Last post, I talked a bit about magic, and passed along an idea I got from Alan Moore: that writing ("spelling") IS magic, or, at least, can be. It's an idea that probably made a few of you roll your eyes. So might this idea (also from Moore): the greatest and most powerful magicians of the modern age are almost certainly advertisers.
Some people will tell you that perception is reality. I don't agree; I think reality is reality, and perception is perception, and any attempt to convince you they are one and the same is a misuse of terminology. It's a widely-known saying, though, and the mere fact that it's caught on to the extent it has is an indication that it's a powerful idea. It might not be reality, but reality is partially driven by reaction, and reactions are in large part driven by perceptions ... so there is certainly a relationship between perception and reality.
As such, a marketing campaign can -- and frequently does -- work to actively shape/reshape reality. So while the notion of this process being equivalent to magic might seem absurd in some ways, I think it has merit. We think of magic as being Doctor Strange folding a building in half without any of the occupants knowing it; and, yeah, sure, that counts. Is that actually more impressive than the course of American history being radically changed during an election campaign? I'll let you know when I've seen the former; having seen the latter, I know its power (and fear I am going to be given many more examples).
One way to think about all of this is to simply decide that marketing is mere dishonesty, a willful form of obfuscation and inveigling designed to trick people into believing things they didn't believe before. I think there's more to it than that. Successful marketing works mostly due to the fact that the
magician marketer is able to tap into ideas already present in the minds of the audience. How do you effectively sell cheeseburgers? You don't do it by walking into a room of vegetarians; you do it by walking into a room of meat-eaters and reminding them that they love cheeseburgers. From there, it's an easy trick to convince people that you've invented some never-before-dreamed-of variant of a piece of ground beef that has been cooked, covered with a slice of cheese, and put between two pieces of bread.
The marketing of Revival put forth the notion that it was a return to pure horror for Stephen King. Thus begins an interview with King conducted by Goodreads in November of 2014:
Just when you think Stephen King's well of pitch-black, sleep-with-the-lights-on horror must surely be running dry, he finds new and possibly even darker ways to terrify us. His latest novel, Revival, sees the author of more than 50 global bestsellers -- including The Shining, Pet Sematary, and It -- return to the "balls to the wall" (King's words) supernatural horror with which he made his name. In a recent Twitter post about the book, King told readers, "If you're going to buy it, better tone up your nerves." His publisher, Nan Graham, said that upon reading it, "I asked Steve whether it really had to be this dark, knowing before he answered that, yes, it does."
Five months earlier, well in advance of the novel's publication, King had said this about the novel, with which (he intimated) he had scared even himself: "It's too scary. I don't even want to think about that book anymore. It's a nasty, dark piece of work. That's all I can tell you." Several pre-release reviews by King-community luminaries such as Bev Vincent and Hans-Åke Lilja indicated that the book's final thirty-to-fifty pages were where things got really dark. I seem to recall another such review that said that that final stretch was the scariest thing King had ever written; but I've been unable to remember who wrote that review, so maybe that's an invention of my memory.
I leave it to you to decide which aspects of all that (if any) count as "marketing" and which do not; all I know for sure is that these were ideas I encountered prior to the novel's release. Having encountered them, I could only read Revival with those ideas laid like a filter across it. Any ideas I had about the novel were required first to pass through that filter, for better or for worse.
It's not folding a building. But it's not nothing, and if it's not nothing, then it's something.
For me, the result was that I read the novel with ideas in mind which, in retrospect, I wish had not been there. I enjoyed the novel, and anticipated the final however-many chapters of the book, that much-hyped final stretch where the horror would ascend into realms where even King's fiction had rarely dared go. Was this anticipation fair on my part? Was it realistic? Again, I leave that to you to decide; all I know was that I had the expectation.
Consequently, I was greatly let down by the last couple of chapters. I felt like this:
"I went out to face the world again, wiser."
King had certainly not delivered a crummy Ovaltine commercial, but he had also not delivered whatever it is my mind expected him to deliver, and the resultant disconnect soured me on the novel. I'd been enraptured by the first twelve chapters; the final two deflated me, and it was that feeling that stuck with me.
In my previous post, I told you about some of the reasons why rereading the novel caused me to revise my opinion of it. In listing those reasons, I almost wholly evaded a discussion of the novel's final two chapters. That's what this second post is ostensibly for, and while we'll probably end up discussing other aspects as well, we should probably dive in now and answer the following question: did the reread cause me to appreciate the final two chapters more?
Not really, no; not in and of themselves. I no longer find them to be as damaging to the overall novel, however. Given how strong what comes before is, the resolution doesn't have the power to truly damage the novel's strengths. In this way, I think Revival stands as a representative example of a relatively frequent King weakness: a novel whose characters, themes, and tone are so strong that the relatively weak resolution is irrelevant. I'd list The Stand as perhaps the most notable entry on that list, with The Dark Tower also a potential standard-bearer.
Regardless, the two opinions I hold after the reread are thus: (1) it's a great novel and (2) the climax doesn't quite work.
