Cujo — 1981

Teaser:

Cujo was a good-natured St. Bernard with a family who loved him. But a bite on the snout from a rabid bat changed everything for him in a flash. Now he’s infected with the rabies virus and on the prowl with an unslakable thirst for blood. Donna Trenton and her son Tad, are taking their shitty lemon of a car to the mechanic for repairs, and their mechanic, Joe Cambers, just so  happens to be Cujo’s former owner. Unbeknownst to Donna, Cujo already made quick work dispatching Joe but his rabies induced blood lust is insatiable! He attacks them, but they move quickly and lock themselves in the car. Donna hopes to drive away, but her Ford Pinto isn’t in good shape and just won’t start. Now they’re trapped in the car, in the middle of a sweltering summer, with  no one around for miles to help. And Cujo doesn’t plan on letting this precious quarry out of his sight.

“It was possible that one of them might call him BADDOG. And at this particular moment he certainly considered himself to be a BADDOG” (King 21).

Noteworthy Characters:

  • Donna Trenton: wife and mother, Donna’s marriage is on the rocks because of a recent affair she had but she’s willing to try to keep her family together
  • Vic Trenton: a married man and advertising executive who recently found out about his wife’s infidelity. Vic goes out-of-town for work for a few days and hopes to put the affair out of his mind
  • Tad Trenton: Donna and Vic’s young son
  • Steve Kemp: hot-headed tennis player Donna had her affair with, he doesn’t take the break lightly and vandalizes the Trenton home afterwards
  • Joe Camber: a country mechanic who Donna tries to take her car to for repairs
  • Charity Camber: Joe’s wife, who takes her son on a trip out-of-town after winning a decent lottery prize
  • George Bannerman: the Castle Rock Sheriff who tries to help Donna and Tad
  • Cujo: the eponymous rabid dog who terrorizes and kills everyone in his path

Plot/Setting:

This story takes place in King’s fictional town Castle Rock, Maine. Vic and Donna Trenton have recently moved to Castle Rock with their young son Tad and do not have a happy marriage. Donna started having an affair with Steve Kemp, a local who does not handle the break well. Vic finds out about Donna’s affair and leaves town for work, leaving Donna to worry about how they might possibly amend their marriage. Donna is left with the couple’s unreliable Ford Pinto while Vic is away.

The Pinto gives Donna a lot of grief, so she decides to take it to the mechanic for repairs. The mechanic is Joe Camber, who operates his shop on his home property and also happens to be the owner of one affable St. Bernard. Joe’s wife Charity Camber comes into $5000 of lottery winnings and decides to take their son Brett away on a trip with her, while Joe plans a little pleasure trip of his own after wrapping up a few jobs. Cujo viciously attacks and kills Joe before he ever gets the chance to leave. When Donna shows up at the Camber property with her car she’s attacked by Cujo and barely makes it to the safety of her car. With Joe dead and no one around for miles she tries numerous times to get the car started so they can escape, but it refuses to start.

Donna engages in a days long ordeal trying to plan a route of escape and save Tad, while Cujo watches relentlessly, waiting for his opportunity to strike. It’s a hot summer and the temperatures in the car are stifling Donna and Tad. With no water, and no imaginable means of escape, Donna realizes she’ll need to face Cujo head on if she wants to save herself and Tad.

Most Gripping Moments:

  • Cujo’s vicious attack and killing of Joe Camber
  • Donna’s desperate dash to the car when Cujo first appears
  • Cujo’s relentless attacks on the vehicle, slamming his body into the doors, bashing the windshield, terrorizing Donna and Tad while he tries to gain access to them
  • Donna’s hard-fought battle to get her hands on the baseball bat and her ultimate fight to the death with Cujo

Some King-isms/Connections:

  • George Bannerman is a character in this novel who also appeared in The Dead Zone. References are made to his most infamous case, catching Frank Dodd a.k.a. the Castle Rock Strangler
  • Tad fears that Frank Dodd haunts his closet
  • The dog Cujo is also referenced in The Dark Half, Needful Things, and Pet Sematary, the story of the rabid dog that killed is now common Castle Rock lore

Thoughts/Reflections:

I watched the movie version when I was a little girl long before I ever read the novel and I vividly remembered Donna and Tad suffering inside the car. It was an exciting movie to me, back then, I remember being glued to the screen. The book brought it all back in glorious detail. I could smell their sweat and fear filling the car, I could feel Donna’s body radiating terror, and I could picture Cujo’s disgusting frothy face watching them from the barn.

This is a fast-paced read, with no chapter breaks throughout making it hard to stop. King weaves this story together deftly with some of the key characters from The Dead Zone, adding to the Castle Rock canon. King gives us multiple narrative perspectives throughout the story, including Cujo’s. The readers are able to initially sympathize with the gentle family dog who made an unfortunate mistake when he chased that rabbit into a cave, and we begin to fear him more and more as rabies induced madness overcomes him. Donna is not an overly likeable character, but once engaged in battle with Cujo, you have to root for her, you want her to escape.

