The Stand (The Complete and Uncut Edition) by Stephen King. Breathlessly finished.

Deliver us from evil.

It’s a phrase I have repeated over and over in my life, especially when I have been most afraid. It is the only thing I know to say in the face of darkness and fear; that or the words, “I love you.” Even Stephen King knows that evil cannot stand for long against light. Laughter. Or, love.

The characters in this novel know, without needing to be told, who Mother Abagail and the dark man are. They feel the powers at war within themselves; they have dreams which will not let them sleep. And, they are called. Some make their way to Boulder, Colorado where the forces of good are gathering under Mother Abagail’s guidance. Some make their way to Las Vegas, so aptly nicknamed Sin City.

But he is in Las Vegas, and you must go there, and it is there that you will make your stand.You will go, and you will not falter, because you will have the Everlasting Arm of the Lord God of Hosts to lean on. Yes. With God’s help you will stand. (p. 904)

My mother has often suggested that the Enemy is not ugly at all. Because he is the father of lies, the ultimate deceiver, perhaps he is really quite handsome. Perhaps he wears a jacket with two buttons on the front pockets, blue jeans, and low-heeled cowboy boots such as the Walkin’ Dude does.

Perhaps the plague which annihilated most of the world’s population was begun by scientists with less than honorable intentions. Or, perhaps the very hand of Satan was behind their invention gone awry. In any case, the world which Stephen King created in this novel does not seem as far fetched as it once might have been. In fact, the scariest part of all is that it feels downright possible.

Until the very end we are drawn into the battle, witnessing the stand of courage against that which frightens us most.

Yet, I will fear no evil. Even when it seems it will not be vanquished.

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The Gunslinger by Stephen King (about the story this time)

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Roland, the gunslinger, isn’t any one I can admire right now, even though he is clearly the hero.

He isn’t a hero as I would define one: honest, fearless, and loyal.

He wanders through the dry desert, following the tracks of the man in black, leaving  destruction in his wake. Allie, with whom he has slept (for information) is dead; the town, Tull, is destroyed behind him.

He meets a boy, a brave boy named Jake, who has somehow withstood the heat, the lack of food and water. They go together, the boy clearly admiring the gunslinger and asking for stories from his youth. How, for example, did Roland become a man?

The answer is less than pleasant. The gunslinger used a trick against his teacher, choosing a weapon which was perfectly admissible and yet most difficult to take a position against. The battle is bloody, and I can tell this is just the beginning of many such battles.

For there are hints that Roland will exchange the boy, use him as “a poker chip” which Jake himself knows, when next they meet the man in black.

It ain’t no Girl Scout camp, this journey to the Tower. The fact that Roland came from New Canaan ought to be enough to tell you that, for as anyone knows, Canaan was not a land of the noble or good. No matter what Stephen King may tell you.

It will be interesting to see where this series takes us, if I continue in reading all 7 books. After I get back to the Man Booker list, of course.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

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The gates are locked. Hill House has a reputation for insistent hospitality; it seemingly dislikes letting its guests get away.

Shirley Jackson sets the mood straight away, bringing us closer and closer to Hill House as one of the four guests, Eleanor, drives there in the car she has taken against her sister’s wishes. Eleanor seems unable to stop herself from going, and early on we suspect one of the reasons lies in the line she keeps repeating in her mind:

Journeys end in lovers meeting.

A sweet sentiment, this, with which she can easily deceive herself. Three fourths of the way through the book she finds herself on the steps of the summerhouse beside Luke, the heir to Hill House, and she tries to draw him into a romantic conversation, into revealing his affection for her. But at the end of their discussion, which is quite matter of fact, she thinks to herself, “All I want is to be cherished.”

Maybe, more than a house of ill porportions in which walls seem to shift and doors close of their own accord, what is scariest about Hill House is the loneliness of Eleanor.

Her desperation is so acute that I suspect she imagines they form some sort of family: Dr. Montague, Luke, Theodora and Eleanor herself, all living in Hill House to discover what sort of paranormal activity might be taking place there. There’s even a cook, Mrs. Dudley, who reminds me strongly of Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers, presiding over Manderley.

When Dr. Montague’s wife comes, she sits with planchette (like a Ouja board), and discovers that someone named Eleanor Nellie Nell Nell (it tends to repeat a word over and over to make sure it comes out all right) wants a home, and with this summation I concur. Eleanor doesn’t want messages from beyond, or ghostly encounters; she wants a friend. A home. Peace.

Peace, Eleanor thought concretely; what I want in all this world is peace, a quiet spot to lie and think, a quiet spot among the flowers where I can dream and tell myself sweet stories.

Eleanor does find peace, in a shocking way. A respite from her loneliness, or a respite from the evil in Hill House which has gradually overpowered her, whichever side you chose to see. For far more than a simple ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House speaks to the shadows and darkness ready to grasp at any of us.