In Danse Macabre (1981), his non-fiction study of the horror
genre, Stephen King distinguishes three Gothic archetypes that embody
the central issues with which the Gothic era was concerned. To be
more precise, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus
(1818) deals with "the refusal to take personal responsibility
for one's actions because of pride" (62); Bram Stoker's Dracula
(1897) portrays perverse or, in medical terms, abnormal and repressed
sexuality as well as double standards of sexuality; and, finally,
Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde (1886) exploits the possibilities provided by the discovery
of the human psyche during the Gothic period, that is, the question
of the double. Taking this third archetype as the subject for this
paper, I will show that one of the central issues in the Gothic
era, namely the paradoxical existence of both good and evil in a
single person, remains an important issue in the fiction of Stephen
King. This perpetuation reveals our inability to evolve past our
base instincts, to purge them completely from the human psyche.
The appearance and reappearance of the Gothic double also shows
us that popular fiction provides a useful repository for our deepest
fear-specifically the fear that each of us is capable of great evil.
The Gothic Double
I will begin by distinguishing the Gothic double from the
terms related to it. Alongside Frankenstein's monster, the Wandering
Jew, and the Byronic vampire, David Punter sets a fourth Gothic
character, the Doppelganger which, in his view, signifies
"the mask of innocence" and which is found in, for instance,
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (21). On another occasion, he refers
to the novel as a record of a split personality (2), and
since the terms are far from being identical, they need to be defined
at the outset. The term Doppelganger is defined in The
New International Webster's Comprehensive Dictionary of the English
Language (1999) as "1 A person exactly like another; a
double. 2 A wraith, especially of a person not yet dead" (378).
Since the German equivalent, too, primarily assumes that the word
refers to two separate entities, the term Doppelganger is rejected
in this context, although it is widely used in literary criticism.
The term split personality is not included in The New
International Webster's Comprehensive Dictionary of the English
Language, rightly so, because such a diagnosis is no longer
considered scientifically valid. After Eugen Bleuler in the late
nineteenth century coined the term schizophrenia to replace
the old one, dementia procox, the lay public mistakenly understood
it as an equivalent to the term split personality. The confusion
of the terms meant that the lay term split personality became
replaced in scientific usage by dissociative identity disorder
(Kaplan, Sadock and Grebb 457). The latter includes various states
and signifies a personality disorder in which the person is unaware
of what his "other half" is doing. Whether Dr. Jekyll/Mr.
Hyde can be diagnosed as a dissociative disorder patient or possibly
a borderline personality may occupy a few psychiatrists, but the
term Gothic double will do for my purposes.
Like Doppelganger, the word double calls upon ambiguous
interpretations and needs therefore to be defined. My definition
takes as a starting point the concept of personality. According
to The New International Webster's Comprehensive Dictionary of
the English Language, personality is: "1 That which constitutes
a person; also, that which distinguishes and characterizes a person;
personal existence" (942). As the unity of the personality
was endangered by Freudian notions, similarly, many Gothic narratives
were consumed "by a paranoid terror of involution or the unraveling
of the multiformed ego" (Halberstam 55). Dr. Jekyll and
Mr. Hyde fittingly displays this juxtaposition of the smooth
surface of Dr. Jekyll and that of the "dwarfish" (18),
"ape-like" (27) Mr. Hyde. While Dr. Jekyll is pleasant
and sophisticated, Mr. Hyde, stunted, crumpled, and ugly, is designed
to shock. Indeed, the "Gothic effect depends upon the production
of a monstrous double" (Halberstam 54). Thus, for my purposes,
the term Gothic double refers to the essential duality within
a single character on the further presumption that the duality centers
on the polarity of good and evil.