I heard that King wrote this book during a three-day long alcohol and cocaine fuelled mania and doesn’t even remember writing it. I’m so floored by that. I’m sure the editing process helped elevate the story and refine it tremendously, and even though it’s not a literary masterpiece by any stretch, it’s a highly entertaining and enjoyable read. All of the plot lines are cohesively connected, the characterization is strong, and it doesn’t attempt to toy with unnecessary supernatural elements. It is an entirely plausible scenario that could happen to anyone, and if did, would be absolutely terrifying. I’m not sure many people would have the courage that Donna ultimately does to battle Cujo head-on. A mother desperate to save her child is capable of extraordinary action, there are so many iterations of this theme in fiction and I appreciated King’s understated way of depicting it in Cujo. 

Scary Factor: 5/10

An enthralling read that is difficult to put down and gets under your skin. More harrowing ordeal than nightmare fuel. It’s sad when good dogs go bad, and even sadder when someone puts their faith in a Pinto.

Sources:

King, Stephen. Cujo. New York: New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 1981. Print.

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Christine — 1983

Teaser:

Christine

Arnie Cunningham has been teased and bullied by his peers all of his life. He’s introverted, shy, and lacking in confidence. Dennis Guilder is his only friend, and one night while Dennis is driving him home Arnie spots a beat up old Plymouth Fury for sale. The car’s name is Christine and Arnie is instantly obsessed with her. Arnie is desperate to buy the car and fix it up, even after Dennis strongly urges against it. But it’s too late, Arnie has fallen in love with Christine. And in some supernatural way, Christine has fallen in love with Arnie too. And Arnie’s about to find out how deadly Christine’s love can be.

“That was when I really began to understand it was more than just Arnie suddenly deciding he wanted a car. He had never even expressed an interest in owning one before; he was content to ride with me and chip in for gas or to pedal his three-speed. And it wasn’t as if he needed a car so he could step out; to the best of my knowledge Arnie had never had a date in his life. This was something different. It was love, or something like it” (King 14).

Noteworthy Characters:

  • Arnie Cunningham: An awkward teenage outcast with an extraordinary knack for all things mechanical, especially cars
  • Dennis Guilder: Arnie’s best friend, a more likeable and popular boy who plays on the high school football team
  • Leigh Cabot: The prettier girl at school, she falls for Arnie for some inexplicable reason that nobody is able to understand
  • Roland D. LeBay: A cruel old man who swindles Arnie when he sells Christine to him at an exorbitant price
  • Will Darnell: The owner of the garage where Arnie stores Christine while repairing her
  • Buddy Repperton: The school burnout/bully who picks on Arnie. He eventually gets kicked out of school after he pulls a knife on Arnie
  • Christine: A demonic 1958 Plymouth Fury, she is able to repair herself supernaturally by slowly sapping Arnie’s soul

Most Gripping Moments:

  • The knife fight after school with Buddy Repperton
  • The run in that Buddy and his friends have with Christine one night
  • Leigh’s near death experience in Christine while out with Arnie
  • Dennis and Leigh’s daring plan to trap and destroy Christine once and for all

Some King-isms/Connections:

  • Stu and Tom come across an abandoned Plymouth Fury in The Stand; there’s also a key chain inside the car with the initials A.C.
  • Johnny Dunhill drives the same model in 11/22/63
  • The film version is referenced in Mr. Mercedes
  • Roland D. LeBay could possibly be a connection to Roland Deschain of The Dark Tower series

Thoughts/Reflections:

I really hated this book. It wasn’t scary, it was ridiculous. The character development was quite poor, the narrative style felt disjointed, and the plot was laughable. As far as inanimate objects as villains go, a car seems an odd choice. Especially when it was crashing and slamming directly through someone’s house to kill them, that was the height of absurdity. A scary doll, sure. I can get behind that. But a car possessed by the spirit of a guy who was kind of a dick throughout his life, but not outright evil? That just felt so weak.

This might have worked better as a short story. I got about a quarter of the way through and couldn’t even imagine how much more tedious it would get from there. I dreaded picking it up at night. Not because it was scary, but because it was a total chore. I finished this book out of obligation, not joy. Every so often throughout my reading of Christine, I would flip back to the front of the book, reading all of those quotes from reviews that were printed on the inner cover. As I read those phony sounding quotes, I would think to myself, “Yeah, this is why Bachman needed to exist.” In the 1980’s people were in a frenzy for all things King, he was the undisputed “master of horror”. And it’s obvious when reading this pile of crap that reviewers just decided to pre-emptively label it “scary” and “chilling” from the onset just because that’s the go-to marketing formula for a Stephen King book. Tell ’em it’s the scariest he’s ever been and people will eat it right up.

The thing that bothers me the most though, is how structurally unsound it is. Mid-way through the book the narrator is written into the hospital and unable to be present for a significant portion of the story. The readers are then told the story from a third person omniscient perspective, until switching back to Dennis’s narration for the final act. It’s disjointed and uncomfortable. It feels like a giant question mark is hovering over the middle of the story. Overall, its poor storytelling from a man who readers have come to expect intricate and thoughtful tales from. It’s disappointing.

Scary Factor: 1/10

Not at all scary, and barely even interesting. It was a chore to read and I do not recommend it. Simply miserable. And it pains me to say that about something King has written, I admire his imagination and talent so much, but I also call it like I see it.

Sources:

King, Stephen. Christine. New York: New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 1983. Print.

