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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Crowd Control "Under the Dome"

Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman

After he and Julia consummate their newfound love for one another, Barbie telephonically communicates with Colonel Cox, asking for two helicopters to be sent to the dome.

In the methamphetamine lab behind WCIK radio, Phil (“The Chef”) Bushey and Andy Sanders make plans to resist anyone that Big Jim may send against them, The Chef advising the selectman to aim for their enemies’ heads, since they are apt to be wearing body armor. The Chef has donned the white cross on a rawhide string that Julia saw in her hallucination at the dome generator.

Ollie Dinsmore awakens to a quiet house. Outside, cows in need of milking sound their distress. Ollie cannot find his father, Alden, anywhere, until he approaches the closed door to the room in which Ollie’s grandfather, suffering from the late stages of cancer, died. A note on the door reads, “Sorry. Go to town, Ollie. The Morgans or Dentons or Rev . Libby will take you in” (925). Inside the room, dead father lies supine on the same bed in which Ollie’s grandfather died. After getting sick, Ollie feeds the cows. Then, he decides he will go to the dome and pitch rocks against the invisible barrier. Later, he will return to the farm and bury his father’s corpse near his mother’s grave.

Following Big Jim’s orders to locate Barbie and his supporters, Special Deputy Carter Thibodeau ascertains that Piper Libby Pete Freeman, Tony Guay, and Rose Twitchell are all absent and unaccounted for. He wants to determine whether Rusty Everett is also missing, so he stops by the Everett house. Thurston Marshall is in the backyard, playing with the four children, Alice and Aidan Appleton and Judy and Janelle Everett. Carter viciously twists Linda’s arm behind her back, demanding to know Rusty’s whereabouts. She finally convinces him that she doesn’t know where her husband is, and, after sexually assaulting her, Carter leaves Linda.

Piper allows Norrie Calvert to make contact with the dome generator, and the girl verifies what Barbie has suspected: the aliens who have imprisoned them under the dome and who observe them over a distance of light years, are sadistic extraterrestrial children. Although the aliens hear Norrie when she asks them why they are keeping them prisoners and observing them, the townspeople’s captors, she says, didn’t bother to answer her question because they “just didn’t care” (935). As Piper and Norrie discuss the extraterrestrial youth, the helicopters requested by Barbie arrive.

Troops unload the helicopters’ cargo: “dozens of Air Max fans with attached generators” (936). Colonel Cox is unable to transport any fans to “the [Highway] 119 side” (937) of the dome because the aircraft cannot enter the airspace above the barrier. Barbie briefs Colonel Cox as to what is happening under the dome.

As Linda Everett and her charges, Judy and Janelle and Alice and Aidan, wait for Thurston Marshall to snip sections from the lead roll behind Burpee’s department store, “a police loudspeaker” announces a new restriction upon the townspeople: “CARS ARE NOT ALLOWED ON THE HIGHWAY! UNLESS YOU ARE PHYSICALLY DISABLED, YOU MUST WALK” (942). It seems that daily, and even more often, the freedoms that the people of Chester’s Mill take for granted are taken away, without due process, as Big Jim Rennie and his cronies continue to take advantage of the crisis represented by the descent of the dome. Again, the parallels to the Obama administration’s continuing power grabs, although probably unintended by King, are hard to miss. Thurston insists upon leaving the metal snips at the scene, in case others need them, but he forgets to do so, stuffing them into his belt. Remembering Carter Thibodeau’s sexual assault against her, Linda, exasperated at Thurston’s slowness, jerks the shears from his belt to return them to their hiding place herself and, as she does so, “a vehicle slid in behind the van, blocking access to West Street, the only way out of this cul-de-sac” (943). At first, because Linda has been afraid of Carter or other police officers cutting off their escape from town, the reader assumes that the vehicle may be a police car; however the vague way in which the omniscient narrator describes the means of transportation (as a “vehicle,” rather than as a police car) implies that there is no cause for such an assumption.

