Monday, November 10, 2014

For the First Time in Years He Could See a Future: "Needful Things" Revisited, Part 3

We are scarcely more than twenty-four hours away from the release of a new Stephen King novel, Revival, and the mission for The Truth Inside The Lie is clear: get Needful Things out of the way before the new book arrives.
  
  

I'm almost certainly doomed to failure in that regard, given that I still want to write about the movie and the audiobook; but hey, you never know.
  
In any case, this third and final post about the novel itself is going to approach Needful Things from a slightly different angle than my first two posts about it did: I'd like to go micro for a bit, and hone in close on a concentrated section of the book. 
 
So, here's the gameplan: I've got a medium-sized excerpt from Chapter Three of the novel that I'm going to repost here in its entirety.  If you like, give it a read, and appreciate it (or not) without any interjections from yours truly.  After that, what I'll do is post it a second time, and offer commentary on whatever seems comment-worthy.

Here it comes!  Excerpted (with any typos belonging to yours truly and not to the excerpted text) from Needful Things Part One Chapter Three:


5

By ten o’clock on an autumn weeknight, Castle Rock’s Main Street was as tightly locked up as a Chubb safe.  The streetlamps threw circles of white light on the sidewalk and at the fronts of the business buildings in diminishing perspective, making downtown look like a deserted stage-set.  Soon, you might think, a lone figure dressed in tails and a top-hat – Fred Astaire, or maybe Gene Kelly – would appear and dance his way from one of those spots to the next, singing about how lonely a fellow could be when his best girl had given him the air and all the bars were closed.  Then, from the other end of Main Street, another figure would appear – Ginger Rogers or maybe Cyd Charisse – dressed in an evening gown.  She would dance toward Fred (or Gene), singing about how lonely a gal could be when her best guy had stood her up.  They would see each other, pause artistically, and then dance together in front of the bank or maybe You Sew and Sew.
            Instead, Hugh Priest hove into view.
            He did not look like either Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, there was no girl at the far end of Main Street advancing toward a romantic chance meeting with him, and he most definitely did not dance.  He did drink, however, and he had been drinking steadily in The Mellow Tiger since four that afternoon.  At this point in the festivities just walking was a trick, and never mind any fancy dance-steps.  He walked slowly, passing through one pool of light after another, his shadow running tall across the fronts of the barber shop, the Western Auto, the video-rental shop.  He was weaving slightly, his reddish eyes fixed stolidly in front of him, his large belly pushing out his sweaty blue tee-shirt (on the front was a drawing of a huge mosquito above the words MAINE STATE BIRD) in a long, sloping curve.
            The Castle Rock Public Works pick-up truck he had been driving was still sitting at the rear of the Tiger’s dirt parking lot.  Hugh Priest was the not-so-proud possessor of several OUI driving violations, and following the last one – which had resulted in a six-month suspension of his privilege to drive – that bastard Keeton, his co-bastards Fullerton and Samuels, and their co-bitch Williams had made it clear that they had reached the end of their patience with him.  The next OUI would probably result in the permanent loss of his license, and would certainly result in the loss of his job.
            This did not cause Hugh to stop drinking – no power on earth could do that – but it did cause him to form a firm resolution: no more drinking and driving.  He was fifty-one years old, and that was a little late in life to be changing jobs, especially with a long drunk-driving rap sheet following him around like a tin can tied to a dog’s tail.
            That was why he was walking home tonight, and one fuck of a long walk it was, and there was a certain Public Works employee named Bobby Dugas who was going to have some tall explaining to do tomorrow, unless he wanted to go home with a few less teeth than he had come to work with.
            As Hugh passed Nan’s Luncheonette, a light drizzle began to mist down.  This did not improve his temper.
            He had asked Bobby, who had to drive right past Hugh’s place on his way home every night, if he was going to drop down to the Tiger that evening for a few brewskis.  Bobby Dugas had said, Why shore, Hubert – Bobby always called him Hubert, which was not his fucking name, and you could bet that shit was going to change, too, and soon.  Why shore, Hubert, I’ll prob’ly be down around seven, same as always.
            So Hugh, confident of a ride if he got a little too pixillated to drive, had pulled into the Tiger at just about five minutes of four (he’d knocked off a little early, almost an hour and a half early, actually, but what the hell, Deke Bradford hadn’t been around), and had waded right in.  And come seven o’clock, guess what?  No Bobby Dugas!  Golly-gosh-wow!  Come eight and nine and nine-thirty, guess further what?  More of the same, by God!
            At twenty to ten, Henry Beaufort, bartender and owner of The Mellow Tiger, had invited Hugh to put an egg in his shoe and beat it, to make like a tree and leave, to imitate an amoeba and split – in other words, to get the fuck out.  Hugh had been outraged.  It was true he had kicked the jukebox, the goddam Rodney Crowell record had been skipping again.
            “What was I supposed to do, just sit here and listen to it?” he demanded of Henry.  “You oughtta take that record off, that’s all.  Guy sounds like he’s havin a fuckin pepileptic fit.”
            “You haven’t had enough, I can see that,” Henry said, “but you’ve had all you’re going to get here.  You’ll have to get the rest out of your own refrigerator.”
            “What if I say no?” Hugh demanded.
            “Then I call Sheriff Pangborn,” Henry said evenly.
            The other patrons of the Tiger – there weren’t many this late on a weeknight – were watching this exchange with interest.  Men were careful to be polite around Hugh Priest, especially when he was in his cups, but he was never going to win Castle Rock’s Most Popular Fella contest.
            “I wouldn’t like to,” Henry continued, “but I will do it, Hugh.  I’m sick and tired of you kicking my Rock-Ola.”
            Hugh considered saying, Then I guess I’ll just have to kick YOU a few times instead, you frog son of a bitch.  Then he thought of that fat bastard Keeton, handing him a pink slip for kicking up dickens in the local tavern.  Of course, if he really got fired the pink would come in the mail, it always did, pigs like Keeton never dirtied their hands (or risked a fat lip) by doing it in person, but it helped to think of that – it turned the dials down a little.  And he did have a couple of six-packs at home, one in the fridge and the other in the woodshed.
            “Okay,” he said.  “I don’t need this action, anyway.  Gimme my keys.”  For he had turned them over to Henry, as a precaution, when he sat down at the bar six hours and eighteen beers ago.
            “Nope.”  Henry wiped his hands on a piece of towel and stared at Hugh unflinchingly.
            Nope?  What the hell do you mean, nope?”
            “I mean you’re too drunk to drive.  I know it, and when you wake up tomorrow morning you’re going to know it, too.”
            “Listen,” Hugh said patiently.  “When I gave you the goddam keys, I thought I had a ride home.  Bobby Dugas said he was coming down for a few beers.  It’s not my fault the numb fuck never showed.”
            Henry sighed.  “I sympathize with that, but it’s not my problem.  I could get sued if you wiped someone out.  I doubt if that means much to you, but it does to me.  I got to cover my ass, buddy.  In this world, nobody else does it for you.”
            Hugh felt resentment, self-pity, and an odd, inchoate wretchedness well to the surface of his mind like some foul liquid seeping up from a long-buried canister of toxic waste.  He looked from his keys, hanging behind the bar next to the plaque which read IF YOU DON’T LIKE OUR TOWN LOOK FOR A TIME-TABLE, back to Henry.  He was alarmed to find he was on the verge of tears.
            Henry glanced past him at the few other customers currently in attendance.  “Hey!  Any of you yo-yos headed up Castle Hill?”
            Men looked down at their tables and said nothing.  One or two cracked their knuckles.  Charlie Fortin sauntered toward the men’s room with elaborate slowness.  No one answered.
            “See?” Hugh said.  “Come on, Henry, gimme my keys.”
            Henry had shaken his head with slow finality.  “If you want to come in here and do some drinking another time, you want to take a hike.”
            “Okay, I will!” Hugh said.  His voice was that of a pouty child on the verge of a temper tantrum.  He crossed the floor with his head down and his hands balled into tight fists.  He waited for someone to laugh.  He almost hoped someone would.  He would clean some house then, and fuck the job.  But the place was silent except for Reba McEntire, who was whining something about Alabama.
            “You can pick up your keys tomorrow!” Henry called after him.
            Hugh said nothing.  With a mighty effort he had restrained himself from putting one scuffed yellow workboot right through Henry Beaufort’s damned old Rock-Ola as he went by.  Then, with his head down, he had passed out into darkness.

