Last month, I wrote about my first experiences reading Stephen King. I recently have been reacquainting myself with his earlier works, first with Carrie and most recently, with The Dead Zone. I never had read The Dead Zone before, but was a huge fan of the movie, starring Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, and directed by David Cronenberg.
The Dead Zone is about a man named Johnny Smith, who falls into a coma and awakens years later with psychic abilities. When he comes into contact with another person, he often will gain knowledge about significant events in their past, present, or future. This becomes a burden for Smith, who often focuses on the deaths he isn’t able to prevent rather than the lives he saves.
A second character arc tells of a bible salesman-turned-politician named Greg Stillson. He has deep-seeded emotional issues, which begin with hurting animals and progresses into a violent confrontation with a teenager. Johnny meets Stillson and foresees him becoming President, which will eventually lead to the deaths of millions of people.
The primary conflict of the story deals with the age-old question — if you could travel back in time, would you kill Hitler before he took power? It seems logical that most people would say yes, but for Johnny this is a difficult decision. While Stillson is on a path that will kill more people than Hitler, he is yet to commit a crime. Johnny must decide whether he should play Judge Dredd or quench his gift and let fate prevail.
It was a true joy to read this novel. Published in 1979, The Dead Zone is King’s fifth novel (seventh, if you include his writing as Richard Bachman). His earlier novels are where I feel he was his strongest, still unpolished, but filled with strong characters and emotion. It is also interesting how some of his personal viewpoints seep through the pages — his contempt for conservative politics and the religious right are transparent. In Carrie and The Dead Zone (the two King novels I have read this year), Christians are depicted as violent lunatics. Many of these undertones escaped me in my younger years, but now read as being caricatures, nearly to the point of absurdity at times. Despite this fact, I don’t find these viewpoints to be distracting from the story and are only sprinkled throughout the text.
Another note to add is that The Dead Zone was made into a television series; however, I have never made time to watch it. I see that it is available on Netflix, so I may add it to the queue and give it a watch. I have some exercise equipment in the basement (TRX suspension training) that has been neglected and I think I need a TV show to get me back in the groove again. Seeing that I love the premise of this story and the many angles that could be approached from it, the television series may be worth a shot.
As for picking up more of King’s novels, I have some other books in my queue right now, but I plan on hitting The Shining and Salem’s Lot next.