As the townspeople walk toward the Dome Visitors’ Day meeting place, Carter joins Big Jim in the selectman’s air-conditioned Hummer, and, as the politician characterizes the people he serves, his contempt for his constituents and fellow citizens is as plain as his arrogance (an arrogance, one might add, that seems more typical than not of many actual elected officials and bureaucrats): “They want food, Oprah, country music, and a warm bed to thump uglies in when the sun goes down” (944). Carter’s new status is demonstrated when Big Jim invites the police chief, Peter Randolph, who passes by, to join them, but to sit in the back, not the front, seat.

The vehicle that cuts off Linda and her passengers is the hospital’s ambulance, van driven by Douglas Twitchell. Rusty has telephoned the medical staff and told them to abandon the hospital and get out of town. Accompanying Rusty are Ginny Tomlinson, Gina Buffalino, and Samantha Bushey’s baby, Little Walter--more of King’s remnant of the townspeople, his chosen ones who will help to defeat the human evildoers who have corrupted Chester’s Mill and the sadistic aliens (if aliens they actually are) who have isolated the town under the dome so they can watch the horror show. When she’s told that Main Street is impassible, Linda says she has no intention of driving down that artery, because it passes the “cop shop” (947) and specifies her route, which will be via West Street to Highland. The reader wonders whether Linda’s conveying of this information will be significant or whether it is just the sort of idle chatter in which human beings, under stress, sometimes engage.

Chief Randolph insists upon leading the attack against the methamphetamine lab, to which Big Jim agrees, although the politician insists (several times) that he attack the site by way of the access road that leads through the woods, so as to be able to blindside The Chef and Andy Sanders. (The reader immediately anticipates that Chief Randolph will not do so and will consequently jeopardize his mission). The reader also learns, as he or she probably surmised much earlier, that Big Jim plans to replace Pete Randolph with Carter Thibodeau as the new police chief. Indeed, Big Jim hopes that the present police chief will be killed in the raid.

With Carter’s mention of the stale air as he entered Big Jim’s Hummer (“The air smells like a frickin ashtray” [943]), King reminds his reader of the worsening atmosphere under the dome, and he does so again, as Linda and her passengers, leaving town, almost encounter Big Jim, and she swerves off the street: “She parked on someone’s lawn, behind a tree. It was a good-sized oak, but the van was big, too, and the oak had lost most of its listless leaves” (949).

Once Big Jim and Carter return to Town hall to watch their fellow citizens congregate at the Dome Visitors’ Day site, Linda speeds out of town. Big Jim has ordered Carter to instruct Thurston Marshall that he is forbidden to leave town, and Carter hopes that he may also have another opportunity to sexually assault Linda, but, as his quarry escapes, he will be too late to accomplish either Big Jim’s or his own mission.

As the townspeople gather at the Dome Visitors’ Day site, it is apparent that many are unprepared for a day in the sun. They fail to bring protection from the sun’s rays, to bring drinking water, and to refrain from eating foods that will make them thirsty later in the day. Big Jim’s failure to provide portable toilets or emergency medical personnel, equipment, and vehicles is also apparent. The day is shaping up for catastrophe, just as Big Jim hopes and intends. Still, Special Deputy Henry Morrison does his best to keep order and provide needed services, even dispatching Special Deputy Pamela Chen to the school for a bus to use to transport the sick and lame, if not the lazy, back to town at the end of the day. The lack of crickets’ “singing” (958) advertises, once again, the devastating effect that the dome is having on the town’s enclosed atmosphere.

As they watch the townspeople assemble at the Dome Visitors’ Day site, The Chef and Andy Sanders, armed with military assault rifles and hand grenades, make last-minute plans to stand off and defeat the attackers they believe will come to shut down the amphetamine lab. The Chef will hide inside “the Christian Meals on Wheels truck” and engage their attackers if they arrive by way of the access road, as he suspects they may, while Andy will keep watch “out front” (960). If either of them whistles, the other will run to his aid.