Why doesn't it work (for me)?
It comes down to the subplot involving Jacobs and the secret electricity. In the end, I found Jacobs to be too flimsy a character to capture my imagination. This is Jamie's novel; it's Jamie foibles and weaknesses which make its heart beat, and while some of its strongest scenes come via the unfortunate things that happen to Jacobs' wife and son, there simply isn't enough focus on him for him to work fully. What happens with him in the final two chapters' feels like a logical outcome to his story ... but this is Jamie's story, and I'm not entirely sure that it rewards appearances by colossal otherworldly monsters and slavedriving sentient ants. You'll have to convince me of that; the marketing of that particular idea has not worked on me.
There is perhaps nobody in the world better-qualified to successfully sell me on an idea than me myself; so let's give it a shot. I think I can convincingly
lie to you fake a belief in the ending's efficacy by a bit of analytical sleight of hand. I've got the picture of that trick in my mind; by spelling it out, it might be that I can convince myself -- and maybe even you, too! -- of its essential truthfulness. So, with that in mind...
...can I have a volunteer from the audience? How about you, not-so-young man? Yes, you, the one with the cheeseburger! Step up up here on the stage, good sir, no need to be afraid! If I tell you I have nothing up my sleeve, will you be so good as to believe it? You will?!? Ha, ha, why, that's fine, sir, just fine!
A great deal of the novel revolves around the relationship between Jamie Morton and Charles Jacobs. The novel is a sort of alpha-to-omega depiction of that relationship, which spans decades, but is not a particularly active relationship. We are there to witness its beginnings; we are there when it comes to its horrific end. Between: only a few interactions, but the link between the endpoints is strong enough that it binds everything between them together.
The randomness of Jacobs' presence in Jamie's life has been established right up front. Let's have a look at the novel's first three paragraphs:
In one way, at least, our lives really are like movies. The main cast consists of your family and friends. The supporting cast is made up of neighbors, co-workers, teachers, and daily acquaintances. There are also bit players: the supermarket checkout girl with the pretty smile, the friendly bartender at the local watering hole, the guys you work out with at the gym three days a week. And there are thousands of extras -- those people who flow through every life like water through a sieve, seen once and never again. The teenager browsing graphic novels at Barnes & Noble, the one you had to slip past (murmuring "Excuse me") in order to get to the magazines. The woman in the next lane at a stoplight, taking a moment to freshen her lipstick. The mother wiping ice cream off her toddler's face in a roadside restaurant where you stopped for a quick bite. The vendor who sold you a bag of peanuts at a baseball game.But sometimes a person who fits none of these categories comes into your life. This is the joker who pops out of the deck at odd intervals over the years, often during a moment of crisis. In the movies this sort of character is known as the fifth business, or the change agent. When he turns up in a film, you know he's there because the screenwriter put him there. But who is screenwriting our lives? Fate or coincidence? I want to believe it's the latter. I want that with all my heart and soul. When I think of Charles Jacobs -- my fifth business, my change agent, my nemesis -- I can't bear to believe his presence in my life had anything to do with fate. It would mean that all these terrible things -- these horrors -- were meant to happen. If that is so, then there is no such thing as light, and our belief in it is a foolish illusion. If that is so, we live in darkness like animals in a burrow, or ants deep in their hill.And not alone.
Jamie tells us that "in the movies," the "fifth business" or the "change agent" is a character whose presence has a transformative effect on the plot or on other characters, despite an irregular presence in the film. Okay, fine. But here's a question for you all to ponder (especially, you, sir, oh ho!, don't think I've forgotten you): is this an actual thing? What I mean to say is, can we take King (via Jamie) at his word when he tells us about the concept of the "fifth business"?
Here's the thing: I've been watching movies my whole life. No art form -- with the possible exception of prose -- has had a more profound impact upon me, and that impact eventually spiraled into something which might reasonably be called an obsession. It led me to my career working in movie theatres, and it's resulted in a decent amount of reading about movies and a large amount of watching documentaries about movies. I've been at that for twenty years, bare minimum; probably more like thirty, and arguably for longer than that.
The first time I ever encountered the notion of the "fifth business" was when I read about it on page 1 of Revival. I'm not accusing King of making it up; surely the screenwriter of Maximum Overdrive and Sleepwalkers would know a thing or two about the nuts-and-bolts terminology of screenwriting. However, what I am saying is that if the notion of the fifth business was a widely-used one, I'd have encountered it before 2014. This is my considered belief, and it's up to others to move me from it, should movement from it be warranted.
Considering this notion now, I decided to do what all Americans doing research circa 2016 are apt to do: I consulted Google. By Googling in tandem the phrases "fifth business" and "change agent," I got a minimum of ten pages' worth of results, the first page of which lists ten webpages that contain both of those phrases.
All ten of them are about Revival. The second page of results contained twelve hits, one of which was a Linkedin profile of some sort, one of which was an advertisement for a novel by Robertson Davies (more on which momentarily), and ten of which were about -- you guessed it -- Revival.