Like many of King's works, Stevenson's novella examines the conflict
between the free will to do good or to do evil as well as the theme
of hypocrisy. King believes the conflict between good and evil is
the conflict between, in Freudian terms, the id and the superego
and refers also to Stevenson's terms: the conflict between mortification
and gratification. In addition, King views the struggle both in
Christian and mythical terms. The latter suggests the split between
the Apollonian (the man of intellect, morality, and nobility) and
the Dionysian (the man of physical gratification) (Danse 75). Influenced
by James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)
and Edgar Allan Poe's "William Wilson" (1839), Stevenson
wrote his novella in three days in 1886 (Punter 1; Danse 69). King
expresses his admiration for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, regarding
it as a "masterpiece of concision" (Danse 69, 80-81).
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story of a Victorian gentleman
who leads a secret life of vice, uses multiple narrators to relate
the story of a man doomed by the chemical reproduction of his double.
"Man is not truly one but two" says Dr. Jekyll, tormented
by a sense of "the thorough and primitive duality of man"
(Stevenson 70). Through chemical experimentation, he discovers a
potion which dissociates the "polar twins" of the self,
transforming his body into that of his other self (70). The other
self, Mr. Hyde, allows Dr. Jekyll to satisfy his undignified desires
untrammeled by moral scruples. Haunting the streets of London, this
small and indescribably ugly character "springs headlong into
the sea of liberty" which finally leads him to murder a respectable
gentleman (75). Frightened, Dr. Jekyll determines never to use the
potion again. However, the metamorphosis has become spontaneous,
and, as King aptly notes, Dr. Jekyll "has created Hyde to escape
the strictures of propriety, but has discovered that evil has its
own strictures" (Danse 73). In the end, Dr. Jekyll has become
Mr. Hyde's prisoner, and Jekyll/Hyde's life ends in suicide.
Many of the themes of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde appear in
King's work. Like Dr. Jekyll, Reverend Lester Lowe of Cycle
of the Werewolf bases his influence on moral superiority,
and his high views of himself produce morbidity in his relations
with his own appetites. Arnie Cunningham of Christine illustrates
another angle of the werewolf myth even more clearly, that is, the
werewolf as an innocent victim, predestinated to its destruction.
While the Gage creature in King's Pet Semetary constructs
part of its maker, the dialectic between monster and maker is resolved
in, for instance, Cycle of the Werewolf as a conflict in
a single body. Gage Creed's monstrosity in Pet Semetary depends
upon the fragility of his father's humanity, whereas the repulsive
nature of the werewolf can only be known through the failed respectability
of Reverend Lester Lowe. King characterizes Lowe as genuinely evil,
whereas Jekyll, although a hypocrite and a self-deceiver, only desires
personal freedom and keeps certain pleasures repressed. Punter points
out that while Hyde's behavior manifests an urban version of "going
native," Jekyll struggles with various pressures (3). Similarly,
Lester Lowe who embodies social virtue takes great pleasure in his
bloody nocturnal adventures.
Thad Beaumont's alter ego in The Dark Half expresses the
violent part of the protagonist's character, of which he himself
is not constantly aware. Likewise, the degree to which Dr. Jekyll
takes seriously his public responsibilities determines the "hidden-ness"
of his desire for pleasure. Punter notes that since the public man
must appear flawless, he must "hide" his private nature,
to the extent of completely denying it (3). Defying all logic, Beaumont's
"dark half," George Stark, has somehow come into existence,
and Beaumont must literally face his dark half in a confrontation
in which either Beaumont's Jekyll or Stark's Hyde has to die.
The Drawing of the Three introduces a dissociative patient,
Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker, who through Roland the Gunslinger and
Eddie Dean's intervention is able to merge her two personalities
into the woman named Susannah Dean. Odetta developed a second personality
as a young girl, when Jack Mort dropped a brick on her head. Her
two personalities—the sophisticated and wealthy Odetta and the
uneducated and vulgar Detta—lead separate lives, completely unaware
of each other. Since both are aspects of her self, she cannot become
a whole until those "polar twins" are united in Susannah
Dean. When the compassion of Odetta and the strength of Detta merge
into Susannah, she becomes a worthy gunslinger on Roland's team.
The dark halves of King's Gothic doubles express unrestrained sexuality.
