The Shining


Here it is: the book that jump-started my curiosity and sent me on my life-long journey through the world of Stephen King. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, I had made the descision to save The Shining for the end of My Long Walk with the King, to serve as a perfect conclusion for what will be a years-long adventure. Much has changed since that decision was made. For all of us. We have quarantined. We have isolated ourselves from each other, many of us trading the warmth of a hug for an unfortunate return to old habits. When the pandemic started, I thought to myself, “Well, I may have lost my job, but at least now I have plenty of time to catch up on all of my unfinished projects!” Months later I wondered what happened to all that extra time? Falling into old patterns of laziness was far too easy, especially with the excuse of “well…it’s 2020” conveniently locked and loaded. Almost all of the forty pounds I lost have been packed back on. My anxiety and depression have both returned like faithful friends who stayed out for one drink too many, laughing and yelling about what I’ve missed, in a language only they understand. Previously enjoyable activities like playing board games, painting miniatures, and reading Stephen King, have all morphed into panic inducing tasks to be avoided.

Well…it’s 2020.

With all of this swirling in the air around me, the choice to move The Shining back into its proper place in the chronology was an obvious (and necessary) one. Perhaps there is some therapy and self care to be found within it’s 659 pages.

What a strange thing that would be.

The Kubrick Conundrum, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love CBS

Until now, I had no idea it was possible to become retroactively upset about a book’s film adaptation. This was not my first read of The Shining, and I have logged multiple watches of the Stanley Kubrick film (I am on record in several episodes of Measuring Flicks stating my enjoyment of the film.) I was thrilled to pull up The Shining on Prime for my obligatory post-book screening.

What happened? Why was I not digging it this time around?

The book hadn’t changed since I first cracked its cover all those years ago. And as far as I know, Warner Brothers has not recently “tweaked” the film, nor have they made any changes to the edit (a popular trend and not outside the realm of possibility.) The movie varies greatly from its source material: it’s impossible to miss, and until now, I have been more than satisfied with how different they are. It’s abundantly clear that Kubrick was taking extreme liberties with the source material. And damn well he should! One of the most brilliant minds in the history of cinema should certainly feel free to paint his picture with every madness-stained brush he has at his disposal. But sadly, on this most recent spin, it felt less like enjoying a painting and more like choking on dirty brush water.

So, if the book hasn’t changed…and the movie hasn’t changed…then that just leaves…

Well, shit.

A lot of life has happened in the thirty years that have passed since I last read The Shining. Situations that I once saw as being simply scary, now resonate on a much deeper level. Reading the book when I was much younger, I saw the struggles of two parents through Danny’s eyes, taking in only what I was capable of understanding. Reading the book as an adult, I find myself sitting awkwardly on Jack and Wendy’s side of the table wondering how the hell I got there. Marital struggles, alcoholism, unemployment, and mental instability were all themes that were glossed over in my pre-teen brain. The problems and worries of adulthood are now standing center stage, hideously exposed in a grotesque full monty. And I can’t look away.

This is a testament to King’s writing style and the intense focus and care he takes with creating his characters. He allows his readers to find their way into the story through the eyes of whoever is most relatable to them at the time.

The same is true for the horrors and wonders that King manifests in his stories. When you’re young, it’s all about a ghost in the bathtub, a firehose that moves like a snake in the hallway, and a boy with special powers. For an adult, it’s a struggling marriage, a fear of unemployment, and a boy with special needs (also tub ghosts and fireshose snakes.)

I dare say this is Stephen King at his finest.

Many, including myself, have said the same for Stanley Kubrik and his film adaptation. Discovering that I’ve earned the necessary life experience to see Stephen King’s adult characters more clearly is the cause for my change in heart towards the Kubrik classic. I could write volumes upon volumes to describe the many ways the movie strays from the book, but I feel my thoughts can be summed up with a single word.


From frame one, I get the sense that good ole’ Jack is already one hot fart away from mentally shitting his pants. The movie becomes all about Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top performance and Stanley Kubrik’s hypnotic visual tapestry, while leaving the human side of the story somewhere back in Sidewinder. The Kubrik flick should be viewed on it’s own merit as a unique piece of art, and not as a direct film adaptation. I’m sure I’ll come back around to digging the movie again once the emotional impact of this most recent read has been given time to fade.

Thankfully for us, CBS was totally in love with Stephen King back in the 1990’s and adapted many of his books into mini-series, including The Stand, The Tommyknockers, IT, and The Shining. King wrote the teleplay for The Shining and (unsuprisingly) follows the book damn near beat for beat! We are also blessed with Rebecca Demornay as Wendy and Steven Webber (that’ right, the cute brother from Wings) as Jack. Both give performances that feel honest and occasionally nuanced. The first episode is a bit of a slog, and drips with that “made for TV in the mid-90’s feel”, complete with unnecessary mini-cliffhangers leading into each commercial break (which only adds to its charm.) But hold on tight, because much like the book that came before it, this mini-series is all about the threat of things that hide just beneath the surface. A wasp’s nest humming under rotting shingles. A fat, greedy furnace begging for more steam to choke on. A perfectly crafted cocktail of family drama and raw horror.

As wonderful as the mini-series is, it still pales in comparison to what Stephen King gave us way back in 1977 with release of his third novel, The Shining.

The Novel:

One could spend hours digging into The Shining and only ever find more bread crumbs to follow. It’s so dense it makes my head spin. There are, however, two thoughts that keep popping into my head. The first is the phrase, “The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.” The second – why are those Hedge Animals so terrifying?

