I’m going to start with my immediate reaction to the movie, literally as I walk out of the theater. This was possibly one of my favorite adaptations of a full-length Stephen King novel. Any time you are dealing with Stephen King’s style of storytelling in particular and considering the extreme length of many of his books there is often quite a bit lost in translation when it makes the full transition to the screen. But in this case, while there certainly were plenty of changes made to the story, I thought they really nailed the heart of the book and brought IT to life. Continue Reading
This was an interesting year for Stephen King. Besides publishing a sequel to his classic novel, The Shining, he also announced his return to the universe of his epic Dark Tower series.
To say that the world of King nerds exploded would be putting it mildly.
At the time, I had made the complete journey through the Dark Tower series several times so I was thrilled at the prospect of another addition. And besides me, I think there was also a contingent of Tower fans who were holding out hope that a new book would modify or expand on an ending that has proven to be fairly controversial and not so popular.
Personally, I love the ending and it was because of the nature of how the series ended that I was perplexed as to how King was going to add to the story. Gradually, word got out that the new book was going to take place in the middle of the series. Essentially, it would be book four-point-five, as King would come to refer to it. Also, the book would be a standalone story. While it would take place in the Dark Tower universe, anyone would be able to read and enjoy it, regardless of reading the previous books.
So this is a dilemma that has been faced many a time and I admit that there is no good resolution. You have a choice to make. Do you go after existing fans or new ones? I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little bit disappointed that the book wasn’t going to be more rooted in the mythology of the series. Still, I have to acknowledge that I understand why he made the decision he did. Writing the book this way allows it to be enjoyed by all fans. And the upside is that if a new reader comes to this book and becomes interested in the series, they might turn and read the rest of the books. If you were to write a book only for the hard-core fans of the series, there would be no potential for that kind of growth. You’d likely end up either satisfying or pissing off the fans. And with as aggressively hostile nerd culture has become these days, I think we know how that would’ve likely come out for him.
Despite my misgivings, I was eager to get my hands on this book when it came out. And on the whole I would have to say that I was satisfied with the final product. As promised by King, the story has very little to do with the overall narrative of the Dark Tower. But there are some appearances from the main characters as well as some typical King Easter eggs and references.
The structure of the narrative was definitely interesting and I have to give Stephen King credit for trying something like this. The essential premise of the story is that while Roland and his band of gunslingers are waylaid in the course of their travels by a severe storm, Roland proceeds to tell a story from his past. And let me say that I completely acknowledge the fact that King employs pretty much the exact same narrative device as he did in the book previous to this one, Wizard And Glass.
The story Roland tells his ka-tet is of being sent to a small village to investigate a string of deaths, the suspicion being that one of the people is a shape-shifter who is attacking the population. A young boy who saw the beast is convinced to help them and one night, while Roland is watching over the boy, he tells him a story from his childhood that his mother told him, titled The Wind Through The Keyhole.
This story is of a young boy who goes on a dangerous quest to save his mother (shades of The Talisman here, perhaps). It is in this story that we get another surprise appearance from a major character of Dark Tower lore. King even makes a few references to the CS Lewis Narnia series.
Essentially, the book becomes a story within a story within a story. And while this likely sounds cheesy and gimmicky, King still manages to make it work. The book isn’t breathtaking by any means but it’s a fun read.
The portion of the story involving Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy is the shortest and least impactful part of the book. And again, I get why they did this. He couldn’t have anything major happen to them. If there was some kind of huge event, the question would become why there is no mention of it in later books. So we have enough time to enjoy their presence and to get that rush of nostalgia before getting into the heart of the book.
As for the rest, I found the story of Roland trying to root out the shape-shifter or, the “skin man” to be fairly mundane. It was interesting enough, just not spectacular. One aspect about it that was interesting was that it added a little bit of information about Roland’s mother, relating to events from Wizard And Glass.
The story of Tim Stoutheart was really entertaining, a fictional tale for children that had a great air of fantasy and adventure. And there is a character who you can’t help but feel a thrill of excitement as you gradually realize who he is. Tim goes on a Tower quest of his own in the course of this story that feels steeped in the flavors of age old legends and mythology. King does here what I think Tolkien did with Lord Of The Rings in that he creates a new story that somehow carries with it the weight of history and culture.
Even though this falls within the timeline of the original books, I would not read it as a part of the series. As I said earlier, the book that immediately precedes it, Wizard And Glass, also is told predominantly as a flashback to Roland’s youth. To go on and immediately read Wind Through The Keyhole would feel odd, just in terms of the pacing from book to book. There are also a number of references that you understand better if you have read the entire series.
And I will admit that I think there are some slight continuity goofs here or, if not mistakes they at least are a bit perplexing. At the end of Wizard And Glass, Roland tells a story that reveals something he did, an offense that has largely shaped his character and who he has grown in to. It is a dark moment in Roland’s life, one which challenges how you feel about his moral center. Then, in Wind Through The Keyhole, we get a little more information that almost seems to absolve Roland’s guilt slightly. I almost equate it to George Lucas’s decision to edit A New Hope to make it seem like Greedo fires first. My issue with this is that once you read the story detailed in Wind Through The Keyhole, why would Roland have lived so much of his life feeling the guilt for what he had done? Also, I kind of liked the stark challenge felt in Roland’s crime and how that moment changed him. Roland did a terrible thing and I think it’s kind of important for him to stay in that space.
