to talk to me, and given me a little more insight into his work, the Stephen King universe in general and the world of our friendly neighborhood gunslinger. So, read below for the complete interview.
And, as always:
Please, tell us a little about yourself. This can be anything, including education, background, etc. Also, when did you first become a Stephen King fan and why?
I come from eastern Canada. I grew up in a small community in northern New Brunswick, where I lived until I was eighteen. I then went to Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I studied chemistry. I got a B.Sc in 1983 and finished my PhD in X-ray crystallography in the fall of 1987. I did a postdoc at the ETH in Zurich and worked as a staff crystallographer until 1989, at which time I moved to Texas, where I’ve lived ever since.
I started writing seriously at the end of the previous millennium and it has been part of my daily routine ever since, although I still have a day job.
I discovered Stephen King when I was living in Halifax. I picked up a copy of ‘Salem’s Lot in a used bookstore and I’ve been hooked ever since. I sought out his other books (there weren’t many in 1979!) and have followed along with him for over 35 years. I read a lot, and far more than just King’s books, but he’s been one of the constants. I guess you could call me a Constant Reader.
What is your favorite Stephen King book, and why is it your favorite?
I have a hard time picking absolute favorites — I have affinities for certain books at different times for different reasons. I have a particular fondness for ‘Salem’s Lot because it was the first, the one that got me hooked. The book has a lot going for it, for a “second” novel (of course, we know it was not his second written book), and it stands up quite well.
Bag of Bones is one that would appear in my top five list. It was the first of his books that I read in first draft manuscript long before it was published. That was a fascinating experience, and I especially appreciated the way he subsequently rewrote the book, layering in things that weren’t present in the first draft.
I used to like to tell people about The Gunslinger for a long time, when people didn’t know much about it. It was my entry point into the Dark Tower series, but for a long time it was the only book in the series for me. I loved its mood. I had no idea where the series was headed — or even that it was headed somewhere, but I reread that one a number of times. I could list others that are high on my list. But I’d have an easier time picking my two least favorites. No trouble there at all!
Oh, what is your least favorite SK book?
I have two: Needful Things and The Tommyknockers. I didn’t like any of the characters in the former and I liked Bobbi and Gard a lot in the latter and hated that King abandoned them for a huge chunk of the book when all I wanted to do was to get back and find out how they were doing.
I am really excited about the upcoming Hulu adaptation for 11/22/63, and I have high hopes for the series. However, I know that movie adaptations of King’s books are mixed, at best. Some work, some don’t. Out of all the King movies, which one do you feel works the best, and why? Which one do you think does not work, and why?
I’ve already seen the entire miniseries of 11.22.63 and I think people are going to like it a lot. It is significantly different from the novel in many ways, yet it captures the sense of the book perfectly. The actress who plays Sadie is wonderful and it is her more than James Franco who gives this adaptation its heart. The production values are extremely high and the cast is terrific.
I’ve never been someone who saw the adaptation as a necessary part of the life cycle of a book. Slavish adaptations aren’t always the best. The problem with Dreamcatcher, in my opinion, is that it tried to cram too much of a very big book into the movie, which made it almost incomprehensible to people to people unfamiliar with the novel.
I also visited (the set of) Haven for a day with my daughter, which was great fun. There’s a case of an adaptation that took a core idea and then ran off in a vastly different direction from the source. The same people did the same thing with The Dead Zone TV series.
I have read your book, The Dark Tower Companion, and wow! Can you tell us how this book came to be, and exactly what went in to writing it and putting it together?
I previously wrote The Road to the Dark Tower around the time King was finishing up the last three books in the series. People had frequently asked me when I was going to write a book about King and his work, but I had resisted the idea because it seemed like such a huge project.
Then when I heard that King was going to write the final three Dark Tower books all at once, I had the idea that I could explore the series and, in doing so, say something about all of King’s work in general. King gave me the manuscripts for the final books a couple of years before they were published, which allowed me to have my book ready around the same time as Book 7 was published.
