“1922” -Story #1 from Stephen King’s “Full Dark, No Stars”

Santa brought me this:

“There on the great high-backed carved oak chair by the right side of the fireplace sat an enormous rat, steadily glaring at him with baleful eyes.”

Stephen King’s knowledge of the canon of horror literature cannot be disputed. I learned this years ago when I read his non-fiction effort, Danse Macabre, a sweeping review of the horror genre. It’s not surprising, then, that I found many elements of this new story that recalled to me several of the horror classics. The quotation above, for instance, isn’t from “1922”, but instead from a classic Bram Stoker (yeah, the Dracula one) short story entitled The Judge’s House. I was also, on other occasions during reading, reminded of The Monkey’s Paw and The Tell-Tale Heart.

Stephen King’s Danse Macabre

***Spoiler Alert*** A quick summary of the plot: the story is presented as a written confession (told eight years later, in 1930) of a man who murdered his wife. Wilfred James was a contented farmer. He had a wife, Arlette, and an almost fifteen year old son, Henry. (I guess that would make the murderer “the father of Henry James”… Not sure if that has hidden meaning or not) Anyway, Arlette is NOT a contented farmer’s wife and wants to sell the farmland and move to The Big City (as in Omaha or St. Louis). Wilfred is legally powerless to stop her, as she owns the majority of “their” land herself. He calls upon his inner, so-called “conniving man” and decides to kill her and dump her down an old well on his property, planning on explaining her absence by saying she “ran off” to The Big City. Somehow he convinces his son (who also loves and doesn’t want to leave the farming life) to become complicit in the murder.

They figuratively (and literally!) make a mess of it though, and returning to the well a couple days after the deed find her body seemingly animate (turns out it’s rats(!) though, who have already begun to feast on her) and with her head in an odd position which seems turned upwards to laugh and mock Wilfred. Poor Henry struggles to deal with the secret of their crime and begins to view Wilfred with contempt. His life speeds “down the tubes” after he follows a neighbor girl (who he’s gotten “in trouble”) to an Omaha “home for girls” where her parents have sent her.

Wilfred struggles on alone, but is haunted by Arlette’s spirit (or her literal corpse, if we assume he’s not hallucinating) and her minions (rats!). Her visit to the house is eerily reminiscent of the W.W. Jacobs story, “The Monkey’s Paw,” and his guilty-conscience-driven hallucinations of seeing rats everywhere reminded me of Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart.” All in all a great short story/novella (it’s 130 pages) in classic Stephen King style. Of her corpse’s visit he writes:

“I can see it now, as I write. I told myself to die, but my heart kept pounding. Her hanging face slid alongside mine. I could feel my beard-stubble pulling off tiny bits of her skin, could hear her broken jaw grinding like a branch with ice on it.”

Wow, doesn’t get much creepier than that.

P.S. Reading this alone at night is not recommended.

Horror master Stephen King:

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7 Comments

  1. December 26, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    I have never read Stephen King, but someone from my book club has recently made a deal with me. I read any book she chooses by King and she reads ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. So, I am going to try to get through ‘The Shining’, which she states is his best work. Just wanted to see your opinion on the author and which work is his best.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      December 26, 2010 at 10:11 pm

      Although I’ve read a lot of Stephen King’s books, I haven’t read The Shining yet. I’ve seen the movie version, which I heard is not very faithful to the book. I’ve you’re not so much into the horror genre, I’d confidently recommend the book, Hearts in Atlantis. It may be my favorite of his. He also wrote another non-horror book called The Eyes of the Dragon, which I enjoyed very much when I was young.

      Good luck with your “deal.” I may have to write a “Let’s Make a Deal” post on here and offer similar cooperation to other readers. I like that idea very much; if we want to convert non-classics readers, we may have to ‘humor them’ by reading books they recommend as well…

      -Jay

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  2. Darlyn said,

    December 26, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    I read Danse Macabre years ago, and I was very impressed with his knowledge of the horror genre. I hear there’s a new edition out which includes a new essay… Full Dark, No Stars is currently on my wishlist, and your post piqued my interest.

    Like you, I also loved Hearts in Atlantis. My favorite king novel, though, is The Green Mile. 🙂

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    • Jay said,

      December 27, 2010 at 12:38 pm

      I liked The Green Mile too, but is was too sad to be my favorite. Poor John Coffey… 😦

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  3. Ann Marie said,

    December 27, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    I loved the new book of short stories (as you already know, Jay). I am a big fan of “older” SK books and have not read the later ones. The Shining was very good. I did not care for the original movie because it left too much out of the book. There was a mini-series on TV in the 90s which was very well made. It is difficult for me to pick a favorite of his books. Pet Cemetery, It, and Needful Things were all very good. I also loved the Green Mile although it was frustrating at the time to have to wait for each installment! Hope you enjoy the book!

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    • Jay said,

      December 27, 2010 at 2:46 pm

      I actually visited the hotel (The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado) where the interior shots of the two-part TV version of The Shining were filmed; they have a lot of memorabilia from that film on display. I didn’t go in room 237, however… 🙂

      Actually, that’s an interesting bit of trivia. In the book, it was room 217, but the Lodge where they filmed the first movie didn’t want to scare future guests, so they changed it to room 237 (since that room number didn’t exist in THEIR hotel).

      (Jay’s trivia sidebar for the day…)

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  4. December 12, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    […] of the four novellas in this Collection by Stephen King. I’ve written about the other three (1922, Fair Extension, and Big Driver) elsewhere on this blog. This last story was titled “A Good […]

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