October spooky stories continue! I am nearing the end of some interesting galleys, but until I have new material to review, I am posting some old and creepy favorites. And who better than Stephen King? If this book were published today, it might get categorized as post-apocalyptic fiction rather than horror (or fantasy; it was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 1979). By now, it’s legendary. If you haven’t gone there yet, what are you waiting for? It will surely keep you off the streets and out of trouble for quite some time. Here’s my take on it.
In the two part introduction, King tells the reader not to buy the book unless they either have never read it, or wish to reread it with the bits he really thought made the story stronger, but that in his less prominent days had been edited out for marketing reasons. And I thought oh hell yes. I love King’s work, and I trust his judgment.
What I didn’t think about was the copyright date and the fact that I am no longer young. Three quarters of the way through, I went back to the prefaces again to see if I could ascertain what was new here. And it was then that I realized that I had already read this version–only the cover was really new, it’s been out for quite some time–and by then I was so far along, remembered so little of the original plot anyway, that I decided to go ahead and finish it. It’s entirely worth reading twice.
He refers to it (again in part 2 of the intro)as a “tale of dark Christianity”. And that it is. It’s really well done. If you are a Christian and take the bible quite literally, you may not appreciate the liberties he has taken. From a literary point of view though, this is a beautifully integrated plot. His memoir says that he pretty much just pounds his novels out, start to finish, and given the complexity and number of characters, I can’t believe he didn’t start this one with a flow chart. It boggles the mind.
So without ruining the ending, let me ask you: if hell were going to be in the continental USA, which major city would you choose? Among the major US cities you have visited, which one screams to you of wrongness most clearly?
I think King chose well. When the devil takes a major hit because his prisoner refuses to be impressed and laughs at him, it rings absolutely true.
I have changed my mind many times about which Stephen King novel I love best. This one is definitely a contender.
(A caveat: read it first before you give it to your precocious reader. Some Stephen King books work just fine for the clever 6th or 7th grade mind; personally, I’d save this one for high school, given my preferences for my own family).