6

Now the mist had become a proper drizzle, and Hugh guessed the drizzle would develop into a steady, drenching rain by the time he reached home.  It was just his luck.  He walked steadily onward, not weaving quite so much now (the air had had a sobering effect on him), eyes moving restlessly from side to side.  His mind was troubled, and he wished someone would come along and give him some lip.  Even a little lip would do tonight.  He thought briefly of the kid who had stepped in front of his truck yesterday afternoon, and wished sulkily that he had knocked the brat all the way across the street.  It wouldn’t have been his fault, no way.  In his day, kids had looked where they were going.
            He passed the vacant lot where the Emporium Galorium had stood before it burned down, You Sew and Sew, Castle Rock Hardware . . . and then he was passing Needful Things.  He glanced into the display window, looked back up Main Street (only a mile and a half to go, now, and maybe he would beat the rain before it really started to pelt down, after all), and then came to a sudden halt.
            His feet had carried him past the new store, and he had to go back.  There was a single light on above the window display, casting its soft glow down over the three items arranged there.  The light also spilled out onto his face, and it worked a wondrous transformation there.  Suddenly Hugh looked like a tired little boy up long past his bedtime, a little boy who has just seen what he wants for Christmas – what he must have for Christmas, because all at once nothing else on God’s green earth would do.  The central object in the window was flanked by two fluted vases (Nettie Cobb’s beloved carnival glass, although Hugh didn’t know this and would not have cared if he did).
            It was a fox-tail.
            Suddenly it was 1955 again, he had just gotten his license, and he was driving to the Western Maine Schoolboy Championship game – Castle Rock vs. Greenspark – in his dad’s ’53 Ford convertible.  It was an unseasonably warm November day, warm enough to pull that old ragtop down and tack the tarp over it (if you were bunch of hot-blooded kids ready, willing, and able to raise some hell, that was), and there were six of them in the car.  Peter Doyon had brought a flask of Log Cabin whiskey, Perry Como was on the radio, Hugh Priest was sitting behind the white wheel, and fluttering from the radio antenna had been a long, luxuriant fox-tail, just like the one he was now looking at in the window of this store.
            He remembered looking up at that fluttering fox-tail and thinking that, when he owned a convertible of his own, he was going to have one just like that.
            He remembered refusing the flask when it came around to him.  He was driving, and you didn’t drink while you were driving, because you were responsible for the lives of others.  And he remembered one other thing, as well: the certainty that he was living the best hour of the best day of his life.
            The memory surprised and hurt him in its clarity and total sensory recall – smoky aroma of burning leaves, November sun twinkling on guardrail reflectors, and now, looking at the fox-tail in the display window of Needful Things, it struck him that it had been the best day of his life, one of the last days before the booze had caught him firmly in its rubbery, pliant grip, turning him into a weird variation of King Midas: everything he had touched since then, it seemed, had turned to shit.
            He suddenly thought: I could change.
            This idea had its own arresting clarity.
            I could start over.
            Were such things possible?
            Yes, I think sometimes they are.  I could buy that fox-tail and tie it on the antenna of my Buick.
            They’d laugh, though.  The guys’d laugh.
            What guys?  Henry Beaufort?  That little pissant Bobby Dugas?  So what?  Fuck em.  Buy that fox-tail, tie it to the antenna, and drive –
            Drive where?
            Well, how about that Thursday-night AA meeting over in Greenspark for a start?
            For a moment the possibility stunned and excited him, the way a long-term prisoner might be stunned and excited by the sight of the key left in the lock of his jail cell by a careless warder.  For a moment he could actually see himself doing it, picking up a white chip, then a red chip, then a blue chip, getting sober day by day and month by month.  No more Mellow Tiger.  Too bad.  But also no more paydays spent in terror that he would find a pink slip in his envelope along with his check, and that was not so too bad.
            In that moment, as he stood looking at the fox-tail in the display window of Needful Things, Hugh could see a future.  For the first time in years he could see a future, and that beautiful orange fox-brush with its white tip floated through it like a battle-flag.
            Then reality crashed back in, and reality smelled like rain and damp, dirty clothes.  There would be no fox-tail for him, no AA meetings, no chips, no future.  He was fifty-one fucking years old, and fifty-one was too old for dreams of the future.  At fifty-one you had to keep running just to escape the avalanche of your own past.
            If it had been business hours, though, he would have taken a shot at it, anyway.  Damned if he wouldn’t.  He’d walk in there, just as big as billy-be-damned, and ask how much was that fox-tail in the window.  But it was ten o’clock, Main Street was locked up as tight as an ice queen’s chastity belt, and when he woke up tomorrow morning, feeling as if someone had planted an icepick between his eyes, he would have forgotten all about that lovely fox-tail, with its vibrant russet color.
            Still, he lingered a moment longer, trailing dirty, callused fingers over the glass like a kid looking into a toyshop window.  A little smile had touched the corners of his mouth.  It was a gentle smile, and it looked out of place on Hugh Priest’s face.  Then, somewhere up on Castle View, a car backed off several times, sounds as sharp as shotgun blasts on the rainy air, and Hugh was startled back to himself.
            Fuck it.  What the hell are you thinking of?
            He turned away from the window and pointed his face toward home again – if you wanted to call the two-room shack with the tacked-on woodshed where he lived home.  As he passed under the canopy, he looked at the door . . . and stopped again.
            The sign there, of course, read
OPEN.
            Like a man in a dream, Hugh put his hand out and tried the knob.  It turned freely under his hand.  Overhead, a small silver bell tinkled.  The sound seemed to come from an impossible distance away.
            A man was standing in the middle of the shop.  He was running a feather-duster over the top of a display case and humming.  He turned toward Hugh when the bell rang.  He didn’t seem a bit surprised to see someone standing in his doorway at ten minutes past ten on a Wednesday night.  The only thing that struck Hugh about the man in that confused moment was his eyes – they were as black as an Indian’s.
            “You forgot to turn your sign over, buddy,” Hugh heard himself say.
            “No, indeed,” the man replied politely.  “I don’t sleep very well, I’m afraid, and some nights I take a fancy to open late.  One never knows when a fellow such as yourself may stop by . . . and take a fancy to something.  Would you like to come in and look around?”
            Hugh Priest came in and closed the door behind him.


 
  
  
Good stuff, eh?
  
Well, now let's have another look, complete with commentary.  I've opted for the simple approach: anything in bold is an interjection from me.  That ought to be easy enough to follow.

