King's Highway pt. 37: Insomnia

You may have noticed a few design-changes here at DSO. Web design and blog formatting are not my strong suit, as is likely obvious from previous posts, or the gargantuan size of this new cover photo, and/or the endless-scrolling-slash-sprawl of each blog post... one of these days, I'll figure it all out. I look around at other blogspots, and they all look nice and organized, so I know it can be done. But in the meantime:

This is the cover to the paperback I have. This book in particular has many alternate designs/ covers.
The original hardcover Viking edition was issued with dust jackets in two complementary designs. This was the first,
and this was the second. Incidentally, it is this second version that I more frequently see in used bookstores. Ye book designers, take note.

The novel begins with Ralph Roberts, a widower/ "I-guy" narrator familiar to many a King story, witnessing his friend Ed Deepneau get sideswiped by a truck, at which point Ed lunges from his car and accuses the trucker of trafficking baby corpses under his tarp. Ralph intervenes, and Dorrance, a quiet, odd man always reading books of poetry, (and who in the words of Bev Vincent from his Road to the Dark Tower book (which I haven't read) "wanders through the novel like deus ex machina personified") warns Ralph "not to get mixed up in long-term business."

A beginning custom-designed to hook me. Starts off with a bang, and gets my Huh? Must know more RPMs a-revvin'.
After Ralph helps apprehend Ed after the savage beating of Ed's wife, he begins to suffer from the kind of chronic insomnia where you start to see things unseen by others: "colorful manifestations of life-force surrounding people (auras), and diminutive white-coated beings that he calls "little bald doctors", based on their appearance." (from the wiki) He perceives other planes of reality (other levels of the Tower, more on that below) and their influence upon the "real" world.

He finds that Lois Chasse, who is referred to as "Our Lois" a few too many times for this reader's liking, is also losing sleep/ seeing these auras. Insomnia also bestows them with the ability to "drink" from other people's auras (as inexhaustible as the oceans) and get bursts of energy/ reverse aging. (They also develop the ability to fire magic missiles.) Their insomnia is induced by "long-timers," i.e. those from a different level of the Tower, where time flows much differently: Lochesis and Clothos, the two little bald doctors, who serve The Purpose, and Atropos, an agent of the Random.

"Ed is a blank card, up for grabs by either Random or Purpose. Only Short-Timers like Ralph and Lois can oppose Atropos. Dorrance tells them that the work of the higher universe has 'almost completely come to a stop as both those of the Random and the Purpose turn to mark your progress.'"
This Random/ Purpose stuff is the heart of the mystery of the novel, and King's meditations are best discovered en route and on one's own. For our purposes here, it's enough to know that this struggle also involves our old friend the Crimson King, who continues to seek the destruction of the Tower/ mastery of... well, I can't say, really, as I don't know yet. But the struggle of the Dark Tower has spilled over - not for the first or last time - into Derry, Maine.

(I forgot to mention - this takes place in Derry, ME.)

With the help of Clothos and Lachesis, Ralph and Lois thwart Ed's plan, and the Tower, presumably, still stands.


The aforementioned Dorrance as aided and abetted by his ka-tet companion Dr. Wyzer (who used to be "Dr. Wyze but now is older and Wyzer") - fascinating folks who apparently know more about this short-term/ long-term business than they let on. The way they appear/ are used here makes me think they'll be back. (Or, if they do not, King is keeping some Dorrance/ Wyzer tale-to-come in his backpocket.)

Similarly, Patrick Danville, the boy whose survival is so paramount to stave off the end of the omniverse that the folks who occupy the penthouse suites of the Tower send Clotho and Lachesis into Ralph and Lois' lives, plays a pivotal role in the Dark Tower series, but I won't know it til I get there. All he does here is sit by his Mom and draw Roland, the Crimson King, and the Tower, near the end.

Susan Day, the lady whose imminent speech at the Derry Convention Center is the source of all the friction in town, is not to be confused with the Partridge Family/ L.A. Law alum:

Tho I wondered throughout if the big reveal was going to be that they were one and the same.
I was criticized in a creative writing class I took as an undergrad for not allowing a female character to "speak" in one of my stories. That story was about how break-ups and divorces leave this wake of silence in the men's lives affected by them, so for me, it was a sound construction choice. Nevertheless, I added a section where the main character discovers a letter from his ex, and maybe it improved it, I don't know. Anyway, I thought of that here, as Susan Day is discussed/ fretted over/ planned for/ causes so much upheaval, but we only get a long-shot: a snippet of her speech and that's that. I didn't mind. Maybe the advice we get as undergrads isn't so much something to live by as it is a jumping-off point. But I always chafe at the idea of approaching a story not by what works for it but what works for the agenda one-thinks-all-stories-should-promote.