Decades before the Doctor faced off with Weeping Angels, Stephen King introduced us to the vision-based movement of the Overlook’s Hedge Animals. At their core, both the Weeping Angels and Hedge Animals freak me out for the same reason. With most threats in horror, the victim has no control over the behaviour of the Thing that persues them. Michael Meyers will just keep coming, slow and steady, until he can slide his sharp piece of metal into your body. Freddy Krueger will play around in your dreams, teasing you with the taste of death before ripping you to shreds with his homemade murder glove. The Shark, the Ghoul, the One That Follows, are all coming for you and there is nothing you can do about it.

The Hedge Animal’s pursuit can be halted. All you have to do is never look away. Once in view, the Hedge Animals loose their ability to hunt and become frozen in place. Frozen but still hungry. They will remain silent and still, but will never stop dreaming of turning your body into chewed up piles of meat. Driven by a desire to taste what you are made of, they require no other source of energy to survive. You require food to survive, and exaustion is inevitable. Eventually your eyes must close. This illusion of agency is such a painful twist of the knife and why I find them (along with the Weeping Angels) to be one of the more terrifying creatures I have encountered in fiction.

This is all extremely horrific, but knowing what these bundles of sticks and greenery represent makes it so much worse. I see the Hedge Animals as the manifestation of those problems we turn our backs to while we wish them out of existence. We try to turn Not Seeing into Believing. But the grass menagerie is always there. Constantly gaining ground.

Hush now. Just close your eyes and count to ten.

Leaving the green grotesqueries behind us, let’s take a peek at the second thought that keeps bubbling up to the surface. The one concerning that old phrase, “The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

This is a phrase my dad is quite fond of. He employs its use more frequently than necessary, and always through a clever smirk that gives the impression he believes this is the first time in human history the phrase has ever been uttered. I’ll give you two guesses who does the exact same thing through the exact same smirk…

Like father, like son. Where did Danny get his ability to Shine? Was it passed down from father to son? This notion is explored briefly through conversations between Danny and Dick Hallorann, but is never quite fully acknowledged. There are plenty of hints that Jack has the ability to Shine, with his coversations with Grady being chief among them. The Overlook taps into both Danny and Jack as soon as they walk through the front door. “Here’s one with a history of violence and alcohol abuse. He could be useful to us. Oh, but this young one has enough juice to keep the party going well past midnight!”

When The Shining was first released, and in the years to follow, many would read it and wonder how they would have handled a winter at the Overlook. Would the cabin fever set in? Would the glass stay empty, or would we have Grady shake us up a couple Martians? As of this writing, we are now in the second year of a global pandemic. Winter has come and gone, and many of us have dicovered answers to those questions that were once rhetorical.

I will be spending more time diving into my personal experiences to link (hopefully) cleverly back to The Shining, but some old ghosts have begun to stir, and for now, I prefer they stay sleeping. I am putting a pin in the story that started this journey to come back to with a fresh perspective once the empty skies of winter have been filled with a few more birds of spring.

There will still be challenges for all of us in the coming months as vaccines are in a race with virus varients for the wellness of friends and family. Unlike the Torrance family, we still have the ability to reach out and communicate with eachother and the rest of the outside world. The phone lines are all up and the radios are still humming. This is not the end of the road for The Shining and me. A brief pause as I head on down the road to discover what delights are in store in Night Shift, King’s first published collection of short stories.

The road I walk with the King is long and treacherous, and I am still only a few miles from home. The farther I travel, the more I fear getting lost in the ice covered mountains of intention, with nothing but the voices of Nay Say to keep me company. It would be so much easier to turn around now and hurry back home to the warmth and comfort of stories that calm and soothe my spirit. Stories that lack teeth. Stories that hold no influence over the ghosts that sleep in dark corners. Here the Nay Say voices soften to barely audible mutterings of, “I told you so.” Here I can relax, put my feet up, and leave the road to be walked far behind me.

Funny. I don’t remember our apartment having such elaborate landscaping.

If I didn’t know better I’d say that hedgerow looks a lot like…

Well, shit.