So:
  

5

By ten o’clock on an autumn weeknight, Castle Rock’s Main Street was as tightly locked up as a Chubb safe.  The streetlamps threw circles of white light on the sidewalk and at the fronts of the business buildings in diminishing perspective, making downtown look like a deserted stage-set.  [This is a lovely description in and of itself, but it also serves as a bit of a reminder of the novel’s prologue, which itself sort of “sets the stage” for what is to come.  He doesn’t hit such notes very aggressively, but King is playing around with some ideas about artifice and what is and isn’t “real” within the confines of a story.]  Soon, you might think, a lone figure dressed in tails and a top-hat – Fred Astaire, or maybe Gene Kelly – would appear and dance his way from one of those spots to the next, singing about how lonely a fellow could be when his best girl had given him the air and all the bars were closed.  [Well, since we’re seeinga stage,” what else would be on it but a musical?]  Then, from the other end of Main Street, another figure would appear – Ginger Rogers or maybe Cyd Charisse – dressed in an evening gown.  She would dance toward Fred (or Gene), singing about how lonely a gal could be when her best guy had stood her up.  They would see each other, pause artistically, and then dance together in front of the bank or maybe You Sew and Sew.  [These are classy images, and the classiness is somewhat at odds with typical King content.  His work tends to be a bit more down-to-Earth and blue-collar; he rarely writes about the sort of people who would wear top hats or evening dresses.  So, what you get with this fanciful image is the sense that what King is describing is something far removed from the “real” world.]
            Instead, Hugh Priest hove into view.  [It would be difficult for me to impart to you a sense of how much I love this sentence.  For one thing, “hove.”  Fantastic!  How often do you see the past-tense version of “heave” used in a sentence? Not often.   So that’s great in and of itself, but what really makes it work for me is King’s use of it within a single-sentence paragraph, one that resolves the paragraph before it.  It functions almost as the punchline to a joke.  There you are, looking at a deserted small-town Main Street, imagining it to be a romantic place not unpossessed of Old Hollywood glamor.  Your mind is working hard at maintaining this fantasy, and has done so good a job of it that it has conjured Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to populate the place.  You can practically hear the music swelling, building, approaching its crescendo . . . when all of a sudden fat, drunk, old Hugh Priest walks around a corner and into you field of view.  Hugh Priest, the antithesis of class; Hugh Priest, the antithesis of glamor.
            Hugh Priest . . . the antithesis of artifice.  Put another way: Hugh Priest, the truth.  We might aspire to be Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, or at least to live in their world; but we, in fact, live in Hugh Priest’s world.  And maybe we are Hugh Priest.
            That’s what that single sentence communicates.]
            He did not look like either Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, there was no girl at the far end of Main Street advancing toward a romantic chance meeting with him, and he most definitely did not dance.  [See?]  He did drink, however, and he had been drinking steadily in The Mellow Tiger since four that afternoon.  At this point in the festivities just walking was a trick, and never mind any fancy dance-steps.  He walked slowly, passing through one pool of light after another, his shadow running tall across the fronts of the barber shop, the Western Auto, the video-rental shop.  [Another lovely image.]  He was weaving slightly, his reddish eyes fixed stolidly in front of him, his large belly pushing out his sweaty blue tee-shirt (on the front was a drawing of a huge mosquito above the words MAINE STATE BIRD) in a long, sloping curve.
            The Castle Rock Public Works pick-up truck he had been driving was still sitting at the rear of the Tiger’s dirt parking lot.  Hugh Priest was the not-so-proud possessor of several OUI driving violations, and following the last one – which had resulted in a six-month suspension of his privilege to drive – that bastard Keeton, his co-bastards Fullerton and Samuels, and their co-bitch Williams had made it clear that they had reached the end of their patience with him.  The next OUI would probably result in the permanent loss of his license, and would certainly result in the loss of his job.
            This did not cause Hugh to stop drinking – no power on earth could do that – but it did cause him to form a firm resolution: no more drinking and driving.  He was fifty-one years old, and that was a little late in life to be changing jobs, especially with a long drunk-driving rap sheet following him around like a tin can tied to a dog’s tail.  [That last sentence offers some interesting insight: a tin can only ends up tied to a dog’s tail if somebody has tied it there.  It isn’t stated outright, but the implication is clear: Hugh would see his OUI record as a thing that had been done to him, not as a consequence of his own actions.  There are several characters in Needful Things who would almost certainly have sympathy with this viewpoint: most notably, Danforth “Buster” Keeton, who literally views his money problems as something They have done to him.  Most of the people over whom Gaunt is able to exert the most influence are people like Keeton, who believe that they have been in some way victimized.  It’s only hinted at with Hugh; but I think the hint is there.]
            That was why he was walking home tonight, and one fuck of a long walk it was, and there was a certain Public Works employee named Bobby Dugas who was going to have some tall explaining to do tomorrow, unless he wanted to go home with a few less teeth than he had come to work with.
            As Hugh passed Nan’s Luncheonette, a light drizzle began to mist down.  This did not improve his temper.
            He had asked Bobby, who had to drive right past Hugh’s place on his way home every night, if he was going to drop down to the Tiger that evening for a few brewskis.  Bobby Dugas had said, Why shore, Hubert – Bobby always called him Hubert, which was not his fucking name, and you could bet that shit was going to change, too, and soon.  Why shore, Hubert, I’ll prob’ly be down around seven, same as always.
            So Hugh, confident of a ride if he got a little too pixillated [I don’t believe I’ve known anyone else to use the word “pixillated” as a synonym for “intoxicated,” but it’s an effective one.] to drive, had pulled into the Tiger at just about five minutes of four (he’d knocked off a little early, almost an hour and a half early, actually, but what the hell, Deke Bradford hadn’t been around), and had waded right in.  [Taken literally, “waded right in” is a swimming phrase, and it conjures up mental images of relaxation, vacation, luxury, maybe even privilege.  Regardless of the specifics, it puts one in mind of being at one’s ease; and surely this is how Hugh would think of it: as a pleasant reward at the end of a long day.  Would most alcoholics look at it that way?  I assume so.]  And come seven o’clock, guess what?  No Bobby Dugas!  Golly-gosh-wow!  Come eight and nine and nine-thirty, guess further what?  More of the same, by God!
            At twenty to ten, Henry Beaufort, bartender and owner of The Mellow Tiger, had invited Hugh to put an egg in his shoe and beat it, to make like a tree and leave, to imitate an amoeba and split – in other words, to get the fuck out.  Hugh had been outraged.  It was true he had kicked the jukebox, the goddam Rodney Crowell record had been skipping again.
            “What was I supposed to do, just sit here and listen to it?” he demanded of Henry.  [Here, again, Hugh insists on seeing the world in terms of what it is doing to him as opposed to what he is doing to it.]  “You oughtta take that record off, that’s all.  Guy sounds like he’s havin a fuckin pepileptic fit.”
            “You haven’t had enough, I can see that,” Henry said, “but you’ve had all you’re going to get here.  You’ll have to get the rest out of your own refrigerator.”
            “What if I say no?” Hugh demanded.
            “Then I call Sheriff Pangborn,” Henry said evenly.
            The other patrons of the Tiger – there weren’t many this late on a weeknight – were watching this exchange with interest.  Men were careful to be polite around Hugh Priest, especially when he was in his cups, but he was never going to win Castle Rock’s Most Popular Fella contest.
            “I wouldn’t like to,” Henry continued, “but I will do it, Hugh.  I’m sick and tired of you kicking my Rock-Ola.”
            Hugh considered saying, Then I guess I’ll just have to kick YOU a few times instead, you frog son of a bitch.  Then he thought of that fat bastard Keeton, handing him a pink slip for kicking up dickens in the local tavern.  Of course, if he really got fired the pink would come in the mail, it always did, pigs like Keeton never dirtied their hands (or risked a fat lip) by doing it in person, but it helped to think of that – it turned the dials down a little.  And he did have a couple of six-packs at home, one in the fridge and the other in the woodshed.
            “Okay,” he said.  “I don’t need this action, anyway.  Gimme my keys.”  For he had turned them over to Henry, as a precaution, when he sat down at the bar six hours and eighteen beers ago.
            “Nope.”  Henry wiped his hands on a piece of towel and stared at Hugh unflinchingly.
            Nope?  What the hell do you mean, nope?”
            “I mean you’re too drunk to drive.  I know it, and when you wake up tomorrow morning you’re going to know it, too.”
            “Listen,” Hugh said patiently.  [Somehow, that one word – “patiently” – communicates just how reasonable Hugh drunkenly thinks himself to be in this moment.  You can almost hear him patting himself on the back for not flying immediately off the handle.]  “When I gave you the goddam keys, I thought I had a ride home.  Bobby Dugas said he was coming down for a few beers.  It’s not my fault the numb fuck never showed.”  [Another example of Hugh’s limited view: the problem here, as he sees it, isn’t that he got shit-faced; it’s that his ride failed to materialize.  It never crosses his mind that not getting drunk was an option, and a proactive solution to the eventual problem.]
            Henry sighed.  “I sympathize with that, but it’s not my problem.  I could get sued if you wiped someone out.  I doubt if that means much to you, but it does to me.  I got to cover my ass, buddy.  In this world, nobody else does it for you.”
            Hugh felt resentment, self-pity, and an odd, inchoate [there’s a word you don’t see every day] wretchedness well to the surface of his mind like some foul liquid seeping up from a long-buried canister of toxic waste.  [Damn!  That’s wonderful, in an awful way.  What a perfect image!]  He looked from his keys, hanging behind the bar next to the plaque which read IF YOU DON’T LIKE OUR TOWN LOOK FOR A TIME-TABLE [I assume there is a joke or a pun here, but whatever it is it seems to have sailed right over my head], back to Henry.  He was alarmed to find he was on the verge of tears.
            Henry glanced past him at the few other customers currently in attendance.  “Hey!  Any of you yo-yos headed up Castle Hill?”
            Men looked down at their tables and said nothing.  One or two cracked their knuckles.  Charlie Fortin sauntered toward the men’s room with elaborate slowness.  No one answered.
            “See?” Hugh said.  “Come on, Henry, gimme my keys.”
            Henry had shaken his head with slow finality.  “If you want to come in here and do some drinking another time, you want to take a hike.”
            “Okay, I will!” Hugh said.  His voice was that of a pouty child on the verge of a temper tantrum.  He crossed the floor with his head down and his hands balled into tight fists.  He waited for someone to laugh.  He almost hoped someone would.  He would clean some house then, and fuck the job.  But the place was silent except for Reba McEntire, who was whining something about Alabama.
            “You can pick up your keys tomorrow!” Henry called after him.
            Hugh said nothing.  With a mighty effort he had restrained himself from putting one scuffed yellow workboot right through Henry Beaufort’s damned old Rock-Ola as he went by.  Then, with his head down, he had passed out into darkness.

