Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Passage of the World's Last Gunslinger: "11/22/63" Reviewed, Part 2

In the second part of my review of 11/22/63, I'd like to focus on the ways in which the novel crosses over with other stories in the King universe.
Obviously, 11/22/63 spends a fair amount of time playing in the same stomping-grounds as did another famous epic novel: Derry, Maine, in 1958, which was the setting for about half of It.  That novel, which has major themes involving the intractable nature of time's passage, is my favorite by King; revisiting it might well have proven to be disastrous, and in the hands of a lesser writer probably would be.  King, of course, often cross-pollinates his works (e.g., having Ralph Roberts from Insomnia pop up in Bag of Bones), and I cannot off the top of my head think of an instance in which he's done so to the detriment of his work.

Here, what happens to the story of It as a result of the events of 11/22/63 is that it concretizes the notion of time as an active force in our lives; this was a major element of It in the sense that the characters of that novel are keenly aware that their childhoods have ended, and that while they might hold on to some aspects of their past, they can never truly regain them.  They are engaged in their own peculiar sort of time travel; it is figurative rather than literal, but they are both successful AND unsuccessful in their attempts, just as Jake is.  Furthermore, the structure of It -- which bounces back and forth between past and present -- makes time an even more active element of the novel; for our purposes as readers, the past and present are both active, and toward the end of the novel the two begin to merge.  It would have been troublesome for 11/22/63 to work against those themes, but it doesn't; it deepens them.

As such, the appearance of both Beverly Marsh and Richie Tozier -- whom we meet maybe a month after the 1958 portion of events from It -- is an absolute delight.  They sound just right: it seems as if they walked straight out of that novel and into this one.  No mean feat on King's part, that; he's revisiting a 25-year-old novel, and doing so with complete success.

What he doesn't revisit is Pennwyise, at least not directly.  At one point, Jake does visit the Kitchener Ironworks, and he passes by the same fallen industrial chimney in which Mike Hanlon hid from a monstrous bird in It.  Here, Jake senses a malevolent presence of some sort, almost as if it is beckoning to him: it seems to whisper to him that "Time doesn't matter in here; in here, time just floats away."  (Chapter 8)  The use of the word "float," of course, is no coincidence: here, Jake is directly sensing the presence and influence of the alien entity known as Pennywise, who has been thoroughly wounded by the children, but by no means killed.
Later in the novel, when visiting Dealey Plaza for the first time, Jake gets a similar sense of wrongness from the Texas School Book Depository building, which also seems to speak to him, and also seems to exude wrongness.  In fact, all of Dallas exudes that sense of wrongness, as did all of Derry.

In this idea, we begin to transition a bit to the concerns of King's interconnected stories: the idea that certain places simply exude evil.  The Marsten House in 'Salem's Lot was such a place, as is the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, the Micmac burial ground in in Pet Sematary, the crash site in The Tommyknockers. etc.  In 'Salem's Lot, the Marsten House is an evil place which calls to evil people, and that's how Barlow and Straker end up occupying it; here, the Depository is an evil place which has called to an evil person, Lee Harvey Oswald, and therefore positioned him to enact a watershed moment in history.  King's argument, though, is that from the universe's point of view, that watershed moment was a necessary one: that without Kennedy falling beneath a sniper's bullet, the fabric of reality could not sustain itself.

Why is this the case?  It's a fair question, and it's one which may well be asked by any number of readers who come to the novel relatively free of knowledge about King's larger universe.  The answer they will likely come to is that the process of changing the past itself is what causes the damage to the fabric of reality.  However, I don't think this is actually the case.  It makes for an excellent diversionary answer, and it hadn't occurred to me that there might be a deeper answer until I was writing this essay.  But I think there is a deeper answer.

It's all about the Rose...by which I mean the Tower.

