Ink to Film Podcast: Ep 82-Pet Sematary (1983 novel)
Note: The Ink to Film Podcast is conversational and intended to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, if able, for tone and inflection. Our transcripts are generated using a transcriptionist but may contain errors. Please refer to the corresponding audio before quoting anything written here.
This episode aired on March 21, 2019 and was made possible by our generous patrons.
Luke:Welcome to the Ink to Film podcast, where we read the book…
James: …and then see the movie.
James: And I’m James.
Luke:And this week, we discuss Stephen King’s 1983 horror novel, Pet Sematary. <music plays>
And we’re back with another Stephen King project. This is our third one. We did The Shining, and we started this whole thing with It.
James:It’s weird, because I feel like we’ve done another one, too, but yeah. We’re going back to the well. Back to the old Stephen King well.
Luke:There’s plenty of them out there to do, and I’m sure we will…actually, I know for a fact we’re going to be revisiting It later this year, right? When It Chapter 2 comes out. We’re going to do the mini-series, I think is the plan, as an episode before we go see It Chapter 2, as a refresher.
James:Yeah, I think that’s going to be fun. Stephen King’s writing is always…it feels like you’re reading something in the same universe. So, when theories started coming out that everything’s connected, you could really see that. Because it does feel like a story that takes place in the same world as Itor The Shining.
Luke:Well, I mean it definitely does. There’s mention of Derry, Maine in this story. I don’t know if you caught that. There’s one part where the character talks about a Saint Bernard that killed four people?
James:No, I didn’t.
Luke:Yeah, that’s a reference to Cujo.
James:Oh, wow. No, I did not catch that.
Luke:Yeah, so he references…he refers to his other books in these.
James:The biggest one that popped up for me was when he shouted out his own adaptation of his novel.
Luke:When did he say that?
James:Somebody was, like, “Do you want to go play tennis with me this afternoon?” And he was like, “Yeah, I guess I will.” And he’s like, “C’mon, man, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Luke:I don’t remember that part.
James:Yeah. It was crazy. I wrote it down because I was freaking out.
Luke:Okay. I don’t know how I missed that. I remember that part where they were talking about playing stuff, though. Anyway, this is kind of a weird start. Yeah. We’re doing Pet Sematary. We’re going to go see the movie in a couple weeks here. I’m excited to see it. It’s getting some good reviews early on. But, yeah, I want to know what your experience is with this novel and this movie. Like, I know there’s an older movie, so…
James:I remember this being really hyped up for me as a kid, as like the scariest movie and scariest book. And I saw it and read it too early. I was too young to have read and viewed the movie.
Luke:You read this book?
James:Yeah, I read this book. I read this book in, like, 8thgrade probably.
Luke:So you are more knowledgeable about this material than I am.
James:Well, this movie fucked me up. It really messed me up. I saw the movie before that. So, I saw the movie probably, like, 5th/6thgrade. Maybe even before that. And then, yeah, read the book eventually in, like, 8thgrade. Because I was going through this phase of, “I want to read scary. I want to read everything.” So, I went and grabbed a Stephen King novel, and it was Pet Sematary. And, uh, I honestly feel like I suppressed a lot of this story, like…reading it now, I think…I don’t know. It affected me back then more than I was willing to admit, even in my modern-day sensibilities, and re-reading it is kind of interesting. Because I always…I don’t know. I got a little jaded about the story and felt like it was just about the pets. Like, I remembered it as being about the pets. And it’s not really about the pets…
James:It’s some other stuff.
Luke:It’s about a lot more than that. Yeah, that’s something I’m definitely picking up on, as a more savvy adult reader now, is that there’s a lot of really heavy, interesting themes about, you know, death, and about burial, and how our society handles death and deals with sort of the grimy facts of death that people want to ignore. And this book tries to engage with that stuff.
James:It was a bummer, too. It was just death. It just talks about death.
James:It’s all about death, basically.
Luke:That’s what this whole book’s about. And, yeah, man, it really…it brought up a lot of stuff for me, and I really had a pretty powerful reaction reading it. From my own personal experience with it, I saw this movie when I was really young, and I don’t think I watched the whole thing. Because I don’t remember much about it, other than a few scenes. And those scenes stuck with me. Like, you know, there’s a couple pretty dramatic scenes in the movie that stuck with me. I honestly think what happened was I saw some of those scenes, and they upset me, and then I stopped watching. Because I have no memory of what happened with the rest of it, you know?
James:Yeah, that reminds me of something I wanted to say about the original movie is that, when I watched it, there were scary parts that definitely stuck with me, but all in all, I think even then I walked away from the movie feeling like it wasn’t that scary. Like, I walked away being like, oh, it was a scary movie, and there were scary parts that I definitely didn’t want to see again. You know what I mean? Like, maybe I was just a kid wanting to not think it was that scary, but ultimately I didn’t remember this as a very scary movie. I remembered it as unsettling, and like…
James:Maybe some of that.
Luke:Well, it’s because scary is such a hard thing to quantify. King talks about this in his opening to this book some. Where he talks about why he thinks of it as his scariest novel. And…or most frightening novel I think is actually what he says. But, yeah, because I think especially as a kid, there’s like identifiable things that are scary. It’s like stuff that makes you have, like…there’s like jump-scares, right? There’s like a big monster that you look at and go, “That thing is scary.” And then there’s, like, the subtler stuff where it’s just creepy or makes you think about it. It keeps you up at night.
Luke:You know, that kind of stuff is a different kind of scary, and I feel like as a kid, maybe you’re going to recognize that less, and you’re going to focus more on, “Was there a big, scary monster? Did it make me have jump-scares?” That kind of stuff. Because that’s easier to identify.
James:I think that’s exactly what it was, yeah.
Luke:And that’s going to affect everybody differently. Like, some people…that’s scarier to them than the other thing. And, like, creepy, unsettling themes, that’s not going to hit everybody the same way. Because some people won’t find the same thing creepy, or they will be able to shrug it off, and it won’t bother them.
James:I think what it is…if it’s not blatant, some people will shrug it off and not engage with it. They’ll just be like, “That wasn’t scary,” then not really think too much into it, in order to keep it from being too scary.
Luke:I think for this one, for me at least, I have a lot of experience with losing pets and losing people, and when you have that, you bring that to the story. And then it comes to you, and you have this mutual ground where you’re talking about some similar stuff. Whereas, if you don’t have that in your background, then I feel like you’re not going to connect with it the same way.
James:Right. And I think that’s part of what I’m talking about is coming to it as an adult, having at least experienced, or being able to empathize with that. Whereas, as a kid, you’re just so young and invincible, and you think nothing’s ever going to happen. So, you don’t engage with people or pets dying as much.
Luke:Yeah. So, this kind of taboo subject matter also, to me, connects really well with King’s writing style. Because I love…his attention to detail…I’ve talked about it in our other many episodes we’ve done about him…but it just really stood out to me how well he’s able to find the detail that is taboo to talk about in a situation.
Luke:You know, like, no one talks about that…thing…and he talks about it. And, I don’t know, that taboo nature makes it feel real. It makes it feel like he’s not holding any punches back, right? He’s going for it. All the way. So, you’re getting this…yeah.
James:You’re reminding me of a scene that happened…when I read it, I was like, “What the hell is he doing?” And it was basically, like, there’s a lot of sex in this book…
James:And there was a sex scene, and he was talking about how during sex with his wife, his mind was wandering, and he kept thinking about the dead cat, and he was really thinking about the death while he was also having sex with his wife.
James:It was just a funny thing that, like…humans are weird things. You know what I mean? We’re not in control always of where our mind goes. So, in a situation like that, usually if you’re writing a sex scene, you’re not going to jump to something like that, but realistically you can see something like that happening in somebody’s mind. Where, like, they’re having sex with someone, and something shoots in their mind, and they’re like, still having sex with the person, but their mind is elsewhere.
James:Thinking about something like death, which is just…I don’t know. I think that’s something that King was trying to…
Luke:Right, like it’s taboo to talk about.
Luke:You know? It’s even…sometimes it feels weird even us bringing it up on the podcast, it’s so taboo.
James:When I was reading it, it was weird. And I noticed that, you know?
Luke:Yeah. Well, it’s interesting, too, because he does talk about how, in the introduction, he feels like this novel is in some ways problematic, and I agree with that. I think there are a few things that stand out to me, and I’m sure there are more that I am maybe not sensitive to, and I missed. And maybe we’ll find more in the second half. Which, by the way, we didn’t say. This is just going to be for the first half of the novel. That’s all we’ve read. We have not finished this novel. And the first half is actually Part 1 of 3. It’s roughly half, like, page-wise. The point I was trying to make is, a couple problematic things. I don’t know if we just want to talk about them at the top, and then we can get into it, but I think a lot of his thoughts about the neutering of his cat are really wrong-headed. I think he puts this little thing out where he’s like, “It wasn’t some macho bullshit. I actually thought this…” But, like, it totally is.