Barbie and the others atop Black Ridge watch the townspeople trek toward the Dome Visitors’ Day site and observe the hospital ambulance as it makes its way up the mountain, toward the McCoy cabin. Barbie, Joe McClatchey, and Julia Shumway say that they can feel the aliens watching them.

Big Jim and Carter also watch, on television, as the crowd surges forward, crushing the ones in front against the side of the invisible dome. Special Deputy Morrison and his fellow lawmen fire their pistols into the air, restoring order, as they order the crowd to spread out along the side of the dome rather than to bunch up against it. Stephen King’s favorite news source, CNN, and three of his favorite journalists, Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, and Candy Cowley (Dome Visitors’ Day is such a huge event that it takes all three reporters’ talents to cover the story properly, it seems), report the happening.

On the outside of the dome, the soldiers are unable to prevent the arriving family members and friends from “stampeding” toward their trapped loved ones, and “one” visitor is “killed in this stampede and fourteen. . . injured, half a dozen seriously” (964). Others, implanted with “various electronic medical devices” are killed by the dome itself.

King’s omniscient narrator’s description of the nearly riotous manner in which both the dome’s visitors and victims act, stampeding like wild cattle, or sheep without a shepherd, recalls Big Jim’s characterization of his constituents as “ants” or “sheep” that need to be taken care of by more responsible leaders, or “shepherds.” In his depiction of the men and women inside and outside Chester’s Mill, King seems to agree with Big Jim’s assessment of human beings. Many of his characters arrive without water or proper protection from the sun. They have given little thought to the best foods to bring. Overcome by their emotions, they rush forward, crushing or trampling one another, when there is no need to behave in such a mindless and injurious fashion. Possessed of a mob mentality, they react only to gunshots and profanity. Without someone, whether it is Deputy Henry Morrison or Big Jim Rennie, many of the townspeople would be unable to take care of themselves or their families. It is only the few, King implies, who are able to fend for themselves: cunning, but self-serving and unscrupulous men of audacious daring, such as Big Jim; those who have police or military training, such as Barbie, Henry, and others; those who have the love and compassion that it takes to put the needs of others, such as family members and friends, ahead of their own safety and welfare; and, curiously, those who, like Ollie Dinsmore, have endured great suffering. It is as if having lost his family, Ollie’s eyes are opened to the absurdity of life, both in big and small matters. When he sees seventeen-year-old Mary Lou Costras carrying her infant son to the Dome Visitors’ Day site, Ollie “wonders if she’s insane, bringing a kid that small out here in this heat, without even a hat to protect its head” (953), a point that is seconded by Henry:
“I think there’s a Red Sox hat in the back of my car,” Henry says. “If so, would you take it over there?” He points to the woman Ollie has already noticed, the one with the bareheaded baby. “Put it on the kid and tell that woman she’s an idiot” (954-955).
In viewing the congregating townspeople, Ollie’s loss and grief also allow him a detached, if not entirely objective, rather resigned and, perhaps, cynical view of Dome Visitors’ Day: “Ollie thinks what a slow, sad walk they are going to have once the hoopla’s over” (953). He then returns “to the job at hand,” the burial of his father, who committed suicide last night or early this morning.

