Your Friday monster rec is musical: The prog-metal act Mastodon. Earlier albums featured lyrical obsessions with Moby Dick and Rasputin. While their newest isn’t a concept album, it does feature some creature-y fun. Enjoy the riffing!
Archive for the ‘Friday Monster Rec’ Category
“Everything Down Here Floats:”
An Appreciation of Stephen King’s IT
Has there ever been a better title for a monster novel—not just a horror novel, but that particular subspecies of the form known as the monster novel—than IT? Check the dictionary, and you’ll find that the majority of the pronoun’s definitions refer to it as a kind of placeholder, either for something that’s been referred to already, or for something that’s about to be referred to. It is a word that directs attention away from itself, points towards something else. Using it, as Stephen King does here, to refer to his long novel’s central monster seems to me the simplest example of the technique of deflection that Lovecraft employed in so many of his stories: specifically, when he called one of his creatures “nameless.” It expresses the condition of falling outside our ability to name (and therefore to recognize and categorize), and it does so in a way that evokes the most basic speech.
Of course, to leave your monster a blank space is to invite whoever is beholding it to fill in that blank with her or his worst fear. This is how It operates, assuming the identity of whatever its current victim is most afraid of. It’s a mirror, and for this reason, It prefers to stalk children, because the things that terrify them are so concrete. This aspect of the creature allows King to gather most of the great monsters of the first half of the twentieth century, especially in their cinematic incarnations—which is to say, the forms in which Universal Pictures presented them. Frankenstein’s monster, the mummy, the wolfman, the gill-man, the vampire, they’re all here, as well as a couple of others, such as a giant bird that may owe something to Toho’s Rodan, the enormous, carnivorous eye from The Crawling Eye, and a giant spider that’s equal parts Tolkien’s Shelob and the arachnid that The Shrinking Man’s Scott Carey must defeat in that novel’s climactic battle. (There’s also a sinister house whose warped architecture is straight out of H.P. Lovecraft.) When It isn’t wearing one of these identities, It assumes the identity of Pennywise the clown, which reflects the monster’s (and the novel’s) carnivalesque quality. This is the monster mash to end all monster mashes.
That same abundance—that excess—defines the novel, either of whose two principle timelines could have been separated into its own novel. Set in 1958 and 1985, the novel moves back and forth between a group of friends who meet when they are eleven years old and who reunite twenty-seven years later, as middle age is closing in on them. King luxuriates in these characters, lavishing page after page on them. It’s as if he’s trying to cram their entire worlds into the book, as if he’s trying to make the book a world of its own. That world is one in which the young outcasts on whom King so often focuses must face an overwhelming horror, and it’s one in which the adult survivors of that confrontation—who have found a success in their maturity that they could only have dreamed of as children—must meet that horror again, without the same childhood faith that allowed them to come through their first battle with It.
One of the things I’ve always admired about King’s fiction is his willingness to take his monsters at face value. There’s no question in IT about the reality of the threat facing its protagonists; instead, those characters must do their best to cope with and surmount it. In its concern with the trials of childhood, and with the nineteen fifties, the book is of a piece with works including “The Body” and Low Men in Yellow Coats; in its concern with the gravity the past exerts on the present, IT connects to works from The Shining to the books of the Dark Tower sequence. I don’t know that it’s the book of Stephen King’s career, but it’s certainly one of them.
Sometimes I amuse myself by wondering what a contemporary version of IT would be like, what monsters would populate its pages. Frankenstein’s monster, the wolfman, Rodan: these aren’t the monsters of today’s children, are they? The It of today would appear as Ridley Scott’s Alien, as Freddy Krueger, as Jigsaw, as Hannibal Lecter, as a zombie. Next to these figures, the monsters of the past can seem quaint, almost homely.
Open the pages of IT, though, and you’ll find their teeth are still quite sharp, their appetites unsated.
(written by Paul Tremblay)
The Caretaker of Lorne Field is an odd but brilliant little horror novel written by Dave Zeltserman who is best known as a gritty crime/noir author. Not that that matters, but I do think this book unfortunately flew under the radar of most horror fans (despite the plethora of good reviews, word of mouth, the American Library Assoc. short listing Caretaker as the best horror novel of 2010) because of his crime author label. Such is the sad state of publishing, but I digress.
In Caretaker, there be monsters….maybe.
It’s an allegorical story set in small town New England. Jack Durkin is the latest in a long line of Durkins with the gig of weeding, by hand, Lorne Field. If he doesn’t weed the field, the weeds grow into ravenous, bloodthirsty monsters (Aukowies) that would destroy all of humanity. Or the dude is just totally nuts, which is what 21st Century New Englanders think of him now, of course. Previous generations of Durkins were held in high esteem, paid very well, and were generally treated as the town hero/rock star. (It’s almost like Durkin is representin’ writers…but I digress again) But Jack, not so much. His family resents him, and the town wants to cut his meagre funding.
The allegory is broad enough to allow for multiple interpretations, always encouraging the reader to use her/his own imagination within the proceedings. The social satire is spot on. Dave takes this are-they-real/is-he-nuts twilight-zone set up, sprinkles in noir attitude, and plays the reader like a fiddle until the very last page. You can’t help but love this book.
Link: The Razor Thin Line Between Crime and Horror by Dave Zeltserman
The Caretaker of Lorne Field will be released in trade paperback, October 2011.