The Road to the Dark Tower was written for people who had already read the entire series and wanted to revisit it with me. I would be the tour guide, and I would point out the things I had noticed while reading and rereading and studying the series.
Then, a number of years later, the first serious indications that there would be a film adaptation emerged, with Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman. I thought it was time to update my book with all the things that had happened in the Dark Tower Universe since my first book was published. However, my publisher suggested that I do a new book, completely different from the first. So, The Dark Tower Companion was written for people who haven’t necessarily read the series. I thought there would be people who came to the Dark Tower via the movies or the Marvel graphic novels. People who might want to know more about something — a reference book. I had to read the series several times for each book, with different things in mind on each reading. My copies are marked up with so many different colored highlighters that they look like the Bends o’ the Rainbow!
I especially enjoyed getting to interview all these great people for the book, from King himself to Ron Howard (from the set of RUSH) and Akiva Goldsman, and then all of the creative people involved in the Marvel series. That was a series of terrific experiences. I also had a great time coming up with the two maps — the one that showed the known region of Mid-World, especially when certain details came together, and the one of the Dark Tower locations in Manhattan.
It looks like we may finally get our Dark Tower movie(s). I know that if Roland doesn’t do the finger twirl in the movie, I will not watch it…at all! (Joking, joking.) All kidding aside, what do you need to see in the movie(s) from the books (since we all know that there will be changes, which are necessary) to make sure that the movie does not stray too far from the source material?
I’m open to a complete re-imagination of the series. If you’ve read my interviews with Howard and Goldsman, you’ll see that their ideas for the first movie are quite radical, and I was fine with that. I’m also fine with possibly having Idris Elba as Roland — in fact, I think that would be terrific.
A movie isn’t made first and foremost for the readers of the source material, I believe. They are made for a movie-going audience, so a lot of accommodations have to be made, and can be made.
Some people have suggested that the movies should feature Roland’s NEXT version of his quest, the one where he starts of with the Horn of Eld. To my mind, that means that anything could happen. Anything. If Roland is a different person (arguably a slightly better one), then maybe he needs different companions to get the job done. I’m not saying I want to see that happen, but once that suggestion is made, it shows that people are open to change.
I don’t know if the movie can work if it is too literal an adaptation. A lot of people were upset by how the series ended on the page — can you imagine going to see a handful of movies over a span of years only to end up back at the beginning again?
I’m perfectly content for them to do whatever they see fit with the adaptation. There are some pretty smart people in the movie business. And if they end up making a hash of it, oh well.
So many thanks to Bev Vincent for this interview. And remember, if you need a companion to help guide you on the Path of the Beam, whether it be be your first journey or your 19th journey, please check out The Road to the Dark Tower, The Dark Tower Companion and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: A Complete Concordance (written by the lovely Robin Furth). These
friends works are available wherever books are sold.
And, as always, happy reading!
Who doesn’t remember the first time he/she fell in love? While I am happily married now and would not trade that for the world, nothing can compare to my first. I was 19 and maybe a bit of a late bloomer. I also spent most of high school being invisible to the guys.
Then came college. I think my parents had been gone for all of 15 minutes or so when I started dating. Or something like that.
Yes, I fell in love. It was glorious. My body began to behave in ways I never knew that it could. Let’s just say I became a woman rather quickly. And I started actually living for another human being and began to build hopes and dreams around him. And I let someone see the side of me that was previously only for behind closed doors. Previously, the line “I couldn’t feel, so I learned to touch” was one that applied to me. But I started being able to feel, and boy did I touch too!
Sadly (or maybe correctly) it was not meant to be. And the heartbreak was excruciating. This was definitely not something advertised when I fell in love! And even to this day, that breakup still hurts me a little bit, even though I consider myself a (mostly) happy, well adjusted adult in a great relationship. But the lessons (and the scars) from that first experience of falling in love still remain, and will probably remain for a long, long time.