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Dolores Claiborne — 1992

Teaser:

Dolores ClaiborneDolores Claiborne has never had an easy life. She’s a blue-collar working class woman who has always had to work hard to make her living and support her family; she’s been surviving the cruelty and harsh judgements of others for years, and she’s been withstanding the constant public scrutiny from all of the townsfolk who suspect that she murdered her husband thirty years ago. When her wealthy employer suddenly dies in a suspicious manner and the local postman catches her in a compromising position, Dolores finds herself in a world of trouble with a whole lot of explaining to do.

Noteworthy Characters:

  • Dolores Claiborne: a working class woman, stern and tenacious, she’s always believed that she did what was best for her kids when she killed their father
  • Vera Donovan: a wealthy woman with a summer home in Maine who employs Dolores as a housekeeper, and eventually as her live-in caregiver
  • Joe St. George: Dolores’ drunk and abusive husband
  • Selena St. George: Dolores and Joe’s eldest child and only daughter
  • Andy Bisette: the police chief who questions Dolores after Vera dies
  • Dr. John McAuliffe: The medical examiner who suspects Dolores is guilty for Joe’s murder and is frustrated at not being able to prove it these many years

Plot/Setting:

This story is told expressly from Dolores Claiborne’s perspective. Dolores has come forward to tell the police chief, Andy Bisette, how it was that Vera Donovan died and what her involvement is in Vera’s death. Dolores has come to plead her innocence in Vera’s death, and ultimately has to confess to the murder of her husband Joe some thirty years ago to prove herself truthful. Dolores goes on to tell the story of her life and doesn’t spare any detail. She chronicles how difficult working for Vera had been, the struggles she had trying to raise her kids and provide for them, the abuses she suffered while being married to Joe, and eventually why it was that she had no other choice but to kill him.

We learn that Joe is an abusive drunk, and when Dolores finds out that he’s been molesting their teenage daughter Selena she tries to confront him and put a stop to it immediately. Dolores hoped that telling Joe she knew what was going on would shame him into stopping the sexual abuse, but it doesn’t seem to bother Joe that she knows what he’s been doing. One day at work when the stress of it all is too much to bear, Dolores breaks down and tells the whole sordid tale to Vera. Without saying outright that she should kill Joe, Vera intimates to Dolores that “accidents happen” and men die all the time. When she realizes that she can’t keep Selena out of her father’s lecherous grasp, she decides to take Vera’s implied advice and starts plotting to kill Joe. Dolores discovers a dangerous and deep old well on their land that is covered by a few rotting boards. Hoping that the fall alone will kill him, Dolores starts to plan out a way that she can lead Joe into falling down the well. She provokes a fight with Joe on the day of a solar eclipse, when all of their kids are away for the weekend, and forces him to chase her towards the well. Joe does fall into the well, but the fall alone doesn’t kill him as planned, so Dolores has to make a difficult choice.

The fallout of Joe’s death and Dolores’ suspected involvement in his death eventually has devastating consequences for Dolores’ family, but she is resolved that it was a sacrifice she had to make. The safety of her children was of the utmost importance and if she had to do it all again, she would. It is through this significant struggle in her life that she is able to form such a meaningful bond with her employer Vera, who understands how difficult the life of a woman can be. She survives the scandal because she is never proven guilty for Joe’s death, and lives her life quietly for the next thirty years, all the while still working for Vera. But one day Vera takes a painful fall down the stairs and begs Dolores to kill her. Dolores contemplates granting Vera her request and is observed brandishing a rolling-pin over Vera’s head by the postman. Vera does die from the fall while Dolores considers killing her, but the postman saw what he saw and Dolores’ dodgy past bites her in the ass. She has to come clean about everything to set the record straight once and for all.

Most Gripping Moments:

  • Dolores’ life or death confrontation with Joe and the hatchet when she finally decides not to take another beating from him again
  • Dolores’ confrontation with Joe when she realizes what’s been going on between him and Selena
  • The chase through the yard during the solar eclipse
  • Dolores’ final confrontation with Joe in the well

Some King-isms/Connections:

  • Story takes place in Maine, specifically in the town Little Tall Island
  • Dolores is connected to Jessie from Gerald’s Game through the solar eclipse they both experience

Thoughts/Reflections:

This story is almost 400-pages long and does not have a single break. There are no chapters and no paragraph breaks the entire way through. This makes it difficult for the reader to disengage from the story, generally. Further to that point, Dolores’ story is so compelling that this unrelenting approach to the telling of it really latches onto the reader’s interest and grasps it firmly. I enjoy reading at night before I go to sleep and I found myself reading this book much later into the night than I intended because it was nearly impossible to stop.

This story probably resonates more with female readers than males because of how it is told exclusively from a female character’s perspective and because of the consistently present implication that women’s lives are ultimately more challenging than men’s, no matter what social status a woman has attained. Be it the blue-collar working class woman such as Dolores, or the high society rich bitch type like Vera, we’re lead to believe that all women can relate to one another through the collective struggle to exist as a woman in this male-dominated world. Dolores is a tragic figure, her life is not a happy one and she has become hardened by all of her struggles. The sacrifices she has made for herself and her children cost her dearly, and the same can be said of Vera. The idea that women have to harden themselves to survive is frustrating, and the notion that “being a high-riding bitch” is all a woman has to hang onto seems overly melodramatic, but regardless of that the two lead female characters are quite engaging in their respective roles. King has crafted a compelling narrative here, one that is certainly worth a read for any reader.

