The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
Signet, 10th printing, 1988
Genre: Dark fantasy
Once upon a time–there was terror. And dragons and princes … evil wizards and dark dungeons … an enchanted castle and a terrible secret. With this enthralling masterpiece of magical evil and daring adventure, Stephen King takes you in his icy grip and leads you into the most shivery and irresistible kingdom of wickedness … THE EYES OF THE DRAGON.
Book Report: When I was in fourth grade and bored because everyone in my class was reading Island of the Blue Dolphins (god, how last year!) and nothing is duller than following along as people very slowly read something you’ve already read and enjoyed on your own, my mother handed me a copy of Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, thus beginning a lifelong relationship. Now, many people who aren’t familiar with this particular novel might think it a bit much to hand a Stephen King novel off to a nine-year old (especially one who suffered from an intense fear of the dark and of closets), but TEotD is more a bedtime story than an experiment in terror like most of King’s other works. And it’s the one I most recommend to people who aren’t horror readers, but who do enjoy fantasy. Like I said, it’s more a bedtime story, albeit one of dark fantasy, a real fairy tale, more akin to The Princess Bride than to The Shining. Read the rest of this entry »
Christine by Stephen King
originally published 1983
Signet, 2nd printing, 1983
Synopsis & Review: If you’ve been even semi-sentient since the early Eighties (1983, to be exact), then you have an idea of what Christine is all about. After all, she’s become part of our vocabulary; when you think “ghost car”—as one so often does—Christine immediately springs to mind.
But for those existing in a cultural literacy vacuum, Christine involves a young man, a senior in high school, and his first love. Arnie Cunningham has one friend in this world, Dennis Guilder; no one else seems to look past his awkwardness or bad complexion, or intense intelligence to see the enormously funny, interesting person he is. So when he falls, he falls hard. And the object of his first affection is a 1958 Plymouth Fury, custom painted Autumn red and white. When we first meet Christine, she is a harridan, wretched and decrepit, rusting away malevolently on Roland LeBay’s front lawn, but Arnie loves her from the start. And it’s a rocky start. Once LeBay is paid, Arnie’s parents flip their collective lids, adamantly refusing to allow him to park Christine on their property, forcing Arnie to shelter her at a local garage, Darnell’s. This puts Arnie into close proximity with not only some local hoodlums, but also with Will Darnell, a man with ties to petty crime. Regardless, Arnie bull-headedly continues with his obsession, restoring Christine to her original splendor.
The school year begins with a bang as Arnie and Dennis incur the wrath of hoodlums, and they both meet Leigh Cabot, a lovely transfer student. To both the boys’ bemusement, Leigh shows an interest in Arnie, making Dennis reconsider his friend, whose complexion has cleared and is walking around with more confidence than ever before. The only fly in the ointment is Leigh’s unreasonable dislike of Christine, one which Dennis shares. The restoration project continues apace, but in an oddly haphazard fashion; Anie’s replaced the windshield, but only half of the grille, and some of the upholstery, and dents are gone with no sign of bodywork, but her tailpipe is still dragging. As far as anyone ever sees, all Arnie seems to do is minor work like lubing her—and sitting in the car listening to oldies on the radio. But when Dennis is laid up in the hospital with two broken legs in a football game, there’s no one around to notice what’s happening. That is, until everyone who crosses Arnie starts dying in gruesome car accidents. While Christine rejuvenates, Arnie changes, beginning to look and act older, crasser, and angrier. A lot like Roland LeBay, in fact, who loved Christine and nothing else. And who was always angry. And vengeful.
Riding in cars with boys/ghosts might be an apropos subtitle for Christine. Of course, it’s less about a girl who rides with boys as it is about the boys themselves, the boys and their friendships. Like many of King’s strongest works, Christine focuses on the young, and he captures their world beautifully. You find him at his descriptive best, with passages that might be clunky, or reliant upon obvious symbols, but damn it, they work, they’re true.
Dennis and Arnie are high school boys, embarking on their senior year at the book’s start, and preparing themselves for entry into the great, wide world beyond the insular, suburban, public school world they’ve known their whole lives. Their friendship is of long standing, from elementary school until now, and it is the destruction of that friendship, the destruction of all relationships, that makes Christine so distressing. We know it is the loss of the friendship and its death that are central to Dennis’ story from the prologue, where he explains Arnie and what he meant to him. Arnie is Dennis’ window out into something different; a BMOC, Dennis plays varsity football and has no trouble getting dates, but he retains his friendship with Arnie because of the magic that Arnie introduces him to, be it ant farms or chess—he makes Dennis a better person. And Dennis does his best to make things easier and better for Arnie, too.
But from the moment Arnie sees Christine, all of his relationships begin unraveling. Read the rest of this entry »
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
originally published 1975
Signet, 25th printing, 1982
Genre: Horror, vampires
Synopsis & Review: With the intent of writing a book, novelist Ben Mears returns to the little town of Jerusalem’s Lot, where he once spent several years living with his Aunt Cindy. The book he has in mind involves the Marsten House, a house abandoned since the hot afternoon when Hubie Marsten, a man with possible connexions to organized crime, killed first his wife and then himself. Also new in town is Mark Petrie, a thoughtful eleven-year-old boy with a penchant for horror movies and comics, and two mysterious businessmen, Straker and Barlow. When Ben attempts to purchase the Marsten House, he discovers that the still unseen Straker and his associate Barlow have purchased it. Ben continues writing his book, meditating on the Marstens and the nature of evil, while striking up a romance with Susan Norton, a local girl.
The first to die is a cocker spaniel, nailed up over the cemetery gates. More deaths soon follow, beginning with the disappearance of little Ralphie Glick, and then the death of his older brother Danny. As people all over the Lot slowly start dying and vanishing, others falling ill and bodies disappearing form the morgue, Ben and local teacher Matt Burke slowly and reluctantly realize that Evil has come to the Lot, Evil with a capital E. Mark is more easily convinced, recognizing vampires for what they are when one comes for him at night, but it is not until Ben and Dr Jimmy Cody sit up with one of the victims that they finally, really believe that vampires have come to the Lot–and that they’ll soon outnumber the living.
You can never go home again, they say, and in ‘Salem’s Lot, Ben et alia discover the truth of that aphorism. I think it’s largely agreed that horror (good stuff, at least) tends to reflect cultural zeitgeist, in which anxieties coalesce into a recognizable—and most importantly—tangible evil. ‘Salem’s Lot is a post-Vietnam novel that confronts a changing America. When characters wish to return to their roots, to a small town that nurtured them as children, they discover that it’s dying, both literally and figuratively. If you’ve ever driven beyond the limits of cities and suburbia, you’ve seen small towns, and you’ve undoubtedly seen some dwindling. If they’re not close enough to sub/urban centers to be enveloped in sprawl or convert to bedroom communities, many small towns simply vanish. Jobs move overseas, local resources (timber, mines) are played out, and with the loss of employment, young people move on and don’t return, till all that’s left are the aging; it’s the same history we see in ghost towns all over the West. When people in ‘Salem’s Lot come home (or don’t leave when they ought), they come home to die. Read the rest of this entry »