Reverend Lester Lowe "wolf-rapes" Stella Randolph, and
the shy Arnie Cunningham transforms into a vulgar senior citizen
in the form of the beast; the sexually insatiable Detta Walker uses
both foul language and teases men, whereas George Stark commits
a sexually charged murder of Miriam Cowley—not to mention the rape-murders
of Frank Dodd and the child murders of Carl Bierstone/Charles Burnside.
Gothic monsters underline the meaning of decadence and are thus
concerned with the problem of degeneration. Punter maintains that
they pose, from different angles, the same question appropriate
to an age of imperial decline: how much can one lose—individually,
socially, nationally—and still remain a man? (1). The question
has remained a central issue in the modern Gothic and in King's
fiction in particular.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published at a time when the
problem of prostitution was receiving considerable public attention
in England. As in Frankenstein and Dracula, the protagonist's
vice and decadence are once again sex-related, but also clearly
sadistic—the serial killers, Frank Dodd (Dead Zone) and
Charles Burnside (Black House), feature these sadistic traits
in King. Stevenson had read W. T. Stead's series of articles on
child prostitution and was aware that the demand for child prostitutes
was being stimulated by the sadistic tastes of the Victorian gentlemen
(Clemens 123). More importantly, the theme is evoked at the outset
of the novella when Mr. Hyde tramples on a young girl. The violation
of the girl's body is settled with a hundred pounds, which reinforces
the prostitution motif. Also, the foggy night side of Mr. Hyde's
London gives a glimpse of the Victorian gentlemen's subculture:
"Once a woman spoke to him, offering, I think, a box of lights"
(Stevenson 85)—clearly, she was offering something else. As in
Black House where the Fisherman lusts for a young boy's buttocks,
the hints of sexual exploitation also suggest male victims, as for
instance, in the scene in which Mr. Utterson, "tossing to and
fro" on his "great, dark bed," imagines Mr. Hyde
blackmailing Dr. Jekyll. This dark "figure to whom power was
given" would stand by Jekyll's bedside, "and even at that
dead hour he must rise and do its bidding" (20). A disturbing
novella, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde gave a detailed depiction
of some upper-class gentlemen, but, as Valdine Clemens notes, criticized
moralistic middle-class sexual repression (for instance, the prevalent
homosexual abuse in public schools and prostitution) and patriarchal
power (124, 132).
Arnie Cunninham of Christine perishes because of his desperate
loneliness. An unattractive teenager who finds little solace at
home or at school, Arnie falls in love with a 1958 Plymouth Fury.
Possessed by the evil spirit of Christine's earlier owner, Roland
LeBay, Arnie is alienated from his family, best friend Dennis, and
even his high school sweetheart Leigh Cabot. Like Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde, Christine focuses on "humanity's vulnerability
to dehumanization" which coexists with the fear of internal
evil: "the upsurge of the animal, the repressed unconscious,
the monster from id," or, as Douglas E. Winter points out,
"the monster from the fifties" (137, 139; Danse
75). The novel also discusses the conflict between the will to do
evil and the will to deny evil; the car becomes a symbol of the
duality of human nature, as telling as the two sides of Henry Jekyll's
town house which bordered both a graceful Victorian street and a
slumlike alley (Winter 139-140; Danse 75): "It was as
if I had seen a snake that was almost ready to shed its old skin,
that some of the old skin had already flaked away, revealing the
glistening newness underneath" (Christine 57-58). As
Christine magically returns to street condition, Arnie also begins
to change, at first for the better, but then he matures beyond his
years: "a teenage Jekyll rendered into a middle-aged Hyde"
In brief, although Stevenson's classic finds no single counterpart
in King, its motifs occur in several of King's works.
Cycle of the Werewolf and The Talisman introduce
us to another Stephen King double: the werewolf. Perhaps nowhere
else in King's fiction is the Gothic double more pronounced than
in this figure.
