Castle Rock: Season 1, Episode 9 Recap and Review

Life can be so confusing sometimes.

You might think you have things figured out, but then you just get thrown for a (time) loop.

So, sometimes you just need to kick back (in your cage,)

Grab something tasty (your Wonder Bread) and…

Tell yourself, oh hey, what the schisma

And go watch Castle Rock!

So yeah, episode 9.  Henry Deaver.

No, not this guy.

Or this one.

That was the title to the episode.

And if you thought that the ride was wild in the previous eight episodes, well buckle up, my friend.

Because the show completely took its foot off the break with this second to last episode.

And the writers now have just jammed that accelerator, so that we can hurry to our destination, whatever that may be.

So, without any further ado, here is is my recap and review of the ninth episode of Castle Rock, titled Henry Deaver.

As always:

Continue reading

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11/22/63: Episode 8 Recap and Review

Over the past several weeks, I have been traveling.

Well, not literally.  More like vicariously, through Stephen King and JJ Abrams.

In other words, I have been watching 11/22/63.  I have traveled back to the 1960’s with Jake Epping, and met a few famous historical folks along the way…

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And I have met some of the friendly folks in Jodie, Texas…

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And had the privilege of seeing a particular time period that I only know from old photographs, my parents’ memories and history books.  I have viewed this time period from the eyes of a character born in 1978, the same year I was born.

Last night, it came to a conclusion.  And that conclusion was satisfying, but I am feeling a little melancholy.  I had something to looks forward to on Monday:  one of my favorite Stephen King novels, brought to life on the screen by the talents of James Franco, Sarah Gadon and many others.  But now, that has concluded, and like Jake Epping, I am only left with the memories.  But it is better to have experienced the journey and to be left with memories, than to have not experienced anything at all.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of the series finale of 11/22/63, titled The Day in Question.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The episode begins with Jake and Sadie rushing to get to Oswald, before his attempt on Kennedy’s life becomes successful.  Jake realizes that the past is pushing back, when he and Sadie encounter a police barricade and a car that hits the bus they have boarded.  Time is now out of joint, and Jake and Sadie see visions of those who have died during Jake’s time in the past, including Mimi, Johnny Clayton and and Frank Dunning.  They rush up to the abandoned sixth story in the book depository where Oswald is waiting for the presidential motorcade.  Oswald fires his first shot, and misses.  Oswald fires a second shot and also misses.  The presidential motorcade is able to escape Oswald and his rifle.  The door shuts, trapping Jake and Sadie inside the room with Oswald.

Jake scuffles with Oswald, and shots are fired.  After a brief scuffle, Jake is able to shoot Oswald dead.  However, Sadie is also shot in the crossfire.

It becomes clear that Sadie’s wounds are mortal.  She asks Jake to stay with her, instead of getting help.  The police then burst in and arrest Jake.  Jake screams at the police to help Sadie, but it is too late as she has already succumbed to her wounds.

The authorities arrest Jake and interrogate him.  FBI agent Hosty tells Jake that the country loves Kennedy and is looking for someone to pin the assassination attempt on.  Jake counters, telling Hosty that if he is forced to testify, he will reveal that the FBI failed to stop Oswald and is also spying on the Kennedys.

Hosty is still determined to pin the crime on Jake, but a call from the president himself comes through.  Kennedy thanks Jake for saving his life.  Jake also speaks to the First Lady, who expresses her sympathies over the death of Sadie.

Jake wants no publicity, and Hosty drops him off at the bus station, so that he can head back to Lisbon, Maine and return to his own timeline.  While waiting for the bus, Jake has a vision of Sadie as he first met her:  she is reading a book.  However, Sadie disappears, confirming that this was only a vision.  Jake then returns to Lisbon, and travels through the rabbit hole back to his own time.

The world has changed drastically when Jake returns to his own time.  Al’s Diner is no longer, and Lisbon is a pile of rubble, the likely aftermath of a nuclear war.

Jake gets into an altercation with some bandits, and is rescued by his friend Harry Dunning.  Harry recognizes Jake as the man who saved his family from his father’s murderous rampage.  Jake quizzes Harry on the history of the world, and learns that Kennedy was president for two terms, and was then succeeded by George Wallace.  There was indeed a nuclear war, and Kennedy had founded a series of refugee camps.  Harry tells Jake that the camps for unpleasant, especially for him and his family, as his mother passed away from influenza.  Jake decides that he needs to reset the timeline, and travels back into the past.

When Jake travels back to 1960, everything is as it was before he prevented the assassination of Kennedy.  However, Jake notices that Sadie is a passenger in car that is driving by, and follows her to a nearby diner.

At the diner, Jake speaks to Sadie, telling her that they know each other.  However, he is interrupted by the appearance of the Yellow Card Man.  The Yellow Card Man tells Jake that trying to be with Sadie will only result in her death, and that he needs to return to his own time.  Jake reluctantly agrees, and tells Sadie that he was in fact mistaken.

After returning to his own time, Jake has become a bit traumatized.  He also learns that Harry Dunning did not in fact receive the promotion that he applied for.  Jake then breaks down in front of Harry.  Harry comforts Jake, telling him that he is in fact a good man and that his actions have made a difference.

Jake does some research on the internet and finds out what Sadie has been up to over the years.  He learns that she is going to receive an award from the governor of Texas, and travels to Texas so that he can attend the ceremony.  At the ceremony, Jake learns what an impact Sadie has had on the lives of her students.  Sadie also makes mention of Deke Simmons, and recites a poem that Deke was fond of.

After the ceremony, Jake approaches Sadie and asks her for a dance.  Sadie is charmed by Jake, and agrees.  Jake asks Sadie if she has had a good life.  Sadie responds by telling him that it hasn’t always been easy for her, but that she is in fact happy with her life.  The two dance in the same gymnasium, where, in another lifetime, they fell in love.


 

My Thoughts

Whew, what a ride!  The onscreen journey with Jake Epping was almost as enjoyable as the literary one.  And these are not words that I utter often, especially in regards to anything claiming to be based on something written by The Master.

Mostly, my feelings on screen adaptations are mixed, at best.  I am talking to you, It mini series!

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And then there is that abomination known as Under the Dome.  Still having to bleach my corneas after watching a couple of episodes of that.

And in the mix, there are couple of pretty good adaptations.  Dolores Claiborne is one.  The Stand mini series is another.  And The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption are nothing less than cinematic masterpieces.

So now we can add another adaptation to the mix:  11/22/63.  Of course, it is nowhere near the level of The Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile, but I would at least put it in my top 10, if not my top 5.

Oh, and let’s have a word with you book douches…

That’s right, you guys.  I have searched online for reviews of 11/22/63, and most of them seem to consist of either critics who have missed the entire point of the series (sorry guys, this is not Back to the Future or a modern take on Quantum Leap) and the Constant Readers who simply don’t like this adaptation because it not IDENTICAL to the book.  I have heard everything from “Jake uses the name George in the book”, to “he visits Derry, not Holden, Kentucky,” to “Jake sings a Rolling Stones song, not a Beatles song.”  And apparently, these differences make this movie a bad movie.

quantum leap 3

Well, I have some news, so listen up folks:  an onscreen adaptation does not need to be a slavish, word for word adaptation of a book to be a good adaptation or even a good movie.  In fact, an onscreen adaptation should not be a literal adaptation.  Changes are a good thing when it comes to adaptations.  What works in a book does not necessarily work for the movies or television, as we are dealing with visual mediums.  Abstract concepts in a book (like the idea of the past pushing back) need to have a visual representation in a movie or TV show (the Yellow Card Man) so that the same ideas can be planted in the viewer’s (as opposed to the reader’s) mind.

book vs movie 1

In other words, I tend to think of it like this:  chocolate cake is something we are all familiar with.  However, if you search for a recipe for chocolate cake online, you will find thousands.  Some recipes use buttermilk,  Some use vegetable oil and no butter.  Some use cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate.  But all have the potential to make a good cake, if the chef executes the recipe properly.  And it is the same with any onscreen adaptation of a book:  there are many ways to translate an idea from a book to the screen.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that one idea is a bad idea.  In fact, there may be many good ideas.  But what is needed is proper execution.  And for the most part, the changes in 11/22/63 were properly executed, making the final product something that was a bit different from the book, but when you slice into it, you still can see that we have chocolate cake, although the recipes may have differed a bit.

Oh, and I need to give another shout out:

easter eggs 1

In other words, another reminder that we are watching something based on a work created by the master of modern horror.

I especially enjoyed seeing “Redrum” written on the wall of the book depository (although “Your a patsy?”  Really?  Apparently, graffiti artists in 1963 have about the same level of spell and grammar composition as the Internet trolls of the modern era.  Who knew?)

And the nod to The Stand (coincidentally, my favorite King book ever) was pretty awesome too.  Loved how we caught a glimpse of that graffiti in the alternate timeline, which, if you think about it, is pretty similar to the world of The Stand, actually…

Stu 3

And speaking of horror, I was again struck by the use of horror movie elements in something that is time travel/suspense/love story (and that makes perfect sense, screw you, critics, it makes perfect sense!).  And the use of horror movie elements, like the color red (Sadie’s dress and the door in the book depository), made perfect sense in this context, giving the viewer a sense of foreboding for Jake and anyone associated with Jake.

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Again, let’s talk about the visuals…

And again, I was floored by them, especially in this episode.  I loved the scenes in the book depository, along with the mad dash to get to the book depository.  The camera angles, the sound effects and the speed all served to give this part of the story some tension, which worked very well.

The scenes after Jake saves the president were also well done.  I could tell that some actual footage from the infamous day was used, and that was a nice touch.  I also thought that changing from color to black and white back to color (when Jake was booked and taken to the police station) was a nice touch, and gave the scene a bit of authenticity, and it almost came across as an actual event, as opposed to a scene in a fictional mini series.

