Sunday, September 1, 2013

It Had Been Inevitable: A Review of "Here There Be Tygers"

Originally published in the same issue of Ubris (spring 1968) that contained "Cain Rose Up," "Here There Be Tygers" is a memorable little tale, and while I doubt that a great number of people would list it near the top of his short-story output, I think it's got its charms.

The story is simple: a third-grader, Charles, needs to go take a leak, gets sent to the bathroom by his hag of a teacher, and finds that there is a tiger trapped inside by the toilets.  An incredulous classmate gets devoured, and then the teacher comes to investigate, whereupon Charles goes back to class.

art by J.K. Potter from the Scream Press limited edition of Skeleton Crew

I don't know whether King intended the story this way or not, but "Here There Be Tygers" strikes me as being very close to qualifying as a story for children.  I say that as a positive, by the way; no maligning of the story is intended.  Instead, I think it makes the story both fun and oddly touching, and I certainly think that a great many kids would enjoy reading it.  It functions on a childlike level of logic that would appeal to younger readers, even though their parents might not approve of a few of the words King uses.

Since this is such a brief story, let's take a run through it top to bottom, hitting some of what I perceive to be the highpoints.

"Charles needed to go to the bathroom very badly," reads the first sentence.  "There was no longer any use in trying to fool himself that he could wait for recess.  His bladder was screaming at him, and Miss Bird had caught him squirming."

From one vantage point, beginning a story in such a way is a rude device ("rude" in the sense of being low, common, vulgar).  From another vantage point, it is a technique that is sure to be relatable to virtually any reader.  This might not always be the case; if the robots are still reading Stephen King after the Great Machine Uprising and its attendant apocalypse take place, they might not empathize with what Charles is going through in these opening lines.  But us flesh-and-blood humans are bound to.  Who among us has not needed to piss at some point and been unable to do so as urgently as we wish?

I'll tell you my most memorable such tale.  I had braces when I was a teenager, and having them put on was a several-hours process.  It was bad enough on its own, but about halfway through the ordeal I realized that I needed to do a Number One.  Had I foolishly drank a bunch of water before the appointment?  It seems like I must have; no real explanation otherwise, unless the wait at the orthodontist's office had been longer than expected.  In any case, things eventually reached a bit of a fever pitch down there in the reservoir, and I spent roughly the last hour of the process in sheer agony.  I suppose that I must have thought that once the braces began going on, there was no interrupting the process; I may even have been told as much, I can't recall.  I didn't ask anybody for a break, I know that much.

That sucked.  But I didn't let go of it.  In the great Bryant vs. Piss championship bout of the late 1980s, Bryant emerged shaken, but victorious.  (I later won a similar -- but even more intense -- World Championship bout vs. Poop.  That's another story for another time, but thank Christ that it has the same happy ending...)

Maybe we haven't all had to take a leak while trapped under an orthodontist's ministrations, but if you're drawing breath, you're bound to have had to go badly at some point or another.  (Not you, Stephen Hawking; you are understandably immune to this issue.)  With that in mind, you've got to figure that the vast majority of people who have ever read "Here There Be Tygers" feel an essential empathy from the very start of the story.  Has that helped a few of them engage with the story over the years?  I don't see how it can have failed to do so.

A lot of us can probably also empathize -- and sympathize -- with Charles based on the teacher/student relationship, which we quickly find out is none too wonderful, at least not from Charles's point of view.  "There were three third-grade teachers in the Acorn Grammar School," we are told: Miss Kinney, a bouncy young blond woman; Mrs. Trask, shaped "like a Moorish pillow" and prone to booming laughter; and Miss Bird.  "Charles had known he would end up with Miss Bird.  He had known that.  It had been inevitable."

Here, King is playing with the idea of dread, and he is doing it in such a way as many children would immediately recognize.  Dreadful children (by which I do not mean Honey Boo Boo, but instead children who are prone to feel dread over things) confronted by a fate that involves one of three teachers, one of whom is patently wonderful, the other of whom seems less wonderful but nevertheless essentially decent, and one of whom is a horrible hag of a woman, will of course see it as their innate destiny to end up with the horrible hag.  All it takes is for one or two such fates to actually come to pass, and you've got a kid who will dread things for the rest of his life.

