THE DEEP ONES: "The Mist" by Stephen King

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THE DEEP ONES: "The Mist" by Stephen King

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2KentonSem
nov. 29, 2013, 10:39am

The 1980 Book Club edition (drat!) of Dark Forces for me!

3pgmcc
nov. 29, 2013, 11:00am

Skeleton Crew for me, if I can find where I put it.

4RandyStafford
nov. 29, 2013, 11:06am

I will probably buy a Kindle version of the 25th anniversary edition of Dark Forces.

5artturnerjr
Editat: nov. 29, 2013, 9:30pm

Finished rereading it in Skeleton Crew earlier this week. Also have the film version (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0884328/) on hold at the library.

ETA:

>1 KentonSem:

Is King's name really not listed on the Dark Forces cover? Weird! Okay, I see - the image Kenton put up is the back cover! King's name is on the front:

6KentonSem
nov. 30, 2013, 8:04am

>5 artturnerjr:

By cracky, ye be right, Art!

Fixed now.

8paradoxosalpha
des. 3, 2013, 10:45am

I've just read this out of Dark Forces: the second time I've checked that book out of the public library to read a Deep Ones selection. Last time, it was for "Owls Hoot in the Daytime." Each time I've borrowed the book, I've read some additional stories too. On the first circulation, I read the lead story "Night Shift," which is, by the way, scary as hell. This time I read the Ted Sturgeon and Isaac Bashevis Singer pieces ("Vengeance Is." and "The Enemy"), and I'm midway through the Gene Wolfe. I'm very interested in the Karl Edward Wagner story, among others.

Eventually, I imagine I'll have this whole monster read.

9KentonSem
Editat: des. 3, 2013, 1:13pm

>8 paradoxosalpha:

It's funny you posted that just as I was about to mention that this reading of "The Mist" has caused me to get sidetracked back into the other fine stories in Dark Forces. I remember what an incredible experience it was to read it in 1980 and it still packs a punch. It's one of the great horror anthologies. Possibly even the greatest. For me, the stories by Etchison, Wagner and Klein are the home-runs in an entirely impressive volume.

10artturnerjr
des. 3, 2013, 10:51pm

Current weather in my hometown:

Temperature 43.2°F / 6.2°C
Windchill 43°F / 6°C
Humidity 98%
Dew Point 43°F / 6°C
Wind SE at 1.0 mph / 1.6 km/h
Wind Gust 3.0 mph / 4.8 km/h
Pressure 29.72 in / 1006 hPa (Steady)
Conditions Mist

=:^O

11pgmcc
des. 4, 2013, 3:12am

#10 Art, make sure those doors and windows are locked.

12paradoxosalpha
Editat: des. 10, 2013, 9:20am

You know, paternal affection doesn't get a lot of treatment in literature, period. That makes this kind of a distinctive piece, even outside the bounds of its genre. Now that I think about it, horror is a more likely venue for such representations. We had a little in "The Rats in the Walls" and there's an H. Russell Wakefield story which frights a father.

13paradoxosalpha
Editat: juny 8, 2016, 9:34am

There's a point in "The Mist" where David writes that the monsters are not "Lovecraftian." This reference caused me to muse on how "every writer creates his own precursors."

I thought the mist monsters were in fact very Lovecraftian. There were Terrible Tentacles, bug-like things that still Abrogated Earthly Anatomies, and Creatures of Incalculable Magnitude. They seemed more concerned with their own monstrous ecology, and basically careless or ignorant of human motives. The allegedly un-Lovecraftian thing about them was their tangible nature and vulnerability to burning and smashing. But that's at least as much to do with Lovecraft's human characters, who can hardly summon up the will to physically antagonize outre monsters when confronted with them.

The (very believable, I thought) triggering of David's libido in the setting of hopeless emergency is also as remote as one can imagine from the behavior of a standard Lovecraftian protagonist. (It also generated an interesting component story, putting a redux of The Crucible into the mix.)

Another thing I found distinctly non-Lovecraftian about this story was the ominous representation of the military. Contrast the submarine dispatched to torpedo Devil's Reef in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" with the Arrowhead Project as the putative cause for the incursion of the mist. Of course, King is not innovating here. From the Cold War on, there has been an increasing tendency to implicate the military in the horrors of weird fiction.