Lesson learned: never take advice on women's-voices from a professor who habitually wore mini-skirts with flame-red panties to class. Or, always. (One or the other, I am sure.)

And, Atropos, Clotho, and Lachesis, the long-timers. Complicated characters. Ralph's rage at the latter two sometimes come across as a bit forced or unnecessary. Not that it's is unjustified, just it slows things down in spots.

Ralph names them after these three ladies from Greek mythology, the Moirai, aka "the three fates." Curiously, these figures appear more or less the same across a variety of cultures. Collective unconscious at work? Or evidence of a pre-Ice-Age civilization that seeded the world? Both? Neither? ALIENS?
They also play a rather pivotal role (as The Kindly Ones) in the end of Gaiman et al's The Sandman.
They almost always appear as female. I thought it was a great choice for King to turn them into men, here, (well, not that he's saying Clotho et al. are the Three Fates, that's just what comes to mind for Ralph and we see it via his perspective) considering the gender-concerns of the narrative.

Atropos, particularly, is written very well. Petty, creepy, mysterious, gross. He is described at one point as "the joker in the deck." I thought that was a great metaphor; to anyone who's ever sought meaning in someone's random death or undeserved/ unearned misfortune, it makes sense. The joker was drawn.

From DeviantArt by dger-dem
He also collects things from those he marks:

(Ralph's) feet struck a cardboard box and knocked it over, spilling out a jumble of stuff: mismatched gloves and socks, a couple of old paperbacks, a pair of Bermuda shorts, a screwdriver with smears of maroon stuff - maybe paint, maybe blood - on its steel shaft... Rings and magazines; keychains and umbrellas; hats and glasses; rattles and radios. They looked like different things, but Ralph thought they were really the same thing: the faint, sorrowing voices of people who had been written out of the script in the middle of the second act while they were still learning their lines for the third, people who had been unceremoniously hailed off before their work was done or their obligations fulfilled, people whose only crime had been to be born in the Random... and to have caught the eye of the madman with the rusty scalpel.


The place was more than a museum or a packrat's lair, Ralph realized; it was a profane church where Atropos took his own version of Communion - grief for bread, tears for wine.

There are, as Kev notes in that review linked-to below, some interesting parallels and connections with It - this bit in the underground, quasi-dimensional lair of Atropos reminded me of the Losers Club's descent into the sewers to fight It. "I can taste your fear on my tongue!"

I should mention Fringe before we move on. People have often made the connection between the Observers and the Watchers from the Marvel Universe, and I understand further revelations re: their purpose to Fringe obscure the connection a little, but I can't help think JJ Abrams took a bit of inspiration for them from King, here.

I always cast around for good book review to link to for these things, and I agree with Kev's general take on Insomnia, particularly his verdict that this is a difficult novel to assess but not a difficult one to access. Two bits from his review are worth reproducing here:

"If the opening of the novel is a rumination on age and death, the book now becomes an exploration of purpose."


"King approaches the pro-choice/pro-life issue judiciously, never letting his authorial voice take a side. Much of Insomnia tackles contemporary topics - feminism, spousal abuse, and homophobia among them (this latter most interesting, specifically addressing the murder of Adrian Mellon in It) - without allowing the novel to become mired in them, broaching them only in service to the plot. One interesting sequence involves Ralph attempting to save a group of feminists who resist him because he is a man; later, they are decimated by a pro-life extremist they trusted because she is a woman... the issues are not black and white, and King never seems to be soapboxing; Insomnia is served well by showing, not telling."

This last point is important, I think. Before I started reading this, a friend cautioned me that I wouldn't like it "because of the politics." Presumably, he thought I'd feel King was being preachy, or proceeding from false premises, but I didn't get that from this at all. I can think of few more hot-button topics than abortion, so it'd be easy/ perhaps-tempting to do, but I agree with the above. King shows us crazies as well as reasonable folks on both sides of the issue. When it comes down to it, Ralph Roberts says it best: he might not agree with abortion but he damn sure agrees with protecting a woman and her child from getting murdered over it.