It may be that this is where the idea for horror fiction comes from.  If you're a child who finds good reason to dread things like whether your third-grade teacher will be Miss Kinney or Miss Bird, you may also be the kind of child who dreads things like whether there is a monster in your closet, or one under your bed, or whether there is a werewolf outside the door, waiting only for you to open it before opening its jaws.  If you are that child, then -- even if only while the lights are out and you are trying (vainly) to get some sleep -- such ideas seem real.  Because if you knew -- just knew -- that you were going to get Miss Bird, and that happened, well, why couldn't there be a monster under your bed?

Similarly, why couldn't there be a tiger in the bathroom?  Well, more on that in a bit, but first let's return to the horrible Miss Bird.

Charles is of the opinion that Miss Bird is out to destroy him.  His rationale for this is that she will not allow him to say "go to the basement" instead of "go to the bathroom."  This is the point at which I have to confess that I don't entirely understand what this means.  Outside of this story, I have never heard anyone refer to "going to the basement" in that sense.  Is this something that was common vernacular in the '50s and/or '60s?  Is it peculiar to King's area of the country (New England)?  Or is this some sort of quirk peculiar to Charles himself, the idea being that what he's saying really is weird?

My best guess is that it is regional vernacular that readers of King's at the time -- this was written for (or, at least, published in) the University of Maine's literary journal, Ubris -- would have immediately understood it.  The idea in-story, then, is probably that Miss Bird has some sort of pet peeve about hearing children say "go to the basement," and has launched a one-woman crusade to stamp the saying out.  I'm still not entirely sure that makes sense.  The reason why children would say that instead of "go to the bathroom," I guess, would be that they don't want to embarrass themselves in front of their classmates by admitting that they urinate and/or defecate.  So by pretending they are going to the basement, nobody can make fun of them.  Except if everyone knows what going to the basement means, isn't the charade revealed?  It's all very confusing.  It's also worth pointing out that Miss Bird is erasing one euphemism by merely replacing it with another: "go to the bathroom" is no more fundamentally honest a saying, is it?

For the sake of moving on, I am going to simply assume that the scenario works more or less the way I laid it out in the foregoing paragraph.  If someone has clearer insight into the basement/bathroom issue, please visit the comments section and lay some learnin' on me.  I'd be pleased to receive it.

The story begins with Charles needing to go pee very badly, and Miss Bird noticing and calling him out on it.  What follows is a brief bit of rather intense harassment, which Charles receives from at least three people: Miss Bird herself and two classmates, Cathy and Kenny.  When Miss Bird notices Charles's evident distress, she asks, "Charles, do you need to go to the bathroom?"  This is enough to cause Cathy to giggle, and Kenny to also make an amused noise, and to kick Charles under the desk.  If your initial impulse here is to roll your eyes and think how incredibly goddamn stupid kids can be, welcome to the club.  It's true; they can be.  I mean, Jesus, everyone has to go to the bathroom.  Unless you shit your pants in the middle of class, you've probably got nothing to be ashamed about.

But let's not kid ourselves: from the vantage point of being inside the jungle that is kid-dom, stuff like this makes complete sense.  I remember going to elementary school with a girl named Agatha.  Agatha was a relatively homely girl, and was unpopular, and the reason for that was that she had supposedly farted in class once.  She was an absolute pariah.  I remember that about her, and I remember that she helped me pass a note to a girl I liked once, and that's the sum total of my knowledge about Agatha.  I also remember that if you got caught taking a shit at school, there was no hope for you.  This persisted into my high school years (with an odd exemption being the football team locker-room, where shitting before or after practice was considered to be a point of pride), and I do not believe that I ever defecated while upon school grounds until I was in college.  Not even in the locker-room.  Why?  Beats the hell out of me.  Because I was afraid I'd get caught, I guess.