The first time I ever saw the name, Richard Bachman, was in the opening credits for a 1987 Arnold Schwarzengger action movie called, The Running Man. By that time the world at large was already well aware that King and Bachman were one and the same, but I had somehow remained pleasantly unaware. This was years before the internet and if you "Googled" something back then you ran the risk of growing hair on your palms or going blind. The Running Man quickly became one of my favorite movies and was one of many that I had to watch over at a friends house, as "R" rated flicks were not yet allowed in the Hartley home. As viewing sessions slowed due to my friends tiring of Die Hard and First Blood on a constant loop, I decided to seek out the books these movies were based on, with The Running Man at the front of the pack. The Big Rapids library had a copy of Bachman's book, but the librarian was not expecting it back any time soon as it was already running more than a month overdue. One of my theater Moms owned a small book shop and was sure to have a copy for sale. Nope. No copies of The Running Man in stock. She kindly offered to sell me a newer Bachman book called, Thinner, to help tide me over until either the delinquent copy of The Running Man was returned to the library, or the book store got their next shipment. So, I bought her last copy of Thinner and settled for a gypsy curse in lieu of dystopian game shows.
The deeper I got into the pages of Thinner, the more I got this weird feeling as I read. It was a feeling similar to that of deja vu. There was something very familiar about how the words on the page were being projected onto the movie screen of my imagination. It had nothing to do with the story itself or the characters involved, it was more the unseen connections my brain was making with the words on the page and how they were organized. It was like watching the new summer blockbuster at my local movie theater. I might not know anything about the movie being shown, but I do know every seat in the theater right down to which ones are super cozy and still full of stuffing, and which ones are nothing but cloth covered metal springs that poke right into your ass. I finished reading Thinner and went back to the bookstore to see if they had received any new shipments in. While she was looking over her invoices I told her about my strange experience while reading Thinner, and her response rocked me fully back on my heels. She said, "Makes sense. You have read almost everything else he has written, so you probably just recognized his style, even if he is writing under another name." What the hell was she even talking about? Prepare for Karl's young mind to be blown in 3...2...1..."You know...Stephen King. Richard Bachman. Bachman and King. Same guy." Blamo!
Sadly, she had not received any new copies of The Running Man that day. Over the years I would only read one more Bachman book, The Regulators, as it was published alongside King's novel, Desperation as a companion piece. If it weren't for this blog series, I would have had no desire to hunt down a copy of Rage. While tracking down an original printing of The Bachman Books that still contained the story, I started wondering why it was that I had only ever read two books penned by King's alter ego. Why was I not blazing through those stories with same fervor and excitement? Perhaps I was subconsciously avoiding the works of King's shadow self. Although Bachman did seem familiar, he was somehow more rugged and sinister that King. More raw. If Stephen King is the fun night of drinking with friends and the wild adventures that get stumbled upon, then Richard Bachman is the crippling hangover you wake up to the following afternoon. He is the mouthful of sour cotton that has glued your swollen tongue to the roof of your mouth. He is the taste and stink of cheap cigarettes belching up from the swamp of rotten meat floating in your burning guts. Stephen King is the "Master of Horror". Richard Bachman IS the horror. I have felt him waiting patiently for me all these years. Eager for me to sit awhile and spend some quality time as he tells me a tale that will not soon be forgotten. Mr. Bachman, I will avoid you no longer. Please, tell me a story.
I will begin by addressing the gun shaped elephant in the room. Rage is a book about a school shooting. The ideas, personal reflections, and thoughts I have regarding Rage may be triggering to some. Consider this your one and only warning for the words that follow.
The last publication of The Bachman Books collection that included Rage, was delivered to bookshops in 1998. Stephen King removed the story from future printings as it had been connected with several gun related incidents since its first release in 1977. With all of the history and drama surrounding Rage, I was more than a little afraid of what I might find. Did I really want to park my ass in a classroom full of students and subject myself to the events that would unfold? Vampires at the window are terrifying, but they are not currently threatening the lives of our children. As I remove the plastic wrap from my freshly arrived copy of The Bachman Books from Ebay, I can't help but hear Martin Riggs line from Lethal Weapon, "We are going to get bloody on this one, Rog."
Rage is written mostly in the first person perspective from the perspective of our shooter, Charlie. Perfect! This is just plain swell. I get to live and breathe between Charlie's ears while his thoughts and fears make damp the palm that holds his father's pistol. And I was all worked up and worried about having to witness these events from the outside as an observer, but what I have found here is so much worse. I have to be Charlie for a day. 
I don't know if it is the result of becoming desensitized by movies like John Wick, where gun deaths are beautifully dispensed by a skilled mechanic with style and grace, or the overwhelming influx of real gun violence across the country, but (and it feel REALLY weird and uncomfortable to write this) the events that play out in Rage are not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. YES two teachers are gunned down in cold blood. YES a High School algebra class is held hostage by an active shooter for an afternoon. Charlie does not kill or injure any of his fellow students. For the most part he sits at the front of the class while a handful of his peers share stories about themselves while he tries not to puke on himself. The fact that by the end of the story my thought was, "What? That's it? That's ALL that happens?" has become far more frightening to me than any of the violence I thought was coming. How incredibly eye opening it has been for me that a story that was once at the center of controversy for its portrayal of violence, now feels no more disturbing than a mid-season episode of Riverdale. I have never believed that the violence we witness and participate in through what we read, watch, or control in a video game will lead to violence in the real world. I have always believed that a person that is willing and able to take the life of another human being will eventually come to that conclusion on their own, with our without the aid of fiction. That being said, it does make my short hairs stand on end to think that a previously unacceptable amount of fictionalized violence now seems watered down and lacking teeth. I lack the knowledge to form any real kind of intelligent conclusion to what these discoveries mean, so here it will all sit, like a chunk of burning iron in the pit of my stomach until I can melt it down into something useful and recognizable.
In my first two adventures with Carrie and Salem's Lot, I was able to connect with several of the characters and even found a hero or two to cheer for along the way. I found none of that here. The adults in Rage are all bumbling and worthless, especially when filtered through the eyes of Charlie. I struggle to find interest in the students he holds captive even as they share personal stories and reflections on who they are and how they connect to others their age. The only person I connect with at all is Ted, the ex-jock who watches in horror as the rest of the class falls in line with Charlie's way of thinking. The overall problem I have with Rage is that I really don't care about anyone involved. It all just feels rather...."meh".
More than half of Rage is told in real time as events unfold over the course of a single day, while the rest is revealed to us through a series of flashbacks as told by Charlie and a handful of his fellow students. These visits into the past should give us some insight into Charlie's "why" and help us understand the motivations behind actions. Oddly enough, the past holds very few answers. I feel like we aren't given enough pieces to the puzzle of why Charlie would be driven to kill two teachers and hold his classmates hostage. Don't get me wrong, his Dad is a massive asshole. This is made abundantly clear as Charlie remembers a hunting trip when his was a child and overhears drunk and raucous deer camp chatter between his father and his hunting buddies. It is disgusting, highly inappropriate, racist, sexist, and hateful chatter referring to Charlie's mother. Yes, verbal abuse can be just as powerful and long suffering as physical abuse, but I am left to wonder if there isn't more to the story. In another trip to the past we learn that Charlie had been thrown to the ground in anger when his father discovered he had smashed all of the storm windows he had set out on the lawn to clean. Why do I feel like I am missing something? Why do I feel like this isn't enough? Why do I feel disgusting in thinking this way?? Clearly I am no child psychologist, but I was raised in an era when not only was it okay to spank your kids, it was damn near required. I got spanked right alongside my sister when we got up to no good. I got hollered at when I messed up and did something stupid. There are a some similarities to how Charlie and I were raised, and the end result couldn't be more different. For one, I love my father very much and wouldn't change a thing about how I was raised. Damn. Maybe that is the point. Maybe there doesn't have to be a clear cut reason as to why some people decide to do horrible things. Is it possible that a person is born with their demons pre-loaded and require very little circumstantial motivation to dip into madness? Or do we all have the potential for madness inside us. Maybe Norman Bates was right when he said, "We all go a little mad sometimes." Well that is a horrifying thought. I think Richard Bachman just snuck up behind me and kicked me in the balls.
Charlie is not feeling well today. His stomach is a mess, his head is a mess, his principal is a mess, his locker is a mess. This collection of mess becomes the breaking point for young Charlie as he sets his locker on fire, kills two teachers, and holds his Algebra class hostage. Reading these events as they unfold left me short of breath and in need of a break from the story. I feel that the overall story of Rage is "tame" by today's standards, but what unfolds between the time Charlie leaves the Principal's office and Charlie taking the head of the class, is shocking. The abrupt show of violence put this reader's brain on hold, hoping for a pleasant voice on the other end to chime in and and remind me that this was all just make believe. But that once pleasant voice has been replaced by an automated robo-message saying, "We are sorry. The voice you are are looking for is no longer in service. Please press "One" for more options."
Once Charlie is in place as the new head of the class and the rest of the school has been evacuated, the narrative mashes on the breaks pretty aggressively. Several students have their turn at story time, "showing and telling" glimpses into why they are the way they are. We get a few more peeks into Charlie's past as well, bringing us to a vague conclusion that perhaps we are all more same than different. And that, with a peppering of tense interactions with local police and school administration, is that. Charlie listens to students share stories about themselves. Charlie outsmarts the adults on a handful of occasions. Charlie lets the class go. Charlie attempts suicide by cop. Charlie spends the rest of his life in a mental hospital. 
Rage is a short read and comes in under two hundred pages, but it drags along once we get to story time with the students. I can see what Bachman is going for with an inside look at what makes us all the same, with our unique problems being far more similar than we may have thought. So, the big question is, do we all have the same potential for violence? Are we all one bad afternoon away from committing some horrible act? My hope is that the answer to that question is a resounding "NO", and we can boil the story of Rage down to mediocre story telling with mediocre character development. But hoping and knowing are two very different things. Overall, Rage reads like bargain basement pseudo psychology, with a dash of restless philosophy, wrapped in a stale pita pocket of cautionary tale telling. As I walk away from Bachman's first book, I receive one final gut check when I realized how much has changed since it was first published, and how calloused I have become to both real and fictionalized violence. What happens in Rage is shocking, deplorable, and should have left me wanting to puke my guts out. But it didn't. It felt tame and damn near PG-13 compared to what we have witnessed in the last forty years.  I should have been relieved to find a smaller number of victims here than I had anticipated, but I was left feeling disappointed in the overall body count. And THAT has made me want to puke my guts out.