If you were hoping for King to somehow shoehorn a new ending to the series for you, this book is going to disappoint. However, if you are looking for an entertaining, light read, check this out. There is more still to the Dark Tower story that I think needs to be told and I hope one day it will. In the meantime, this was a good nostalgic trip back to a universe and to characters I have loved since childhood.
My name is Chad Clark and I am proud too be a Constant Reader.
Before the crew had even finished the landing sequence, the delegation of Khaln’aari had emerged from the forest to greet them. Captain Altranor led them down the ramp to meet the party with the crew already in full dress uniform. Theirs was one of the first crews to come to the planet, and it lifted their spirits to find such a warm reception.
The digital network that was streamed through their comm badges was able, albeit slowly, to translate what the Khaln’aari were saying. Before long, the formalities of the reception had lessened somewhat to a more comfortable familiarity. They exchanged gifts, the Captain giving the Khaln’aari a glass figurine of Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom. The Khaln’aari had given each of the crew necklaces of tiny, but intricately sculpted pieces of brawn’dak stone.
The two groups entertained each other at the reception site with traditional myths native to each others’ cultures. They traded the stories, back and forth, until the sun was starting to set beyond the southern horizon.
The food was by far, the highlight of the evening.
Being nighttime hunters, the Khaln’aari allowed several members of the crew, including the Captain to join them on that evening’s excursion. The crew had been able to achieve several kills, even though all they saw of the animals were dark shapes running through the trees. The Khaln’aari had several dozen kills, and they sent the younger hunters of the tribe to collect the bodies and clean them for the feast.
Hours later at dinner, the servers brought out pots, steaming from within. The stews, all different, were served to everyone, dark and rich, with the most moist, and flavorful meat any of them had ever eaten. The over-sized glasses of blood-red wine went straight through them, and soon, most were seeing the table through an unsteady haze of pre-intoxication.
The Captain stood to toast the hospitality of their hosts and to thank the Khaln’aari for the feast.
There was a tittering of laughter in response to the toast and for the first time, the Captain looked uncertain. The leader of the Khaln’aari rose and spoke loudly for quite some time, the rest of his delegation chuckling as he went on. It took a minute before the neural network was able to fully translate what was being said, and another minute before the implication of his statement set in.
“That is precisely what the last group of humans who visited here said. I know that you believe you were the first to set foot here, as did they. You were incorrect in that assumption, as were they. They enjoyed their meals as well, that is, before they knew what they were eating, or rather, who they were eating. As great as their anger was at being tricked into hunting their own kind, the humans who had visited here before them, it paled in comparison to the revelation that it was those fellow travelers who they had been dining on.”
The crew all pushed back from the table, meaning to stand, reaching for weapons that the Captain had not let them bring for fear of offending the Khaln’aari. Before they could even rise to their feet, guards stepped forward out of the shadows and held them down in their chairs. The Captain stood frozen in place, unable to move or react. The leader spoke one last time, “I wonder,” he said as he lifted a glass, “how the next crew will feel about hunting you. Do you think they will enjoy the food?”
This review was originally written for the King For A Year blog project. Please click here to check out the site and check out some great reviews of King’s work by other guest authors.
While I have been a fan of Stephen King for most of my life, this book in particular is more personal for me, not because of the subject matter necessarily, as much as the time when it came into my life.
I was a huge Stephen King fan growing up. HUGE. I read him often, and there were some titles in particular that were practically falling apart at the binding, by the time I finished high school. It began with the fascination and thrill I got from seeing the handful of hardbacks on my father’s bookshelf, the intimidating “grown up books”. As I became more adept as a reader, I grew to love his ability to weave a story and build characters.
As I grew older though, I drifted away from King. There are any number of reasons for this. I was reading much more academically for school and had less time to read recreationally but also, I was a different person and, of course, he was a different writer. I think that it is to be expected that over the course of your life, you become less interested in the things that fascinated you as a child. As the nineties started to wane, my enthusiasm for his writing did the same, and my conclusion at the time was simply that that portion of my life was done, and behind me.
How ironic then, that the book which turned me around, and brought me back into the fold, ended up being a book centered around time travel.
At the time this came out, I had found myself in the midst of a rekindling of my passion for reading. As I had a commute to work and several hours in the morning by myself, I had started listening to audiobooks. I listened to most of the older King books which I had grown up on, and really started to rediscover the writing that I had loved so much. I finally got around to finishing the Dark Tower series, and I decided that maybe I needed to give his newer material another try. 11/22/63 was getting a lot of press and publicity leading up to its release, so when the time came, on the day the book was released, I did something that I hadn’t done since 1996.
I bought a new Stephen King book.
I did so nervously, with little expectations and, to be perfectly honest, I was totally unprepared for what was in store for me. I was blown away by the book. The story and the depth of the narrative was so amazing, it was hard to believe that I had actually turned my back on him for so long.
The concept of the book is simple enough and the subject of theoretical discussions, many times over. If you could go back in time, would you try and stave off or prevent some horrible tragedy? Would you kill Hitler? Would you try and stop the Titanic from sinking?
Would you try and prevent the JFK assassination?
The story itself is centered around English Teacher Jake Epping, who finds himself drawn into a quest of sorts, from the unlikeliest of places. He is approached one day in a local diner, by the proprietor, who he has become friends with. Jake’s friend, Al, shows him a doorway to a special portal. This particular portal allows people to travel through time. In an interesting twist on the device, Al reveals that whenever a person goes through, they are transported to a very specific date in 1958, September 9, at precisely 11:58 a.m.