6

Now the mist had become a proper drizzle, and Hugh guessed the drizzle would develop into a steady, drenching rain by the time he reached home.  It was just his luck.  He walked steadily onward, not weaving quite so much now (the air had had a sobering effect on him), eyes moving restlessly from side to side.  His mind was troubled, and he wished someone would come along and give him some lip.  Even a little lip would do tonight.  He thought briefly of the kid who had stepped in front of his truck yesterday afternoon, and wished sulkily that he had knocked the brat all the way across the street.  It wouldn’t have been his fault, no way.  In his day, kids had looked where they were going.  [Here again, Hugh’s selfish point of view comes through: in his worldview, kids should be responsible for keeping themselves from getting run over, so that men of the world like Hugh Priest can drive as obliviously as they wish.]
            He passed the vacant lot where the Emporium Galorium had stood before it burned down, You Sew and Sew [I can recall being confused by that store name the first time I read the novel, in 1991; apparently, I had never encountered the phrase “you so and so” as a generic, non-profane stand-in for a profane insult, and therefore the pun made no sense to me.], Castle Rock Hardware . . . and then he was passing Needful Things.  He glanced into the display window, looked back up Main Street (only a mile and a half to go, now, and maybe he would beat the rain before it really started to pelt down, after all), and then came to a sudden halt.
            His feet had carried him past the new store, and he had to go back.  There was a single light on above the window display, casting its soft glow down over the three items arranged there.  The light also spilled out onto his face, and it worked a wondrous transformation there.  [I love that sentence.  Nothing showy about it; it just works.]  Suddenly Hugh looked like a tired little boy up long past his bedtime, a little boy who has just seen what he wants for Christmas – what he must have for Christmas, because all at once nothing else on God’s green earth would do.  The central object in the window was flanked by two fluted vases (Nettie Cobb’s beloved carnival glass, although Hugh didn’t know this and would not have cared if he did).
            It was a fox-tail.
            Suddenly it was 1955 again, he had just gotten his license, and he was driving to the Western Maine Schoolboy Championship game – Castle Rock vs. Greenspark – in his dad’s ’53 Ford convertible.  It was an unseasonably warm November day, warm enough to pull that old ragtop down and tack the tarp over it (if you were bunch of hot-blooded kids ready, willing, and able to raise some hell, that was), and there were six of them in the car.  Peter Doyon had brought a flask of Log Cabin whiskey [of course Hugh’s fondest memory involves alcohol; although, as we see in a few moments, it involves sensible self-restraint], Perry Como was on the radio, Hugh Priest was sitting behind the white wheel, and fluttering from the radio antenna had been a long, luxuriant fox-tail, just like the one he was now looking at in the window of this store.
            He remembered looking up at that fluttering fox-tail and thinking that, when he owned a convertible of his own, he was going to have one just like that.  [Outside the confines of this novel, I don’t believe I have ever encountered the notion of a fox-tail as a prized possession.  I am going to assume that it is either (A) something that was mostly confined to King’s generation and earlier generations, (B) a rural thing, or (C) a regional thing.  It works for the novel, though, and the reason it works is simply because King is able to make us believe that Hugh cares for this fox-tail, and deeply; if he cares, we care.]
            He remembered refusing the flask when it came around to him.  He was driving, and you didn’t drink while you were driving, because you were responsible for the lives of others.  [This is especially effective given the fact that just a few paragraphs ago, Hugh was determined to go for a drive regardless of how blotto he was.  How time can change us…]  And he remembered one other thing, as well: the certainty that he was living the best hour of the best day of his life.  [I’ve never had a realization of that nature.  Is that a good thing, or a bad one?]
            The memory surprised and hurt him in its clarity and total sensory recall – smoky aroma of burning leaves, November sun twinkling on guardrail reflectors, and now, looking at the fox-tail in the display window of Needful Things, it struck him that it had been the best day of his life, one of the last days before the booze had caught him firmly in its rubbery, pliant grip, turning him into a weird variation of King Midas: everything he had touched since then, it seemed, had turned to shit.
            He suddenly thought: I could change.  [The implication here is that such a thought has perhaps never occurred to Hugh before.  Is this, perhaps, the fabled “moment of clarity” reformed addicts sometimes speak of?]
            This idea had its own arresting clarity.
            I could start over.
            Were such things possible?
            Yes, I think sometimes they are.  I could buy that fox-tail and tie it on the antenna of my Buick.  [For a lot – though by no means all – of his customers, what Leland Gaunt is selling is a simple idea: that there is such a thing as a Fix-All, and that we all have one.  And, he says, it just so happens that I have yours in stock…]