And it even has Connie Chung! My father-in-law will be pleased, if he reads it.
I was worried one side of the debate would be privileged over the other, but outside of the pro-abortion people all being described as "intelligent, stunning-looking" and the anti-abortion people all being described as redneck toothless crazies (a bit leading, tho one would hardly notice these days, where it's done every night on the news, for God's sake), I think reasonable perspectives are given all around and I doubt anyone will feel insulted, regardless of his/her beliefs.

A few years back I finally got around to seeing The Gift with Cate Blanchett. I'd heard from friends for years that Oh yeah Katie Holmes gets naked in it. (Presumably, this was meant to entice me, but I don't really have the hots for Katie Holmes, I have to say. She's obviously not unattractive, but two words: Joey Potter, i.e. a creation, like mustard gas, designed to inflict pain and agitation) But, no one told me this happened at the very end of the film, so up until that point, she keeps appearing naked, but only as a corpse. So, until I got to the non-corpse nudity, I kept thinking, Man, I've got some really sick friends...

I felt something similar while reading Insomnia (and most particularly Rose Madder, for which I received the same caveat) - at what exactly did my friends think I'd balk? Sympathizing with women getting the shit beat out of them? Wanting their abusers to face justice/ get what's coming to them? Promoting the idea that women's shelters should be protected from crazies/ vengeful exes? As I said above, I'm sure they figured I'd think King was being too preachy (and not to put anyone on the spot; this particular friend doesn't even read this blog, the bastard), but just the same, for future reference, folks: Bryan McMillan is 100% and unwaveringly on the side of people who don't bomb abortion clinics, beat their wives, or plot mass destruction of innocents to make any political point. (And he remains in the "Naked dead chicks aren't something to ogle" camp.)

The townsfolk of Twin Peaks might disagree with me, but that's okay.
Anyway, to get back to the first quoted bit, above, I made note of this section from Chapter 17:

No buzzers went off, no lights flashed, no orderlies came sprinting down the hallway, pushing the crash-wagon ahead of them. No one cried "Stat!" over the loudspeaker. Death was too common a visitor here for such things. Ralph guessed that it was not welcome, even under such circumstances as these, but it was familiar and accepted... He had died with the dignity that simple, expected things often hold. One or two moments of consciousness, accompanied by a slightly wider perception of what was going on around him, and then poof. Pack up all my care and woe, blackbird, bye-bye.

That comes at about the halfway part of the book, maybe a little more. But it seemed to be a good statement-of-purpose. This is a novel that looks death in the face, how to accept it, why to accept it, and, along the way, we get ruminations on the purpose of life/ the survival of children, and taking delight in these other temporary-containers-of-DNA with whom we share this sliver of spacetime.

Whom do you serve, the Purpose or the Random? Or the Crimson King? Good stuff. All of these threads intersect in the last thirty pages or so, and this reader was taken by surprise by the poignancy of the ending. Very sweet, sad, and satisfactory; not ashamed to say some tears were shed. (Had I known this, I wouldn't have finished reading it on the way home from work. Luckily, in Chicago, some dude sniffling/ getting teary-eyed over a novel is nothing compared to the sideshow from other commuters.)

- The way info is delivered/ deliberately-truncated to keep the reader on his or her toes is a tad irritating. As a result, I didn't really know what to make of several sections (the goo/ bugs around the civic center? Ralph's bomb/forearm? Some other bits.) But this is probably all cleared up with a re-read. (See KING'S HIGHWAY 2030: BRYAN RE-READS ALL THE KINGS! And then gets kicked out of the house by his long-suffering wife...)


- At one point, the Rosicrucians are mentioned. I will never be able to see or hear that word without thinking of William Cooper, who was so moved by the esoteric meaning of Bette Midler's "The Rose" that he devoted something like three hours of his old radio show to playing it over and over, whispering reverently at its beauty and depth.