Some psychiatrist somewhere is probably nodding along with all of this and mentally judging me.  That might even be the correct reaction.  For all I know, the social pressure upon males in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, between the years 1983 and 1992 to avoid defecating while at school warped me beyond the point of repair.  I don't think it had any sort of huge impact; if it had, surely I would be prone to watching "Two Girls, One Cup" while pantless and aroused, and -- praise Jeebus -- I've never even seen that horrific cultural landmark.

I say that, and it's true, but I wonder if maybe the culture in the schools I attended didn't have a cumulative impact that really did do a lot of damage.  "Damage" might be the wrong word; maybe "impact" would be a better one.
There were other similar no-nos.  For example, if one was caught wearing non-name-brand tennis shoes, you could forget ever having a social life.  Generic shoes were referred to locally as "Buddies" (alternative spelling: "Buddys"), and woe unto the poor wretch who wore such things.  Also massively verboten: wearing any sort of generic clothing that was an obvious attempt to copy one of the various name-brand styles of the time.  Two examples: there were shorts called Jams which were a big deal here in town, and there were various knock-off brands that could be bought as cheaper alternatives.  If there's one thing my mother was terrible at, it was understanding how seriously other kids took shit like that.  I got the fake Jams, and I got made fun of.  A lot.

Another priceless example is the Coca-Cola rugby shirt, which was hugely popular in the mid-eighties, at least around here.  It looked something like this:

So, of course, I was instead purchased something to wear that looked a bit more like this (the one I got didn't say "Cold Crush," whatever that is; I can't remember what it did say -- this was the closest image I could find):

And the fucking thing was yellow, too.  I begged to be allowed to wear something else to school; no dice.  We didn't have that much money, so if clothes got bought for us, we had to wear them.  It makes sense to me now.  It made less sense then.  And it had ramifications.  As stupid, shallow, and senseless as that sounds, it had ramifications.  And the more I think about it, the more serious they seem.

So what Charles is going through here, with Cathy and Kenny laughing at him and Miss Bird all too happy to inflame the situation, makes sense to me.  I bet it makes sense to a lot of kids; and maybe to a decent number of adults, too.  (King was certainly still writing about similar themes several years later, in Rage, Carrie, and -- to a lesser extent -- The Body.  Elements of it pop up in Hearts in Atlantis, even, and that was nearly thirty years later.)

As is bound to be the case for any child who knows dread, things get worse.  Miss Bird asks Charles for clarification.  "Very well, Charles," she says.  "You may go to the bathroom and urinate.  Is that what you need to do?  Urinate?"

What a cunt.  I know a lot of people hate that word, but boy, sometimes it's the only one that seems to fit.

Charles, humiliated and chastened, leaves the classroom and goes off down the hall, alone with his thoughts, and once inside the bathroom he receives a bit of a surprise:

The tiger was lying down at the far end, just underneath the pebbly-white window.  It was a large tiger, with tawny venetian blinds and dark stripes laid across its pelt.  It looked up alertly at Charles, and its green eyes narrowed.  A kind of silky, purring grunt issued from its mouth.  Smooth muscles flexed, and the tiger got to its feet.  Its tail switched, making little chinking sounds against the porcelain side of the last urinal.

How surprising this moment must be to the hypothetical reader who has no notion of what to expect from the story.  That probably doesn't happen all that often these days; even the novice Stephen King reader must be expecting something out of the ordinary to happen, in any book or story by King.  But imagine the UM student who bought that issue of Ubris and was determined to read it cover to cover.  She had no idea who "Stephen King" was; she just wanted to read the journal, and was humoring the story about the kid who needed to pee, and then BAM!, tiger.  Her surprise must have been nearly as great as that of Charles himself.  It's a great moment, and I'm hard-pressed to think of another in King's canon quite like it.  The closest I can come is Rage, when Charlie -- another Charles... -- produces the gun and shoots the teacher. Or perhaps the childbirth scene in "The Breathing Method."  Or maybe the first appearance of the novel 'Salem's Lot in Wolves of the Calla.  But even those aren't quite as surprising as that tiger.

