Saturday, April 05, 2014

Forty Years Since Stephen King's First Published Novel

"People don't get better, they just get smarter. When you get smarter you don't stop pulling the wings off flies, you just think of better reasons for doing it."

Stephen King
"Carrie" (1974)

My guess is that relatively few teenagers have not fantasized about doing something at least similar to what Carrie White did to her classmates in Stephen King's first published novel, "Carrie," which was published 40 years ago today.

The book was faithfully dramatized in the 1976 movie starring Sissy Spacek, although it left out quite a bit, as most movies do.

Anyway, Carrie (short for Carietta) was a very reserved high school girl who happened to have a special gift — telekinetic powers. That fact was unknown to her classmates, as was her struggle to control those powers. Actually, Carrie didn't know about them By her senior year, when the book opened, Carrie was losing that struggle.

In everyone's childhood, I suppose, there was the odd kid, the social outcast who was tormented by everyone else practically from the first day of first grade. Kids always seem to instinctively know who among them is the odd kid, and they gang up on him/her.

For many people, it is their first exposure to bullying. That must be why the book struck such a nerve. If you weren't the child who had been singled out — and I am sure most people were secretly thankful that they were not that singularly unfortunate child — the sight of the kind of cruelty of which nearly everyone is capable ushered in the end of innocence for nearly everyone long before the traditionally accepted innocence–taking events in one's life, like one's first beer or first cigarette.

(I have long wondered why those kinds of events, along with losing one's virginity, are always so important to adults who, on some sort of level, must wish their children would remain children forever — and who need shorter memories than their elders to recall the circumstances under which they lost their own innocence.

(If the truth is known, it must surely have been in the elementary school playground, not the family car, where just about everyone really lost their innocence. That probably was where they first saw how someone who differs from the rest of the group is treated. Shamefully, in most cases.

(I have also thought that, in a culture like this one that obsesses about bullying, "Carrie" might be a good cautionary tale for parents to share with their children. Unfortunately, most adults these days seem to prefer to watch a movie than read, which doesn't set much of an example for their youngsters.

(But I digress.)

Carrie was the odd kid in her school, always had been. As she became aware of her gift, she also became aware that she had less and less control of it. On prom night, when the tormenting went over the line, she permitted those powers to wreak havoc on her tormenters.
"Late at night I keep thinking: if I had only reached to that girl, if only, if only."

While it was King's first published novel, it was the fourth he had written. I became a fan the first time I read that book — yes, I have read it more than once. I haven't read all his books, but I have read many of them over the years.

King had no faith in "Carrie," I hear. In fact, he originally wanted to scrap the scene in the school shower where the overly protected Carrie first learned of menstruation. He threw those rough draft pages away, but his wife retrieved them and urged him to finish it.

He followed her advice — and popular fiction is better off for it.