Incidentally, after I made my way through the 40 hours of the show dubbed "Mystery Babylon," I wrote the guys who administer the site now to see if they sent out a bumper sticker, "I survived Mystery Babylon" or something. No response. Come on guys, not even a keychain? Lots of fascinating stuff in there, to be sure, (not the least of which: it was herein I discovered Dungeon, Fire and Sword) but taken with a silo of salt.)
- Save the Child, Save the Tower put me in mind of...

from Heroes, before it went screamingly-yet-so-boringly off the rails. (With apologies to any of its later-seasons fans)
- Auras have always fascinated me. A so-called psychic once told me mine has a "rosy-pink glow." I can't find a clip for it or I'd put it here, but something similar was said to Norm on Cheers once, to which he responded, "Well, I eat right." That always cracks me up. Wish I'd thought to reply the same.

- Ralph Roberts will return (briefly) in Bag of Bones, and we see Mike Hanlon and Ben Hanscomb (only mentioned, as the architect of the Derry Convention Center) from It make an appearance here.

- Someone posted this over at imdb. At first I thought it was the actual cast for a film I simply had no idea existed, but it's just dream-casting. Some bizarre choices. (Apollo from BSG as Joe Wyzer? He'd be a more interesting choice for Ed Deepneau, I think... though not my first.)

The appearance of Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins on this list makes me think its author may have just watched Stepbrothers before making it. Although Mary doesn't quite match the "large Spanish eyes" given to Lois in the novel, she actually would really work as Lois, I think. Are you listening, Hollywood? If so, greenlight this! And DREAMCATCHER 2: KILL, DUDDITS, KILL!
Rose Madder


King's Highway pt. 36: It

"This book is gratefully dedicated to my children. My mother and my wife taught me how to be a man. My children taught me how to be free.

NAOMI RACHEL KING, at fourteen;
Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.

Not only is that a nice dedication, but it's a useful sentiment / mission statement to keep in mind as you make your way through these 1138 pages.

Wraparound cover to the 25th anniversary edition
From the FearNet review: "It marks a deliberate shift in King's career, a stated conscious decision to sum up everything he had to say about children and monsters and functioning as a statement of intent as to what he hoped to accomplish with his later novels: explorations of adults and the dual natures of creativity and creation.  It is a massive undertaking, not only addressing and expanding upon the themes in his earlier fiction, but also transcending those themes, uncovering and creating something new."

And how! Here's another good review.

Chances are, if you're reading this, you know what It is all about, so I won't devote too much space to the plot. For those who don't know, though, here is Library Journal's summary: "Moving back and forth between 1958 and 1985, the story tells of seven children in a small Maine town who discover the source of a series of horrifying murders. Having conquered the evil force once, they are summoned together 27 years later when the cycle begins again."

That's all you really need to know, though one of the top-rated comments on Its Amazon page goes a bit further:

"It is two stories being told at once. One is the story of their childhood, of their first encounter with Pennywise the Clown, their troubles with the local bullies, the impact of It upon their lives, their own personal struggles, and (Its) eventual defeat. This is told from the beginning of the book to the near end of it. At the same time, the story of the return to Derry, of the research done to see what It was, the memories that were now urging to return, and subsequent events that followed which I won't spoil here. Both timelines alternate in their tellings to fit one another perfectly, even if not in perfect chronological order, and they're even further juiced with quick points of time long before their own, dipping into what else It has been up to. This construction is utterly beautiful in how it's placed, and completely builds the story up for all its plot points and climax."

I have to mostly-agree with that last sentence. Whatever else one might say of it, It is beautifully structured. (These pronouns are going to screw me up; apologies in advance) The events of 1957-1958 flow seamlessly with the events of 1985-1986, and the intermittent sections (narrated by Mike Hanlon) about Derry's past complement them perfectly, adding depth and nuance. Their collective amnesia about their interactions with It works to the story's advantage, as well; the reader discovers as they re-discover. (I also quite like how the adults all more or less ignore what goes on in their town every twenty-seven years; it adds to the children's feeling of loneliness and solidarity) Although it's one long-ass novel, it never feels bloated.

"Its true form as perceived by the human eye is that of a female spider that houses Its essence: namely writhing orange lights (termed "Deadlights"), looking directly into which can either kill a person or drive them insane."
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And the only way to defeat an evil spider/clown that feeds on fear ("fear salts the meat") is to give yourself 100% to your inner child/ utilize that magical imagination that only truly exists when you're a kid. As one other Amazon reviewer notes, "What is scarier: Pennywise or the reality of what happens to us once we leave childhood behind?"

