The Twilight Zone: The Hunt

It's been awhile since I did one of these TZTs. I hope to get a few more of them up over the course of 2019. 

A couple of folks have asked when I'm going to do something with the new Twilight Zone currently airing on CBS Access. I definitely look forward to seeing it, and when I do I'll be happy to set a place for it with the others. Whenever they announce a release date for Star Trek: Picard I'll take the All Access plunge. (Last time I did so - for the NFL playoffs - I thought great I'll finally watch Discovery - and ended up watching like 25 episodes of The Price Is Right instead. Go figure.)

For tonight, thought, let's have a look at an episode I've loved for many years:

Aired January 26th, 1962

"An old man and a hound dog named Rip off for an evening's pleasure in quest of raccoon. Usually, these evenings end with one tired old man, one battle-scarred hound dog and one or more extremely dead raccoons, but as you may suspect, that will not be the case tonight. These hunters won't be coming home from the hill. They're headed for the backwoods... of the Twilight Zone."

Hyder and Rachel Simpson are living out their twilight years in an unnamed mountain community where they've lived their whole lives. Over supper, Rachel asks Hyder not to go hunting that night as she has been seeing signs of ill portent all week: blood on the moon, weird birds, etc. He tells her not to worry; he'll be fine.

A raccoon that might've given Old Dan and Little Ann a run for their money leads Hyder and Rip out onto a log over a river with a fast undercurrent. First Rip then Hyder fall into the water and don't resurface.

Hyder and Rip wake up on the side of the river. Worried about what Rachel's going to say about all this, Hyder walks home. As he nears his house, he sees his neighbors digging a hole. They resolutely ignore him when he asks what they think they're doing digging a hole on his property, so he responds in the traditional manner:

He softens, though, once he learns they're digging a grave, and one of them is a little careless with the smaller of the two coffins.

"Have a little care!"
"It's just a dog."
"Not to some folks."

Hyder starts to realize he and Rip didn't survive the hunt once he gets inside and sees his wife in her funeral outfit and when the pastor and pallbearers don't answer his questions.

He follows the throng outside but is puzzled by a fence he does not remember running alongside the road. ("I don't memorize ever seeing this fence" he tells Rip. Rip inwardly rolls his eyes.) They walk along until they come to a gate. A man steps out from behind it and asks Hyder a bunch of questions, before confirming Hyder's suspicions that he has indeed reached the clearing at the end of the path.

"Then I take you would aim at being St. Peter?"
"I keep the gate; that's a fact."

Hyder's about to enter the gates of heaven when he's told he can't bring Rip. No Rip? What kind of heaven is this? This is folks heaven, the man replies; dog heaven's up the road a ways. Without hesitation, Hyder says no thank you. ("Any place that's too highfalutin for Rip is too fancy for me.") The man tries to persuade him otherwise, to no avail. Failing to entice him inside, he gives what sounds like good advice: don't be rash, neighbor, the stakes are eternity; why don't you just sit down and think it over for awhile?

Which he does.

As he waits, another man appears, and this one knows his and Rip's names before Hyder has to tell him. When he tells them he's there to bring them to heaven, Hyder repeats what he told that fella up the road: he has no intention of going anywhere that Rip's not welcome to walk in beside him. The man grows quite concerned - you didn't get messed up with nobody in there, did you? When Hyder says it would be one hell of a place to settle down for eternity with no dogs and no raccoon hunting, the man tells him he isn't far wrong; that place was hell.  

Good thing Rip was there or Hyder might have been tricked. "A man?

Well, he'll walk right into Hell with both eyes open... but even the devil can't fool a dog."

"Travelers to unknown regions would be well advised to take along the family dog. He could just save you from entering the wrong gate. At least, it happened that way once in a mountainous area... of the Twilight Zone."

And off they go to heaven. The End.

