Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Needful Things" Revisited, Part 2

As I mentioned during part 1, putting this retrospective on Needful Things together has proven to be more of a challenge than is typically the case for me.  So rather than belabor the issue, I'm going to conclude my look at the novel by vomiting a bunch of notes onto a blog post.
  
That sounds dismissive, but don't take it that way unless you take it as me being dismissive about my own talents as a blogger.  I'm definitely not dismissive of the novel, which I found to be quite a bit better than I remembered.  I think there's lots to discuss, so let's just get to discussing it.
  
  
Here's the UK hardback, which I actually have a copy of.  It's pretty cool, but I prefer the American hardback art.
  
  
A word about format seems in order.  Since I'm doing what amounts to a commentary track here, it makes sense to have a standardized method of referral.  Ideally, we'd all just use the same edition of the novel, but that, of course, would be a hopelessly naive expectation.  So instead, I am going to refer not to page numbers, but to chapters and subchapters.  For example, if I refer to something in subchapter two of Chapter One, I will designate it like this:  Ch.1 (2).
  
Simple enough?  Good, let's proceed.

You've Been Here Before -- In the prologue, the folksy narrator has a line that confuses me a bit: "It's like my mother used to say -- people have more fun than anybody, except for horses, and they can't."  Maybe somebody can explain this to me.  Is it just a pun on "canter," or am I missing something?
 
 
The U.S. hardback includes some cool woodcut illustrations by Bill Russell, which I will pepper throughout the post so as to make it more beauteous.  (By the way: I am completely bluffing when I call these woodcuts.  They may well be no such thing.)

  
Ch.1 (2) -- When we first meet Brian Rusk, he is somewhat consumed by a sort of adolescent lust for a teacher at his school, Miss Ratcliffe.  He has developed and cultivated a rather elaborate fantasy about wooing her, and is mentally playing this out when he is rudely interrupted by Hugh Priest.  Only a few moments after that, he sees that Needful Things is open, and he goes inside.  In fantasizing about Miss Ratcliffe, Brian is indulging in a perfectly normal adolescent behavior; there's nothing weird about it at all.  However, he's rather amped up by it all, and this proves to be an ideal time for Leland Gaunt to take advantage of him.  What's interesting is that Gaunt does not try to fulfill the fantasies we've seen Brian indulging; instead, he swoops in and offers Brian something else: a prized baseball card that has thus far eluded him.  You might go so far as to say that through Gaunt, Brian is able to sublimate his obviously impossible desire for Sally Ratcliffe into a desire for a baseball card.  Ah, yes, the plight of the collector.  You can't get any pussy, so you settle for collecting Stephen King books baseball cards.
 
 
 
  
Ch.1 (3) -- "Come in my friend," Gaunt greets Brian.  "Enter freely, and leave some of the happiness you bring!"  This tickled at the back of my brain, so I Googled it and found that Gaunt is paraphrasing a line that the good Count Dracula speaks to Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker's Dracula.  Apart from the Stoker connection, Gaunt's invitation has several shades of meaning.  When he says "enter freely," it sounds like a pleasantry, but if you think about it for a moment, it becomes almost reminiscent of legalese fine-print.  Enter, but only do so freely and of your own volition (and, one imagines, be aware that by doing so you are entering not merely into a shop, but also into a binding agreement).  Similarly, the cheery exhortation to "leave some of the happiness you bring" seems in one sense like an invitation to spread one's good mood around to others; but it can also be seen as a command to cede one's happiness and thereby be diminished.  What Gaunt actually means, one suspects, is not dissimilar to "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."  (That's an Inferno reference, by the way.)
 
 
 
  
Ch.3 (4) -- "Oh I would give anything to be free of this," thinks Polly of her arthritis.  "I would give anything, anything, anything at all."  This, obviously, is foreshadowing what will later come for Polly via Leland Gaunt.  This "needfulness" of Polly's is arguably more intense -- I hesitate to say "legitimate" -- than that of any of the novel's other characters.  Yet she will, depending on how you interpret certain things, end up being the only character in the novel to overcome Gaunt's influence without aid from anyone else.  In so doing, she also ends up in a confrontation nobody else has: she must fight off a monstrous spider-thing.  The implication seems to be that while her pain is in some ways worse than the "pains" Gaunt is exploiting in the other characters, it is also easier to bear in some ways.  It feels almost as if King is subtly arguing that while physical pain is more intense, emotional pain is more severe.
 
 


Ch.3 (9) -- "He glanced at the digital clock on the table next to the bed and saw it was four minutes past midnight."  Not sure that is a Four Past Midnight reference, but I'm counting it.
  
Ch.4 (2) -- Gaunt says to Nettie, "I think that what I really sell is happiness."  This speculation notwithstanding, we witnessed Gaunt obliquely trying to siphon happiness off of Brian Rusk in Ch.1 (3).  Still, it's clear that he is selling the illusion of -- or, one might say, the potential of -- happiness.  With the possible exception of Alan, all of Gaunt's customers would undoubtedly expect their purchases to make them happy.  Not just happy, but Happy.  Gaunt operates under the (correct) assumption that his customers feel, subconsciously or otherwise, that Happiness is obtainable, if only they __________.  Gaunt fills in that blank for each of them.

Ch.4 (2) -- King refers to the human heart as "that secret repository where needs and fears elbowed each other continuously like uncomfortable passengers in a crowded subway car."  That's a lovely bit of writing, and it's also a subtle way of making the point that need and fear are, to some degree, one and the same thing.
  
Ch.4 (11) -- Gaunt's odd quasi-demand that Myra perform oral sex upon him ("gobble my crank!") seems uncharacteristic, and doesn't work for me.  I think King sometimes loves to portray Evil as being over the top and prone to gaudiness.  Every time he goes to those places, it's a struggle for me to follow him.  I've got no problem with Evil being campy; not necessarily, I don't.  However, I don't feel like that approach mixes terribly well with the more traditional format of depicting villainy that King tends to favor.  Maybe it works for some; it doesn't work for me.  Neither does Gaunt's weird line about how oral sex gives him amnesia.
 
 


Ch.7 (2) -- Of Alan Pangborn, Gaunt says, "He looks like what folks in my line of work call a tough sell."  It's worth contemplating what this means in the broader context of the novel.  Tough sell does not inherently mean impossible sell, of course, as we will find out eventually.  Alan CAN be sold/bought . . . but not as easily -- cheaply? --  as so many others.  Why?  What is it about Alan that makes him such a "tough sell"?  Is it that he's closer to acceptance of that which he can never have?  I'm not sure I'd sign off on that as an explanation.  Is it simply that he's purer in some fundamental way?  I don't necessarily have an answer for this, but I think it's a question worth considering.

Ch.7 (5) -- "That's way off the beam," Alan says to Polly to let her know that she is incorrect about an assumption.  This is essentially the same thing as saying that something is "off the mark," but I don't believe I've ever actually heard anybody say it.  Perhaps it's a regional thing; Google indicates that it IS a genuine colloquialism.  However, any time the word "beam" appears in a Stephen King novel I can't help but think of The Dark Tower.  And this is even more true considering that Needful Things and The Waste Lands (which included the first appearances of the Beams of the Dark Tower) were both published in 1991.  This is made only more notable by the events of the novel's climax, which find Alan being used by The White as an agent of some sort.  But did King mean "off the beam" to make us think any of that here?  It seems unlikely.