            They’d laugh, though.  The guys’d laugh.
            What guys?  Henry Beaufort?  That little pissant Bobby Dugas?  So what?  Fuck em.  Buy that fox-tail, tie it to the antenna, and drive –
            Drive where?
            Well, how about that Thursday-night AA meeting over in Greenspark for a start?  [Oh, man . . . that is a heart-breaker.  We’ve been introduced to Hugh as being a not-particularly-pleasant fellow, and he’s certainly closer to a villain than he is a hero.  Here, though, it’s hard not to be a little broken-hearted for him.  Just like there is still the shadow of a kid at Christmas somewhere inside him, waiting only for the right prompt to emerge, there is still a glimmer of redemption within Hugh.]
            For a moment the possibility stunned and excited him, the way a long-term prisoner might be stunned and excited by the sight of the key left in the lock of his jail cell by a careless warder.  [Impossible not to think here of poor Lloyd Henreid, abandoned and alone in prison in The Stand; Randall Flagg, who may have a few similarities with Leland Gaunt, shows up and has the very key that Lloyd needs.]  For a moment he could actually see himself doing it, picking up a white chip, then a red chip, then a blue chip, getting sober day by day and month by month.  No more Mellow Tiger.  Too bad.  But also no more paydays spent in terror that he would find a pink slip in his envelope along with his check, and that was not so too bad.
            In that moment, as he stood looking at the fox-tail in the display window of Needful Things, Hugh could see a future.  For the first time in years he could see a future, and that beautiful orange fox-brush with its white tip floated through it like a battle-flag.  [That’s a fine sentence, there.]
            Then reality crashed back in, and reality smelled like rain and damp, dirty clothes.  [Let’s ponder for a moment the degree to which this moment mirrors the moment in which our own reverie of Fred Astaire soft-shoeing through downtown Castle Rock is interrupted by Hugh Priest’s entrance.  Let's make a tiny associative leap: if Hugh’s momentary belief that he might have a future is a fantasy, then maybe that suggests that the artifice of Astaire/Rogers musicals is a fantasy, and in the same way.  But what does this suggest in turn?  After all, the thoughts Hugh is thinking are, factually-speaking, eminently realistic: an alcoholic does have the ability to get sober.  If that’s the case, does it suggest that a mindset like the one provided by Hollywood musicals is also an obtainable reality?  Remember, Needful Things has been framed through a lens of artifice, thanks to that prologue I wrote about in my first post about the novel.  I’d also like to point you towards the King saying from which this blog draws its title: “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”  Astaire and Rogers sashaying up Main Street might be a lie whereas Hugh Priest is the truth; but, then again, it might just as easily be the other way around.]  There would be no fox-tail for him, no AA meetings, no chips, no future.  He was fifty-one fucking years old, and fifty-one was too old for dreams of the future.  At fifty-one you had to keep running just to escape the avalanche of your own past.  [Good lord, that last sentence…  Poetry!  Sheer poetry!]
            If it had been business hours, though, he would have taken a shot at it, anyway.  Damned if he wouldn’t.  He’d walk in there, just as big as billy-be-damned, and ask how much was that fox-tail in the window.  [You may already know this, but just in case you don’t: this is a reference to the song “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?”, which is surely one of the most insipid songs to ever be a huge hit.  But a huge hit it was nonetheless, and King’s referencing it here serves to reinforce some of the ‘50s-specific nostalgia that permeates the novel.]  But it was ten o’clock, Main Street was locked up as tight as an ice queen’s chastity belt, and when he woke up tomorrow morning, feeling as if someone had planted an icepick between his eyes, he would have forgotten all about that lovely fox-tail, with its vibrant russet color.
            Still, he lingered a moment longer, trailing dirty, callused fingers over the glass like a kid looking into a toyshop window.  A little smile had touched the corners of his mouth.  It was a gentle smile, and it looked out of place on Hugh Priest’s face.  [That line is another heart-breaker.]  Then, somewhere up on Castle View, a car backed off several times, sounds as sharp as shotgun blasts on the rainy air, and Hugh was startled back to himself.
            Fuck it.  What the hell are you thinking of?
            He turned away from the window and pointed his face toward home again – if you wanted to call the two-room shack with the tacked-on woodshed where he lived home.  As he passed under the canopy, he looked at the door . . . and stopped again.
            The sign there, of course, read
OPEN.
            Like a man in a dream, Hugh put his hand out and tried the knob.  It turned freely under his hand.  Overhead, a small silver bell tinkled.  The sound seemed to come from an impossible distance away.
            A man was standing in the middle of the shop.  He was running a feather-duster over the top of a display case and humming.  He turned toward Hugh when the bell rang.  He didn’t seem a bit surprised to see someone standing in his doorway at ten minutes past ten on a Wednesday night.  The only thing that struck Hugh about the man in that confused moment was his eyes – they were as black as an Indian’s.
            “You forgot to turn your sign over, buddy,” Hugh heard himself say.
            “No, indeed,” the man replied politely.  “I don’t sleep very well, I’m afraid, and some nights I take a fancy to open late.  One never knows when a fellow such as yourself [one whose soul might theoretically be obtainable…?] may stop by . . . and take a fancy to something.  Would you like to come in and look around?”
            Hugh Priest came in and closed the door behind him.
  
  
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat
   
  
I'd like to conclude this post by offering an edited version of an excerpt from an ongoing conversation I've been having with a fellow King reader in the comments section of a different post (this one, to be specific).  The reader's name is Dan; he's from Germany, and his typed English is about a billion times better than my typed German (of which I have none) would be if I spent the next twenty years learning the language!  I regretfully admit to being an average American in many, many ways.
  
Anyways, Dan has been reading/rereading his way through a lot of King's books and stories, and has been generous enough with his time to share his thoughts with us via those comments.  He's had a TON of fascinating insights, and has even done some research to back up certain points.  I recommend checking the whole conversation out, but for our purposes here, I'm going to restrict myself to (with Dan's permission) excerpting most of our conversation about Needful Things.  This took place prior to my own reread, so if it seems a bit one-sided at times, that's because Dan's knowledge of the subject was WAY superior to my own.
  
I've made no substantial edits; mostly, I've just cleaned up typos, added formatting designed to make things seem uniform (italicizing titles, replacing some numerals with words, and stuff like that).
  
I hope you enjoy it!  Dan and I both felt that there was stuff here too good to be restricted to a comments section.
  
As we begin, we are coming off (and building upon) a recent discussion about the similarities between Randall Flagg in The Stand and Andre Linoge in Storm of the Century...
  
Dan:  Ah, Castle Rock.  Feels a bit like returning home.  I can’t tell you why, after all only a very small percentage of King’s stories took place there (I think three books and two or three shorter stories).  But still, more than any other place in his books this feels like “King Town” to me.
 
Needful Things even further enhances this feeling, as it seems to be packed with references.  Very obvious ones, like people clearly talking about the events in Cujo and The Dark Half.  But also many many names (of people and places) that sound familiar, but probably got lost somewhere in my memory during all the years of not reading King.
  
As stated before, for Linoge I have the opinion that we can say for sure that he’s linked to Flagg, making Storm of the Century a candidate for the list.  However, for Needful Things I currently still share your opinion that you may choose to see the same Legion in him, but it’s not a sure thing.

Some pros and cons:
 
PRO:  See various points stated before, for example the resemblance to Linoge in San Francisco, and the LEland GAUNt bit.  [Bryant’s note: Dan is referring to the fact that Randall Flagg and Linoge are both linked to the name “Legion.”  He also refers to a previous comment in which he mentioned the possibility that Gaunt’s name – almost certainly a name he chose, rather than one he was given – might itself contain a hint toward Legion: “LEland GAUNt” almost contains the word “Legion” within it, doesn’t it?]