There are no overt connection between 11/22/63 and The Dark Tower; I might as well admit that.  However, there are points of possible overlap: the Yellow Card Man and the Green Card Men are somewhat similar to Low Men, and while they are definitely NOT the same thing, they do seem to serve similar functions and have similar capabilities.  Additionally, it's hard to think of Jake placing bets which he knows the outcome of without also thinking of Ted Brautigan from Hearts In Atlantis and The Dark Tower.  Add to that the fact that It has thematic ramifications within that larger King universe, including an appearance by one of the Guardians of the Beam, and you come up with a viewpoint from which 11/22/63 might not have any direct connections, but plenty of indirect ones.  Therefore, it has to be considered part of the same overall storytelling universe.

This concerns us in two ways.  First of all, let's turn our attention to The Drawing of the Three.  Here's an excerpt from the chapter "Detta and Odetta":

“—last gunslinger,” Andrew said.
       He had been talking for quite awhile, but Andrew always talked and Odetta usually just let it flow over her mind the way you let warm water flow over your hair and face in the shower.  But this did more than catch her attention; it snagged it, as if on a thorn.
        “I beg pardon?”
       “Oh, it was just some column in the paper,” Andrew said.  “I dunno who wrote it.  I didn’t notice.  One of those political fellas.  Prob’ly you’d know, Miz Holmes.  I loved him, and I cried the night he was elected—”
     She smiled, touched in spite of herself.  Andrew said his ceaseless chatter was something he couldn’t stop, wasn’t responsible for, that it was just the Irish in him coming out, and most of it was nothing – cluckings and chirrupings about relatives and friends she would never meet, half-baked political opinions, weird scientific commentary gleaned from any number of weird sources (among other things, Andrew was a firm believer in flying saucers, which he called you-foes) – but this touched her because she had also cried the night he was elected.
         “But I didn’t cry when that son of a bitch – pardon my French, Miz Holmes – when that son of a bitch Oswald shot him, and I hadn’t cried since, and it’s been – what, two months?”
         Three months and two days, she thought.
         “Something like that, I guess.”
        Andrew nodded.  “Then I read this column – in The Daily News, it mighta been – yesterday, about how Johnson’s probably gonna do a pretty good job, but it won’t be the same.  The guy said America had seen the passage of the world’s last gunslinger.”
       “I don’t think John Kennedy was that at all,” Odetta said, and if her voice was sharper than the one Andrew was accustomed to hearing (which it must have been, because she saw his eyes give a startled blink in the rear-view mirror, a blink that was more like a wince), it was because she felt herself touched by this, too.  It was absurd, but it was also a fact.  There was something about that phrase – America has seen the passage of the world’s last gunslinger – that rang deeply in her mind. It was ugly, it was untrue – John Kennedy had been a peacemaker, not a leather-slapping Billy the Kid type – but it had also for some reason given her goosebumps.
         “Well, the guy said there would be no shortage of shooters in the world,” Andrew went on, regarding her nervously in the rear-view mirror.  “He mentioned Jack Ruby for one, and Castro, and this fellow in Haiti—”
          “Duvalier,” she said.  “Poppa Doc.”
          “Yeah, him, and Diem—”
          “The Diem brothers are dead.”
         “Well, he said Jack Kennedy was different, that’s all.  He said he would drawn, but only if someone weaker needed him to draw, and only if there was nothing else to do.  He said Kennedy was savvy enough to know that sometimes talking don’t do no good.  He said Kennedy knew if it’s foaming at the mouth you have to shoot it.”
          His eyes continued to regard her apprehensively.
          “Besides, it was just some column I read.”
         The limo was gliding up Fifth Avenue now, headed toward Central Park West, the Cadillac emblem on the end of the hood cutting the frigid February air.
        “Yes,” Odetta said mildly, and Andrew’s eyes relaxed a trifle.  “I understand.  I don’t agree, but I understand.”
         You are a liar, a voice spoke up in her mind.  This was a voice she heard quite often.  She had even named it.  It was the voice of The Goad.  You understand perfectly and agree completely.  Lie to Andrew if you feel it necessary, but for God’s sake don’t lie to yourself, woman.
            Yet part of her protested, horrified.  In a world which had become a nuclear powderkeg upon which nearly a billion people now sat, it was a mistake – perhaps one of suicidal proportions – to believe there was a difference between good shooters and bad shooters.  There were too many shaky hands holding lighters near too many fuses.  This was no world for gunslingers.  If there had ever been a time for them, it had passed.