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The visual depiction of the alternate timeline was also well done.  I enjoyed the surreal quality of it, as that reinforced the idea that this was an alternate timeline and not something that really should have existed in the first place.  The dog in the distance that looked towards Jake and then walked off was a nice touch too, giving a sense of disorder and lawlessness.  Dystopia at its finest.

Now, I don’t have too many complaints about this episode or about the series overall.  However, I wish the writers would have done a little better job with the alternate timeline.  Visually, the series got the point across.  However, I wish that we could have just a little more detail.  The book did a good job of providing us this information, and it was fascinating.  However, this part in the mini series felt a little bit rushed, and almost glossed over.  Not that this takes anything away from the mini series, but I am almost hoping we get to see some deleted scenes or something else that gives us a little bit more detail.

And the ending!

I know that I have said that I welcome changes to a story when it is adapted to the screen, and that is mostly true.

Mostly.

In other words, I would have channeled Annie Wilkes if the writers had DARED changed this ending, which I consider to be one of King’s best, or maybe even his best, period.

Annie Wilkes 1

And to my delight, the ending to the mini series is essentially the same as the ending to the book.

So of course, I stepped into a feeling puddle.  And I am still trying to shake those pesky feelings off.  Sticky little buggers, they are…

In fact, my mind went here:

Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse
that sends me down to the river
though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river
my baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride

Bruce Springsteen, The River

And it was fitting:  Jake and Sadie once danced on the floor of the gymnasium, and fell in love.  But that was literally in another lifetime.  And all Jake is left with is the memories, and a dream that did not quite come true.  But still, it is better to have the memories and the dreams.  That way, the river is not completely dry after all.

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Well, that’s it for 11/22/63.  I have had the pleasure of taking a journey with Jake Epping.  And like Jake, I am left with a sense of longing.  But life is all about taking journeys.  After all, it is better to take and journey and have the memories.  Otherwise, without the dreams and the memories, life would be about as much fun as a dry riverbed.

mash 1

 

 

11/22/63: Episode 7 Recap and Review

For the past several weeks, I have been taking a long, almost leisurely car ride on Monday nights.

However, the ride has gotten more urgent and less leisurely as of this week.

In other words, I just finished watching the second to last episode (sniff) of the mini series 11/22/63 this week.

And the clock has begun to tick.  The foot is on the gas, ready to accelerate when needed.

In other words, the suspense has come to a crescendo.  And we are left to wonder:  Will Jake Epping succeed in his quest?  Can he change history, possibly for the better?

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Well, we are getting closer and closer to the answer.  The mini series has got down to business (even being so nice as to count down for us) and we should have our answer soon, although I have no complaints at all about the journey.  In fact, it’s all in the journey.

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But, I am ready to reach my destination.  I may love or hate that destination, but I am eager to finally reach it and find out for myself.  And after a bit of waiting, I am almost there.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of the last leg of the journey, aka episode 7 of the mini series 11/22/63, titled Soldier Boy.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


 

Synopsis

The episode begins with Jake in a state of unconsciousness after his head injury.  Jake is also having hallucinations:  he sees he ex wife and Al, along with Anderson Cooper on his television screen.

Finally, Jake awakens in his present of November 1963, with Sadie by his side.  However, he has no memory of why he has traveled back to the past and does not even know what LBJ and JFK stand for, although Sadie attempts to help him jog his memory.

A few days later, Lee Harvey Oswald stops by the FBI office, asking after the agent whom he believes has bugged his apartment and is tailing him and his wife Marina.  Oswald’s behavior becomes erratic, and he is determined to make sure that people remember him.

Jake’s memory is awakened when he signs himself out of the hospital:  he remembers that he had his friend Bill committed to a mental hospital before his injury.  Jake also finds out from Deke that Mimi has passed away from cancer.

Sadie and Jake pay a visit to the hospital to see Bill.  Bill has become a shell of the man he was, as he has been subjected to electroshock therapy due to his talk of time-travel.  This is not good for Jake, as Bill is the only other person who remembers the details of his mission.  Jake attempts to take Bill home, but Bill tragically commits suicide by jumping out of a window.

At home, Jake continues to take pain pills, which make him groggy and do not help his memory.  This frustrates Sadie, who still tries to talk him through it, in the hopes that she can revive his memory.  Jake finally flushes the pills down the drain, and asks Sadie to repeat the last conversation between them before his injury.

Oswald’s mother berates him for bothering the FBI, and pulls out an old report card of his, reminding him of his potential.  Oswald sits on a park bench in Dallas, and appears to have some sort of an epiphany.  He walks away, appearing determined.

One night, Sadie and Jake share a dance in the living room.  Somehow, Jake remembers the street he used to live on in Dallas.  Jake and Sadie visit the area, in the hopes of recovering some of Jake’s memories.

Jake and Sadie are able to locate his old apartment building, and visit Oswald.  This triggers Jake’s memories and he realizes that Oswald is the enemy.  Jake attempts to kill Oswald with a knife, but is stopped when Oswald steps out of the nursery, holding his infant daughter.

That evening, Jake attempts to sneak out and stop Oswald.  Sadie catches him, and tells him that she is now involved and will be helping him, whether he likes it or not.  Jake tells her that he wants the non-violent solution:  steal Oswald’s gun so that he cannot shoot the president.  Jake and Sadie visit the Oswald’s friend Ruth, and look for the gun.  However, they are unable to locate the rifle, and Jake realizes that he will need to resort to violence to stop Oswald.

Jake and Sadie stake out the plaza in Dallas the night before the assassination of the president.  Sadie continues to ask Jake questions about the future, and Jake admits that he does not have many ties to his own time, in terms of friends and family.  However, Jake’s conversation with Sadie is interrupted by the appearance of the Yellow Card Man.  The Yellow Card Man tells Jake that he is a failed time traveler himself who traveled back in time to attempt to prevent the drowning of his daughter, and is now forced to watch her death repeatedly on an endless loop. Jake awakens and attempts to convince Sadie to give up on their mission, but she reminds him that he has traveled back to the past for a reason, and giving up the mission is not an option.

The next morning, Jake and Sadie awaken, finding out that their vehicle will not start.  Jake grabs a gun, and he and Sadie run.

Oswald awakens, having spent the night with Marina.  Marina tries to convince Oswald to spend the day with her and the children, but he heads out of the house, telling her that he has a job to do.

Sadie and Jake hotwire a car, in an attempt to reach Oswald in time.  Oswald climbs to the abandoned upper floor of the book depository with his rifle, and waits for the arrival of Kennedy.


My Thoughts

Before we move on, let’s pay our respects:

Cletus 1

Well, to Bill actually.  Although he did look a little slack-jawed, if I do say so myself.

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In all seriousness, this death was sad.  I may not have liked this particular character all that much.  However, he did serve his purpose, and his death was just…pitiful…I cannot think of any other way to describe it.

The moments leading up to Bill’s death were actually well done.  In fact, Bill’s death was probably one of this character’s better moments, at least from a writing standpoint.  I thought that the scene in the mental institution, along with the portrayal of Bill right before his death were both well executed.  This show has reminded us several times that we should not be looking back at the 1960’s with rose-colored glasses, but with a more realistic viewpoint, as it was not as idyllic as it is made out to be.  The scene in the mental hospital is another example of this.  Even today, mental illness is still stigmatized.  However, we have made giant strides in our understanding and treatment of mental illness over the past 50 years.  Patients are treated much more humanely, and the stigma is slowly lessening.  We do not use electroshock therapy.  This was not the case in 1963, and 11/22/63 provides us with yet another powerful reminder of this fact.

The primary antagonist in 11/22/63 is obviously Lee Harvey Oswald.  I have not discussed this aspect of the mini series much, because I felt that I to simply see more before forming an opinion.  So, I think I have seen enough at this point to discuss this now.

lee harvey oswald

When I first read the book, I was impressed with this character, simply because he is a historical figure, as opposed to a fictional character.  Oswald is also someone who lived before social media, the Internet or even before television was as commonplace as it is now (I have three TV’s in my house myself, but who’s counting?)

So, in order to construct a character for someone like Lee Harvey Oswald, we have to rely on written accounts.  And the memories of others, most of whom are likely deceased at this point.  In other words, reconstructing a person like Lee Harvey Oswald takes an awful lot of imagination.

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Stephen King has an awful lot of imagination, although this usually used to create creepy clowns that still haunt my nightmares to this day (or is this just me?)  But King is far more than a writer of horror, as a book like 11/22/63 demonstrates.  So he was able to construct a convincing character using the equivalent of literary fumes.  Hence the reason he is The Master.

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And from what I have seen, the show has been able to do the same thing:  turn a historical figure into a good, convincing fictional villain.  Daniel Webber, the actor who plays Oswald on the mini series, is yet another good casting choice (like almost everyone else on the show).  Over the course of the mini series, we have seen Oswald become more and more erratic over time.  This is realistic, given the circumstances.  No one just wakes up one morning with the desire to kill the leader of the free world.  Rather, this is something that develops over time, and both the writers of the show and the actor playing Oswald have taken great pains to establish this fact.  The result is a compelling character, who is at times sympathetic (not even Jake could kill him when he was carrying the baby in his arms), but still a villain, and one of the most notorious villains in all of history.

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The other main “villain” of 11/22/63 could be considered to be the past.  Although the past may not be a villain in the literal sense of word, the past is certainly foreboding.  As Jake says, the past “fucks with you.” And the past will indeed go to great lengths to protect itself, and anyone trying to change it (like Jake, Bill and now Sadie) are often subject to some tragic consequences.

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Establishing the past as a character on the screen can be tricky at best.  Even in the book, creating a character out of something that is an abstract concept is almost as tricky as creating a character out of a historical figure.  However, the book was able to also create a character out of the past.  The mini series has also been able to do this, although the approach has been slightly different.