PRO:  It seems he’s able to become dim, too.  [Bryant’s note: as does Flagg in The Eyes of the Dragon.]  The book (at least the translation) doesn’t explicitly state this, but we see a scene with Alan (the sheriff) putting his face on the shop window to look into the store. And even though Gaunt stands directly in front of him at the other side of the window (and watches Alan from within), Alan doesn’t notice him.
 
CON:  Except from in The Eyes of the Dragon, Flagg/Legion was always wearing old boots and jeans.  That doesn’t go for Gaunt.

CON:  In all appearances so far Legion frequently displayed black eyes, often with a red glow.  Gaunt doesn’t.  His eyes are often mentioned, as every person sees a different color in them.  But none of the versions looks like Legion's eyes.  Well, in the very end his eyes glow red.  No blackness mentioned though.

CON:  Gaunt also has peculiar teeth, but not sharp (as for Legion) but just crooked. In the very end this changes, his teeth become sharp when he starts looking like a demon.

More pros and cons another time (currently they are just scribbles on little notes), first back to the names: one name that in particular woke my interest was Polly Chalmers.  Especially as when she sees Gaunt, she has a déjà vu.  She has seen him before, but can’t tell where and when.  I took that as hint that wherever we have seen Polly before in King’s works, there probably also was the same evil entity as Gaunt.  But as I said, I’m bad at remembering names, so I had to use Google/KingWikis as “memory extension.”  It seems that Polly was mentioned in most other Castle Rock works: She is Annie’s employer in The Dark Half, is seen brooming the sideway in “The Sun Dog” and according to Bag of Bones she lives in New Hampshire 1998.  But in in all of them, she was just shortly mentioned and seemingly had no contact with the respective evil entity.  (Damned, I was hoping to find out Gaunt is Cujo! ;) )  Seemingly a dead end, after all.

BryantI'm planning on rereading Needful Things soon -- haven't read that one in probably twenty years, so I'm looking forward to it!

Dan:  Let me know your opinions once you reach it.

More Pros and Cons for Gaunt being Legion/Flagg:

PRO:  Gaunt states (towards Ace, in a joking tone) that his cocaine come from the plains of Leng.  It’s the same area where The Eyes of the Dragon’s Flagg got his spellbook (Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, as described somewhere above) from.  Considering these connections, it comes as no surprise that King adopted
Leng itself from Lovecraft, too:
 
(I keep getting surprised by the number of Lovecraft references in Stephen King’s works...)

PRO:  Just as for Linoge, the climax of Gaunt’s plan is accompanied by a storm’s climax. In Storm of the Century it’s a snow storm, here it’s a thunder storm.  However, for both cases we don’t know if the storm was somewhat caused by the antagonist, or just foreseen and used. Or if King just used it for the tension without thinking much about the connection.

PRO:  Similar to The Stand, the “circle closes” in the end, even despite the demon’s failure this time.

PRO AND CON:  If we count the movie, Gaunt states that he met “that carpenter from Nazareth.” On the one hand this links him to Legion who also met Jesus, on the other hand Gaunt takes him lightly and mocks him.  Very unlike Legion, who fears Jesus both in the bible and in King’s books.
 
CON:  Legion and Gaunt are suggested to be two different Lovecraftian entities, more about that next time, that's quite a big topic.

CON:  Gaunt is described as doing this wandering salesman thing for several hundreds of years. That doesn’t go well with Flagg/Legion, who used various different tactics.

CON:  The way Gaunt flees in the end doesn't feel like Legion/Flagg at all and is very different from the latter's escapes.

Conclusion? A matter of taste, just as you wrote. You can choose to think they are the same, I for myself chose to see them as two different beings in the end.  Counting the number of pros and cons might suggest otherwise, but the feeling that I get is still different.

And an addition to the “familiar names” topic: It took me quite long to notice that Ace Merrill is the same as Jack Bauer, uhm sorry, the same guy as the one in Stand by Me. :)
 
Due to my bad name memory I needed references to the actual events to note it.  Learning that, I wanted to check who played Ace in the movie version of Needful Thing (certainly not Kiefer Sutherland, but I was curious anyway), but found no mention of him in credits and plot summaries.   Has Ace been removed in the movie?

By the way, talking about the movie: I don’t know if I ever saw the full version, unfortunately I don’t have it myself.  But it doesn’t just seem to have a different end.  The trailer I watched on YouTube was very impressive regarding Gaunt.  (Oh I LOVE that quote “You’re disgusting! I like that in a person.”)  But very different from the book in a particular way: the trailer already shows more biblical references than the whole book.  Yeah, there is the war of the two churches, but Gaunt isn’t clearly linked to god or the devil at all in the book.  Not at all.  I remember only a saying being used stating “The devil's voice is sweet to hear.”, but I don’t take that as Gaunt actually being THE devil.  If it was, Ace would also be the devil as he’s meant by “Speak of the devil!” in a different scene.  A lot of third party sources however clearly say Gaunt IS the devil, and I guess those are mainly based on the movie version. The trailer basically promotes the movie that way.

Might be the case for the movie, but I clearly don’t agree with that in the book.  That saying is just a saying to me, and there is no other reason in the book to believe that.  Actually, in the end it’s clearly stated that he looks like a “demon,” not like a/the “devil.”
 
Oh, and about how I liked the book: actually much better than I expected.  I mainly read it for finding Legion links, not expecting that much of a story which is pretty predictable and basically already fully explained on the book’s back.  But it does have its magic.  It’s scary in a very unusual way.  I wasn’t really scared of the antagonist, but it was really creepy to see what humans are capable of just due to their greed.  Well, at least in the beginning.  I actually wished it was less supernatural, for once.  For me the book would have been way more scary if the book went on with people actually deciding to do that stuff.  Being tricked into it, but without Gaunt’s hypnosis-type magic.  Because the scary thing for me in the story was the evilness within everybody, not the evilness within one supernatural entity...

Doesn’t make Gaunt a badly designed character, he is very interesting indeed.  For this character. it works out perfect this way.  Still, I think the book as a whole would have worked even better for me if he was just a deceitful human making use of the evilness within all of us, an evilness which is much more real and impossible to avoid...

Bryant:  "Very unlike Legion, who fears Jesus both in the bible and in King’s books." -- Well, yes, but would it be out of character for Legion/Linoge to be afraid of Jesus but pretend NOT to be in front of somebody else?  I don't think it would at all.

Ace is definitely not in the movie.  I wonder if it was because they could not get Sutherland to reprise his role, or if they simply did not want to create a connection with Stand By Me.

I have not watched the movie in a few years, but I like it.  It's not great, but I think it's more or less solid.  Good acting, some good setpieces, a good musical score.  Underrated, in my opinion.

Based on my memory, I think the movie probably does imply that Gaunt is THE devil.  If so, I don't mind; the idea is close enough to the book (what I remember of it, anyways) that I can live with the change.

Your idea about the novel being potentially better without the supernatural elements is an interesting one.  But I'm okay with it as is.  The idea, from what I remember, is that not only WILL people sell their souls, but they'll do it for fairly cheap prices. King has said that he thinks of the novel as a satire about consumerism, and without the supernatural elements, I don't know that the satire could work.

Dan:  Well, but The Stand's Flagg is not able to hide his fear, even though it's clearly uncomfortable to show that weakness.  But book-wise it doesn't matter anyway, like I indicated we probably can't rely on the movie when analysing King's vision of Gaunt, as there seem to be quite important differences between movie-Gaunt and book-Gaunt (and therefore Gaunt as King intended him).  And as I said, it's not impossible to see him as Legion.  It's a matter of taste.  For me, personally, some of the cons destroy the possibility, but that's very subjective.  Being objective, it's possible but not a given.