It's also worth mentioning that the tiger's presence can theoretically tie back in to the idea of dread.  For people who dread things, it may be true to say that what they are really afraid of is being afraid.  Roosevelt was onto something when he said that thing about fear itself, but what does it matter?  Being afraid is a scary enough thing in ad of itself, because when you live your life in a fearful manner, there is always potential for horror around each and every corner.  And some fears simply cannot be overcome.  The tiger represents that idea, but not in the way you think.  Let's continue, picking up a moment after Charles has darted back out into the hallway (safe, assuming tigers do not know how to open one-way-swinging doors):

     Charles wiped the back of his hand across his nose.  His heart was thumping so hard he could hear it.  He still needed to go to the basement, worse than ever.
     He squirmed, winced, and pressed a hand against his belly.  He really had to go to the basement.  If he could only be sure no one would come, he could use the girls'.  It was right across the hall.  Charles looked at it longingly, knowing he would never dare, not in a million years.

Consider the implications.  Put yourself in Charles' shoes.  Let's say you had to take a mad piss, and walked into a bathroom, only to find a tiger sitting there.  The tiger stands up, giving you the hungry eyes, and you do what any sane person would do: you GTFO.  ASAP.  Now, let's assume that there is (for whatever reason) nobody you can alert about this, so there is nothing to be done except worry about relieving yourself.  What would you do?  Go to the opposite-sex bathroom across the hall?  Piss your pants? Drop trou and let it loose onto the floor?  None are great options, but I think we can agree that all become immensely appealing in comparison to the idea of going back into the bathroom with the tiger.

And yet, that is exactly what Charles ends up doing.  But hold the fort...before that, things get worse!  Kenny shows up, having been sent by Miss Bird to check on what is taking Charles so long.  Charles tries to tell Kenny, who doesn't believe him, but goes in to investigate.  Charles waits a few moments, and there is no scream, nor any other sound from Kenny.  Charles goes in to investigate:

     The washbowls and the mirror were neat, and the faint smell of chlorine was unchanged.  But there seemed to be a smell under it.  A faint, unpleasant smell, like freshly sheared copper.
       With groaning (but silent) trepidation, he went to the corner of the L and peered around.
     The tiger was sprawled on the floor, licking its large paws with a long pink tongue.  It looked incuriously at Charles.  There was a torn piece of shirt caught in one set of claws.

And now, Charles, unable to hold off any longer, compromises: he pees in one of the sinks, as close to the door (and as far away from the tiger) as he can get.  But let's not focus on Charles pissing in a sink.  Let's focus on the idea that in Charles' mind, it was less risky to piss in a room with a known man-killer of a tiger than it was to go to the girls' room.  Or, hell, just pee on the floor in the hall.  That's how powerful the idea of social stigma is that is working upon Charles.

It's a metaphor, and one that undoubtedly would not hold true in the real world.  No kid, I suspect, would actually go back into that bathroom.  But that's not my point.  My point is that I think a large number of kids, if they read this story, would totally understand why Charles opts out of going to the girls' room.  Because whereas the tiger might or might not eat you, your peers will eat you alive in a different way if you get caught in that girls' bathroom.

The story comes to a happy ending, of course.  Miss Bird rushes in and find that Charles has peed in the sink, and is horrified.  The last we see of her, she is disappearing around the corner inside the boys' room, expecting to find and chastise Kenneth.  "She meant to pounce," we are told.  "Charles thought Miss Bird was about to find out what pouncing was really all about."  That last sentence is a bit inelegant, maybe, but it would undoubtedly delight kids, especially of the sort who read, say, James and the Giant Peach and get a grin out of the scene in which Aunties Spiker and Sponge are smooshed by the peach as it rolls down a hill.  Kids delight in a villain receiving her comeuppance; and maybe they are right to do so.

"Here There Be Tygers" is a simple story, and the main thing I get out of it, I guess, is a simple evocation: boy, does it suck to be a kid, sometimes.  What with the awful old teachers and the jeering classmates and the laughing girls and the surprise tigers, it's a real drag some days.  I think reading much more than that into it would maybe be a mistake, but that's okay: it's a simple story, but with some not-so-simple emotions backing it up.
Thinking back on the fact that this story and "Cain Rose Up" appeared in the same issue of Ubris, it's cool to consider that if either were viewed in isolation, each would seem to negate the possibility of the same author writing the other.  We know better, because we know who Stephen King became; but imagine how much of a surprise that might have seemed to be in 1968 to someone who had never heard the name before.
Pretty cool.