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The mini series has relied on the use of the character The Yellow Card Man in establishing the past as an onscreen character.  This is actually a good move.  For one, this character is just downright creepy, and maybe even a little tragic.  The fact that strange things happen when he is around is also something that adds to the mood, and further cements the idea of the past “pushing back”, in the same way that an animal may attack if disturbed.

I also loved that we learned a little more about the mysterious Yellow Card Man in this episode, and how he is a also time traveler stuck in a perpetual loop.

In fact, I thought of this guy:

Roland and horn 1

I also think that the concept of the the Yellow Card Man being a time traveler stuck in a perpetual loop is a great bit of foreshadowing in terms of Jake, who has also become an unwitting time traveler.  Will Jake be forced to watch some horrible event over and over, as punishment for his attempt to interfere with history?  Will the misdeeds that he has committed (in the name of changing history for the better) doom him to a horrible existence and maybe even force him to become the next Yellow Card Man?  Is the Yellow Card Man in fact an alternate reality version of Jake that’s supposed to serve as a warning about what will happen to him if he continues on his path?  All fascinating questions, and I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer.  And this is a sign that the writing is good.


 

Well, that’s it for Soldier Boy.  Join me next week as we review and dissect the final episode, titled The Day in Question.

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

batman and robin

 

11/22/63: Episode 3 Recap and Review

Origin stories.

We all have them, no matter who we are.  We don’t just wake up one day, and do the things that we do (like write this blog), without some kind of reason.  Or maybe several reasons.

And even the worst among us did not become the worst overnight.  Usually, there is something (or several somethings) leading up to becoming the worst.  Not even The Clown Prince of Crime became Batsy’s arch-nemesis overnight, after all.

joker and harley

And the same goes for actual bad guys.  Most serial killers have an “origin story.”  Not that there are excuses for committing acts of evil, but most people have something in their pasts that an outside observer can point to, and correlate that to a person becoming “bad.”  Even incidents that take place when we may be too young to remember them can end up having a huge impact on our lives later on down the line.

Certainly, most people would consider Lee Harvey Oswald to be one of the most evil people in history.  After all, he killed the president!  The assassination of JFK shaped an entire generation.  In fact, my parents were college students when JFK was killed.  I don’t have to talk about it much, but I know that this was a huge part of my parents’ young adulthood, just like the 9/11 tragedy was a huge part of mine.

And obviously, the JFK assassination was a huge part of Stephen King’s young adulthood.  So a huge a part, in fact, that he wrote an entire book about it, aka 11/22/63.  This book gives a fascinating account of the Kennedy assassination, time travel, the Vietnam War and quite a few other topics.

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One of these other topics is Lee Harvey Oswald.  Before I read 11/22/63, Oswald was only real to me in an academic sense.  Sure, I knew he killed the president.  So that made him a bad guy.  A really bad guy.  You have to be really bad to kill a president, after all.

However, I never had any emotional reaction to Lee Harvey Oswald.  He was just another historical figure.  My reaction to him was equivalent to my reaction to, oh say, a piece of tissue paper, perhaps?  A piece of tissue paper, in other words, really doesn’t elicit any reaction.  It is simply there, in much the same way Lee Harvey was there for me.  Nothing to get excited about, in other words.

Well, I then read 11/22/63.  And one of the things that I loved about 11/22/63 was the amount of detail it provided on Lee Harvey Oswald.  Somehow, the guy who writes about scary clowns was able to provide a stunning amount of information on an entire generation’s bad guy and turn him into a fleshed out character.  Suddenly, this guy came alive for me, and I could more easily connect with my parents and others over their generation’s boogeyman.

lee harvey oswald

In other words, we were given a origin story on one of history’s most iconic bad guys.  And this gave a new dimension to one of the events that shaped our nation, turning it from academic to personal.

Last night, I watched the third episode of the mini series 11/22/63, titled Other Voices, Other Rooms.  And I saw the onscreen version of the origin story of Lee Harvey Oswald, one of the most iconic bad guys in history.  And again, I found myself lured in, unable to stop watching.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of Other Voices, Other Rooms.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

Bill joins Jake on his quest to prevent the assassination of Kennedy, after hearing and accepting Jake’s explanation that he is a time traveler from the future.  The two men drive to Dallas, where Jake shows Bill exactly where Kennedy will meet his untimely end.  Bill tells Jake that he stayed in Holden due to Frank Dunning’s murder of his sister, but has nothing keeping him in Holden and would rather help Jake prevent the murder of a president.

Jake concocts a cover story that he and Bill are brothers, and applies for a teaching job in nearby Jodie, Texas.  Somewhat to his surprise, Jake is offered by the job by the principal Deke Simmons, and also meets the school secretary, a black woman referred to as Ms. Mimi.  Later that night, Jake and Bill go out to celebrate, and Bill becomes intoxicated.  The club the men celebrate at is actually owned by a man named Jack Ruby, and Jake’s plan is nearly put in jeopardy when Bill begins to tell of their plans to the club’s owner.  Fortunately, Jake is able to mitigate any damage, but is reminded again that “past pushes back.”

Jake settles into his job as a teacher, and two years pass.  His teaching job becomes a permanent position, and he seems to be enjoying it.  In 1962, Ms. Mimi introduces him to the new school librarian:  Sadie Dunhill.  Jake immediately recognizes her from their encounter in Dallas two years earlier, and learns that she is divorced.  Ms. Mimi persuades Jake into chaperoning a school dance with Sadie, forcing Jake to reschedule his prior commitment, which happens to be bugging Lee Harvey Oswald’s apartment so that he and Bill can listen to Oswald’s conversations.

Bill and Jake rent an apartment next to the one where Oswald will live.  Jake is reminded of what time period he has traveled to when he speaks to the racist, bigot landlord of the building.  He is also reminded again of the racism prevalent in the time period when he encounters Ms. Mimi on his way home at a gas station.  The attendant refuses to assist Mimi because she is black, and Jake is forced to give Mimi a ride himself, as no nearby gas station will help her.

In the meantime, Lee Harvey Oswald has returned to the United States from Russia.  Jake observes Oswald’s reunion with his family at the airport, noting that he has brought his wife Marina and their infant daughter back from Russia as well.  Bill and Jake also install the surveillance equipment at the new apartment.  Jake’s cover story is that he trying to obtain information on his soon to be ex wife.

That night, Jake and Sadie chaperon the dance.  Jake impresses Sadie with his dancing abilities, and explains to her that his ex wife made him take lessons.  However, much to the annoyance of Sadie, the night is cut short when Jake realizes that he must return to the apartment to gain information on Oswald.

The apartment is successfully bugged, but Bill and Jake are nearly caught by Oswald.  They are able to escape Oswald’s apartment, but barely, as the air vents they use to escape are covered in spiders and Bill’s screams nearly give them away.

At school the next day, Sadie expresses her disappointment in Jake, as his premature exit forced her to chaperon the dance on her own.  That night, Bill and Jake attempt to spy on Oswald, as George de Mohrenschildt, who Jake determined earlier to be working for the CIA, pays Oswald a visit.  However, the men speak in Russian.  Jake becomes frustrated, and hurries back to the school find a Russian-English dictionary.

Upon his return to the apartment, Jake finds Bill to be bloody and unconscious.  It turns out that the landlord has tampered with the equipment.  Bill and Jake then take back their ruined equipment, again realizing that the past does not want to be changed.

At school the next day, Sadie speaks to Jake in regards to his actions at the dance.  Jake apologizes, and Sadie kisses him.  Sadie then accepts a dinner date for that weekend.

Jake and Bill follow Oswald to a rally led by General Edwin Walker.  Oswald is accompanied by George de Mohrenschildt.  After the rally, Oswald becomes angered by Walker’s political views and has a physical confrontation with Walker’s guards, and also threatens the life of General Walker, calling him a fascist.


 

My Thoughts

The previous two episodes of this show were more action oriented.  We had the time travel itself, along with the past “pushing back.” And of course, the confrontation with Frank Dunning…how could we forget that?

11/22/63 EPISODE 103a Photo Credit: Sven Frenzel

However, this episode had a different feel to it.  This episode was more about character development.  And most of that character development was not in regards to the central protagonist, Jake Epping.

A lot of the character development focused on this story’s main villain, Lee Harvey Oswald. As I stated before, in the book King managed to draw a convincing villain out of someone who is mainly known through the history books, and possibly some interviews with surviving family members.  However, this is not the same as actually getting into Oswald’s head and actually understanding his motivations.  But King’s portrayal of Oswald as the villain in his book is the next best thing, as he is a character in a story.  Characters in stories have motivations.  They have feelings.  We may not always agree with a character’s motivations, but we can paint a picture in our head of that character, and come to an understanding of him or her, since we have the author to guide us to that understanding.

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And in this case, we have the mini series to paint a picture of that character.  So far, the mini series is doing a fairly decent job of this.  I enjoyed the scene at the end of the episode, where Oswald flipped his shit on General Walker and got in his face.  That would seem to me to be “textbook Oswald,” if there was such a term.  I would like to see more interaction between Oswald and his family, particularly with his wife and mother, as King treated us to in the book.  However, Bill did mention that Oswald was hard on Marina in regards to her clothing choices, so at least there was that.  And there will be another five episodes where we will (hopefully) get to know Oswald even better, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

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One of my main concerns about this mini series was how it would show Jake’s effect on the past, and the past’s effect on Jake.  This was a really important part of the original story, and should also be important to the mini series as well.

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And so far, the mini series is doing a pretty good job with the past overall.  I don’t even need to talk about the visuals (again) but I will say that they are great (again).  If I were to mute the TV and pretend that I had no knowledge of what I was watching, I could still tell what time period the story was supposed to cover.  The producers have taken care with every single detail, from the cars, to the clothes, to the music, to the dancing and even the store fronts we see on the streets.