Initially, Al had been using the portal for the most mundane of tasks, such as going back and buying food for the diner at 1958 prices, but eventually he makes the decision to take on the personal mission to try and prevent one of the worst tragedies in American history, the assassination of President Kennedy. The reason why he has brought Jake into this, is because in the course of trying to accomplish his goal, Al has been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. He asks Jake to take up the mantle, so to speak, and to make all efforts to see this task out to the end.
From the start, King makes a conscious decision with his world building that I am a big fan of, namely that in a story that involves any kind of magic, I always prefer to see that magic existing within a limiting framework of rules. With 11/22/63, being able to go back in time doesn’t mean to simply set the date on the car’s dashboard, and rev up for eighty eight miles per hour. As I mentioned already, each trip through the door puts the person back to the exact same moment in history, every time, without exception, but there are other rules as well, ways in which the portal operates. Each time someone jumps back in time, they essentially “reset” the system and any changes that might have been made on the last trip are nullified, clearing the board so to speak. Also, and this one is a bit more abstract, if, while in the past, you try to accomplish some kind of historical change, the unseen forces of time and fate will put up obstacles of varying degree in order to prevent that change from happening. The larger the change, the larger the resistance.
I appreciate this because it sets limits on the story, and creates an interesting predicament in terms of preventing the assassination. Obviously, if Jake is to try and conduct such a massive, far reaching change, there is bound to be unprecedented amounts of resistance put in his path. The implication seems to be that Al’s illness is largely due to his own efforts in that regard. Second, if Jake manages to succeed, the gate could no longer be used again, as it would immediately reverse what he had accomplished. Finally, and what I would find most compelling to this system, is that Jake can’t just put himself into the book depository, moments before the shooting, so that he can surprise Oswald and stop him. If he is going to stop the assassination, he will have to actually live in the past, for some five years, before he will be able to accomplish his mission.
I don’t want to get into a lot of detail about the plot of the book, and risk spoiling anything but, I can say that in true King fashion, there is a significant amount of book before you even get to the main story. Whenever I hear people complain about King being too long winded, or about how he needs to use a better editor, that he’s being paid by the word, I feel that they fail to understand that King’s writing is often about the journey, as much as the mechanics of the story itself. As Jake is getting the feel for life in 1958, and how he can affect change, we get to see his process, his trial and error as he tries to get his legs underneath him. We get to experience the immensity of the journey ourselves.
The portion of the book which takes place in the past is divided up into several major sections. In the first, he starts out in a very familiar Maine town, one that we have visited or has been referenced many times. One of my favorite parts of King’s writing is how he interweaves his books and this is no exception. The reader gets to share a short visit with a few old friends that I guarantee will make the King fan in you squeal. Moving on from here, Jake makes his way to Texas, where he takes on a job as a teacher, and has a short lived romantic connection, that reminded me quite a bit of of Richard Matheson’s Somewhere In Time. Moving on to Dallas, we get to the heart of the book, and Jake’s efforts to track down Oswald, with the hope of stopping the assassination before it happens in the first place.
By the end of the book, we are left with a familiar, yet chilling image of what can happen as a result of tinkering with the past, regardless of the best of intentions. Throughout the book, Jake has a number of encounters with a strange being, seemingly a wino who Al had named the Yellow Card Man”. This individual takes on a number of different variations and forms throughout the book and by the end, we learn from him that there is actually more to the mechanics of the portal than Al or Jake were ever aware of. He shares information with Jake that sheds a new light on the book as a whole, and puts their choices their actions into a whole new light. King does what he does best here, and of course we find out that things are not as they seem and not as clear cut as maybe we had initially thought.
I wanted to take a moment and discuss one other issue briefly. Ironically, I have had several conversations recently about this subject, namely, that of writers taking real life tragedies and placing them within a fictionalized universe, so I feel compelled to address it here, as this book is definitely an example. Does it make me uncomfortable that King is using the JFK assassination to construct this book and earn royalties?
In the end, I’m fine with it in this specific case, and my reasons may be somewhat of a cop-out or a rationalization that allows me to enjoy a book, but here is how I look at it. Stephen King has stated that he actually had the idea for this story quite some time ago, but chose not to write it. Because he wasn’t ready for it and he wasn’t sure if the country was ready for it yet. I also don’t see him as necessarily monetizing on a national tragedy as, and let’s be honest here, he likely hasn’t been hurting for money since about the late seventies. So in this case, I feel like King is genuinely trying to tell a story, and isn’t being disrespectful to the memory of the event, or of people’s feelings surrounding it.
11/22/63 is a masterful work of literature. I thought that it was a triumphant return to the massive, yet brilliantly layered narratives of the earlier parts of his career. In terms of the craft of this story, I would place this alongside the likes of The Stand and IT. Some of the best fiction, in my opinion, is the story that puts you into the hypothetical moral quandary, and forces you to decide what you would do, and what circumstances and incentives would sway you one way or the other. Are there events in history, so significant that it would be worth it to accept whatever consequences and tragedies you may cause, in the effort to prevent one huge disaster? Jake Epping made his decision. Would you do the same?
My name is Chad Clark and I am proud to be a Constant Reader.
This book has arguably one of the most controversial scenes in the entire King catalog, one that has gotten IT banned from more than a few libraries. It is such a challenging scene that I could see many publishers today passing on it unless it was removed.
If you are reading this I’m guessing you already know that I am talking about the sex scene between Beverly and all six of the other members of the Loser’s Club, down in the depths under Derry. Following their defeat of Pennywise, the group finds themselves wandering lost through the tunnels under the city, growing progressively more desperate and crazed as they go.