Beginning as a calendar, displaying twelve colored drawings by
Bernie Wrightson with brief accompanying text by King, Cycle
of the Werewolf evolved into a twelve-chapter novella. Each
successive segment takes place on a specific holiday of the year,
from January to December, relating the story of the recurring appearance
of a werewolf in isolated Tarker's Mills, Maine, and its destruction
at the hands of a crippled boy. King defines the predestined nature
of the disaster: "It is the Werewolf, and there is no more
reason for its coming now than there would be for the arrival of
cancer, or a psychotic with murder on his mind, or a killer tornado"
(Werewolf 14). Although the werewolf arouses fear and suspicions,
only in October do the residents take systematic action to defend
themselves. Like "Salem's Lot, Castle Rock, or Derry, Tarker's
Mills keeps its secrets, and, similarly, the residents of Tarker's
Mills embody all of the diversifying virtue and ugliness found in
everyday people" (Larson 104).
What is more, each of the werewolf's victims expands the constant
sense of isolation, due to the flaws in their physiques and in their
characters (Collings, The Many Facets of Stephen King 80).
As an illustration, the February victim, Stella Randolph, is isolated
by her skewed romanticism and by her corpulence (80). However, this
Valentine's day the lonely old maid receives a visitor: "a
dark shape—amorphous but clearly masculine" (Werewolf
21). King depicts Stella's encounter with the werewolf in Gothic
terms, combining dreams, sex, and death (21-24). He uses the common
French metaphor "orgasm is a little death" to reinforce
the Gothic effect of the February section. Indeed, what takes the
place of the Valentine figure is a "beast" with "shaggy
fur in a silvery streak" (22) its breath "hot, but somehow
not unpleasant" (23). Despite Berni Wrightson's illustration
of a lustful redhead embracing a werewolf, King never graphically
describes the wolf-rape and killing of the fat old maid, but veils
it in quasi-romantic images that might have derived from John Keats's
classic poem, "The Eve of St. Agnes" (Reino 136).
Like the wheel-chair bound protagonist Marty Coslaw, the Reverend
Lester Lowe did nothing to deserve his destiny. Until May, he remains
as unaware of the werewolf's identity as anybody else in Tarker's
Mills. On the night before Homecoming Sunday, he has, however, a
most peculiar dream. In his dream, Lowe has been preaching with
fire and force, but has to break off, because both he and his congregation
are turning into werewolves. Lester Lowe's relief after the nightmare
turns into knowledge when he opens the church doors next morning,
finding the gutted body of Clyde Corliss.
King refers to the werewolf in biblical terms as "the Beast"
and "the Great Satan," and in the Gothic manner the Beast
can be anywhere or, even worse, anybody (Werewolf 45). Unlike
a number of other monsters, werewolves, however, frequently arouse
pity. Aptly, Collings states that the werewolf is more sinned against
than sinning, and that the curse works in two ways: on the level
of plot, it transforms an otherwise sensible man into a rapacious
monster; on the level of theme and symbol, it divorces him from
reality, isolating the person from society and from personal standards
of morality (Facets 78).
Although Reverend Lester Lowe shares a fate similar to that of
Arnie Cunningham of Christine, he does not evoke fear and
pity to the same extent. In the same way as his hypocritical predecessor
in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Lester Lowe makes excuses for
his behavior without fighting against it. In November, having found
out that hunters have been sent out after the werewolf, he deliberately
takes the role of the beast and defends himself by comparing the
hunters with irrational animals. Ignoring the threat of these adult
men, Marty Coslaw's lined notepads, and his direct question—"Why
don't you kill yourself?" (Werewolf 108, 111; italics
original)—the Reverend Lester Lowe (that is, the werewolf) is forced
to analyze his situation. With hubris like that of Victor Frankenstein,
he turns to God: "If I have been cursed from Outside, then
God will bring me down in His time" (Werewolf 111;
italics original). In other words, against the advice of his own
creator, Stephen King, Reverend Lester Lowe readily lays the guilt
on "God the Father" (Danse 62) and refuses to take
responsibility for his actions or to fight his werewolf instincts.
Moreover, blinded by his own logical reasoning, Lester Lowe succumbs
to even greater evil by deliberately contemplating the murder of
Marty Coslaw—this time both premeditated and in full possession
of his senses (Werewolf 111).