Thanks for the confirmation regarding Ace.  I'd really be interested in watching the movie, just not sure if interested enough to hunt down the DVD.  (I'm not into online-renting.)  I'm spending already enough money on the audio books as it is. :)   (Previously I had only the books - if at all.)  But I do love the trailer.  And I'm not complaining about the idea of Gaunt being the devil in the movie, not at all.  Seems to work great for the movie.  My point is just that when analysing King's vision and the connections between his works, we can't rely on the movie.  And on online sources based on that movie.  It can't be considered as part of King's canon, but it can still be great on its own.

Well, people don't know they are selling their souls when they do it.  And they think (!) they are getting really unique and precious things for it, not knowing it's actually just deceit.
 
And people could still be selling their souls without supernatural elements.  In a non-literal way.  Which would even be closer to the reality the satire is criticizing.  So I think it would still work. :)

Bryant:  I agree with all of that.  And I'd say the movie is good, but not essential.

Dan:  So if Gaunt is neither Legion nor the devil, what is he (in the book)?

At the wall of his old house (the one where Ace took Gaunt’s “Talisman” car from), we can read “Yog-Sothoth rules."  And we don’t just read that, we learn that this name kept coming back to Ace’s mind again and again, signaling that this bears some importance.  While not remembering the name, the sound of it clearly indicated to me that Lovecraft is involved here.  And correct.  The following details are taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yog-Sothoth, and in my opinion go very well with Gaunt being a Yog-Sothoth worshipper/minion.  (He can’t possibly be Yog-Sothoth himself, as Yog-Sothoth is an omnipotent being from a different dimension, and according to Lovecraft can’t enter our dimension.  He’s worshipped here, though.)

> Yog-Sothoth knows all and sees all.  To "please" this deity could bring knowledge of many things.

Knows all and sees all sounds very familiar.  Like Gaunt knowing all the secrets and wishes of the people of Castle Rock, right?

> However, like most beings in the mythos, to see it or learn too much about it is to court disaster. Some authors state that the favor of the god requires a human sacrifice or eternal servitude.

Disaster: Check.

Human sacrifices: Check.

Eternal Servitude: Check.

(This even seems to carry over to Gaunt’s clients, who have to continue to serve Gaunt even after the originally agreed upon prank, and resign with the conclusion that “Mr. Gaunt knows it best.”)

By the way, the Stephen King Wiki also mentions “a cult centered around Yog-Sothoth” in its entry for Jerusalem’s Lot, so I’ll try to keep an eye out for links once I read the Salem books/short stories. (It doesn’t specify from which of the stories this was taken...)

This also further separates Gaunt from Flagg/Legion.  Because the latter is often linked to a different deity in the Cthulu Mythos: Nyarlathotep.  Same Mythos, but a clearly different deity.  We talked about him being called that above, however from Glenn and thereby a somewhat unreliable source (as we both agreed). However, Tom Cullen also mentions Flagg being Nyarlathotep.  Also, digging deeper into its nature, there are once again very suiting descriptions (for Flagg, not Gaunt):

> In his first appearance in "Nyarlathotep," he is described as a "tall, swarthy man"

In The Stand, Flagg is described as a "tall man of no age," and of course he’s “The Dark Man.”

> In this story he wanders the earth, seemingly gathering legions of followers

Check.

> Nyarlathotep, however, is active and frequently walks the Earth in the guise of a human being,

Check.

> usually a tall, slim, joyous man.

Check. (We had most of these descriptions above, but what I wanted to point out here is the “joyous man,” certainly a striking characteristic of Flagg.) 

[On a side note: at least it's striking to me.  Unlike your typical villain, Flagg is not motivated by greed, lust or envy.  At least not mainly.  That's different for Gaunt, who certainly is greedy for souls. 
  
In a way, Flagg's more like a little child playing with its toys, and having an awful lot of fun with that.  And that fun in the process seems to be more important than a goal behind it.  He can however get angry very fast when things don't go his way – also not untypical for a little kid.  And if you now think that The Eyes of the Dragon shows his greed – no.  He never shows any interest in the Kingdom's gold or belongings.  He just wants to see to manipulate it, and wants it to go down in flames.  And again like a kid, building a castle out of bricks just to destroy it in the end, laughing.  But back to the topic.]

> Nyarlathotep delights in cruelty, is deceptive and manipulative, and even cultivates followers and uses propaganda to achieve his goals.

Check. (If the propaganda part shouldn’t be obvious: Flagg is stated as carrying dozens of entirely different propaganda flyers & buttons with him both in The Stand and in the fourth Dark Tower volume.  Their topics differ widely and probably don’t really matter, it’s just to persuade the people with whatever suits best.)

> It is suggested by some that he will destroy the human race and possibly the earth as well.

In other words: The Stand.

Last but not least: it seems it’s not just me seeing that connection, as Randall Flagg is even listed in the “table of forms” in Nyarlathotep’s Wikipedia entry (not a King or Lovecraft wiki, but the actual Wikipedia).

And don’t get me wrong: I’m not taking this as a “replacement” for Flagg being Legion.  I think King might indeed have intended both.  He seems to like to mix different mythologies, and Legion and Nyarlathotep go very well together, due to the reasons above and as Nyarlathotep also has "a thousand" forms.

Bryant:  This was all fascinating stuff!  I'll be rereading Needful Things next month, most likely, and you're making me really look forward to it.

"It is suggested by some that he will destroy the human race and possibly the earth as well.  In other words: The Stand."

Well, I can't agree with that entirely.  Unless I've forgotten something (always a possibility), Flagg does nothing to cause the superflu outbreak; he is merely exploiting the world in the flu's wake.  The argument could be made that he intends to wipe the rest of humanity out with nuclear weapons, but there is no real evidence that he plans to wipe out his own followers.

Otherwise, I'd say you're definitely onto something with the Lovecraft connections. Well done!

Dan:  You're right, Flagg is not clearly linked to the outbreak.  (Though it's a possibility.)  Actually, he doesn't even want nuclear weapons, that's something the Trashcan Man does on his own as a surprise gift.  But he does make a heavily armed army out of his people, even though there's no military threat to them.  And it's made very obvious that he sooner or later plans to start a war (not just to defend), and thereby kill many of the few remaining humans.

*****

Bryant here again.
  
There's PLENTY more goodness like that in the full conversation, so if you enjoyed this, check out the comments section of that post.
  
As for Needful Things, I suspect my posts about the movie and the audiobook will have to wait until after Revival.  So for now, I'm thinking maybe a very brief, spoiler-free review of Revival later this week, followed (hopefully in relatively short order) by the return to Needful Things, and then a more fulsome, all-inclusive look at Revival.
  
Sounds like a plan to me, at least.

See ya in a few!


14 comments:

  1. I think it’s appropriate that stage setting is highlighted in this passage. In way it’s important for more than just scene setting. While King’s description brings to mind the old Hollywood Musicals, complete with props in terms of a street, I can’t help thinking a more fitting take is the stage setting of magic show.

    This is an analogy King has used himself in On Writing to demonstrate the basic nature and illusion of narrative, and I think the same technique and argument are being put to use here. The key here, I think, lies in those two phrases, truth and artifice.

    First off, where is the truth in this scene? A little thought should reveal the obvious answer: the whole scene, complete with Gene Kelly setting, and archetypal drunk are all artifice, part of the magician’s bag of tricks. The thing is how he uses those tricks to point up, not just the difference between fiction and reality, but how even reality is often times colored by perception and belief. Looked at in this light, the truth in the scene may stem from the artists allowing the audience to see the artifice as mere fake stage setting, in the possible hope that the audience may find it in themselves to reflect on what’s real from what they believe.

