7.17.2012

King's Highway pt. 22: The Rest of the Rogue States

We now conclude our tour of the Rogue States. See here for the first incursion into these territories... With no further ado:

Originally written in 1967, revised 1971, published (under Bachman pseudonym) in 1977. Like all the Bachman Books, very much a product of its era.

Rage is currently out of print. Here's SK on why/how that came to be:
"I can't say for sure that Michael Carneal, the boy from Kentucky who shot three of his classmates dead as they prayed before school, had read my novel, Rage, but news stories following the incident reported that a copy of it had been found in his locker. It seems likely to me that he did. Rage had been mentioned in at least one other school shooting, and in the wake of that one an FBI agent asked if he could interview me on the subject, with an eye to setting up a computer profile that would help identify potentially dangerous adolescents. The Carneal incident was enough for me. I asked my publisher to take the damned thing out of print. They concurred...

If... you were to ask me if the presence of potentially unstable or homicidal persons makes it immoral to write a novel or make a movie in which violence plays a part, I would say absolutely not. In most cases, I have no patience with such reasoning. I reject it as both bad thinking and bad morals. Like it or not, violence is a part of life and a unique part of American life. If accused of being part of the problem, my response is the time-honored reporter's answer: 'Hey, many, I don't make the news, I just report it.'

I sympathize with the losers of the world and... although I pity the Columbine shooters, ...there comes a point at which the Harrises and the Klebolds become unsalvageable, when they pass through some phantom tollbooth of the mind and into a land where every violent impulse is let free..."

I like that phrase "the phantom tollbooth of the mind." Rage isn't a particularly bad read, but I, personally, find these comments on it more interesting than the book itself. I agree with King that it seems immoral to shoot the messenger for a message he himself did not create but simply passes on. And I further agree that if something I'd written kept showing up in killers' back pockets, I'd get creeped out, as well. 
But, considering it's a novel about a kid who shoots up his high school/ teachers/ holds them hostage, it's probably not all that surprising/ meaningful that it's read by kids who shot up their high school/ teachers.

Next:

Written in 1974, published 1981.

King describes this one as an attempt to make sense of his mother's death from cancer. He originally didn't want it re-published but decided to "to give his readers some insight into his personality at the time." That's an interesting admission and worth checking out for that reason alone. He has said recently it's one of his favorites of his early works.

I can see that. There's a certain "something" to this one that's missing from the other Bachman Books. Ultimately, though, it feels like a not-particularly-bad-but-very-70s movie-of-the-week. Would it make a good movie with an 80s-era Rutger Hauer? Or Ernest Borgnine? (RIP, Ernie.) Absolutely. It's actually quite an overlooked work, and a re-evaluation is likely overdue.

The last of the Bachman Books to be considered among these Rogue States...

Written 1971 (in less than a week), published 1982. I like this cover. It beats this other one I found:
Well, it is an altogether-different book, but it cracked me up to picture the main character of the Bachman novel as this Mister Rogers-looking dude.

Anyone my age has many memories of the Schwarzenegger movie. I saw it a couple of times in the theater (at the old Woonsocket Plaza cinema) and a few dozen times on VHS. The last time I saw it was while a friend was house-sitting in the late 1990s, and we hooted and hollered at the screen throughout.

I cannot believe two future governors appeared together in this movie. (And Predator, of course. But Predator is a surrealist masterpiece, so anything fits, there.)

The movie bears almost zero relation to the story.

...

They kept the basic dystopian future/ violent gameshow called The Running Man aspect. Everything else is gone. The book is bleaker. Richards, the main character's daughter is dying from lack of access to simple medicine, and his wife turns tricks to stave off death. There is no happy ending; there is no Maria Conchita Alonso.

There is a Killian, but he doesn't come across like Richard Dawson. RIP Richard Dawson.

Actually, while I was reading it, I tried to envision the alternate reality where Schwarzenegger made a true-to-the-novel cinematic adaptation, with its uncomfortable-but-sympathetic take on the Black Power/ 60s riots, its violent jihad against the corporate state, its aggressive political incorrectness, and its ending - where the main character commits suicide by piloting a jumbo-jet into the skyscraper offices of The Network... In that world, did Sylvester Stallone become governor of California? (RIP, Sage Stallone.)