As I have stated in my previous entries, it turns out that Roland Deschain is actually human and has feelings…who knew? Do cold-blooded killing machines fall in love and experience heartbreak? Do they experience intense sexual desire for another person that is born out of genuine attraction, as opposed to a simple need for release? It turns out that they do. Or at least the one we call Roland Deschain does. And the story of his first love, from the initial meeting to the torrid affair to the truly sad ending makes my experience of falling in love and breaking up for the first time seem like a ride on the kiddie roller coaster.
So strap in, and get ready for the ride of your life, as I review The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass.
Wizard and Glass begins where the cliffhanger in The Wastelands left off: Roland and his friends are aboard Blaine the Mono, a sentient train that has also gone insane. Roland has challenged Blaine to a riddling contest, as Blaine loves riddles. If Roland and his friends lose the contest, Blaine will commit suicide and take the ka tet with him. If Roland and his friends win the contest, Blaine will spare their lives. It is revealed that Blaine is cruel and loves to hurt other living creatures.
Each member of the tet takes a turn at asking Blaine a riddle. Blaine easily answers all of them. Eventually, Jake, Eddie and Susannah run out of riddles and Roland takes over, as riddling contests were something Roland participated in as a child. However, even Roland is unable to stump Blaine, and the tet becomes more sure of the death that awaits them, with each passing mile.
During the riddling contest, Eddie becomes lost in thought. And to the surprise of his friends, especially Roland, it is Eddie who figures out how to stump Blaine: jokes. Blaine’s programming cannot handle jokes (which are still a form of riddle). Eddie begins to tell Blaine jokes, and Blaine is unable to answer these kinds of “riddles.” Eventually, the jokes cause Blaine’s systems to short circuit, leading to his “death.” The tet steps off the train to continue on in their journey.
Much to the surprise of Eddie, Jake and Susannah, Roland and his friends encounter a world that is eerily similar to “the real world” once they step off of Blaine the Mono. There are signs indicating that the tet has entered Topeka, KS, which does not “exist” in Mid-World. Roland and his friends also find vehicles and newspapers, both of which are not found in Mid-World. However, this world differs from the world of Eddie, Jake and Susannah in one very important way: 99.99 % of the population has been killed off by the “super flu“, making it more similar in its nature to Mid-World, as it also has appears to have “moved on.” Roland informs the rest of the tet that they have entered a “thinny“, a sort of gateway between worlds that has formed due to the deterioration of reality. Roland also begins to remember the thinny he encountered in his childhood, and realizes that he must tell the tale to his friends, and soon.
Roland and his friends come to a stop and set up camp. Roland then begins to tell the tale of his childhood, and his first love, Susan Delgado.
We learn that Roland was the youngest to ever best his teacher, Cort, and earn the title of gunslinger. However, Roland has made an enemy in Marten Broadcloak after he wins his guns, as Marten committed acts of adultery with Roland’s mother Gabrielle, in the hopes of angering Roland into taking an early test of his manhood. Marten hoped that Roland would fail the test, and be sent West as punishment. Roland was indeed angered, but Marten’s plans went awry when Roland became the youngest ever (age 14) to pass the test and earn his guns. Roland’s father Steven becomes concerned for his son’s safety, and sends Roland and his friends Alain and Cuthbert to Meijis, under assumed names, in an attempt to protect them all from Marten’s evil schemes.
Roland and his friends arrive in Meijis under the guise that they will be taking an inventory of everything in Hambry, including horses. Roland almost immediately notices that the number of horses in Hambry is extraordinarily high for a town of its size. Roland also almost immediately notices a young girl by the name of Susan Delgado, who is very beautiful. And the attraction between Roland and Susan is mutual even upon their first meeting. However, Susan hints to Roland that she is promised to another, and Roland does not pursue her. We also learn that Susan is promised in marriage to Mayor Hart Thorin by her greedy aunt, Cordelia Delgado.
King also introduces us to a group of men called The Big Coffin Hunters. This group includes a man named Eldred Jonas, who appears to have once been a gunslinger. These men appear to act as bodyguards of sorts for Mayor Hart Thorin. Roland and his friends become almost immediately suspicious of them, and Eldred and his friends return the favor.