Scary Factor: 7/10

An unrelenting psychological thriller that expects nothing less than your rapt attention the entire way through. Some moments are so vivid that feel like they’re happening to you.

Sources:

King, Stephen. Dolores Claiborne. New York: New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 1992. Print.

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Mini-Series Review: The Stand (1994)

The Stand DVD

I got super-duper sick over the Christmas holidays this past year. It hit me suddenly on Christmas Eve, totally out of nowhere. So I barely ate any of the delicious dinner that my dad served and then spent the entire time at my mom’s house wrapped up in a thousand layers of blankets while sweating and aching profusely. I was miserable. The following day we were supposed to enjoy a nice Christmas feast with D’s family, but I was totally wiped out. D went on without me and I stayed at home. He was gone for roughly 6-7 hours and the entire time he was gone I laid on the couch in my jammies watching this mini-series from beginning to end. It’s perfect, right? You’re sick so you recuperate while watching a gut-wrenching mini-series about a seriously scary sickness that has killed off nearly all of humanity. It was awesome, except for the being sick part.

Notable Cast Members:

  • Molly Ringwald as Frannie Goldsmith
  • Gary Sinise as Stu Redman
  • Rob Lowe as Nick Andros
  • Jamey Sheridan as Randall Flagg
  • Bill Fagerbakke as Tom Cullen
  • Ruby Dee as Mother Abigail
  • Miguel Ferrer as Lloyd Henreid
  • Laura San Giacomo as Nadine Cross

Plot:

A man infected with a deadly virus flees from a testing facility and infects a significant number of people during the course of his journey. Within a matter of weeks, roughly 99% of the human population has been eradicated by the illness. Those who are immune to it struggle to make sense of what happened, and why they’re still alive. Eventually, people begin to travel the country in search of other survivors. Certain individuals are compelled to travel to Nebraska to meet the mysterious old woman that they all have recurring dreams about. Others are compelled to move west, to Las Vegas, where the nefarious Randall Flagg has begun amassing forces. The group that initially gets formed in Nebraska decide to make a quick move to Boulder, Colorado so they can put a greater distance between themselves and the other group. A Free Zone committee is formed for the purpose of governing the group of survivors who have found their way to Boulder, and the group’s exclusion of Harold Lauder in their plans is ultimately a regrettable decision.

Though the going is good initially, eventually the group has to start planning to protect themselves against the perceived threat of the other group out in Las Vegas. They plan to send out some spies to gather information on the other group and to determine how much of a threat Flagg’s group actually is to the Free Zone. Only one of the spies is actually successful in accomplishing his mission and escaping the Las Vegas camp undetected. However, this is unbeknownst to the people back in the Free Zone and after Harold and Nadine defect to Las Vegas, some of the key members of the Free Zone bravely set out to try and stop the threat in the west from bringing a fight all the way to Boulder. Without giving too much away, eventually two groups do come to the point of confrontation and it doesn’t end well for one of the groups because good always triumphs over evil in the end, we all know that.

Best Parts:

  • Tom Cullen! I adored this character in the book, and he absolutely melted my heart in this adaptation. Perfect casting for this role.
  • Randall Flagg was portrayed excellently by Sheridan, very menacing. But damn did that ridiculous mullet take away from his intimidation factor. And it added to my many laughs
  • Molly Ringwald’s super cute haircut. It reminds me of my friend The Magpie’s beautiful hair
  • The incredible 90’s clothing
  • That wicked tune by Crowded House, Don’t Dream It’s Over. I listened to that song for days and days after watching this mini-series.

Worst Parts:

  • Mother Abigail’s bullshit got old fast
  • Randall Flagg’s unfortunate mullet
  • “sexy” scenes with Nadine and Harold were way gross
  • I feel like the Trashcan Man should have been more tragic and less comical, he kind of came off a little goofy at times and that didn’t ring true for me compared to the character in the book
  • Super cheesy 90’s special effects used for The Hand of God

Overall:

A great way to spend the day, and I’m glad that I watched all of it at once. They did a great job of capturing all of the really crucial elements of the plot and translating them to the screen. The pacing was great, we’re deposited into the action immediately and the eventual building to the final confrontation was perfectly measured. Most of the casting choices were excellent, but the portrayal of certain characters, Harold Lauder and The Trashcan Man most notably, didn’t strike a chord with me in the way that I had expected. I think that if this had been an HBO mini-series and could have been pumped full of gory violence, racier sex scenes, and vehement cursing that it really would have been something spectacularly fitting of a Stephen King work. It could have had a much more dark and raw undertone befitting such a cataclysmic event as the eradication of the human race and the struggle to survive, and that really would have gotten the viewers excited. But overall, they did a great job working within the confines of cable T.V. viewing standards. It originally aired on ABC, so they really didn’t have a lot of room to get too intense with it.

The ending did have a wonderfully uplifting feeling, and made me believe in the inherent goodness of humanity. It also made me wish that this shit would go down in real life and that I could be a survivor. It would be fun to have the whole world at your fingertips. Think of all the fun that could be had after you’ve gotten over the devastating loss of all your loved ones.