King may well be right in his assessment of crowd psychology; both psychologists and other writers, including Mark Twain (in his portrayal of the mob that Colonel Sanders turns away in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), offer similar observations. He may also be right in declaring that some judge others by themselves, as the rather foolish Police Chief Pete Randolph does in having assumed that Deputy Freddy Denton would be angry at him for assuming command of the methamphetamine lab raiding party, a tendency that, King suggests, is illogical, given to error, and potentially risky: “He has expected grief from Freddy for taking over the head honcho role but there is none (Peter Randolph has been judging others by himself all his life), but there is none)”; instead, the wily Freddy thinks, “This is a far bigger deal than rousting skuzzy old drunks out of convenience stores, and Freddy is delighted to hand off the responsibility” (965). Again, King is on the money in this observation , too, but it’s one that he doesn’t apply to himself, apparently, because his fiction is littered with references to pop culture experiences, artifacts, and events that he seems to believe his readers have also experienced and either enjoyed or not, as King himself has enjoyed them or not, and, of course, he is stridently insistent that CNN is the best (and maybe the only authentic) news source in America, if not the world, and that Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, and the rest of the CNN team can deliver the story better (and, of course, more truthfully) than any other reporters on the planet. Of course, an author must judge others--his characters--by his own personal attitudes, beliefs, emotions, ideas, values, and biases, because he or she is the one and (usually) only individual on hand with whom to consult as he or she writes a novel. The “others” whom he or she thus “judges” are, after all, mere creations of the author’s own imagination, including his or her evaluations of real persons’ conduct and speech, since fictional persons are always based, to some degree, on actual human beings. When King, in “judging others by himself” gets it right, he’s a masterful psychologist; otherwise, he tends toward self-indulgence and personal prejudice. The fact that he gets it right only part of the time is what will probably prevent his acceptance by scholars as a truly great writer, although, on the other hand, it’s doubtful that many of them would classify him as a mere hack. King is more like Edgar Allan Poe was judged to be, by James Russell Lowell, “three-fifths genius and two-fifths sheer fudge” (A Fable for Critics), and, as such, will likely occupy the middle ground between the extremes of the literary genius and the literary hack. Still, in all, that’s not a bad place to be for a writer who admits that his work is “the equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.”

An interesting point about the Dome Visitors’ Day scene, which occupies much of the space from pages 950 to 968, is that there are clear divisions of the action , discernable by which group of characters and which settings occur as the narrative’s action progresses: Special Deputy Henry Morrison, at the site itself; Ollie Dinsmore, burying his father on the family farm; Barbie and his coconspirators at the old McCoy cabin atop Black Ridge; Marta Edmunds watching TV in her Uncle Clayton Brassey’s farmhouse, while the deceased homeowner’s corpse keeps her company; The Chef and Andy Sanders at the meth lab behind the Holy Redeemer Church, awaiting the police’s raid; Chief Randolph and his deputies planning their raid before watching the Dome Visitors’ Day events unfold on TV at the police station (on CNN, of course); the police in transit to the church, having forgotten their helmets and Kevlar vests. To this point in his story, King has tended to subdivide such action into relatively brief, numbered scenes, rather than to include the such potentially stand-alone segments in one, continuous narrative block. One of the effects of this decision is to unify the action while keeping various settings and casts of characters before the reader’s mind, emphasizing that, although divided in purpose, behavior, attitudes, beliefs, attitudes, and perspectives, the townspeople are one community, living in one town--for the present, at least. There is every indication that this solidarity is superficial rather than real and that the threat to Chester’s Mill will soon fragment the town.

King uses the same divide-and-separate tactic with regard to the two platoons of police officers who approach the methamphetamine lab behind the Holy Redeemer Church, where The Chef and Andy Sanders are waiting to ambush their attackers, keeping the reader apprised now of what is happening with one or another of the advancing teams of officers and now of what is occurring with regard to either The Chef or Andy. As a result, the pace is kept brisk and the suspense mounts. King is surprisingly good at describing fight sequences, although, one suspects, he has seldom been in physical altercations and has certainly never participated in either police or military combat operations. The power of the imagination is a wonderful thing, especially when it is bolstered, as King’s often is, by expert consultants and research. The ranks of the advancing police officers are quickly thinned as first The Chef and then Andy decimate their numbers with fire from their AK-47 assault rifles. Among the casualties are Chief Randolph (killed by Andy) and Deputy Freddy Denton (slain by The Chef), the force’s two veteran officers and onsite leaders. They die with the same cowardice that has caused most of the special deputies except Aubrey Towle to flee for their lives. As writers of tales of the wild West are fond of pointing out, it takes a special sort of man to face another armed man--someone like Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday. There’s a big difference such writers point out, between shooting at unarmed targets or wild animals and facing an armed man who can shoot back an, in doing so, possibly kill his adversary. Courage under fire is a prerequisite to such conflicts that neither Chief Randolph, Deputy Denton, nor most of the special deputies can boast: “They weren’t cops at all, Chef saw; just birds on the ground too dumb to fly”:

With this homily and call to judgment, Chef opened fire, raking them from left to right. Two of the uniformed cops and Stubby Norman flew backward like broken dolls, painting the high trash grass [sic] with their blood. The paralysis of the survivors broke. Two turned and fled to the woods. Conree and the last of the uniformed cops booked for the studio. Chef tracked them and opened fire again. The Kalashnikov burped a brief burst, and then the clip was empty (974).

Frederick Howard Denton, aka Baldy, wasn’t thinking about anything when he reached the back of the WCIK studio. He had seen the Conree girl go down with her throat blown out, and that was the end of rational consideration. All he knew was that he didn’t want his pictiure4 on the Honor Wall. He had to get under cover, and that meant inside. There was a door. Behind it, some gospel group was singing “We’’ Join Hands Around the Throne.”

Freddy grabbed the knob. It refused to turn.


He dropped his gun, raised the hand which had been holding it, and screamed: “I surrender! Don’t shoot, I sur--”

Three heavy blows boxed him low in the back. He saw a splash of red hit the door and had time to think, We should have remembered the body armor. Then he crumpled, still holding onto the knob with one hand as the world rushed away from him. Everything he was and everything he’d ever known diminished to a single burning-bright point of light. Then it went out. His hand slipped off the knob. He died on his knees, leaning against the door (975).

He [Andy Sanders] killed both Bowie brothers and Mr. Chicken with his first fusillade. Randolph he only winged. Andy popped the clip as Chef Bushey had taught him, grabbed another from the waistband of his pants, and slammed it home. Chief Randolph was crawling toward the door of the studio with blood pouring down his right arm and leg. He looked back over his shoulder, his peering eyes huge and bright in his sweaty face.
. . . “Please don’t kill me! Randolph screamed. He put a hand over his face.

“Just think about the roast beef dinner you’ll be eating with Jesus,” Andy said. “Why, three seconds from now you’ll be spreading your napkin.”

The sustained blast from the Kalashnikov rolled Randolph almost all the way to the studio door (978).

Aubrey manages to wound The Chef, but is killed by Andy. As Melvin closes in on the drug addicts, they detonate the explosives by pressing a button on the garage door opener that The Chef has rigged as a detonator.

The explosion sets off another, tremendous explosion, this one of the ten thousand gallons of propane that Big Jim and his cronies had stockpiled at the church for use in making methamphetamine. Barbie, watching with the others of his group, think, “Now we’re under the magnifying glass” (982). King’s townspeople turn their attention to the godlike reporters of CNN for word as to what has just happened, but, for once, even “America’s news stars,” Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, Candy Crowley, Chad Myers, and Soledad O’Brien, are unable to fathom what has just happened--it’s that huge. The firestorm that results from the explosion rolls across the town, blackening the sky under the dome and catching fire to the town and countryside. Pamela Chen recommends that the townspeople who have congregated at the dome board the bus so that they can speed through the advancing firestorm. Although Special Deputy Morrison doesn’t share his colleague’s optimism, he agrees to her plan.

King’s omniscient narrator devotes a length paragraph to describing the vast damage the raging firestorm does to Chester’s Mill. Peace Bride is “vaporized,” the walls of the police department implode before its bricks shower into the air. The statue of the town’s founder is “uprooted,” and “the buildings along Main Street explode one after another,” incinerating Food Town and “rolling down main roads, boiling their tar into soup” (987) as it spreads everywhere under the dome. Big Jim and Carter have taken refuge in the Town Hall’s bomb shelter, but many other residents have nowhere to ride out the fury of the firestorm. The sky is dark with birds trying to escape the inferno, and animals flee, colliding against the transparent barrier, “the lucky animals” dying, “the unlucky ones” lying “sprawled on pincushions of broken bones, barking and squealing and meowing and bellowing” in agony and terror (988).