We are also introduced to a woman known as Rhea of the Coos. She is known in Hambry as the local witch woman, and is described as a crone. Eldred and his friends entrust with the guardianship of a mysterious pink crystal ball that they refer to as “Maerlyn’s Grapefruit.”
It does not take long for Jonas and his friends to clash with Roland and his friends. Cuthbert comes to the defense of a mentally disabled man named Sheemie one night at a bar, and draws the ire of Eldred Jonas. The altercation is broken up by local law enforcement, but both sides quickly become suspicious of each other’s true natures.
Roland and Susan try their hardest to stay away from each other so that Susan may fulfill her contract to Hart Thorin, but the mutual attraction is too powerful, and they begin a torrid affair. They attempt to keep the affair a secret, but Roland’s friends quickly realize that their leader has become lovestruck, and begin to question his decisions, as they fear that danger is coming to Meijis. And they are right to fear danger, as it is revealed that Eldred Jonas and his friends are secretly working for someone named The Good Man, who is anything but good and intends to destroy the Affiliation and the way of life in Roland’s world. Rhea of the Coos also discovers the affair between Roland and Susan, via Maerlyn’s Grapefruit. Cordelia, Susan’s aunt, becomes suspicious of Roland and her niece, and passes these suspicions on to Eldred Jonas. Jonas uses this information in an attempt to begin the demise of Roland and his friends.
Roland, Alain and Cuthbert soon come to blows over Roland’s behavior and what Cuthbert feels to be poor decision making on Roland’s part. However, the three also come to realize that Susan is part of their ka tet, and that she will be involved in whatever plans that are made to take on Jonas and the others working against the Affiliation. Roland, Susan, Alain and Cuthbert meet, and agree to set fire to the oil patches in Hambry on Reaping Day, as that is when Jonas has planned his attack. The four know it will be risky, but are willing to take on the challenge. Roland also promises Susan that he will help her escape from Hambry, along with Sheemie, as they will be considered fugitives if the attempt is successful.
In the meantime, Jonas schemes with the mayor’s sister, Coral Hart. Mayor Hart is then murdered by Jonas and his friends, and the murder is pinned on Roland and his friends. Roland, Alain and Cuthbert are then arrested by Sheriff Avery, and are thrown in the Hambry jail, so that Jonas and the Good Man may continue with their plans.
Susan is able to free Roland, Cuthbert and Alain from jail, with the help of Sheemie. The two reunite with Roland and his friends, so that they may carry out their plans to set fire to the oil patches and stop Jonas and the Good Man.
Roland leaves Susan alone with Sheemie in a hut outside of town, and he, Cuthbert and Alain begin to set fire to the oil patches, which causes quite a few explosions. However, Susan is discovered by Jonas, who was in turn aided by Maerlyn’s Grapefruit. Susan is arrested for treason and taken back into town to face her punishment.
Roland and his friends are successful, and are able to defeat Jonas and most of his men. The encampment set up by the Good Man and his cohort, George Latigo, is burned to the ground by Roland, Alain and Cuthbert. Roland also captures Maerlyn’s Grapefruit from Jonas, and experiences visions while trapped within the glass. Roland realizes that the Dark Tower itself has become corrupted, and that he must embark on a quest to save the Tower.
However, Susan Delgado is not so lucky. Susan is burned alive for treason by a mob led by her Aunt Cordelia. Roland witnesses this in Maerlyn’s Grapefruit, but is powerless to help Susan. Susan’s last words before her death are those expressing her love for Roland.
Roland, Cuthbert and Alain then head back to Gilead, leaving the destruction of Meijis behind them. Roland is still under the influence of Maerlyn’s Grapefruit even as he and his friends leave Meijis, and has become a changed man, in more ways than one.
The story then returns to the present. Roland, Eddie, Jake, Susannah and Oy continue on The Path of the Beam but encounter a strange sight: there is an image of what appears to be the castle in the Emerald City of Oz. Roland and his friends then head into the castle and are given red shoes of various styles to fit their personalities. Even Oy is given red booties.