8/10

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The Stand (Complete And Uncut Edition) — 1990

Personal Note:

I’d just like to preface this review by stating that I chose to read the complete and uncut edition of this book because I thought it best to do this one right the first time. I wanted my first experience of this novel to be exactly as Mr. King originally intended it to be, in all of its 1400+ page glory. 

Also, after reading this book, I can easily say that The Stand is now one of my all-time favourite books. I implore you to invest the time and read this incredible book. Life is too short to waste on crap like 50 Shades of Grey. Please read this instead, I promise you that it is infinity times better than that senseless drivel.

Teaser:

The StandAll of humanity is almost lost forever when a man infected with a highly communicable new strain of the flu escapes from the testing facility where it was manufactured. This new strain of the flu is so infectious that once it begins to spread it cannot be stopped quickly enough. Over 99% of the human population is killed by it within a matter of weeks. Those that found themselves to be mysteriously immune to the illness are now left to survive; to try forging new lives for themselves in this desolate world that remains. As people begin to find each other once again, two distinct groups with diametrically opposed leaders start to form, and they simply cannot coexist peacefully. Inevitably, they will come to blows. A stand will have to be made, once and for all.

Noteworthy Characters:

Boulder Free Zone

  • Stu Redman: a man from East Texas who escapes certain death at a testing facility and eventually meets up with like-minded others. He goes on to become a prominent figure in the new community that emerges in the aftermath of the illness
  • Frannie Goldsmith: a young woman who found out she was pregnant shortly before the outbreak and eventually falls in love with Stu, who loves her too. Together they decide that Stu will raise the baby as his own when it is delivered
  • Nick Andros: a deaf-mute who spent his life drifting across the country before the outbreak, he becomes a member of the Free Zone Committee and is an invaluable resource, he brings an abundance of critical thought to the committee meetings
  • Tom Cullen: a mentally challenged man who is loyal and caring. He eventually becomes a useful spy for the Free Zone Committee
  • Harold Lauder: an intelligent young man who becomes vengeful when Frannie rejects his advances. He harbours deep resentment for Stu because of his relationship with her and the authority he has gained in the Free Zone
  • Nadine Cross: a disturbed woman who feels it is her destiny to give her virginity to the evil Dark Man that torments her dreams. She first comes into the Free Zone hoping it will help her resist The Dark Man’s power over her, but ultimately cannot and eventually departs for Las Vegas to join his group
  • Larry Underwood: a musician on the cusp of fame before the outbreak, he goes on to become another valued member of the Free Zone Committee
  • Mother Abigail: a caring old woman, she is an astonishing 108 years old and is able to unite many of the survivors through prophetic dreams. She becomes a symbol of hope for many and is essentially the figurehead of the Free Zone Committee

The Dark Man’s Las Vegas Group

  • Randall Flagg: an evil figure, not known to be human, who uses black magic and thrives on torment, chaos, and violence
  • Lloyd Henreid: a petty criminal who is saved from starvation by Flagg and made second-in-command of his evil empire
  • The “Trashcan Man”: an unhinged young man, a pyromaniac and arsonist who endured a troubled past of rejection and ridicule. He becomes a valuable asset to Flagg,  having an uncanny ability to locate weaponry
  • “The Kid”: A brash, easily angered thug who meets up with Trashcan Man on his journey west to Las Vegas. His dissenting views of The Dark Man and the violent way he treats Trashcan Man give cause for Flagg to eliminate him before he even gets anywhere near Las Vegas
  • Julie Lawry: A sexually aggressive young woman who is rejected by Nick Andros when she demonstrates the underlying cruelty in her nature and treats Tom Cullen with contempt

Most Gripping Moments:

  • Stu’s daring battle for his life and subsequent escape from the testing facility where he was detained during the outbreak
  • Larry’s struggle to get through the Lincoln Tunnel without any light
  • Lloyd’s timely rescue at the prison
  • Nick’s life or death fight in the small-town sheriff’s office
  • The detonation of the shoebox bomb during a Free Zone Committee meeting
  • The night of Nadine’s departure from the Free Zone and her eventual offering of herself to Flagg
  • The interrogation of Dayna in Flagg’s office

Some King-isms/Connections:

  • Reference is made to the Western novels written by Bobbi Anderson in The Tommyknockers (this reference would not have appeared in the original version, as it was written a decade before The Tommyknockers)
  • The character Randall Flagg also features prominently in The Dark Tower series
  • Randall Flagg is a powerful sorcerer and advisor to the king in The Eyes of the Dragon
  • Mother Abigail’s ability to connect with others telepathically through their dreams could potentially be interpreted as her having a shine, thus alluding to The Shining

Thoughts/Reflections:

King wanted to write an epic fantasy/adventure story reminiscent of The Lord of The Rings trilogy, but instead of using a completely fictitious setting he used present day America. Doing so allowed him to craft a story that has a much more visceral impact on the reader. Using America, as its present day citizens recognized it, as the setting for this epic was a stroke of genius; King used this setting to create a more seamless blend of fantasy and reality, thus making the reading experience much more unnerving for the reader.