While many contemporary treatments tend to glamorize the virtues
of evil, King's approach is more traditional (Larson 106-107). Larson
regards Reverend Lowe as a man unable to free himself from the overwhelming
influence of evil, and he is eventually only able to do so through
the aid of an outside agency, through the sympathy and concern of
Marty Coslaw (107). Despite his fear of the werewolf, Marty recognizes
the human being beneath the beast. While aiming his pistol with
silver bullets towards the attacking werewolf, he says: "Poor
old Reverend Lowe. I'm gonna try to set you free" (Werewolf
125). In the same way, Mina Harker pities the vampire in Dracula:
"The poor soul who has wrought all this misery is the saddest
case of all" (367). Clearly, King's allusion to this sentiment
reinforces the moral tradition that has lain at the heart of the
horror genre and has been much absent in contemporary horror fiction
Undoubtedly, King takes a traditional stand by letting evil perish
in the end of the novella, thus, unlike Larson or Anthony Magistrale
in The Moral Voyages of Stephen King (57-67), I argue that
evil can often be conquered in King's fiction. Although Jack Torrance
of The Shining succumbs to evil and takes the mallet to attack
his family, Dick Hallorann is able to resist the same evil influence
of the hotel— similarly, Lowe could have acted otherwise. In The
Talisman, we encounter Wolf, a slow-witted werewolf from the
Territories. When he senses that the full moon is rising and that
his instincts might lead him to hurt Jack Sawyer who has become
his "herd" and whom he is thus expected to defend against
all imaginable threats, this righteous creature takes measures to
prevent possible accidents and locks up the herd, that is Jack Sawyer,
in a shed for three days: "He Would Not Injure His Herd"
(321). Unlike the godly Lowe who attempts to silence his crippled
eye witness, the animal-like Wolf avoids killing people. Lowe considers
his werewolf nature alien to his true self and allows this alien
part to commit even grimmer crimes, which pushes him toward greater
levels of moral corruption. Wolf, in contrast, lives by the laws
of nature, takes into account the facts caused by his instincts,
and respects himself. It is interesting to note, however, that while
an evil impulse may be conquered the temptation toward evil is never
The Writer/His Pseudonym
Another variation of the Gothic double in Stephen King's work is
Thad Beaumont/George Stark or the writer/his pseudonym. In the author's
note of The Dark Half, King expresses his gratitude to his
pseudonym, Richard Bachman, maintaining that the "novel could
not have been written without him." In an interview with Walden
Books (November/December 1989) and quoted in Magistrale, King acknowledged
prior to the publication of The Dark Half that Richard Bachman
is the darker, more violent side of Stephen King, just as Stark
is the dark half of Thad Beaumont (The Second Decade 66).
Remarkably, then, the Gothic double resides within the Gothic double,
that is, the reality of the novel reflects reality. Undoubtedly,
both pseudonyms function as a dark alter ego for the artist, a chance
to realize his most violent and pessimistic visions. Tony Magistrale
notes that the details surrounding the union between Beaumont and
Stark underscore King's intimate relationship with Bachman. Furthermore,
even information relevant to those trusted persons who knew, protected,
and finally revealed King's pseudonym corresponds to the fictional
events that the reader discovers in The Dark Half (Decade
Like Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, whose transformation is occasioned by
scientific explanation, King attempts to establish credibility by
the means of medicine. Having suffered from constant headaches,
the eleven-year-old Thad Beaumont is operated on, and, instead of
a supposed brain tumor, a fetal twin is discovered in his brain.
In addition to being Thad's physical twin, George Stark has his
origin in the writer's imagination. Considering George "a very
bad man," Thad knows that he has "built George Stark from
the ground up" (The Dark Half 155). The symbolic funeral
of George Stark becomes a moral stand for Thad's part, because he
has both indulged his dark fantasies in Stark's fiction and profited
financially from his success (Magistrale, Decade 64). Wendy
and William, Beaumont's identical twins, underscore the symbiotic
relationship of Stark and Beaumont. While responding with similar
affection to these different looking men, Wendy and William sense
their identical nature. Sharing identical fingerprints and a capacity
for mental telepathy, it becomes more obvious that George has a
right to feel insulted (The Dark Half 331). Not even Thad
is able to make a clear distinction between himself and George:
"Who are you when you write, Thad? Who are you then?"