Is this definitive proof of anything? Certainly not. But in 2016, if the first two pages' worth of Google results don't tell you something, I don't know what does; and what these results tell me is that if you are looking for instances of the specific phrases "fifth business" and "change agent," you are looking for information about the Stephen King novel Revival.
Googling the phrase "fifth business" in isolation has similarly intriguing results. Another minimum of ten pages' worth of results, the first page of which contains one hit for a company called Fifth Business (the nature of which is not immediately clear) and nine hits related in way way or another to the 1970 Robertson Davies novel Fifth Business.
Want to dig deeper? In 2016, we do that by visiting Wikipedia. There is a page for the Davies novel (which sounds more than a bit like a novel that complements Revival in some aspects); and there, I found an eyebrow-raiser of an idea. Rather than quote it, I took a screenshot:
If you're having trouble seeing that, let me summarize: the page states that Davies, at his publishers' request, added an epigraph that defined "fifth business." He later admitted that he had invented the source for the epigraph; which, of course, implies that he also invented the definition.
What makes this idea even more delightful is the fact that the Wikipedia page has a big fat blue "citation needed" marker beside this anecdote, meaning that the anecdote itself might well have been made up by some anonymous Wikipedia editor.
My point in bringing all of this up is to put forth the question: did Stephen King derive Jamie's ideas about "fifth business" from the Davies novel? If so, did he do it accidentally, or did he play along with an idea he knew Davies had concocted? Alternatively, did Davies and King both describe an actual idea from theatrical convention, one that somehow just isn't turning up on Google? Let's not discount that possibility.
Without doing a great deal more research on the subject, I'd have to say that I'm uncomfortable assuming any of those things to be the case. If you pressed me, though, I'd tell you that my gut is whispering that King's use of the idea comes entirely from Davies' novel, and that Davies' use of the idea is one of his own invention. (This contemporary review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times indicates that the reviewer was unfamiliar with the phrase; and if you expect me to believe that a major NYT book reviewer in 1970 would be unfamiliar with an allegedly common artistic idea like this one, then I've got a snipe hunt I'd like to invite you to attend.) As I've already intimated, I'm open to proof that I'm wrong about that: so if you've got it, fling it my way. I am likely to thank you for it.
But even if it is a fictional idea, would that matter? I'd say no; as it regards the novel's contents themselves, not one teeny-tiny bit. The important fact is that Jamie Morton, narrator of Revival, seemingly believes it to be a genuine idea; therefore, we are obliged to engage with it in like manner. As intriguing as this rabbit hole about the idea's genesis may be, this is where we conclude our consideration of it. I'd only add that if it were to turn out that Davies did invent the idea, and King borrowed it from him (consciously or otherwise), then it might be true that Davies achieved a magic trick in the Alan Moore sense of the phrase ... and that the trick worked upon King himself, who then (possibly unwittingly) passed it on to many millions of readers.
It's kind of hard for me not to want that to be true.
Regardless, Jamie has told us within a mere two paragraphs that his life is defined in part by the "random" appearances of Charles Jacobs within it. So even though part of me feels Jacobs is used a bit too haphazardly by King within the novel, I'm forced to confess that King has done a sufficient amount of preparatory work: he's informed us that Jacobs will be used in precisely that manner, and it's up to us to keep the idea in mind so that it works upon us properly. It's not King's job to hold our hands; it's our job to stay close enough behind him that we don't get lost.
We've yammered quite a bit about "fifth business." What else from the novel's opening stands out? The question of "who is screenwriting our lives," perhaps? Yeah, that stands out to me for sure. Bear in mind that it's a question which is being asked by a fictional character, which means that the answer must surely be "Stephen King." Now there's an idea that ought to make the reader of The Dark Tower perk up a bit. We won't explore that idea any further (at least for now); I'll just lob it out there and let it lay on the ground.
One potential line of inquiry/exploration for us: Jamie is highly concerned by the thought that his life -- and, by implication, all life -- might be a product of fate rather than coincidence. This is a weighty idea, however, so perhaps we should table it for now and bring it up again later.
That being the case, there's nothing else for it: we should look at those final two sentences. Jamie tells us that "we live in darkness like animals in a burrow, or ants deep in a hill. And not alone." Let the record show that the novel's second paragraph helps to establish the importance of ants to the story.
Ah, yes! Sir! Ah-hah, my good man, I apologize to you! I see your impatience, sir! Rest assured, I have not forgotten you. I certainly did not bring you upon this stage without reason, and I apologize for seeming to ignore you. In fact, sir, I have been speaking to you -- yes, sir, to you your very self! -- all this time. Do not think for a moment that it was ever otherwise! But the evening grows short, and so let us turn once again to the matter for which I required your assistance!