This is an interesting passage not because it impacts upon the plot of 11/22/63 in any way, but simply because it illustrates the point that even around the time of The Drawing of the Three, King seemed to come down on the side of thinking that Kennedy's death was ka.  I remembered that little scene between Odetta and Andrew a couple of days after finishing 11/22/63, and looked it up to see if my memory had gotten it right; it had.

And at that point, something else occurred to me: if you proceed from the assumption that Jake's exploits are taking place in the same universe as the one Odetta, Eddie, and Jake come from, then all of a sudden it becomes vitally important to the story of The Dark Tower that Jake not succeed in changing the course of events.  There is nothing specific in 11/22/63 to point to idea that the altered version of 2011 has changed the lives of Eddie Dean or Jake Chambers, but the notion of another character named Jake serves as a bit of a harmonic ... one that Jake Epping is unaware of, but a harmonic nevertheless.  Also, it is not at all a stretch of the imagination to think that either Eddie or Jake or both might indeed HAVE been fundamentally altered.  Eddie's brother Henry was a Vietnam vet, after all; that might have changed in the altered timeline, thereby altering Eddie's life, and possibly even preventing Roland from being able to Draw him.

Even worse, the changes to the time-line might have had an affect of some sort -- direct or indirect -- on the Rose which exists in an abandoned lot in New York.  If the Rose falls, then the Tower falls, and if the Tower falls, then all of reality is plunged into Todash darkness.

I don't think it's much of a stretch at all to speculate that the watery ripping noises Jake hears in the sky in 2011 Mark 2 might be the sound of Beams collapsing, and the process of the Tower beginning to fall.  Might this be explainable by means of saying that due to Jake Epping's actions, Roland and his ka-tet has been unable even to form, much less to prevent the Crimson King from succeeding in his quest to destroy the Tower?

I don't think it's a stretch at all.  I also don't think it's a stretch at all to suggest that the Green Card Man -- Zack Land, originally from Seattle -- might be a representative of some version of the Tet Corporation, which within the Dark Tower tales was established to combat the Sombra Corporation, which was an agency of the Crimson King.

Until King comes and says something one way or another, it's probably foolish to think of this as an accurate interpretation, but it seems to track.  In any case, that's the way I read it: because of his actions, Jake Epping has enacted a series of events which will culminate in the fall of the Dark Tower and the victory of the Crimson King, and because of this, the Tower itself has structured reality in such a fashion as to -- along with assistance from the friendly Tet Corporation -- prevent Jake from being able to allow his actions to stand.

It's also worth mentioning that the mystic -- and highly Dark Tower-relevant -- number 19 is all over this novel.  Harry even tells Jake about a nuclear meltdown which took place on June 19, 1999!

One final note.  11/22/63 also features several appearances my a model of car which ought to be familiar to King fans: the 1958 Plymouth Fury.

Inevitably, this is going to result in speculation as to whether one of the cars we see is Christine herself.  I don't find any evidence at all to indicate that this is the case.  I skimmed Christine a bit, and didn't see any evidence that would connect that Fury to any of the events or locales of 11/22/63.  

However ... it IS possible that we are meant to think that the Plymouth Fury outside the Worumbo plant in Lisbon Falls is the property of the Yellow Card Man, and possibly even the vessel he uses -- they use -- to travel to our universe from wherever it is they come from.  The Low Men, as we know, use vehicles which appear to our eyes as cars, but in fact are something else entirely.  The Yellow/Green Card Men, who appear to be benevolent opposites of the Low Men in Yellow Coats, might well use a similar mode of transportation, and it is perhaps not beyond the realm of possibility to consider that Christine might have been one of these which somehow got away from them and ended up in the possession of Roland LeBay.  Perhaps that alienness is what could have permitted Christine to become haunted in the first place...?

Personally, I don't think so.  I think this is just a case of there being multiple Plymouth Furies in the world.

But you never know...