Ch.7 (5) -- Alan can walk a coin over his knuckles, which is cool in and of itself.  It's also a possible indirect tie-in with The Gunslinger, in which Roland hypnotizes Jake by walking a bullet over his own knuckles.  At several points in Needful Things, it is clear (to those of us in the know about The Dark Tower, at least) that Pangborn is a gunslinger who simply wasn't born on the correct level of the Tower to become a Gunslinger.  We see him move with a nearly-superhuman burst of speed not unlike that which we know Roland can use when using his pistols; and during the climax of the novel, Alan seemingly becomes possessed by some sort of spirit of the White.  This begs many-and-many-a question, first and foremost being: should we regard this as a sort of quasi-Dark Tower novel?  There are no overt connections, but if the White is getting involved in these proceedings, then surely that hints toward the idea that Gaunt is serving the Crimson King in some way.  Right?  Alternatively, you can explain this away as King just dicking about with his own creations.  I prefer the former, but would be none too surprised by the latter.

Ch.7 (7) -- During this section, we find out a bit of what happened to Thad and Alan after the events of The Dark Half.  The short version is that Thad's wife leaves him and he ends up losing most of his sanity, too (although we do not know exactly what that means).  King occasionally pulls tricks like this out of his bag, letting readers of one novel in on what happened after some other novel ended; it's often to let us know that things didn't end well, as is the case here.  Bag of Bones will later let us know how Thad's story finally ended, and it will also give us brief updates on both Alan and Polly.  On a different subject, I have to wonder if Alan as portrayed in Needful Things seems fully like a man who has lived through what he survived in The Dark Half.  The end of that previous novel represented a full-on encounter with the supernatural, and stuff like a full-on encounter with the supernatural has a way of changing a man forever.  I assume.  King makes a couple of brief mentions of this being the case for Alan, but doesn't explore it to any degree; he's more focused on making sure we know how impacted Alan was by the deaths of his wife and youngest son.  As he would undoubtedly be, of course, so I think King has made the correct decision.

Ch.8 (2-3) -- These sections tell us about Buster's sad history of gambling problems.  Since 1987 or so, King had been writing persistently about addiction, and he'd managed to do so in very different and engaging ways each time.  Here, he does it again through Buster; and elsewhere, he's got Hugh Priest to use to do it in a more literal way.  Has anybody written a book yet focusing on King's themes of addiction?  That seems like awfully fertile ground to me.

Ch.8 (7) -- Gaunt seemingly "goes dim" here, in something rather like the way  Flagg can do in the Eyes of the Dragon.  According to this page on the King website (which, interestingly, does not list the dimness attribute of Gaunt's), the notion of dimness also appears in Insomnia, Hearts in Atlantis, and (shudder) Sleepwalkers.  In terms of Needful Things, the dimness is interesting in terms of the connections it implies; but it's also interesting that Gaunt, when he momentarily thinks Alan can see him despite his dimness, shows a moment of fear.  You could make the argument that he spends the entire novel cowering in fear of Alan, actually: he certainly goes to lengths to avoid Pangborn, doesn't he?  This, too, implies that something more cosmological is working behind the scenes of this novel.  Fascinating!

Ch.8 (12) -- Polly's mother reacts to her daughter's unwanted pregnancy in a manner very similar to the reaction Fran Goldsmith's has in The Stand.  Polly is a much more fully-realized character than Fran ever gets close to being, however

Ch.8 (12) -- Here, we get (amongst other things) a flashback meeting with Polly's now-decased relative Aunt Evvie Chalmers.  In rereading Needful Things I had the sense that I'd met her before, in other books; and sure enough, she is mentioned in both Cujo and The Body.  And possibly in "The Sun Dog" as well, although I did not Google deeply enough to find that out for sure.  I'd also like to point your attention toward Evvie's use of the word "chap" in reference to Polly's son Kelton.  That word might ring a bell with Song of Susannah readers.  I seem to remember having a messageboard discussion somewhere/when in which I argued with somebody over whether "chap" had some sort of specific connotation that was unique to Song of Susannah.  I argued that it did not, that "chap" was simply a somewhat antiquated word that referred to "child" (and to a boy child specifically).  I, of course, am correct about that; but, as with some many online arguments, I had no luck convincing my opponent.

 
 
  
Ch.9 (4) -- Hugh falls asleep and dreams he is watching Sale of the Century.  This reminds me a bit of the characters in the similarly-named Storm of the Century falling asleep and seeing a false news report from Andre Linoge.  Both Gaunt and Linoge obviously have telepathic abilities that they can put to pernicious use.

Ch.9 (5) -- While deep in the throes of a serious arthritis flareup, Polly ruefully considers a recent spell of painlessness, and it prompts a notable passage from King: "It occurred to her that pleasure, no matter how deep, was a ghostly, ephemeral thing.  Love might make the world go round, but she was convinced it was the cries of the badly wounded and deeply afflicted which spun the universe on the great glass pole of its axis."  She looks at the couch, where she and Alan had made love during that painlessness, and thinks at it, what good are you to me now?  I don't have much to say about this passage, but I'd note that it falls in line with one of the novel's motifs, which is that a lot its characters have a long-lost Happiness of some sort in their past.  Hugh has a memory of a perfect day; Babs has a semi-memory of losing her virginity to a specific tune she can't quite call to mind (we'll cover that in a bit); John has his photograph of himself with Sally.  Here, Polly is reflecting upon a very recent Happiness, and yet it may as well be as distant as Hugh's perfect day of decades ago.  What good does it do her now, in this moment of deep pain?

Ch.10 (2) -- Buster has had some serious success at the raceway thanks to Wining Ticket, but he knows that even a magical totem like this is no fix-all: if he should have more such nights, "his bookie would grow wary, then refuse to accept his bets at all."  Buster should ask Jake Epping of 11/22/63 how wary bookies can turn into bad news.

Ch.10 (17) -- An old woman on her stoop begins hollering about the fight between Nettie and Wilma.  Isn't there a similar old woman who hollers about some crime in 11/22/63?  Is it when Jake gets beaten nearly to death, or am I just in mind of that thanks to that bit about Buster's bookie?  I could theoretically go look it up, I guess, but this is an instance in which I'm content to merely wonder.

Ch.10 (18) -- This section includes a mention of Inside View, the tabloid newspaper which pops up occasionally in King works (such as The Dead Zone and "The Night Flier").
 
Ch.11 (9) -- I get a big kick out of the note left for Rev. Rose, part of which reads thus: "Leave us alone you Stupid Babtist Rat-Fuck or YOU WILL BE A SORRY SON OF A BITCH.  'Just a Warning' from THE CONCERNED CATHOLIC MEN OF CASTLE ROCK."  Oh, how wonderful!  There's more, but this is fairly representative of the whole.  My delight is over how well this pre-Internet piece of writing mirrors the sort of barely-literate writing you can currently see on the average person's Facebook wall, or on the average comments section of popular websites.  Inappropriate capitalization?  Check.  Moronic misspelling (i.e., "Babtist")?  Check.  Sudden lurch into sweeping all-caps?  Check.  Inappropriate quotation marks?  Check.
 
