Horror Lit: Carrie

Book review
Stephen King’s Carrie

After reading Gerald’s Game, I was particularly curious about Stephen King writing with a female protagonist. I liked his characterization of Jessie Burlingame, and I wondered where else in his catalogue did he write using a female protagonist? Less than a moment later, I remembered Carrie, which he had written 17 years earlier. How could I forget the iconic image of the prom queen covered in pig’s blood?

I had seen the movie many moons ago, but had not read the book. I decided to grab a copy at my local second-hand bookstore and find out for myself how King presented Carrie and her horror story.

From the moment I started it, I liked it. It is told in snippets of narrative mixed with quotations from court documents, academic essays and first-person biographies. King outlines the story from three angles: the public, shown through the documentation following the destruction of a town by a teenage girl’s telekinetic power; the friends and family surrounding the protagonist Carrie’s life, shown through anecdotes from their eyes as they go about their day creating the perfect storm for Carrie’s betrayal and revenge; and the protagonist Carrie, located at the heart of the action and torment.

I was raised in households with varying degrees of right-wing Christian religious fervor, so Carrie’s story of being raised by an ascetic, judgemental, punishing, sadist of a mother who feels justified in her cruel actions by her Christian devotion and faith is not unrealistic to me. Neither was the high school bullying. The pleasure of Carrie was in watching the protagonist take punch after punch from her inner voice, her mother and her peers, and seeing it fuel her rebellious reaction until she rained down fire on all of them.

The Carrie narrative is iconic, and King, rightly so, is an icon. The book far outweighs the movie, mostly, for me, by casting. I had to revise my image of Sissy Spacek from very early on in the book, which I was glad to do. I much preferred King’s more awkard, angst-ridden teenager who reminded me more of Rae in My Mad Fat Diary than anything close to Spacek.

I am happy to continue my exploration of King’s portrayal of female protagonists. Perhaps Dolores Clairborne next, or Misery … is that one told by the writer or the kidnapper? Off to the bookstore!

King-Carrie

King, Stephen. Carrie. Penguin Group, 1975.

Horror Lit: By the Pricking of My Thumbs

Book review
Agatha Christie’s By the Pricking of My Thumbs

I consider Agatha Christie a horror writer because, in practically any library, you are sure to find a macabre tale of murder by her. She was the first mystery writer I discovered, and I remember the thrill of being young and being allowed to read her murder stories. She was, in fact, my first inspiration to become a writer myself. I remember plotting out complex and devious murder schemes in short stories, written by hand in flimsy composition notebooks.

While shopping for a Stephen King book recently, I found a large selection of Christie novels, and chose By the Pricking of My Thumbs for its rich title … and for being a reference to the three witches in Shakespeare’s MacBeth. Sold!

The story turned out to be quite different than I expected, but intriguing just the same. The main characters were older, so the pace of their lives and their stories were very different from mine. But, Christie made them unique and engaging, and their wandering whimsies and desires led them toward both discovering and solving a long-held mystery, which was fun. The story ended with a surprising attack of the villain on the protagonist: one old lady trying to kill another while locked in a hidden room … priceless!

My favourite narrative tool that Christie used in this book was to play with two narrators. It began with the husband and wife, and then followed the wife. About halfway through the book, the wife encountered danger, and the story followed the husband for a while. This created a tension in me that I was not expecting. At that point in the narrative, I was feeling really attached to the wife. Then finding myself in her husband’s shoes and worrying about her made me feel even more scared for her. I thought that was brilliant.

agatha-christie

Christie, Agatha. By the Pricking of My Thumbs, Williams Collins Sons & Co Ltd, 1968.

Horror Lit: The Dunwich Horror

Story review
H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”

For my last birthday, my brother gifted me a copy of the complete fiction of pulp-horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. I had never read any stories by Lovecraft, so I was glad to receive this thoughtful present.

Before opening the collection, I did some online research on Lovecraft’s top scariest stories, and I happened upon this list of six best Lovecraft stories for the Halloween season written by an avid fan. The descriptions were well-written and made me intrigued to dive into my book.

The first story I chose was “The Dunwich Horror.” It was a good choice because it centred around the “ancient ones” mythology that Lovecraft created in his fiction. It introduced me to the Necronomicon and its power to usher in the end of human kind. I particularly liked the treatment of the Necronomicon as a key that had to be protected and hidden from those who would use it for evil. I liked that a librarian was thrust into the heart of the action, acting as guardian of the key and as detective responsible for stopping the end of human kind.

I liked the many narrative tools that Lovecraft used to set the stage for supernatural activity from the beginning of the story, mostly in his description of the setting and its people. As the story went on, it was told largely by the evidence left behind by the monstrous Whateley family , from local rumours to physical debris to the first-person experiences of villagers who had the opportunity to encounter or see any of the other-worldly monsters.

Lovecraft’s descriptions of the monsters were bizarre and strange, and told well enough to give me an immediate visualization. I had never imagined any creatures like how he described: a mix of underwater-creature tentacles and Pan-like furry features cobbled grotesquely onto giants.

My favourite literary tool Lovecraft used was how nature responded to the unnatural creatures from the otherworld: barking dogs, and chattering birds that appeared outside of their migration pattern and increased in activity when the Whateleys were dying. Even the stench left behind by the monsters years after the horror took place in the village invoked their imprint on the natural surroundings, showing these monsters as not only enemies to humans, but to nature as well.

Rich descriptions, fast-paced action and engaging characters are what I found in my first taste of Lovecraft. I look forward to reading more!

dunwich-horror
– Image from RTVE: Los cómics recuerdan el 75 aniversario de la muerte de H. P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft, H.P. “The Dunwich Horror,” 1929. The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, Race Point Publishing, 2014, pp.674-712.