Ollie Dinsmore helps himself to the oxygen in his father’s death chamber and takes refuge in his farm’s potato cellar.

Barbie and the others atop Black Ridge return to the McCoy farmhouse, Barbie understanding that the firestorm may exhaust the air supply available toy the under the dome.

With “about a dozen townsfolk” aboard the bus, “among them. . . Mabel Alston, Mary Lou Costas. And Mary Lou’s baby. . . . Leo Lamoine” (990), Chaz Bender, Pamela Chen, and Henry Morrison at the wheel, the bus rams through the firestorm’s wall, but, before it clears the fire, “the windows implode and the bus fills with fire” (991).

Barbie and his party reach the dome, where they ask the soldiers to turn on the huge fans the helicopters had transported to the scene, and the fans force a “faint breeze of clean air. . . through the barrier” (994), as the fire continues to burn “behind the,,” its fury unabated.

Whatever could go wrong has gone wrong. In the last fifty pages, King has thrown a Western-style shoot out between a posse and a pair of outlaws and a cataclysmic firestorm at his trapped characters; death and destruction appears everywhere, and the air inside the dome is barely breathable. Even the plants and the animals have not been spared, but lie dead or dying in terror and agony, and, with seventy-seven pages left to read of the story, the reader suspects that the worst is yet to come.

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Paranormal vs. Supernatural: What’s the Diff?

Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman

Sometimes, in demonstrating how to brainstorm about an essay topic, selecting horror movies, I ask students to name the titles of as many such movies as spring to mind (seldom a difficult feat for them, as the genre remains quite popular among young adults). Then, I ask them to identify the monster, or threat--the antagonist, to use the proper terminology--that appears in each of the films they have named. Again, this is usually a quick and easy task. Finally, I ask them to group the films’ adversaries into one of three possible categories: natural, paranormal, or supernatural. This is where the fun begins.

It’s a simple enough matter, usually, to identify the threats which fall under the “natural” label, especially after I supply my students with the scientific definition of “nature”: everything that exists as either matter or energy (which are, of course, the same thing, in different forms--in other words, the universe itself. The supernatural is anything which falls outside, or is beyond, the universe: God, angels, demons, and the like, if they exist. Mad scientists, mutant cannibals (and just plain cannibals), serial killers, and such are examples of natural threats. So far, so simple.

What about borderline creatures, though? Are vampires, werewolves, and zombies, for example, natural or supernatural? And what about Freddy Krueger? In fact, what does the word “paranormal” mean, anyway? If the universe is nature and anything outside or beyond the universe is supernatural, where does the paranormal fit into the scheme of things?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “paranormal,” formed of the prefix “para,” meaning alongside, and “normal,” meaning “conforming to common standards, usual,” was coined in 1920. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “paranormal” to mean “beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation.” In other words, the paranormal is not supernatural--it is not outside or beyond the universe; it is natural, but, at the present, at least, inexplicable, which is to say that science cannot yet explain its nature. The same dictionary offers, as examples of paranormal phenomena, telepathy and “a medium’s paranormal powers.”

Wikipedia offers a few other examples of such phenomena or of paranormal sciences, including the percentages of the American population which, according to a Gallup poll, believes in each phenomenon, shown here in parentheses: psychic or spiritual healing (54), extrasensory perception (ESP) (50), ghosts (42), demons (41), extraterrestrials (33), clairvoyance and prophecy (32), communication with the dead (28), astrology (28), witchcraft (26), reincarnation (25), and channeling (15); 36 percent believe in telepathy.