But in some ways, of course, the reality is we want to leave childhood behind. It can just as easily be viewed as the terrifying deep from which we're relieved to escape, a Maurice Sendak pit of horrors, colonization, and sublimated panic.

And speaking of Sendak, It melds the sensibilities of  The Goonies with Where the Wild Things Are. At the same time that childhood/ innocence/ imagination is a comfort and that the solidarity formed during that time endures in a way like no other, it's also the source of all our terror. You are never more vulnerable than when you are a child, but, It argues, perhaps you're never better-equipped to deal with what life can throw at you, either.

As The Turtle tells Bill in the last act, "What can be done when you're eleven can often never be done again."

This site never fails to crack me up. Worth enlarging for a better view. All clowns are the minotaur.

I originally planned for It to be the last stop on the King's Highway. (All roads lead to IT, or some such thing.) But as it introduces a rather important character/ concept to the Dark Tower series, it was bumped up the queue on account of...

At the time of publication, Maturin (aka "The Turtle") had not been introduced in the Dark Tower.
I was 13 when I read It. It was the first new King book I'd read. (I remember a radio campaign on 92PRO-FM and WHJY, but I can find no internet evidence of this. I can't be making that up, can I? Perhaps it's the search terms I'm using.) I recall my friends being amused at how quickly and steadily my bookmark moved centimeter-by-centimeter from front to back over a succession of study halls. (Maybe they weren't even amused, actually. Speed-reading is a useful skill to have, but it's a bit like being the guy on the X-Men whose mutant power is... well, speed-reading.) The Turtle is introduced during the Ritual of Chud.
No, not this 80s "classic." But bonus points if you knew what the letters stood for without being told.
From StrangeHorizons: "This Himalayan tradition, the Ritual of Chud, requires the shaman to meet the taelus, the shape-changer, face to face. After the holy man and the monster each stick their tongues out and overlap them, "you both bit in all the way so you were sort of stapled together, eye to eye" (675), Bill explains. The two then engage in a riddle contest."

(More riddling! Blaine the Mono would be happy.)

Anyway, so there I am in 8th grade, reading this, and suddenly the main hero mentally "bites tongues" with the main villain. Like something out of Marvel's Secret Wars, they then rocket through spacetime towards something called "the Deadlights" beyond all conception of reality. Before they get there, Bill speaks with a giant, cosmic turtle who, it is revealed, created the universe once by vomiting it up. He tells Bill, basically, Nice to meet you and all, but you better get your head in the game, and I take no part in these affairs...

And, then he's done. When Bill, Ritchie and Pennywise Chud-it-out for a second time, Pennywise tells them the turtle is dead. (But, he isn't, don't worry.) And that's that. Wait, what? Yep. I remember thinking 'What the hell is this cosmic turtle stuff?' when I read it in the 80s. And probably would have this time, as well, had I not been reading the Dark Towers. Still, this is kind of... stoney stuff.

Speaking of being stoned, I got this image for Turtle Island (aka North America according to Gary Snyder and others) from a site for "Uniting the Indigenous Peoples to Create the Indigo Bridge." More power to them and all (sincerely) but damn! BLAAOW! I think Rusted Root's CD sales just shot up from my typing those words.
So, we don't really learn much about the Turtle here except that he exists, floats in the space beyond all rational meaning, maybe created the universe while he was hungover, and, you know, maybe he just sort of died. If I sound critical or mocking of this, let me also say I look forward to finding out more about the Turtle in the last few Dark Tower books, but it's clear it's a benevolent force that, despite what it tells Bill, does help King protagonists from time to time. I kind of love the cosmic randomness of the Turtle's introduction and would have it no other way.
Next, one of King's most popular creations, Pennywise the Clown aka IT. There is a good summation of what exactly it is at the SK wiki. But "evil shape-shifting clown" works as a placeholder.

Part of Pennywise's popularity is due to Tim Curry's performance in the TV adaptation.

Funny, disturbing, memorable. (And that clip above is rather shockingly suggestive, isn't it? Creepy.)

A performance equal to Dennis Hopper's "Frank" from Blue Velvet.

Not that I'm comparing it to Blue Velvet.
Overall, the TV adaptation is a failure, I think, but we'll get to that momentarily. It has its moments, to be sure, but it is only a dim echo of the novel. Tim Curry's Pennywise, though, seems to have settled comfortably into the collective unconscious, another constellation next to Cujo, Christine, Children of the Corn, and Red Rum.