How does its disturbing look into the world of 2025 hold up? It's still somewhat plausible (if depressing) that the world of TRM could come into being. Inflated currency, degraded atmosphere, violent class division, oppressive corporate overlords... all too familiar. A couple of other things are now anachronistic, such as how Richards has to put "tapes" of his day-to-day running into the mail, but overall... pretty well, he says dejectedly.

The use of Derry, Maine would seem a straight giveaway as to the real identity of Richard Bachman, which was, of course, a secret at the time, but Derry hadn't been used much (if at all) when this originally came out.

Speaking of Derry, let's switch over to Full Dark, No Stars and the story "Fair Extension." A man with cancer stops at a roadside vendor in Derry, Maine, and the vendor sells him an extension on his life/ remission of his cancer. All he has to do is wish the "badness" on someone he hates. It's a version of the old "The Button/ The Box" story, and this is a great read. But is the man Elvid (an anagram for "Devil," obviously) Pennywise, from It?


Consider: (as reproduced from the Stephen King Forum by member Falseprophet)

#1 The story takes place in Derry (There is even a reference to the Barrens)
#2 Several times in the story Stephen mentions how Elvid's mouth has too many teeth or his teeth become sharp.
#3 Elvid seems to change shape and grow much like Pennywise.
#4 Elvid also has that power like Pennywise to change reality like how there was plenty of traffic but none of it seemed to be going down the road .
#5 And perhaps the most revealing is how Stephen King describes Elvid: he looked like a clown with no make-up.

Added to which, Pennywise goes into hibernation for 27-28 years, so the timing to the publication of Full Dark, No Stars (2010) is interesting, if not exactly-precise.

The moderator for the forum suggest King had no such intention, but if not, that's an awful lot of unconscious coincidence. I think, whomever/ whatever Pennywise and Elvid are, they are related. Siblings/ cousins in "the Deadlights." Ditto for Ardelia from "The Library Policeman."

From Four Past Midnight.

Not the most pleasant read, with the whole flashback-to-kiddie-rape and all, but some intriguing connections to King's other works. (One example of a few: Naomi, the office assistant who sends Sam Peebles to the library, where he meets possible-Pennywise-relative Ardelia, is a fan of the novels of Paul Sheldon, i.e. the guy who writes the Misery Chastain novels in Misery.) This is a dark story, sure, but it's a good one. I don't know why it's never been made into a movie, actually - seems like it'd be perfect for one.

A few folks on the SK Forum found a lot of parallels between this story and Duma Key. I see them, but in my mind, the story that most made me think of Duma Key (probably just because of the setting) was "The Gingerbread Girl."

The last story in Four Past Midnight is


which may not be perfect fodder for a movie, but it very much resembles a fun episode of Friday the 13th: the Series.

Be honest - if these guys showed up during this story's climatic finish, no one would be surprised.

King's introductory remarks mention how this story is a segue between the events of his novels The Dark Half and Needful Things. All are set in Castle Rock, which figures prominently in a number of other King works, as well. Additionally, Pop Merrill, one of "Sun Dog"'s main characters, is uncle to one Ace Merrill, better known as Jack Bauer from Stand By Me.

I was amused at how everyone on set, even Rob Reiner, during the filming of Stand By Me remembers being terrified of Keifer Sutherland. He has a knack for playing psychopaths. Actually, as Wil Wheaton has noted, it's rather odd how true-to-life the futures of the Stand By Me characters are to the actors who played them. A good read if you're a Stand By Me fan/ fan of Wil "Geek-King of the Blogosphere" Wheaton's brand of reverie.

Before I leave "Sun Dog," though, I was amused by the dialogue "tic" King gave Pop Merrill. Pop affixes "what I mean to say is," to a lot of his sentences. At the end, when he's under the spell of the camera and about to be attacked by the dog from Polaroid World, and Kevin and his father burst in and tell him to move it, he says something to the effect of "No! What I mean to say is, I can't!" Good little payoff for something not essential - the kind of fun detail I enjoy.

