Category Archives: HAIL TO THE KING

TAK, THE UNDERAPPRECIATED ‘BIG BAD’ OF STEPHEN KING’S MULTIVERSE

When one thinks of the greatest or most terrifying villains that prolific novelist Stephen King has brought us through his prose over the last several decades, names like Pennywise, Randall Flagg, Jack Torrence and the Crimson King are the ones that readily pop into most peoples minds. Understandable, given that each one of these guys stand tall above the veritable legion of baddies that King has created during his career. And while some lesser known antagonists in the King canon do get their share of notoriety(The ‘Raggedy Man’ in “Cell” and The ‘Space Cowboy’ from “Gerald’s Game” will be getting their big screen avatars in the next year, for example), one truly sinister and oddly comical villain is time and again dispensed with, left off of top ten King villains’ lists and generally denied any of the respect his wicked and often funny ways truly deserve. We are speaking, of course, of malevolent Todash darkness resident and macabre scourge of Poplar Street…By way of the China Pit near Desperation, Nevada and weighing in at…NOTHING…because he is incorporeal, thus essentially more of a “force” than physical being, per se… IT’S…

TAK!!

Appearing in just two novels (“Desperation” and “The Regulators”) which King released simultaneously on September 24th, 1996, Tak is an evil spirit who often dwells inside a mine shaft deep under the barren ground of a small Nevada town called Desperation. These two novels, in case you aren’t yet aware, are mirrors(or in King-speak, ‘twinners’) of one another in that they both feature Tak as the primary antagonist and have several characters who appear(sometimes vastly different in age and looks) in both novels. In each novel, something occurs to allow Tak to crossover into the Earth realm by way of an entry point or ‘ini’, located in a deep catacomb under the China Pit. Once through the ini, he uses possession, physical and mental manipulation, complete omnipotent reality warping, to say nothing of raw, hatred-fueled violence to accomplish his goals.

Descriptions of his true form are sparse in the novels, but in “The Regulators”, he is described as an extra-dimensional being which is a mass of swirling red lights in a cloud of blackness imperceptible to a human eye. Since he shares many characteristics with IT, it’s quite likely that he and ‘IT’ are similar types of creatures who live beyond the boundaries of human perception. They both exist primarily outside of Earth in Todash darkness, which is to say the eternal black void at the farthest reaches of space. This fact, along with a couple other traits would seem to indicate that both creatures are inspired, like so many of the creatures that populate King’s multiverse, by the ancient, unknowable monstrosities of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. And, much like ‘IT’, who can only exist briefly in an Earth-bound form, Tak is never fully able to manifest his own corporeal body, spending most of the novels occupying a variety of human hosts.

One thing that makes him such an interesting villain is he has somewhat human moments of confusion, hubris, and frustration. He has preferences, while in human form for certain types of food and television shows. He’s able to reconstruct reality as he sees fit. He’s utterly confident in his ability to control others and often makes jokes while delighting in the suffering of his victims. And as with ‘IT’, he isn’t capable(at least in our world) of being permanently destroyed. Perhaps it’s this chilling knowledge that he will always survive on long past the lifespan of those who temporarily defeat him that adds so much to his already frightening characterizations and sets him apart from the pantheon of King creatures. Whatever it is, Tak is a BADASS. The adaptation of “Desperation” didn’t really do him justice, so if they ever do make a “Regulators” film, it needs to be as twisted, manic and gory as the book was so that people can understand just what makes Tak, eh, TICK.

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REVIVING THE SENSES

In the first few pages of Stephen King’s new novel, “Revival”, he notes that, “This book is for some of the people who built my house”. He’s speaking of such seminal authors in the genre as Shelley, Stoker, Lovecraft and Leiber. It’s certainly appropriate as the following 403 pages are a harrowing and often macabre series of unfortunate events for our narrator, Jamie Morton, which draws much from the cannons of all the aforementioned literary masters. And , as per his usual deft handling of incorporating aspects of others fictional works as well as real world chronology into the base of his narrative, he succeeds in painting a picture of a man who is compelled to do the right thing, often at his own expense.

The “fifth business” is a term utilized primarily in the film community to refer to a character in a story who appears several times, usually out of nowhere, often in times of crisis and serves as sort of random event which tests and tries the resolve of the protagonist. He or she is the joker in the deck, who will sometimes become the antagonist of the narrative. Our hero, Jamie Morton’s fifth business is Charles Jacobs. A one-time preacher and lover of all this electric, he loses his faith completely early on due to an untimely tragedy. Jacobs begins a journey to attain a goal which remains shrouded in mystery right up until the end of the novel. To explain further would be to ruin some of the mystique and surprise the book has in store. BUT, it can be said that our guy on the inside, Jaime Morton is the primary witness to, and ultimately the bane of Minster Jacobs’ dangerous search for answers. And while it’s left a bit in the air at the end (as is often the case with King, who’s strong suit has never been ending a story), in this instance, that was exactly what the conclusion required. It leaves you wondering just how small we are in the scope of the universe and this humble reviewer, while not placing in the pantheon of masterworks by King, would surely recommend that if you have some time, seek out this quick little read. It WILL send currents down your spine and will electrify your senses, all the while reminding the reader of why the KING shall never die.