Why, h-h-h-hi, B-b-b-b-b-b-ill!
As I mentioned when I covered "The Library Policeman," Pennywise may or may not be related to some other King villains. (Mr. Linoge from Storm of the Century? I'd like to see a Deadlights family tree.)

And The Loser's Club, our heroes.

Top row: Ben, Stan, Ritchie, Pennywise (photobomb!) and Eddie. Bottom row: Mike, Beverly, and Stuttering Bill.
As kids.
All richly-drawn and detailed, and each serves the plot/ brings a unique weapon to the fight against It.

Guest cameo: Richard "Dick" Halloran: A chef in Derry Army E Company. He's only in it for a hot minute, saving Mike Hanlon's father at the fire at the Black Spot. I'd forgotten all about this (and if I ever learned it to begin with, I forgot that, too) so this was a pleasant surprise. And if you're asking yourself Who the hell is Dick Halloran? you're going to kick yourself once you find out. You almost wish you could reach in the novel and tell him to never under any circumstances accept a job in Colorado.


- Okay, this came out in 1986.

Here's the cover of the copy I had back then.
Here's the copy I got this year for $3.50 at Myopic.(The Shakespeare and Co. of Chicago! The That's Entertainment of Used Bookstores Everywhere!)
Open to the publication page of this last copy and what do you see?

First Signet Printing 1981?

I have it on good authority that "there must have been some misprints; the novel was unquestionably NOT published in 1981... an excerpt from it -- called "The Bird and the Album" -- WAS published (in the program for that year's World Fantasy Convention, which was called A Fantasy Reader) in 1981.  So maybe that's where the confusion comes from. I've got three copies of the book, and they all say 1986.  So if yours says 1981, odds are you are the owner of a potentially valuable misprint."

Or, I have one that was published on a different level of the Dark Tower, which is the theory I prefer. I'm tempted to write 'PROPERTY OF JAKE CHAMBERS' on the inside cover.

To complicate matters, go to Amazon and they list the book as being published in 1987! Get it together, internet.

- The band Shark Puppy from Duma Key is not a real band, but King quotes one of their "songs" a few times in the text. If you look at the copyright page at the beginning of the book, you see: Permission to use lyrics from "Dig" by Shark Puppy (R. Tozier, W. Denbrough), granted by Bad Nineteen Music, copyright 1986. R. Tozier and W. Denbrough are, of course, Ritchie and Stuttering Bill. Nice touch.

- Who wouldn't watch a 'Tales from Derry' ongoing show? I sure would.


Fans of short reads (or short blogs) will not be pleased... but, for what it's worth, the book reads pretty quickly. It is definitely the proverbial "page-turner." I was on page 800-something before I realized Crikey, I'm on page 800-something! 

"Beep Beep, Ritchie!" appears in this novel around 100,000 times. I'd like to think whomever made this clip below is commenting on that.

Along those lines, although it didn't bother me, Bill's stuttering might be a stumbling block for some readers. It's an essential part of his character, so I wouldn't change a thing, but the stutters plus the 'Beep Beep's really add to the page count.

Henry Bowzer, the bully/psycho of the book, is one of those flush-the-psychic-toilet-type villains. Everything negative is loaded up and dumped on him. An Alpha Male of racism, anti-semitism, etc. He does come off as truly menacing, though, which is no small feat when you're sharing bad-guy-center-stage with Pennywise. But for my personal taste, Henry was a bit overdone.

And, well, let's just look it straight in the face. At the end of the book, after the final confrontation/ egg-stomping with It, the Losers Club loses its way in the sewers. Beverly steps up to the plate to save them. And by that, I mean, she has sex with everyone, one at a time. Everyone settles in for a nice old-fashioned romantic sewer gangbang.

King's explanation: "I wasn't really thinking of the sexual aspect of it. The book dealt with childhood and adulthood --1958 and Grown Ups. The grown ups don't remember their childhood. None of us remember what we did as children--we think we do, but we don't remember it as it really happened. Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood. It's another version of the glass tunnel that connects the children's library and the adult library. Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues."