  1. Well, I just finished the novel yesterday, so I got no spoilers out your spoiler filled review.

    I got to say, you take on it is interesting, even if I can't really bring myself to agree with you.

    The reason why is my take on the entire Dark Tower opus isn't mine, I came to agree with the remarkable Ms. Robin Furth, compiler of the Dark Tower Concordance.

    I suggest you get the complete in one edition, if you haven't already. In there you'll come across her two excellent essays on the entire Tower story.

    Without spoiling anything, I hope, both Ms. Furth's opinion and mine, maybe even Kevin Quigley's is that the Tower books fall into the catagory of stories and novels like The Dark Half, Ballad of the Flexible Bullet, Secret Window most particular Unmey's Lat Case.

    I'm asking for agreement with this opinion, one of the great things about fiction is that all narrative in unreliable, even right down to the phrase "This is what happened." And C.S. Lewis once remarked that you shouldn't trust all that an author says about his novels.

    It's not that they lie or mean to lie, Lewis pointed out, it's just that most if you really grilled them about what they were thinking when they wrote this or that passage, most of them would honestly have to admit, they either don't know or that it wasn't much. Weird, huh?

    I think both ideas as just outlined above apply to all novels and all fiction writer's, King included.

    One element of the novel I did latch onto in regards to the Dunning character was this. If Jake can't help him, then was there anything at all that could possibly have brought some sense of balance to his travails, some act, past or future, or present that might have at least brought some kind of justice to bear on the whole thing?

    I think there actually was, and the fact that the narrator actually leaves the past as it was possibly prevents what, to my mind, amounts to an even greater catastrophe then nuclear fallout.

    Can you guess what event I'm talking about here? Give it a moment to think over. What's the one thing that could do justice to Dunning, and people like him?

    Why note take 7 minutes out to think about it. Who knows? This might be a real 7 pipe puzzler instead of just three.

  2. My mistake, in the last post what I typed should have read "I'm "Not!" asking for agreement, just letting you know mine, sorry if you got the wrong idea. I sometimes type damn fast and I'm not a spotter.

  3. I don't have the Dark Tower Concordance yet. It's on my to-buy list, though!

    There are several reasons why you are not going to be able to convince me that "11/22/63" is totally unrelated to the Dark Tower stories. A lot of what I wrote above is speculation and interpretation, but some of it isn't.

    For one thing, the connection to "It" is irrefutable. In that novel, the Turtle -- the mystic guardian whose image was taken by the Old Ones to serve as a totem for one of the Beams of the Tower -- makes a highly notable cameo appearance. So, in that sense the events of "It" are connected to the larger universe of the Dark Tower.

    Additionally, the number 19 -- which, obviously, becomes a major feature of the final books in the Dark Tower series -- makes numerous appearances in "11/22/63." I understand what you're saying about C.S. Lewis's assertion about an author not being entirely reliable on the subject of his own work, and in most cases I'd agree with you (and with Lewis). However, an author as self-aware as Stephen King simply does not layer a detail like this one (frequent appearances of the number 19) into a novel mindlessly.

    So obviously, I disagree with what you're saying. But that's cool. People don't always HAVE to agree, and I'd never take offense at someone politely disagreeing with an opinion of mine. (Hopefully I've managed to be similarly polite!) As always, I'm just happy there's someone out there reading what I write, and feeling interested enough in it to leave a comment.

    Now, as for the question you've posed to me about Dunning, I have to confess that I'm unable to solve the riddle. Can you give me a hint?

    Also, you failed to mention how you liked the novel. Did you love it, hate it, or end up somewhere in the middle?

  4. Actually, I liked it. For me the entire novel flowed smoothley, and here's one experience I've had with King's books before however for whatever reason, in this book it was more noticable. What I'm talking about is that rare experience of hanging on every word to see what happens.

    In spite of what may be said, that's a rare talent in fiction. The other few books I'd have to list that gave me this much suspense per word are It, Salem's Lot and the Shining.

    If I had to give a criticism of it at all, then I'd have to admit it's one of taste, and therefore, outside of fan discussion, should have no place in the objective criticism of books.

