For me every journey begins not with a single step, but rather extended periods of self doubt, patterns of laziness, and heaps of worthless excuses. Every day that has passed since posting my introductory piece for “My Long Walk with the King” has provided its own unique set of bullshit for me to step in. Each of which have become all too familiar to me, and can now recognize them for what they are. You too may recognize these excuse filled piles of dog shit as these steaming mounds come pleasantly adorned with cute little labels so to be easily identified as, “Life is too busy at the moment,” “I have the world’s shittiest laptop,” “I’m too tired today,” “What if I am no good at this writing thing.” We both know these phrases are only as powerful as we allow them to be, for the truth of the matter is, time can always be found if we have the desire and passion for a project. A laptop is far from the only option for putting down thoughts and ideas (Pens still manage to draw out ink on paper). Coffee is one hell of a mug. And when it comes to being afraid of rejection, even George McFly who was terrified of what others might think, still fought daily to put his words down. So what the heck is the deal? Is this “Long Walk” thing really going to happen? Or is this just another wasted idea eagerly waiting to cozy up on the shelf next to my other brilliant and forgotten projects. Surely “The Shakespeare Vlogs” and “Thirty Days to Master” will be more than happy to have a new neighbor to talk shit with. The big question is, “do I really want to do this project?” The short answer is, YES! The long answer will come with time, self motivation, and a commitment to write something every day. It is well past time to take that proverbial leap into the pool. Hell yes I am scared, but I know there is water down there, I can see it when I…oh fuck! I looked down. Jesus, man. You NEVER look down!! Well this is perfect. Now my eyes are closed so tight they are making my teeth crack. Dammit, it’s now or never. Jump you silly bastard…JUMP!! Holy shit. I jumped. Oh please let me go in feet first with the rest of me following nice and clean. Nope. I seem to have over rotated and will be smacking the surface with all the grace and skill of a brick being chucked into a bucket.
In 1974, three years before I was born, Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was published. She would sit and wait on a shelf in the Big Rapids library for nearly a decade before I would find her. Another decade would pass before I would read her. I don’t recall exactly how old I was when I finally read Carrie for the first time, but this most recent journey into her world has cleared a fair amount grime from several memories. Most of these have been rather pleasant and I am happy to see them again, while a few I would rather have gone unremembered.
I grew up in a small town in the 80’s and early 90’s with very few ways to get photo or video images of my celebrity idols. Today if I want more understanding of a famous person I can simply click on YouTube and find hundreds of interviews and university talks to pour over. Back in those ancient times before the internet we had to wait for our favorite celebrities to make a brief guest appearance on Letterman or Saturday Night Live to get our fix. If we nodded off early and missed the episode, our only hope was for a re-run later in the week. If we were REALLY lucky, someone remembered to put a blank tape in the VCR to record the event. As far as I know King never hosted SNL and the rabbit ears on our television were too bent, crusty, and weak to pick up the Late Night talk shows. All I had available for visual reference of my favorite author was that tiny black and white picture on the back flap of his dust covers. These photos were far too disconnected and impersonal. My curious little mind required an image that held more meaning. To remedy this problem, and probably still unbeknownst to him, my Dad’s image was frequently recruited as proxy for a stable of famous men. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Elvis Presley (my Dad was a locally famous Elvis impersonator…ahem…tribute artist, and most likely kicked off this whole imprinting thing) and Stephen King would all walk around wearing the face of my Father. (This is far less Texas Chainsaw Massacre-y than it sounds) I kept my Dad pretty busy back in those days with directing movies, writing scary stories, and singing Hound Dog. Somehow, even with all of those extracurricular activities, he still found time to just be my Dad. Reading Carrie this time around was just the shot of lemon pledge my dusty old brain needed to uncover these old and near forgotten images. I smile like a child as I imagine myself sharing a piece of attic floor next to Clark W. Griswold as he plays through his old 8mm home videos. He threads a fresh film reel from his tattered box, and with a snap, spins it to life with a blinding flash. He appears there on Clark’s makeshift screen, suddenly flickering life. My Dad. Wearing King’s gigantic glasses, hunkering down over a card table, barely holding itself together while he frantically hammers away on his trusty two-ton typewriter.