Coming up soon on The Truth Inside The Lie: a five-part look at each of the graphic novels in Marvel Comics' adaptation of The Stand.  After that, I've got a couple of ideas I want to explore that were keyed off Bev Vincent's book The Dark Tower Companion, and after that, another short story, "Strawberry Spring."  I'll be following that up by a long-overdue read of Tabitha King's first novel, Small World, which I'm very much looking forward to, a sentiment I could also apply to the next project after that: a reread of Four Past Midnight, which I have not read in probably fifteen years.

So there's a lot of good stuff on the way.  I'll do my best not to fuck it up.  Now, pardon me while I go put on my faux-Coca Cola pajamas and go to bed.  See ya!


  1. Your reviews often have things that crack me up, but this was pretty funny throughout. Not sure if that was the intent, but if so, well-done. Well, either way, well done!

    Personally, I kinda like the Cold Crush rugby shirt. Shit, I'd wear that now. (Which reminds me of something Dawn said the other day about how "I just don't know any better..." There's probably truth in this.)

    I'd loved to have seen Maurice Sendak or Edward Gorey illustrate this.

    You've got me thinking of genuine-surprise/shock moments in King's writing... I have nothing off the top of my head but I tried to keep a running list of things I didn't see coming when I was re-reading the Kingverse. I'll have to review those soon and see what my list looks like. I don't think this was on there, but as you say, the contemporaneous reader might have been totally sidewinded.

    Some good stuff on the horizon - that should keep you busy!

    1. I'll say!

      I'd love to see that list of surprises-via-King. If you've got no other plans for it, feel free to drop it in here. I love stuff like that.

      I sort of vaguely remember being very surprised by this story the first time I read it, but I was also really disappointed by it, because it didn't have what I was looking for from a King story. Time has been kind to it, though.

      Thanks for the compliment. I typically TRY to be funny; it's arguable as to whether I succeed. But I typically make myself laugh, and that's good enough for me. If it made you laugh, too, then I must be doing something right. I'll never win any awards for my criticism, but my opinion of criticism is that it's typically just too dry. Lighten that shit up -- that's my take on it. It helps make the dry bits go down a bit more smoothly.

      That's my theory, at least.

      I like the Sendak / Gorey idea. That'd seem like a couple of perfect fits.

  2. At first as I read over this review I'll admit I thought I was reading unrelated filler. (no that wasn't meant as some kind of joke, for the love of...!) What I realized as I read on though is that here is a perfect example of the effect great (I won't say perfect) works of art can have on the mind.

    It also, I think, backs up the Jungian idea of stories as self-making archetypes. The very fact that single, simple, almost Aesop-like story could bring to mind all those related memories is , in itself, proof that the effect of great works of art are essentially psychological.

    I also would back up what you say about the belief in monsters during childhood, only in my case it was never (at the time) a matter of believing Dracula was in my closet, it was (to my five year old mind, anyway) a simple fact, AND THAT FRAKKING BLOODSUCKER WAS GONNA FRAKKING KILL MEEEE!!!!!

    I believe King when he says the best horror taps into those childhood beliefs.

    Going into the symbols of the story (for that's all they are, and I think it's mistake to judge any story in terms "Realism", even those by Steinbeck), I'd have to say that a lot of your remarks on it are true enough. The only thing I'd add are a few brain teaser considerations.

    For instance, the nature of the Tiger. Quite simply, how the hell does a frakking supposedly Bengal Tiger get in the men's room of a children's elementary (I said stories shouldn't be judged on realism)!

    I'm inclined to treat the whole sequence of events as more or less an act of some kind of symbolic karma, or Ka if you prefer.

    In this scenario, a more or less supernatural event is triggered in some way by the schoolyard of growing up. Whatever the tiger was doing there, if that's even what it was, it's pretty obvious at least two problems have been effectively removed from the kids life.