We began speaking about the relationship between Jamie and Jacobs earlier, so let's now get back to that. Let's examine the manner in which Jacobs makes his first appearance in the novel, as Jamie tells it to us. Jamie is six years old, playing in the dirt near his house, having a mock battle with some toy soldiers given to him by his sister. During his play, "a shadow fell over the battlefield. I looked up and saw a guy standing there. He was blocking the afternoon sun, a silhouette surrounded by golden light -- a human eclipse." Jamie tells us that there is plenty of activity in the area (various siblings making various kinds of racket elsewhere near and within their house), "but at that moment everything seemed to fall still. I know it's only the sort of illusion caused by a faulty memory (not to mention a suitcase loaded with dark associations), but the recollection is very strong. All of a sudden there were no kids yelling in the backyard, no records playing upstairs, no banging from the garage. Not a single bird singing."
Perception might not be reality, but perception certainly can be memory, and memory can feel like reality. The Jamie Morton who is narrating this story would probably recognize those as truths, wouldn't you say? Somebody is bound to raise the issue of Jamie being an unreliable narrator; but if you know me, then you know that I mostly disregard the notion of the unreliable narrator. I'm not saying it doesn't exist; I'm not even saying it isn't a useful storytelling tool. I'm saying that it's a critical crutch upon which I'd prefer not to lean. I will if I have to, but if I don't then I won't, and here I get very little sense that King is interested in having us feel Jamie is an unreliable narrator. When he wants us to think that, he usually has Jamie point it out to us. So if anything, I think he intends for us to rely on Jamie more or less implicitly. That's my read, at least; yours may vary, but we'll stare at each other across a gulf in this regard. I didn't want you to think the concept was lost on me, though.
Jamie continues: "Then the man bent down and the westering sun glared over his shoulder, momentarily blinding me. I raised a hand to shield my eyes."
Jacobs, here, is associated heavily with light: he both stops it and brings it. He is symbolically God-like in that way, and the fact that he looms over the young boy enhances that imagery. It's impossible for me not to mentally see Jacobs as larger than he would actually have been.
It's also impossible for my mind not to conjure this image:
If you know that novel (or the underrated movie based upon it), then you know an actual eclipse plays a prominent role in it, and that the hardback's cover is depicting the aftermath of that event. How many Constant Readers had Dolores Claiborne evoked for them during this passage in Revival? Many, I'd wager; a great many. I'm not sure I'd argue that there is any connection between the two novels apart from the evocation of one by the other's imagery; but neither would I rule it out.
Jump forward several hundred pages, and we come to the final moments between Jamie and Jacobs. When the recently-deceased body of Mary Fay is revived, its hand grabs Jacobs', as does Jamie; in this manner, the three of them close some sort of circuit, allowing Jamie (and Jacobs, presumably) to glimpse the world beyond the world. It's a vast, barren landscape through which a "wide and seemingly endless column" of people is being driven by "antlike creatures" beneath a black and starry sky. The stars are not stars, however: they are holes through which the "secret electricity" Jacobs has been using off and on throughout the novel pours. Jamie, overcome by what he is seeing, cries out; the trudging humans turn to look at him, as do the "ant-things," and -- seemingly as a response to Jamie's cry -- a hole in the sky tears open with "a titanic ripping sound." An enormous black leg (which -- Grand Guignol alert! -- ends in "a vast claw made of human faces") pushes through that hole; it belongs to an entity called Mother. King has been hinting at Mother's presence; now, here she is.
There is nothing -- nothing whatsoever -- in King's language to suggest that Mother is standing in front of Jamie in a manner evocative of that in which Jacobs stood in front of Jamie early in the first chapter; but I'll be damned if I don't mentally see it that way. It might be that the association is made in my mind partly by the connection raised by the Dolores Claiborne cover: it, too, contains an image of a murderous female mother-figure, looking down upon her prey.
More likely that the connection is enabled by the use of light in both scenes. We've already mentioned the way Jacobs both shadows the sunlight from Jamie and throws it upon him. Something similar happens with Mother, whose leg emerges from a "rip in the firmament" through which Jamie can "see insane light and colors never meant to be looked upon by mortal creatures."
Soon after that, Jacobs is dead, and his relationship -- occasional though it may have been -- with Jamie is at an end.
That being the case, sir, may I ask if your opinion has been changed in any way? Have I produced a rabbit from a hat, sir? Have I sawn the lady in half for you?
I'm asking these questions of myself, of course, which means that only I can answer them. And the answer is: sort of. There are parallels of a sort between the two scenes. The marching humans make me remember that during the scene in the first chapter, Jamie is playing with toy soldiers; there is no blatant mention of him forcing them to march, but one can assume that marching must be involved, if only implicitly. Why have soldiers if you're not going to make them march? It's also worth remembering that young Jamie has constructed a hill for his soldiers using loose dirt; I ask you, good sir, does that remind
me you of any activities performed by ants? It does?!? Well then, sir, allow me to pose another question: does young Jamie's activity make him a sort of metaphorical screenwriter? It does?!? Well, sir, is this not a veritable cornucopia of discovery upon which we have embarked?