Ch.11 (9) -- I'm also a big fan of the two sentences with which King ends this particular section: "Rev. Rose discovered the note when he came downstairs in his bathrobe to collect the morning paper.  His reaction is perhaps better imagined than described."  I feel cheated, and yet oddly glad for it.

Ch.11 (10) -- Here's a passage I quite like: "Mr. Gaunt thought of himself as an electrician of the human soul.  In a small town like Castle Rock, all the fuse boxes were lined up neatly side by side.  What you had to do was open the boxes . . . and then start cross-wiring.  You hot-wired a Wilma Jerzyck to a Nettie Cobb by using wires from two other fuse-boxes -- those of a young fellow like Brian Rusk and a drunk fellow like Hugh Priest, let us say.  You hot-wired other people in the same way, a Buster Keeton to a Norris Ridgewick, a Frank Jewett to a George Nelson, a Sally Ratcliffe to a Lester Pratt.  At some point you tested one of your fabulous wiring jobs just to make sure everything was working correctly -- as he" (this refers to the horrific duel Nettie and Wilma engage in, which results in both of them dying) "had done today -- and then you laid low and sent a charge through the circuits every once in a while to keep things interesting.  To keep things hot.  But mostly you just laid low until everything was done . . . and then you turned on the juice."
 
 

 
Ch.12 (4) -- "LISTEN UP YOU MACKEREL-SNAPPER!" reads the beginning of the note penned to Father Brigham, ostensibly by the Concerned Men of Castle Rock.  Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know what a "mackerel-snapper" is.  On the subject of this section, I would also like to point out that the fake Baptists are much more effective writers than the fake Catholics; a little too in love with all-caps spelling, but otherwise basically solid.

Ch.12 (10) -- It may be that we get close to honesty from Leland Gaunt in this passage, during which he talks about the book he has sold Ace: "Perhaps it isn't even a book at all," Gaunt says.  "Perhaps all the really special things I sell aren't what they appear to be.  Perhaps they are actually gray things with only one remarkable property -- the ability to take the shapes of those things which haunt the dreams of men and women."  To this he adds (in a manner King describes as thoughtful), "Perhaps they are dreams themselves."  There is a great deal to consider here, and it puts me somewhat in mind of any number of episodes of Star Trek in which the concept of illusion-versus-fantasy is explored.  Many of those episodes ask a question which King himself decidedly does not ask here: if a replica so convincing can be manufactured, then what worth does the original retain?  Put another way, if these "gray things" of Gaunt's were in the possession of a more benevolent person, would they still retain their ability to give people their hearts' desires?  Assuming that is a yes, what would we then think of these "gray things"?  In King's hands, they mostly seem to hold menace and the potential for corruption.  I don't fault him for that at all, but Gaunt's implication here that they may be less something of his design than something which he is exploiting raises interesting questions for me.  Needful Things is not interested in those questions; and for a horror novel, that is a very appropriate and productive stance to take.

Ch.12 (10) -- Of the cocaine he gives Ace, Gaunt says, "this is a special hybrid.  It comes from the plains of Leng."  For those of you un-hep to the Cthulhu Mythos, this is a reference to the work of H.P. Lovecraft, whose stories influenced King.  As far as this specific reference goes, we have at least two options in deciding how to interpret it.  On the one hand, we can choose to take Gaunt at his word and believe that he has had contact of some sort with Leng.  There would be extra-textual evidence to perhaps support us: in The Eyes of the Dragon, Flagg possesses a spellbook which comes from Leng.  If we choose to believe that Needful Things is in some way connected to the larger King universe, then the idea of Leng being an actual place and not a mere story is a valid reading.  However, I would point out a second option: recall that in Ch.1 (3), Gaunt made what was a rather obvious quotation from Dracula.  Given that moment, Gaunt is obviously a man who has at least a passing familiarity with English-language literature, so it is certainly possible that he is merely appropriating terminology from Lovecraft as a means of messing with Ace's head.  I choose to believe the former option is the case . . . but this one is equally valid.

Ch.12 (10) -- Ace asks Gaunt where Leng is, and Gaunt replies, "over the hills and far away."  I took this as a Tolkien reference, but I'm not sure it actually is.  It might be instead a Led Zeppelin reference, or a reference to the song from which the Led Zep song derived.
 
 

 
Ch.13 (1) -- Lyrics from the immortal song "Hound Dog" are fine and all, but I can't help but wonder: given the themes of Needful Things, is it a good thing or a bad thing that King didn't manage to work "Devil in Disguise" in somewhere?  The correct answer, of course, is "both."  This section also references the song "Wooden Heart," and I was not immediately sure that that was an actual Elvis song.  But it is.  Not one of the King's best, either, I'd say.
 
Ch.13 (3) -- The stupid slut doesn't even know how to spell "too," thinks Sally about the supposed letter from Judy she receives.  I appreciate a woman who is concerned with correct spelling even during times of intense emotional distress.

Ch.14 (2) -- When Ace travels to Boston to pick up Gaunt's car, he finds a bit of ominous graffiti spray-painted on the wall of the garage: "YOG-SOTHOTH RULES."  This is another Lovecraft reference, this time to the mysterious god Yog-Sothoth.  Try saying that ("mysterious god Yog-Sothoth") three times fast.  You might fail, but it's fun.  Tongue-twisters aside, this piece of evidence makes it even more likely that Gaunt actually does exist within the universe of the Cthulhu mythos.  The argument can also be made -- and I will make it later -- that Gaunt and Needful Things also exist inside King's Dark Tower universe.  If that is true, does it invalidate the Cthulhic connection?  If it doesn't, what implication does that have for the Dark Tower cycle?  It's also very possible that asking questions of that nature are perhaps taking these things too far, and that we've entered the realm of overthinking.  Well . . . maybe si, maybe no; but to my mind, inserting things like Yog-Sothoth references is an invitation to interpretation.  So, for me, the notion of overthinking it is invalid.  (By the way, if you want to read some interesting thoughts about the Lovecraft connections in this novel, visit this post and consult the comments section.  It might be easiest to do a page search for "Yog-Sothoth."  What you'll find are some keen thoughts from a reader named Dan.  You should check them out.)

Ch.14 (4) --  Ace is surprised to discover that Gaunt's car is a Tucker Talisman.  "Ace had never heard of such a model," King informs us.  "He had thought the Torpedo was the only car Preston Tucker had ever turned out."  In rereading the novel, I got to this part and simply assumed that King had invented the Talisman in much the same way he would later create the Takuro Spirit.  Not so fast, Bryant: a cursory amount of Googling indicates that Tucker designed a model called the Talisman, but that it was never produced.  Cool!  I'm not entirely sure what this says about Gaunt, but it's another point of interest, for sure.

Ch.14 (5) --  "The sedan had that incomparable new car smell," King tells us in regards to Ace's thoughts about the Tucker Talisman, "nothing like it in the world (except maybe for pussy), and when he got behind the wheel, he saw that it was brand new: the odometer of Mr. Gaunt's Tucker Talisman was set at 00000.0."  Well, this is clearly a Christine reference, given that LeBay in that novel has essentially the exact same thoughts on pleasant odors.  Is this a mere wink/nod from King to his Constant Readers, or should we read further into this?  I'm on the fence.