The Twilight Zone Vortex speaks for both sides of the fanbase on this one in its review: "Good intentions but the finished product is an incredibly flawed episode. The pacing is slow, the direction tiresome, and the premise derivative. (However) many fans have warm memories of this episode. One such admirer was fellow Twilight Zone writer George Clayton Johnson who regards it as one of his favorite episodes. "With this story, Earl brings a southern country sensibility to The Twilight Zone that is American to the core," Johnson said in an interview, "which assures us that being simple is not being stupid…the story has such a classic feeling that one is tempted to believe that Hamner may not have made the story up but instead borrowed it from some ancient book of folk tales…It has stuck in my mind like fishhooks."

Mine, too. I first saw this when I was 15 or so, with my own dog (good ol' Bandit, R.I.{P. buddy) by my side. Did we used to watch The Twilight Zone together? It'd make a good story, but I don't think we ever had a serious ritual of it. He used to just come in and lay down near me when I was watching anything. Anyway: the regional or afterlife musings of this story aside, it's mainly a story about loving dogs.

"And another thing- don't talk about him like that when he can hear you. Rip's got feelings. I don't want them hurt."

Rachel's response amuses me:
"I'll feed him, but I'll be switched if I'm going to start sweet-talking him."

So yeah just as something to express a simple truth (dogs are awesome and we probably never live up to their intense loyalty and affection for us) in an uncomplicated manner, I like it. Everything else is secondary to that.

Other things I like: Rachel and Hyder, the tenderness shown to one another, primarily through Hyder's dialogue with others (particularly at the end when he makes sure Rachel won't have any trouble with that fella up the road before he follows the angel into heaven) or just through some of the acting.  

Like the looks on his face, not when he discovers the truth of his condition, but when he sees firsthand how it's impacting Rachel and that he can't do anything to comfort her.

Hamner says that "Hyder and Rachel were actually early versions of Grandma and Grandpa Walton. Around the time that he wrote the episode he was also writing a series of short stories called “The Old Man and the Old Woman” and he decided to use the two main characters, who were fully-developed already, as the main characters of "The Hunt." He continued to write stories featuring the elderly couple and they eventually ended up in The Waltons." There's plenty more on Hamner's career at the link up there - have at it, it's all interesting. I've got some Waltons on tap for one of these days/years.  

Also, I like that the devil is all just-the-facts (name, number, how's-you-die) and this subtly creepy shot of the road into Hell beyond the gate. ("That pasture up there they call the Elysian field. Cross that and you reach the golden street that takes you directly to the Old Master's headquarters.") 

And now, some leftover screencaps.


Considering the nature of the episode, maybe naming the dog "RIP" was too much? Or is it just the right touch? I've been asking myself that for 30 years ago, someone out there (probably not reading this blog here but hey) even longer.


King's Short Fiction reread, pt. 3: Skeleton Crew (1985)

As I was rereading this I kept getting flashes of study halls of yesteryear. One (in the art room) is where I first read "Survivor Type;" another (in the home ec room) was where I first read "The Monkey." Fascinating stuff, right! I only bring it up because I had a totally random detail get pushed to the front of my brain while re-reading this: someone had defaced one of the desks in one of the study halls with the Twisted Sister logo and someone else had defaced that with "royally rot" underneath it. I can see this clear as day now in my mind despite not having thought of it in likely over 30 years. 

I'll stop there (although there's way more! Screw you, Mrs. Sullivan!) I'm just always surprised what associative memories pop up. 

Other memories that came to the surface: I remember being baffled by the Milkmen stories, bored by "The Monkey," and frightened and disoriented by "Survivor Type." (Oddly enough, it was all the seagull details that did the trick with that story back then; I had a similar reaction to the "Black Freighter" parts of Watchmen, I'm realizing just right now. Something about doomed shipwrecks and eating seagulls raw unnerves me.) 


Not bad indeed. Take out "The Mist" and it's still pretty good, but "The Mist" definitely anchors things. Mostly it's another one that could pass as a Haunt of Fear or other EC annual: pretty easy to see "Survivor Type," "Nora," "Here There Be Tygers," "The Jaunt," "Beachworld," "The Raft," The Reaper's Image" or "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands" drawn by any artist under the EC umbrella, and the stories all have the twists and motifs associated with them or Creepy or something. ("Beachworld" could be The Outer Limits, perhaps.) 