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Speaking of the past…yeah…

This particular time period (the late 1950’s and early 1960’s) is often seen as something nostalgic, by both the people who actually lived during that time, and by the younger generation who only has the selective memories of the older generation, along with what is seen in film and television.  And 11/22/63 does give us a sense of nostalgia, with the music, clothing and so forth.

However, both the book and the mini series remind us that this time period was NOT all it was cracked up to be.  One of my concerns was that the mini series would not show this to the degree that the book showed this.

Well, my fears have been put to rest after watching three episodes.  In fact, the mini series seems to actually want to remind us of this fact more than the book does.

Jake’s interaction with Ms. Mimi in this episode is a great example of this.  The fact that Jake unthinkingly commits a serious social gaffe when he offers to pour Mimi a cup of coffee is one example.  The treatment of Mimi by the gas station attendant is another example.  If Mimi had not fortuitously run into Jake, who was the only one willing to help her, she may have had to walk many more miles before she ever got any help at all.   So yes, racism was (and still is), very real, and can have annoying consequences at the least, or the consequences can go from annoying to tragic at a moment’s notice (for example, if Mimi had been mugged or worse).  The past is often something that is not viewed objectively by most, and 11/22/63 serves to remind us of that fact.

Speaking of Jake’s effect on the past…

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The show reminds us that Jake does have an effect on the past quite frequently.  We have seen what appear to be some consequences of Jake’s presence where he “doesn’t belong”, and none of those consequences are good ones.  Jake already lost his surveillance equipment, and Bill got a bit roughed up.  And every time Jake does anything, like take away the alcohol from the jocks, help Ms. Mimi or even treat her like a human when no one else will or even when he turns a student on to English, I can’t help but think that someone somewhere will pay for that, and likely in blood.

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Jake is also being affected by the past.  He is forming relationships.  He has become friends with Bill and they are now co-conspirators.  He appears to be making friends at his job (I love the casting of Nick Searcy as Deke, since I am still mourning the loss of Justified.  Perhaps Deke is Art on the Justified level of the Tower).  However, and this is the big one, he is not just making friends…he has also fallen in love.

Justified meme 2

Not only is this episode an origin story for an iconic villain, it is also the origin stories of one of my favorite love stories in any book, not just a Stephen King book.  We have the beginning of Jake and Sadie.  And if their dance is any indication of what is to come, then I can’t wait!

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Now, I have not said a lot of negative things about this series, because I actually don’t think that there is a lot.  There is actually a lot to love, at least so far.  However, I do have one bone to pick…

And his name happens to be Bill.

Bill is a minor character in the book, and is only there for a few sentences.  I know that movies and TV shows will turn minor characters into major ones when it suits their purposes.  For the most part, I don’t have a problem with it.

But I just can’t stand Bill!

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There, I said it.

I don’t know if it’s because of his horrible accent.  Or because I know so little about him, especially compared to characters that would seem to play less of a role, like Mimi, perhaps.  Or Frank Dunning, who is already dead.  Or maybe it’s because he seems to be a stereotype, who comes off more like a member of Cletus’ clan, as opposed to an actual human being with feelings, motivations, etc.

Cletus 1

I understand the need for this character (see the part about internal Jake not really making for a good movie), but so far, the mini series has not executed very well on this part.  Could my feelings change as I see more episodes?  Possibly.  Could Bill die some kind of horrible death as the past has its way with Jake?  Um, no comment on that one…only time will tell (see what I did there?).


 

So that’s it for Other Voices, Other Rooms.  Join me next week for the recap and dissection of episode four, titled The Eyes of Texas.

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

batman and robin

 

11/22/63: Episode 2 Recap and Review

As a child, one of my favorite shows was Quantum Leap (yes, the nerd is strong in this one).

Every week, I would tune in and watch my hero, Sam Beckett (another Hoosier who also loved physics?  Hot!) travel back in time, and avert some kind of tragedy or make better decisions to change the past.  Sometimes, we got a two-for-one special, where Sam averted tragedy, and made someone (or even multiple someones’) life or lives better in the process.

quantum leap 2

Sure, it wasn’t always easy, and Sam frequently stumbled into road blocks.  And often there was a twist:  Sam thought he was there to do a particular thing, but Al and Ziggy would argue with him otherwise and push him into doing his “assignment.”  Or Sam would have to take a detour, which would be necessary to accomplish his “assignment.”  However, Sam would eventually be drawn back to his “assignment”, even when things were not as they seemed…

quantum leap 3

So yes, time travel was often a difficult thing.  That pesky past that does not want to be changed…

card-1963

And our hero, Jake Epping, was reminded again of that fact in last night’s episode of 11/22/63.  In fact, I was reminded of Sam Beckett and his adventures fairly often when I watched this episode.  However, I was also reminded fairly frequently that I was, in fact, watching something has been adapted from a book written by the man considered to be the master of modern horror…

So, Stephen King along with one of my favorite childhood television shows?  Where do I sign up for that?!

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Right, I did renew that Hulu subscription…whew!

So, without any further ado, here is my recap and review of the second episode of 11/22/63, titled The Kill Floor.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


 

Synopsis

The episode begins with a young Harry Dunning, who is chased by bullies into the woods, on October 29th, 1960.  The bullies steal Harry’s pants, so Harry heads to the neighborhood drugstore, where he stashes a spare pair of shorts with his friend the pharmacist.  At the drugstore, Harry encounters Jake, who is reminded of his mission to save Harry and his family from his murderous father, Frank Dunning.

Jake asks the pharmacist about renting a room in town for a few days, and is referred to Mr. and Mrs. Price.  Mrs. Price does not trust Jake, but rents the room to him anyway, demanding a week’s payment in advance.  With the words of Harry’s essay echoing in his head, Jake heads to the local bar in the hopes of meeting Frank Dunning.

When Jake arrives at the bar, he speaks to the bartender, a young man named Bill, and inquires about Frank Dunning.  Bill immediately becomes uncomfortable at the mention of Frank, and does not appear to believe Jake’s cover story that he is in town to write a book.  Jake’s wish is granted, however, when Frank and a group of his friends arrive at the bar.  Frank is charming and charismatic, and appears to befriend Jake.  After spending some time drinking with Jake, Frank invites him to visit the local slaughterhouse, so that Jake can prove that he is “one of them.”

After arriving at the slaughterhouse, Frank demands that Jake slaughter one of the cows with a mallet.  Jake refuses, so Frank slaughters the animal without a second thought.  Jake begins to realize that his mission of stopping Frank from murdering his family will not be easy.

The next day, Jake visits the Dunning house, and tells Frank’s wife Doris that she and her family have won an all expenses paid Halloween vacation, in the hopes that he can prevent tragedy.

That night, Jake eats dinner with the Prices and makes some small talk.  However, Mr. Price opens up to Jake, telling him about his experiences as a soldier in World War II. where he was awarded a bronze star after killing a young man.  Mr. Price tells Jake that his actions were not heroic, despite the fact that he earned a medal.

Jake’s conversation with the Prices is interrupted by the arrival of Frank, who tells Jake that he wants to make up for his treatment of him the previous night.  Frank takes Jake to his butcher shop, where his badly beaten wife emerges. It turns out that Frank has beaten his wife for accepting the “vacation” given to her by Jake.  Frank tells Jake to not interfere in his marriage, and also badly beats Jake.  This makes Jake all the more determined to stop Frank, and he makes a last minute purchase of a gun.

Again, Jake is reminded that the past does not want to be changed, as he suffers a suspicious round of food poisoning later that night.  Al’s notes state that his cancer was a consequence of his attempts to change the past.  However, Jake awakens the next morning, determined to go forward on his mission and stop Frank Dunning.

Jake stakes out the Dunning house, but runs into Bill the bartender.  Bill tells Jake that he has it in for Frank Dunning, as he thinks Frank murdered his sister and her baby 12 years ago, but was never brought to justice.  Jake confesses that he has time-traveled from the future and that he knows that Frank will murder the Dunning family, but Bill is suspicious, as the murders were supposed to occur at 8 PM.  It is now 8:05 PM and the Dunning family is still alive.  Jake realizes that Frank used the back door, and hears Mrs. Dunning’s screams.  Jake runs in to the house in an attempt to save the Dunning family.

When he is inside the house, Jake tells the young Harry to hide inside his bedroom.  Frank tells Jake that he should not be there, and Jake shoots him.  However, this only further enrages Frank, who wrestles Jake to the ground.  Mrs. Dunning runs, but Harry makes an appearance.  Frank yells at his son to give him back his hammer, which he was going to use as a murder weapon.  Franks demands that his son give him back the murder weapon, but Harry runs downstairs with it instead.  Frank lunges after his son, and Jake strangles him with a piece of rope from behind, killing him, sparing the lives of the rest of the Dunning family.  Bill also appears at the foot of the stairs, witnessing the death of Frank Dunning.

Jake walks out of the Dunning house and returns to the Price’s house.  Mrs. Price asks Jake if she needs to call the sheriff.  Jake tells her that he did not do anything wrong.  Mrs. Price responds, telling him that only God can judge.  Jake then proceeds to drive out of town.

While driving away, Jake is bothered by the blood on his hands.  He stops to wash his at a street-side faucet and reminds himself that Harry and the rest of the Dunning family are still alive.  Jake then turns around, and encounters Bill the bartender, who holds up a newspaper clipping from 1963.  Bill demands to know what is going on, and ushers Jake into his vehicle at gunpoint.


 

My Thoughts

Again, if you don’t have a Hulu subscription, get one…the first two episodes alone of 11/22/63 are worth it!

But of first of all, I am remiss…

I don’t even think that I can blame the fact that tax season is frying my brain for this one…

breaking bad

Derp.  Derp derp.  Derp derp derp.  Derp…well, you get the point!