It's also worth mentioning that ants appear at least three times more during the novel: once during Jamie's nightmare about visiting his old home (they come pouring out of a rancid birthday cake); once during the scene in which Jamie and Astrid have sex in the shack near Skytop (a single ant goes trundling across the mattress upon which their act is performed); and once when Hugh's prismatics reveals to him the image of people as ants. Maybe others, too; I failed to notice the second of those two examples, and am only able to mention it because a commenter mentioned it to me; so if I missed other ant appearances, it wouldn't surprise me.
The explanation for that is that I just don't think the giant-slavedriving-ants thing works. I was okay with it on the reread, but the first time I read the book, it really was an "Ovaltine?!?" moment for me. Brought the novel to a bit of a grinding halt, it did.
I'd love to know whether the notion of Mother would have had a greater impact on me if not for the way my reactions had been blunted by the ants. I think maybe it would have; Mother worked better for me on the reread, and it's a gnarly enough bit of imagery that it might have landed for me if I had not moments previously been flung into a grump by the "ant-things."
I have cause to wonder if even the ant-things might have worked for me had I not been expecting something majestically dark during those final two chapters. Perhaps; but I suspect that either way, I was always likely to be a bit disappointed with the Tyrannical Ant-Things Of The Hereafter. It's a weird idea; but in all honesty, it's not that weird an idea. I've read weirder things than that in other places: Swamp Thing comics by Alan Moore, for example, or any number of stories by King himself. Even Mother is weirder, and I'd argue that Mother is a mere imitation of the colossal thing which shows up toward the end of The Mist (the novella). Evil semi-sentient ants? Weird AS FUCK in real life; in a Stephen King novel, not actually all that weird.
All of this, of course, is a highly subjective matter, and I know the ant-things worked much better for at least one of this blog's readers (hi, McMolo!). I think a big part of the reason it didn't quite land for me is that I was on guard thanks to the reviews I'd (foolishly) read, but that's not the entirety of it: I think I also had trouble reconciling this novel's contents with King's Dark Tower mythos.
There is nary an explicit mention of the Dark Tower -- or gunslingers, Mid-World, taheen, the Crimson King, Randall Flagg, etc. -- anywhere in this novel (he said, hoping that was actually true and he didn't just miss it). There is, however, plenty of incidental content to link it to that overarching series. Let's examine the evidence:
- In Chapter II we find out that Jamie's father's race-car is #19. Now ... on the one hand, I'm inclined to dismiss this altogether, if only because it makes me grumpy. I'm on the record as saying that I think it sometimes makes King's work weaker when he connects it to other works, and I feel this might be one of those times. Nevertheless, by using the number 19 here, King is absolutely but linking Revival to the multiverse of the Dark Tower. It might make me grumpy, but I'm forced to live with it.
- In Chapter IV, Jamie tells us that: "Once upon a time, I would have said we choose our paths at random: this happened, then that, hence the other. Now I know better. There are forces." It's not explicitly said as such, but Jamie here is unwittingly discussing the Purpose and the Random, two concepts introduced in the King novel Insomnia; and his first-chapter frettings about fate and coincidence can be considered within the framework of a Purpose/Random discussion, as well. These concepts might be said to underpin King's entire Tower mythos (if not his entire canon of fiction). Is King intentionally playing with the concept here? Doesn't matter; once he introduced the number 19 in so blatant a manner, his intent became somewhat irrelevant. But I think it's safe to say that he knows what he's doing; his use of the word "random" was likely not random. (If I was a paranoiac I might point out that the "there are forces" quote comes on page 91, which is an inverse of 19. The Tall Whites wouldn't want me to mention that, though, so I won't.)
- Elsewhere in Chapter IV, we find out that Jamie joins a band called Chrome Roses, and that they were called the Gunslingers before that. I give this an eyeroll. It would mean something for some King characters to unwittingly be compared to gunslingers; it means nothing for Jamie to be compared to a gunslinger, because the comparison does not work. So for me, this evocation fell totally flat.
- Jacobs' first name is "Charlie." That name has the word "char" within it, and "char" is an important word in Wizard and Glass. It's a tenuous connection, but let's count it, whattaya say?
- In Chapter X, Jamie receives a letter from his brother on June 19th, 2013. Not sure if 2013 matters, but June 19th is certainly an infamous date in King's life. This, obviously, was the date in 1999 on which his life nearly ended. A great many Constant Readers will undoubtedly have made that connection. So, I have to ask: why did King put this here? I don't have an answer (without raising the subject of this novel as autobiography), but felt the question needed to be posed.
- In Chapter X, the mentioned-in-the-previous-post appearance of the idea that life is a wheel.
- Crows pop up a couple of times, in dreams or otherwise. Crows, of course, are reminiscent of Randall Flagg.