Beverly is the one who comes up with the solution, what she realizes she had to do to save all of them and in the end, that means taking each one of them, one at a time and having sex with them. Right there in the sewer.
First, let me clear about this. I think there are plenty of examples of content in books where people just need to relax a little and not take things so seriously. In this case however, I wouldn’t think any less of someone who chooses to not read something like this. Trust me, I get how difficult and uncomfortable it can be to contemplate children having sex. And these aren’t even teenagers we’re talking about here, these are basically twelve year olds. This scene can be extremely disturbing and I won’t try and tell you to think otherwise.
All that aside, I will try and shed some light on why I think the scene is actually kind of important to the story.
I would like to think this would be obvious but in this day and age, you never know. So just to be on the safe side let me be clear that in no way am I endorsing the idea of children having sex. This is purely limited to the confines of a fictional story with fictional characters and how I see the sex in this scene as more of a metaphor than being titillating or amoral.
First of all, by this point of the story I feel like the Loser’s Club were just as much victims of Pennywise as any of the others. But instead of losing their lives, what they lost was their childhood and their innocence. It starts with the horrors they have to endure and by the time they confront and defeat Pennywise, they have stopped being children. What’s more, having gone through that together, they share an intensely intimate emotional bond, but one that is starting to break down after their confrontation of the evil. How better to represent that bond and to reestablish it than with the most adult and emotionally intimate of physical acts?
In the wake of this traumatic event, what we see is our heroes falling apart. Not from a lack of bravery but because for all of us there is a breaking point past which we can go no farther. And for them, I believe that if things had gone on in this fashion as they fled from Pennywise’s lair, they all would have gone mad and died, alone and insane down in those sewers.
My point is that Beverly had to do something dramatic and desperate in order to save them all and remind them of their most potent weapon and source of strength.
Their bond and their strength together was what allowed them to persevere so I think it makes sense that the use of this physical bond could help re-forge the emotional bond they needed to escape. Pennywise was a creature that fed off of fear so how better to stave off that fear with passion and love for each other?
Ultimately, the point I am trying to make is that when the Losers’ Club defeated Pennywise, there was a moment of passing over a threshold, one which they would never be able to cross back over again. How better to represent that than to show them taking their first sexual steps into the awareness of adulthood, another step which can never be turned back from. And instead of fumbling around with someone they barely know, it is with someone they inherently love and trust.
Friendship is love.
Love is intimacy.
I think great writing challenges you, forces you to engage your own moral center and ask yourself how you really feel about whatever it is you are reading. This book and this scene in particular is a perfect example of this. If I was the parent of one of those kids, would I be okay it? Not really. But the book makes me think. The book makes me feel.
Ultimately, this is what all good art should make you do.
I think Pennywise is one of the most intriguing villains or monsters in the Stephen King universe. The fact that it can take on so many physical forms is so appropriate and reflective of the multifaceted nature of the character itself. Where does it come from? Why does it do the things that it does? What is it that it ultimately wants? I think that while the questions aren’t necessarily answered as thoroughly as we might like, it’s the kind of thing that sparks enough interest that it makes me keep coming back to the book.
I think that there is an interesting duality just in the way in which Pennywise represents itself physically to the real world. On one hand you have the clown, who would seem to be intended to lure children in by presenting a jovial and friendly character that proves to be far more dangerous. But then there are the other sides of Pennywise, the other ways in which it physically manifests itself. What I find interesting is that whenever Pennywise takes on a different form to a specific person, it often ends up being in the form of whatever that person fears the most. Pennywise has been described at times as being a sort of psychic vampire that feeds off of the fears of his victim. It gets inside a person’s head, draws out whatever fear it finds in there and uses that to sustain itself. I liked how this aspect became a way of deepening the connection between the heroes of the book, that all of them could potentially see Pennywise as a werewolf because that was how Richie had seen it.
Personally, I see Pennywise as a sort of anti-losers club, an amalgam of all the dark and evil things in the world combined and clarified down into one physical being. One of my favorite parts of the book are the interludes between sections. While they don’t necessarily move the story forward, they are terrifying to read and really sink in the depth of evil inherent in this character. Perhaps Pennywise represents the darkness that was present in the very beginning of time itself. What I do know is that Pennywise answers to no one, coming across as a kind of petulant god, taking pleasure in all of his various playthings. The book is inherently a story about the ultimate confrontation between good and evil so it stands to reason that there needs to be a dark counterpoint to the heroes of our tale.
Pennywise certainly fits the bill.
One last thing I wanted to touch on before I send you on your way is my love for the town of Derry. For as much as has been said of Castle Rock, I have always been fascinated by the mythology of Derry and any of the books which have returned there. I love the idea of a town itself being infected down to its very core with darkness and a pervasive sense of wrongness. It was chilling how, in IT, the entire town became a sort of manifestation of various aspects of the monster. One common theme I have noticed throughout King’s books is a tendency to put his characters into a situation where they are isolated from everyone and everything else. To make the town itself part of their enemy was, I thought, a brilliant way to accomplish that. I liked how the unusual nature of Derry came up in his later book, Insomnia and how, in Dreamcatcher, King managed to capture an atmosphere of unease and menace with the simple line of graffiti, “Pennywise lives.” And I loved the section of 11/22/63 when King returned to the town of Derry, shortly following the events of the kids’ portion of the book.