Hurr

No, I did not recognize Bevvie from the levy er Annette O’Toole in this episode.  I only saw her name on the ending credits.  Talk about out of left field…

Beverly 2

So nice one, Mr. Abrams and Uncle Stevie and whoever else was involved in this…I never saw that coming!

And of course, for us Constant Constant Readers, this was a great Easter egg…

easter eggs 1

As many who are reading this know, part of the novel takes place in Derry, Maine.  Derry is a hotbed of strange activity of the Stephen King universe, and several books are placed in Derry.  And perhaps the most famous of all the Derry books would be It.

pennywise

Yes, the novel about your friendly neighborhood homicidal clown connects to a book about time travel, nostalgia for an era lost, Vietnam and all that other good stuff!

In the novel 11/22/63, Jake actually meets Richie Tozier and Beverly Marsh, who are two of the main characters from It.  And all of King’s work is connected (this is a well known secret), but I think that this is perhaps one of his best connections.  Somehow, the homicidal clown in the sewers gets a tie-in to the guy going back in time trying to prevent the Vietnam War, and it all makes sense…now how cool is that?

Of course, I had a funny feeling that this tidbit would not make it into the mini series, given the fact that written material has a different “face” onscreen, if you will.  But we were given the next best thing:  the actress from a mini series that was pivotal in my origin story as a Stephen King fan had a part in this mini series.  And yes, this made sense too!  Way to feel a chill up my spine, just like the chill I felt when I read that part in the novel.

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And the use of the word “rube”…nice way to refer to Dr. Sleep, along with working in your son’s novel as well!

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So let’s talk about the visual component to 11/22/63 for a moment.

Well, more than a moment, as they deserve a little more time, since they are so great.

One aspect of the visual component of 11/22/63 that deserves some attention is the town of Holden, KY.  As I stated before, this part of the story takes place in Derry, Maine in the book.  And Derry is creepy, as any King fan will tell you.  Jake even talks of this in the book, noting that he felt quite unsettled during his time in Derry.  And I felt unsettled when shown the town of Holden, KY in the mini series.  I am sure that said friendly, neighborhood homicidal clown probably has the rights to Derry, so we had to change the location to Holden, KY.  However, the change was in name only.  I felt the same creepy vibe when I watched the mini series and wanted to warn Jake to stay away from storm drains, as a matter of fact.  So perhaps the mini series has created a Twinner of sorts to Derry…

One of my main concerns in regards to the adaptation of 11/22/63 was the portrayal of the time period, aka the early 1960’s.  King paints such a vivid picture in the book of this time period, as seen through the eyes of Jake, who was born in 1976.  And so far, the mini series is doing the same, and we see it in everything from Jake’s clothes (oh, that hat!), the cars, the neighborhood drugstore, the wallpaper in the Price’s house, to the TV dinners and even the books shown on display at the drugstore (The Flash and Batman…swoon).  The care and detail in this portrayal is just amazing, and I love it.

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Another part of the visual component I like about the 11/22/63 is the near constant reminder that we are watching something based on the work of Stephen King, aka America’s Boogeyman.  11/22/63 is not a horror story, and doesn’t really come across that way at all, but it does have its share of creepy moments.  The flies hovering around the dead animal carcass are one example (gross much?).  The use of red light when Jake is worshiping the porcelain goddess is another.  We even had someone show up in a creepy, old school bunny rabbit costume.  I don’t know how much, if any, say that good old Uncle Stevie had in all of this, but I am sure that it has his seal approval…I know that it has mine!

 

This mini series also makes good use of foreshadowing.  Foreshadowing is used A LOT by the Master, but that does not always translate well to the big screen (which is why some of his work loses its punch when translated into movie or television format).  However, this show is doing a fairly nice job of using foreshadowing.  In this episode, I was struck in particular by the tale of war that Mr. Price confessed to Jake.  First of all, this was great foreshadowing for what Jake would have to do:  kill someone so that he may save others.  I liked the implication that although killing may appear brave to others who were not in the trenches (aka Mrs. Price, who cannot figure out why her husband does not want to display his war medals), that is not always the case, and in fact the act of killing can be a cowardly thing, no matter what the circumstances or motivations behind the killing.  Also, 11/22/63 is a book that makes a statement on war, and just what, if anything, can be done to prevent it, along with the consequences of going to war, and even the consequences of not going to war.  So it seems to me that the show is setting all of this up with Mr. Price’s tale of war, although we shall see in the future episodes.

(Oh, and the M*A*S*H reference…nice one, guys!)

Hawkeye 2

And let’s talk about the bad guy…

Well, he may play a relatively small role (what I call a “major minor character”) but Franking Dunning is hugely important to the story.  For one, see the part about the foreshadowing. It seems that Frank is the warm-up for the “main” bad guy, aka Oswald. For two, Frank Dunning is a bad dude.  A really bad dude.  There are plenty of those in King universe, and Frank is just in a long line.  However, Frank stands out a little bit, because of the fact that he is not a main character, but still manages to have a huge influence in the overall story.

And in portraying Frank Dunning, Mr. Fergie er Josh Duhamel has pulled out a performance that I did not know he had up his sleeve…Mr. Fergie is not one to be trifled with!

Frank Dunning is handsome, charismatic and psychotic.  Naturally, Duhamel does not have a problem with that first part, but he also nailed the other two parts.  I know I would cross to the other side of the street if I saw him walking around town. James Franco looked the same way in most of their scenes together…the chemistry between those two was fantastic, and they played off of one another very well.  In fact, I am a little sad that Frank is now dead and we won’t get to see Franco and Duhamel together, although I do have the appearance of Oswald to look forward to.

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So that’s it for The Kill Floor.  Will the show continue to deliver?  Has Jake changed his mind about the past, or has it been changed for him?  Join me next week to find out, when we review and dissect episode 3, Other Voices, Other Rooms.  And maybe make some new friends in the meantime…

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

batman and robin

 

 

11/22/63: Episode 1 Recap and Review

So who here has ever wanted to travel back in time, and try to change the past for whatever reason?

*raises hand slowly*

Yes, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I have fantasized about traveling back to the past.  Giving past me a warning about her taste in men would be a top priority (geez, you would think my first marriage was right out of a Stephen King book or something).  Appreciating the good cartoons that you had to get up really early for on Saturday morning for would also be a top priority.

But even if we have the ability to travel back in time and try to change the past, should we exercise that power?  It worked out for Marty McFly in the end, but would it work out for mere mortals like me?  As painful as that first marriage was for me, my life may actually not be the awesomeness it is today (my ex still is, and always will be, King Douchey McDoucherson of Doucheville in the state of perpetual douche, however) if I did not have the experience of that marriage.  I probably would not have moved to South Carolina, where I happened to find a job in the tax resolution industry, aka my chosen career.  I would not have been able to open my home to the true thing of evil, aka a blue heeler puppy whose government name is actually Duncan.  Most importantly, I would not have met my husband, the co-parent to the thing of evil, my partner in crime, my lucky 13, the love of my life.  So as difficult as the past was, I would be afraid to change it, as I may come back to the present, and find it all jacked up, with the town bully in charge, even (per Back to the Future Part 2 Marty McFly).

candy bar pie 010

Apparently, when The Master is not writing about child-killing clowns, proms gone wrong, rabid dogs and other things to haunt my nightmares, he thinks about time-travel.  And he decided to write a book about the subject, possibly because he was bored one afternoon…

Stephen King

Yes, Stephen King has written a book about time travel.  Yes, he can take on almost any topic, and write a compelling book about it.  No, he is not just a writer of scary stories…oh the horror (see what I did there)?

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The name of this book is 11/22/63, and it centers around a school teacher named Jake Epping, who travels back in time to attempt to make a major change in history:  prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Jake was born 1976 and, like yours truly, had only an academic sense of a major historical event that shaped a generation (i.e., the generation of King and my own parents).  However, Jake learns that the past does not want to be changed, and that nearly everything he does has an effect on those he meets.  Try as he may, Jake is unable to keep his distance from the people he meets, and the relationships he forms have an effect on his mission to thwart Oswald.

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Many consider this to be the best King book ever written, and rightfully so.  So, I heard last year that it would become a Hulu mini series.  All of a sudden, I had a reason to reactivate that account.  And for the past four months or so, I have been muttering, at random, “Please be good.  Please be good. Please be good.”  After all, JJ Abrams, Stephen King and James Franco…could that combination ever be bad?

Well, the tentative answer is probably not.  In fact, this combination is shaping up to be pretty good.  And it’s pretty early still, but this combination may even be great.  I don’t want to jinx it, but I am seeing something there.  And I really like what I see, although only time will tell.

So, without any further ado, here is my recap and review of 11/22/63, episode 1.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The episode begins with schoolteacher Jake Epping, who resides in Lisbon, Maine, listening to one of the students in his adult education classes read an essay about an event that transpired on Halloween 1960.  The student, Harry Dunning, was attacked by his psychotic father.  Harry’s father killed his mother, sister and two brothers, while also injuring Harry.  This event has been traumatic for Harry, affecting his life in every way imaginable.  Jake applauds Harry’s essay, and agrees to write a recommendation for Harry so that he may obtain a promotion at his current job.

After class, Jake heads to Al’s Diner, where he meets with his friend Al, the owner of the diner.  Jake’s soon to be ex-wife Christy arrives, and Al excuses himself and heads to the back of the diner.  Jake briefly chats with Christy, and signs their divorce papers.  Christy leaves the diner, wishing Jake the best.  Al reappears a few minutes later, but is literally a changed man.  Al tells Jake that he has cancer, and looks to be dying, instead of the picture of health that he appeared to be when Jake first walked into the diner.  Jake helps Al home, and Al promises to give Jake an explanation the next day.

The next day, Jake teaches his high school English class, and tries to impart the importance of seemingly small events in history to his students.  However, most of his students are not paying attention, and one is distracted by a video of a dancing parrot on his cell phone.  The student promises to send Jake the video at the end of class.