Here's the thing: if writing is an addiction for King (which he has said that it is), and if his magnum opus is the Dark Tower saga (which it might be), then it stands to reason that writing the Dark Tower saga is an addiction for King. Therefore, even though he finished writing the Tower series, it stands to reason that he's going to fall off the wagon every once in a while. He can't help himself, and maybe I should be kindly about it, but the fact is that these references mostly don't work for me in this particular novel. Unless there is a compelling reason for me to do so --as there is in novels like Insomnia and Black House -- then I'd prefer to not think about the Dark Tower while reading a novel like Revival. I don't want to find myself wondering if Jamie is going to go to Vietnam and meet Henry Dean; I don't want to wonder if the Sombra Corporation is going to recruit Charles Jacobs to come work for them. Even knowing these things not to be the case, I find the references hollow: what bearing does it have on the Tower mythos that Jamie plays in a band which was once called the Gunslingers? There are no Gunslingers in this novel; not even potential ones.
The idea of the Purpose and the Random has some resonance; the idea that Jamie and Jacobs are a sort of dark ka-tet does, too. But since their story has literally no evident bearing upon the story of the Dark Tower, the references serve -- in my opinion -- only to make their own stories seem smaller and less significant. I suppose it's possible that this was King's intent; but if so, it's an ineffective intent, and anyways, the novel's resolution carried that water for him without getting the Tower involved.
So for me, the Tower connections here just don't land. What is Mother within a Dark Tower context? Is she/it a being from the Prim? Is the secret electricity Jacobs has discovered the Prim itself, or merely some substance from it? Or is it something else altogether? Is Jacobs being used by the Crimson King, whose ultimate goal with Jacobs was to get him to somehow cause Mother to tear open a hole in the fabric between realities? If so, then I can only assume that Mother's ascendancy is either (A) a part of the Crimson King's gambit to topple the Tower or (B) a new scheme he's somehow concocted to cause the Random to gain sway without needing to topple the Tower. If it's (A), then does that mean that Jamie shooting Mother makes him a sort of Gunslinger? If so, then fuck, man, I guess that that band being named the Gunslingers really DOES work! Except the band is called Chrome Roses by the time Jamie joins up, and the rose which is actually the Tower isn't chrome, it's red. Does Roland know about Mother? Are the ant-things taheen? Why didn't Jake end up marching in the ant-things' column of the damned? Isn't the Crimson King dead?
None of this works for me in any way.
And this, I think, is my real problem with the novel. It's a problem that I've very nearly talked myself out of having, but try as I might, I just can't do it. I think I kind of love the novel now, and I certainly respect it, but it's a bit like one of my armchairs in my apartment. By that, I mean this: I've got two armchairs, a blue one and a brown one, and the brown one has been puked on by my cats probably half a dozen times. I can live with it; every time it happens, I go get a scrub brush and some cleaner and I work on the spot until it's not dirty anymore. But every once in a while, I'll be sitting in that chair and I'll find myself thinking, This chair has been vomited upon, like, half a dozen times. And there's just no getting around it. It doesn't mean I'm giving up on the chair; nor does it mean the chair doesn't do an admirable job of being a quality armchair for me to watch The Wire in. But would I prefer those blasted cats go puke someplace else?
You bet. And in the case of Revival, I find the Dark Tower material to be like the King-verse equivalent of cat puke. I just wish it hadn't happened.
The problem gets worse, because King also links Revival to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Or, if you want to get technical, to the works of Robert Bloch.
There are several hat-tips toward various authors/works throughout the novel, and King's dedication page pre-emptively rounds up a bunch of them: Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Donald Wandrei, Fritz Leiber, August Derleth, Shirley Jackson, Robert Block, Peter Straub, and Arthur Machen, "whose short novel The Great God Pan has haunted me all my life."
In that Goodreads interview to which I linked above, King mentions Machen's story as being the inspiration for Revival, with Shelley and Lovecraft as secondary inspirations. I seem to recall a few reviews mentioning this as well, and I had not read "The Great God Pan" at the time of my first read of Revival. I decided I should change that for the writing of this series of posts, so once I'd concluded my reread of the novel, I tracked down a copy of Machen's story and gave it a read.
Good story! I'm glad I read it. I can't honestly say that it has a huge bearing on Revival in any immediate sense, though; not larger than does Frankenstein, or Lovecraft's "From Beyond."
That said, there certainly are moments in which the inspiration is evident. Let's have a look at a few:
- Two men -- Clarke and Raymond -- discuss an experiment Raymond is about to conduct. "Look about you Clarke," says Raymond. "You see the mountain, and hill following after hill, as wave on wave, you see the woods and orchard, the fields of ripe corn, and the meadows reaching to the reed-beds by the river. You see me standing here beside you, and hear my voice; but I tell you that all these things -- yes, from that star that has just shone out in the sky to the solid ground beneath our feet -- I say that all these are but dreams and shadows; the shadows that hide the real world from our eyes. There is a real world, but it is beyond this glamour and this vision, beyond these 'chases in Arras, dreams in a career,' beyond them all as beyond a veil. I do not know whether any human being has ever lifted that veil; but I do know, Clarke, that you and I shall see it lifted this very night from before another's eyes. You may think this all strange nonsense; it may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what lifting the veil means. They called it seeing the god Pan." They are discussing these matters prior to conducting an experiment upon a woman named Mary, it is worth pointing out. It's also worth mentioning that Raymond's zeal here in reminiscent of what we learn from Hugh -- in a considerably less zealous tone -- about the world beyond the world revealed by his prismatics in Revival.