    I think personal taste, if it has no objective ground serves as a poor tool to the understanding of any written word and so books should be judged by some kind of established criteria.

    Anyway, to get to my only beef with the book, and remember it's my problem, not the book's, is that it's one of the few cases for me where I actually do wish the book were longer.

    I've heard the old complaint about padding in King's books, however, this was a case where a book not only seems to fulfill what it promises to deliver, but actually shows sign of potential in the margins.

    I'm told that King's orginal manuscript ran to 4,000 ages in length. I'm just guessing, but a lot of what was in those pages, padding or otherwise, might have contained a lot more leisurely minuitae about the times the novel is set in, maybe a more Stand By Me type feel.

    I don't if I'm the only one who has this opinion, but I'd at least like to see those 4,000 pages, if just to see if I'm right. I'm sure most of it got cut for a reason.

    Like i say, this is just a matter of personal taste in this regard, so don't go by me.

    As to the riddle I gave. Ask this question, which King villain, out of the entire rogues gallery could stand to gain the most, even if only for a little while (if you believe the Green Card Men say that is.)

    Here's a good hint, I'm not thinking of the Crimson King, or Randel Flagg.

    Have some more time to think it over, maybe 7 more minutes. As the fellow I'm thinking of would say, "Time doesn't matter here." For guys like him, "Time just floats away."

  5. I did hear one interview with King in which he said the original version of "11/22/63" was 400 pages longer. And the answer to whether or not I'd like to read the longer version is an enthusiastic YES!

    As for the riddle: clearly, Pennywise.

    I'm not sure Jake had what it would have taken to stop Pennywise. (The jury's still out on whether the Losers accomplished it in "It"!)

  6. Good guessing of the riddle, and to for the endorsement of more pages.

    Just to clear things up, the point i was trying to make was, by succeeding in his mission, Jake presumably would have doomed the Losers to the point where they may never have returned to Derry and taken on Pennywise, thus leaving not just Derry but maybe the whole world at his mercy.

    I always believed the character when he called himself "The Eater of Worlds." Think of the frightening implications of that, if you will.

    As for reports of the characters untimely demise, I have here on the desk before me the trade paperback edition of "Full Dark, No Stars." On pg. 368, in the Afterword section, speaking of the story "Fair Extension" King writes: Of course, I set it in Derry, home of the late and unlamented clown Pennywise."

    The Moderator of the offcial King website also wrote that King has no plans for an "It" sequel.

    However, she did say he had recently gone back and had another go at "The House on Benefit (Value) Street."

    I remember him saying it was the unwritten portion of "Hearts in Atlantis" which deals with what happened to Lost Boy Bobby Garfield's Lost Girl, Carol Gerber.

    From what I understand of what I've read in that book, she runs afoul of a center Mr. Walter Paddick.

    Who knows, as one board member put, this sound like a job for ol' Dickie Bachman.

    Now there's a combination that sounds interesting.

  7. Hmm... That's an interesting theory regarding Jake's JFK mission changing things so that Pennywise would continue his (HER, actually!) reign of terror in Derry past 1985. Cool! (For the record, by the way: I'm on the side of thinking that the Losers were successful in killing Pennywise. However, I think it's possible one or two of her children might have escaped the stompy feet of Ben Hanscom...)

    As for that wrapup story to "Hearts In Atlantis," I'll be thrilled to read it if and when it materializes. I loved "Hearts In Atlantis," so I'd definitely be pleased to see more of some of those characters.

    And, of course, more Richard Bachman. There's always room for him!

  8. I just read these two parts of yours. and have to say two words. "Mind" and "blown" Nicely done and nicely put seriously. I skimmed the part of (Detta odetta) but I read those books before picking up 11.22.63. Which I loved.

    The connections you place are very good and undeniable. However as anonymous placed the other vision. I have to say thats good aswell. But I think I will stay in between. Where the Dark Tower was not saved by Roland because of the changes made by Jake. But also Pennywise who could go on because of the changes.