14artturnerjr
des. 4, 2013, 10:51am

To my mind, there are two passages that are key to understanding this tale. The first is this:

Terror is the widening of perspective and perception. The horror was in knowing I was swimming down to a place most of us leave when we get out of diapers and into training pants... When rationality begins to break down, the circuits of the human brain can overload. Axons grow bright and feverish. Hallucinations turn real; the quicksilver puddle at the point where perspective makes parallel lines seem to intersect is really there; the dead walk and talk; a rose begins to sing

So we're clearly in (ahem) the weird tradition here - the worldview echoes Lovecraft's (compare the above with opening sentences of "The Call of Cthulhu", for example), and Machen's "The White People" is paraphrased ("a rose begins to sing").

The other, much shorter one is this:

"What I'm getting at is that I want to get out but I don't want to be dinner for some refugee from a grade-B horror picture."

So we have the sensibility of HPL and Machen filtered through that of a B movie (King himself said, "{Y}ou're supposed to see this one in black-and-white, with your arm around your girl's shoulders (or your guy's), and a big speaker stuck in the window."). This is not at at all a bad thing (as any fan of Night of the Living Dead or Detour will tell you), especially not when it's presented by someone with King's considerable storytelling and characterization skills.

15KentonSem
Editat: des. 4, 2013, 10:58am

"The Mist" always gets mentioned in discussions of King's "Lovecraftian" stories. "Jerusalem's Lot" and "N" are deliberate pastiches, but in the course of this story, SK states that the beasties in "The Mist" are definitely not of the Lovecraftian variety. Why, then, does he seem to be overruled again and again? Is it just because "tentacles" have somehow been hijacked for association to things Lovecraftian by the uninformed masses?

ETA

I know "N" is a Machen pastiche, but lump it in with HPL anyway in this instance.

16artturnerjr
des. 4, 2013, 11:24am

>15 KentonSem:

SK states that the beasties in "The Mist" are definitely not of the Lovecraftian variety. Why, then, does he seem to be overruled again and again?

Perhaps, to put it in Freudian terms, it's a case of a sublimated Oedipus complex (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oedipus_complex), if one posits HPL as SK's aesthetic "father".

17paradoxosalpha
des. 4, 2013, 11:33am

> 15, 16

My answer is in #13.

18artturnerjr
des. 4, 2013, 11:48am

I think it's worth noting here that SK's interpretation of HPL's work differs significantly from what has become the mainstream scholarly view of the same. In Danse Macabre (which is a fascinating piece of work, incidentally), SK seems to view HPL's fiction primarily in psychoanalytic terms (back to Sigmund again), whereas the current scholarly view (i.e., the S. T. Joshi school of thought) seems to look at it as an aesthetic articulation of HPL's worldview.

19paradoxosalpha
des. 4, 2013, 12:01pm

> 15 I know "N" is a Machen pastiche,

Hm. Maybe I should read it, then.

20paradoxosalpha
Editat: des. 4, 2013, 12:46pm

One of the most interesting features of this story (that probably vanished in the film version) is David's reflections on his ambitions and accomplishments as an artist. (The "Terror is the widening" quote at #14 is not unrelated here, nor is the "Oedipal" #16.) This is the flip-side to the paternal element: the filial dimension involves a--sometimes fruitless--desire to surpass one's progenitors. David wanted to be a "great" artist with fame exceeding his father's, and he settled for the commercial application of his respectable talent. There can't not be an element of Stephen King's self-reflection as a commercially successful author here.

Now think about Joe Hill.

21KentonSem
des. 4, 2013, 12:55pm

I suppose this could be seen as a post-Old-Ones-returning scenario, such as we find in the anthology Cthulhu's Reign, in which case it's all over for everyone.

I really enjoyed the ominous atmosphere conjured for the coming of the storm, and its immediate aftermath reminded me all too much of our recent Superstorm Sandy here on the U.S. east coast. I'd classify this 1980 tale as early King and I always enjoy going back to this period. His style is not as polished and he has more of a tendency to put the pedal to the metal.

>18 artturnerjr:

Good point, Art.