- Raymond continues a bit later: "Suppose that an electrician of today were suddenly to perceive that he and his friends have merely been playing with pebbles and mistaking them for the foundations of the world; suppose that such a man saw uttermost space lie open before the current, and words of men flash forth to the sun and beyond the sun into the systems beyond, and the voice of articulate-speaking men echo in the waste void that bounds our thought." Electricity is only passingly a part of Machen's story, but it's not hard to imagine this passage having influenced King deeply.
The experiment takes place very near the beginning of the story, and the bulk of "The Great God Pan" is devoted to its after-effects. Clarke and Raymond are arguably not even the story's main characters. So while there is certainly some thematic overlap (as well as some obvious conscious evocations of the Machen story in King's novel), I would on the whole say that "The Great God Pan" is present in Revival to only a marginal degree.
The Lovecraft connections run a bit deeper. For one thing, the above-mentioned "From Beyond" is arguably just as applicable as is "The Great God Pan." This, too, is a story involving two men, one of whom is a scientist whose work is a bit on the consciously-nefarious (or, at least, the uncaringly nefarious) side.
Lovecraft's story was published in 1934, but had been written circa 1920. Machen's story was thirty years old by that point, and it is entirely likely that it influenced Lovecraft both in a general and a specific sense. To wit: he tells his story from the point of view of an unnamed narrator, whose best friend, Crawford Tillinghast, is the mad scientist at the story's center. Tillinghast asks the narrator what they know "of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects infinitely narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos, yet other beings with a wider, stronger, or different range of senses might not only see very differently the things we see, but might see and study whole worlds of matter, energy, and life which lie close at hand yet can never be detected with the senses we have. I have always believed that such strange, inaccessible worlds exist at our very elbows, and now I believe I have found a way to break down the barriers." He continues in that vein for a bit, and I'll omit a few sentences before picking up again. "We shall see that at which dogs howl in the dark, and that at which cats prick up their ears after midnight. We shall see these things, and other things which no breathing creature has yet seen. We shall overleap time, space, and dimensions, and without bodily motion peer to the bottom of creation."
There are other moments in this four-page story which might remind readers of Revival:
- The narrator shares at least one trait with Jamie Morton. Of Tillinghast, he says, "now that he had evidently succeeded to some degree I almost shared his spirit, terrible though the cost of victory appeared." Jacobs has staked a rather large bet on the idea that Jamie will be just as interested to peer beyond the veil as he himself is. And he's not wrong.
- The story's narrator has an experience not dissimilar to the one in which Jamie, seeing through Mary Fay, glimpses a ruined city of some sort. "During the interval that Tillinghast was silent I fancied myself in some vast and incredible temple of long-dead gods; some vague edifice of innumerable black stone columns reaching up from a floor of damp slabs to a cloudy height beyond the range of my vision."
- Toward the end, Tillinghast shouts at his friend, "I have seen beyond the bounds of infinity and drawn down daemons from the stars ... I have harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow death and madness ... Space belongs to me, do you hear?"
- Finally, the narrator expresses a sense of post-traumatic stress that would be very familiar to Jamie Morton (who has expressed similar concerns): "It would help my shaky nerves if I could dismiss what I now have to think of the air and the sky about and above me. I never feel alone or comfortable, and a hideous sense of pursuit sometimes comes chillingly on me when I am weary."
All things considered, I think Revival fits quite nicely under the banner of "Lovecraftian fiction." Two hallmarks of Lovecraft's writing are present, if no others: the two primary characters are a narrator and a "friend" (who does things that are so insane you wonder why the narrator would even consider associating with him); and the narrator is left a bit of a wreck mentally and/or emotionally by story's end.
Revival contains some specific references, as well, of course:
- The epigraph to the novel is Lovecraft's most famous couplet (drawn from 1921's "The Nameless City" but popularized by its reappearance in "The Call of Cthulhu" seven years later): "That is not dead which can eternal lie, / And with strange aeons, even death may die." If that doesn't give you the chills, then you are made of sterner stuff than I.
- In Chapter VI, Jacobs tells Jamie, "I've found certain important books very difficult to obtain." In making notes, I jokingly wrote down that I assumed that these books included Unaussprechlichen Kulten (Nameless Cults), The Book of Eibon, and the Necronomicon of the Mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred. This is a joke that will land with anyone who's read more than a handful of Lovecraft stories. And as far as I remembered, I was just making a joke. Not so much, as it turns out:
- In Chapter IX, we find out that Jacobs has learned of the secret electricity from "De Vermis Mysteriis, written in the late fifteenth century" by Ludvig Prinn, who mentions the secret electricity as "potestas magnum universum." I can't swear to it, but I believe King invented that Latin phrase. He certainly did not create De Vermis Mysteriis, however: that was Robert Bloch. Lovecraft mentioned it several times, and it's a major element in King's story "Jerusalem's Lot." Lovecraft corresponded frequently with many writers (including Bloch) in the weird-fiction circles during his time, and they created a sort of loosely-shared universe within which they all used each others' ideas. Other such fictional texts include The Book of Eibon (Clark Ashton Smith), Cultes des Goules (Robert Bloch), The Eltdown Shards (Richard F. Searight), the Pnakotic Manuscripts (Lovecraft), and so forth. By far the most famous of them is Lovecraft's Necronomicon, which is so famous that you can handily find any number of people who fervently believe it was/is a real thing, not one invented by a dude from Rhode Island.