Jake meets Al at the diner after class.  Al takes Jake back to a closet in the back of his diner, and has Jake walk through it.  Jake is skeptical until he is not longer in the closet and appears to have stepped back in time.  Al confirms that Jake indeed has stepped back in time to October 21st, 1960.  Jake appears to be invisible to most of the people he sees in this particular moment in time, although a strange looking man with a yellow card in his hat repeatedly tells him that he “should not be here.”

Al tells Jake the rules for what he calls “the rabbit hole”: every trip through the closet leads back to exact same moment on October 21st, 1960; no matter how long one stays in 1960, the time in the present will only be 2 minutes later upon return;  and going through the door will always erase what was done on previous trips to the past.

Al then proposes a trip to the past for Jake, so that Jake may accomplish what he could not:  preventing the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  Al believes that the past can be changed, although this is difficult (Al’s sudden cancer diagnosis being an example of the past “pushing back”).  Al believes that if Kennedy had lived, the Vietnam War would have been prevented, and fewer lives lost. Al also wants Jake to find out if Oswald also attempted to assassinate Edwin Walker, as the same kind of rifle was used in the assassination attempt on Walker and the killing of John F. Kennedy. Jake is skeptical, and argues with Al.  He then leaves to attend the graduation ceremony of his adult education students (Harry Dunning is included in this group).  Jake then learns from another school employee that Al will not be getting the promotion, and changes his mind about traveling to the past.

Jake returns to Al’s home the next day, and finds that the man passed away during the night.  Jake then gathers all Al’s notes in regards to Kennedy, the money Al left him and some fake identification (his new name is Jake Amberson), and returns to the diner.  He steps through Al’s “rabbit-hole”, and returns to 1960.

When Jake enters the past, he immediately gives himself a makeover of sorts, which includes a haircut, a shave and a new suit.  Jake also purchases a yellow convertible, and places an improbable bet on a sporting event at the local dive bar.  Jake wins the bet, but brings some unwanted attention upon himself.  Later that night, a man is sent to the hotel Jake is staying at to rough Jake up and discourage him from placing any more bets.  Jake is able to distract the man with his modern cell phone, and flees town.  While he is fleeing, Jake catches another glimpse of the mysterious “Yellow Card Man”, who again tells him that he does not belong there.  Jake throws his cell phone into the river, permanently cutting off his ties to his own era.

Jake then travels across the country, heading to Dallas, Texas.  While he is traveling, he is reminded that life in 1960 was not great for everyone, as he encounters segregated restrooms and is reminded of the deplorable conditions that existed for many.

While scouting Dallas, Jake meets a pretty blonde by the name of Sadie Clayton.  Sadie is a fellow book lover, and nearly leaves her pocketbook behind on the bench she was sitting on when she was talking to Jake.  However, Sadie is married, so Jake sees her on her way.

Jake rents a room in a boarding house recommended to him by Al.  He meets the owner’s son, who tells Jake that he intends on enlisting in the military when he is old enough and serving his country (and will likely die in Vietnam).  Jake attempts to contact his father in Chicago, but is again reminded that the past pushes back:  he gets nothing but static on the pay phone, along with a car that careens through the phone booth, killing the driver almost instantly.  Before she dies, the driver of the car tells Jake that he does not belong there.

Although he is badly shaken after he witnesses the car accident, Jake continues on his mission to prevent the assassination of Kennedy.  More specifically, he spies on a man named George de Mohrenschildt, who may have ties to the CIA.  Jake follows de Mohrenschildt to a CIA ralley and attempts to sneak into the event.  However, Jake is caught by security, and winds up in a room that is literally a dead end, teeming with roaches and red lights, and the space-time continuum appears to be breaking down.  Jake is then escorted out of the building by the security guards, and is again reminded that he does not belong there.

That night, Jake follows de Mohrenschildt to an upscale restaurant, and learns that de Mohrenschildt does indeed have ties to the CIA.  However, Jake is nearly burned on his arm and barely escapes a collapsing ceiling, reminders of the past “pushing back.”  When he returns home, the reminder is even more gruesome, as his boarding house has caught on fire, destroying all of Al’s notes.  Even worse, the son of the owner is burned alive and perishes in the fire.  Jake feels responsible for the death, and decides to head back to Maine and return to the present, before he causes any more damage to innocent people.

However, Jake makes a stop in Humboldt, KY on his way home, with the intention of preventing Harry Dunning’s crazed father from killing Harry’s family.


 

My Thoughts

Before anything else, let’s talk about the elephant in the room…

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Yes, the dreaded part of any book that is adapted to film…

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The Changes.

Yes, The Changes.  You know, when your character is wearing blue sneakers in the book, and the movie changed them to brown penny loafers…just what was wrong with the sneakers, Hollywood?  Sneakers are beautiful too, why do they need to be changed to meet your standards of shoe?

In other words, I am aware of some major changes to the details of the book.  Do they bother me?  Well, my inner book douche is extremely bothered by them, but I will have to keep her busy with noting the kind of shoes each character wells.  That should be a project to shut her up for a bit…

I am actually ok with the changes made to the story.  11/22/63 is a novel that consists of a lot of internal Jake dialogue.  Internal Jake dialogue makes for a fascinating book, but does not translate very well to the screen.  Movies and television consist of interactions between characters, so it is understandable that adjustments need to be made, much to the chagrin of book douches.

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However flexible I may be about adaptations, there are a few things that I am looking for in any adaptation of 11/22/63:

 

  1.  Jake’s effect on the past.
  2. The past’s effect on Jake (i.e. the people he meets, the places he visits, etc).
  3. Jake and Sadie’s relationship, which is one of the sweetest, enduring and heartbreaking relationships in any book.
  4. The character of Jake himself.  Jake has built up walls (intentionally or not), and is a man who obviously feels, but has a hard time conveying to others how he feels (we get the feeling that this may be why he is divorced).
  5. How obsessive Jake becomes in his attempt to change the past, no matter what the consequences may be.
  6. The time period Jake visits itself.  I want to see 1960-1963 in all its splendor, along with its darkness.

It’s still early to make a complete evaluation, but if I were Jake Epping and grading this, I would definitely give this a solid B.  In other words, above average, but there is still room for improvement in order for it to reach its full potential (nope, didn’t ever hear that one growing up.  not at all).

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In regards to the first item on my list, I would say that 11/22/63 is doing fairly well.  In fact, it may be doing a little too well, as the phrase “you shouldn’t be here’ is tossed around like it’s going out of style.  However, the visual representations of “you shouldn’t be here” are fantastic, in my opinion.  For one, there is the Yellow Card Man.  The producers and writers did a great job of transferring an enigmatic (on a good day!) character from the book to the screen, and making him a major player in the film.  I also loved the scene where Jake gets trapped in what appears to be a sub-sub basement room, and is immediately accosted by cockroaches under a bright red light.  This scene in particular (especially with the use of the color red) served to remind us that we are watching a visual representation of a book written by the man who many consider to be the inventor of modern horror.

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Like I said before, it is still early.  However, I am beginning to see bits and pieces of 2-5, even in the first episode.  We may only being seeing glimpses right now, but I enjoyed those glimpses immensely.  Jake’s interaction with his ex-wife Christy was brief, and his interaction with Sandy was also brief, but in watching those interactions, the show gave us some insight into who Jake is:  he may appear cold on the outside, but inside there is actually feeling and maybe even a little bit of passion.  Jake’s applause for his student Harry Dunning (another fine acting job on what I call a “major minor character”) when Harry obtains his GED also demonstrates that Jake is capable of caring, even if he doesn’t always communicate that to those he cares about (see part on why he is divorced).  Even in the first episode, we can see that the past is starting to have its effect on Jake, from the way he enjoys a piece of homemade apple pie (nothing can replace real butter.  NOTHING!), to his decision to head back to Maine, realizing that his presence is a danger to innocent people, to his decision to make a quick “pit stop” on his way back to Maine so that he may help his friend have a better life.  So far, so good.

I will say this much:  number 6.  As in, the mini series is doing really well in portraying the 1960’s, in both its glory and dark side.  The scene where Jake steps through the “rabbit-hole” back into 1960 is simply stunning.  There were the cars and the kids playing ball.  The milk truck was actually my favorite part of that scene.  There is just something about the truck itself and the shattering milk bottles that almost feels like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, but also has an ominous feel to it.  Speaking of ominous, I also loved the scene where Jake finds the “colored restroom.”  This scene is powerful in the book, and powerful in the mini series as well.  It serves to remind that the 1960’s may have appeared idyllic, but were actually anything but that to many people.  History is not something that is objective, but something that can be influenced by mere observation.

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Oh, and as if I didn’t need more reminders that I was watching something based on a Stephen King book…

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Yes, I caught them.  Jake making the innocuous (well, not really) statement that he was Kennedy’s number one fan…uh huh…

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And the mention of Castle Rock made me squee a bit too.  Although I really hope Jake doesn’t get an urge to go shopping there…

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So that’s it for The Rabbit Hole.  Join me next week for the review and dissection of The Kill Floor, where we see Jake take on a formidable foe:  Mr.  Fergie er Josh Duhamel as Frank Dunning!

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

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Top 10 non-horror Stephen King books

So let me paraphrase a conversation I had on Facebook recently.  COFG is me (Crazy Obsessed Fan Girl).  FOAF is the friend of a friend with whom I had this rather interesting conversation.

FOAF:  I don’t like Stephen King, his books are too scary!

FOAF:  I love The Shawshank Redemption, that is one of my favorite movies!

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COFG:  Stephen King wrote the story The Shawshank Redemption is based on.  Contrary to popular belief, the man known for shit weasels and scary clowns is an excellent writer.

FOAF: (Silence on her end.  Obviously, her mind was blown.  Does not compute.  Programming must be re-adjusted).