Luke:All the stuff he’s describing is exactly the reason that there’s a lot of macho assholes out there who won’t spay and neuter their pets. Or, specifically neuter their male dogs or cats. And it’s a lot of this testosterone bullshit of, like, “Oh, it’s going to make him less of a real animal,” and it’s going to make them all of this stuff. And he goes on to hit on those points multiple times in that novel, and I just found myself cringing every time, because…I don’t know, to me it’s just like…this is a really bad idea to have out there in the world, and it makes me sad to think about how many people might have read this book and then decided to not neuter their pets, and then you get this mass proliferation of strays that, you know, die every day in kill shelters and all that stuff. So, anyway, that was frustrating, and then the Indian burial grounds. Burial grounds, I think, is inherently problematic. This is something we touched on a little bit with King. He does this a lot. He did in the past, at least, where he connects Native American stuff to being magical and mystical and exotic, and other-ing. It’s very other-ing of that other society and makes them seem like they’re not people. It makes them seem like they’re these mystical beings that had connections to…I don’t know. In some ways, it’s okay, and in other ways, it’s not okay. So, it’s going to depend on how sensitive you are to it, too, I think.
James:Yeah. I definitely agree that you’re other-izing people by saying that, you know, they did ritualistic burials, and then using that and their culture as the crux for the story, and having it be magical and the way that things become monstrous and, like, a curse maybe. Something like that. It just seems to me like a bunch of white people…
Luke:It’s wrong, it’s pagan, it’s…
James:Right. A bunch of white Christians…specifically Christians, they talk about it a lot in this story…which I wanted to talk to you about. With King, how he engages with religion, but, just the way he basically is like, “These people are normal, they’re white, and they’re Christian,” and then the Native Americans and their burial grounds and their rituals are black magic and scary, and that kind of stuff.
Luke:And that dichotomy is inherently problematic.
Luke:So, we’re recognizing that, but I think the story has a lot to offer otherwise. And I was able to look past it, which speaks to my religion, where I’m at, and being a white person myself, but…
James:I was able to enjoy the story regardless.
Luke:Before we get into it, we are going to be doing a bonus episode for our patrons. It’s going to be the short story “Lacero,” which was written by Andy Weir and is a canonical short story for Ready Player One. We’ll get into the story behind how that happened on the bonus episode, and I think we talked about it a little bit on our Ready Player One coverage. But, yeah, we’re going to get into that, we’re going to release it as a bonus episode. If you want to find out how you can listen to that, go to Patreon.com/InkToFilm. It should be coming out in the next week or so, right?
James:Right. I’m excited to get into that one because I honestly have no idea. I haven’t read anything about it. I just know that we’ve talked about it in our Ready Player One coverage. That’s all I know of it. So, I’m excited…
Luke:Yeah. It’s about Sorrento, so, that’s all I know.
James:Other than that…yeah. It will be cool to jump into that because Andy Weir obviously wasn’t the original writer of Ready Player One, so for him…what was the writer’s name?
James:Ernest Cline. For him to acknowledge this story as canon is pretty cool, so it will be interesting to see how another author approached that world.
Luke:So yeah, look for that. So, with other authors, we’ve often delved into their backgrounds and their biographies. For King, I think what we’ve started to do is talk about the backstory for the particular novel that we’re discussing. Because there’s so much out there about him. So, for this one, I read the…you said you also had an introduction, where it talked about how he came up with the story and what was the story seed, which I find that kind of stuff fascinating. But, in case the listener isn’t familiar, basically King was invited to become the writer in residence at University of Maine in, I think it was 1979? And while he was there, he rented this house, and it was in sort of rural Maine nearby. Very similar to the one that Louis Creed and his family move into, and while he was there, it was right next to this big…it’s a small road, but it had big trucks that would go flying by on it, right? And he basically talked to people in the surrounding area, and they told him that pets die all the time on this road, and to be careful with his own pet. And then, sure enough, his pet, which was named Snooki…his daughter’s cat…got run over. And was killed on this highway while he was there. And there was also a pet cemetery, a local pet cemetery that he found out about, and he went to and visited, and it was spelled…it had the same misspelling that is now the title of this book, with the S, which I think that’s just a really cool detail. So, there’s a lot of these details that go right into the book.
James:Yeah. The Sematary thing…because I read this book in 7th/8thgrade, I didn’t know how to spell cemetery for a while.
James:Because of the book.
Luke:He got you, man.
James:It got me. He tricked me. I wasn’t an advanced enough reader to know that he was playing a trick. Yeah, it’s a cool detail because it really makes it feel like, if a child was to have…if children were to have a cemetery, they would definitely misspell it, and the town folk would leave it, you know, because it’s like a…
James:…nice little thing.
Luke:Yeah, it reminds me of Inglourious Basterds, with that misspelling from the Tarantino movie.
Luke:It’s referencing something in-world. Not the official spelling of something.
Luke:So, that’s cool. There are a couple other details. His daughter had a moment where she was really upset about the cat, obviously. And she said, “Why does God need my cat? He can have his own cat,” or whatever. And King put that detail right into the book. We see Ellie saying almost identically the same thing about her cat. Although her cat hadn’t died at that point, but still, it was very similar. And then Owen…specifically Owen King…was crawling toward the road, or walking toward the road, and King remembers running over and stopping him, and he can’t remember if he actually…what was it…got there in time, or he tripped, or what happened, but he was able to stop him somehow, and then a truck went by, and it was a near thing…Owen almost getting hit by a truck, too. And, so obviously that affected this novel quite a bit, too.
James:I think that…my favorite part about the foreword is everything from what we just talked about, how he talks about his struggle with thinking of the ultimate scenario where his kid is hit by the truck, and the ensuing grief…and going down that path as a writer and deciding what…you know…I don’t know if he’s saying he’d do everything that would happen, that’s happening to Louis, but just the idea that the writer saying…he’s going down a dark place…because he’s like, “My son dies, then what do I do with the cemetery?”
James:To me, I understand why he’s saying it’s the scariest, because in all the rest of his novels, he’s not actively thinking about his kid dying before him, and what he would do to bring…to make sure that kid wasn’t actually gone, and…
Luke:In some ways, it’s like maybe he’s saying it’s his most upsetting novel personally to him.
James:And I think he verbatim says that. Basically, in the foreword.
Luke:Yeah. Is that frightening? Is that upsetting? Is that different? I don’t know. But he did talk about how he showed this novel to people, and it upset them. I think close friends and family. And he ended up putting it in a drawer for a few years before showing it to an editor, I think, who helped him with it and getting it to a point where they wanted to publish it. And so we almost didn’t get this novel. This was almost a trunk novel.
James:Yeah, that is amazing. And I wanted to think about how tortured he must have been by the material to pour so much time into developing a novel and have it be fully realized…I guess he’s the type of guy who pumps out a book pretty quickly, but…
Luke:I want to touch on that, but finish your thought.
James:The idea that he wrote this and then was like, “You know what? I put all this effort into it, but it’s so troubling to me personally, I’m just going to put it in a drawer” is pretty wild. And to touch on the fact that we almost never got it, he was changing representation, I think, and basically he owed one last book to his old publishing company, or someone like that, and the only one he had on hand was Pet Sematary, and I think he said he showed it to his wife, and his wife was like, “Yeah, show it to them.” And that’s when…
James:Just imagine her…
Luke:…kind of thinking…
James:Her also seeing this scenario play out. Thinking about this story seed, and knowing…if her children had died. It must have been really intense.
Luke:Yeah, and it’s like…there’s a quote in On Writing,where he says something about, like, “Stop worrying about what other people are going to think of you. If you want to be a writer…” What does he say? “Your days in polite society are already over,” or something like that. And I was just thinking about that. Because this is so confessional, and all these details that are so taboo that you’re not supposed to talk about, he’s actively engaging with them. And using details from his own life, you know. It’s interesting to think…to me, there’s a certain bravery to me associated with anybody that writes something that’s deeply personal and taboo and reveals a lot about the person writing it like this. And, I don’t know, props to him for doing it.
So, you mentioned something about his productivity, and I just wanted to touch on that because I find it absolutely incredible. I was looking it up because I was like, “Where does this book fall on the timeline of his publication.”
