Monday, April 25, 2011

She Used to Make All Kinds of Stuff Up: "The Tommyknockers" Revisited, Part Three

So far, in looking back at The Tommyknockers, I've focused almost exclusively on Jim Gardener and Bobbi Anderson, the two lead characters.  That seems fitting.  However, it'd be a shame to ignore certain other aspects of the novel, such as its large cast of supporting characters.

That does, in fact, mean that what I've got for you tonight is another grab-bag, and that seems like as good a reason as any to post the following photo:

Moving along...

At the beginning of the chapter "Gardener on the Rocks," Jim comes back to consciousness on July 4th (eight days after the disastrous post-reading party), and finds himself in Arcadia Beach, New Hampshire, not far away from the Arcadia Funworld Amusement Park.  As he gathers his few remaining wits and his few remaining possessions, he meets a kid on the beach.  The kid is tossing fireworks, and says his name is Jack.

Now, for the casual reader, this may not mean much of anything, but for the more devoted King fanatic, this has got to be setting off klaxons: "Jack," a kid roaming the beach near the Arcadia Funworld Amusement Park?!?  This has got to be Jack Sawyer from The Talisman, right?

Allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment.  First of all, the kid's name may be "Jack," but The Tommyknockers takes place in 1988.  The Talisman began in 1981, when Jack Sawyer was already twelve years old.  So, by 1988, he'd be -- lemme do the math here (minus the one, then plus seven to the twelve, and, yep...) -- nineteen years old.  Nineteen ain't no kid, so no way is this our little Jacky Sawyer from The Talisman.  Right...?

Of course it's Jack Sawyer.  If Stephen King says otherwise, he's misremembering it.  If Peter Straub shows up on your doorstep with a shotgun and a chainsaw and screams at you that it ain't Jack, well, mister, I'm here to tell you: yes the fuck it is.  That's Jack Sawyer, and tell 'em Honk Mahfah said so.

Here's my proof.

In the next chapter, Gardener is bumming a ride from some friendly pot-smoking youngsters (one of whom is a redhead with punkily-short hair and very long legs, so please believe me when I tell you that I was paying close attention to this chapter just to see if anything interesting would happen).  One of these youngsters, who goes by the unlikely name of Beaver, is described by King as a "kid," and as a "plump boy."

Now, we can choose to interpret this one way or another, in my opinion: either we assume that Beaver is in fact a child who just happens to be riding around with dope-smoking redheads in cutoff jeans, or we assume that when King writes the words "kid" and "boy," he's writing from Gardener's point-of-view, and those words to Gard simply mean someone who is young.  So, which of those two scenarios seems most likely to you?  The answer is clear.

With that in mind, the Jack whom Gardener encounters on the beach could very well be nineteen or twenty years old, and still be seen by Gardener as a kid.  There's really nothing even a little unusual about that.

So, are we straight?  That is absolutely, 100%, definitely Jack Sawyer.  Let's move on to the troubling part: what we learn about Jack during his brief appearance in this novel (and, by the way, if you haven't read The Talisman and want to remain blissfully ignorant of how it turns out, you might want to stop reading now):

     "Last night, and the night before," Gardener chanted, his voice a little rusty, a little eerie.  "Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door."
     The boy blinked at Gardener in surprise ... and then delighted him by unexpectedly adding a couplet Gardener had never heard: "Wanna go out, dunno if I can, cause I'm so afraid of the Tommyknockers man."
     Gardener grinned ... but the grin turned into a wince of fresh pain.  "Where'd you hear that, kid?"
     "My mom.  When I was a baby."
     "I heard about the Tommyknockers from my mother too," Gardener said, "but never that part."
     The kid shrugged as if the topic had lost whatever marginal interest it might have had for him.  "She used to make all kinds of stuff up."  He appraised Gardener.  "Don't you ache?"
     "Kid," Gardener said, leaning forward solemnly, "in the immortal words of Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, I feel like homemade shit."
     "You look like you been drunk a long time."
     "Yeah?  How would you know?"
     "My mom.  With her it was always funny stuff like the Tommyknockers or too hung-over to talk."
     "She give it up?"
     "Yeah.  Car crash," the kid said.
     Gardener was suddenly racked with shivers.  The boy appeared not to notice; he studied the sky, tracing the path of a gull.  It coursed a morning sky of blue delicately shelled with mackerel scales, turning black for a moment as it flew in front of the sun's rising red eye.  It landed on the breakwater, where it began to pick at something which gulls presumably found tasty.  (p. 89-90)

Gardener, at this point, is probably not the only one racked with shivers.  Stephen King's fabled Constant Reader has just been delivered a whopper of a gut-punch: Jack went through all the events of The Talisman to save his mother's life, and won through, only to have Lily Sawyer, Queen of the B's, die in a drunken car accident.  This means that -- at least so far as they pertain to Jack's personal life -- all the events of The Talisman were for nothing; it turns that work of epic fantasy into a mere prologue to tragedy.

What is the function of this scene?  Why would King include it?  My take on answering those questions is to suggest that it is a way of making a very downbeat novel just that much more downbeat.  King, I think, was really out for blood in The Tommyknockers, and this was a surefire way to get it flowing from his Constant Readers.

Let's think for a second about what is going on with this scene as it pertains to Gardener.  He's in the midst of trying to decide whether he should kill himself.  He's decided to call Bobbi because he wants to talk to her before he does it.  So, you have a major King protagonist in the middle of a literal life-or-death decision who then meets another major King -- well, King/Straub -- protagonist, who himself had to make some literal life-or-death decisions several years previously.  And what we learn is that his decisions in that regard ended up not much mattering one way or another; in the end, what was going to be ... was.