The scariest stories tend to be those which present the reader with unsettlingly plausible possibilities. In today’s world, it feels entirely too possible that a dangerous virus manufactured for the purpose of chemical warfare could be leaked or deployed intentionally by any group/country/organization with the means necessary and end up destroying all of humanity as we know it. It actually feels too possible that one of any number of humanity ending scenarios could arise at any given moment and destroy us all. This is what King does best. He is able to identify the root of a story within these fearful possibilities and expand upon it exponentially; ultimately going on to craft something so utterly compelling and rife with heartache all at once. It becomes impossible for the reader to disengage from it until such a time as the last page is turned. It is a true luxury for a storyteller like King to be afforded infinite time and space for the telling of a tale, especially one as riveting and wholly engrossing as The Stand.

Scary Factor: 7/10

An epic masterpiece that will enrapture any reader. There are lots of creepy and unsettling moments throughout, but the overall focus is rooted in apocalyptic fantasy more than horror. Powerful, heartbreaking, and awe-inspiring all at once, this is an absolute must read.

Sources:

King, Stephen. The Stand. New York: Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 1990. Print.

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Doctor Sleep — 2013

Teaser:

Doctor SleepDanny Torrance is all grown up now, but he’s still haunted by his past. Despite his best intentions, he’s found himself battling many of the same demons that his long since deceased father, Jack Torrance, used to. He’s an alcoholic, he’s unsure of himself, and he’s got a hot temper too. But when a little girl possessing more power than Dan ever thought possible reaches out to him, he can’t refuse her. She’s being hunted by a vicious group of killers who are intent on torturing every ounce of her shining out of her so they can use it as sustenance for themselves. Their brand of evil is a lot more tangible, and a lot more cunning, than the spirits at the Overlook ever were.

“Panic exploded inside her; it was as if gasoline had been poured on a fire. Not a sound escaped her lips, which were pressed together so tightly that her mouth was only a stitch, but inside her head she produced a scream louder than anything of which she would ever have believed herself capable:

(NO! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!)

When David felt the house rumble and saw the overhead light fixture in his study swaying on its chain, his first thought was

(Abra)

that his daughter had had one of her psychic outbursts, though there hadn’t been any of that telekinetic crap in years, and never anything like this” (King 213).

Noteworthy Characters:

  • Dan Torrance: the little boy who survived the horrors of the Overlook hotel in The Shining is now a grown man in the throes of middle age
  • Abra Stone: a powerful pre-teen girl who shines brighter and harder than any one person ever has
  • Rose the Hat: the evil mistress who leads the True Knot, a group of monsters in human guise who torture children ripe with the shining so they can feed on it
  • Crow Daddy: Rose’s second-in-command and lover, he has assisted in the abduction of countless children
  • John Dalton: Abra’s family physician and a friend of Dan Torrance’s from AA, he has watched over Abra since her birth to observe and study her unique gift
  • David Stone: Abra’s father, a skeptic who would have preferred if her unique ability diminished instead of strengthened as she grew

Plot/Setting:

The horrific events of Dan’s childhood may be a thing of the past, but the trauma he suffered mentally and emotionally are still a very real part of his every day life. While the reader is getting reacquainted with Dan, we learn that he has succumbed to the same follies of his father Jack, anger and alcoholism. Dan began drinking at a young age to dampen the power of his shining and numb his pain. The demons from his past are still quite threatening, so Dick teaches him how to create a secure place in his mind where they can be trapped and prevented from harming him, which works quite effectively. After his mom Wendy passes, Dan spends his days roaming the country, drinking. He settles down occasionally to work menial jobs and support himself, but it only lasts for short periods of time before he moves on, continuing the destructive flight from his past. Eventually, Dan realizes that running from his past and drinking to hinder his shining is not a good way to live. He finds a job that he enjoys in a hospice, and finally resolves to settle down and quit drinking. Dan begins to heal; he learns to make peace with his past by relying on AA and the support of his sponsor.

While Dan is recovering and starting anew, we are introduced to a remarkable little girl named Abra who is born just one town over from where Dan eventually settles down. Abra possesses an abundance of psychic/supernatural power which makes itself known almost immediately after her birth. She appears to be psychic, telepathic, and telekinetic all at once. She’s able to manipulate household objects from within her crib, can foresee upcoming events, and can sense the thoughts of those around her. Abra’s parents are mystified by this behaviour and seek out the advice of their family doctor, John Dalton. He recognizes that her abilities are remarkable and is equally mystified by her. Abra’s shining is far more powerful than Dan’s ever was. She’s even able to reach out to him mentally, and does so frequently, starting at a very young age. Dan and Abra begin to form a telepathic friendship of sorts. As Abra grows up, their bond becomes stronger and he is the first person she thinks of for protection when she finds herself being hunted by the True Knot.

The reader is also introduced to an entirely new threat in the form of the True Knot. A group of seemingly vampiric individuals who torture children who have been gifted with the shining to release the essence of their shining and feed on it. This essence is known to them as steam and can be bottled for future consumption or ingested directly from the victim, but it can only be obtained through torture and the infliction of physical pain. They are cunning, they are ruthless, and they are extremely dangerous. They travel the country in their inconspicuous RVs and campers, seeking out their “meals” with their own unique supernatural abilities. Abra makes the mistake of revealing herself to the True Knot and the magnitude of her power is way too tempting for them to pass up. Their leader Rose resolves to catch and imprison Abra, so they can live off of her steam for a long time.