King is famous for establishing his shared narrative universe and I always thought it was really smart to set so many of his books and stories in similar settings. Castle Rock and Derry in the eighties were sort of the Metropolis and Gotham City of the Stephen King universe so I thought it was kind of appropriate that, like Gotham, Derry represented the darker aspects of the two towns. Castle Rock certainly saw its share of tragedy and violence over the years but Derry seemed to be the place of bleak nightmares, the place you drive past with a slight shudder as you see it but don’t know why. Derry seems to be a sort of metaphorical barrens where the wrongness of the world seeps down and collects into the gaping jaws of the most horrible creature imaginable.
This really is a masterpiece of modern popular literature. It is the kind of work that elevates a career from great into the realm of legendary. It’s a long book, to be sure, but I can honestly say while reading it that there is never really a moment where I’m thinking to myself, “why the hell is this in here?” This is a book about a terrifying and powerful monster and the conquest against it. But it’s also a story about coming of age and the challenges and fears involved with that transitional period. It’s a story about growing old and losing touch with things, re-discovering the essential parts of your life you may have neglected. It’s about death and our own limited mortality. And for as big as all those topics are, this book is necessarily large in order to accommodate them all. I think the book is brilliant in its conception and the way King manages to weave the narrative together is staggering for me. By the end of the book, he is rapidly jumping back and forth between the past and the present, from one character to the next, and the way in which he connects the language from section to section is pure genius in my opinion.
I think that anyone who has an interest in writing horror fiction should definitely read this book. I think that you would have a harder time finding a better example. All the elements of what makes horror great is here. And ultimately, if you want to become a great writer of any genre, you have to at least have a sense of what that great writing should look like.
And for as many words as I have committed to this, I still feel like I’ve only brushed the surface of this book. But I think I’ve hit enough of the major points to sufficiently express how much enjoyment I have taken over the years. If you happen to be wavering on the question of whether or not you want to read this, I hope that I have helped shove you in the right direction. It’s books like this that make me passionate about reading and even more passionate about writing.
My introduction to IT came in the form of Tim Curry. Thanks goes to him for a childhood packed with nightmares and inability to walk slowly past air ducts and storm drains. I know that the current generation of movie goers, spoiled with all of their precious digital effects look back on a movie like this and dismiss it as cheesy tripe.
Still, it scared all holy hell out of me. So what was my natural reaction to this experience?
Well, of course I had to read the book.
From the start, I immediately knew that this was going to be a completely different experience from what I had watched in that miniseries. In truth, the movie just barely scratched the narrative surface of what exists there and if there is anything I have learned from all the subsequent readings of this, it is that IT is quite possibly one of the least ideal books to be adapted for the big screen. And I am not one of the type who bemoans every movie and how much they ruined or destroyed the book that I loved so much. I understand that there are always going to be necessary changes to a book when it makes the transition into a different format. But in the case of IT, I think that expecting a movie to carry that much weight is like taking a twelve course meal from a renowned chef and condensing the entire experience down into a few bites. Sure, you can capture the broad strokes of the story, recreate the bare bones, but there is so much more richness and complexity to the story that I think you miss out on.
Unless you read the book.
IT is ultimately a story about friendship. It’s a story about growing up and losing touch with the things that make us powerful and unique. It’s a story about standing up to the things that frighten us and vanquishing them with the most powerful tool we have at our disposal, each other. In the days we live in now, it’s heartening to see it suggested in a story that the confrontation of evil can only be enhanced and strengthened when it is filtered through our love of each other. It is a story about the loss of innocence, the rediscovery and repeated loss of that same innocence. Put simply, the book is a masterpiece on all fronts and if I had to scrap every single Stephen King book in my collection, save for one, this would be the one.
IT takes place over two time periods. One is set in the present day or, what was the present day at the time it was written. The heroes of the story, the Loser’s Club, sit at the center and in the present day we see them as adults. We see them in the course of their day to day lives when out of the blue, they receive a phone call from home, a call from an old friend they had actually forgotten about even existing. The message from their friend and their past is simple.
They have to come home.
The second part of the story takes place around the same seven characters, but in the past as children. In both timelines, the Loser’s Club is forced to face down an ancient and powerful evil, one set on the domination and destruction of the town of Derry, Maine.
The Loser’s Club is the ultimate gathering of archetypes in my opinion. If you have ever felt like an outsider for any reason, there is likely at least one if not multiple characters in the Loser’s Club that you are going to relate with. Like Ben Hascomb, I have had issues with weight for most of my life. As with Eddie Kasparack, I have suffered on and off with asthma. And while I have never had a stutter, like Bill Denborough, I have had to live with the stigma of Tourette’s Syndrome and know full well what it feels like to have people staring at you like you are an “other” or a “freak”. I think that IT is designed to make you immediately relate to and root for the characters. You can see yourself in their shoes and find yourself wondering how you would react, given the same situation. What do you do when all the things you never thought possible start happening and the only ones you can turn to are the loser friends who claim to be seeing the same things as you?
Stephen King has always had a knack for writing characters who are children. IT is one book in particular where he shines in this regard. His love for rock and roll is also something which comes through clearly in the flashback portions of the book. Based on the amount of time he spends on the younger versions, they certainly seem to be the ones he cares about the most and is the most invested in revealing.
IT is a book about losing touch with things, losing touch with your childhood, losing touch with your own memories of yourself and those around you. It’s a book about losing touch with your core being. Some of the most powerfully tragic aspects of this book is seeing the adult versions of these characters coming back together and clearly having difficulty fitting each other back into their lives. For a group that was so powerful, largely due to the emotional connections with each other, it is hard to see them acting almost like strangers as they answer the call and return to Derry for one last confrontation with the worst childhood fear imaginable.