Ch.14 (8) -- Here, Gaunt drops a cryptic reference to Ace in relation to a car he is loaning him: "You'll enjoy the TV newsvan more," he says.  We'll meet up with that newsvan later in the novel, when Ace and Buster use it to ferry around loads of explosives and detonate much of Castle Rock.  But this raises a question in my mind: is Gaunt merely extrapolating events (i.e., he plans to use the newsvan and to use Ace in that plan, and assumes Ace will enjoy the eventual resultant mayhem)?  Or does he actually possess some sort of ability to see the future?  I'm of a mind to believe the latter.  How else could he plan some of what he plans as well as he plans it?  Buster's racing game certainly seems to have genuine prognosticative abilities, and my assumption would be that they are coming from Gaunt himself in some way.  This begs a further question: does Gaunt know he will be defeated by Castle Rock?  I'm put in mind of a potential way of considering Satan (with whom Gaunt is equated in Needful Things): that the Devil has no actual agency of his own, but is instead perpetually doing God's work in some mysterious and horrific way.  I'm no theologian, so I'm not prepared to put much effort into the argument one way or the other; but it's a potential avenue of exploration.  I would argue that many of King's supernatural villains seem to kind of know they are destined to lose in the end, and there's probably a post about that to be written.  Eventually.
  
Ch.15 (3) -- Babs Miller is not one of the novel's more important characters, but I was struck by this brief scene, in which she negotiates with Gaunt for a music box.  She thinks -- feels -- she knows what song it must play, a song (never named) from her youth.  "She had danced to that tune on the Pavillion at Old Orchard Beach with the captain of the football team, and later that same evening she had willingly given up her virginity to him under a gorgeous May moon," King tells us.  "He had given her the first and last orgasm of her life, and all the while it had been roaring through her veins, that tune had been twisting through her head like a burning wire."  Apart from being evocative prose from King, this is just a damned depressing little vignette.  Two sentences, and King accomplishes with Babs Miller what many writers would struggle to accomplish in two pages.

Ch.15 (6) -- Myra is in the midst of one her Elvis reveries, and then this happens: "And then, suddenly, the double bed was gone.  The whisper-drone of the Lisa Marie's engines was gone.  The smell of The King's English Leather was gone.  In the place of these wonderful things was Mr. Gaunt's face . . . only he no longer looked as he did in his shop.  The skin on his face looked blistered, seared with some fabulous secret heat.  It pulsed and writhed, as if there were things beneath, struggling to get out.  And when he smiled, his big square teeth had become a double row of fangs."  We are meant to believe that this is a glimpse of Gaunt's true form.  And maybe it is, although I'm not convinced.  For one thing, the end of the novel would seem to invalidate that idea.  For another, this feels like Gaunt trying to convince Myra that he is scarier than he actually is.  Which is not to say that he isn't plenty scary; he IS plenty scary.  But he's also a bit of a con-man-type salesman, which means that he is inherently a liar.  So why wouldn't he lie about his true form as well?

Ch.15 (6) -- While she is sneaking around preparing to play her prank, a crow flaps down and lands on a telephone pole, where it "seemed to watch her."  Flagg in The Stand is deeply associated with crows, so I am about 99.4% convinced that this is a reference to that tome.  Speaking for nobody other than myself, I'm pretty sure that Flagg and Gaunt are brothers or cousins or something, and that Andre Linoge from Storm of the Century is part of that same lineage.  I can't prove it; but know ye one and all that that is how I read Needful Things.

Ch.15 (9) -- Slopey Dodd pays Gaunt a visit because he dreamed Gaunt was calling him.  "I was," Gaunt replies.  So obviously Gaunt has at least limited telepathic ability.  If you recall, Randall Flagg in The Stand also communicates via dream.  His dream-casting abilities seem more powerful by far than Gaunt's, but maybe Gaunt simply chooses to use his abilities in less ambitious ways.

Ch.16 (1) -- Polly's funeral service is performed by Revered Killingworth, a Methodist minister.  Compared to the Baptists and Catholics, Methodists get treated pretty well by King in this novel.  Of Nettie, Killingworth says that she "had a hard life, in many ways a sad life, but in spite of that I do not believe she and the devil ever had much to do with each other."  Readers of Needful Things will undoubtedly feel Killingworth is mistaken in this regard.

Ch.16 (2) -- Eddie leaves a piece of "mail" for Polly from the San Francisco Department of Child Welfare, which is evidently located at 666 Geary Street.  Here, I believe King has arguably gone a step too far.  We're talking about a novel which is ostensibly about the devil (either in actuality or not, depending on how you think about it; but King does little to dissuade you from that reading).  You can't throw a 666 reference into the mix unless you want it to be viewed through that prism, and here it makes no sense unless you want me to believe that Gaunt somehow arranged for Child Welfare to be located there so that when he eventually met Polly, it would be funny to think about how she'd once had dealings with a place that had the number of the beast in its address.  And that would just be silly.  So instead it is a coincidence, I guess, but it's a coincidence that probably misleads a fair number of readers into thinking there must be some connection where no connection is actually in evidence.  Unless somebody has a better reading, I'm going to have to put this little bit in the negative column.  Google indicates that there actually IS a 666 Geary Street, by the way.

Ch.16 (12) -- When Alan talks to Brian about his visit to the Jerzyck house, Brian lies about the possibility that he might have overheard someone throwing rocks.  "Crash, boom, bang," he says, and this is an interesting moment; we know his mother has, in her blissed-out state, been listening to a lot of Elvis, which means that Brian has been hearing a lot of Elvis and that it is accidentally coming out via song lyrics here.  Even more interesting is that Alan immediately thinks, "the whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang."  This shows how deeply intuitive Alan is, and while there is zero possibility for him to put this particular intuition to use, it's pretty cool that King shows it to us in this way.
 
Ch.16 (16) -- Buster Keeton shares the name "Danforth" with then then-Vice President, Dan Quayle.  I'd be reluctant to believe that this is a coincidence, given the fact that Quayle is name-checked in this section.  I'm not sure what King had in mind, though, apart from likely being anti-Quayle on general terms.
 
Ch.17 (8) -- "Lester Pratt closed in to teaching distance."  There are several instances in the novel in which King uses a single offset sentence to bring a sub-chapter to a close.  He does so very effectively, I have to say.

