“Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not at a subconscious level where savage things grow.” Carrie, by Stephen King
Prefatory Matters: Back in September 2014, I decided to reread Stephen King’s entire catalog, chronologically, by date of publication. Then, I went a bit further. I decided to complete this challenge in a single year. That’s a decade of King every three months. These posts will be a bit emotional, as they are my personal experiences with King’s work. For spoiler-laden reviews of each novel, you can click on the corresponding title. At the end, I will attempt to tie all books back into the Dark Tower using my own theories and facts King himself has verified.
This, my fellow Constant Readers, is A Decade with King, 1974-1984.
Stephen King is my favorite band. I grew up listening to him. I can map out my life by what King novel I was reading during the more pivotal events of my existence. When someone mentions one of his books, I recall what happened to me while I was reading that particular book instead of the book itself. Yes, King’s writing is like music to me, it holds that same power, the power of memory, that certain songs can hold over others. I have my favorite tunes, but overall, I simply love the band.
My love for all things King (as well as my book collection) was passed down from my mother. She’s still kicking around, but has moved away from King in her later years. My most vivid memory of my mother’s relationship with King is her story of how she came to read her first King novel. The year was 1979. Mom was in nursing school, and had no idea who Stephen King was. Hell, she wasn’t much of a reader, period. That year, she’d just happened to be doing clinicals during flu season. Stephen King had released The Stand the previous Fall, and Mom’s best friend Andrita had talked her into reading a new author. You can probably see where this is going: new nurse, flu season, King, The Stand. Yup, the book scared the shit out of her. But she was hooked. A year later, while reading The Dead Zone, she found out she was pregnant with me. My fandom wouldn’t start until 1993 and the release of Dolores Claiborne. That story’s coming up shortly.
(The following has been pulled directly [well, I edited it a wee bit] from my review of Pet Sematary.)
Concerning the Great Book Closet: My mother kept King’s scariest novels in her room. It, Pet Sematary, ‘Salem’s Lot, and The Shining did not enter what she called The Great Book Closet (which was a walk-in number filled completely with stacks of hardcover horror novels, which I would inherit upon turning 21; she didn’t die, she just kinda handed them over) until 1997. I’d read Dolores Claiborne and Misery, but had no idea that such terrifying treasures awaited me. When the hidden novels were introduced back into her massive collection of Dean R. Koontz, Peter Straub, John Saul (which is why I have such an affection for that old hack and continue to collect his books to this day), James Herbert, L. Ron Hubbard, and, of course, King, I snatched up the shortest of the four (Pet Sematary). I was seventeen by this time, but I still wasn’t prepared for the book I read.
Concerning the Stephen King Book Club: Now, you might be asking yourself why on earth my mother allowed me to read Dolores Claiborne when I was only 13. The book is definitely not for preteens. It deals whole hog with such hardcore topics as murder, spousal abuse, and child molestation. Well, the truth of the matter is, Mom didn’t know. In the fall of 1993, a plain brown box arrived in the mail. Mom was at work, Dad was passed out drunk in front of his Cubs game, and I, as preordained by my mother, got the mail out of the box after school. I read the return address upon the label and committed the first and last felony of my life: I stole my mother’s mail. (Well, I borrowed it, anyway.) I sneaked off to my room, tore open the plain brown box, and goggled the image of Dolores gazing down into a well while an eclipse occurred over her shoulder. I paged it open, read the first line, and was off. I read that book every chance I got, but mostly by flashlight and while I was supposed to be sleeping. Finished it in three days, too. Me, a kid who took almost a month to read the novelization of Terminator 2, read an adult book of over 300 pages in three days. I’d always been a fan of having a story told to me, and that’s what King did in Dolores Claiborne. Quite awesomely, he uses Dolores to tell the tale, and I felt as if she were talking directly to me. Before that novel, I thought the only monsters in existence belonged to Universal Studios, but after reading about Dolores’s husband, my view of monsters changed. I realized humans could be monsters, too. And that I had known one, once upon a time. He’d lived a few doors down from us, and I would come to write about him decades later. But it took Dolores Claiborne before I realized how truly evil that man was.
So, I’ve told you what King’s books had to do with my mother, my birth, and my coming of age. There’s more, but that will have to wait for future posts. Now, I suppose, I need to discuss the books I read between October and December of 2014.
Carrie makes me think of my daughter. I was rereading that book when my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child. Funny, huh? First kid, King’s first book. Teddy Duchamp’s son is mentioned in this book. He works at a gas station in Chamberlain, where Carrie takes place. You’ll recall Teddy from The Body. There’s also mention of a teacher named Edwin King, which I find hilarious, as this is the first time King wrote himself into one of his novels. Stephen Edwin King used to teach high school. So no, sports fans, Wolves of the Calla is not the first time King thrust himself into one of his own books. I honestly can’t remember the first time I read this one. I think it was during my drug days. Favorite part: The stones. Cool shit, daddy-o.