Luke:So, let me hit you with them real fast, OK? So, 1974 he published Carrie, ’75 Salem’s Lot, ’77 The Shining, ’77 Rage, ’78 Night Shift, ’78 The Stand, ’79 The Long Walk, ’79 The Dead Zone. 1980 Firestarter, 1981 Roadwork, 1981 Danse Macabre, 1981 Cujo, 1982 The Running Man, 1982 The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, 1982 Different Seasons, 1983 Christine, 1983 Cycle of the Werewolf, 1983 Pet Sematary. Isn’t that insane?
Luke:That’s like averaging two novels a year. And some of them are The Standand The Gunslinger…like, these are massive novels.
Luke:So then, he follows it up: The Eyes of the Dragon, The Talisman 1984. Thinner 1984. Skeleton Crew 1985. It 1986. I just had to get to It, because I wanted to see where it falls in our range of coverage.
Luke:So, he doesn’t write It for another three years. And he doesn’t just work on It after this. He also writes four other novels before he writes It.
James:It’s insane. I don’t know how you…I don’t know how you switch gears like that. So quickly, and…
Luke:He said in the past that he, at one time, was writing 10,000 words a day.
Luke:Which is remarkable.
James:Ten thousand good words? How much revising does he do, is what I want to know.
Luke:Well, he says…in his On Writing book, he talks about, like, he believes you should draft a novel in, like, three months, I think. Or he might even say two months, or something like that. Something ridiculously short. He believes firmly in that it should happen really fast, and then you put it…and he said in his process he puts it away for six weeks and doesn’t look at it. Then, he pulls it back out after six weeks, when he feels he has enough distance and then revises it. But yeah, that’s his process. I think it’s interesting to know about his process. I don’t think that works for every writer. Not every writer works that way. I certainly don’t. So, at this point where I’m at, I don’t write that fast, by any stretch. I wish I could, because I would finish things a lot faster. But, yeah, that’s something, you know…I would be interested to know if his process was always like that or if it changed over time. I know that he’s said he slowed down of late, like he doesn’t write 10,000 words a day anymore. So, I don’t know. I do find authors’ processes really fascinating, just so I can see what I want to try and emulate.
James:Yeah. That is insane. Just…you started and you said Carrie, and then Salem’s Lot. To write those two novels at all, let alone everything else, is insane.
Luke:Yeah. And then he wrote The Shining. <laughs>
James:It’s crazy. And the interesting thing to me is where you put The Dark Tower. I didn’t realize The Dark Tower, the one that really started to connect everything, came before this and It. So, he really well established the fact that everything is connected, for the most part. That was way before a lot of his major…not a lot of them, but some of his major novels.
Luke:I wonder if we’re going to get any sort of the Stephen King…what’s that called, an macroverse or whatever? I wonder if we’ll get any of that in this novel, or I’ll pick up on it if we do. I’ll be on the lookout for it.
James:I feel like we’ve already got it.
Luke:Really? What did you connect with the macroverse?
James:If Jud isn’t shining, then I don’t know what he’s doing.
Luke:Oh…well, I guess to me that’s not necessarily macroverse stuff.
Luke:That’s more just like a greater…
James:Okay, do you mean like the It, the monster…
Luke:It’s definitely a connected universe, because we see…or connected world, because we see Derry, we hear talk about Cujo. But, like, yeah, is there any connection to the other-worldly, almost Lovecraftian, you know, cosmic horror elements that connect a lot of his other novels?
James:My answer to that would be, “I’m not telling you.”
Luke:Okay. Because clearly you know more about this novel than I do at this point. All right, man, I think that’s enough of a stage setting for this thing. Do you want to have some general thoughts before we get into the synopsis?
James:Yeah, I have some general thoughts. So, I wanted to talk about King’s foreshadowing, and how you feel about it.
James:Because this time I noticed something that I think separates some of his writing from others. And I don’t think it’s necessarily…well, you’ll have to tell me, because you would know better than me, but I feel some of the time he is intentionally making his foreshadowing really blatant for the reader. I think a lot of the time…you could…he’s having his characters in their minds…it’s almost like a retelling, and they’re like, “At that point, I didn’t even realize that…” you know, the trees would be something that would play a part later.
James:So, he’s like doing this actively throughout the novel, and I wonder if it’s to make audience members 1) feel like they’re following along and, 2) to build that dread.
Luke:Yes. The latter for sure. I think we…yeah. So, what you’re talking about is foreshadowing. It’s a particular kind of foreshadowing, because it’s not…he’s not trying to be coy about it. He tells you. It’s blatant.
James:That’s what I mean…
Luke:He says, like, “Norma died seven weeks later,” or something like that at one point. Or she would die seven weeks later.
James:Before she actually did…
Luke:Before she’s died in the story. He reveals that. And he reveals, you know, other things, you know. He talks about Church getting hit by the truck before it happens. Things like that. And when he says that, he’s revealing to you something that’s going to happen, and I think the effect that creates…it does create dread in you, because it’s an inescapable. It’s a horrible thing that is coming, and he’s telling you up-front that it’s going to come, so you know it’s coming, so the rest of the time you’re reading up until that point, you’re like, “Oh, shit, this thing’s coming.” It also kind of makes you want to read to that. You’re thinking, “Whoa, shit, that’s crazy. I want to find out what happens when that happens.”
Luke:So, it has multiple effects where it works on you, I think, in multiple ways.
James:He also does…so, those are the blatant ones, where he out-and-out says something that happens, but there are other times where he’s referencing something that you clearly know is going to come back. For instance, when Jud was telling Ellie not to climb on the logs because, “You’ll fall off, and who knows what’s going to happen,” that directly tied into…it was a red flag. You’re like, “Okay, well, this is an important fact.” The same way that he’s like, “Don’t get lost off the trail,” and he goes on and on and on about getting lost on the trail and why it would be bad. And you come to realize that if…that’s going to play a part. And I also noticed this in The Shining, with the boiler. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a little more subtle than him telling you out-and-out what’s going to happen, but he keeps talking about the boiler, so you know it’s important.
Luke:Yeah, it’s important.
James:So, he does this foreshadowing that’s blatant, and that’s why I was wondering, is it for the readers to feel that same kind of dread, I guess?
Luke:Yeah. And I think so. It does also have another effect, which I think is an interesting one to analyze. Because I don’t often see this in movies, because maybe it doesn’t work as well? But in telling you that Church is going to get hit by a truck, in telling you that Norma’s going to die, it makes it…when it happens, it makes it less of a surprise for you because you know it’s coming. But maybe, on the other hand, it also will make it feel less like a twist. Right? Like a shocking twist. Oh, shocking twist, the cat got hit by a truck. It’s like, “No, no, he told you that was going to happen.” You know what I mean? This isn’t a twist. We’re…we all know this is going to happen. So, when he establishes these things early enough, it’s almost like it takes away a little bit of the shock value, but I think the trade-off is for creating the dread and creating the anticipation of the event.
James:Yeah. And I would also say the main thing that sticks out to me is that if he’s over here foreshadowing something, when he eventually does something that he doesn’t set up, and it is shocking, it makes it that much more shocking. Because you expect him to set things up, and you expect everything to go how you think it’s going to go.
Luke:So, it’s also interesting to note real quick that this is also created partially by point of view. This is our first novel with King where it is pretty close POV to one character. We’re basically only getting Louis Creed’s thoughts and observations on things with a little bit of semi-omniscient stuff going on. And then it’s definitely also distant, though. So, it’s close in that it’s close to his mind, but it’s distant…I guess I mean temporally. It’s…you get the feeling that it’s Louis telling us from some future time about something that happened in the past. He’s reminiscing about it.
James:There’s a moment where he…these things keep happening with the character, and I want to ask you again if you think this is like a “shine” thing, or if this is a narrative…like, he’s trying to do a disjointed narrative type thing to play with the reader. There’s a moment where he’s driving to the school, and he goes past the bikers, and he talks about how bikers and joggers don’t obey the rules at some point, and they’re basically just in the way. And they don’t…it’s like they don’t care about getting hit. And then he’s in the office, and when the kid comes in who got hit, he talks about how he…it was almost expected. Like, he was almost expecting this to happen on his first day. And I’m wondering if you feel like that’s him shining some sort of…
Luke:That’s King brilliantly playing with the very real phenomenon of, like…it’s not even déjà vu. It’s like a different kind of déjà vu that I think everybody has, where when really bad things happen, sometimes you may feel like, “I knew something like this was going to happen.”
Luke:And, yeah, I don’t know. It’s just like a weird phenomenon. I think it’s unexplained, and I think that he can take that inexplicable but real thing and, in his world, connect it to the supernatural.
