(April 12 – 18)
One of my favourite things about Stephen King books are the author’s notes he often includes. I’m a sucker for hearing all about how people process ideas into fully-formed novels, and what prompted or informed the process along the way. I basically looove glimpsing behind the scenes.
Unfortunately The Dead Zone is the first novel in my Revisiting King project that hasn’t included a foreword, an afterword, an author’s note, or anything that remotely passes for such. This is disappointing. I was particularly hoping to learn something about how on earth one follows up a post-apocalyptic magnum opus like The Stand. Sadly, there are no answers within so I’m forced to resort to my personal head canon in which King ponders the following questions: What if a tyrant like Randall Flag was to rise to power without the aid of a deadly pandemic? How would this happen? How might someone stop it? What if that someone could foresee the future? And what would the real-world equivalent of someone as charismatic, corrupting and relentlessly evil as Flagg be?
One of the most fascinating things about The Dead Zone (and if you google the title, it’s pretty much all you’ll find) is how it broadly predicts the rise of Trump. The journey there is different, but the plot revolves around a morally bereft rogue candidate getting elected, catching Washington by surprise and inexorably making their way to the seat of President. At least that’s the future–and the appalling consequences of which–that our hero foresees and sets out to prevent. (And most would probably agree with King that the real-life equivalent was far scarier than his novel.)
While not directly tied into the main plot, something else that’s turning out to be an interesting and consistent theme in King’s novels is that of religion: Carrie’s mother is a religious fanatic; religious power saves the day in both Salem’s Lot and The Stand; and The Dead Zone gives us another mother who’s a religious fanatic. This time, unlike the case of Margaret White, Stephen King leaves it to us readers to decide whether her role is beneficial or detrimental.
The Dead Zone is also notable for giving us the first appearance of Castle Rock, the fictional town that would become a mainstay of King’s novels. And with Castle Rock comes Sheriff Bannerman, who I believe returns in Cujo and then … doesn’t return any more.
Nice to see that Stephen King Fictional Universe taking shape. Someone should really do a theme park … with clowns …
There are two adaptations of The Dead Zone, and both are pretty damn good!
The first is the 1983 film, directed by David Cronenberg. While there are a few changes here and there, it’s a pretty faithful adaptation and a solid movie to boot. It’s a film I’ve watched many times (though not for some years) and have a great deal of affection for. One of my favourite things about it, in retrospect, is the casting of Martin Sheen as would-be president Greg Stillson. Sheen, of course, would go on to star in The West Wing as President Bartlet; a character who is in every possible way the exact opposite of Stillson. It’s a credit to Sheen’s talent that he’s equally convincing in both roles.
The other adaptation is the TV series which ran from 2002 to 2007. I remember catching the first episode of this, being thoroughly surprised by how good it was, and sticking with it for at least the first season. The series takes the novel as a starting point, changes just enough to make the story sustainable, and then runs with it. Definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed the novel.
I’m not sure if this is my second or third visit to The Dead Zone, but I do remember reading and enjoying it in the long distant past, so I was looking forward to picking it up again (which at least meant there was a positive to finishing The Stand). As you’ll see from the dates above, it was a pretty quick read for me.
The structure of the novel is a bit different to the way I remember. Moments that I recall being very significant are little more than passing chapters in the scope of the overall story. It was amusing to find that other bits I remembered were clearly from the film, and played out quite differently in the novel. I also ‘remember’ a very different ending for our main character of Johnny Smith which I can only assume comes from another novel entirely (hopefully I’ll eventually find out which one).
I regard The Dead Zone as Stephen King classic, and I really enjoyed revisiting it, but I’m not sure I’d necessarily label it as one of his essential novels. Nevertheless, it’s a good read if you haven’t been there yet.
Next up: can anyone smell burning …?