>19 paradoxosalpha:

Here is the graphic video adaptation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i454o7ijabI

22paradoxosalpha
des. 4, 2013, 1:00pm

> 21

I thought of Cthulhu's Reign when I was reading it. "The Mist" certainly belongs in that microgenre.

23KentonSem
Editat: des. 4, 2013, 2:20pm

Now, as I recall, the the filmed version has an even bleaker ending than the end of the world. One that a 1970's-era George Romero would have appreciated.

24paradoxosalpha
des. 4, 2013, 2:12pm

> 23

Yeah, I only read it, but it's pretty horrible. I agree with Stephen King who (per the quote in #7) thought it was stronger than his own ending for the story.

25artturnerjr
des. 4, 2013, 10:17pm

>20 paradoxosalpha:

One of the most interesting features of this story (that probably vanished in the film version) is David's reflections on his ambitions and accomplishments as an artist. (The "Terror is the widening" quote at #14 is not unrelated here, nor is the "Oedipal" #16.) This is the flip-side to the paternal element: the filial dimension involves a--sometimes fruitless--desire to surpass one's progenitors. David wanted to be a "great" artist with fame exceeding his father's, and he settled for the commercial application of his respectable talent. There can't not be an element of Stephen King's self-reflection as a commercially successful author here.

This is actually a fairly frequently reoccuring theme in much of King's fictional and non-fictional work. One of the first chapters of his novel Bag of Bones (perhaps the first, I can't remember for sure), for example, is almost exclusively a meditation on the pros and cons of commercial success; Misery, of course, is a horror story about how a popular artist might not want to get too close to some of his most ardent fans. It'd be a little odd if that sort of thing didn't at least occasionally pop up in the work of one of the world's best-selling writers, I suppose.

Now think about Joe Hill.

Interestingly, Joe was apparently the model for Drayton's young son in the story.


26paradoxosalpha
des. 4, 2013, 10:56pm

> 25 This is actually a fairly frequently reoccuring theme

The instances you provide are both later than this 1980 work, right? It seems like something an author might well revisit, with significantly changing views, as the years pass.

27artturnerjr
des. 5, 2013, 12:09pm

>26 paradoxosalpha:

The instances you provide are both later than this 1980 work, right?

Yeah; Misery came out in 1987 and Bag of Bones came out in '98. His 1981 Richard Bachman non-genre novel Roadwork (which I thought was quite good, although not everyone I know that's read it is of that opinion) is also worth noting in this discussion, as King has said it was written in part in response to "that casual cocktail-party question, 'Yes, but when are you going to do something serious?'", a question that comes up in The Mist as well.

***

BTW - I watched the movie version of The Mist last night. Holy Roman Polanski! That ending is fucking dark.

28artturnerjr
Editat: des. 6, 2013, 12:19am

A sampling of Bernie Wrightson's concept art for the film:

29RandyStafford
des. 9, 2013, 11:42pm

Late to the party again.

For me, having seen the movie years ago before reading this, the experience was diluted a bit except for the ending. To be honest, I don' remember the end of the movie -- only that it was different.

I thought the weakest part of the story (and the movie) was the character of Mrs. Carmody. She seems, a least in my limited experience with King, to be one of his nasty, superstitious religious fanatics. Except here, with her improbable mixture of witch and Puritan (a New Englander should really find that particularly incongruous), she seemed an even more cartoonish example.

On the plus side, I found the action quite well done, literary "slo-mo". (In Firestarter, I think the hero even thinks of an unwinding horror with that exact term.) And I liked the rationalized narrative device of a manuscript in a Howard Johnson.

I thought there was an evolutionary or, to be more precise, atavistic theme in the story. The intruding monsters (except the last one which is unlike anything that ever existed on Earth) are sort of a physical regression to prehistory and described in dinosaur terms. There is also emotional and social regression. Carmody threatens to become an influential witch-doctor. David, noting Billy’s emotional resilience compared to the adults in the market, notes that children exist in a state of perpetual shock, the state the adults now face. They have regressed to childhood. Some sleep in fetal positions, others retreat into the easy oblivion of suicide which you could see as a retreat to the womb.

>14 artturnerjr: I think there is probably as much of Richard Matheson's The Incredible Shrinking Man here as Lovecraft. Giant critters galore -- even some spider like ones.