James:And I think that’s the exact…how you described that is almost exactly how we described “shining” in our coverage of The Shining. So, it’s like you could say, individually, with this novel on its own, it was just a coincidence. But also for big King fans, you could point to that and be like, “That’s potentially a moment where someone…”
Luke:Yeah, and you could talk about all the kids in Itpotentially could have a bit of shine to them, too.
Luke:And that’s how they’re able to do the things they’re able to do, so…
Luke:Yeah, I could see that. Let me get into a little bit of synopsis here, just so it can give us specific things to talk about. I’m going to break this up into several paragraphs here. All right, so opening up the novel, Louis Creed, a doctor from Louis Creed, a doctor from Chicago, is appointed director of the University of Maine's campus health service. He moves into a large house near the small town of Ludlow with his wife Rachel and their two young children, Ellie and Gage, and Ellie's cat, Church. From the moment they arrive, the family runs into trouble: Ellie hurts her knee after falling off a swing, and Gage is stung by a bee. Their neighbor, an elderly man named Jud Crandall, comes to help. He warns Louis and Rachel about the highway that runs past their house; it is constantly used by speeding trucks.
So, I think this is just a good opportunity to talk about different characters here. And right off the top, I want to point out, Creed and Church, pretty blatant symbols there for faith and Christianity, specifically. Creed, Church. What do you think he’s trying to say with that?
James:Yeah, I mean…I wondered, did you feel that this book had more religious elements than his other stuff, because this one very specifically struck me as…and I wonder if Stephen King was raised Christian? Or Catholic, or…
Luke:I believe he was. I think that was in On Writing. It’s been a while since I’ve read On Writing, which really gets into a lot of his story growing up, but I think he was raised in a…I want to say Catholic, but I’m not 100% sure. I could be wrong about that.
James:Because, I mean…yeah. Clearly there’s some symbolism being set up with the idea of the family Creed. Like, what creed that would represent, I’m not sure, but Church is interesting, because you’re taking something that’s holy, and you’re creating this unholy union when Church returns and…yeah.
Luke:Well, yeah, and the church of Christianity is based off of a resurrection, right?
Luke:So, you can connect that maybe to the cat being resurrected.
James:There’s a moment later on where Louis is talking to Ellie about where you go after death, and he kind of touches on his…he goes through kind of different people’s belief systems, and he goes through his own, and what he struggled with, and I think that’s very much Stephen King saying his own views, as well. I felt like, at least. Because I was just assuming that he was raised Christian and not practicing any more, and felt the way the character did about not necessarily there being nothing after death, but not being willing to subscribe to any one…
Luke:Yeah. Well, and I liked how he said…I think it’s the part you’re talking about…he said, “It goes one of two ways. Either there is something afterwards, or there’s not.” And that’s kind of how I feel about it, too. And it’s like, I don’t know. I identified with that pretty strongly, too, because it’s like…I’m an agnostic, and I’m an agnostic because I recognize that, to me, there’s no way for me to know what happens.
Luke:And I agree. Either it goes one of two ways. Either something happens or nothing happens. And it’s impossible to know.
James:I also like the moment where he addressed kind of potentially…again, I’m just inferring, and I might just be, you know, blowing smoke, but King also has the moment where he talks about how maybe if there is something, maybe each religion…maybe you do get the thing…if you’re practicing whatever religion, maybe that is your ending. Maybe that is…
Luke:Whatever you believe is what you get?
Luke:That’s an interesting thought, yeah. Yeah. That is interesting.
James:Because how many holy wars have there been for people saying, “I’m right, I’m right.” And then, ultimately, for it to be something that, you know, maybe we should all just be good to one another and, like, who knows what happens after all this is done?
Luke:So, how do you feel about Jud Crandall? I mean, you know more about him than I do, I guess, so that’s probably unfair to ask.
James:How do I…Okay, specifically in the book?
James:I like him. I mean, I like…I obviously like the fatherly role that he plays, and then…up to the point that we…so, this is jumping ahead, okay? But, up to the point that we’ve seen, he seems like an honorable type of person. He seems like the kind of guy to do the right thing, and then he does this wrong thing in having Louis bring the cat back. Because he feels, in his mind, there’s this pull, which is another interesting thing that we’re definitely going to talk about more.
Luke:There’s a lot of supernatural pulls and supernatural…or almost-supernatural compulsions that we have here. It feels to me like Louis is drawn to Jud in almost a supernatural way, as well.
James:Well, Jud being pulled to the pet cemetery, to me, seems like something that doesn’t fit his character, which I think is just set up how strong this pull is, and to set up the fact that if you’ve been there, you can be affected by it, and you’ll probably end up having someone…you might be a recurring guest in the pet cemetery.
James:But, I mean, Jud overall…I like that he stuck by his values at the very end, when the hardest thing that [could happen to him happened], and he lost his wife. He didn’t bring the wife to the pet cemetery.
Luke:Yeah, you’re right. Well, let’s get into the next part of the synopsis. Jud and Louis quickly become close friends. Since Louis's father died when he was three, he sees Jud as a surrogate father. A few weeks after the Creeds move in, Jud puts their friendship on the line when he takes the family on a walk into the woods behind their home. A well-tended path leads to a pet cemetery (misspelled "sematary" on the sign) where the children of the town bury their deceased animals. The outing provokes a heated argument between Louis and Rachel the next day. Rachel disapproves of discussing death, and she worries about how Ellie may be affected by what she saw at the cemetery. It is explained later that Rachel was traumatized by the early death of her sister, Zelda, from spinal meningitis—an issue that is brought up several times in flashbacks. Louis empathizes with his wife, realizing that the fault of her trauma rests with her parents, who left Rachel at home with her sister when she died.
Okay, so we can get into that now. I wanted to ask you, man, and this is going to be potentially kind of personal, but this is kind of heavy material, so I want to get into it. Do you remember when you first learned about mortality, and that people die, and that pets die, things like that?
James:I mean, I can’t recall the exact moment that it clicked for me, but I can remember losing the first family member that died. I remember being aware of it, and I don’t think even at that time I understood fully. You know what I mean? I don’t think I was grappling with it. It was just like that person was here, and then they were gone. And it didn’t affect me until I was a little older.
Luke:Do you remember losing a pet when you were young?
James:Yeah. Yeah, I remember losing a dog when I was about…I was probably like 11 or 12.
James:That was tough. Interestingly enough, I was the only one home when the dog died.
James:I think I was about 12, because I don’t think my parents would have left me home earlier than like 12 or 13. But, yeah…so, I was the only one home, so very similar situation to kind of Rachel’s…I mean, I don’t want to say that a pet…I mean, to me the pet was as important as a family member…
Luke:Yeah, I know.
James:But I’m not trying to minimize Rachel’s…
Luke:I think the book makes a lot of comparisons between pets and people, and how we feel grief for both.
James:So, yeah, specifically I can remember a really weird story that my dad tells of the first time a family member died. I…this is super creepy, actually. I may have told this on the podcast, actually, but my dad asked me…my grandmother died—his mother—and I was about five or six, and my dad was like, “Do you want to say goodbye to Grandma?” Because she had passed. We had been in the room nearby, and she had passed, and we went into the room, and he said, “Do you want to say goodbye?” And I turned to him, and I said, “No, I don’t need to, because I saw her leave.” As in, like, what he got from that was that basically I said I saw her spirit leave, and I said goodbye to her spirit. Which, I don’t remember. It’s a story being told to me, but very interesting.
Luke:Yeah. Wow. So, for me, I think back about…I had two pets. Well, I had a cat named Gandalf…<laughs> Lord of the Rings reference…who died when I was really young, but I don’t remember that very well. I was too young to remember that.
James:This is morbid, but was he gray?
Luke:No, he was a black cat. Although I think he had, like, white patches and stuff. Then we had a dog named Velvet, who died when I was…I don’t know how old. I want to say I was like five or six—very young. And I remember it being weird, because it was like I didn’t really know how to understand it.
Luke:Yeah, I remember being sad, but other people were more sad than I was, because I didn’t really understand it.
Luke:And then I kind of got sad over time as I thought about it more. Yeah, and you know, reading this book brings up all these memories. I also had a cat named Aslan, who’s another literary reference. And Aslan was hit by a car, which I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Until I read this book. Aslan was hit by a car. We never knew who was driving the car or anything. So, you know, somewhere out there someone hit a cat, and…you know what I mean? It’s crazy to think about that it happened. And I will say that my parents never lied to me about it. I never got told a story about a farm upstate or anything like that. I think it’s really interesting how he talks about how children never forget the lies their parents tell them. Which I think is a really fascinating line, right? And I thought back about it, and my parents were pretty up front with me about death, and I think another early death in my family was my great grandmother, when she died.