I didn't like the "Do You Love?" motif. It felt shoehorned into the stories where it appeared and was / is just never as profound as King seemed to think it was when putting this together. But it did result in lodging "Do You Feel Loved?" by U2 in my head for a few weeks, which is never a bad thing. Pop is underrated.


"The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands" - I mean, is it possible this man had never touched himself - even accidentally - before the night of his death? Highly unlikely. Then again, so are curses from peasant villagers in colonial outposts. This whole Storyteller's Club thing with Stevens as the butler seemed like something King was going to spend more time on than he ended up doing.

"Word Processor of the Gods" - I still think this one ends too abruptly, but this time around I was able to enjoy its ending more than any other time.

"Cain Rose Up" - A former reader of this site once praised this one as "No backstory. No motivation. No triggering event. Some dude just starts opening fire from the window of his dormitory." These are the qualities I actually don't like about it. It feels like a younger writer's story, where "OMG he just starts shooting people" is a shock-twist. And it is - and it's certainly the point, but the title suggests he was going for something deeper and only hints at it. A writer with considerable powers flexing muscles he doesn't quite know how to use it. But look at these guns, bro - two tickets to the show. (No grisly pun intended given the subject matter.) 

"The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" - so many cool things in here but good lord: the central conceit unworks it for me comprehensively. King too often has one character tell stories for unfathomable amounts of time. This is something writers do sometimes; after all, what is writing anything but one person (the author) telling a story for unfathomable amounts of time? But it just doesn't work when you picture people actually doing it. Wizard and Glass is the exception that proves this otherwise unassailable rule: if your story rests on one character telling a story, think of it like a game of tennis. There's a net, there are boundaries, and there's someone on the other side hitting the ball back to you. If any of these things aren't there, it's not tennis; it's a guy with a ball machine. Or worse, standing at the baseline, talking to himself, holding the ball, probably pausing to finish another martini or take some snuff, while the crowd and the opponent shuffle about uneasily. 

Put another way: it's easy to fade out/ "I remember it like it was yesterday..." in TV / film, but to do so in a book means the characters are just sitting there, listening, while another character writes prose in front of them. It's a delicate game of trust with the audience, and stuff like "Flexible Bullet" (or, later, "Dedication") abuses it. 

"The Jaunt" - I remember liking this one a bit more than I did this time around. The central idea is still okay and realized pretty well, but again, the conceit of one guy telling a story in this detail and in this manner seemed a little odd to me. I listen to a lot of Old Time Radio and the set-up is straight from that. "You see, Jimmy, old inventor guy had a thought, and here's the amazing story of electricity..." Still: it's a good one. 

Finally, the delights of King's poetry ("Paranoid: A Chant" and "For Owen") continue to elude me. Although I could relate to "For Owen" a lot more on this read than any other. 


"The Milkman(s)"

"Tales of the Laundry Game" should've been its own anthology of some kind. I don't think King could write it now, but back then, when it was fresh? Absolutely. It could have been anchored by Roadwork, even. Or maybe King could've just commissioned laundry-oriented prose from his writer friends. It's a great title. 

Back in high school, I thought the level of drunkenness on display in the 2nd of these two stories seemed unrealistic. Maybe I still do, but it's less about realism and more about discomfort. It's brought to life uncomfortably well. There are guys like these in every forgotten town in America, and some not-so-forgotten. 

"The Reaper's Image"

Mark Pavia was supposed to make an anthology movie of some kind about this, but it's unfortunately looking like it fell by the wayside. 

Great atmosphere in this one, although I suppose it's somewhat slight of a story. I like it very much just the same.

"The Monkey"

I'm surprised this one made my list, but this time around I kept thinking what if this was the only thing the guy ever wrote? What if this was just one of the stories in Dangerous Visions or some other anthology? I think its reputation would be improved. I think people might say things like "Gee, that King guy sure seemed like he had a grasp on the genre and this sort of thing; I wonder what kind of book he could put together?" I wouldn't consider it one of my personal favorites, but I admire how he uses traditional genre elements here.