This casts an utter pall over Gardener's story.  It only works if the reader has read and still remembers The Talisman, but for those attentive audience members, it absolutely darkens the proceedings.  (One thing I don't remember, by the way: the extent to which Black House, the sequel to Talisman, later functions in relation to this Tommyknockers scene.  I can't recall whether or not Lily's cause of death is given, but she is revealed to be dead, and I remember Jack, before getting his memories back, recalls that she simply made up her cancer scare.  She made all kinds of stuff up, though, right?)

I suppose it would be appropriate to bring up another possibility: that whereas this definitely is Jack Sawyer, he might not be the Jack Sawyer.  In other words, we might be meeting an alternate-universe version of Jack.  Since the connection to The Talisman makes The Tommyknockers an honorary member of the Dark Tower universe, it's possible that this is all taking place on a different level of the Tower than the events of the King/Straub novels.  But I don't think so.  Way further into the novel, on page 420, there is an explicit reference to the movie The Shining.  That means, of course, that The Tommyknockers is taking place in what we must assume to be the same reality as the one from which Sai King chronicles the tales of Roland and his quest.

Let's go a bit further down the rabbit hole, shall we?

There is also an indirect reference to Pennywise, the malicious alien entity of the novel It, to be found in The Tommyknockers: while he is nearby Derry, Ev Hillman imagines that he hears laughter coming from the drainpipes.  But hold on a second: in It, one of the minor characters in a flashback scene is Dick Hallorann, who later ended up as the head chef at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.  Therefore, this cannot be the same reality as the one in which It takes place, which may well mean that in the universe of The Tommyknockers, Pennywise was never defeated by Bill Denbrough and his merry band of losers.  In this universe, maybe they really were losers.

This brings up another association.  In Dreamcatcher, another novel with ties to Derry, there is a bit of graffiti -- "Pennywise Lives" -- that some of the characters find.  Does that mean that Dreamcatcher takes place in this same reality?  If so ... hey, wait a second.  Isn't there a major character in that novel named Beaver?  Might he have been toolin' around in a van circa 1988, giving rides to grizzled poets?  It's possible; Beaver's last name in Dreamcatcher is Clarendon, and there are some Clarendons mentioned in The Tommyknockers during the discussion of Haven's history.  My memory of Dreamcatcher is quite poor, so I don't know that I can clear any of these questions up, but it's fun to contemplate.

Back on the subject of Pennywise, there's another amusing possibility.  Since we know that The Tommyknockers takes place in a reality where Stephen King himself exists, might it not be possible that when Ev Hillman imagines hearing laughter coming from the drains in Derry, he is doing so because ... well, because he's read a novel by Stephen King called It, and is remembering it and creeping himself out just because he is in the town of Derry?  Hell, for that matter, that could explain the "Pennywise Lives" graffiti in Dreamcatcher.

Dontcha just love all this connectivity between King books?  I'd say it's just as likely as anything else that King wrote some of this stuff in The Tommyknockers with no real eye toward making it all sync up, and that when he reused the name Beaver in Dreamcatcher, he did it for no real reason other than that he liked the name.  But that's no fun to think about, is it?  And anyways, I wouldn't assume it to be true; King obviously put a lot of thought into connecting his novels at other points in his career, so he may have put considerable thought into it every time he make purposeful connections.

Well, looky 'yere, Huck!  We sat down to write us a grab-bag, and ended up writing us a long ramble about how The Tommyknockers connects to other King novels.  Whattaya know?

I'd intended to write about some of the book's other characters, but I think maybe I've written enough for tonight.  I suppose I could make another post out of my remaining thoughts, and that's exactly what I'll do.



  1. I am a dumbass.

    Despite my initial intentions, this post ended up being all about connections between "The Tommyknockers" and other novels by Stephen King.

    And yet, I forgot about three big ones: "The Dead Zone," "Pet Sematary," and "Firestarter." Rather than revise the post (which I considered), I ended up deciding to just make it a part of the next post I did. In case you haven't read that and would like to, here's a link:

  2. In writing a post about the extended Dark Tower series, I had to make a decision: should I include "The Tommyknockers" on that list?

    The only valid reason to include it would be if I accepted the notion that Gard meets Jack Sawyer on the beach. If so, then since the "Talisman" books have blatant, undeniable connections to "The Dark Tower," then clearly "The Tommyknockers" would need to be considered a part of that story -- a tiny one, but a part nevertheless.

    I decided to thumb through "Black House" to see if I could gain any insight as to whether Jack appeared in "The Tommyknockers" or not. The best I could find was that on p. 343, Jack tells George Potter that his mother eventually succumbed to her cancer, although she apparently lived for more than five years.

    Seemingly, this would mean that the kid on "The Tommyknockers" must not be Jack, because this kid tells Gard that HIS mother died in a car accident.

    However, that seeming discrepancy could be explained in either of two ways: (1) that Jack is already suffering from the memory loss (the obfuscation of his time in the Territories) and has subconsciously invented the car-wreck story as a means of keeping his mind from thinking about anything related to his fantastical adventures from that time; or (2) that Jack is simply lying to Gard, as a means of trying to scare some sense into an obvious alcoholic.

    Either explanation, I think, would work. Therefore, I remain convinced that this is Jack Sawyer we meet in "The Tommyknockers." Straub may say otherwise, but it simply doesn't make any sense for King to have written a kid named Jack into a scene set in the exact same place where Jack Sawyer was known to be living when last we saw him in "The Talisman." That would be sloppiness of a kind that King simply is not known for.