Luke:But I remember I had a very similar reaction to Ellie with Norma, because I remember feeling like, “Oh, she was very old.” That’s what happens to old people.
Luke:Like, that was fine. I was fine with it for some reason in that regard. In a weird way.
Luke:Because you’re a kid, and you learn certain things, and one of the things you learn is that old people die, so you’re like, “Okay.” But, you know, it’s always different when a pet dies because you haven’t made that connection, like, they’re supposed to. You know, quote/unquote supposed to. So, anyway, I don’t know. That just brought up all that stuff from childhood with me, and I found it really affecting.
James:Yeah. The tough part about this story that starts to get introduced is, like, once we get the details of what…I guess we haven’t really gotten enough of the details for us to make a decision on that yet, but I guess maybe tracking, going forward, thinking about the grief and thinking about that immediate shock and that immediate reaction. If it’s a sudden thing…I mean, either way, but just thinking of missing someone so much or some pet so much, are you willing to bring them back in a lesser form? Like, seeing if you would be desperate enough to.
Luke:Yeah. I have a feeling that’s going to be a big thing in the second half of this novel.
Luke:I can feel that’s where this story is going, right? Because we see it already with Church, who gets brought back. But before we get to that part, I guess, there’s also all the stuff with the sister, and the childhood illness and the…and she even says they thought of her as, like, this dirty secret who was in the back room.
Luke:And, how she was ill for a long time, and it was this big stress on the family. And, yeah, to me that’s the kind of taboo stuff that you don’t hear talked about a lot.
Luke:And how Rachel was so young when it happened, that she was forced to try and deal with these things that were just…she was not equipped to deal with. And I also really like how that carries through into adulthood. We see that Rachel never really came around on this stuff. Like, it’s still an ongoing thing. I love that. It’s like…I feel like Louis, in some ways, is in denial about death, and he feels it’s something that is “natural,” and that you can deal with it, and he sees it all the time, and he’s well-adjusted.
Luke:Whereas, I feel like Rachel is the more truthful character, in that she is still struggling with it, and I think Louis…I think we’re seeing him be put to the test here. Like, how well adjusted are you really?
James:Well, I think…yeah.
James:I would say that, just in terms of her being closer to a real character, I think there’s also a middle ground there. You know what I mean? There is somebody who is able to eventually grieve and deal with death, versus someone who has unresolved issues with death. You know what I mean? She’s clearly dealing with things that stem from what Louis is pissed off about, which is her feeling like it’s her fault or being forced into a situation where she doesn’t have the capability to take care of this person. And because of that, it’s something that’s being put on her by her parents. It’s kind of like almost a lie that her parents put on her. In his way of thinking, you know, because he keeps talking about how his mom lied to him about sex, I think, right?
James:And he carried that…
Luke:Where babies come from.
James:Right. So, he carried that through, and he’s still mad about it as a character here, so you can see something that is affecting her from childhood carried through as well.
Luke:Yeah. There’s also, I think, a lovely observation that King has when he’s talking about…I mean lovely in a dark way, I guess…but he’s talking about relationships, and he talks about how two people could know each other for years and be married and feel like they know each other really well, but it’s foolish to think you can truly know a person. And then he talks about how they’re having this conversation, and he hits a cold spot, or like dead air or something. He has a really interesting way of describing it. And then she has a reaction that he didn’t expect, and how he’s stumbled into an unknown area of this person he thought he knew.
Luke:And I thought that was so true to life. How that could happen, you know, and how people can surprise you that you’ve known for many, many years, and how you can’t really, truly know somebody.
Luke:Not to where that wouldn’t happen anymore. I don’t know. It’s just really smart observation.
James:Well, yeah, to speak on that, it’s like, what would it take…how could you ever think to know somebody fully, 100%? And you think people are married, and they’re together forever. You still don’t know that person through and through, what their thoughts would be in every scenario.
James:Although people like to think that. So, yeah, it’s a good observation for sure.
Luke:All right, let me get to this next…it’s somewhere here. Louis himself has a traumatic experience during the first week of classes. Victor Pascow, a student who has been fatally injured in an automobile accident, addresses his dying words to Louis personally, even though the two men are strangers. On the night following Pascow's death, Louis experiences what he believes is a very vivid dream in which he meets Pascow, who leads him to the deadfall at the back of the cemetery and warns Louis not to “go beyond, no matter how much you feel you need to.” Louis wakes up in bed the next morning convinced it was, in fact, a dream—until he finds his feet and bedsheets covered with dried mud and pine needles. Nevertheless, Louis dismisses the dream as the product of the stress he experienced during Pascow's death, coupled with his wife's lingering anxieties about the subject of death.
So, yeah, what’s your take on all this Victor Pascow stuff?
James:I can’t help but bring in some of the movie stuff, which I think at some point we’re going to have to do the first movie as a bonus episode or something.
Luke:Yeah, I think that would be a great bonus. Maybe we can do that next month or something.
Luke:It would be cool to revisit after we’ve seen the new one. Go back to the old one.
James:Yeah, because there’s a lot of differences, but Stephen King is the screenwriter on that one. So, like, he made sure it stayed fairly faithful.
James:But there were changes, so…yeah, moving past that and only talking about the book, the Pascow stuff. What do you think right now urged him to say his last words to Louis? Did you feel you had any sort of sense of what that was coming from or why that was happening? Because nothing’s really happened yet.
Luke:This is potentially sort of that Lovecraftian element, because it is kind of inexplicable. It’s other-worldly. Is he insane, or did it really happen? And why would he address him by name? This guy didn’t know him. And if it’s not…so I kind of feel like it wasn’t actually Pascow talking to him, but some other spirit or some other force speaking to him through Victor.
James:To be…yeah, I think that’s what we are supposed to draw from that, but…I mean, calling his name could be explained away by a name tag, because he’s clearly at a job where he might have a name tag.
James:But it just feels like the first moment of anything happening. But nothing’s happened. He hasn’t…Church hasn’t died yet. He didn’t bury Church yet. He goes to work. And something’s already encroaching into his life.
Luke:I just love the scene, though. I love…this is like death. You know, we have a story from Jud, where he talks about how, back in the day, Jud…death would just come to your house and, you know, join you for dinner, or whatever. And bite your ass and all that stuff. And this is like death doing that to him, right? This is death coming to his place of work, and a kid dying on the floor on his first day, and…one of the reasons I don’t think I could ever be a doctor, by the way. I don’t know if I could handle this kind of stuff. And it’s wild. And tragic. And it presents us with all of the unfairness, especially an abrupt death, and that it be a young person.
Luke:And how even this doctor, who we’ve seen talk about how well-adjusted he is. This is the proof that it can still affect him, and he still grapples with it and doesn’t know how to handle it. And, I don’t know, there’s a lot of descriptions about the wounds that are really taboo and feel really real. I think he talked about, like, he consulted with a doctor to get a lot of this stuff right, which I think shows. It felt true to life to me.
James:Having Louis be a doctor is really a great choice to me, because doctors are such authority figures in a medical sense, and a lot of this story ends up with sort of…like diagnosing Church as dead. When he first sees him. Clearly he was dead. And then he’s like self-diagnosing sometimes, which leads to kind of like his denial on a lot of issues. He’s self-diagnosing and saying, like, “I had a sleeping fit,” or I had this or I had that.
Luke:Right. He’s rationalizing.
James:Right. He’s rationalizing these things. And I think that was a great choice.
Luke:Yeah. So, Louis is not necessarily a completely likable character. I think we see some stuff in him, we see some darker things. We see some thoughts that…at the very beginning, we see him thinking about just dropping his family off at a gas station and hightailing it down to Florida and just be like…because he’s fed up with them. Right? So, he’s not like a super-likable guy in every way, but I like him as a protagonist because he’s so rational. And, to me, I identify with that. And I love the way that we see him rationalizing crazy shit that happens to him. He starts coming up with all these reasons to explain it. He comes up with ways that Victor could have known him or it was an auditory/visual hallucination. He starts codifying it and then, when he has his dream later, he’s like, “Actually it was a somnambulist moment where I was sleepwalking, and it was mixed with a dream,” and I love that he’s able to break it all down and try and make it seem like it’s not actually supernatural, and of course because it’s a Stephen King novel, we’re like, “Of course, it actually is supernatural.” But if it was me in real life? I would totally do that. If some crazy shit happened, I’d try and explain it. I’m sure I would.
