The Return of the King — Part II

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.

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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.

 

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Return of the King (for me, at least)

I recall my first foray into adult fiction. It was summer break, sometime in my middle school years. Shortly after devouring the Dragonlance: Chronicles series, I found myself at a used bookstore with my friend, Matt. We had ridden our bikes to a nearby strip mall that connected Cub Foods to Target in this long, serpentine pattern. Midway between the two anchors was this tiny shop that must have had but a few hundred books.

Matt was telling me about this cool horror writer named Stephen King. He was familiar with his works at the time and snagged The Shining and Pet Semetery off the shelf. There were a handful of others and I ended up purchasing Cujo and Firestarter.

I still remember the fascination I had while reading Firestarter. The suspense. The magic. The love and fear of a young girl who was coming to grips with her newfound power. I was instantly hooked. Cujo had a less memorable impact, but I found myself venturing on to Pet Semetary and a few other King novels after that.

I’ve probably read about twenty Stephen King novels over the years. Some left memorable impressions on me (The Stand, Pet Semetary); others, not so much (Gerald’s Game — ugh, that was awful).

It has been several years since I picked up a Stephen King novel. Then, last week, at our library’s book sale, I found myself struggling to find something to read. It must have been that used book scent that gave me a sudden sense of nostalgia. I meandered over to the horror section (which can generally be described as a few cardboard boxes filled with King, Koontz, and Anne Rice). Desiring to rekindle that love of fiction I had discovered at an early age, I picked up Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone, Salem’s Lot, and Four Seasons.

10592I just finished Carrie, a book I never actually had read, but had seen the movie on numerous occasions. This was Stephen King’s first novel, salvaged by his wife from a waste basket. It tells of a high school misfit who has telekinetic powers. Her mother is a quacky religious fundamentalist who views Carrie as the product of her sin. Carrie is ridiculed by classmates, pushing her to the brink of destruction. A popular girl, Sue, tries to reconcile with Carrie by hooking her up with her boyfriend for prom. Things appear to be turning around for Carrie until a few bad-intentioned peers devise a plan to expose her to the ultimate ridicule.

I was a little surprised at the disjointedness of the novel. It reads like a patchwork quilt, non-linear narratives told from multiple viewpoints and snippets of news articles reflecting on the cataclysmic events. In a novel that deals with chaos, the disjointedness fits, but is a bit overwhelming. King’s raw approach to fiction works — and I think it is what has made him so successful. He makes no attempt to be polished or literary and expresses emotion with an authenticity that is difficult to match. Carrie is not King’s best novel, but it is a good place to start.

I don’t think I will ever read Stephen King’s complete works — I think he writes faster than I can read — but I still enjoy going back and catching up with some of the books that drew me into fiction.