And for more on that childhood fear, come on back tomorrow for the second part of this review. Until then, stay safe and stay sane.
Considering the works of Stephen King as the new Millennium kicked off has been more of a challenge than previous decades. It seems to have been his least productive time with fewer novels and more short story collections. I would attribute this naturally to his accident and the fact that I believe he was eying the possibility of winding things down into the retirement he had definitely earned.
For me, the decade would have three high points, the highest of which would be Under The Dome. I won’t belabor this too much as I just spent a huge chunk of words gushing about the book. If you’d care to look, you can seek out my review on that for yourself.
This decade was also when King found himself reaching the end of the Dark Tower series. This was a franchise that he began in the mid-seventies and had gotten its hooks in me before I was even fully a teenager. Speaking for myself, I loved the way King brought everything to a close. I thought he took a series that had been painted on a wildly fantastical canvas and brought it all down into a tightly wound and gripping conclusion. I know this is an opinion not shared by all of King’s fans but this is how it was for me.
Finally, I thought that Duma Key was a great throwback to the darker supernatural stories from King’s past and it was this book among a few others that convinced me that I had to open my mind to some of King’s more recent works.
So where does that leave the rest?
I couldn’t shake the feeling of seeing an author trying again to find himself. The nineties started off in similar fashion as King was coming off of his rehabilitation from booze and drugs but this time around, his efforts seemed less successful. This decade seemed to be marked by books that had a decent premise but I found to be a bit on the underwhelming side. And in a fashion quite unlike King’s work, I often found myself not loving how he was executing the stories.
Dreamcatcher started out great but I think it was too ambitious to really be effective. Ultimately, I think there was just too much story going on for the amount of space in the book and I think King lost sight of the narrative a little. I think he either needed to pare things down or split things up into two separate books because what ended up in this single volume wasn’t working as much for me. And when the story itself wasn’t as engaging, I found myself taking note of the more annoying aspects of the writing, like the repetition of phrases from various characters. There was a lot of potential here and cool aspects to the story, there was just too much other stuff in the way.
Black House also had some great elements to it but the story also seemed to drag at times. The opening sequence used a kind of rambling string of vignettes, in similar fashion to how he began Under The Dome but in this case, it was a little on the boring side and probably needed to be much shorter. It was an interesting way of introducing the key players in the book but I think he could have skipped it and the book would have worked fine. There are some awesome moments throughout the book that I loved but again, I thought it took a little bit too much time to get there. I also found the connections between this book and the Dark Tower series to be a bit perplexing as I didn’t necessarily feel like that linkage was present in The Talisman. It was like King and Straub could have taken this book in a number of different directions but never really chose any of them. I think that this should have been more of a straight-forward thriller featuring an adult Jack Sawyer on the trail of a serial killer. Certain elements of the Territories could have been incorporated as Jack gradually begins to remember his childhood experiences. Making this a Dark Tower book just confused the plot, in my opinion and sealed the book off from fans who didn’t get the references.
From A Buick 8 could have been way up on the scare scale but the style of the story caused a lot of the impact to be lessened in my opinion. There was so much story told in fairly dry, expositive fashion and while he drops a lot of creepy implications to what we are seeing from scene to scene, I kind of wish he had just grounded the story a little more instead of making it so vague. I thought Mile 81 was a good example of what this book could have been, although in that case I thought King went a little too far in the other direction, over-simplifying instead of over-doing.
Cell was entertaining but I think it could have been much better and I just didn’t connect with The Colorado Kid or Lisey’s Story. Again, lots of promise and possibility but what we ended up with were stories that seemed to dance around the soul of the narrative. I have no idea what kind of editorial process King was using by this point of his career but I think he could have benefited from some time to craft out these books a little more. Just my opinion as there are plenty of people who rave about how amazing all of these books are. And I don’t put their opinions at any less than my own. This is just how I responded to the writing. As I have said in previous reviews, I don’t believe this makes me any less of a fan, just being honest about work I didn’t like as much.
There were a lot of short stories in this time period, something I have come to love about King. And for the most part, the collections delivered. Everything’s Eventual was definitely my favorite but Just After Sunset was also entertaining. Full Dark, No Stars was a bit of a letdown for me and had the feel of being a bit rushed. The stories in there weren’t overly bad, but they pale when held up against Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight.
So what can I say about this time period? What larger, overarching statements can I make about the books he wrote and the plots he was taking on? There seemed to be more books with apocalyptic leanings or threats on a global scale, books such as Dreamcatcher, The Dark Tower and Cell. There also were also more departures from his horror roots in the direction of mysteries and thrillers with the likes of From A Buick 8, The Colorado Kid and Lisey’s Story.
The decade would culminate with the first of what I consider to be two of his greatest books, namely Under The Dome and 11/22/63. I would still place The Stand and IT above them but there was also a decade that lay between those two books. It is astounding to me that titles like Under The Dome and 11/22/63 could be published nearly back-to-back like they were.
I could suggest that in the wake of his accident, he seemed to be feeling around, trying to explore his craft in new mediums, looking for new challenges and to find out if there was anything worth keeping him from retiring. I hate making claims like that though as we seem trapped in this era where it is easier to just state something in a publication as no one seems interested in the actual truth behind those statements. It’s interesting to speculate about but I also have to admit that I’m most likely simply projecting my own superficial observations.
So I think what I will say is that at the start of the new millennium, we almost lost Stephen King, forever. Whether it be from the loss of his life or from him potentially deciding to call it quits and enter into retirement.