Ch.17 (32) -- Through the eyes of the uncorrupted Sean Rusk, we get a different look at Brian's baseball card: "He didn't have the slightest idea why Brian cared about it so much; it was old, dirty, dog-eared, and faded.  Also, the player was somebody Sean had never heard of -- a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers named Sammy Koberg, lifetime record one win, three losses.  The guy had never even spent a whole year in the majors.  Why would Brian care about a worthless card like that?"  You may be interested to know that Koberg is a fictional player (at least so far as I can tell), which means . . . .well, I don't know what it means, but it must mean something.  I'm more curious about this: does this imply that what Gaunt sold Brian was in actuality a Sammy Koberg card that he glammered Brian into believing to be a signed Sandy Koufax card?  If so, this might invalidate the possibility presented in Ch.12 (10) that all of Gaunt's curios are "gray things" which somehow mask themselves according to the dreams of the prospective owners.  I'm not entirely sure how to reconcile these two ideas.  Perhaps the "gray things" can (even to other people, and not merely to prospective owners) project some limited, lessened form.  But this also begs the question of how Brian was able to see the "splinter of Noah's ark wood" as that.  Is Gaunt himself telepathically influencing all of this in some way?  None of this is particularly important, but it's fun to contemplate.  Moreso than that, even, that nonplussed gaze Sean gives the baseball card is not unlike how an outsider might view a collector's most prized possession (whatever that might be): it's just a thing, and not a terribly impressive one at that.
 
Ch.18 (2) -- While Polly is playing her prank on Ace, out at the old Camber place, she seems to hear growls that might have come from Cujo, the killer dog of such local repute.  The voice of Aunt Evvie tells her in her head that she hears Cujo because she is "going ghost."  I'm not sure how literally we should take any of this; maybe a lot, and maybe not at all.  However, it makes a sort of sense for Cujo to get a cameo of some sort, given that Needful Things is billed as "the last Castle Rock story" and in some way was intended to put a bow on that sequence.
Ch.18 (6) -- "She heard it in her head," King tells us about Gaunt's exhortation to Myrtle to visit Needful Things.  I've got no point to make; I'm just taking note of another instance of telepathy from Gaunt.
 
 


Ch.19 (1) -- Here, we get a bit of a look at Gaunt's history.  He has been around, peddling his wares, for what seems to be centuries at a minimum.  "He had begun business many years ago," King says, "on the blind face of a distant land."  We know nothing more specific than that.  What do we think of Gaunt?  What sort of creature is he?  It isn't atypical to hear people refer to him as the devil; whether that means he is Satan himself or some sort of lesser demon is a distinction I'm not sure anyone ever makes.  We're not talking about the movie in this post, but it's worth pointing out that many reviewers of it made note of the fact that Gaunt was played by Max Von Sydow, a fact which is notable because he played a priest exorcising the devil in The Exorcist and in Needful Things played the devil himself.  Depending on how you look at it, neither of those things is actually true; Regan in The Exorcist seems to be possessed not by THE devil, but by Pazuzu, a lesser demon.  As for Leland Gaunt, it does not seem to be the case that he is THE devil any more than Pazuzu is.

Ch.19 (1) -- In this section, Gaunt begins selling his special guns to people from a table at the back of the shop.  This reminds me a bit of "Fair Extension," in which Elvid sets up a table near the airport and conducts his business.  He, too, is in the soul-purchasing business.  I wonder if he went to that same school Gaunt and Linoge attended...

Ch.19 (2) -- Through the eyes of the (as yet) uncorrupted Alan, we get a look at Cora's "Elvis sunglasses" not unlike the look at Brian's baseball card we got through Sean.  The results are much the same: "one of the bows had been mended with adhesive tape, and one of the lenses was cracked."

Ch.20 (1) -- After killing Myrtle, Buster looks at his Winning Ticket game and sees it much the same way Alan saw Cora's sunglasses: as a thoroughly unimpressive thing.  This is, I believe, the only instance in the novel in which the owner of one of Gaunt's objects sees it without its sheen.

Ch.20 (2) -- Gaunt telephones Buster and not only talks him out of killing himself, but also somehow re-energizes his belief in Winning Ticket.  This almost implies that Gaunt's influence -- whatever its nature -- over people has to be refreshed every so often or it begins to lose its potency.  In that sense, perhaps what Gaunt is doing to these people is not unlike a telepathic virus of sorts; one which can be fought off and defeated given time and distance.

Ch.20 (12) -- During this section, Ace thinks back to a time earlier in his life when he got cheated by some "snotnosed kids."  These, of course, are the incidents of The Body.  I like the way King brings Ace back and the way he uses him in Needful Things, but I can also see room for somebody to criticize King for cheapening The Body somewhat by retroactively making it fit into a world where supernatural events occur.  I enjoy the interconnectivity within the King universe, but I also enjoy it when he produces a standalone tale that has no connections to any of his other works.  I neither need nor want each and every story to fit into some grand jigsaw puzzle.  That's irrelevant as concerns The Body, of course, since it already tied in to a small degree with Cujo.
 
 

 
Ch.21 (1) -- In this section, we learn the history of the discord between the Catholics and Baptists of Castle Rock.  By all rights, this ought to seem way too late in the novel to finally offer an explanation for such a thing.  However, it is so compelling and so well-sketched that King not only gets away with it, he makes it seem like a virtue.

Ch.21 (7) -- A bolt of lightning strikes and sets to flame the bandstand which figures prominently in The Dead Zone.  (It's there that Johnny discovers who killed Alma Frechette.)  Of the various Castle Rock tales, it seems to be The Dead Zone that was the most difficult to reference to any meaningful degree in Needful Things.  Bringing in -- and destroying -- that bandstand was a nifty solution.
 
Ch.21 (14) -- Does some of the violence go a little too far toward cartoonishness?  I mean, at one point we get a woman shoving her fingers all the way up another woman's nostrils.  I suppose the idea is perhaps that insanity holds sway here; but bits of it don't work for me.
 
Ch.22 (3) -- Either literally or figuratively -- and I think it may be literally -- Polly is being watched over by her deceased Aunt Evvie.  What's so special about Polly that she, (apparently) alone among the denizens of Castle Rock, has a bit of a guardian angel?  It's fine by me; I merely wonder.

Ch.22 (7) -- Gaunt leaves a note for Alan at Needful Things: "YOU SAY HELLO I SAY GOODBYE," it reads.  "GOODBYE GOODBYE / I DON'T KNOW WHY YOU SAY HELLO I SAY GOODBYE."  For those of you so pitiable as to not be conversant with The Beatles, know ye that this is a very knowing reference to the song "Hello, Goodbye."  Clearly, Leland Gaunt -- who earlier dropped a Dracula reference, as well -- is a man who pays some attention to the culture in which he conducts business.  I take this as another piece of evidence that when he makes references to Lovecraftian ideas like Leng and Yog-Sothoth, there is no reason to automatically believe he isn't merely repeating things he has read.  In other words, Gaunt might theoretically live in a world where Cthulhu lies abed awaiting the time of return . . . but, just as equally, he might have simply read a few Lovecraft paperbacks at some point during his travels.
 
Ch.23 (13) -- "It was funny stuff, sanity," says King.  "When it was taken away, you didn't know it.  You didn't feel its departure.  You only really knew it when it was restored, like some rare wild bird which lived and sang within you not by decree but by choice."  Good stuff from the King.  (Not Elvis; Stephen.)