There's a bit of Duma Key in this tale. Or perhaps it's that I didn't realize how much of "The Monkey" was in Duma Key. Although what I may be responding to are simply repurposed genre elements shared by both stories. 

"The Reach"

Dorrit's on Goat Island, burnt down in 1958: is this referenced elsewhere? Has King ever returned to Goat Island?

Little bit of Ray Bradbury in this one. A couple of these, actually. That's never a bad thing to be reminded of more than once in a short story collection.

"Survivor Type"

I'm always surprised when I meet people who don't know this one, as for me it's one of the first 3 or 4 things I think of when King is brought up. The image of a guy eating his feet to stave off starvation in a doomsday scenario made a deep impression on me as a lad, I guess. (As did the whole nightmare with the gulls.) 

The voice of this one gets a little too King's-diary-voice-y, but the events described and the slow breakdown of the narrator is something to witness. This story is an achievement for sure. Definitely a Harvey Kurtzman special - I can see it illustrated by him quite easily in my mind's eye. I wish I could screencap it for you.


I still wish King would go all-out one day and write his own sort of Martian Chronicles book. Maybe it could be this planet right here. ("Return to Uncharted Six!" Or whatever its uncharted designation is.) There might not be anything of startling originality here, but does there need to be? It's a cool story, well-visualized, well-characterized, suspenseful, and eerie. 

There's also (if you care for such things) a rather sad undercurrent of King's realizing his immersion in drug dependency in the prose. If only as an involved metaphor for sinking into addiction and getting trapped - even if it's unintentional - it's a good one. 


I never liked this one as a kid, nor the the Tales of the Darkside episode adaptation that I remember seeing on some Saturday afternoon back in high school. (A sidenote: whenever I remember seeing something in high school without remembering the exact occasion, it always turns into a Saturday afternoon. I don't do this purposefully, I guess it's where my brain just shoves and stuffs all its less-than-certain memories.)

This time around, though, I thought it was pretty much a master class in effective writing. Perhaps, like "The Monkey," not a personal favorite, despite its high placing here, but you have to admire how it's put together. On a short list of underrated-King-fiction for me. If I did a Ten King Stories They Should Teach in College and Why blog, this would be on there. That'd be a lot of work, though; I hope someone else writes it so I don't have to.

"The Mist"

The first time I heard of this one was I believe in the first edition of George Beahm's The Stephen King Companion. I must have read it around the same time - in fact, I can remember where/when I first read it: the summer of 1989, over 2 nights, right before bed. Another 80s memory bottled and added to the collection! Of dubious vintage, perhaps. 

Anyway: "The Mist." A well-deserved classic. Its reputation has gotten stronger over the years. I cannot ever recall hearing it was overrated or bad, just that it's perhaps a tad overhyped by 2019. A first time reader might wonder what all the hullabaloo was about. It's a great example of King's taking a traditional b-movie set-up and writing about it realistically.

The Mist 3-D is sort of a radio play on audiocassette that was done in the 80s. (Available on youtube here.) I remember reading about it in the Beahm book and asking my local Waldenbooks if they had it (they did not), but then it fell off my radar for three whole decades. I was happy to hear it at last about a month ago. Pretty fun - worth tracking down. Is it a better adaptation than the movie? Maybe, maybe not. Than the TV show? Abso-friggin-lutely. 

"Uncle Otto's Truck"

I love this one. Unfortunately that's the sum total of what I scribbled down on my notepad - no quotes or larger context than that. It deserves a better breakdown than what I'm giving it. That goes for all of these. King takes what could be an absurd premise (as he does in so many places, though the one that's coming to mind right now is "Chattery Teeth") and imbues it with such an abundance of color and momentum that it verges on iconic. 

Uncle Oren sure left an impression on young Steve, didn't he? Sounds like a real character. I imagine he laid the foundation for all Uncle-Oren/Uncle-Otto type characters in his catalog to come. 