Okay, so now for "The Body" and Stand By Me.


My Mom took me to see this one when I was about the age of the characters onscreen. I was mortified by all the profanity, or, rather, having to endure it while sitting next to my Mom. I watched it a lot on VHS, though, where it didn't bother me at all. Definitely the first thing I saw where the kids onscreen talked like the kids with whom I searched for my own dead bodies. I MEAN - with whom I played Lazer Tag.

A lot of folks get "religious" about this movie. I don't mean they see it as a gospel message or anything; I mean they brook no dissent/ get kind of mystical about it/ see in it many things that bedazzle and transcend. I can understand. It's a film about powerful childhood nostalgia, regret, reverie, etc. after all, and it features some for-its-time bold departures for child-actors onscreen. They curse, they rage, they scream, they threaten, they cry, etc. Such stories always touch something deep within us.

It's best enjoyed by anyone in that tender world between 13 and 15, I wager, and it helps if you grew up within shouting distance of the 1980s or have/ had parents who knew every song on the soundtrack. For my parents, my listening to this was a welcome change from my usual diet of W.A.S.P. and Iron Maiden cassettes. (It's funny to me, to think of 60s-songs soundtracks like this, or for Dirty Dancing or Good Morning, Vietnam, and how huge they were. No different, I guess, from a movie that comes out these days, loaded with 80s synth-pop or whatever.)

For me, personally, this isn't my favorite "boys adventure" story of King's; I prefer Hearts in Atlantis, Dreamcatcher or It. Those feel more personal to me, more worthy of such prolonged consideration.

Which is not to say either "The Body" or Stand By Me is unworthy or anything like that. Just they didn't hold up for me during this re-read/ re-watch as well as I wanted them to.

The story takes place in Maine, where Gordie would not have a Yankees cap. (Maybe he would, but King would definitely not give him one) The movie moves the action to Oregon, but some marketing exec/ studio-suit decided it would increase the market value to put this atrocity atop Gordie LaChance's head. Screw you, marketing. And RIP, River.

A lot of the trouble I had connecting to it this time around was Corey Feldman. As Teddy, he's the "wild card" of the bunch. I'm not saying he did a bad job; he did fine. But it's just impossible for me to suspend disbelief and embrace the craziness/ rage of any character played by CF.

The fault is mine, I admit freely. Even if the real-life Corey Feldman was plunging a butcher knife into my chest and screaming in my face, I'd be shaking my head, saying 'I just don't buy it, dude, sorry.'

Perhaps a few too many scenes of painful emotional catharsis/ revelation. The kind of thing actors live for but isn't my favorite thing to watch.

The other novella of Full Dark, No Stars is called "Good Marriage." It's fiction inspired by the real-life story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer.

Or, as Dawn calls him, "One Crazy Nerd."

It's a harrowing read, like everything in FD, NS. Great stuff, though, and compare the ending cop/interrogation scene here with the scene from "Apt Pupil," which we'll get to momentarily. One of the fun things about zipping around King's catalog the way I have been is seeing the changes in his writing over the years and noting the consistencies. I'd say the scene at the end of "Good Marriage" (or "Big Driver," for that matter) reads a lot "tighter" than the equivalent scene at the end of "Apt Pupil."

The film adds Joshua Jackson as "the buddy." This character does not appear in the novella.

"Apt Pupil" was very dangerous in the 1980s. I can speak only for myself, I guess, but there was always some dark energy that surrounded this story of the sexual and serial-killer awakening of an all-American boy who discovers and keeps a Pet Nazi (who later keeps him just as much.) I was the same age as the protagonist when I read this, and I was disturbed by all the sexual-awakening stuff most of all. It sits rather uneasily with all the Nazi and killing-hobos stuff.

This time around... I know a lot of hardcore fans may disagree, but it's not my favorite. He mentions (somewhere) how he was criticized for writing about the Holocaust, that, as a non-Jewish person, it wasn't his to write about. He disagreed, saying the act of writing is a "willed understanding." I can understand both sides of that one. When I was growing up, Nazis were used as props - I suppose they still are, to some degree, but there's more sensitivity to their portrayal, I think. Actually, as certain video games come to mind, I'm probably wrong there; you know what sounds good? Backing out of this paragraph altogether.