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Well, like I said, it was paraphrased.  Although you would be surprised how many people need to re-adjust their programming when they learn that scary dude wrote a story that was turned into a movie that received Oscar nods.,.gasp!  Oh, the horror (pun intended).

Stephen King

Which leads me to this blog post.

Yes, Stephen King writes scary stories.  Who hasn’t had a nightmare (or five) about an evil clown who emerges from the sewers and kills kids?  Who doesn’t scream when watching a movie like Pet Sematary, which is also probably the scariest book in existence on this planet?

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And all of the above is correct.  Stephen King can scare you to where you just might need a change of pants.  And oh boy, is he good at it!

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But…wait for it…Stephen King is also a great writer.  And I am completely leaving anything about horror off that last sentence.

Yes, Stephen King can write scary stories.  But he writes good stories.  Great stories, actually.  Really, really great stories, as a matter of fact.

And no, they are not scary stories.  Even in his “scary” stories, King is able to include universal themes.  For example, the theme of family is huge in The Shining.  And bullying is also a huge theme in stories such as Dreamcatcher and It.

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And in his “non-scary” stories, King often writes about frightening situations.  For example, domestic abuse is prevalent in stories such as Rose Madder and Dolores Claiborne.  Domestic violence is a situation that many people can identify with, and characters such as Norman Daniels are terrifying because they are so plausible.

To sum it up, King is a great writer.  However, he is somewhat stigmatized, because of the “horror” label.  And no one is more aware of it than the master himself, as he has been typecast for nearly 40 years.  However, this has not stopped him from churning out some amazing novels that cannot be categorized as horror.  And anyone who takes the time to read these works is in for a treat.  As these works are simply great writing, with the ability to grip the reader, and keep him/her trapped in the pages of the book until the last word.  And that is exactly what a good writer should do:  make the reader not want to put down that book.

So, without further ado, here are my top “non-horror” Stephen King books, for the the non-horror fans in our lives.

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10)  Lisey’s Story

Marriage is something that everyone is familiar with (especially me, since I’m on my second trip to the rodeo).  And almost everyone agrees that when you marry someone, you don’t really know them, even if the marriage lasts a good number of years.  Even when you live with someone day in and day out, there is still a secret side (or maybe more than one secret side) of that person.  And sometimes the secrets are harmless (like my book boyfriends I spend hours obsessing over).  Or sometimes the secrets are not so harmless.

Yes, those not so harmless secrets.  You know, when your spouse has the ability to travel to another dimension, and then heal himself but has to be careful not to attract the attention of a creature he calls “the Long Boy” since that creature is hungry for yummy things called human beings.

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That kind of secret does suck, and it is actually what the title character from Lisey’s Story encounters.  Upon the death of her husband Scott Landon, who was an accomplished writer during his lifetime, Lisey Landon begins to learn (or rather, have her memory jogged) as to what kind of man her husband really was.  And she also has an adventure in the alternate dimension mentioned above (complete with an encounter or two with a scary monster), so that she can set her life and memory of her husband right.  Yes, there is a monster or two (although the human monster is one of the scariest), but this book deals more with marriage and what we may keep from our spouses (harmless or not).  The book also deals with the still somewhat taboo subject of mental illness, which is a prevalent theme in this society, and manages to treat this sensitive subject with compassion.  Lisey’s Story may have a couple of monsters, but the themes are themes that resonate with everyone, and the book makes an enjoyable read for almost anyone.

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9)  Dolores Claiborne

So let’s talk about human monsters again.

“Lupus est homo homini.”  Man is a wolf to man.  In other words, let’s talk about man’s inhumanity to man.  Or technically, with this entry, man (and society’s) horrible treatment of women.

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Dolores Claiborne is disturbing.  Yet there are no monsters, at least of the supernatural variety.  The monsters in this one are all human.

The title character marries a man, thinking she will get to live happily ever after.  However, her life becomes anything but happy.  Dolores’ husband Joe begins to abuse her not long after he and Dolores marry.  Dolores takes matters into her own hands, as local law enforcement is proven to be useless (and is shown to be just that throughout the rest of the book).  Dolores does not endure any more abuse by Joe, but what follows is much, much worse.  Joe begins to turns his attentions on their daughter Selena, and begins sexually abusing Selena.  Again, local law enforcement (and society, for that matter), show their true colors, as no one is one the side of Dolores and her children.  Feeling desperate, Dolores seeks out advice from her employer, and decides that “an accident can be a woman’s best friend.”  She pushes Joe down a well, and convinces local authorities that is is an accident.  She is believed, but the incident comes back to haunt her upon the death of her employer, Vera.  The book is a recounting of what led Dolores to her actions, and of the terrible gender inequality that existed (and still exists in our society today) in 1960’s Maine island communities.

When I started reading Dolores Claiborne, I wondered why she did it.  About a third of the way through the book, I wondered why she didn’t do away with Joe much sooner than she did.  And I rooted for her.  I rooted for her to be able to take some control of her life, as no one, including her husband or even our society, was willing to let her have any control of anything in life, including the well-being of her children.  And Dolores was able to take a stand, and came out the winner.  And I like it when the good guys  girls win.

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8)  Rose Madder

Human monsters.  Yes, more human monsters.  In case you didn’t notice, this is a huge theme in this blog post and in King’s works.  In the book Rose Madder, once again, the biggest monster is completely human, and is someone you are supposed to trust.

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Norman Daniels is a cop.  And he is a very good good cop.  However, Norman is also a corrupt cop who has literally gotten away with murder.  Oh, and he beats his wife.  Real peach of a guy, huh?

Fortunately, Norma’s wife Rosie does not think her husband is a peach.  She endures terrible abuse from him for nearly 14 years.  King’s description of the abuse is quite graphic (Norman even sodomizes his wife with a tennis racket).  Rosie finally finds the courage to leave her husband, catch a Greyhound bus and start over in another city nearly 800 miles away from her home.  Rosie is helped along the way by the kindness of strangers and receives much needed support from a local women’s shelter.  She even meets and falls in love with a new man, and finds an interesting painting to hang in her new apartment.  However, Rosie’s past catches up with her, as Norman leaves behind a trail of bodies in his attempt to track down his estranged wife.  The new painting literally provides a means of escape for Rosie, as it leads her into another world (along with Norman) and Norman is finally given his just desserts.

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It is true that there is a supernatural element to Rose Madder.  However, most of the book takes place in a setting that almost everyone is familiar with (suburban America) and the characters (abusive men and abused women) are also sadly familiar.  Norman Daniels is a corrupt cop and an abusive husband.  He is one of the most believable characters ever written by King.  Watch your local or even national news, and a Norman Daniels is bound to surface.

The fact that Rose Madder partially takes place in the world of our friendly neighborhood gunslinger is just an added bonus to a fantastic story.

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7)  Hearts in Atlantis

The horrors of war are also something we are all familiar with, including Stephen King.  King brilliantly addresses this topic in his collections of novellas titled Hearts in Atlantis.  Although King made many allusions in prior works to his feelings on the Viet Nam War, he addresses the subject head on in the collection Hearts in Atlantis.  The result is an insightful analysis on the experience of coming in age during one of the most tumultuous times in American history.

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Hearts in Atlantis consists of two novellas and three short stories.  The first of these is titled Low Men in Yellow Coats, and is the only story that really contains any hint of the supernatural.  While the Viet Nam War is not directly referenced in this work, the protagonist Bobby Garfield learns a lesson about taking a stand against evil when his friend and elderly neighbor is pursued by sinister creatures that are clearly not of this world.  Bobby’s actions and stances on this will color his life for years to come, and serve as foreshadowing as to how some of his peers will take a stance against the conflict in Viet Nam.  The title story tells of a college student who nearly flunks out of college due to excessive amounts of time spent playing a card game.  However, the stakes of failure are very high, as anyone who fails out of college at the beginning of the Viet Nam War risks being sent overseas to fight a war in a country that most can barely pronounce or spell.  While struggling with his studies, Pete also struggles (in much the same manner as Bobby Garfield) with his stance on what is happening overseas.  Like Bobby, Pete also makes a stance that will forever change his life.  Blind Willie and Why We’re in Vietnam take place some years after the Viet Nam War is over, and are told from the prospective of those who served during that time.  The collection ends with the short story Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling, where we meet an adult Bobby Garfield who finally receives some closure in regards to the events during his childhood that have troubled him for so many years.

While many younger readers may find some of the stories in Hearts in Atlantis a bit dated, the themes (war, bullying, tolerance and taking a stance) are themes that anyone of any age should identify with, making the stories ones that will always be relevant and therefore timeless.

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6)  Different Seasons

As I stated before, Stephen King has struggled with typecasting.  However, the publication of the book Different Seasons put at least some of those criticisms to rest.  Different Seasons consists of three novellas, and the last work could be probably be considered a short story.  All four stories contain themes that we all familiar with:  injustice, bullying, parents’ relationships with their children, people who are not who they seem to be, etc.  In other words, they are stories of the human condition.

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The first story, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, tells the story of a man who is wrongfully imprisoned for killing him wife, and his struggles inside a system that seeks to keep him oppressed.  The story is told from the perspective of another prisoner, and reminds the reader time and time again that we must never give up hope. The second story, Apt Pupil, tells of a former Nazi war criminal who moves to suburban America and lives under an assumed name.  The man develops an unhealthy relationship with the boy next door, and his past comes back to haunt him and change his young neighbor in a way that is not for the better.  The third story, The Body, is the tale of four childhood friends and the last adventure that they have together before adulthood conspires to lead them on different paths.  The final story, The Breathing Method, tells of a young mother who gives birth out of wedlock in turn of the century America, and just how far she will go to deliver her baby safely, even when society and another unfortunate turn of events try to tell her otherwise.