"Mrs. Todd's Shortcut"

I'd written down a whole bunch of quotes from this one, but they all seem kind of flat out of context - or worse, like King was trying too hard. But they don't read that way in-context. This is a lovely and quirky little story, emblematic of its author for me. A good eye for detail, "local color," and lots of romance, even the split-head of a monster or two splayed across the grill of a luxury car. 

King identifies his wife as the real Mrs. Todd. I often think Tabitha and her extended family provide more than a few real world analogs for some of King's more memorable female characters. And probably some of the male ones too. Cheers to you, Spruce family.

See you next time for Nightmares and Dreamscapes on this exciting re-read down the ol' King's Highway (closed for repairs) 


The Dark Tower reread pt. 9: Song of Susannah

"Was it God that made magic, 
or was it magic that made God?"

A reasonable question.

When last we met on the Path of the Beam, I mentioned how it was (usually) a drag to write negative reviews. That goes even more for installments of a series where the worldbuilding doesn't really matter anymore but the author keeps right on worldbuilding. And this is just book 6! Book 7 is twice as long. As the last volume in a saga should be, but it's just difficult to stay vested in worldbuilding once certain pacts with the reader (namely fourth wall one) are broken. 

Let's see if I can unpack that a little.


Here's how I wrote it up immediately after finishing this re-read:

"The basic gist is that roundabout 10,000 A.C.E. the technology/ magic of the world went kablooey and the Prim/ monsters now had access to the world. All of the Pennywises, the Wolfmen, the Draculas, the bug-like monsters of the Mist, you name it. Among these monsters are the can-toi, whom the Crimson King has promised to remake the world in their image. Walter is pretending to work with the Crimson King,  who either knows and is biding his time or is too focused on his own insane ambitions to notice. Walter's doing this because he likes secrets. Maerlyn's globes all pass through his hands, but hey. Walter and the CK are working together, though, on this weird magical pregnancy with a midwife they created from Prim mists and bad vibes. They graft this onto Susannah (somehow) because all prophecies have the protagonist slain by his red-headed progeny. Like literally that is their reason: it sounds good in these old books. Of course, all of the above only has to make the loose sort of sense a skimming-of-King's-unconscious might; we're waterskiing on the random echo-waves of everything he's ever taken to the brain. (Like that J-Lo movie The Cell. Mash-up with King's Cell? Too far.)"

As aforementioned, it's asking a lot of an audience to sit still for more of this stuff - even if prior to the meta-walls crumbling down, more-of-this-stuff was what I eagerly wanted to read - after the author's already yanked the curtain down. Not everyone agrees this is as much of a problem as I do. But personally, the balloon just kind of deflates a little further each time he gets into this stuff - if I was there I'd do the move-it-along-dude Roland finger-roll thing *- or throws beamquakes or other dangers at the characters. There's no real danger or suspense anymore, just a patient curiosity to see how it will all end up. And since I know that already, the re-read for these sections is a lot like the alien / smoking-man storyline in The X-Files. Who gives a crap? Plot developments (or plot derailments) of the series itself already made this stuff moot, and it's the sort of thing that only works if it remains very-much-not-moot.

* Does Roland do this anytime in The Gunslinger or did he develop this affectation after he lost several fingers on his other hand? Or does he do this gesture with his afflicted hand? Even better. "Let my absent fingers remind you of time you'll never get back."

Again, not everyone agrees. (About that aspect of the X-Files, neither.) It's worse here though because King carries on with the conceit that these are characters moving towards a goal in a universe with rules. All the whole extra worldbuilding, all the mystical pregnancy stuff retconning the speaking demon sex scenes, and the various timelines-hopping and interdimensional mental projection: I'm just waiting it all out. It doesn't matter if it makes sense; you move beyond judgment, beyond good and evil, once you turn down the "why don't I put myself into this story?" path. Throw one Harry Potter sneech and look what happens. 