Here in his first novel, Stephen King lays down the groundwork for a greater Universe to play in while keeping us (mostly) grounded in Small Town USA. A majority of the story is told to us through eye witness accounts, investigation reports, interrogation transcripts, and newspaper articles. These all feed into a sense that there are much larger mysteries outside the events of the story. He also makes me feel less like a passive reader and more like an active participant. Perhaps I am a journalist going back through all of the “post event” documentation, trying like hell to make sense of what happened. Or maybe I am a private investigator chasing down charred breadcrumbs, leading not to my home, but to a city on fire.
In all of King’s massive list of characters, Carrie has always been one of my favorites and until this most recent read, I was unsure as to why. It all finally made sense when I realized that Carrie is the perfect example of a tragic monster. Is she a monster? The definition of the word is “an imaginary creatures, typically large, ugly, and frightening. Or to be inhumanly cruel or wicked.” Humans, as far as I know, are not imaginary, however, this particular one named Carrie is uniquely so, having come from the mind of her author and creator. She also possesses incredibly powerful telekinetic abilities that (again, as far as I know) are just as imaginary as time travel. (Again, again, as far as I know. For all I know we are all just living in a giant computer simulation, which makes this entire line of thought regarding the real versus imaginary world about as worthless as digital spittle. But what do I know?) From our point of view, as the reader, Carrie is undeniably and most certainly a creature of the imagination. (this would prove true, even in a simulation) According to the definition she must also be large and ugly. Carrie is described to us as being a chunky, pimpled, young woman with colorless hair and is referred to by her author as a “frog among swans”. We readers may not find her to be large and ugly, but most of her classmates do as they constantly tease and harass her because of her size and appearance. I do not agree with their hateful views of Carrie, but sadly this allows her to qualify for the large and ugly part of the definition. A monster must also be frightening. We all tend to be frightened by what we don’t understand and react similarly to things unknown. Carrie’s abilities are introduced in the first few pages with what King describes as a storm of rocks falling from the sky over her home. I would argue that the ability to call large chunks of earth from the sky is some pretty frightening shit. It is not her fault she was born with the ability to manipulate the world down to the atom, but this does not make her any less frightening. The fact that she receives these abilities randomly and has little to no real control or understanding of them makes her even more frightening. These powers frighten her classmates, they frighten her teachers, they frighten her Mom, they frighten us, and they frighten Carrie. The entire city will be set ablaze with lives being snuffed out of existence as she satisfies the final piece of the definition by becoming “inhumanly cruel and wicked”. This is the tragedy of Carrie. She becomes a creature capable of causing a firestorm of violence and rage as a direct result of the actions of others. By the end the overwhelming power inside her takes over completely, and we stand witness to the ultimate cycle of violence played out in extremes. This is a vengeful fury that is unleashed onto a world by an incredibly gifted young woman who is done being tortured. At the peak of her blood fest she even begins to enjoy the destruction and pain she is causing. She becomes drunk with the obscene amount of power she is able to generate. (To put her powers into a bit of perspective, if Vader’s strength in The Force was even half that of Carrie’s telekinetic abilities, Luke would have shit his pants, called off the resistance, and retired a poor moisture farmer on the sands of Tatooine) To sum up, Carrie is an imaginary creature who frightens us with her inhumanly cruel and wicked, rage fueled murder spree. So yah. Carrie is a monster.
Carrie is not the only monster here with us. As luck would have it we are surrounded by fucking assholes. (Keep firing assholes!) Her classmates, most of the adults in her life, and her gospel slinging mother are all far more hideous and frightening to me than young Carrie. (Pre-killing spree, Carrie, just to be clear) Growing up I had the displeasure of meeting some of these sacks of crap in person. (This is one of those not-so-fond memories I could have done without) Sometimes my head would get sat on during recess by the biggest kid on the playground. He’d just sit there for what seemed like hours at a time, using me as a human fart sponge. Other times there would be a few of them to gang up, pull my mittens off, and see how long I could go without crying with my bare hands held under the snow. My reward for not crying was getting punched in the stomach. Sometimes monsters find their way into the real world. And even now, at forty-two years old, I occasionally have nightmares about frozen hands in the snow, and soggy farts leaking in my ear. This may be another reason why Carrie resonates with me. In a sick kind of way she gave hope to that helpless kid on the playground by delivering a deranged and twisted sort of wish fulfillment. When that bully was sitting on my head, ripping farts into my face, I would wish with all of my little boy heart for the power to stop him. To be able fight him off. To make the pain go away. Yes, Carrie goes several bridges too far, and violence is never the answer, but when you are snuggled up with a book, and you suddenly have all the power of the universe in your hands, all bets are off.