Maybe it's all the dreams? I've mentioned elsewhere I'm not a particular fan of the many dreams described in King's work. They're out en force, here. I did enjoy (well, "enjoy") the sections relating what the Nazis did to similar (if not equivalent) policies and murders committed on American soil. That came off rather well, and holds up. Reminded me of Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke, which, if you haven't read, you should.

Fun connection to "Shawshank," as Arthur "Denker" refers to having had a "banker who later went to prison for murdering his wife" make all his investments for him.

The movie is still good, though. Less "dangerous," but a better take on the material, maybe? Bryan Singer refers to it as a film about the "tension and danger of adolescent curiosity." A great performance from Ian MacKellen and tho this may sound odd, some damn good lighting. It kept jumping out at me the other night when I watched it.

Brad Renfro was left out of the Oscars's "RIP" montage as he died from a drug overdose. RIP, Brad.

It changes quite a bit: it moves the setting from the 70s to the 80s (though keeps it in Santo Domato, CA) removes the "serial killer awakening" aspect, and dramatically alters the ending. King described both the novel and the ending in this keynote address to the Vermont Library Council back in 1999:

"On the surface, Todd is the perfect California high school kid. Beneath, he's fascinated by the Holocaust and the power wielded by the Nazis; a member of the Trenchcoat Mafia, in fact, without the trenchcoat. After a long (and increasingly psychotic) dance with his pet Nazi, Todd is found out. His response, not shown in the movie which played theaters briefly last year, is to take a high-powered rifle to a nearby freeway, where he shoots at anyone who moves until he is killed. His death is, in fact, what police now sometimes call "blue suicide.""

The movie, however, ends with Todd emerging more-or-less unscathed from the events of the film and heading off to sunny horizons... decidedly more chilling, actually.

~
My favorite of the novella collections? Full Dark, No Stars. It covers some bleak ground, as befitting its title, but the horror of King's later work is more fully realized. The writing is strong. Not that it was weak before, mind you, but there's a maturity to his later work, is all I'm saying.


The Bachman Books: Rage, Roadwork, The Long Walk, The Running Man
Different Seasons: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, The Body, The Breathing Method
Four Past Midnight: The Langoliers, Secret Garden Secret Window *, The Library Policeman, The Sun Dog
Full Dark, No Stars: 1922, Big Driver, Fair Extension, Good Marriage

* I guess I should have mentioned - I'll get to this one once I see the movie. It'll be its own one-off entry.

8 comments:

  1. Those aren't rankings at the very end, there, just the order in which the novellas appear in the respective collection.

    If I were to rank them according to my personal favorites, they'd be...

    TBB: Long Walk, Running Man, Roadwork, Rage
    DS: Rita Hayworth, Breathing Method, Apt Pupil, The Body
    FPM: (not to cop-out, but this is a 4-way tie.)
    FD,NS: Big Driver, 1922, Fair Extension, Good Marriage. (And I'll give "Good Marriage" an A+.)

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  2. On the subject of "Rage":

    I totally understand King's impulse toward removing the novel from publication, but I also kinda hate the fact that he did it. Taking a step like that always feels a bit like giving in to the crazy people, which is too close to validation for my tastes. That said, if I were King, I'd be just as anxious as he is to keep massacres from being committed by people who were working from a template I unwittingly provided them. That'd be a crap outcome to having written a novel.

    Ultimately, though, it's not really that great a book, so I can't get too worked up about it. Plus, all anyone who REALLY wants to read it has to do is hit up a torrent site, or be willing to fork over a few bucks for a used copy. They aren't tough to find.

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  3. On the subject of "Fair Extension":

    That Pennywise theory is intriguing, but I don't think that's who Elvid really is. The methodology is too different.

    HOWEVER, I'd be more than willing to consider the possibility that Elvid could be one of Penny's children, hatched from one of the eggs the Losers were afraid they might have missed stomping into a fine powder. I always figured that if a sequel ever came to be, that was the route to go; "Son of It," or something like that.