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Humanity can be scary sometimes.  Oftentimes, humans, whether they are a former Nazi war criminal, a corrupt prison warden or even the innocent boy next door, are the scariest creatures on this planet.  But sometimes humans can be wonderful as well, and make marks on our lives that we will never forget.  Different Seasons does a wonderful job illustrating both sides of humanity and is just a fascinating study into what makes our species tick.

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5)  Eyes of the Dragon

When you think of kid friendly writers, Stephen King does not usually come to mind.  And rightfully so, as much of King’s work would be deemed “inappropriate” at best, and maybe “will traumatize one for life” at worst (as we can all see how reading King at age 12 made me the well-adjusted adult I am today…ha).  However, the book Eyes of the Dragon could be probably be an exception to that statement (if we leave out the parts about flaccid penises…yikes, awkward much?)

It said that King wanted to write a book that his daughter Naomi would want be allowed  to read.  So he wrote Eyes of the Dragon.  In many ways, Eyes of the Dragon is similar to the fairy tales that we all grew reading (or maybe our parents read them to us).  There are princes in a faraway kingdom.  The princes become orphaned and one becomes wrongfully imprisoned, but pulls off a daring escape plan using his mother’s childhood dollhouse, of all things.  And there is even an evil wizard thrown in the mix.  However, Eyes of the Dragon also has a decidedly darker tone than some of the fairy tales that I grew up with.  The protagonist does escape, but his captor never faces punishment.  And it could also be argued that the younger brother of the protagonist, who was also responsible for the imprisonment of his older brother, has not really become any wiser for all the troubles he has been through.

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Even though it is dark (this is a Stephen King book after all), Eyes of the Dragon is an unusual but fun departure from King’s normal work into a peculiar type of dark fantasy.  And like the fairy tales I remember from my youth, it does teach a few lessons that anyone of any age could stand to hear.

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4)  The Dead Zone

Its an age old question:  do we have the ability to see the future, and possible try to change it?  More importantly, should we have that ability?  This is a question that is explored in depth in the book The Dead Zone.

The Dead Zone is actually a scary book.  But again, there are no monsters, except for a couple of the human ones.  The Dead Zone is also a tragic book.  The protagonist, Johnny Smith (how can a name be more Every Man than Johnny Smith?) falls into a coma after a horrible car accident.  Johnny stays in the coma for nearly five years.  In the meantime, his world moves on without him.  This includes the woman he loves, who marries another.  Johnny wakes up from his coma, and discovers that he has the somewhat limited ability to see future events.  Sometimes this is a good thing, as it saves people’s lives and helps catch serial killers.  However, more often than not, Johnny’s unwanted gift brings unintended consequences and isolates him from his fellow man.  When Johnny discovers that a popular politician will one day become president and start World War III, he embarks on a quixotic quest to try and stop the man.  Again, Johnny finds himself isolated from his few remaining friends and family members.  Johnny is ultimately successful in his quest to stop the politician, but the success comes at a huge personal cost for Johnny and his loved ones.

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In The Dead Zone, King once again embarks upon a study in the human condition.  The ultimate result is tragedy, but the book is one of his most thought provoking reads of all time.

3)  Insomnia

It may be odd to think of horror and fantasy (in the style of Lord of the Rings) as being two sides of the same coin, but oftentimes these two categories blur, and it can get hard to distinguish one from the other.  The book Insomnia definitely falls into the category of dark fantasy and has therefore earned its place on this list.

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Insomnia follows the adventures of Ralph Roberts, a widower in his late 60’s.  Ralph has become inflicted with insomnia and is unable to sleep at night.  He then begins seeing some strange sights in his hometown of Derry, Maine. Ralph also discovers that his neighbor Lois has also become inflicted with insomnia and is seeing the same strange sights that he is.  The two discover that they are actually pawns in a game of sorts, and that the stakes are very, very high, and losing the game could spell disaster for not just them, but all of existence.  The story switches from fantasy (alternate dimensions) to reality throughout the book, and also gives the viewpoint of the world from senior citizens, who are often invisible at best, or treated as sub-humans at worst.  Ralph and Lois manage to save the day, but like many “saves” in a Stephen King book, it comes at a huge personal cost to Ralph and Lois some years later.  We also see Ralph and Lois fall in love during their ordeal, which is one of the most endearing love stories in any book, let alone a Stephen King book.

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Insomnia does a wonderful job playing up the darker aspects of the fantasy genre (The characters Atropos and The Crimson King are a great example of this) and also manages to treat the subject of aging in our youth obsessed society with sensitivity and even a little bit of humor.

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2)  The Talisman

Stephen King is often criticized for not being “literary” enough.  This may be because he sells so many books.  Or it may be the subject matter that he addresses in his books.  However, these critics fail to realize that Charles Dickens was a best-selling author in his lifetime.  Or that both Dickens and Mark Twain also took on social issues in their works, and that both authors’ works had some degree of darkness.  And both Twain and Dickens are taught in high schools and colleges across the world today.  Someday, Stephen King will be held in the same regard, and his work will be seen as “literature” and become part of standard college reading lists.  When that is the case, college professors would do well to include the next entry on this list:  The Talisman.

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Much like Insomnia, The Talisman can be categorized as dark fantasy.  It is the story of Jack Sawyer, who embarks on a trip across the United States in order to obtain a magical object referred to as The Talisman, in order to save his mother from dying of cancer.  Jack learns (or rather, has his memory jogged) that he has the ability to travel to an alternate reality that he calls The Territories.  Magic is commonplace in The Territories, but The Territories also come with their own dangers, as monsters and evil rulers are encountered at almost every turn.  Jack also has to deal with evil men who conspire against him in the “real” world, but has friends who guide him on his journey.  These friends include a werewolf and a wise old man named Speedy Parker, who is much more than what he seems.  In the true spirit of any fantasy/adventure story, Jack is ultimately successful in his quest, and is able to defeat his enemies and save his mother’s life.

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Much like the works of Twain, Dickens and even Robert Lewis Stevenson, The Talisman is a story of fantastical high adventure.  And much like the works of Charles Dickens and others, it explores controversial subjects, which include sexual and physical abuse of children, crime and punishment in our society and just how far someone will go to save the life of a loved one.  In other words, The Talisman may look like a children’s story, but like Speedy Parker, it is much more that what it seems.

And now, for our number entry on this list…

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I bring you…

1) 11/22/63

As stated before, Stephen King came of age during one of the most tumultuous eras in our country’s history.  Not only did King attend college during the height of the Viet Nam War, he was also just entering adulthood upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  Like most of his generation, this impacted King, and likely even affected his writing.  King alluded to this event many times (Wolves of the Calla and The Drawing of the Three contain a few references to Kennedy) but never addressed the subject head-on.  That is, until he wrote the number one entry on this list: 11/22/63.

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11/22/63 tells the story of Jake Epping, who lives in present day Maine.  Jake has an academic idea of John F. Kennedy, but has never really given the subject much thought.  However, Jake begins to give the subject much more thought when his friend Al reveals to him that there is a portal in the local diner owned by Al that allows one to travel back in time into 1958.  One can travel back and forth between time periods, and return to the present with only two minutes passing.  It is also revealed that traveling back to the present may “un-do” changes in the past.  Al persuades Jake to travel back in time and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy and possible change history for the better.  Jake becomes convinced of this and travels back in time to do just that.  Jake takes up residence in 1958, and makes new friends.  He also falls in love with a woman named Sadie, and actually begins to re-think his quest.  He realizes that the past is stubborn and does not want to be changed, but still continues on his quest.  Jake is ultimately successful in preventing the assassination, but at the cost of Sadie’s life.  Jake travels back to 2011 but barely recognizes his present, as the prevention of the assassination has indeed led to drastic changes in history that are not for the better.  Jake travels back to the portal and re-enters the present, therefore restoring the timeline.  This also restores the life of Sadie.  Jake realizes his presence in the past can only lead to disaster, and chooses not to travel back in time and pursue Sadie.  The book ends with Jake encountering an elderly lady who can only be Sadie, and sharing one last dance with her.

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11/22/63 is an epic story.  The story is equal parts historical fiction and a suspense thriller.  It also contains one of the best cases of a “doomed love” affair, as the romance between Jake and Sadie so sadly demonstrates.  The book is rich in detail with what life was really like in late 1950’s America, as many perceive that to be a simpler time period.  However, there is an incident where Jake encounters a sign for the “colored” restroom, and follows the sign.  The sign leads a tangle of grass and brier patches, providing Jake (and the reader) with a reality check as to what life was really like during that time period.  King provides a fascinating character study of Lee Harvey Oswald, who, to most people, is just a historical figure.  However, King manages to make him a little more human and even somewhat sympathetic, even though his actions are still ultimately evil.  In short, 11/22/63 is complex and rich book, that deals with major events in history (JFK, Viet Nam War, etc), while providing a human perspective on what many (especially younger readers like myself) view in an academic manner.  11/22/63 truly makes history come alive and actually become relevant.

lee harvey oswald

King has stated that 11/22/63 was the book that he always wanted to write about Viet Nam, JFK, etc.  However, this is Stephen King.  He always has a trick up his sleeve.  And the trick in 11/22/63 is a great one:  Jake encounters none other than Richie Tozier and Beverly Marsh, shortly after the Losers Club’s first confrontation with Pennywise the Clown.  And King is correct:  11/22/63 is the book about JFK, Viet Nam, etc that needed to be written.  But the fact that he was able to incorporate the evil clown from a novel that has inspired so many nightmares in what many would consider to be a historical (not horror) novel  is just further testament to the true genius that is Stephen King.

pennywise


So there it is.  The top 10 non-horror novels written by Stephen King.  So for the non-horror fan in your life, maybe one (or five) of these would make a great stocking stuffer!  Or if you have not read these, self present giving is always allowed!  And the only scary thing about these is that maybe you will just get hooked and be unable to stop reading!  But sometimes being scared is a good thing…happy reading, all!

RoaldDahl