Ch.23 (14) -- Alan has used his trick Tastee-Munch can with the spring-loaded paper snake inside several times as a gag in the book so far, but in this section he instinctively uses it on Gaunt and the snake briefly turns real.  This is instrumental in Gaunt's defeat, and I can imagine this being a plot development that will be a real deal-breaker for many readers.  Let's take a sort of uncorrupted view of it: the novel is about a demon of some sort who hypnotizes people into doing evil deeds, and the demon is defeated by a man who scares him with a paper snake which briefly turns into a real snake.  That's fucking ludicrous!  In this scenario, King -- as the storyteller -- is Leland Gaunt, peddling a box of dogshit and somehow convincing us it is a dozen donuts.  But don't misunderstand me: I think this moment works.  If you wish, you are welcome to accuse me of having sold my soul to Stephen King; and if so, then surely this blog is the prank I'm playing in return.  For me, though, this scene is line with the larger scope of King's work; he's used devices like this before, and the one which comes to mind specifically is Eddie attacking Pennywise in it with his asthma inhaler and somehow mentally turning it into battery acid.  In King's work, there is a great deal of power in positive thinking; and not merely in a hippy-dippy sort of way, but in a cosmic this-shit-can-move-worlds sort of way.  It's a fairly prominent subtheme that runs throughout his body of work; it's rarely as literal as here and in It, but it's present nevertheless.  As such, I've got no problem with it, and see it as a strength rather than a weakness.  But I'm sympathetic to those who do see it as a weakness.  We're both correct.

Ch.23 (14) -- In trying to escape Castle Rock, Gaunt's main concern seems to be retaining possession of his valise; which, it is heavily implied, holds the souls of his victims.  I'm curious about the mechanics of this.  How does he obtain the souls?  I tend to assume that they only become his upon the owners' deaths, which is why Gaunt engineers events in such a manner as to ensure such bloodshed.  In most lore, if you sell your soul to the Devil, he only gets it once you're dead; so that would make sense.

Ch.23 (16) -- A "kind of shimmer" passes over Gaunt's face.  He's obviously losing control of his (presumably self-created) appearance.  We'll see him in what may be his true form not long from now.  Other King villains who can (to at least a limited degree) shift shapes include Randall Flagg, Andre Linoge, Pennywise/It, and the car in "Mile 81."  There are probably others, as well.  This is obviously an idea that frightens King on some level.  Why wouldn't it?

Ch.23 (16) -- As with the paper snake, Alan somehow instinctively turns his folding-flowers gag into a more powerful and real form of magic.  In doing so, Alan channels an incredibly powerful force of benevolence which he can only understand in these terms: "He felt a jolt of power run up his arm, and for a moment he was filled with a great and incoherent ecstasy.  The white!  The coming of the white!"  I'd guess that casual King readers mostly greet this moment with confusion, but longtime readers -- Constant Readers -- will probably recognize this.  Alan, in this moment, has tapped into -- or, perhaps, has been invested with by some outside and unseen force -- the power of Gan, the force of creation which underpins all of existence.  "The white" -- or, if you prefer, The White -- had been present in at least two King novels prior to Needful Things: The Talisman and The Eyes of the Dragon.  By virtue of its inclusion here, Needful Things earns the status of being indirectly a part of the Dark Tower series, since that series is about the struggle to prevent The White from being defeated by the forces which oppose it.  This implies that Gaunt must be in some way a member of those forces, wouldn't you say?  The question is, why has The White not stepped in to oppose Gaunt before now?  Gaunt has apparently been operating for centuries, so there have been opportunities; although, to be fair, maybe The White HAS stopped Gaunt on numerous occasions.  Again, I'd say that the answers to questions like this are unimportant; but they are fun to ask.

Ch.23 (16) -- Moments after Gaunt is "cast out" by Alan and The White, the rain stops.  This implies that the storm was somehow being caused by Gaunt all along; which, of course, puts me in mind of Storm of the Century and further convinces me that Gaunt and Linoge are related in some way.  Or maybe they just went to the same school of villainy.  Oooh!  Maybe Flagg was the school's headmaster! Hey, sure, why not...

Ch.23 (17) -- As the vanquished Gaunt gets into his car to make his escape, we see that he is changing forms, losing the cohesion that was keeping him in the form we think of as "Leland Gaunt."  And at the same time, his Tucker Talisman is losing its form, as well.  King describes this scene thus: "A form began to extrude itself from the remains of the Tucker's grille.  It was a black horse with eyes as red as Mr. Gaunt's, a horse encased in a milky shroud of brightness, a horse whose hooves struck up fire from the pavement and left deep, smoking tracks impressed in the center of the street.  The Talisman had become an open buckboard with a hunchbacked dwarf sitting up high on the seat.  The dwarf's boots were propped on the splashboard, and the caliph-curled toes of those boots appeared to be on fire."  So, can we assume that this is Gaunt's true form?  Or is this merely another illusion?  There is no answer to be had; we will each have to answer it for ourselves.

You've Been Here Before -- The brief epilogue makes mention of Junction City, Iowa, which was the setting of The Library Policeman, and even gives us an update on Sam and Naomi.  I don't think I mentioned it, but the novel also contains numerous mentions of Pop Merrill, who obviously was a major element of "The Sun Dog."
 
 
  
 
I should probably say something in summation, and what I'll say is this: I think this is a pretty dang good novel.  Much better than I remembered it being, certainly.  Not, perhaps, one of King's greats, but so what?  It's got great characters, a mostly-great villain, and comes to a fairly satisfying conclusion.  All of that adds up to "good novel" for me, and that's before you even begin conjecturing about what place the book might or might not hold within the grander scope of King's shared-universe storytelling.
 
Assuming I can buckle down and get the job done, I'll be back soon with a look at the movie.

31 comments:

  1. Overall a good review of a fairly good novel. Thoughts below:

    Ch.12 (10) : It's interesting that you mention Star Trek tackling these same themes of the value of reality and illusion. I'm thinking here of in particular of The Apple, Journey to Eden, and this one planet where everyone is brainwashed by spores, can anyone please inform a TV illiterate which TOS episode I'm thinking of? Also, there is the Voyager episode Bliss, which distinguishes itself from the other episodes mentioned by turning the premise onto the officers and crew itself while also providing, I thought, a nice Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe.

    Ch.17 (32): This talk of dreams actually does remind me of one other possibility, and it involves, once more, bringing Joe Hill into the equation. Namely the possibility that Gaunt has somehow managed to manufacture what might be called "Portable Inscapes". The concept is sort of fuzzy in both authors works, however Hill basically implies that certain people can make their fantasies become realities, though most are momentary in nature.

    Gaunt seems to more or less admit to peddling dreams, and not in a good way. May that not mean, however retroactively, that Gaunt is using his own power of Inscaping (yes, I know it's not a word, sorry) and perhaps tapping into what little imaginative ability his customers may have just long enough so they'll dance to his tune. If so, I can't help thinking it would be the soundtrack to Blue Hawaii.

    Ch.11 (9), Ch.12 (4), Ch.16 (1): I'll admit, I can't help thinking the fact that King was raised Methodist at least explains why Killingworth more or less gets off scot free. Also, to whoever wrote that note to Rev. Rose: there's no extra B in Baptist, Einstein. Incidentally, I actually do know about an even more obscure slur than the Mackerel one, "Bog-trotter". The latter aimed, mainly, at the Irish. Can't say I'm proud of any of it, really.

    Ch.23 (14): I actually don't recall ever running across the old devilish deal trope in any official scripture, actually. I think it must more or less be a product of folklore. Er (turns to Dave Squires) Reverend, any help here?