Most Gripping Moments:

  • Snakebite Andi’s turning, eventually becoming one of the True Knot
  • Rose’s torture and killing of the baseball boy
  • Abra’s initial mind connection with Rose, and the discovery of how powerful she is
  • The ambush at Cloud Gap
  • Crow Daddy’s abduction of Abra
  • Dan’s harrowing journey back to grounds on which the Overlook Hotel once stood

Some King-isms/Connections:

  • A sequel to King’s hugely successful novel The Shining
  • Jerusalem’s Lot is noted as being a place where the True Knot conduct business
  • “Empty Devils” is a reference to a work written by Scott Landen in Lisey’s Story
  • Multiple references are made to characters in the written works of King’s son, Joe Hill, as well, eg. Charlie Manx and Christmasland from N0S4A2

Thoughts/Reflections:

The story that King has crafted here is action-packed and undeniably riveting. The imaginative premise alone will hook the reader’s interest, and then the story’s rapid-fire pacing will completely arrest the reader’s attention. It is an exciting and rewarding read.

The Shining had the reader following the shifting perspectives of the three main characters very closely, while keeping the evil forces that eventually transform Jack into the true antagonist at a distance. The reader is never given any specific insight into the nature of the evils that encompass the Overlook, as the ultimate evil is eventually revealed to be the mental and spiritual corruption of a normal man. In essence, The Shining is a ghost story, and certainly a compelling one, in that the reader is consistently being scared by said ghosts. But also, because the reader is never permitted an explanation, origin, or motive for the evil housed within the hotel. It is intrinsically evil and therefore, it cannot be defeated, merely survived. Doctor Sleep, alternatively, introduces the reader to a group of actualized villains and allows the reader an extensive amount of access to their perspective. Lengthy stretches of the narrative are told from the perspective of the chief antagonist, Rose the Hat, so she becomes familiar and the reader is able to ascertain her motivations, desires, flaws, and vulnerabilities. It becomes known that this is a kind of evil that can indeed be defeated, and is therefore less frightening than the type encountered previously by Dan at the Overlook hotel.

The Shining and Doctor Sleep mirror one another beautifully; at first taking the reader on a disheartening journey that exposes the horror of addiction, but eventually providing a deeply satisfying sense of closure by showing the redemption to be had through the  process of recovery. The Shining is resolved with Danny and Wendy barely escaping the hotel with their lives intact. This is a relief for the reader, albeit an empty sort of relief, because we know that this remarkable child has been robbed of his innocence and is not likely to live happily ever after. Doctor Sleep does indeed show the reader that this character sustained a seemingly insurmountable amount of emotional trauma, and that his life has not been a happy one since that season spent at the Overlook. However, it does allow the reader to experience the difficult, but ultimately rewarding, path to recovery and redemption. While The Shining demonstrates the damaging impact of alcoholism on the family unit, essentially condemning it, Doctor Sleep shows the reader that there is hope, by extolling the healing powers of AA and recovery. Doctor Sleep is a gift, giving a truly fitting end to one of King’s most iconic and enduring characters. There is always hope, and this is an important message that King was not yet ready to convey back when The Shining was concluded. Simply put, The Shining and Doctor Sleep are two sides of the same consequential coin.

Scary Factor: 8/10

Though not as scary as The Shining, this is a gripping read. An intense battle between good and evil will get your heart racing and will keep you turning pages long into the night. Fitting closure for one of King’s most enduring characters.

Sources:

King, Stephen. Doctor Sleep. New York: Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc., 2013. Print.

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‘Salem’s Lot — 1975

Teaser:

'salem's lot

Ben Mears has returned to Jerusalem’s Lot, a place that he remembers vividly from his childhood. Ben hopes that his journey back to ‘Salem’s Lot, and specifically to visit the infamous old Marsten House which has spent decades in unoccupied ruin, will provide him with the inspiration he needs to complete his next novel. However, Ben’s hopes are quickly deflated when he learns that the house has recently been purchased by a mysterious duo of antiques dealers. Soon after their arrival to ‘Salem’s Lot, and incidentally Ben’s, strange and scary things start to happen. Ben begins to suspect that something is amiss with the men who purchased the Marsten House, that perhaps they’ve come to ‘Salem’s Lot to prey on the unsuspecting townsfolk. But his pursuit of the truth may just unveil something far more sinister than he’s expecting.

” ‘Now what, Ben?’

‘Now it’s occupied!’ he burst out, and beat a fist into his palm. ‘I’m not in control of the situation. A little boy has disappeared and I don’t know what to make of it. It could have nothing to do with that house, but… I don’t believe it.’ The last four words came out in measured lengths.

‘Ghosts? Spirits?’

‘Not necessarily. Maybe just some harmless guy who admired the house when he was a kid and bought it and became… possessed’ “(King 183).