Ultimately, neither of those two occurred. We almost lost him and I for one, am very grateful that that hasn’t happened yet.
My name is Chad Clark and I am proud to be a Constant Reader.
The dry wind picked up, and blew the tattered remains of the newspaper through the faded memory of the long dead town. The buildings and houses that once lined the streets were now nothing but dilapidated, skeletal remains, hallow shells of a former life that refused to loose their grip on days gone by.
Far above the street, a crow perched silently on top of a pole. It shook out its feathers as it sat, surveying the landscape below, illuminated only by the pale light reflected down from the moon. There was no sign of life, nothing to swoop down and feed on, nothing but hot blasting air and forgotten dreams. The crow lifted up with a cry that quickly dissipated into the silence.
Inside the tavern, the stools remained, loyally lined up in front of the bar, even though the wood was rotting away from the inside, nearly collapsing from the weight of what little life was left in it. At the end of the bar, a former patron sat patiently, bony hand placed on top of the dusted remains of a pint glass.
A jukebox in the corner of the tavern still stood, albeit with most of the insides smashed to bits. Behind the bar, the glass mural had been shattered, shards littering the floor below.
A beetle popped out of a hole in the wall and surveyed the room. It danced around the various blood stains on the floor and managed to avoid the chunk of ceiling tile that came crashing to the ground beside it. It fled the tavern and turned out onto the street. The wind nearly picked it up but it managed to stay rooted as it scampered around in circles before turning down an alley, and leaving our sight forever.
The streets, stained with the blood of regret and decaying pulchritude now were barely capable of holding on to the dust and grime that didn’t even want to call this desolate place home. Further down were the remains of heavy equipment, long since stripped of any practical use and scattered in as many different directions as seemed possible. Between two buildings, a stray coyote sat and stared, transfixed by the misleading odors of this place, unsure if scavenging was called for, or if it should follow its instincts and run before it was too late.
Across the way, in front of the rotting corpse of a general store, the frail remains of a rocking chair moved back and forth with the wind, still yearning for the physical touch of a body to fulfill its only purpose in life.
It had been years since this town had had what anyone would consider a population, residents holding claim to its borders and using it as the frame to hold all of their disparate lives together as one. All glue eventually must fail and, as such, the people of this town had slowly peeled away, leaving behind nothing but this failed structure of humanity.
Maybe that was why they used the town for their purposes. Where better to put something that you never wanted found than a place where no one ever went to find anything? What better graveyard to dispose of a dead body than amongst the already decomposing memories of what was had been? Where better?
The south side of town, where the church had once been, was now littered with the signs of freshly dug graves. It was hard to say how many people were out here since they rarely designated one hole for one body and to be fair, the dead hardly ever complained about having to share.
They used this place because, like this town, some people needed to disappear as if they had never existed, leaving behind nothing but the barest shades of memory. Whenever they had someone who fit this necessity, they would march him through here in the middle of the night, taking him on his final walk through this boardwalk of spectral dilapidation until they reached the final steps of this last journey.
Dexter had thought that he would tell the police everything that needed to be told. He thought he was doing so well and had been so prepared. He hadn’t expected the people who showed up at his apartment tonight to get him, to escort him to this place.
He heard the smooth sound of a revolver being drawn from a shoulder clutch, the metallic snick of the slide being pulled back. Cold steel pressed to the back of his neck and all he could do was look up into the ocean of stars boiling over in every direction and it occurred to him as he spent his remaining moments in awe of this terrestrial magnificence that even a place as barren and dead as this could still sometimes be blanketed in beauty.
The crow fluttered back towards Earth, sensing the possibility of a fresh meal.
I had high hopes for this book. I loved Different Seasons as well as Four Past Midnight so I as eager to see King dip back into this format, four novellas, too long to be considered short stories but too short to be released on their own. I hold these in their own category of books, separate from the other collections and to date, Full Dark, No Stars was the last time King would write a book of this nature. And it is because of King’s prolific output with these types of stories that I am eagerly awaiting the newest book, from King’s son, Joe Hill. Strange Weather is also a collection of four novellas. Hopefully this runs in the family.
So my hopes were elevated but sadly, I was a little underwhelmed by the stories here. I don’t think the book is bad, and there are definitely some moments where I thought the writing really shined. Still, overall my reaction was fairly lukewarm, found the stories to be interesting but not a lot above and beyond that.
What sets this book apart from the previous two was that there was a unified theme to the stories, namely that they all dealt with the subject of revenge. And while at first, I thought this was going to work out well, it ultimately seemed like this might have hurt the overall experience of the book. Because while revenge can certainly be the driving force behind a successful story, I don’t feel like there is a huge variety in terms of the way that story can be told. I kind of wish that King had done one really great revenge story and then moved on to other areas. I think that what made the other books so phenomenal was the divergent nature of the stories. I’d never guess that The Body and Apt Pupil were placed in the same collection. Or Sun Dog and The Library Policeman. With Full Dark, No Stars, I reached a point where I felt like the book was starting to cycle and double back over itself a little.
On the whole, I would definitely rank this as my least favorite of the novella collections. Moments of great writing that were somewhat lost within longer stretches of narrative that was just kind of okay. It’s a book that, had it been written by a lesser known author I think it could have maybe seemed better. But when held against the legacy of Stephen King, it just seems a bit flat.
