I recently drove to Maine on a road trip. Having read a bunch of Stephen King in my life and driving with someone who’d never read any of his books, I wanted to map the books a little along the path. These particular books were chosen for two main reasons: they’re not “scary” and they were available via Overdrive for the ride. The linking sort of worked out. If you read The Running Man on the way up, you follow the book, and if you read The Long Walk on the way down you follow the book. If you are sitting in Maine for a little while or doing any hiking or otherwise, The Body and Shawshank work out too.
The Running Man
In terms of science fiction, Stephen King has not written a lot. I wonder if it has to do with not really being all that interested in science or the tenets of the genre or maybe the world-building. So the two Bachman books that deal with it and could almost work in the same post-world are interesting variations. The Running Man is a weird book. There’s no attempt to make Richards a criminal before the show gets started, but running for your life will of course do so. The book makes itself very clear that the show and the large corporation behind the show are complicit in the violence that Richards commits after the start. He’s written like an 80s action star, before we had those, but where the jokes don’t land. Like everyone hears his quips, but they don’t work on him. He’s the only on who’s in on the jokes.
Some things that Stephen King really thought about the future. That it would require small but significant video equipment to send short videos or be a reporter, that air pollution would be a significant part of our lives (it is an isn’t obviously), and that casual and vicious racism and bigotry would happen all the time.
It’s funny because I’m not from Maine, so maybe the casual racism and cartoonish racism is more common, or maybe I have shut myself away from it more effectively. It’s also funny that smoking plays a minor but very present role in this novel. While walking around Portland, we couldn’t help noticing aloud how many people were smoking. Lots. And we’re from Richmond, where they invented smoking.
Also, Richards goes to Portland and stays in a horrible crime-ridden slum and in a place named the “Blue Door” which was great because it was literally the next street over from our Air-BNB and there’s a restaurant with that name. This book would need to be trimmed of some of the weirdness (this is a common theme, by the way) but would make a great movie. Get on it Darabont.
This is Stand by Me, one of the most enduring movies of my childhood recalling the night my parents went to go see it (they’re about Stephen King’s age) to their buying the soundtrack to watching it dozens of times. I can recall nearly every moment of this movie, the sights, the sounds, the nasally Richard Dreyfuss narration. At times, I will recognize one of Ace’s hoods in another and I can’t explain to anyone how exciting it is for me.
Missing from the book is the music. It’s kind of there, but the movie puts it to such good use. Otherwise, this book is so well wrought on the screen. The narration adds a lot to it providing a clear-headed and writerly commentary on the action and thoughts of the boys. The only weird part is that there are more stories (ie Lardass) in this than in the movie. That’s always been an amazing but also not truly clear part of the movie, the Lardass part. But it all goes back to knowing how clearly “you have to get out of this town” the relationship between Gordie and Chris truly is. The book does a more thorough job of highlighting those details, even to the point of telling a few chapters past the end of the movie. It’s funny because the end of the movie is more effective in that way. The friendship in the book is solely based in Chris and Gordie with Vern and Teddy being a little more tangential (there’s even references to others not being there). The other difference is that his relationship with his brother is more clearly defined by their age gaps. This is one of the most effective book to screen adaptations I’ve ever seen.
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
Can you imagine if they named it that? Would you call it that? I only call it “Shawshank” when it DOES come up. Like Stand by Me, it’s obviously one of the best book adaptations ever.
So how’s the book? Also great in it’s own way. Stephen King has a weird thing about testing the limits of his liberalism in his books. His books are filled with so much violence again women, harsh racism, and anti-gay sentiment, but I weirdly don’t think for a second these are things he wants or likes about the world. But like with a lot of commentary on these things (including my own sometimes) being appalled by something but not understanding it fully makes your sense of it too simple or too blunt. So the sexual violence and talk of the “sisters” comes across that way a little too clearly in this book. He hates it, but still gives it a forefront. Not that I want him to put an anachronistic spotlight on it, but I dunno what, something.
Anyway, the only real difference is that Redd is white in this book. I couldn’t possibly even imagine an honest reason why he would need to stay white, unless Maine’s prisons were segregated back then, and who knows they might have been. The movie also puts a more violent flourish on Andy trying to get a new trial because of that testimony. Also the movie is more effective at creating a cast of characters from the prison instead of just Andy and Redd. The book, however, has a more effective ending because it leaves some sense of ambiguity about what happens next.
The Long Walk
This book was probably my favorite book as a kid except for a civil war YA novel I also loved. On our trip we stopped at a bookstore to buy my girlfriend’s brother some books for his birthday and this was one of my contributions (since he wanted to read some Stephen King). Like The Running Man this would be a really good movie (and jeez would cost about $100 to make) so get on it Darabont.
Also like The Running Man this has a funny sense of the future. I like to think about the things that any writer missed when imagining the future. One, Stephen King missed cell phones of course. But the Walk would not have allowed them. But also, even though there is supposed to be low coverage of the event, I really do think there’d be this amazing internet following, even if it wasn’t huge tv coverage. Like with Shawshank, there’s this weird flare of homophobia among the book and the characters, but if that one could be explained away by the time period, I think you could see it in this book as something that young men (16-20) are also plagued with, a weird anti-gay, no-homo kind of attitude. That’s how it shows up.
Freeport ME figures heavy into this one because it’s where the protagonist will see his mom and girlfriend and we drove through it because I wanted to see it. It’s a very beachy Maine town, and like a lot of Maine, just kind of normal looking.
Also Stephen King, like everyone else, missed how commerce was going to develop in the 80s and 90s with big box stores. So there’s still just lots of little scattered towns and small stores. Maine has a lot of that, but there’s still Targets and stuff.
The only, and the remaining weirdness of this book is the facination of the main character with weird things that happened in his childhood….a scene where he and another boy were playing doctor or some such and a childhood friend killed by a car. I guess are supposed to function almost like in a war story to show how little he’s lived and how abstract our sense of death is, but it’s a weird tone shift. Gotta cut em out of the movie.