As can be seen from this list, which includes demons, ghosts, and witches along with psychics and extraterrestrials, there is a confusion as to which phenomena and which individuals belong to the paranormal and which belong to the supernatural categories. This confusion, I believe, results from the scientism of our age, which makes it fashionable for people who fancy themselves intelligent and educated to dismiss whatever cannot be explained scientifically or, if such phenomena cannot be entirely rejected, to classify them as as-yet inexplicable natural phenomena. That way, the existence of a supernatural realm need not be admitted or even entertained. Scientists tend to be materialists, believing that the real consists only of the twofold unity of matter and energy, not dualists who believe that there is both the material (matter and energy) and the spiritual, or supernatural. If so, everything that was once regarded as having been supernatural will be regarded (if it cannot be dismissed) as paranormal and, maybe, if and when it is explained by science, as natural. Indeed, Sigmund Freud sought to explain even God as but a natural--and in Freud’s opinion, an obsolete--phenomenon.

Meanwhile, among skeptics, there is an ongoing campaign to eliminate the paranormal by explaining them as products of ignorance, misunderstanding, or deceit. Ridicule is also a tactic that skeptics sometimes employ in this campaign. For example, The Skeptics’ Dictionary contends that the perception of some “events” as being of a paranormal nature may be attributed to “ignorance or magical thinking.” The dictionary is equally suspicious of each individual phenomenon or “paranormal science” as well. Concerning psychics’ alleged ability to discern future events, for example, The Skeptic’s Dictionary quotes Jay Leno (“How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?”), following with a number of similar observations:

Psychics don't rely on psychics to warn them of impending disasters. Psychics don't predict their own deaths or diseases. They go to the dentist like the rest of us. They're as surprised and disturbed as the rest of us when they have to call a plumber or an electrician to fix some defect at home. Their planes are delayed without their being able to anticipate the delays. If they want to know something about Abraham Lincoln, they go to the library; they don't try to talk to Abe's spirit. In short, psychics live by the known laws of nature except when they are playing the psychic game with people.
In An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, James Randi, a magician who exercises a skeptical attitude toward all things alleged to be paranormal or supernatural, takes issue with the notion of such phenomena as well, often employing the same arguments and rhetorical strategies as The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

In short, the difference between the paranormal and the supernatural lies in whether one is a materialist, believing in only the existence of matter and energy, or a dualist, believing in the existence of both matter and energy and spirit. If one maintains a belief in the reality of the spiritual, he or she will classify such entities as angels, demons, ghosts, gods, vampires, and other threats of a spiritual nature as supernatural, rather than paranormal, phenomena. He or she may also include witches (because, although they are human, they are empowered by the devil, who is himself a supernatural entity) and other natural threats that are energized, so to speak, by a power that transcends nature and is, as such, outside or beyond the universe. Otherwise, one is likely to reject the supernatural as a category altogether, identifying every inexplicable phenomenon as paranormal, whether it is dark matter or a teenage werewolf. Indeed, some scientists dedicate at least part of their time to debunking allegedly paranormal phenomena, explaining what natural conditions or processes may explain them, as the author of The Serpent and the Rainbow explains the creation of zombies by voodoo priests.

Based upon my recent reading of Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to the Fantastic, I add the following addendum to this essay.

According to Todorov:

The fantastic. . . lasts only as long as a certain hesitation [in deciding] whether or not what they [the reader and the protagonist] perceive derives from "reality" as it exists in the common opinion. . . . If he [the reader] decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we can say that the work belongs to the another genre [than the fantastic]: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous (The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, 41).
Todorov further differentiates these two categories by characterizing the uncanny as “the supernatural explained” and the marvelous as “the supernatural accepted” (41-42).

Interestingly, the prejudice against even the possibility of the supernatural’s existence which is implicit in the designation of natural versus paranormal phenomena, which excludes any consideration of the supernatural, suggests that there are no marvelous phenomena; instead, there can be only the uncanny. Consequently, for those who subscribe to this view, the fantastic itself no longer exists in this scheme, for the fantastic depends, as Todorov points out, upon the tension of indecision concerning to which category an incident belongs, the natural or the supernatural. The paranormal is understood, by those who posit it, in lieu of the supernatural, as the natural as yet unexplained.

And now, back to a fate worse than death: grading students’ papers.