This was the high point of the book for me. It’s a period piece, taking place…well…in 1922…and while I often find historically placed stories to feel awkward, King does a good job with this. The narrative is centered around a farmer, Wilfred and his son Henry. In the midst of their life with what seems like an abusive and overbearing wife, the two of them commit an unthinkable act. The son is clearly reluctant to get involved with his father’s actions and a big part of the tragedy of the story is in seeing how he is changed. It is this act of violence that leads the two characters down radically divergent paths and that opens the doors to the more supernatural aspects of the story.
There are some fantastic pieces of dialog between Wilfred and the father of the girl that Henry becomes romantically involved with. There is a terrific amount of chemistry between the two men and the competition between the two of them adds a great element to the tension of the story.
I thought that Henry’s story was particularly poignant in its tragic aspects. Watching Wilfred’s son start out so innocent and seeing where he ends up was difficult to accept. And I thought the supernatural turn to the story was original as well. This is not your typical, ghost shows up and takes revenge on the person who wronged them. This is a much more original approach, seeing a ghost instead choosing to torment their victims instead of merely ending their life.
Of all the stories, this is the one I think could have been effectively transformed into a longer work. The characters are interesting and deep and I found the plot to be scary at times, intriguing at others and at all points, I felt comfortably propelled through the book. I would almost say that this story justifies the price of collectioon as King has placed some genuinely creepy imagery and moments throughout. And it all winds down to a landing spot for the novella that is truly disturbing to read.
This one started off with a lot of promise. The main character is Tess, a rare female author in the King lexicon of fictional writers. Tess is a popular novelist of cozy mysteries and has been invited at the last minute to do a reading in a nearby town. After being given directions for a shortcut to get back home, Tess ends up stranded along the side of the road due to a freak accident. An encounter there ends up changing her life.
As I said, when this began, I was genuinely blown away. King has never necessarily shied away from graphic content but this story had a razor sharp edge to it, grinding through scenes that I honestly wanted to turn away from. I felt so much sympathy and sorrow for this character, I just wanted the story to come to an end and I was eager to move on to see where she was going to go from here.
Unfortunately the story, especially in the middle section, proceeds to down a path that, frankly I found to be slightly mundane. It becomes a mystery of how Tess is going to track down her attacker and find the justice she deserves. This is a perfectly well-intentioned plot but the way it is executed just feels routine to me. There is very little tension to the story and past the brutality of the opening, Tess never seems particularly challenged by her situation. Ultimately, I thought that the end of the story came about almost in routine course, so much so that even the moment at the end that should have been pretty shocking came across to me as kind of bland. The few stressful sequences towards the end are dealt with and dispatched routinely.
I think this needed to be longer in order to give the burn of the narrative some time to really seep in. As it stands, for me, Big Driver will simply exist as the story that could have been.
Didn’t care for this one and I thought it felt like something King put into the book just to round out the amount of stories contained within. Like he needed to have four stories so he pulled out an idea, fleshed it out a little and placed it here. It is quite a bit shorter than the others and honestly, I don’t think I would classify it as a novella. That’s arbitrary of course, but I think that some of the longer short stories from Everything’s Eventual or Just After Sunset could have been swapped out in exchange for this story. The story is about Dave Streeter, a man who has received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Coming across a salesman along the side of the road, he stops and finds that the man is offering to sell “life extensions”, a way out of the death sentence that Dave has just been given.
Overall, the story didn’t really feel like anything I havn’t already gotten from classic episodes of Tales From The Crypt or The Twilight Zone. There wasn’t anything structurally wrong with the story, there just didn’t seem to be that much to it. And one thing I have come to depend on for King’s stories is a certain level of complexity and originality. I also found myself struggling with the fact that as a character, Dave doesn’t come off as a particularly good guy. This isn’t always a bad thing but considering the nature of this story, I think he needed to be slightly more sympathetic.
A Good Marriage
This one was slightly better, and probably a good choice to end the book on. Like Big Driver, I think this could have been better, though. The main character is Darcy, someone who had previously felt like she had lived a good life with a husband she loved. That is, until she makes a discovery in their garage that completely changes how she feels about him.
Like with Big Driver, I thought this had some strong points to it. But for as much as Darcy struggles with what she finds and what she should do, I still felt like this aspect of the story deserved more time and attention. When the story comes down to her choice and what she does, it still feels like it comes out of nowhere for me and a little less plausible. In the end, the story fades away on the back of a scene that has some interesting dialog but ultimately doesn’t really seem to lead anywhere. The second act of the book is likely supposed to feel shocking but to me it just seemed like the story itself was going through the motions. I think that based on the content itself, this story could have packed a much heavier punch than it ultimately does. And again, as with Big Driver, I think this needed a lot more narrative space in order to reach its full potential.
In all, the stories in this book were decent. Not great, but decent enough. I did appreciate that most of them were told from the perspective of a female character. Also, King seems to place them in less common roles from what we generally see women doing as characters in these kinds of situations. There was promise to this, I just think that from the perspective of one reader, I found this book to be less effective and I think most of the stories would have done better placed in the pages of one of King’s other collections, instead of being highlighted in one of his novella anthologies.
And just to be fun about it, I’m going to propose my own lineup of novellas for Full Dark, No Stars, chosen from the two collections that preceeded this, Everything’s Eventual and Just After Sunset. In this level of the Tower, the four novellas included in my version would be as follows:
A Very Tight Place
The Little Sisters Of Eluria
Like I said, it’s just for fun but I think this would have been a stronger book. And the stories that were replaced could have easily been put into Everything’s Eventual or Just After Sunset and not had much impact on the overall quality of those books. I figured that I made the argument, I should stand up for myself and actually put something out there. I’m sure plenty would disagree and that is their right.