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WHERE, O’ WHERE IS ALTAIR-4?

You can put away your Google Maps app right now because it can’t help you find this particular place. Why? Because Altair 4 is no earth-bound location. Rather, it is a small planetoid orbiting around the type-A main sequence star, Altair, located in the constellation Aquila. Atair is 16.7 light years(5.13 parsecs) away from Earth and one of the easiest for humans to see with the naked eye. At various points throughout history is has been seen as a portend of ominous times to come, and alternately by some cultures as a sign of blessings from the gods. But that doesn’t really differentiate it from most sky-bound objects we can see from our terrestrial vantage, so why should you care? Here’s why.

In 1956, director Fred M. Wilcox gave us the genre-defining sci-fi classic, “Forbidden Planet”, from an inspired screenplay by Cyril Hume. Starring Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen, the film told of a rescue mission to the aforementioned planetoid, where a mission many years earlier had met with disaster. It’s a true classic, and aside from inspiring everything from Lost in Space to Star Trek, it also introduced audiences to many tropes still commonly used to this day. A central theme of the film was that the inherently self-destructive nature of the human species presents a problem when bestowed with any form of immense power we are not yet ready to wield. It can, due to it’s release date and the socio-political tensions afoot at the time, obviously be seen as another cinema allegory made in response to the smoldering fear within the collective consciousness of the burgeoning atomic age. You know, communism, McCarthy-ism, all them dang ‘ism’s…

Smash cut to 1987 when prolific novelist and very bad director (see: 1986’s “Maximum Overdrive”) Stephen King, at the apex of his struggle with booze and various sniff-able chemicals, writes what he later describes(rather unfairly, this writer would say) as “just an awful book” called “The Tommyknockers”. The story sees the slow deterioration of a small community called Haven in rural Maine, following the uncovering of a strange and very large object in the nearby woods. And while ostensibly plotted around a hostile takeover of a town by an unknown enemy,“Tommyknockers” is, in point of fact, a sturdy little parable about the nature of addiction. In my usual fashion, I shan’t spoil anything for a prospective reader, but what makes this book relevant to our subject is that at one point a character in the novel is, shall we say, transported to a small “storage planet” where he is unable to leave. The planet is later revealed to be none other than Altair-4. King is infamous for ‘winking’ at the many authors and works of the past that have inspired him, his writing style and the King mythos as whole. He has acknowledged that “Forbidden Planet” WAS one of his many inspirations while writing “The Tommyknockers” and it’s evident in the finished product. So my cult constituency, THAT is why you should care about Altair-4. Cause David is there. David is on Altair-4.

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THE PROBLEM WITH RAGE

When Stephen King was just starting his career as a fledgling novelist back in 1977, he was pumping out, well, just as much work as he is to this day. That is to say, a lot. To sidestep his publisher’s wish that he only release one book per year, he adopted the pseudonym Richard Bachman and began to write novels under that moniker with a somewhat less inhibited writing style. His ruse was not long lived and the general public became aware of this within a few years forcing King to “kill off” Bachman in 1985. As anyone who has read any of The Bachman books can attest, they can be both some of the craziest and alternately the weakest entries in his extensive catalogue. “The Regulators” is easily one of the most insane and daring books he has written. Absolutely bonkers. On the other hand, “The Long Walk” is a book…about…a…long…walk…and it’s long, and it DOES end, but it takes forever to get there because it’s long, and nothing much really happens. I don’t like that book. It’s bad. And long…

But, I digress. One of these so-called “Bachman Books” was an odd little novel King first published through Signet in 1977 titled, “Rage”. The story concerns high school senior Charlie Decker who uses a gun to take his class hostage, resulting in the deaths of several people. His reasons are made clear early on as he uses the standoff to engage in a sociological experiment of sorts. To say anymore would ruin the novel, but it’s short and it’s quirky. That said, it IS a massive departure for King, who was still admittedly in a formative period of his career. It’s also a surprisingly dark, funny and biting commentary on society and group mentality. In fact, upon an initial read of “Rage” I was oddly compelled to compare it to many of the works of modern subversive satirist Chuck Palahniuk with obvious shades of “Catcher in the Rye” thrown in. At 211 pages, it’s assuredly worth the quick read.

However… Herein, as the bard would say, lies the rub.

King was never really one hundred percent sure of how he felt about the book after he wrote it which led to him releasing it under the Bachman pseudonym. The novel was already somewhat uncommon as it was initially considered a lesser effort from a relatively unknown and untested young writer. However, after several kids who went on separate shooting rampages were discovered to be ardent fans of, or in possession of a copy of “Rage”, King began to feel perhaps the novel wasn’t doing much good being out there for any cuckoo to read. In December, 1997, a young man shot eight students at a prayer meeting in West Paducah, Kentucky. He had a copy of “Rage” and the Stephen King omnibus in his possession. After that incident, King allowed the book to fall out of print and for the last couple decades they have made no new copies in the United States. It is no longer available for sale by most major retailers. In the preface of “Blaze”(2007), King wrote of “Rage”, “Now out of print, and a good thing.” Perhaps. If you CAN acquire a copy, give it a read. Pretty progressive stuff from a fledgling master of the macabre.

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