Back on the Road
Let's get the hell out of this madhouse of a High School and find our way back to King Street. This first walk down Bachman Boulevard has left a bad taste in my mouth. There it is, and just a block down the road. Now, a quick right turn at the intersection, and we are back on track on King Street. What will be coming up next on my long walk with the King? To be honest, I am feeling a little turned around after our first detour down Bachman Boulevard. Maybe one of those kind folks walking towards that charmingly ominous factory will know where I am. 
"Excuse me, sir? Would you be so kind as to give me directions to the next town? I got a little lost somewhere between fighting vampires and witnessing a school shooting."
One of them slowly turns towards me with a mouth full of banana and replies, "Hrmph nruf?"
"Sorry I didn't mean to interrupt your dinner."
After swallowing most of the yellow mush, " Oh, no. Quite alright. But, yah can't leave until you pay yer dues over at the factory. Yah know, we gotta keep her up 'n runnin' twenty-four-and-seven. Boy, oh boy, would I hate to see you get on the foreman's bad side."
As if on queue, a whistle with dreams of being a tornado siren wails like a banshee from one of the factory's tall towers. Pucker!
"Sorry. Can't stop to chit-chat." the man says as he double times it towards the gates of the factory. "Don't wanna be late! He hates it when yer late!"
The sun has almost fully set behind the factory, spilling its inky shadow over the day shift as they shuffle along past me with the kind of dragging footsteps only a fourteen hour shift can bring. 
As I stare up in amazement at the massive structure, one of the passing workers claps me on the shoulder, "Better get a move on, son. Your time card isn't gonna punch itself" 
Damn it. Looks like I'm working the night shift.