I actually enjoyed reading this much more than I did the first time. I wasn't disappointed by the mystery unfolding in directions I didn't like, since I knew what was going to happen, so I could just enjoy some of the moments. And there's plenty of fun scenes and sequences, especially once John Cullom - one of King's everymen - and Jack Andolini and his pals show up. 

The illustrations by Darrell Anderson are kind of cool. My least favorite book in the series (perhaps) gets my favorite illustrations. Weird. 


that stout-of-heart, wide-of-hip, Oriza-throwin', Beams-knowin' woman of the borderlands.

I got nothing here, the description just amuses me. Roland's range of romantic action is kind of odd in the Dark Tower books. From a few different whores to the love of his life in Mejis to Rosalita to the strange affair with Irene Tassenbaum in bk7. And the one semen-swapping demon of course.



"It hurt like the veriest motherfucker of creation."


"Once upon a time all was Discordia, and from it, strong and crossing at a single unifying point, came the 6 beams (...) There was magic to hold them steady for eternity, but when magic left from all there is but the Dark Tower, which some have called Can Calyx, the Hall of Resumption, men despaired. When the Age of Magic passed, the Age of Machines began. They created the machines which ran the beams, and now the machines are failing. The Crimson King's breakers are only hurrying a process that's already in train." 

I hate to even get wrapped up in this after deciding none of it matters anyway, but how long exactly have the Breakers been at this? Several generations of Calla folken at least. What exactly are they doing? Magic built the beams and the Tower - or they themselves are manifestations of magic - and then men built machines to bolster them, and now Breakers are using squiggley-doodles and tele-Sudoku to un-beamify the multiverse?

All of these epic sagas square protagonists up against the undoing of everything from some ultimate force/ evil; I don't need it to be literally spelled out in every detail. But I need to understand more than I do here. I need something more tangible than "To Break is divine". I guess these are more Book 7 thoughts. Mark your calendars!

Speaking of:


It doesn't get more tangible than the author having a few beers with (in front of, I guess, while they look with a measure of awe and embarrassment) his creations.

This is another section I liked more than expected. King comes across well, and I'd be curious to hear from those who know him (or knew him in the 70s) if he got himself right. Storytelling-wise, the todana-death-bag and other foreshadowing works pretty well. It doesn't get the pay-off it deserves in bk 7.

King's diaries that end the book are an interesting narrative device for the penultimate book of the series, but the voice is off. He doesn't sound like the guy we met earlier in the book, or the King we know from countless intros and endnotes. Okay, let's say he has different voices for different tasks. Problem is, this King sounds like the diary writer from countless other King works (The Plant, "Survivor Type," The Regulators, etc.) Could he actually be commenting on his tendency towards sameness of diary-voice? It seems impossible. Could he be that much a master of meta-puppetry?


- I haven't even commented on the title character too much. I didn't care for the Maid of Constant Sorrow refrains, or the jailhouse/ answering machine of the damned motif, although I guess that was an effective way of straddling various timelines. (I liked it better in "1408," though.) 

- King's hostility towards Calvin Tower continues to crack me up, both in-story and meta-wise. I guess this is pretty much the high point of it all. All the characters abuse him to a degree I never quite understand. But it feels very meta. There's something going on here, some reaction to his fame or marketability or both. I bet there was a scene where Roland pistol-whips him that Tabby made him take out.

- The sköldpadda (the item in the lining of the bag teased throughout the last act of Wolves of the Calla) is awfully convenient. More magic items from the man behind the curtain - is King commenting on himself here, too? Ka. Anyway, like all such magic items, they'd have come in useful elsewhere or are not utilize beyond getting the characters out of certain scenes.

I covered the fake language stuff and how much it bugged me by this point in the series, so I won't spend time on it, do'ee kennit? Kra? Twim. 

- I didn't read a single one of the "commala" stanzas that end every chapter. I hope there's gold in there - the secret to the universe, even. I'm happy to die missing out on it from skipping these. Two can play the stubborn game, Mr. King. 


All in all, a better read than I remembered, but my original opinion (what the hell did you do to your series, dude?) remains unchanged.