The tet then encounters some familiar faces in the “castle”: Andrew Quick and Randall Flagg. Andrew Quick is shot in the head and easily dispatched. However, Randall Flagg is not so easily disposed. Maerlyn’s Grapefruit makes another appearance, and this time traps Eddie, Jake, Susannah and Oy.
Eddie and the others are then subjected to one last vision of Roland’s past. They learn that Roland committed one of the worst sins: matricide. Rhea of the Coos followed Roland back to Gilead, and was able to trick him into (accidentally) murdering his mother, as she was seeking forgiveness from her son for her indiscretions with Marten Broadcloak. This is something that Roland had been keeping secret from his new friends, but is brought to light by Flagg in an attempt to break up the tet and convince them to abandon their quest. However, Eddie, Jake, Susannah and Oy refuse to give and swear their loyalty to Roland. The castle then disappears, and the tet wakes up about 30 miles away from their previous location.
The book ends with Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy again pointed on the Path of the Beam, continuing their quest to seek the Dark Tower.
So many thoughts on Wizard and Glass. In fact, maybe too many thoughts. But I will try to keep it brief (ha!).
Before I go into the love story, Roland’s past, etc, let me give some credit where credit is due. And that credit needs to go to my main man, Eddie Dean. After all, he saved the day. When things looked bleak, Eddie was able reach deep down inside himself, gather up his reserves and…tell a few silly jokes! But those silly jokes are what save the day, as they destroy Blaine and save the ka tet from certain death at the hands of an insane mono. Roland was right to want kiss Eddie’s feet (not really, but I did get that feeling), as Eddie was the only member of the tet to come up with a solution. And for that, Eddie deserves much commendation.
In the previous books (The Drawing of the Three and The Wastelands), I discussed the fact that Roland the cold blooded killing machine seemed to be developing a bit of a personality (his love for Jake and his vulnerability being two great examples of this). But Wizard and Glass will always be the book where we see major growth in Roland. The story of his childhood in Meijis provides a lot of that growth. But don’t discount Roland’s interactions with his companions, who have really become his peers at this point in the journey. Roland shows even more vulnerability, especially when telling the tale of Susan Delgado and when the circumstances of his mother’s death are revealed. Roland’s reaction and apologies to Eddie when Eddie rescues the tet from certain death on Blaine the Mono are also evidence of his humanity, and demonstrate how his new friends have humbled him. All of this serves to emotionally invest the reader as well in Roland’s quest. His quest not only becomes the quest of Jake, Eddie, Susannah and Oy, but also becomes the quest of the reader as well.
In case you can’t tell from the above paragraph, the best part of Wizard and Glass was the romance between Roland and Susan. No, really! Romance when its in a Stephen King book is not like other romances…its a a cool romance!
Seriously, the romance between Roland and Susan is one of my favorite parts of this book. And that includes almost everything about their relationship. I loved how they met and were almost instantly attracted to each other, but still tried to stay away from each other, even as the tension kept building. And boy, does that tension build!
But Roland and Susan are unable to stay away from each other, and finally the tension snaps. And that snap has to be one of the hottest, sexiest snaps in anything I have ever read, far better than certain, other popular romances
Fifty Shades of Grey, you have nothing on the master. Not only is the relationship between Roland and Susan incredibly sweet (the image of the hardened gunslinger kissing away his love’s tears always gets me. Every. Single. Time.), it is also incredibly erotic and passionate. Roland is not only capable of kissing away Susan’s tears, he is also capable (almost in the same breath) of kissing her on the lips until her lips bled. And he is able to illicit sexual feelings in Susan almost from the moment they met (I loved the image of Susan “taking care of herself”, so to speak. Its rare that female sexuality is addressed in literature, especially in a book that is supposed to be a mix of fantasy, horror and western). Really, does any mortal man jackass Christian Grey sure doesn’t have anything on Roland the gunslinger? Whew, time for me to take a cold shower!