    Pennywise called himself "Eater of Worlds" But who knows how long he would take to do it?
    But. This could also be a different world from the Prime where the rose stands. Or perhaps a different world from where either Jake, Eddie or Odetta came from. But the ramifications of the changes Epping made could have ofcourse rippled through to any of the worlds. with "Thinnies" I think that all is possible. Although those aren't mentioned. Tiny cracks in reality which were named by the Yellowcard man might be what in the dark tower is called "Thinnies"

    But yeah. I am not good for vocalizing my own ideas. Not nearly as good as what I read here. But I have to wonder if it is as big as that. Or just something for that world. That reality. Perhaps if he went on. Only that reality would tear itself apart. (Some reality just a bit further away from the tower) Leaf of Grass theory. If that universe ceases to exist. Might it only be a leaf of grass in the Prime world? Or maybe not even that. Maybe just a leaf of grass in one of the lower worlds.

    Hope I made sense here... Just typing and thinking up theories as I go. ;)

    1. Thanks a lot, Leiden!

      I had a lot of fun writing my reviews of "11/22/63." Part of me thinks that I might have been totally off-base to try and connect it to "The Dark Tower." After all, there are no explicit references to that saga in "11/22/63," and Stephen King has said -- through the moderator on his website's message-board, I think, though it might have been in an interview -- that he intentionally made no such references.

      So you might be entirely correct when you suggest that it all might just be something specific to THIS reality. I'm of a split mind about it, personally, although I think I still lean toward connecting the stories; the prevalence of the number 19 is a strong clue, if nothing else!

      Either way, whether it connects or doesn't is ultimately irrelevant, because it's the story at hand that really matters -- and this is a great one.

      Out of curiosity, Leiden, have you read "The Wind Through the Keyhole" yet?

  9. Any thoughts to maybe It being an alternate version of the crimson king in a different reality, almost as if they are twinners of each other?

    1. Hmm; interesting idea. However, I think -- THINK, mind you -- that Pennywise is not a Twinner of the Crimson King so much as It is another of the monsters from the prim. It doesn't seem to have any ambitions, the way the Crimson King does; instead, It seems content to feed, and then sleep.

    2. it was just a curiosity since in the DT series the crimson Kings true form was that of a spider

  10. This is Leiden, It was may old name and I changed it when I saw it. Leiden of Lijden means as much as To lead or to suffer. in Dutch.

    Anyways. No I haven't read it yet. I am planning on it as I said in the response to your other post.

    @Anonymous: I think not. I think "IT" or Pennywise would more likely be twinners with Dandelo. He of Odd's Lane. Cheerio Daecca/Leiden

    1. I have never quite been able to make up my mind as to whether Dandelo is meant to be Pennywise. Probably he is, but if so, I tend to think he's not a Twinner; instead, I think he would be somewhat like Flagg, in that he seems to have different forms in different realities.

      But I could be totally wrong about that.

  11. I quite like the idea of the Yellow Card Man being a Tet Corporation field operative. Wouldn't Sombra have someone similar? It's to the Crimson King's advantage, after all, for Jake's mission to succeed... makes me kind of wish these things were explicitly in there.

    In retrospect, I'm a little confused why the CK makes such an explicit appeal to Ralph Roberts in Insomnia to cease and desist, instead of just shooting him or something, or sending someone to shoot him.

    I didn't really care for the appearance of Bevvie and Ritchie, here. I didn't mind it, it just didn't seem to do much for the story. I was looking forward to an It connection, but when I got it, I felt let down. Not because of his execution - I think you're right, they seamlessly shift from the pages of It to the pages of 11/22/63 - but because it just didn't seem too relevant to anything. Like an appearance by Connie Chung in Insomnia or something; fun, but could be taken out/ swapped-in with just-about-anyone with no ripple in the Beams.

    1. My take on the whole green/yellow card man thing was that he was a Tet Corporation agent working to repair the damage done by the Sombra Corporation. In other words, he's working from a place in the future after which Sombra has been defeated. None of that is in the text; it's just the little story I make up for myself to enjoy things slightly more.

      Maybe when and if King gets around to writing the novel about the Tet/Sombra battles, some of this might make it in. Fingers crossed...!