(The Dark Half 129; italics original).
Since George constitutes an integral part of Thad's psyche, he
does not genuinely attempt to get rid of George. Elisabeth compares
the relationship with alcohol or drug addiction, stating that Thad
revealed George's identity only through the force of circumstances:
"If Frederick Clawson hadn't come along and forced my husband's
hand, I think Thad would still be talking about getting rid of him
in the same way" (The Dark Half 202). Indeed, this contradiction
has resulted in alcohol addiction, a suicide attempt, and lifelike
dreams. However, only as Stark threatens Beaumont's immediate circle,
does he realize the intimacy of their relationship and its fatal
consequences. Starting as a thriller, the final confrontation of
the two brothers and its victory for Thad receives a mythological
explanation. Conducting human souls back and forth between the land
of the living and the land of the dead, sparrows are able to distinguish
the original brother from the dead one and to take the latter where
he belongs. Nevertheless, Thad's victory may prove of short duration,
and he is referred to in a less pleasant context later in King:
in Needful Things (1991) we learn that Thad Beaumont has
broken up with his wife and in Bag of Bones (1998) that he
has committed suicide.
The Serial Killer
The serial killer also represents the modern counterpart of Dr.
Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. The Dead Zone, for example, concerns the
removal of masks, both political and psychological. The Gothic duality
is displayed even in the novel's central symbol, the wheel of fortune,
which, apart from representing blind chance, reveals a second disc.
Winter explains that at its heart is the Presidential Seal, a symbol
of a different game of chance—politics—and its paradoxes (76).
Focusing on the masquerade of politics, Greg Stillson, a Congressional
candidate whose name is an intentional conjunction of "still"
and "Nixon" (263), takes the Vietnamese masquerade-game
of the "Laughing Tiger" a step further: "inside the
beast-skin, a man, yes. But inside the man-skin, a beast" (The
Dead Zone 297). The Dead Zone also connects the fates—and
masks—of Johnny Smith whose resemblance to Everyman is signaled
in the prosaic simplicity of his name and Frank Dodd, the strangler-rapist
whose identity is withheld until one of "Faithful John's"
As a consequence of a car crash, Johnny lies in a coma for four
and a half years. Awakening in May 1975 at the age of twenty-seven,
he discovers that the world has changed: the war in Vietnam has
ended, a Vice-President and President have resigned, Johnny's girlfriend
is married and has borne a child, Stillson has made his political
move, and an unidentified rapist is killing young women in Castle
Rock. Apart from regaining consciousness, Johnny has acquired occult
powers of precognition and telepathy which both cause his estrangement
from his past life and force him to take a moral stand: whether
or not to stop Stillson and Dodd. Although this Faithful John serves
the purpose of good, his Jekyll-and-Hyde mask (The Dead Zone
14) haunts his girlfriend Sarah Bracknell (later Sarah Hazlett)
throughout the novel.
While Johnny is comatose, the policeman Frank Dodd commits his brutal
rape-stranglings. Joseph Reino maintains that the crimes seem to
emerge from the blankness of the coma, as if they were merely the
dark side of the otherwise sunny personality, and as if Frank was
Johnny's evil "other"—this pair thus possessing something
like Edgar Allan Poe's "bi-part soul" (67). Despite the
grim verdict, King provides the character with a background which
explains some of the hideous acts. While awaiting a young victim
(Alma Frechette) to walk into his trap, Dodd's mind is momentarily
obsessed with an embarrassing childhood memory: a lesson in sexual
education given by his abusive mother. When Frank was innocently
playing with his penis, his mother, a huge woman, caught him in
the act and began to shake him back and forth. Here King emphasizes
parental responsibility for aberrant personality development, arguing
that Frank "was not the killer then, he was not slick then,
he was a little boy blubbering with fear" (The Dead Zone
65). Albeit somewhat simplistically, King underscores the significance
of the formative years.
