Thursday, March 20, 2008

All things being equal

I finally got around to seeing The Mist, one of Stephen King's novellas (a long short story) and I wasn't happy with the ending. It wasn't the one I remembered from the story, which admittedly I haven't read since it was originally published, but still...what happened to the original ending?

With the Lenten season in full swing and Easter upon us, in addition to the ranting of the church lady in the movie, I was beginning to see a trend in King's writing that had before seemed more like subtext but was screaming at me from the end of The Mist about expiation and sacrifice. It was definitely the theme in The Stand and its in Thinner, Dolores Claiborne, The Dark Half, The Shining and Desperation. In fact, in most of King's work there is the same theme of sacrifice -- one (or more) die to save someone (or a group of someones), expiation. I felt an article coming on and that meant a bug hunt, which led me to the director of The Mist who had a disagreement with King about the ending. Stephen King wanted the ending to remain the same but the director saw it in his mind as he filmed it. King and the director parted ways. I don't know if it was King refusing to see what is so obvious about most of his work, this underlying theme of sacrifice and expiation, or that he didn't want to make it so obvious.

A writer whose book I recently edited said her friends couldn't understand how someone who had such a religious and upright background could write such violent and questionable books. She said she didn't understand how Stephen King did it either. So I explained that despite what most people think there is a strong religious streak that runs through almost all of King's work, not like it did in Carrie with the religious zealot mother who had overdosed on too much religion, to the point of oppressing and abusing her daughter with it, but in subtle ways that permeate the entire underpinning of each story. She said she'd have to take another look at King to see what I meant and came back a few weeks later saying she saw what I meant.

People tend to look at horror and see only the blood and guts and terror. They miss the thematic threads that hold the whole thing together. There is so much more to any writer than just the basic story, something I realize but didn't see until I took another look at a little story I write about a boy in a candy store that reeks of sexual repression and denial. It's in the imagery.

Whether we are writing fiction or nonfiction, something of our thoughts at the time, like under tows, or rip tides sometimes, find their way into the story, inextricably bound to the words and themes about which we are often unaware. I remember Stephen King writing about not realizing he had written about his struggle with drug addiction in The Dark Half when he wrote it and yet I caught it immediately when I read the story, and have written about it here. I see the whole progression of his life and his distinctly Christian leanings in almost everything he writes. I see the early frustration with balancing a job with the creative muse in his early work as well as his maturity and aging as he coasts into midlife and beyond that is so apparent in his more recent work. The little boy chained in the basement among the spiders and demons is still there, but he's often more of a distraction, like a magician's sleight of hand, than the focus of the story. So much more is going on if you look at things in just the right way, in the same way that an impressionist painting looks unfocused and confusing close up and becomes something much more subtle and beautiful as you move farther away.

At least I'm not so rabid now to point out Stephen King's subtler themes becoming glaringly obvious in The Mist but whether I do or not, the director saw it and decided he had to make it, thus underlining Mrs. Carmody's crazed demand to spill the blood of the unjust to save the righteous coming back to haunt Drayton as he stands outside his car begging the monsters to come and get him while out of the thinning mist the Army plows through with the survivors from the store who wanted to kill him and those with him who wanted to get away from their blood lust. He killed his son and the people with him to save them from the horrors in the mist when help was already on the way. The question in my mind is if he hadn't killed the other four in his car and they tried to brave the horrors in the mist with their last four bullets would they have been saved or did they have to die in order to realize their blood was required as a sacrifice to expiate the sins of the world they espoused and championed? It's like the tree that falls in the woods when no one is around to hear it: does it make a sound?

There's no doubt where Stephen King's stands on the issue because it's just under the surface of his stories, and the director of The Mist certainly agreed or he wouldn't have filmed the ending that made it to the theaters. Is that where we are all headed -- to a world where those that don't agree with the majority that Christian values are the only path to salvation in the face of terror? Are we caught in a tide of religious reformation that will carry us once again into the Dark Ages or is this simply the struggle that comes when faced with a fork in the road? Time will tell.

In the meantime, Stephen King, your roots are showing.

That is all. Disperse.

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