Well, let’s get to this next bit of summary here. Louis is forced to confront the subject of death at Halloween, when Jud's wife Norma suffers a near-fatal heart attack. Thanks to Louis’s prompt attention, Norma makes a quick recovery. Jud is grateful for Louis’s help and decides to repay him after Church is run over outside his home at Thanksgiving. Rachel and the kids are visiting Rachel's parents in Chicago, but Louis frets over breaking the news to Ellie. Sympathizing with Louis, Jud takes him to the pet cemetery, supposedly to bury Church. But instead of stopping there, Jud leads Louis farther on a frightening journey to the real cemetery: an ancient burial ground that was once used by the Miꞌkmaq Indians. There, Louis buries the cat on Jud's instruction.
Okay, a couple things there. We talked already about the Norma stuff. I think this is where it is. Because it’s interesting because we see Louis sweeping in and saving her. And this moment is robbed of a lot of its poignancy almost when it’s dropped that she was going to die like seven weeks later.
Luke:So, you’re immediately, like, as much as you’re feeling a little good about saving her life, you’re like, “Oh, shit, well, she’s going to die seven weeks later.” And it feels inescapable, too, right?
Luke:And that just makes death loom over this whole story.
James:Mmhmm. It’s constant. Like I said, I did not remember that being such a huge…I remember clearly there was death, but it’s like…it’s overbearing sometimes. You’re just constantly reading about death and existential stuff about, like, what happens when you die, and it gets to be a lot.
James:Yeah, so here we are at Jud’s decision to try to “help” Louis to bring Church back. And when they go to this place, this place beyond the cemetery, there’s this allure to it. There’s, like, this pull that they feel a lot better. He’d been, like, tired from carrying Church all the way up miles into this cemetery area, and they’re both feeling really happy, and they’re talking about it, and I think it’s a sort of draw to this area, which is part of the reason I think Jud couldn’t not come back, because he’s like, “Oh, I can pay back this person who saved my wife’s life, while at the same time going back to this area that brought me some joy,” or just going there is like a drug or something.
Luke:Yeah. Well, places having power is a big theme in King’s work in general. We see that with The Shining, in the Stanley Hotel. Or, sorry, the Overlook Hotel. We see that in It with the entire town of Derry. It’s, you know, a haunted town, essentially. And here, it’s I think the pet cemetery is the haunted place in this story, right? And, yeah, places having a power and energy to them is something that King really loves to talk about. All right, so I think I’m just going to read this last bit of summary here, and then we can go off with anything else we want to talk about with this first half.
Luke:So, Louis thinks the subject is finished, until the next afternoon, when Church returns home. It is, however, obvious that the cat is not the same as before. While he used to be vibrant and lively, he now acts ornery and "a little dead” in Louis’s words. Church hunts for mice and birds much more often, and he rips them apart without eating them. The cat also smells so bad that Ellie no longer wants him in her room at night. Jud confirms that his condition is the rule rather than the exception for animals that have been resurrected in this fashion. Louis is deeply disturbed by Church’s resurrection and begins to wish he had never done it. Also in this section is Norma actually dying.
Yeah, let’s talk about all of that. Anything else is now fair game.
James:So, the first thing I want to talk about is Jud and his history, and kind of like his introduction to this…this area. And, I guess specifically hearing about the town and some of the people back in his day, when he loses his dog, Spot. What do you make of this guy who is waiting around for…throwing rocks at the window, wanting to bring him there, and he’s like the town drunk?
Luke:His name is like Sammy or something?
James:Yeah. And then he’s willing to take this kid’s dog. It just seems weird that he’d want to take this kid’s dog to bring it back.
Luke:Well, and this explains that it’s like the draw of the cemetery. Once you’ve been there…
Luke:You’re, like, cursed, essentially, and you’re going to constantly bring people back to it. Which, in that sense, it self-perpetuates. If it creates that feeling in people. Like, that’s how it’s continued to be an important place for…hundreds of years, is the implication?
Luke:Which makes it feel like it’s this evil place that wants to go on and continue to exert its influence, which is a totally Stephen King thing, right?
James:Exactly. And we’ve learned this kind of…we learned that the Native Americans felt that the land…what was it, specifically? It was cursed in some way, but there’s a certain phrase that they used. Do you remember?
Luke:Oh, the ground is like soil? No, uh, poisoned, or…
James:Something like that. It’s the idea that the ground has been poisoned, and that almost leads to…it’s not even necessarily the Native American burial that’s bringing anything back, you know? It’s like the ground has been tainted and poisoned, so it seems like…they even say the Native Americans moved on to another area.
Luke:Yeah, and there’s talk of the Wendigo. Which I don’t know how important that will be going forward, but I think the Wendigo was said to have caused the desecration of the ground or something?
Luke:So, maybe there’s some sort of creature out there?
James:Isn’t the Wendigo…it’s like a northern thing, right? It’s specifically a northern tale that people…
Luke:I was about to talk out my ass about it, but instead I’m going to look it up. All right, so I just looked up what the Wendigo is. I wasn’t 100% sure. It’s in Algonquin folklore. The Wendigo is a mythical man-eating creature or evil spirit native to the northern forest of the Atlantic coast and the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. It may appear as a monster with some characteristics of a human or as a spirit who has possessed a human being and made them become monstrous. It is historically associated with murder, insatiable greed, and the cultural taboos against such behaviors.
James:There you go.
James:I mean, I think it’s cool that he took, like, an existing folklore, or an existing myth or legend and built it into the story. Just because it seems like, I don’t know, I think each region…like everywhere…I would say everywhere has some sort of legend or creature, Sasquatch or Chupacabra, so for him to just take that and kind of…at least rumor it and have it be like…
Luke:Like Cryptids and stuff, yeah?
James:Yeah, like have something looming that is potentially a creature, when clearly it’s just like…the demons and the stuff that is going on are specifically put on by the people who can’t fight the urge to bring back loved ones. It’s…I don’t know. It’s very Pennywise. Like Pennywise is preying on people and their needs, and their fears, and this way he’s preying on a fear of losing people.
Luke:Yeah. What about…did you catch the…I mean, you had to have…the Maurice Sendak…
James:Oh my God.
Luke:The Where the Wild Things Are.
James:Yeah, I was going to bring that up.
Luke:Everything connects to our podcast, man. Another project we covered.
James:At some point, what’s the…Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? At some point we’ll be able to Six Degree of Ink to Film, and just anything…in some way we’ll be able to connect one project or one specific thing to something we’ve covered.
Luke:Specifically, the Where the Wild Things Are was referencing another book we were reading recently, right? Do you remember what it was?
Luke:Because I can’t.
James:I think I do remember it being referenced, yeah. What was that? I can’t remember. But I do want to say the way that it was…
Luke:Listeners, if you can remember us talking about it, definitely send us an email, because I would love to know, but I’m not going to listen to all our old episodes to find it. I know we talked about it in another project not that long ago.
James:The way that the reference was dropped originally was during that scene where Pascow was dying. He said, like…
James:As soon as he’s dead and all the people showed up, he said, like, “The wild rumpus begins” or something.
Luke:Let the wild rumpus begin, yeah.
James:And I was like, oh my God. He’s like…”In the immortal words of Maurice Sendak” or something like that.
James:And he said, it was like, “In the words of Maurice Sendak,” and I was like, “Why is that name familiar?” And he was like, “Let the rumpus begin,” and I was like, “Oh my god!” It’s a Where the Wild Things Are reference.
James:And he keeps referencing it, actually, because it’s Ellie’s favorite book.
Luke:Yeah. So, as far as general thoughts go, I have two more that I want to touch on. I want to save the biggest for last. But the first one…and if you have any, you can hit me with them, too. The first one is how this story feels very classic horror or traditional horror in many ways.
Luke:Which can, in itself…you know, a lot of traditional tropes can have some, like, problematic stuff associated with them. But, to me, this is the classic tale of the city folk going out to rural America and getting involved in some ancient, crazy mysticism shit that, you know what I mean, tears their family apart. So, in some ways, it’s like the fear of the big city folk of rural America?
Luke:So, I feel that trope is inherently problematic, obviously. Again, you’re sort of other-ing, you know, maybe people who live in poverty or have a different, you know…grow up differently than you. But it’s also got a classic feel to it, too. To me, in a lot of ways, this feels like the more, like, stereotypical King story, if I just think about what a King story is from like a macro look without talking about specific story specifics, I would think of this kind of story.
James:Right. Or at least, like, a family transplanting to another city. That’s gotta be the basis of like at least half his novels.
Luke:Well, transplants to another place.