King does something with Carrie’s abusers that I never considered with my real world counterparts, he gives them reasons for why they behave the way they do. He does not make excuses for their actions, nor does he ask us to be understanding, he simply shows us their circumstances and brings about a depth and complexity that is totally unexpected. I don’t like Billy Norton, and I hate what he does to Carrie, but I realize WHY he disgusting. And morally reprehensible. And a piece of shit. Abusive fathers, rapist husbands, mental illness, religious zealotry, and teenage angst all saturate and plague the lives of our antagonists. I want to hate them, but discovering their truth makes me feel sorry for them. I don’t think I could ever feel sorry for my old friend, the head-sitter. But what if he had his own horrors to confront outside of school that created his “truth”? Part of me hopes that there were. Part of me doesn’t give a shit. Now who’s the monster?
Even with as bad as I remember having it back in school, I will never know the humiliation and pain of young Carrie, naked in the shower, discovering blood where there wasn’t any before, and being mocked by her classmates while begging for help. Only a woman can truly understand the horror of this scene, as Carrie fears her body has betrayed her, while the sounds of laughter and shouts of “Plug it up” ring in her ears. It is in this moment that we are introduced to Carrie. It is also in this moment that Stephen King will show us blood for the first time. This terrifying scene in a young woman’s life is disorienting, shocking, and soaked in the blood of an innocent. The King of horror has been born.
While we are on the subject of birth, I’d like to take a moment to chat a bit about good old mother dearest. Mom has a collection of skeletons in many closets, all reaching out to me with their lusty, boney fingers gripping rusty, iron crosses. All is not well with Mom, to say the least. She lives a quiet, peaceful life, surrounding herself with holy relics, stacks of bibles and prayer books, more candles than a wax museum, and the cheapest collection of roadside Jesus oil paintings you ever did see. Mom is the first of many hyper religious characters that King will subject us to on our Long Walk, and holy crap is she a fucker. She is dangerously and tragically wild for the Lord while being highly abusive to Carrie. Much like our other assholes, just when I want to hate her the most, she punches me in my soft spots and shows me why she behaves the way she does. Again, not excusing her actions, but this knowledge takes all the piss out of hating her. Mother is constantly struggling with her desire to be a pure vessel for the Lord, but she is constanly reminded by the existence of her daughter, that she will never be truly free from sin. Carrie catches all of the punches, curses, lashings, and hatred that come with that struggle.
Time for some good news! Not everyone is an asshole!! Thankfully we have a few good eggs here in the basket trying their best to be kind. Their intentions are good, but their execution leaves much to be desired. (I thank you) Unfortunately this crew of do-gooders exist so we can have a few people to feel really bad for when the pain comes. They are the flattest of all of the characters here, but I really don’t mind. These happy few don’t need to have fully fleshed out back stories to define why they are nice people. That (dare I say) would be kind of boring. “Susan was nice because she was a good person.” That is all I need. This handful of good eggs will be getting scrambled in the same bowl as the rotten lot. For a time they will allow us to smile and have faith in humanity. Then they die horribly. So much for the good news.
Like many other pieces of fiction written in the time before Columbine and subsequent school shootings, reading Carrie today seems much more of a cautionary tale than it may have originally been intended. This story of fantasy and unimaginable violence speaks to us so much more clearly now that our ears have been tuned to the sounds of our children screaming. Carrie is a warning. She is a not so casual reminder that a once innocent child may choose violence as a solution to their suffering.
Carrie is a short read and can be devoured in a few sittings. I think she reads the best in one go, strapping in for the ride over the coarse of a snowy (or rainy depending on the season) afternoon. I wonder what other mysteries Mr. King has in store for me on my long walk. Looking down the path I see hotel overlooking a mountain range, but the way seems to be blocked by a very pale group of odd looking strangers. Why do they look so weird? Why are they staring at me like I’m lunch?? Oh. Oh shit. Those are vampires.