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  4. On the subject of "Apt Pupil":

    I think it's a shame that anyone would criticize a writer for writing about the Holocaust despite not being Jewish. I've heard arguments like that before, and they always seem ... well, let's just call them misguided.

    After all, the Holocaust was a crime against all of humanity. It impacted more Jewish people than anyone else, certainly, but saying that only a Jew should write about it is kinda like saying only a Jew can learn from it, and that is simply incorrect.

    Todd, of course, learns all the wrong things.

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  5. And, finally, on the subject of "Roadwork":

    I love that novel. It's one I didn't care for at all the first time I read it, twenty-plus years ago. Rereading it a few years ago when the recession first hit, I was struck by how bizarrely -- and unfortunately -- timely the novel still managed to seem.

    I think a great movie could theoretically be made from the novel, although it'd probably need to be mad by one of those directors who specializes in the filmic tone poem; a Refn, or a Malick, or someone like that.

    Just please, please, PLEASE not Mick Garris.

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  6. Thanks for your comments, Bryant - always good to hear your take on these things.

    "I'd be more than willing to consider the possibility that Elvid could be one of Penny's children, hatched from one of the eggs the Losers were afraid they might have missed stomping into a fine powder."

    Yeah, I agree. I don't think it's Pennywise, per se, (tho that bullet-point list Falseprophet provided is fun food for thought) but there seems to be a DeadLights family tree, or different incarnations/ avatars of some other-dimensional evil. Or something.

    I agree, as well, about the Holocaust. I don't think anything that happens to any earthling on this effed-up third rock from the sun is necessarily off-limits. I can understand certain cultural sensitivities or what not, but yeah the logic behind "only Jews can address the Holocaust" or "only African-Americans can address slavery" or "only women can address sexism," etc., is flawed. I like what King has to say about it, that writing is a willed understanding. I wish more people would comment on the cultural experiences / tragedies of other earthlings, actually, rather than see them exclusively as the provinces of "the other," you know? Maybe we need more of that.

    Yeah, pulling "Rage" does little to prevent massacres/ almost seems like a cop-out. Like I say, too, if the book is ABOUT a hostage situation/ school shoot-em-up, is it really surprising it'll be found among the possessions of those who do such things? Seems about as logical/ effective like re-painting the barn door after the horse is gone.

    Good God, the idea of Terence Malick (or Nicolas Refn) doing Roadwork is inspired. I hadn't put those directors with the material at all, but that'd be wild. I hope your writing that has made the idea circulate in the Collective Unconsciousness and bears fruit...

    Speaking of Mick Garris... I actually Netflixed the '97 The Shining based on that one guy's comments on your blog, and I made it about 30 minutes in. Just screamingly awful - terrible casting, terrible performances, terrible pacing, I can't think of a single thing to praise about it. It fits his King-adaptation score card, which in his case is not a good thing.

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    Replies
    1. I've come to the conclusion -- and this shouldn't surprise me, though for some reason it continually does -- that I simply have a higher standard for movies than a lot of people do. Which sounds like (and may be) a douche-y thing to say, but I can't really make any apologies for it. And for my tastes, I think Mick Garris is simply incompetent as a filmmaker. I also, sadly, think Stephen King is frequently incompetent as a screenwriter/producer.

      That said, I still have the ability to enjoy things for no reason other than that I enjoy them. Love "Maximum Overdrive," for example. That's a movie with no pretension whatsoever; it's the equivalent of getting drunk on PBR, which is at least enjoyable once you've gotten drunk and before you get the hangover. I don't need everything to be a Kubrick movie.

      Like most people, my standards are slippery and inconsistent and probably don't make any real sense to anyone other than myself.

      I also nominate David O. Russell as a third potential "Roadwork" director.

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  7. p.s. re: the effectiveness of Rage being out of print, absolutely. I got a paperback of TBB for like $2 on eBay. I guess he felt/ feels at least he's not actively promoting the product by yanking it, but it still feels like a strange approach to the problem at hand.

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