When Alma Frechette appears, fate plays a decisive role in a genuinely
Gothic manner, and, again, everybody must be suspected. Familiar
with the killer, Alma does not suspect anything but wonders at his
Little Red Riding Hood outfit (The Dead Zone 66). Before
long, she is strangled at the moment of Dodd's ejaculation. "Surely
no hometown boy could have done such a dreadful thing," states
the pious narrator (The Dead Zone 68), and from then on almost
two years pass without more killings.
Significantly, Johnny Smith's awakening from the coma coincides
with the fourth murder. However, it takes deep self-exploration
on the recovered Johnny's part before he accepts the sheriff George
Bannerman's request to assist in the murder investigation. By acknowledging
his psychic abilities and acting accordingly, Johnny humbles before
fate. In King's world, nobody escapes his destiny, and, at any rate,
a well-developed brain tumor would cause Johnny's death within a
few months. However, by bearing responsibility for his next, Johnny
prevents Greg Stillson's presidency and its likely consequence,
a nuclear war, as well as Frank Dodd from continuing his murder
series. After all, the investigation turns out to be of short duration,
since the deputy Frank Dodd commits suicide the same evening the
two men meet at the police department. Remarkably, the childish
face hides the Gothic mark of the beast (The Dead Zone 233),
evil actions having their root in childhood. After gathered enough
evidence, Bannerman and Smith visit Dodd's house and find him dead:
"Knew, Johnny thought incoherently. Knew somehow when he
saw me. Knew it was all over. Came home. Did this" (The
Dead Zone 253). In other words, the two men are connected, and
their interrelations are further reinforced by the nature of their
mothers: the sexual neurotic, Henrietta Dodd, who "knew from
the beginning" (The Dead Zone 252) and Vera Smith who
marks her son with her religious frenzies: "God has put his
mark on my Johnny and I rejoice" (The Dead Zone 61).
The opening page of Cujo repeats the story of Frank Dodd,
stating that "he was no werewolf, vampire, ghoul, or unnameable
creature from the enchanted forest or from the snowy wastes; he
was only a cop named Frank Dodd with mental and sexual problems"
(Cujo 3). Like Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs
(1991), Frank Dodd personifies a victimized human being who does
not "suit in his skin." Although regarded as a respected
resident of Castle Rock, Frank Dodd lacks identity and is perhaps
therefore a master of disguise.
A number of serial killers suffer from impotence except during
their violent acts and are not considered genuinely males, but are
despised as freaks and monsters. Charles Burnside a.k.a. Carl Bierstone
and the Fisherman of Black House has all but one of these
characteristics: born evil and without conscience, he justifies
cruelty as an end in itself.
Black House is a kind of sequel to The Talisman,
both works being jointly authored by Peter Straub and Stephen King.
A Victorian novel with allusions to Charles Dickens's Bleak House,
Dickensian characters, and references to Edgar Allan Poe and Mark
Twain, Black House reads as a tale of horror or a detective
story with a blend of thriller and fantasy (Gaiman 2). The narrative
reintroduces the then twelve-year-old Jack Sawyer of The Talisman.
Now this retired, burned out ex-LAPD homicide detective lives in
the small Wisconsin town of French Landing—interestingly, in scenery
resembling Tom Sawyer's and Huckleberry Finn's foggy riverside.
Children are being abducted from French Landing by a cannibal named
"The Fisherman" who has disguised himself as an Alzheimer's
patient in the local old people's home and is aided in his dastardly
misdeeds by a talking crow called "Gorg." The Fisherman
is a pawn in the hand of the Crimson King, evil monarch of End World,
who attempts to abduct a wunderkind in order to annihilate the universe
with his powers. Jack and a gang of philosophically inclined motor
bikers called the Hegelian Scum take action to save the wunderkind,
Ty Marshall, and arrest the Fisherman.