Noteworthy Characters:

  • Ben Mears: a writer who has recently moved back to ‘Salem’s Lot to complete his latest novel and make peace with the demons in his past
  • Susan Norton: a young woman who admires Ben’s writing, she begins a romantic relationship with him soon after he arrives in ‘Salem’s Lot
  • Matt Burke: a high school teacher who becomes quick friends with Ben and aids in the investigation of the new residents living in the Marsten House
  • Mark Petrie: a brave young boy who loves monster movies and has his own suspicions about the possible evil lurking in the Marsten House
  • Father Callahan: the local priest who likes his drink, he grapples with his faith and the difficulties of being a spiritual leader in modern times
  • Kurt Barlow: the mysteriously absent half of the duo that purchases the Marsten House, who is later revealed to be a vampire
  • Richard Straker: Barlow’s aid and partner in the ostensible antique business, he is able to conduct their business during the daytime

Plot/Setting:

Ben Mears is a moderately famous writer and he has decided to return to a town he remembers from his childhood. He hopes that he can perhaps rent out the creepy and long ago abandoned Marsten House on the outskirts of town to find inspiration for his next novel. Unfortunately, Ben is surprised to find that the house has been purchased. While passing through town Ben meets a beautiful young woman named Susan, who happens to be a fan of his writing. He immediately begins a romantic relationship with her and decides to stay in ‘Salem’s Lot to continue his dalliance with her and work on his novel, opting to use the Marsten House for inspiration from afar.

Shortly after Ben and the mysterious new owners of the Marsten House arrive in ‘Salem’s Lot, strange and frightening things start to happen. Two little boys take a shortcut through the woods at night and one of them goes missing. The other is found suffering extreme anemia and taken to the hospital immediately for care, but passes away despite the efforts of the hospital staff to get him into a seemingly stable condition. Other people in town start succumbing to an inexplicable illness. Those afflicted suffer weariness during the day, an aversion to sunlight, loss of appetite, and  adopt strikingly pale complexions.

The mysterious new owners of the Marsten House are revealed to be a vampire and his dastardly accomplice. Ben and Susan eventually team up with others who have reason to believe similarly and wish to eliminate these evil newcomers as well. They find willing assistance to rid the town of this perceived evil from a high school teacher, a clever pre-teen, and the town priest. Together they will try to defeat the vampire that has descended upon ‘Salem’s Lot and hope to rid the town of him forever.

Most Gripping Moments:

  • Ralphie and Danny Glick’s disappearance in the woods
  • The workman’s experience making a delivery into the cellar of the Marsten House
  • Matt’s fight to ward off his friend Mike who was recently turned vampire
  • Mark and Susan’s stealthy exploration of the Marsten House and subsequent capture
  • Mark’s daring escape and brave confrontation with Straker
  • Father Callahan’s struggle to save Mark from Barlow after his parents are murdered
  • The search for Barlow and the life-and-death battle that follows once he’s found

Some King-isms/Connections:

  • Story is set in a small Maine town (Jerusalem’s Lot)
  • A character who writes for a living (Ben)
  • A character who teaches english for a living (Matt)
  • A prequel called “Jerusalem’s Lot” and a sequel called “One For The Road” are short stories in the Night Shift collection
  • Father Callahan also appears in the Dark Tower series in: The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla, The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower
  • Barlow is featured as a vampire in the Dark Tower series as well

Thoughts/Reflections:

‘Salem’s Lot is a vastly entertaining read. One that relies on a traditionally evil archetype, the vampire, to inspire the reader’s fear. The pacing is rapid, with the perspective quickly shifting from character to character, and the chapters often end at highly suspenseful moments. The way in which it is written keeps the reader wanting more. It is a unique story, even though the overall concept has been utilized many times before in plenty of other stories and movies featuring villainous vampires. King takes this concept, that of a vampire moving into a creepy old house and only a handful of people in town suspect that something is amiss with the new resident, and completely revitalizes it.

King’s ability to create original stories with unique premises and concepts is one of the main reasons that his readers are so enamoured with him. Whether it’s mystery, science-fiction, fantasy, or horror King is able to present his readers with stories that are founded on ideas and concepts that are perpetually startling in their originality. Writers are imaginative by nature, and it has been an absolute pleasure getting acquainted with King’s imagination over the course of these readings, but it was an uncommon delight to read along while he used a less imaginative premise to upend some of the most cliched tropes of horror here in ‘Salem’s Lot. The idea of a vampire taking up residence in a small town and a couple of unlikely heroes trying to take him down is not one of King’s most inventive stories; one could even go so far as to call it unoriginal. But with an impressive flex of his literary muscles, King transcends this tired premise with his remarkable characters, jarring story arcs, and seemingly predictable scenarios that become unpredictable so suddenly that one fears whiplash.

The romantic entanglement between Ben and Susan is a perfect example of how King lulls the reader into a false sense of security and then trounces them with shock. Their relationship initially feels easy and relatable to the reader; almost seeming to promise the reader from the very beginning that the hero will get the girl and they will eventually overcome this monstrous obstacle to find the happiness that seems inevitably owed to them. When that rug is so marvellously ripped out from underneath the reader long before the ending, King’s triumph over the reader’s need for predicability is both palpable and exciting. The hero doesn’t get the girl, and doesn’t even get the “this close” chance of saving her either. Susan’s fate is sealed long before Ben is even given the opportunity to save her, and it is delightfully nasty shock from the Master of Horror that this reader is still savouring.

Scary Factor: 8/10

A consuming, rapidly paced read that houses an abundance of thrilling moments. You’ll find some good scares that will stick with you long after the story ends.

Sources:

King, Stephen. ‘Salem’s Lot. New York: Anchor Books, a division of Random House Inc., 1975. Print.

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