Salem’s Lot


I co-host a weekly film appreciation podcast with my buddy, Max, called Measuring Flicks, where I am able to watch and chat about all kinds of movies. From highbrow French art pieces like Le Samouraï, to schlocky horror flicks like Halloween 4, and all the fun in between. We cover it all! I have had a sincere fondness for movies my entire life, and the Vampire sub-genre has always been one of my favorites. (Go listen to our conversation on Vampire’s Kiss starring Nick Cage, available on ITunes and Spotify) From the beautifully haunted and perfect vampires of Interview with a Vampire, to Santa Carla’s boardwalk biking bloodsuckers of The Lost Boys, oh my how I love them all so! I have watched “The Two Coreys” duke it out with Kiefer Sutherland on at least a hundred occasions, with each viewing filling me with pure joy and delight. Naturally, my love for these movies eventually led me to the world of vampires in literature. I had already fallen in love with Bella Lugosi and his portrayal of Dracula, so Stoker’s original novel was ready and primed to seduce me. I was thrilled to find that Interview with a Vampire was only the first in a series of books to become deeply obsessed with. Somehow, even with all of this deep diving into the world of vampires, I never dipped my toe into Salem’s Lot. Not until now. How the hell is that even possible?

Not all vampires are created equal. I don’t care for those that sparkle, and I am terrified of the one who stands at my window, floating there, just barely visible in the moonlight, whispering to me through blood soaked fangs as my eyes fight to stay open, “No sleep yet, boy. Not until you let me in.” Fuck that Nosferatu looking piece of sun bleached dog shit! That one has been scaring me into pee soaked sheets since before I can remember. That one makes me wake up in the middle of the night to find my body locked in sleep paralysis with the floating images of my most recent nightmare projected onto my bedroom wall. It is that type of type of window lurking, paralyzing, nightmare inducing vampire that King has welcomed into his small town of Salem’s Lot. That is why I have avoided this book for so many years. But, when I made up my mind to walk through the world of King’s writings for a fun little side project, I would eventually find myself dancing with the devil. I feel like I need a friendly hand to hold for todays little adventure, but the only one currently being offered belongs to The Boogyman.

Salem’s Lot

Another small town on fire. This sleepy little town feels so much different than the one I last visited in Carrie. I was introduced to so many more unique residents here in Jerusalem’s Lot, and grew fond and familiar (with most of them) in only of few pages. King proves to be a master of both horror and world building. I don’t think I can actually refer to what he does as “world building”. With King it always feels closer to something like “small town familiarization”, or “nostalgia fabrication”. In either case, I got to know the residents of this now familiar town right down to the exact kind of sludge that grows under their toenails.

Salem’s Lot begins by introducing the only two survivors as they are on the run and in hiding, having escaped something horrific, but as of yet unknown to the reader. Tired, hungry, and terrified, they decide to return home after learning that what they left unfinished has caught up with them. This is a very curious opening to the story, giving me just enough information about what will happen to make the re-telling of events all the more stressful to my delicate constitution. Questions are constantly popping into my head as I read. Questions like, “Well this old lady seems nice, but she wasn’t with the two survivors I read about at the beginning…so what the fuck happens to her?” and “is this Bed and Breakfast going to become a Dead and Breakfast?” (Dad jokes are free of charge) Dropping the reader in with this kind of limited information is incredibly clever, and keeps the tension humming along even when we don’t realize it is there. If we ever do forget about the tension, King is right there to remind us of its presence. It’s like relaxing on a calm summers evening and suddenly realizing the crickets are no longer chirping. What made them stop? How long has it been silent? Is someone there? That’s when the pee comes out.

Once we are plopped back down at the proper beginning of the story, we learn that one of our future survivors is an author who has returned home to write his next novel. His new book heavily features the old Marsten residence, the haunted old house on the hill that tormented him when he was a child. He has words to write and demons to face. We have a sleepy little town, a haunted house on a hill, a prodigal son returning home with a troubled soul…what could possibly go wrong?

A creepy house on a hill. Small towns require it in their bylaws that there is to be at least one such hilltop residence within the city limits. My home town of Big Rapids certainly met this requirement, with one on a hill next to the old Middle School, and one right up the street from my parents house . I had the pleasure of taking my weekly piano lessons at the one on the hill. No shit! The haunted house on the hill in Big Rapids was home to my dearly departed piano teacher, Betty, and her husband, Norman. Every inch of their house felt like you were walking through a Maytag full of wool socks and no dryer sheet. Their house smelled like baked dust and old danishes, and always gave me the feeling that it was leaning ever so slightly towards the center of town. Norm was famous for having a Gomez Adams style train set in his attic and he loved to show it off to Betty’s students. He asked me dozens of times if I wanted to see it, but I could never manage the courage to make it up to the attic. I tried many times to climb those stairs, but as soon as my foot would hit that first step up to Norm’s land of miniature trees and park benches, my legs would forget how to work and that old stairwell would yawn it’s hungry mouth wide open for me, revealing itself to be dark and endless. Vacant save for the anticipation of something terrible inside. David Lynch’s lingering shots of closed doors and open ended hallways owe much to Norm’s stairwell. Norm’s trains were jaw dropping in their detail and a magnificent site to behold, according to those that braved the stairs to see them. I never would.