Parodying the thriller formula, the narrator takes us to the murder
scene of Irma Freneau:
We are not here to weep.... Humility is our best, most accurate
first response. Without it, we would miss the point, the great
mystery would escape us, and we would go on deaf and blind, ignorant
as pigs. Let us not go on like pigs. We must honor the scene—the
flies, the dog worrying the severed foot, the poor, pale body
of Irma Freneau, the magnitude of what befell Irma Freneau—by
acknowledging our littleness. In comparison, we are no more than
vapors. (Black House 35-36)
The Fisherman himself is named after Albert Fish, a real-life child-killer
and cannibal, whose crimes he imitates in the novel's fictional
world. In his study of the interrelationship between the reader
and the novel, Edward Bullough states that a work of fiction has
succeeded when the reader participates in the communication process
so completely as to be nearly convinced that the art is reality
(758). In Black House, the authors gap the bridge between
the reader and the text by equating the reader with the narrator
(a first-person plural narration), by using the present tense, and
even by letting the reader choose the story ending that best serves
his purpose. Perhaps the otherwise too fantastic occurrences of
the story become more realistic by these means, combined with King's
usual artillery: lifelike characters and initially realistic settings.
The serial killer turns out to be a tall, skinny, and senile old
man (Black House 22). Although a soul brother to the other
men who reside at the Maxton Elder Care Facility with his "sly,
secretive, rude, caustic, stubborn, foul-tongued, mean-spirited,
and resentful" character (Black House 23), Charles Burnside
hides his true self:
Carl Bierstone is Burny's great secret, for he cannot allow anyone
to know that this former incarnation, this earlier self, still
lives inside his skin. Carl Bierstone's awful pleasures, his foul
toys, are also Burny's and he must keep them hidden in the darkness,
where only he can find them. (Black House 26)
The secrets with which Charles Burnside indulges himself turn him
into a loner, forcing him to hide his misdeeds. As a tool in the
hands of a greater evil, Burnside takes his pleasure feeding on
children who are not worth sending to the End-World to the Crimson
King, a creature who ultimately hides beneath the Fisherman mask.
Assisted by Gorg, the speaking crow, Charles Burnside addresses
the End-World like a vassal or a stray dog fed with crumbs. While
action is needed, the senior citizen undergoes a transformation.
In Charles Burnside's place is Carl Bierstone and something inhuman
(Black House 111). The inhuman inside Burny's head signifies
Mr. Munshun, Crimson King's close disciple and servant, a vampire-like
figure. Nearing the end of his usefulness, Burny is at Mr. Munshun's
request forced to take Ty Marshall, a promising breaker to an appointed
meeting place. The term breaker is used for those slaves of Crimson
King who break the beams leading to the Tower, thus aiming at the
total annihilation of the universe. Driven by contradictory urges,
this odd serial killer is afraid of the consequences of his actions
(Black House 541), but, despite a deadly wound, still lusts
for Ty Marshall's "juicy buttocks." Like the witch of
"Hansel and Gretel," he is reluctant to hand over his
prey: "A good agent's entitled to ten percent" (Black
House 550). Only seldom can a parallel be drawn between a serial
killer and a wicked witch from a fairy tale, which perhaps bears
further witness to King's genre blending.
The Gothic double of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde shares some
traits with characters in King's work. First, flawed humanity moves
between the two poles of good and evil, causing contradiction and
anguish to the subject. Second, the Gothic gnome, that is, the "dwarfish"
and "ape-like" half of the personality is hidden at the
cost of hypocrisy and oft hideous crimes. Therefore, a disguise
is needed, which causes further tension and the fear of getting
caught. Tension also intensifies from the constant threat of transformation.
Monsters of the nineteenth century scare us from a distance while
at the same time, as Halberstam notes, "We wear modern monsters
like skin, they are us, they are on us and in us" (163). King,
too, states that "the monsters are no longer due on Maple Street,
but may pop up in our own mirrors—at any time" (Danse
252). Presumably, both convictions are based on two facts; good
and evil can and do exist within a single person and, concomitantly,
we are ultimately unable to evolve, to purge our baser selves from
our psyche. King puts it straightforwardly: "Werewolf, vampire,
ghoul, unnameable creature from the wastes. The monster never dies"
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