Strange Horizons' take: "Beverly, the only girl in the circle, presents a special case; she employs no material talisman, but the power of her awakening sexuality. When the circle threatens to fall apart after the first defeat of It, causing the children to lose their way in the tunnels beneath the Barrens, Bev, like a priestess, recreates the bond by coupling with each of the boys. King here seems to allude to the familiar magical motif of a virgin sacrifice, but again he sets the image in a context of personal spiritual power, not the rituals of an organized cult. "There was power in this act, all right," Bev reflects, "a chain-breaking power that was blood-deep" (1082). When she experiences her first orgasm (with Ben), "she feels her power suddenly shift to him; she gives it gladly and goes with it" (1084), forging the necessary connection."

Samuel L. Jackson's take:

I really don't know what to say about this one. I guess there are aspects of both explanations that make sense to me, but at the end of the day, this still strikes me as wrong. Not in the won't someone please think of the children sense, but in the not-sure-if-this-actually-works sense. This sequence is the only thing (not counting the random wtf-ness of The Turtle) that keeps It from being an unreserved masterpiece. (Though really, how could you put it up against anything that doesn't have a cosmic turtle/ pre-teen sewer gangbang? It's a category of one.) But flippancy aside, it truly is both a remarkably well-constructed novel and a wholly absorbing read.

I wonder, actually, why it's never been targeted by angry groups, of any variety (it's easy to imagine both hardcore feminists and hardcore offended-about-un-Christian-values/communism uniting on this front, something as rare as the transit of the Venus). Not even so much why but how. (shrugs)

(I'd love it if Chris Columbus revealed this was his original idea for the ending for The Goonies. If I were him, I'd have been telling that joke since the late 80's.)


Like The Stand, but even more-so, this suffers from an attempt to PG-ify definitely-R-rated material. (Hell, X-rated: unsurprisingly, the filmmakers chose not to portray the tweener sewer get-down in their adaptation.) Whereas Pennywise, as aforementioned, comes across in all his lunatic glory, Henry Bowzer does not. This was a time on American TV where you could still use "the n-word" if you put it in the mouth of a racist, but even so, Henry's effectiveness is nullified somewhat.

That's perhaps the problem. Excising the material of anything not-ready-for-prime-time fatally injures the story. (Although this:

is very funny to me.)

The casting is good (I remember being truly surprised by John Ritter in this back in 1990; I'd only ever seen him in Three's Company and Real Men); the direction is fine. Excepting the above, everything hums along fine for the first hour or so. So what ruins it? Basically, this:

Not only does it look cheesy as hell, but it ret-cons the whole damn story. All it takes is a couple of rocks to kill It? What the hell you so worried about, then, Losers? And without any of the Ritual of Chud stuff, what are we to make of the scary clown suddenly being this spider-creature? Just a terrible filmmaking choice. I don't know if they ran out of time/ money or what, but damn. I sympathize. I'm curious as hell as to how Cary Fukanada plans to pull it off.

Finally, I should mention that Jonathan Brandis, the actor who played Stuttering Bill, committed suicide at the age of 27. From his wiki: "Paul Petersen, president of A Minor Consideration—an organization that deals with issues affecting child actors—stated, 'Speculations as to the underlying cause of this tragedy are exactly that: speculations. It serves no purpose to leap to conclusions for none of us will really know what led Jonathan to his decision to take his life.'" True enough, so I won't offer any. Just my condolences.

RIP, buddy; you were a good Stuttering Bill.
He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.



King's Highway pt. 35: Backroads and Mist

We have reached the point in our trail guide where we diverge from the Dark Tower series for an extended foray into other King works.

First up, we return to

for another look at "The Mist." I first covered this one here, but it has the following connection to the Dark Tower mythos:

"..the cause of the Mist is alluded to be a tear between universes, similar to the Todash Darkness, a concept explored in the series, both of which supposedly renders its inhabitants "blind" and contains horrible creatures which prey on them. Additionally, several creatures described are physically similar to some of those shown in the series. In the film adaption, David Drayton can be seen painting a portrait of Roland in the opening scene."

Totally missed this, the first time around, how fun. I wonder what people who noticed this but didn't recognize the gunslinger make of this? i.e. "Establishing shot of main character, painting some kind of Clint Eastwood/ fantasy world pastiche..."
So, I guess The Arrowhead Project, alluded to but never explained in the text, is some kind of military attempt to harness the power of Thinnies? Close enough, at any rate. But, as so often happens with such attempts, something went awry and unleashed the strange beasts of this Todash Darkness? (Something I haven't gotten to yet, so I won't worry about it.)