Creepy houses on the hill are not always evil. Sometimes they can be playful and offer a chance to learn as they thin the veil between worlds. Some are more like the Marsten house, full of the kind of evil that turns healthy blood into sugar-free Kool Aid. There is another house, much like the Marsten’s, that sits not even a block away from where I grew up, and where my parents still live. Aside from that poop of a stairwell, Norm and Betty’s house never really bothered me as it generally felt more harmless and playful. The house up the street from my parent’s served as our towns Asylum until it was converted to a private residence in the late 1950’s. On two occasions I got to personally experience what it is like to be worked over by unkind spirits in that house. The first incident occurred during an overnight birthday party, with me waking up in a “slightly different” location than the one I fell asleep in. The second happened just after steeling a first kiss from one of the girls that lived there. (I am saving the details of those little nuggets for when we romp through that whacky hotel in the mountains) Having grown up around a couple of haunted houses and experiencing their behavior allowed me to immediately understand what the Marsten house represents and what it feels like to have it stare into my soul. King is so delightfully grim in the way he breathes life into that creepy old house that I imagine even those readers who may not have grown up with their own personal “house on a hill”, will be able to understand what that would have been like and learn to fear its constant gaze.

We get introduced to the residents of Salem’s Lot as King walks us through an entire day of business, chores, and interactions beginning at 4:30 in the morning with the milkman’s daily deliveries, and concluding at 11:59 as the old day rolls over into new with King’s incredible sentence, “the day trembled on the edge of extinction.” A lot happens during this first day. We meet most of our main players and a host of tertiary characters. All of them are important. All of them are a functioning part of life in Salem’s Lot. All of them are super fucked and don’t know it! This way of introducing us to the town and her residents as the hours roll by, is absolutely brilliant. It feels like we are reading the journal of an entire city’s population at once, with standard introductions giving way to insight and familiarity. Instead of spending heaps of pages digging into each and every character here (which would be super easy to do given the amount of depth King has given to even the most minor of town folk) I will be taking a snapshot look at our good guys, The Scoobies, (thank you Buffy) and our bad guys, Straker and Barlow. The day long journal entry has been kind to us and has provided names for our Scoobies, with Ben, the writer, Matt, the teacher, Father Callahan, the priest, Mark, the student, and Susan, the lover. Our baddies are Barlow, the vampire and Straker, his human familiar. Straker we get a clear introduction for, while Barlow stays hidden in the shadows until his dark influence is required.

When I reflected on Carrie, I wrote about how she was one of my favorite characters in the King-averse, as she gave me hope when dealing with bullies. As you know, I came to Salem’s Lot late, with this being my first ever read of the book. Had young Karl been brave enough to face the vampires of Salem’s Lot, he would have had the distinct pleasure of meeting a young man named Mark Petrie. Mark shows us a much better (and healthier) example of how to handle a bully. It is crazy how much Mark and I have in common. We are both avid readers, we are thespians and writers, model builders and painters, and we both have a history of being harassed by bullies. But THIS kid does NOT take any shit! He uses his smarts and cunning to outwit and outmaneuver his schoolyard nemesis and succeeds at putting his dick in the dirt. Forty-two year old me let out a very loud cheer of, “Oh fuck yah, kid!” from my reading chair…at 5:30 in the morning…on a Sunday, upon reading of Mark’s successful fending off of his bully. I was overjoyed by the way Mark was able to analyze the situation and methodically take down his opponent. Decades before Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, Mark Petrie is pre-visualizing, calculating all possible outcomes, and kicking ass in slow-motion. I fucking LOVE this kid!

As the sun sets on this first day of our visit to Salem’s Lot, two brothers, Ralphie and Danny Glick will walk through the woods to hang out with our new BFF, Mark. These brothers will never make it to Mark’s house and will become our first two human victims. (a dog gets gutted and hung from a gate earlier in the day) “No kids. No Dogs” Two taboos are crossed off the list in the first hundred pages!

It is damn near impossible for me to not draw some sort of correlation between vampires spreading through a town and the spread of an infectious disease. Danny Glick is our patient zero. He spreads his vampirism laced cold to his brother, Ralphie, who will in turn pass it on to the rest of his friends and family. Like a killer virus, the vampire flu starts very small, but quickly gains unstoppable momentum. The town of Salem’s Lot is a body, her population are the cells that flow through her veins. Vampirism is the cancer that spreads unbounded, taking the once vibrant life of its host and turning it into something sick and pleading. Even here in the early days of his career, I can see the bigger wheels turning in King’s mind. A house on the hill where evil stirs will become a hotel shaped monster in the mountains, and the spread of death through a small town will earn the rank of Captain before burying the world. For now, here in Salem’s Lot, he starts small. Here we will only have to deal with killing our neighbors, our lovers, our friends, and our families, while our enemies mock us from beyond the grave.

Not all is lost, though, our Scooby gang is here! Too bad they are 76 kinds of worthless and have less than a common clue between them. They get their asses handed to them time and again. They make horrible choices. They LOVE to split up when they should be sticking together and they are constantly having to squirm around local law enforcement while trying desperately to deal with their little vampire situation. It is a capital “S” Shit Show from day zero with these chuckle heads. Matt suffers a heart attack and gets hospitalized. Ben gets the snot kicked out of him and gets parked in the same hospital. That is TWO of our heroes nearly taken out before anything significant has even happened! (Well, there was the gutted dog and the two Glick kids, and a few other cases of vampire sickness…it just feels super early in the game for this kind of tomfuckery) Our “A” team is barely competent, acting and reacting to this crazy situation the only way they know how, but are constantly failing. This sounds like a complaint, but oddly enough, it isn’t! This freaking WORKS! It shows us a reflection of ourselves and how we may behave in the same situation. It feels real…and painfully so. The Scoobies take their instruction from an old teacher as he sifts through every book he can find available on the subject of vampires. They grab the nearest priest and hope that a lifetime of seeing the worst in mankind hasn’t shaken his faith into a million pieces. Father Callahan joins hands with the rest of the gang for a time, until that faith problem inevitably surfaces and we bid him farewell in one of the most pathetic “leaving town on a bus” scenes I have ever read. Don’t worry. I have a feeling we will be seeing him again on our long walk. (The Tower beckons, even now.)