- In Chapter XII, we find that Bree has emailed Jamie some research about the "six forbidden books" of which De Vermis Mysteriis is a member. The others are The Book of Apollonius, Lemegeton, Clavicula Salomonis, The Book of Albertus Magnus, and The Grimoire of Picatrix. I was hoping that King had invented all of those, but a cursory amount of research (i.e., Googling) informs me that while he seems to have invented the Picatrix one, the others are actual books. Not in the Necronomicon sense of things, but in the actually-actual sense. One note: Lemegeton and Clavicula Salamonis seem to be the same thing, a single book called Lemegeton Clavicula Salomonis (or The Lesser Key of Solomon).
- Bree's email to Jamie says that Wikipedia claims "that the couplet most people remember from Lovecraft's fictional Necronomicon was stolen from a copy of De Vermis which Lovecraft had access to," an odd nugget that, as a Lovecraft fan, kind of annoys me. Lovecraft first wrote that couplet circa 1921, when Bloch (creator of De Vermis Mysteriis) was approximately four years old. I'm not sure what percentage there is in specifying that Lovecraft stole the couplet.
- Then again, I'm similarly unsure as to why King felt the need to specify that Lovecraft was a real person in this universe. It doesn't quite make sense, unless the intent was to prevent readers from trying to link the novel firmly to the Cthulhu Mythos, an association that would in turn mean that the entirety of the Dark Tower mythos would then have to fit within the framework of the Cthulhu Mythos. There are Lovecraftian elements in the Dark Tower mythos, but I don't personally see any room whatsoever for the Dark Tower itself within the Cthulhu mythos. It just wouldn't work unless you hypothesize that all of the Old Ones are monsters from the Prim; and if you do that, you are reducing Lovecraft's canon past the point I'm comfortable with you doing. With that in mind, the decision to ground Revival adjacent to the Cthulhu Mythos by having De Vermis Mysteriis exist within it is an odd decision, in my opinion. It works on a surface level of isn't-this-fun referentiality; but beyond that, it works not at all. Am I missing something?
One thing that changed for me between the initial read of Revival (November 2014) and the reread (November 2016) was that during 2015, I read my way through all of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction. As you may recall, I even posted about it on this blog. It seemed like work well worth doing both in its own right and from the authors-who-inspired-King standpoint; and on both of those counts, I was correct.
But yeah, facts are facts, and the fact is that I'm not entirely satisfied by how King put Lovecraft to use in Revival. I think my preference would have been for him to simply evade the issue altogether; either that, or strip out every bit of the Dark Tower stuff and turn Revival into a purely Cthulhu-mythos novel, complete with Mother turning out to be one of the Great Old Ones (Shub-Niggurath, perhaps) and Jacobs hollering "Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!" at the top of his lungs at some point. I get why he didn't do that; you don't get to be Stephen King by sublimating your work into some other author's mythos. A short story, perhaps; a major novel like this one, nosir.
And yet, the novel teeters on the edge of doing so anyways. Why not just commit to it? Or, at least, avoid letting it almost bleed into your own lovingly-cultivated mythos? As is, the novel is a sort of half-measure in that regard, and it doesn't entirely satisfy.
I do think I perhaps talked myself into a greater appreciation of some of the novel's supernatural elements, and the resolution to them, during the course of writing this post, however. That being the case, my estimation of the novel overall seems to have ticked upward again slightly.
I do think I perhaps talked myself into a greater appreciation of some of the novel's supernatural elements, and the resolution to them, during the course of writing this post, however. That being the case, my estimation of the novel overall seems to have ticked upward again slightly.
Didn't I tell you I had nothing up my sleeve?
I've still got more -- plenty more -- to say about this novel. I'm not entirely sure I'm going to get around to saying every bit of it, but at minimum there will be one more post on the subject. My plan all along has been for that post to mostly cover the novel's subplot about music, but I suspect I will also use it as a sort of general-roundup post, and toss in a bit of discussion about whatever topics in my notes jump out at me.
I wouldn't be surprised if that doesn't happen until 2017. Christmas to New Year's is a heavily-traveled road in the movie-theatre business, and whatever blogging time I scrape together between now and then will likely be used for the next in my series of Star Trek posts over at Where No Blog Has Gone Before. Robert Bloch wrote a few episodes of that excellent series, by the way. He included a few mild references to Cthulhu mythos ideas, which means that if you really, really wanted to, you might be able to put Star Trek and Revival into continuity with one another.
See you soon!