My Cup of Blood

Anyone who becomes an aficionado of anything tends, eventually, to develop criteria for elements or features of the person, place, or thing of whom or which he or she has become enamored. Horror fiction--admittedly not everyone’s cuppa blood--is no different (okay, maybe it’s a little different): it, too, appeals to different fans, each for reasons of his or her own. Of course, in general, book reviews, the flyleaves of novels, and movie trailers suggest what many, maybe even most, readers of a particular type of fiction enjoy, but, right here, right now, I’m talking more specifically--one might say, even more eccentrically. In other words, I’m talking what I happen to like, without assuming (assuming makes an “ass” of “u” and “me”) that you also like the same. It’s entirely possible that you will; on the other hand, it’s entirely likely that you won’t.

Anyway, this is what I happen to like in horror fiction:

Small-town settings in which I get to know the townspeople, both the good, the bad, and the ugly. For this reason alone, I’m a sucker for most of Stephen King’s novels. Most of them, from 'Salem's Lot to Under the Dome, are set in small towns that are peopled by the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of the appeal here, granted, is the sense of community that such settings entail.

Isolated settings, such as caves, desert wastelands, islands, mountaintops, space, swamps, where characters are cut off from civilization and culture and must survive and thrive or die on their own, without assistance, by their wits and other personal resources. Many are the examples of such novels and screenplays, but Alien, The Shining, The Descent, Desperation, and The Island of Dr. Moreau, are some of the ones that come readily to mind.

Total institutions as settings. Camps, hospitals, military installations, nursing homes, prisons, resorts, spaceships, and other worlds unto themselves are examples of such settings, and Sleepaway Camp, Coma, The Green Mile, and Aliens are some of the novels or films that take place in such settings.

Anecdotal scenes--in other words, short scenes that showcase a character--usually, an unusual, even eccentric, character. Both Dean Koontz and the dynamic duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, excel at this, so I keep reading their series (although Koontz’s canine companions frequently--indeed, almost always--annoy, as does his relentless optimism).

Atmosphere, mood, and tone. Here, King is king, but so is Bentley Little. In the use of description to terrorize and horrify, both are masters of the craft.

A bit of erotica (okay, okay, sex--are you satisfied?), often of the unusual variety. Sex sells, and, yes, sex whets my reader’s appetite. Bentley Little is the go-to guy for this spicy ingredient, although Koontz has done a bit of seasoning with this spice, too, in such novels as Lightning and Demon Seed (and, some say, Hung).

Believable characters. Stephen King, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Dan Simmons are great at creating characters that stick to readers’ ribs.

Innovation. Bram Stoker demonstrates it, especially in his short story “Dracula’s Guest,” as does H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, and a host of other, mostly classical, horror novelists and short story writers. For an example, check out my post on Stoker’s story, which is a real stoker, to be sure. Stephen King shows innovation, too, in ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, It, and other novels. One might even argue that Dean Koontz’s something-for-everyone, cross-genre writing is innovative; he seems to have been one of the first, if not the first, to pen such tales.

Technique. Check out Frank Peretti’s use of maps and his allusions to the senses in Monster; my post on this very topic is worth a look, if I do say so myself, which, of course, I do. Opening chapters that accomplish a multitude of narrative purposes (not usually all at once, but successively) are attractive, too, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are as good as anyone, and better than many, at this art.

A connective universe--a mythos, if you will, such as both H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, and, to a lesser extent, Dean Koontz, Bentley Little, and even Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have created through the use of recurring settings, characters, themes, and other elements of fiction.

A lack of pretentiousness. Dean Koontz has it, as do Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Bentley Little, and (to some extent, although he has become condescending and self-indulgent of late, Stephen King); unfortunately, both Dan Simmons and Robert McCammon have become too self-important in their later works, Simmons almost to the point of becoming unreadable. Come on, people, you’re writing about monsters--you should be humble.

Longevity. Writers who have been around for a while usually get better, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, and Robert McCammon excepted.

Pacing. Neither too fast nor too slow. Dean Koontz is good, maybe the best, here, of contemporary horror writers.

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