While our Scoobies are figuring out their next move, let’s take a moment to chat a bit more about vampires. As I mentioned at the top of this piece, I am a huge fan of vampires in fiction, and dig on most of them. They get pretty silly in My Best Friend is a Vampire, and super rowdy in Fright Night, but I love them both equally! There are so many styles and flavors to choose from. Hip and sexy, dark and brooding, hideous and hungry, or pale and sparkling. They all have a place at the table in the private dining room of my heart. (yes, even the sparkly ones. They are just not my favorite. That’s why they are seated at the kids table) Our head vampire in Salem’s Lot is very much a Nosferatu clone. Tall, pale, thin, hideous, and straight out of the nightmares you thought were forgotten. There are no tea parties or weeping at operas for this gent. Nope! He has just arrived in a box full of earth from the old country and is here to steal the sun from your days and forever fuck up your nights! His army will continue to grow as he sends his crossbreeds to our windows for us to willingly open for them. No matter the type or style of vampire, this seems to be a constant rule. They must be invited in. This fact has always chilled my blood below nominal drinking temperature. Yes, they may have some power or influence over us when they ask for admittance, but we crack open the door. We pull up the window. We LET THEM in!

Vampires often need a human or two around to help with their dirty work, and Straker is here to provide that service. Straker freaks me out, for what he lacks in vampirish hideousness, he more than makes up for with his unyielding cruelty and undying willingness to do anything for his master. Barlow is powerful, strategic, cunning and wise, but needs Straker’s skill and his ability to walk in the daylight in order to succeed. Straker will enlist other humans to unknowingly assist in his master’s plans. If it weren’t for the greedy and nefarious nature of a handful of the Lot’s human residents, Barlow’s plans may have been halted, or at the very least slowed. Once again, King blurs the line between being a human and being a monster. Cut me again, Mick!

Now, back to the Scoobies, they should have things just about figured out by n…oh, Jesus Christ. Mark has been captured. Our new friend, The Doc, has been bitten, and Susan has been turned into a vampire. Good. Good job, gang. Thank heavens for Mark. He was at least able to be somewhat effective as he managed to not only escape his capture in the Marsten house, but put some serious hurt on Straker with a rusty bed leg until he died from it. I fucking LOVE this kid!

Susan is totally fucked and has to be staked. Father Callahan has wet himself after an encounter with Barlow and is buying the next bus ticket out of town. Matt, our resident Van Helsing, has suffered a second and fatal heart attack. The Doc has taken a bit of a bad step and has died in the very cellar where Barlow sleeps. Most of the town has developed an aversion to sunlight and has taken to sleeping in. Ok. Just…wow. It’s like watching a horse fall off a bicycle with these people.

We get down to our last couple of good guys, Mark and Ben, pretty quickly once Barlow is on the prowl. It seems so sudden and jarring to be left with only these two, like taking a crazy Ivan right into a lamp post. But, somehow Mark and Ben are able to pull themselves together long enough to find Barlow’s lair and drive a stake through his heart. This is my only real issue with the book. Once the crisis is in full swing and the shit is happily spinning in the fan, we get to the final showdown in Eva’s cellar without a lot of effort. True, we have lost most of our good-guy squad and only a handful of humans remain, but there is something about how they discover Barlow’s hiding place and their final battle with him that is a bit anticlimactic. Like thinking you have built up a room clearing tuba blast of a fart but only managing to push out a sad little squeaker. With the master vampires heart finally staked, our heroes high tale it out of the Lot, leaving the rest of the town to suffer.

Salem’s Lot does give us a satisfying and somewhat open ended epilogue as our two heroes return home to finish the task of clearing out the remaining vampires. That is where we leave them, with unspeakable acts to perform, and no end in sight. Even after turning the final page of Salem’s Lot and moving on to more lighter fare with the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, and the latest Star Wars novel, I can still see them. Forever hunting. Forever kicking in doors. Forever introducing the hearts of their neighbors to the pointy end of a stick.

What a blast this book was to finally read! It felt incredibly satisfying to finally have the balls to face my vampire at the window. Once this long walk with the King project has come to an end, I see myself revisiting Salem’s Lot to visit old friends and high-five that kick ass kid, Mark, one more time. For anyone wanting a decent film adaptation, there is a made for television movie that Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, made that is widely available. Hooper manages to keep the vampires SUPER creepy looking and keeps most of the story elements and characters intact. There are only a few moments that really scream, “made for television”, but ultimately adds to its 70’s charm.

This brief stop in Salem’s Lot has come to an end and it is time for me to lace up my walking shoes and continue on down the road. A mile down the path and I have come to crossroads. Well this is interesting, there are street signs in the middle of a haunted forest and they look to be brand new. They even shine as if highly polished by caring hands. The path I currently walk down continues on towards that hotel in the mountains. “King Street” is stamped on it’s sign. This new road that crosses it and winds down towards an old High School is stamped “Bachman Boulevard”. According to this map I found in Eva’s Boarding House, these two roads will continue to intersect each other every few miles or so. Well shit then, that means I can take my first stroll down “Bachman Boulevard” and not worry about getting lost on my way to the Overlook Hotel! Looks like I’m headed back to High School. Dammit, the first bell is ringing. I’m going to be late for class!