James:Right. Another place, yeah.
James:Yeah, that’s a good observation. I think it works, obviously, because it’s just like putting a certain type of person in a different kind of situation, you know. You can put the situation against the person and kind of juxtapose…you can learn a lot about the character very quickly.
Luke:Well, it’s fish out of water, too, right? Because they’re new there, so they’re able to experience the stuff for the first time, and also be like, “This is weird. Why is it this way?” So, it makes you feel less odd for feeling that way, too, because you’re not familiar with this setting and these people.
Luke:But, on the other hand, it’s actually funny because I spent a lot of time in Maine as a kid, because my grandparents have a property in Maine, and my family would go visit them, and so I was actually around a lot of people in Maine who spoke in the way that his characters speak in this novel.
Luke:And so, it’s actually a really weird, nostalgic thing for me whenever I hear that Maine accent, that Mainer accent is very evocative and, outside of King, I feel like you don’t see Maine accents in a lot of places.
James:Yeah, you can tell how much he loves that area. I was listening to the beginning of the audiobook with Katelyn, and she mentioned that. It’s like…Michael C. Hall is reading, is the narrator in the audiobook—who plays Dexter…
Luke:It’s funny, because I listened to part of the audiobook, but I didn’t realize it was him. Wow.
James:Yeah, he plays Dexter. So, it’s kind of a great voice for this audiobook. And she mentioned just the way that he was killing the accents. Like, he was really going in on the Maine accent.
Luke:Yeah, it sounded good in the parts I listened…because I have a physical copy, and I was kind of bouncing back and forth between the two. But I did listen to some of it. And I agree, yeah, he was nailing the accents. So, there’s also something else I recognized here that I talked about in other episodes. With King. And that’s his fondness for repeated phrases. Did you pick up on that with this one again? That’s something we highlighted in past episodes.
James:Yeah, I can always…
Luke:In here, it’s “Oz, the Great and Terrible,” and that kind of stuff.
Luke:He says that over and over again. He loves to do this, and it’s cool. To me, it’s a marker of his writing that I didn’t think about until we started studying it for the podcast. How he likes to pick these little phrases and repeat them, and then the repeated phrases shift over time, right? They’ll come back and they’ll go away, and they’ll be replaced by a new one…
James:It has some sort of thematic element to it. Like, it’s not…
Luke:Yeah, every time he brings it back…
Luke:…it means something slightly different…
Luke:…in relation to the scenario.
James:Do you feel anything specific with the “Oz, the Great and Powerful”? Is it great and powerful?
Luke:Great and terrible.
Luke:Yeah, it’s the mispronunciation of the Ws. Um, yeah, I don’t know. Because it’s like…it’s just something like a kid says, but it keeps…I think maybe just the particular-ness of it keeps coming back…
Luke:…to our character.
James:So, I mean, just in terms of, uh, not necessarily the pronunciation, but the idea of Oz and what does Oz do in The Wizard of Oz? He’s like a behind-the-scenes string-puller making you think he’s more powerful or making you think something else is going on. So, maybe…
Luke:That’s true. There’s inherent lies there, right?
Luke:Yeah. I like that. Well, I have one last big thing I wanted to get into, but I was saving it for the very end. It’s a little bit…like, so I never know how much to talk about personal stuff on these podcasts because it’s like people come to listen about the book, not about us, but to me this really strongly connected with the loss of my mother, and so I just want to talk about it a little bit and the ways I was thinking about it. So, she had brain cancer and was sick for years with it. And it was a tough thing for our family to deal with, and I think there is a lot of, like, weird feelings surrounding how much of a burden it could be at times. And how it was this constant thing we were thinking about. And the way he talks about Rachel’s sister felt really true to me in a lot of ways. Not in every way, because it’s obviously different. You know, Rachel’s sister was a child. That sort of thing. But it also, like…the way Rachel felt like she didn’t know how to handle it and didn’t know how to feel, and she was too young, and I remember feeling that way, too, even though I was, you know, an adult when it happened. I still remember feeling like, “I don’t know how to handle this. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” There’s no, you know…many things in life, there’s a way to go, and there’s a kind of like a blazed trail that you can follow.
Luke:And in a lot of ways, in that way, there is nothing. You’re just kind of left without any direction. And, so that connected with me strongly. And that was also going on through my head while I was reading this. But then to bring it back away from something so somber is that I also felt a connection to my mother through this book because she was a huge Stephen King fan. I don’t know if we’ve talked about this or not…on the podcast or not…but she loved Stephen King, and I think she read every book he wrote. Maybe she missed a few, I don’t know. And I was never…like, I did not read Stephen King until I was much older. I was more into fantasy when I was younger, and she read these horror novels that were…which is interesting, because I loved horror when I was really young, but I loved scary stories you tell in the dark and stuff like that. Like, almost like kid horror.
Luke:Where she was reading this serious adult stuff. And I remember thinking when I was reading this, like, how there’s a part where he’s talking about history and generations. And how these young kids in Norma’s family are kind of disconnected from her, and maybe they’ll politely listen to her stories, but she’s a different generation from them, and they have other things they want to do. And how it can be kind of sad, the generational divides and how…I think there’s even a line where he talks about people being God’s envelopes with, like, letters. And then like a letter is a person, and once the letter is read, you put the envelope away, you file the envelope away, and that’s like when people die.
Luke:Um, which I thought was a really interesting metaphor. And he was talking about, like, the connection to the past, and one of the ways I think you can connect to the past, that I really like, is through reading stuff like this, right? And we can connect with people who lived in a different time, and people who were dealing with similar things but maybe thought about it from a slightly different perspective…
Luke:…than a modern one. And, so literature, in that sense, is like a connection…
Luke:…for us…you know, between us and the past. And specifically King’s literature to me is a connection to my mom, because I can think about her reading this novel.
Luke:And, like, I don’t know when she read Pet Sematary. I don’t know how old she was, but I can think about the fact that she read this novel and probably thought a lot about death and the connection to different generations, and all that stuff. And, I don’t know, there’s just something that I really enjoyed and was moved by, and connecting my reading of this to her reading of it at some point in the past…I just thought that was really cool, and I wanted to share that.
James:Yeah. I love that man. That’s…yeah. I mean, the idea that it is kind of a shared experience, even if it’s not currently. Somebody went through something that you’re currently also going through. And it’s an exact shared experience, and I don’t think you can do that with anything…I mean, you could do it with a film as well. But other than stories, there’s no way to have the same exact experience as someone else. And through that way, you’re having the exact same…down to every word is read the exact same way.
Luke:Well, there’s something very intimate about reading a novel that you don’t get from a film. And I know you’re a big film guy, and it’s not to say that film can’t provoke thoughts and…but I think there’s a much less reflective element during most movies than there is when you’re reading. Because when you’re watching something, you’re often a passive observer of it.
Luke:And then maybe you reflect about it after it’s over, but the process of reading a novel, reflection is happening constantly.
Luke:Like, you’re reading a line and you’re thinking about it. You’re reading this observation, you’re thinking about it. So, in that sense, it’s a more interactive medium, just like interactive with your own mind, if that makes sense.
James:But I think, like you said, it’s the down time you have in between. So, it’s like, for a film, the way you achieve that is repeat viewings. But, from what you’re saying…I totally get what you’re saying because you can’t…other than pausing a movie, which you’re messing up the flow of what the filmmaker intended, there are brief moments in a film where…I applaud directors who build in moments of reflection in their films, because I think you need that, and you can draw a lot about a character or a lot about a situation. But I understand what you’re saying. I definitely agree with you…
Luke:Yeah, like showing exterior or showing, like, setting, where nothing is actively happening. That can be a good moment to come down after a scene.
James:Having a character clearly contemplating having a moment of levity between something more serious going on. But, yeah, the idea…that’s just a difference in medium. The idea of a book is you can take it as quickly or slowly as you want and really process it. There’s an advantage to both mediums. It’s just…storytelling in general, I think, is really interesting in that way. Because that’s where our podcast really crosses over, too. It’s just, like, we try to see where people…how people are able to take something like a book, where you’re supposed to get so many things out of it, and then cram it into a two-hour film. And then you can reflect on it a lot afterwards. But when it’s currently going on, you catch as much as you can. And then maybe check it out again later.
Luke:Yeah, and in writing, one of the ways they can do that is with line breaks and chapter breaks, right? There’s all these built-in spots where it’s like asking you to stop and take a moment and think about what just happened.