‘Salem’s Lot makes me think about Twilight. Every time some poor soul tells me they’re thinking about reading Meyers’s take on vamps, I direct them toward Jerusalem’s Lot. Seriously, folks, you can do better. In my opinion, there is no better vampire novel. Then again, I hate vampires, so take that into consideration. The first time I read this one, I was working overnights at a hospital. I got to take my first body to cold storage that week. This meant riding down five floors in an elevator with a corpse on a gurney. Fun times, kids, lemme tell ya! A dog named Chopper is mentioned herein, but I doubt he is the same one from The Body. Favorite Part: Danny Glick at the window. Draws my nuts into my chest every-frakkin’-time.
The Shining is another hospital memory. I had this nurse that I worked with whom everyone hated. I’ll call her Foot, because instead of “fuck” she’d say “foot” but everyone knew what she meant. Foot, me, and a handful of other nurses were in the break room one night. I was going on and on about how much I loved ‘Salem’s Lot when Foot says: “The Shining is the only one of his books I’ve ever been able to finish. Everything else is just too wordy.” I miss Foot. No one liked her because she was a “hard ass”. She got the job done though, and I loved working with her because everything always went smoothly when she was there. (Foot, if you ever read this (and you’ll know who you are, I’m sure), thanks for being you.) Dick Hallorann pops up all throughout the King-verse, but his next big role would be in Mike’s tale of The Black Spot, in the It. Favorite part: The topiary animals.
The Stand makes me think of sex. I finished it the week I lost my virginity. I can even say with a straight face that The Stand is the reason I lost my virginity to the woman I did. Our initial conversation occurred because she was interested in what I was reading. Fun fact: I’ve never read the cut version and don’t intend to. Hemingford Home, Nebraska, Mother Abigail’s place of residence, is also where Ben Hanscom comes to rest after the events of It. Favorite part: Other than losing my virginity? (Beep, beep, E.) Trashcan Man’s run in with The Kid. Now that was horrific, friends and neighbors.
The Dead Zone makes me think of Christopher Walken. But dig on this: I don’t like the movie (have never been able to finish it in one sitting, though I’ve seen the whole thing at separate times) and care even less for the book (which I will probably never read again). Still, any time I see Walken, no matter the role, I think of Johnny Smith. Odd. I like Walken as an actor, and from what I can tell, he’s a cool cat, but he will never shake that role, at least not for me. Frank Dodd is mentioned frequently in Cujo. Some think the dog was possessed by Dodd’s ghost, but I have a bigger theory. Check my review of Cujo for more information. Favorite part: The carnival. The book goes downhill from there.
Firestarter makes me think of getting my driver’s license. Nothing else. It’s the book I was reading the week I took my driver’s test. Luckily it wasn’t Christine, right? The Shop is mentioned in both The Langoliers and The Tommyknockers. Favorite part: The battle at the farm. Kerblooey!
Cujo makes me think of 1989. I hadn’t read the book then, and wouldn’t read it for another decade or so, but in ’89 I was attacked by a dog. My leg was ripped open, and I spent a week in the hospital due to an allergic reaction to the antibiotic they gave me. Every time I read Cujo I think of that. It’s never been a pleasant book for me for several reasons, and that’s one of the bigger reasons. I believe I’ve found a tie-in with this one and It. Read my review of Cujo (link at the end of this post) for a more indepth analysis. Favorite part: Any scene with the closet. Spooky shit.
The Gunslinger makes me think of my father. Dad was a fan of westerns. I once tried to read this book to him, but he made me stop. Said I was wasting his time. He couldn’t see the pictures in his head. I remember thinking that was one of the saddest things I’d ever heard. Was he completely devoid of imagination, my father? I don’t know. I do know that he was illiterate until the day he died. He could write two words: his name, and iH, spelled just like that “iH”, because that’s how his brain saw “Hi”. You see, my mother once tried to teach him how to write by helping him write a letter to his brother. “Hi” was as far as they got. Favorite part: The slow mutants. Jake!
Christine makes me think of my oldest sister. (I honestly don’t remember reading this one, but I’m sure I did, because I recall certain sections that aren’t in the movie, so we’ll chalk this one up to having been read in my drug days.) My oldest sister is fourteen years older than me, and used to take me to all kinds of inappropriate movies. We saw Robocop together, and Total Recall, and, you guessed it, Christine. The movie version of Christine came out in 1983, but it played at the local drive-in in the early nineties. It was also the last movie Tammy and I saw together. She got lost in her own kids after that. That doesn’t upset me, because, being a father, I understand. But I missed her then. Hell, I miss her now. I miss that time. I miss my sister. Favorite part: Arnie’s character. One of King’s best.