Karl Hartley – 2/21/2020


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.

-Karl Hartley

My Long Walk with the King

An Introduction

Here we are. Me sitting in my warn out, hand-me-down recliner, with a clunky piece of shit laptop warming my crotch, and you, wherever you are. Whether it be a coffee shop or couch cushion, please, allow me to introduce myself and tell you what this “Long Walk” project is all about.

My name is Karl. I am writing this introductory piece from the comforts of the apartment I share with my fiance, and teenage son in Traverse City, Michigan. This project will be a fathoms-deep dive into the works of Stephen King. This series will focus mostly on his novels and short stories, but like any nerd worth his salt, I will be side questing into films, television series, and other media when appropriate. Each book, movie, and story will be read, watched, listened to, and otherwise discovered here in the same chronological order they were first introduced to the world.

Why? Why read every book in the order they were published and blog about them? The short answer is because I want to. The long answer requires a brief peek into my long ago past when I was a young boy of eleven.

There he is. Eleven year old me sitting with Dad watching a virgin VHS copy of the hot new Dan Aykroyd comedy freshly rented from the video store. My Stepmother is an Alien was a mostly forgettable flick. Kind of funny, but mostly stupid, even by eleven year old standards. However, there was one scene in particular at about the half way mark that I will never forget. In this scene the alien, played by Kim Basinger, is looking through several books on a shelf, reading them in their entirety just by touching the pages. She makes her way through a few mundane titles with little to no reaction. Maybe a snicker here, or a frown there, with each matching the general feel of book she is holding. And then. Oh and then. THEN she comes across a very special book. This book makes her reel in horror and throw it violently on the ground. What book would make an adult act like that? She looked as though she was going to barf alien goo all over Dan Aykroyd’s bookshelf! I jumped off the couch, ran across the living room, paused the tape, and asked my dad a question that would change my life forever.

“Dad. What was that book!?”

My dad’s response came with a chuckle and an all too familiar Hartley smirk, “Oh that’s a Stephen King book called The Shining.”

“Who is Stephen King and what’s a Shining?” A fair follow up question.

My dad stood up and started to make his way over to the VCR, unable to tolerate the straining tracking lines on the television. “The Shining is not for you and Stephen King is a writer.” Then, as he passed, he bent down and whispered in my ear as if making some sort of secret confession, “And he scares everyone.”

Well that was it! All of my curiosity gauges were cranked to maximum and I was now obsessed with Stephen King. As curious as I was and eager to get reading, my parents would not allow me to read anything written by King for several more years. But that didn’t stop me from trying.

Growing up in Big Rapids, we were fortunate to have what I remembered being a wonderful public library. Their children’s section was cram packed with every classic you could imagine, complete with matching murals of The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Winnie the Pooh painted on the walls. I would take several trips a week to the library with my mother, and for the most part would sit like a good boy in the children section with a copy of Stories of Adventure parked in my lap. But occasionally my mom would have to attend meetings in one of the private rooms that would allow me the freedom to go exploring in the “adult section”. This was the section where the shelves were three times as tall. This was the section where forbidden stories whispered to each other. This was the section where Stephen King lived and where Winnie wasn’t. I would quickly find the shelf with all the bent and half torn copies of Cujo, Firestarter, and Christine. Grabbing a few at a time I would run and hide in the stairwell between the first and second floor. Here I would gather enough courage to flip through pages reading only a few sentences at a time until someone would inevitably slam open one of the doors to use the stairs. Both the door below me and the one above were equally loud and would never fail to scare the shit out of me. Back on the K shelf these treasures would go until my next visit.

Several years later my Uncle Mike would gift me my very first, brand spanking new copy of Christine for my birthday. I think I may have also received a bicycle that year, but I can’t remember for certain. If I did, I would ride the bike for the next few summers while Christine would be fully read before sundown.

Book after book would be devoured that year. Finally allowed to check out those old beat up copies of Salem’s Lot, Carrie, and Skeleton Crew I wasted no time getting through all of them. Except for The Shining. That one didn’t get read until I was in my late twenties. Several times I would begin to read The Shining and would feel the overwhelming desire to save it. As if my heart was saying, “No. Not yet. That one is special.” And that it was. It is the book that truly jump started my imagination. I feared if I were to finally read it the mystery would somehow disappear. Like the curiosity gauges would be stepped down a few notches if I finally read the book that started it all. In truth, I feel it may have done just that. My thirties would bring about a massive slow down in my consumption of books. I would go through spurts of reading like I used to, but these sessions would last a few weeks and then months would go by with no pages turned.

Looking back now so many years later I miss that feeling of excitement and discovery I had when first hearing the name Stephen King. In a way that is what this blog series is all about. It’s about going back and visiting old friends. It is also about stepping into new and unexplored stories. While I may have stopped reading, Mr. King has not stopped writing.

This long walk with the King will take as long as it needs to. I will post regular check-ins as I make my way through each book and then publish the companion article once the book is finished and I have had time to get my thoughts together.

My Long Walk with the King begins. How about a pleasant evening stroll through a small town with a young woman in red?

-Karl Hartley