    ChrisC

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    1. I believe the Trek episode you are thinking of is "This Side of Paradise." Ah, what a classic!

      On the subject of inscapes -- I actually thought of that while writing this! I didn't think I could get away with actually bringing it up, though, because it didn't quite seem to fit with the way I was thinking of it. But there's something there, no doubt about it.

      "Bog-trotter"! That's a fantastically awful slur. I've heard that one before; not sure where. Some movie, I would imagine.

      I suspect you are correct about the deal-with-the-devil thing being more a product of folklore than theology. But I'm no expert on either.

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    2. The original attempt by the devil to make a deal :

      Gospel of Matthew :

      "Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'"…

      I also think that Leland Gaunt is, for better or worse, a riff on the template of the Wandering Jew : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wandering_Jew

      Sorry - can't log in, but I'm Tim.

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    3. Hi, Tim!

      Good call on the Wandering Jew associations. I'm glad King didn't lean on that association too closely; things could have gotten icky quick.

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    4. I got to say, I think the Jewish stereotype Tim talks about is stretching it a bit. I don't where King got his fascination with the type of the evil sorcerer (unless he reads a lot of Malory and Tolkien, which wouldn't surprise me), however it's a type he returns to time and again. While I wouldn't go so far as saying characters like Gaunt, Flagg and Linoge are all related, I may be willing to say they are cut from similar cloth.

      To be fair, I'm not exactly sure what the relation of Flagg is to characters like Gaunt or Linoge, however the other two always seemed either more powerful or perhaps justa bit smarter than the Walkin' Dude.

      Ch. 12 (10): Incidentally, I remembered one last instance of blurring illusion and reality on Trek. It was a Deep Space episode where Sisko finds himself in an alternate reality as a down on his luck Sci-Fi writer for a magazine. What's interesting is how the whole thing is left ambiguous, so you're never sure if it was a hallucination on Sisko's part, or if the whole thing is really a delusion of this writer. That casts the whole of the original Trek in a pretty freaky, PDK light when you think about it. Sadly, I clearly remember the episode, but not it's name (hangs head in shame).

      ChrisC

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    5. Gotcha covered: that DS9 episode is "Far Beyond the Stars." Great episode, despite -- maybe even because of -- some rather histrionic acting from Avery Brooks.

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  2. Bog-trotter is a new one on me, but that's funny!

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  3. Pt. 1:

    Those woodcuts (or whatever they actually are) are great, particularly that last one.

    1.2 – I’d say Gaunt’s gift is indeed sublimation. And as you say for a later section the simple equation of “Happiness is obtainable if you only acquire (blank.)” The ultimate ad campaign.

    4.11 – “I think King sometimes loves to portray Evil as being over the top and prone to gaudiness. Every time he goes to those places, it's a struggle for me to follow him.” Totally with you here.

    7.5 – I’ve heard “off the beam” often enough, but I can’t recall if I’ve ever heard here in the Midwest. So maybe it IS a New England thing. I love when these sorts of things synch up with Dark Tower references. All things serve the Beam! And your point about Alan Pangborn as a quasi-gunslinger is something I hadn’t considered, but that works for me. I guess another way of looking at it would be that King has some stock protagonists, as any writer does, but the Dark Tower throughline allows us the pleasure of making more explicit in-story connections. If any of that makes sense.

    8.12 – “I, of course, am correct about that; but, as with some many online arguments, I had no luck convincing my opponent.” Ha! In this specific case, not that you need my assurance, but you are indeed 100% correct. (A random sampling of Victorian and Scots-diaspora literature will confirm it for anyone. Not that facts and footnotes ever make a dent in a lot of these threads and forums.

    9.4 – Very nice! Yeah, in the same way King has a throughline-protagonist, who might share certain habits and perspectives, he has a throughline-antagonist, who displays similar powers and habits, etc. Along the lines of the “King’s themes of addiction” being fertile ground for a book, this would, too, I bet.

    11.9 – Good call on the Big Man’s part. Unfortunately for all of us.

    11.10 – I quite like this, too. I’ll say it again – people do not give props to specific passages from King enough. Even when prompted BY King to do so in the introduction to On Writing! You’d figure Constant Readers would fill the forums with so many turns of phrase, or notice more trends, if only out of blind loyalty. Even his Goodreads quotes don’t seem comprehensive or the best sampling to me.

    14.4 – I’ve always wondered why there’s that one brief cameo of Max Von Sydow in the movie Tucker… (note: not an actual cameo.)

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    1. "I guess another way of looking at it would be that King has some stock protagonists, as any writer does, but the Dark Tower throughline allows us the pleasure of making more explicit in-story connections. If any of that makes sense." -- Oh yeah; makes complete sense. It boils down to whether you decide to read books like these as standalone entities or as novels that are part of (and to some degree dependent upon the rest of) a series. I try to do both at once, I guess, which makes for slightly vertiginous reading at times.

      "You’d figure Constant Readers would fill the forums with so many turns of phrase, or notice more trends, if only out of blind loyalty." -- Right?!? There are many great ones in this novel, too. I did not mention one of my favorites, which is when Gaunt says, "You're disgusting, Ace. I like that in a person."

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    2. Well, what the various forums lack in good King discussion/ writing-captures (I keep trying to come up with some term for that, "excerpt-cap" or something; it's early and I shouldn't even be typing) we can at least get at The Truth Inside the Lie.

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  4. pt. 2.

    14.8 – I’d imagine there IS a difference between being immortal and clairvoyant, but I also imagine it’s not a huge one. But I think he can see the future a little bit, yeah, and knows that, like Freddy Krueger, even once vanquished, he can always set up shop somewhere else, the human heart’s neediness being what it is.

    17.32 – (wow, 32 sub-chapters? Break it up, Sai King!) I think I read it as he sells people gray things that they then project upon to fulfill their desires, these glimmers, etc. But looking at it the way you describe here, I’m inclined to think it was perhaps a mistake, and he accidentally muddies up the novel’s internal logic. Or perhaps the items fall apart fast, like cheaply-made inexpensive trinkets, or something. Hmmm.

    20.12 – and “The Sun Dog,” too, of course. (I love that King has Gaunt add in “what I mean to say is” when teasing/ toying with Ace, that being Pops Merrill’s catch-phrase.)

    21.14 – Festival! Festival!

    22.3 – I personally don’t like when King does this. It can be handled okay (as in Duma Key, where it’s only alluded to / there-if-you-want-it) or poorly (as in Under the Dome, where the ghost of Horace Greeley guides characters to items, etc. And unfortunately in many other places in his work, as well.)

    23.14 – I’ve got to say, it never even occurred to me to read this as a BS storytelling moment. Much for the reasons you describe but also because of course the peddler gets the tables turned on him; that’s part of the whole “magic peddler” fairy tale. King’s certainly not peddling bad business by referencing it.

    23.14 pt. 2 – Yeah, I’m not sure the valise really makes a lot of sense, either.

    I agree – for its faults here and there, how could it be considered anything but one of King’s best? Top Ten, at the very least. If you sit down and make a list of the things you like about Stephen King – or the things he’s good at – and put it all into a spreadsheet, Needful Things checks off a lot of cells.