Pet Sematary makes me think of my son. I first read this novel when I was seventeen, but I wasn’t a father then. My son is now two (will be three in April of 2015), and I found myself thinking of him constantly during this last reread of Pet Sematary. The obvious reason would be Gage’s character, but I think it has more to do with it than that. I firmly believe (judge me if you will) that I would have no problem using the Micmac burial grounds if something ever happened to Chris (my son). Yes, even knowing how he’d come back, I’d still do it. I love my kids, and love makes you stupid. As far as I know, this is the first mention of the Orinco Oil Company. King uses this company again and again throughout the King-verse. Favorite part: The final page. So much for happy endings.
I will be finishing off each of these posts with this next segment, wherein I attempt to tie everything back to King’s Dark Tower series with conspiracy theories (created by myself) or actual facts King has verified:
Ring Around the Tower:
Spoilers throughout, possibly for every book King has ever written. You have been warned.
Fact: We’ll start with the second book King ever published, ‘Salem’s Lot, because this one is easy. Both Father Donald Callahan and the vampires are featured or mentioned in the last three Tower books. The plague ravaged landscape of The Stand is travelled in Wizard and Glass, the fourth Dark Tower novel. And, of course, The Gunslinger, is book one of Roland’s quest.
Theory: Buckle in, troops, this one’s gonna go deep.
Buried deep in the woods surrounding the town of Haven, Maine, is an alien spaceship. Haven is somewhere around Derry, and Derry is somewhere around Bangor. Basically, we’re talking central Maine, or round about, if you can dig it. Now here’s something to chew on:
The big inside joke between King fans is that everyone in Maine is psychic or has some kind of mental powers. Telekinesis, pyrokinesis, mind-reading abilities, adultery (kidding). What if they got all these wonderful abilities from the ship buried in Haven? In The Tommyknockers, Andersen literally stumbles over this thing, which she then digs up, which then gives the townsfolk odd powers. I cannot remember if King ever reveals the origins of the craft (when it arrived), but what if people have come across it before, and these people (ancestors of ancestors, maybe) passed along their abilities in their genetic codes. Here we find the reasoning behind so many mentally extraordinary folks in Maine. I also believe the Grays (the aliens in The Tommyknockers and Dreamcatcher) are the Great Old Ones referenced in the Dark Tower series, meaning they’re the ones who created the technology that has began to crumble and decay when Roland finally starts his quest. Or, they are responsible for giving that technology to humans. With all that considered, I’ve successfully tied in Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone, and Firestarter into the world of the Dark Tower.
What about Christine, Cujo, and Pet Sematary, you ask? Easy. I think the entity known as It is responsible for the events of these books. “Oh do tell,” I hear you saying. I plan to.
During the time frames of all three of these books, It is supposedly asleep. But what if It wasn’t asleep. What if It used this time to project itself as a car to Arnie Cunningham, or the monster in Tad’s closet? Or, what if Pennywise was the creature the Micmac indians connected to their burial grounds, the wendigo? Can you dig it? What’s to say that It couldn’t change into a 1958 Plymouth Fury, or, at the very least, possess one. And if not It, then what about an entity like the one inside Blain the Train. Ah, now you’re seeing through the looking glass, aren’t you. King might only realize the half of it, but I believe I’ve found the common thread. Everything comes back to Mid-World. Everything. And I aim to prove it.
For a list of how his short stories tie in, please check out the reviews linked to the corresponding books below.
Carrie – April 1974
‘Salem’s Lot – October 1975
The Shining – January 1977
The Stand – September 1978
The Dead Zone – August 1979
Firestarter – September 1980
Cujo – September 1981
The Gunslinger – June 1982
Christine – April 1983
Pet Sematary – November 1983
Short Story Collection:
Dark Tower Novel:
(Note: There is rumor going around that King and Straub are working on the final Jack Sawyer novel, so I will be holding off on The Talisman and Black House until the third book is released. Also, I will be tackling The Bachman Books at the end of Decade Four, due to reasons I will, for the time being, keep to myself. Finally, I will be reading his new novels and collections as they are released. What can I say, I’m a fanboy and refuse to wait. If you find any editing issues with these posts, my apologies. They are not professionally edited because I don’t plan on selling them. In other words, I cannot justify the cost. I have done my best, but no one can edit themselves with any consistency. No one.)