30KentonSem
des. 10, 2013, 11:42am

>29 RandyStafford:

Randy, I agree with you about Mrs. Carmody. The character is pretty one dimensional and seems to exist merely as a fulcrum to get David & company out into the mist. I've always found that the grocery store sequence tends to drag just a little bit in spots. Carmody is probably the main reason why.

I think maybe I picked up on your idea of the monsters mostly being atavistic in nature, which is why it's hard for me to wholeheartedly make the Lovecraftian jump in "The Mist". It seems to me more likely that the military was messing about with nature/evolution instead of opening up unnameable gateways to other dimensions.

Nice call on The Shrinking Man!

31artturnerjr
des. 10, 2013, 6:00pm

>29 RandyStafford:

Oh yeah - Matheson's influence on King, generally (by King's own admission) is just enormous. It's just about unthinkable to me that King would have developed into the writer he did had he not read Matheson's work.

The intruding monsters (except the last one which is unlike anything that ever existed on Earth) are sort of a physical regression to prehistory and described in dinosaur terms. There is also emotional and social regression.

I think there's a nice sort of parallelism going on in the tale between inside and outside the store. As the film version's director (Frank Darabont) put it, "the story is less about the monsters outside than about the monsters inside, the people you're stuck with, your friends and neighbors breaking under the strain".

32RandyStafford
des. 10, 2013, 9:35pm

>31 artturnerjr: Of course, the disaster sub-genre, which I think this story also belongs to, is all about putting institutions and people and technology under strain, seeing what survives the hammer and anvil of events and in what shape, what the residue of society is after some event eats away it like an acid.

One of the things I liked in this story was the linking of father-son themes (the famed artist father looming over David and David's care for his son) with the atavistic theme. King, in a way, regresses the adults to the level of fearful, if sometimes brave, children. They separate into cliques like junior high students. (If you really want to push the analogy, note that one of the most competent characters is a teacher. Though I suspect the real reason is that King has a soft spot for his old profession.) Most fade into sullen passivity except the few who try to break out.

Part of the horror is that, of course, the adults here may be becoming children -- but they have no adult to comfort them and promise everything will be all right. Unless you consider the possible Hartford broadcast as serving, however feebly, as that assurance.

33artturnerjr
des. 11, 2013, 10:52am

>32 RandyStafford:

Part of the horror is that, of course, the adults here may be becoming children -- but they have no adult to comfort them and promise everything will be all right.

It's interesting to note, in light of this (quite valid) observation, that the adjective "existential" comes up a couple of times in this story, as existential philosophy often deals with the notion of either a non-existent God or a God that is detached from mankind, with God ("Our Father"), of course, being a sort of ultimate parental figure.

34artturnerjr
des. 12, 2013, 12:44pm

Anyone have any thoughts on a sequel to this one (literary, cinematic, or otherwise)?

35paradoxosalpha
des. 12, 2013, 4:25pm

I could imagine a sequel to the written story from the son's perspective.

The movie? I think the story should end there.

36jorvaor
des. 12, 2013, 5:55pm

I was very satisfied with the end of the written story. I wouldn't like a sequel to it.

37KentonSem
Editat: des. 12, 2013, 9:09pm

>34 artturnerjr:

HBO/Showtime/FX/etc., I think you're being paged....

38artturnerjr
Editat: nov. 9, 2014, 6:29pm

HPL's famous "strange aeons" couplet is the epigraph to SK's forthcoming novel Revival (http://amzn.com/1476770387).

39artturnerjr
nov. 13, 2014, 4:09pm

From a interview King recently did with Goodreads:

The inspiration {for Revival} was Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan, which is a terrifying story about the world that might exist beyond this one. Other influences were Lovecraft, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and my own religious upbringing. And I've been wanting to write about tent show healings for a long time!

I wanted to write a balls-to-the-wall supernatural horror story, something I haven't done in a long time. I also wanted to use Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, but in a new fashion, if I could, stripping away Lovecraft's high-flown language.


(https://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/989.Stephen_King)

40KentonSem
nov. 14, 2014, 11:59am

>39 artturnerjr:

I've skipped the last few King books, but now I'm intrigued by this latest.

41artturnerjr
nov. 16, 2014, 11:47am

>40 KentonSem:

Yeah, I have to say I'm particularly curious about this one.