    Imaginatively expanding on the story a bit, I'd say that what happens is that when the teacher and student are realized as missing, all that's found by the staff is a small drying puddle of blood in the boy's bathroom, along the torn piece of the kid's shirt. There's not event the faintest scent in the air, just that puddle and piece of t-shirt.

    Naturally, the worst is assumed in the most rational manner, and the unfortunate teacher becomes America's Latest Most Wanted. The main character never mentions anything about any tiger, and truthfully says he never saw what happened to either missing party.

    Eventually, the whole thing fades from his memory and the last time even the flicker of it occurs to him is probably something like sometime later in college and he's assigned Blake's The Tyger, and for some reason a goose walks over his grave.

    In way, this does make it out as something along the lines of Carrie, only slightly twisted optimistic ending. If it helps, you can think of the kid always being haunted some indefinable sense of guilt, maybe.

    As for the rest of the recollections in this entry, a lot of it wound up reminding me of this vlog featuring a meditation on hypocrisy in high school by Noah Atwiler (whom I've brought up before, and who I now officially think of as Oddwiler after watching this review):


    1. I'd say pretty much my entire life consists of unrelated filler, so it's bound to seep into the blog every now and then. ;)

      I sort of purposely avoided speculating on the hows/whys of the tiger's presence in my review; I didn't feel that explaining it was in keeping with the tone of the story. However, while rereading it, I did find potential explanations coming to mind, and the one that seemed the likeliest is pretty close to what you describe here.

  3. Although I have never heard of 'going to the basement' my guess is that also that it is some sort of vernacular. I know that older school buildings in New England have their bathrooms in the basement. (Probably an economical reason for this. -- Less plumbing, etc...) So it would make sense in an area of the country settled by Puritans, that they would ask to go to the basement instead of the bathroom.

    1. It does seem logical that something like that would be the case. I appreciate the info about some schools having their bathrooms there; I bet that's where King got this saying from.


  4. i just read the story, googled to find out what it was about, and happened upon your post. kudos on investigating the theme in such a brilliant manner. I will now proceed to read more of your blog posts.

    PS: i thought everybody dreaded some things.. and had that sinking feeling in the gut. But ou are saying not everyone dreads? that's unjust! :D

    1. I suspect that most people -- certainly most children -- do have strong fears, but I'm not sure most people can be said to dread things. I think of dread as a fear that is so powerful that you almost literally can't forget it; it's almost a compulsion, a thought you can't get rid of.

      I don't know that most people fear things in that way; I think most people fear what is right in front of them.

      Dread can be a more general thing, though, I guess. One can have an overall negative sense of their own life, and I suppose it might be fair to say that that manifests as a sort of dread of how things are going to turn out.

      It's an interesting distinction. I suspect I've failed to meaningfully explore it either in the post or in these comments. A topic for another day, maybe!

      Thanks for stopping by and reading this and taking the time to comment on it. I always appreciate it!

  5. I too had tried to explore the concept of dread in a really short story i wrote, would love to hear your views

  6. I felt the boy killed the kid and the teacher in the bathroom located in the school basement. He wrote it off in his head that a tiger did it and got some counseling and community service. Now he is most likely a politician or some type of minister.

    1. I'm very resistant to interpretations like that. I know that people do it commonly nowadays, but it seems very reductive to me. I've never wanted or needed all the mysteries to have rational explanations. What fun is that? I've got the real world for that sort of thing; it's not necessarily what I seek in fiction.