    That line about Hugh as a tired little boy way up past his bedtime is interesting. On the one hand, as a piece of character description, it couldn’t be more apt. The narrative is implying that, at heart, Hugh really is mentally somewhere in the vicinity of a sad, snotty little kid, and is probably doomed to spend the rest of his life that way (also one who thinks that something like the “perfect Christmas present” would cure his ills). On the other hand, that of associative allusion, it reminded me of Simon Pegg’s character in “The World’s End” saying, “They told me when to go to be. ME!” Technically, continuing the associative train of thought, Hugh Priest could be considered a much less romanticized version of Gary King. The irony here is that Pegg’s character has almost reached the rock bottom one expect Hugh to hit eventually. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of romantic and realist character traits (if those two words even mean anything in terms of fiction) and perhaps even a blending of the two modes.

    This in turn leads back to the question of the truth, if any, of the scene. Believe it or not, I was able to link up two fictional drunks with an actual real life author (and it’s not who you may think). I already associated Simon Pegg’s character with the author James Joyce long before I even linked this scene in with all three. To me, people like Priest and Gary are both examples of what Joyce could have become, yet he always seemed to intuit something like that, so he seems to have removed himself from settings that would incite such tendencies in him. However, if we’re using Joyce as a real life analogy, then the fictional theme of possible change in the Needful Things scene (is it too much to say it’s one of King’s best, certainly memorable) seems to at least be applicable to real life.

    Dan's thought about Flagg/Legion are definitely interesting, and in the end I agree that it may be a matter of taste as how people look at those characters. That said, it is interesting to think that Gaunt might be a Yog-Soggoth worshipper.

    All in all, my opinions about Needful Things, both book and film are surprisingly summed up by Max Von Sydow:

    "This is not my best work, not by a long shot. Oh sure, a few murders, and a rather lovely explosion. I would hardly call it a rousing success but, what the hell."

    All in all, a good work to read or watch, if you should run across it. Not the best, but by no means the worst.

    ChrisC

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    1. You'll be (correctly) ashamed of me for this, but . . . I have not seen "The World's End."

      Yet. It WILL happen.

      It MIGHT be too much to say that the scene in question is one of King's best. (My goodness, where would you even begin in compiling such a list?) But it stood out to me when I read it, and I marked it down as being worthy of a closer look than normal.

      That bit of dialogue from the movie is wonderful, even absent Von Sydow's voice. The movie's climax is weak, but putting that sort of jokey button on it salvages it a bit. And I think you could easily make the argument that it's a better ending than the wishes-and-rainbows ending of the novel (which I like, but which must surely vex many a reader less familiar with King than you or I).

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    2. A bit late Chris, but thanks. As much as I enjoy discussing all this with Bryant, I still found it sad that nobody else probably ever noticed any of that before. Like Bryant mentioned there's muuuuch more, especially but not limited to connections between the Dark Tower books and other King books. Legion (and the Lovecraft elements) was one of those and led to the discussion above.

      And Bryant:
      On a only slightly related note: Are you familiar to the cartoon Rick and Morty? (Not at all suited for kids, I must say.) It has a lot og alternate universe stuff in it, but that doesn't necessarily have to do anything with King, that existed before King and from many other sources. But episode 9 is clearly an hommage to Needfull Things. The owner of the concerned shop is even called "Mr. Needfull" (and he is the devil, so once again the movie was probably the inspiration here). :-)

      Dan

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    3. Edit: The shop's also called Needfull Things. And there's a tiny Dark Half reference. Probably more, I shouldn't post in the middle of things. I just got so exited to notice it that I came here right away...

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    4. Salem is also mentioned. And there's the monkey paw. An "undead cat and child". And there are countless non-King horror references as items in the store. And I keep mistyping "Needful"...
      Also, your version of my texts make me wish italics and hyperlinks and so on would be possible in comments once more.

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    5. I know! I'm a big fan of italics and bold and all that stuff, and nearly every time I leave a comment -- on my site or someone else's -- I'm a bit bereft without the ability to format my words in those ways. Ah, well!

      I am not familiar with "Rick and Morty" at all. I may have to look up that episode, though; I think I need it for my collection.

      Thanks for the recommendation!

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    6. I would generally recommend the series, however it's surely a matter of taste. It's not a horror series. (Though there are a lot of monsters involved, due to the alternate universe topics for example. And Cthulu is in the opening.) It's more or less a comedy series. If I had to state a comparable one, I'd probably go with Invader Zim. But mainly due to the lack of better suited ones. For example it obviously had much less restrictions and didn't have to be suited for kids. (It's an Adult Swim series.)
      Episode 9 is called "Something Ricked". It's not the funniest episode, but for King fans probably the most interesting one. Let me know if you find more references, there was so much that I wouldn't be surprised if there were more. Even more so considering I know only half of King's books, many of which I read a decade ago.

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    7. I just watched the episode, and the only other potential reference I noticed was that the typewriter that auto-generates murder mysteries is arguably a "Tommyknockers" reference. Not really (the one in "Tommyknockers" writes a Western for Bobbi), but sort of.

      Pretty funny episode; it seems like a show that's right up my alley. I don't know that I'll watch any others (I just don't have the time), but I'm sure I'd enjoy them if I did.

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    8. I saw Tommyknockers long ago (I'm not sure if I ever read it). I remember pretty much nothing, and therefore had no chance to note that one.
      Good to hear you enjoyed it. It's not really a typical episode, though. Usually Rick and Morty rather tavel together, through alternate dimensions and other crazyness (like an amusement park built inside a human's body, for example).
      Oh, that remembers me, there's naother episode with a King reference, more or less. Episode 2 is called "Lawnmower Dog", so you might guess which story that is based on. It's the movie version, though, which has barely anything in common with King's original story.

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    9. It sure doesn't! If I watch another episode, though, I'll make it that one.

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    10. "That remembers me"? Was I drunk at that time? That even hurts my non-English eyes. :-/

      I barely remember the Lawnmover Man movie (but just the original story), so I can't even say how close the episode is to the movie.

      Dan

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    11. The episode also references Inception and Nightmare on Elm Street, btw.

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  2. A huge prost and tip of the cap to Dan - this was great reading. I wish I knew Lovecraft better (or really, at all.)

    I must have missed this post - I didn't realize it existed until earlier this evening. I love the idea of this, a commentary track on a fully-posted text. Must have been a bitch to transcribe, but worth it to read, kudos. It really gave a firsthand, primary-source window into how someone else reads the same text but how it hits him/her/you. Good stuff.

    I think the "if you don't like our town, look for a timetable" reference is for a train timetable, an old-fashioned sort of thing. I don't think it's a regional reference, although, as commented elsewhere, my permanent New Englander in Exile status isn't much use for northern New England, nor even southern from northern Maine. Night and day, all around.

    Anyway! I could be wrong on the timetable reference, actually, but that's how I interpreted it.

    I responded to this novel very powerfully on first experiencing it. It's been fun - and gave me pause on a few things I'd embraced on first pass but have re-evaluated a bit - to revisit here. I need to set aside some time to watch the full-on bells-and-whistles cut soon.

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    1. It wasn't all that annoying to transcribe, actually; I just put on some music and got it done.

      I really enjoyed doing this one. Given time to do so, this is probably how I'd do most of my book reviews -- I like getting that close to the material.

      That sounds like a very plausible explanation of the "timetable" thing. Every once in a while, King tosses in one of those things that, for me at least, is a complete head-scratcher. I always assume they make sense . . . just not to me!

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