James:Yeah, and well, like a massive film would obviously have an…
James: An intermission, right. And that’s an old-school thing to do, but intermissions were important for that reason. They were so long, so a lot of people had 15 minutes to process things, but…I really quickly did want to go back to you talking about your mother because I…I’ve never lost anyone that close to me, but I constantly think about what you guys had to go through with that, and I knew…I was thinking about your mom while reading this book.
James:Because I’m close to your family, and I know of some of what you guys went through, so in order for me to kind of comprehend, even begin to imagine what it’s like to lose someone like that, that close…yeah, I was thinking of how you guys must have had to deal with it and what emotions…I was like, “What is Luke going to be getting from this, based on his experiences.”
Luke:Yeah. Whereas, I was thinking, “What did my mom think when she read this part?” You know. Like, I would love to know, you know, what she thought about a lot of this stuff.
Luke:Because we thought differently. She was a very religious person. So, in a lot of ways, she felt a lot differently than I did. But also, like, when in her life did she read this? And had her feelings about death changed over time? I don’t know.
James:Well, and that’s not to say…even someone of faith can have a similar…I guess what I’m trying to say is even people of faith have doubts…
James:…and they constantly are thinking and weighing their faith. And it’s something that people of faith struggle with. So, it’s like she could have very well had the same exact thoughts as you were having. Like, what is…existentially what does happen when we die? Clearly, she had a certain thing in her head, but maybe she was weighing other things?
Luke:Well, I think most people of faith have doubts. I think it’s kind of like that line in, was it Game of Thrones, where he says, you know, “Can a man be brave if he’s scared?”
Luke:And Ned says, “A man can only be brave when he’s scared.” And I think you can only have faith in something that you have doubts about. I think. Probably, right? Like, faith is the answer to them. And whether or not you feel it, I think it will affect how you feel.
James:I think it’s the healthiest way, and I have certain thoughts about religion, because I was raised in a religious household, but I think from what I saw, and I also identify agnostically now, because for me I just…there’s a lot of ritualistic things that go on with religion and kind of manipulation and, like, historically, there’s a lot of stuff that I just don’t…and there’s just a lot of things. We don’t have to get fully into it now, but basically, having seen a lot of religious people, I think the healthiest way is to have a certain amount of doubt. And, like, believe in what you believe in, but also be willing to think in different…be willing to pivot and think differently and stick to your faith, but also don’t do it blindly.
Luke:And sometimes that rigidity of faith and the inflexibility and the unwillingness to admit doubt, I think can be indicative of a defense mechanism, honestly.
Luke:It’s like at some point, the prospect of death terrified you so profoundly that you armored yourself with this faith, and now you can’t possibly admit that there can be any doubt there, because to admit that is to engage with that fear again. And people are unwilling to do it, and I think, you know…totally understandable. Because I really believe, and, you know, mortality and stuff is something that comes up a lot in my writing, and a lot of stuff that’s unpublished, too, but…you know, hopefully it will find the light of day soon. And, yeah, I think it’s one of the biggest things, you know, that people talk about all the time. It’s one of the biggest things we all deal with. It connects us all. And it’s a shared experience. And, yeah, I think this novel touches on all of that in all the right ways.
James:Okay, so I have an idea for something we can do. I want to see if you can try and shoot out some predictions for what’s going to happen in the second half of the novel. Some things I feel like are clearly being set up. But I want to know what you think might happen here at the end. Or next week.
Luke:So, we’re saving that for the very end?
Luke:All right, we wanted to thank one of our oldest and most loyal supporters, Chris C. has been with us since the very beginning. Huge supporter of ours. We love him. Shout out to you. If you wanted to find out how you can become a patron, go to Patreon.com/InkToFilm. You can get access to bonus content and all sorts of other little goodies that we offer our patrons.
James:Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. All of those are @InkToFilm. And we have a Facebook group called The Council of Inklings, which we’re pretty active on. We post polls. We post…I mean Luke posts a lot of updates about upcoming adaptations and stuff.
Luke:I’m very active on there.
James:He’s constantly posting that kind of stuff. And, yeah…
Luke:You gotta get on there a little more, man. We gotta get you interacting on there a little bit more.
James:The thing is, I just assume you’ve already posted. I see news. I see lots of adaptation stuff, and I’m like, “He’s already put it in the group. It’s fine.” But, yeah, I mean I am there. So, if you tag me, if you say anything in there…I see all the posts in our Council of Inklings.
Luke:You’re more of a lurker in the group.
James:I’m quite a lurker, yeah. I hang out there, though. So, yeah, if you wanted to join that group, that would be awesome. And you can also influence kind of some of our decision-making going forward for projects.
Luke:Yeah, and that’s the Council of Inklings on Facebook. Definitely come join that. It’s a cool place to be for this podcast. And yeah, if you wanted to reach out to us just directly, you can always send us an email to InkToFilm@gmail.com. And let us know what you thought of this episode, or about our King coverage in general. We’d love to hear from you.
James:Leave us a rating or review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. It really helps us out and gets our podcast higher up those charts and helps get our name out there.
Luke:Yeah, and it’s a great way to let us know that you enjoyed this episode. So, definitely shout it from the mountaintops if possible. And, yeah, we wanted to thank Ross Bugden for the use of our intro and outro music, and Jennifer Della’Zanna for providing our transcripts.
James:All right, so this is it here? We’re going to talk about your theories, your predictions going forward?
James:I feel like you have a pretty good basis for Stephen King’s writing, so I’m wondering where you think this will go.
Luke:You know, it is tough, man. So, like, the one thing is that at the end of the part we read, it’s revealed that Gage needed to be…or Louis needed to be worried about trucks with regard to Gage, so I can predict that Gage is going to be hit by a car. I can see that coming. It’s basically confirmed by the text. Knowing that’s going to happen, the next logical thing is that Louis is going to try and bring Gage back to life using the pet cemetery. So, and we’ve already seen that people…we’ve seen that animals brought back from the pet cemetery are wrong in many ways, so I think we’re going to get like a zombie kid who’s been brought back, and yeah, I kind of think we’re going to progress, and maybe the kid will grow with them some, and we’ll see how him being wrong affects the family dynamic. I am really curious to know because there’s a moment when he’s talking to Jud, where he says he felt like Jud was lying when he said he’d never done it. So, I want to know was Norma brought back at some point? Or was Jud himself brought back at some point? I’m really curious to see where that goes. And, man, yeah, I think it’s going to go bad. I think we’re going to see…maybe we’ll see the Wendigo. That would be cool. But, yeah, stuff’s going to get crazy. We’re going to get zombies, essentially, or these like offresurrected beings. I think Rachel and Louis’s relationship is destined for bad stuff. I think Rachel is not going to be okay with him bringing back the child. And that’s going to cause a lot of friction. And, yeah, where it goes from there, honestly, I’m just really curious about. I don’t know where it’s going to go, and I’m excited to read it.
James:A couple specific questions for you, based on your theories.
James:What’s going to happen to Church?
Luke:Church. Oh, ooh, that’s a good question. Um, I think he’s going to try and kill the cat again. A second time. And I don’t know if it’s going to stay. I don’t know if it’s going to stick. But, yeah, I think he’s going to try to kill the cat again.
James:For any reason? Okay, yeah.
Luke:Oh, yeah, I think Church is going to, like, attack Ellie or something. It’s going to be…he’s going to do something.
James:Okay, how creepy was that moment when he was in Gage’s room, and he tried to shoo it out of there, and it was like…wouldn’t leave. It was in Gage’s closet?
Luke:When he woke up and Church was on his chest, like purring?
Luke:And that was the only time the cat purred.
Luke:That was creepy. I liked that.
James:Creepy stuff. All right, and then another question. Do you think, if Gage is hit by a car and killed, do you think that there’s a funeral and everything goes down, or do you think that Louis just takes the kid straight to the cemetery as soon as it happens? Do you think that Rachel ever knows or…do you see what I’m saying? Like, do you think that he just takes Gage there and puts his…
Luke:Ah, you know…this is going to be wrong. But I can foresee Louis telling Rachel about the pet cemetery after Gage gets hit. When Rachel is overcome with grief. And then her, like, okaying it. And then him doing it. Taking Gage to the pet cemetery. And then…but her…or maybe both of them…just having a change of heart afterwards. But I think more strongly her. I think she’s going to be okay with it, because she’s going to be so grief-stricken that she’s going to be reaching for anything. And then when she’s faced with the reality of it, I think she’s going to regret what they did. Yeah, man, it’s going to be dark.
James:I mean, we’ve already seen her unwillingness to accept death, so we’ll see how it goes.
Luke:That’s true. All right, man, I’m excited to get to the second half of this novel. We hope you join us next week for that. Until then…
James:Thanks for listening.