      But as far as readings of that nature like that go, I'd say yours works. coughdonaldcough coughhillarycough

  7. Friend of the blog Aaron B. informs me that an answer to the "basement" issue can be found on p. 13 of the mass-market edition of "Bare Bones":

    "Now, some months ago my youngest boy" "said, 'I've got one problem with kindergarten.' And I said, 'What's that?' And he said, 'I'm embarrassed about going to the basement.' And at first I thought he meant the basement. I couldn't imagine why they were sending kindergarten kids down to the school basement. then this sort of ancient memory from grammar school came up in my mind and I thought, he means the bathroom, because that's what we always used to say, 'Can I go to the basement.' "

    King does on to say, "I remembered that I had been terribly embarrassed about that as well. So I said something that I hoped was comforting, and a little story came out of it, which was, I think, a direct response to that question. I began to play with the idea of mean old teachers who make you raise your hands in front of all these little kids and they all laugh when you're walking out of the room because they know what you're going to do. They know it. This became the story Here There Be Tygers, which was for my little boy. But it's also for anybody else who wants it or needs it or anybody else who ever sat there in school and suffered 'cause you didn't want to admit in front of everybody else that you had to do those things."

    This appears in a piece called "An Evening at the Billerica Library," which is the transcript of a talk King gave in 1983. (It can also be found in "Secret Windows," by the way.)

    Thing is, "Here There Be Tygers" was originally published in 1968, whereas Owen King was not born until 1977. So unless King was inspired by Owen's admission to conduct a major rewrite of the story, the timeline King is giving here really doesn't work fully as an origin for this story.

    Either way, it makes it plain that the use of "basement" is an embarrassed substitution for "bathroom."


    Thanks for the tip, Aaron!

  8. I read this story with my middle school students and we turn it into play. After reading that great story like 50 times so far, I fully believe that tiger can't be real.

    Besides the obvious "Where would a tiger come from and how would it get into and elementary school and into the bathroom?", I believe there are other clues.

    Why would the tiger, which is described as "quite hungry and very vicious", not eat Charles straight away? It also didn't bother him when Charles was peeing in the sink... odd.

    The tiger couldn't swallow Kenny and Miss Bird whole, so as he was crunching away, the sounds of the tiger and the screams of the victims would, in reality, alert someone else?Plus, King clearly states "there was no scream." This story is grounded in reality. Where were the blood and remnants of Kenny when Miss Bird walked in? There had to be more than just a scent. And even if there was just a scent, wouldn't Miss Bird have smelled it too?

    A teacher would not leave her classroom to find these two boys... she wouldn't leave the other 23 or so students to their own devices. I know this isn't a strong point, but as a teacher, it is true. She might run across the hall, but not all the way down to the basement!

    Those points, in addition to Charles obviously feeling humiliated by Miss Bird (his defiance by calling it the "basement basement basement IF I WANT", feeling angry that Cathy Scott never needed to use the basement, and then the awesome lines about "old b-i-t-c-h, show his anger.

    Also, as far as he's portrayed, Charles is not a psychopath, so he'd have a more traumatized reaction to knowing a tiger just ate two people, rather than his lollygagging walk back to the classroom where he gazes at the flag and reads all the posters twice as he calmly returns to the classroom (missing its teacher!) and takes out ROADS TO NOWHERE.

    Great review and I hope you don't mind me chiming in, but I love this story and have studied it extensively! Happy to have (finally) thought to look online for someone else's review. My point is not law, but I stand by it :) Charles is in third grade- he's using his imagination to get revenge on those who he feels bullied by.

    1. I can't endorse your interpretation, because it robs the story of its weirdness, and the weirdness is the entire point. It takes these things that some kids might feel anxiety about and then tosses a tiger into the mix as a sort of reinforcing agent. If it's all in his imagination, I think the story would be obliged to actually tell us that.

      But readings of the "it was all in his head" variety irritate me in general. You can apply them to any story (literally any story). But should you? For me, that's a no.

      That's very cool to hear that your class did the story as a play! I'd love to hear more about that, plus about their reactions to the story in general.

  9. The basement is his subconscious. He's aware of the fact that there is a monster in his subconscious that will come out the moment he sets foot in the bathroom. Basement is merely a deeper level of himself. He is the tiger. He kills Kenneth. He kills Ms. Bird (tigers eat birds). This is a sociopath marred and taunted by his surroundings.

    1. I'd argue that King rarely (if ever) does that sort of thing -- by which I mean, making the story about secret psychology -- unless it's literally a part of the text (Strawberry Spring, The Boogeyman).

      And I don't think that's what King is doing here.

      Just my opinion, of course. And I appreciate hearing yours!