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    1. Yeah, that moment when Gaunt uses Pop's catchphrase is pretty great. It's used so often in "The Sun Dog" that it sort of gets on my nerves there; but it's worth having done just so it could brought back for "Needful Things."

      "Festival! Festival!" -- Good lord, is it Red Hour again already?!? Where DOES the time go...

      "I personally don’t like when King does this." -- I'm probably a little more tolerant of this than you, but only a bit. I don't think it's a bad device when it seems to have some sort of specifically fantastical underpinning (such as Nick appearing to Tom toward the end of "The Stand"); but when it doesn't -- such as here -- then it seems more like an escape hatch than anything else. Aunt Evvie's guidance doesn't bother me TOO badly; I just sort of look at it and say, "Well, that's a bit of a cheat, isn't it?"

      "Much for the reasons you describe but also because of course the peddler gets the tables turned on him; that’s part of the whole 'magic peddler' fairy tale." -- Oh, that's a good point! That hadn't occurred to me. And he's vanquished by hokum that is briefly turned into something genuine, which is sort of the opposite of what Gaunt does with his items. Hmm . . . this worked for me already, but now it seems even stronger than I'd considered. Thanks!

      "how could it be considered anything but one of King’s best? Top Ten, at the very least." -- I wouldn't place it that high on my personal list, but I'd have no problem seeing it there on somebody else's. "Good for you, list!" I'd say silently. I don't think it's properly appreciated, that's for sure.

      "If you sit down and make a list of the things you like about Stephen King – or the things he’s good at – and put it all into a spreadsheet, Needful Things checks off a lot of cells." -- It really does, doesn't it? I considered writing something in the post about how this novel almost seemed like it was a farewell novel of some sort from King. It obviously didn't end up being that, but if it had, this would have made for a strong one.

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  5. Sorry to go off-topic, but will you be reviewing the new Lifetime adaptation of Big Driver? I sort of enjoyed it and I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Keep up the good work!

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    1. I'd like to review both it and "Mercy," but time is currently not on my side -- so we'll see.

      Thanks for the request, though! If I can, I will.

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  6. Helluva of an analysis Bryant.

    In light of it, I need to reread the book. Something I was never motivated to do before as it's not one of favorites.

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    1. It wasn't one of mine, either. And still isn't, but I definitely enjoyed it this time around.

      Thanks!

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  7. They look like woodcuts or linocuts. I would love a portfolio of the artwork though.
    I just listened to R. Matheson's Nightmare At 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories and there's a story in there called The Distributor that seems to be a big inspiration to this story, sorry if you mentioned it but thought it odd that I listened the day you posted the first part of your blog.
    -mikeC

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    1. I've never read it. I've read very little Matheson, actually. Maybe one day!

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  8. Wow, a lot of text. I noticed quite a few of those too, but not all of them. (And I agree in most cases, especially this weird blow job request. In general I disklie it when King inserts sexual scenes at points where they don't feel right, which happens in other books, too.)
    And some points got lost in translation in my version, like the possible beam reference. There are several of my points in there too (for example all of the Lovecraft stuff), and I'm referenced at one point! :D
    Did you do that as I mentioned it's sad that most people will never see our discussion? Or just as it fit in here? Or both?

    cu you in our ever-ongoing discussion soon, but for today I'm out of time.

    Dan

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    1. You know, I actually considered copying-and-pasting the relevant parts of that conversation into this post, but I didn't to do it without your permission.

      I've still got several other Needful Things posts planned, though, including one about the audiobook. If it's okay with you, I'll include a compendium of your comments and my responses there. Because I agree that more people should see them!

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    2. Sounds like a lot of work, but as long as you indicate my "autorship" feel free to do so.

      Dan

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    3. Oh, I forgot last time: There is something to mention about the Ch.11 (9) quote. ("Leave us alone you Stupid Babtist Rat-Fuck or YOU WILL BE A SORRY SON OF A BITCH.")
      I didn't notice that back then, but now after reading Insomnia again (which like I mentioned was pretty much gone from my memory before) I also get a Atropos vibe from that. It's very similar to the way Atropos curses all the time. And the way Ed Deepneau curses once he's controlled by him. Considering the order the books were written that probably isn't an intended connection, though.

      Dan

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    4. Wow, you posted while I typed. XD

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    5. I think there is a very interesting essay waiting to be written about how King presents the relationship between Evil and the minions of Evil (i.e., Atropos and Deepneau, or Gaunt and Ace). King tends to present this as being a relationship that both is and isn't within the control of the minion in question. For example, Gaunt controls Ace to a certain extent, but he can (arguably) only do so because Ace is willing to be controlled in the first place.

      I think the argument King is making is that Evil is powerful, but that it cannot get far unless it can find and exploit human weakness. If and when that happens, though, watch out!

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  9. I've been listening to the audiobook lately, and I noticed something that somehow escaped my attention during the actual read-through: at one point, while somebody is listing nearby towns, the name "Nodd's Ridge" is mentioned.

    This fictional town is the one of which Tabitha King has written in numerous novels, including "Caretakers."

    Cool!

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  10. I think it would've been cool if Gaunt made an appearance in one of the later Dark Tower books. I think he could of replaced The three Kings who were trying to convince Roland and Susannah to take the clothes and food, considering they also had similar abilities to make things appear differently from how they actually are. That being said I wasn't entirely happy with the way King did certain things in the final books ( Namely Crimson King, was hoping for something more epic then " EEEEEEEE" but whatever) so maybe its for the better. Speaking of Dark Tower since I just recently finished the series I was wondering what a few of your opinions on things were but I'll settle for one, what did you think of Randall's / Walters's fate? Thanks for your great blogs!

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    1. The Crimson King as presented in the final novel is awful. I can live with it; I get what King was going for; but yeah, kind of awful.

      I was a bit happier with the way Flagg went out. It was pretty damn horrifying, and almost made me feel bad for Flagg, which is quite an achievement. It also makes Mordred into a powerful villain. Problem is, King then does nothing interesting with Mordred, so in retrospect, it weakens the scene with Flagg.

      That's how I remember it, at least. I might completely change my mind when I reread it.

      What did you think about it?

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    2. Well I was really surprised when Flagg's demise came not even 200 pages into the book and how he was killed so violently and almost as he didn't even matter. After I read that bit of the book I just had a big smile on my face it made me so happy which is different then I feel I would usually act with a character who I thought was going to do so much.

      I actually thought it was a fitting end to Randall considering all his previous appearances had him manipulate people so easily, it was nice to see him fail early for once and actually pay the price for what he's done previously.

      I do agree though it is slightly cheapened by Mordred being pushed over so easily later in the book but I had a feeling that was going to happen, King's kind of hit or miss with payoffs. I was kind of hoping Mordred would help his dad out in the final battle and maybe evolve into some last monstrous form, instead he just shat all over himself, got bit on the leg, and shot twice (I think). Didn't mind that much but Mordred was looking to be a much better character then he got to be in my opinion.

      Thanks for taking time out of your day to answer me and deal with my crappy writing and punctuation.

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    3. I've seen/read way worse, trust me! ;)

      I appreciate your thoughts. Talking about this makes me want to read some Dark Tower!

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