This remains a quick and entertaining read. My impressions of it didn't change much, but in the same way something like The Birds is even more entertaining when you bring Freud/ Oedipus into it, "The Mist" works even better when you project Dark Tower onto it.

A comment on The Stephen King "Goremet" Book Club post re: the Dark Tower "road-map" brought "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" to my attention as a Dark Tower tie-in.

I didn't comment on this story in my original post on Skeleton Crew, but it's a fun read. Another Castle Rock adventure!
Both the title and the content brought Wind in the Willows to mind.
The plot for this is fairly straightforward. Mrs. Todd, one of Castle Rock's "summer people," (i.e. not a year-round Maine resident) is a student of short-cuts and backroads. She strikes up a conversation/ friendship with Homer Buckland, the caretaker of the property she and her husband rent in Castle Rock, about shaving off time/ distance on the commute to Bangor. Homer accompanies on one such journey, where she flies through ominous backroads where the trees seem to swat at them as they drive underneath. With each short-cut, she seems to grow younger and younger. At the story's end, she has long disappeared, and Homer is seen getting into a car with a woman in her teens, off for points unknown.

The connection to the Dark Tower is (potentially) in the backroads. Mrs. Todd is accessing a network of "thinnies" in her short-cuts. I don't think she is alluded to in the Dark Towers to come, but I like to think of her and Homer, rocketing in-between the worlds on an omniversal road trip. (Additionally, the creatures she scrapes off her windshield and grill bear some resemblance to Dark Tower/ creatures of the Mist)

I quite like the following passages from the story:

- There's something powerful about knowing the shortest way, even if you take the longer way because you know your mother-in-law is sitting home. getting there quick is often for the birds, although no one holding a Massachusetts driver's license seems to know it. But knowing how to get there quick - or even knowing how to get there a way that the person sitting beside you don't know... that has power.

- Because there is no ultimate blue ribbon. There is zero, and there is eternity, and there is mortality, but there is no ultimate.

- Olympus must be a glory to the eyes and the heart, and there are those who crave it and those who find a clear way to it, mayhap, but I know castle Rock like the back of my hand and I could never leave it for no shortcuts where the roads may go; in October the sky over the lake is no glory but it is passing fair, with those big white clouds that move so slow; I sit here on the bench, and think about 'Phelia Todd and Homer Buckland, and I don't necessarily wish I was where they are... but I still wish I was a smoking man.

Amen, King's-Reoccurring Constantly-Quitting-Smoking-Character, Amen.

Next, we circle back to 'Salem's Lot, to re-acquaint ourselves with Father Callahan.

Played by James Gallery in the original TV adaptation and by Zefram Cochran in the remake, Father Callahan will play a major part in the Dark Towers yet to come. All we need to remind ourselves, now, is that at the end of Salem's Lot, rather than kill him, the vampire Barlow forces the faith-wavering priest to drink his blood, thus cursing him to walk between the worlds/ live the life of the undying.

Finally, I noticed "The Reploids" is listed among the major works connected to The Dark Tower. I don't know how major of a work it is; it's only ever been published in the anthology book Night Visions 5.

Google-image searching it only brings up images from Megaman.
But it, too, is a fun read. America tunes into The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (1989) but instead of Johnny pantomiming his golf swing and making fun of Doc's crazy-shirt, what America gets is some guy named Ed Paladin. Ed has never heard of Johnny Carson but acts like he belongs there, even calling out to Ed McMahon by name. He is interrogated by the cops for trespassing/ suspicion of kidnapping America's favorite late-night talk show host. The story ends with the cops discovering the currency in his wallet is different. The Fed Reserve Notes are blue and the one-dollar-bill has a picture of James Madison instead of George Washington. Roll credits.

Its connection to the Dark Tower is only that Ed Paladin appears to be from one of the worlds Father Callahan mentions traveling through in the yet-to-be-blogged Dark Tower V: Wolves of Calla, a world distinguishable by different colors/ Presidents on its US currency.(I keep waiting for President Chadbourne to get mentioned somewhere else. JULY 2013 EDIT: "Under the Dome" would be perfect!)

'It is neither believed nor disbelieved. It is simply part of the weird Godhead mantra that made up the accelerating flow of events and experience as the century neared its end.'