I mentioned that I loved almost everything about about the romance in Wizard and Glass. But what I didn’t love was the demise of Susan Delgado. I just can’t imagine being burned alive by a mob. And that mob included her own aunt. And Roland could do nothing about it, except watch in the same manner people watch car wrecks because they can’t look away. But the part that got to me the most was Susan declaring her love for Roland as she is being burned alive. When I first read that part in the book, I was introduced to the concept of the “ugly cry.” Only people with ice water running through their veins could not be affected by the death of Susan Delgado.
Wizard and Glass is also rife with bad guys. Eldred Jonas, George Latigo and Blaine the Mono are a few. But lets pay homage to a baddie that does not get nearly enough press.
Yes, Rhea of the Coos. I am talking about you. In the past, I envisioned you as this lady:
Hey, don’t knock it, she even has a pink dress, and I understand that pink is a very special color for you!
Although some people may have this image in their minds:
Rhea of the Coos is horrible. And manipulative. Evil. I can’t think of any redeemable qualities. None at all. In other words, a perfect villain. One of King’s most underrated villains, in this blogger’s humble opinion. And when King describes her “relations” with her pet snake and pet cat (and they are mutants…gross much?), I shudder. Even the image of Rhea herself is frightening, especially when King describes her appearance after the obsession with Maerlyn’s Grapefruit has taken over her life. I love to be scared, and Rhea of the Coos fits that bill quite nicely!
Ah, young love. There is nothing quite like it. And nothing quite so painful when it ends, as Wizard and Glass reminds us all too well. But its still fun to revisit that feeling, if only to be reminded that some experiences are more painful that others (Wizard and Glass also drives that point home).
Well, be prepared for an interlude…
No, not an interlude from this blog, silly! I am going on vacation soon, but I will still be visiting the world of the Dark Tower, as my next book to read and review will be The Wind Through the Keyhole, where our favorite tet will be taking a break from their journey for more story time from Roland himself!
Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!
Here we go again. Some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in Wizard and Glass:
-After Roland and friends leave Blaine the Mono, they encounter a thinny that seems to lead into the “real world”. However, this world has been decimated by the super flu. This world is none other than the world of The Stand. The tet also sees graffiti referencing The Walkin’ Dude and Mother Abigail, both of whom are the major characters in The Stand.
-The tet also encounters a deserted park in what is Kansas in the world of The Stand. The park has a children’s ride that is actually a train eerily similar to the train in the book owned by Eddie, Susannah and Jake. In the book Cell, the main characters also encounter a similar ride in what is also an abandoned theme park. Roland remarks that the deterioration of The Tower is likely responsible for such maladies as the super flu. In Cell, the malady experienced by the world in that book was known as The Pulse, which caused anyone using a cell phone to turn into a zombie. This is interesting, as it implies that Mid-World, the world in The Stand and the world in Cell may actually be very close neighbors on The Tower, as all three have “moved on” in similar fashion.
–Wizard and Glass is the first book to discuss the concept of a “thinny” or a deterioration between worlds that allows people to travel between worlds. This is a concept discussed in several other King novels and short stories. King’s most notable work featuring a thinny is the novella The Mist, where a doorway between worlds (a thinny, in other words) is accidentally opened up in a secret military experiment, and allows monsters from another dimension to invade that world, killing off most of the population.
–Henry Dean is mentioned to have a friend by the name of Skipper Brannigan. Skipper Brannigan is also mentioned to be an enemy of Dinky Earnshaw in the short story Everything’s Eventual. This implies that Henry, and therefore Eddie, grew up in the same neighborhood and time period as Dinky Earnshaw.
-Sylvia Pittson is mentioned in Wizard and Glass. Sylvia Pittson was the mad preacher woman who helped turn the town of Tull against Roland in The Gunslinger, causing him to kill every single inhabitant of the town, including women and children.
-Rhea of the Coos is also mentioned in the book Eyes of the Dragon. This seems to confirm that the world in Eyes of the Dragon is the same world that Roland inhabits.