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Friday, July 23, 2010

Moving Chess Pieces "Under the Dome"

Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman




Much of the next section of King’s novel is dedicated to moving his chess pieces into place in preparation for the coming showdown between the forces of good and the forces of evil. In a series of usually brief scenes, he sets up the action to come.

The friends of Barbie gather at the Congo Church for their planned meeting. As they pray, the pastor, Piper Libby, who is “no longer sure just who” (or even whom) she is “talking to when” she herself prays, surveys the faithful, who make up the village that King so often finds it takes to thwart the threat that has raised its ugly head in his novel; all are present but Colonel Barbara and physician’s assistant Rusty Everett:

. . . two recently fired lady cops, a retired supermarket manager, a newspaperwoman who no longer had a newspaper, a librarian, the owner of the local restaurant, a Dome-widow who couldn’t stop spinning the wedding ring on her finger, the local department store tycoon, and three uncharacteristically solemn-faced kids sitting scrunched together on the sofa (807).
Twelve are present and to others are absent, making those who will spearhead the attack on evil, represented by Big Jim Rennie, Chief Randolph, and their cronies in one camp and Phil (“The Chef”) Bushey and Andy Sanders in another (and possibly the extraterrestrials or whoever created the dome in a third). The small party recalls such traditional storylines as Moses against Pharaoh, David against Goliath, or Samson against the Philistines. Except for the combat skills and military knowledge of Barbie and the police experience of the two former police officers, the underdogs don’t seem to have much going for them except their love of their community, a love of freedom, a belief and trust in God, and a willingness to fight for their values and faith. They seem hopelessly outmatched by the resourceful, efficient, and determined criminal Big Jim Rennie and who- or whatever invented the dome. The reader is interested in seeing how (not so much whether) the small band of citizens will succeed.

The fellowship fills one another in on the situation as they are able to piece it together, and former deputy Jackie Wettington offers a possible cause for the aberrant behavior of Big Jim and Junior, suggesting that they share “the same wild strain of behavior--something genetic--coming out under pressure” (808). As they discuss their plans, an intimacy develops among the conspirators, and they ask one another to call them by their first names. A feeling of solidarity emerges among them that is as strong, if not stronger, the reader suspects, as the solidarity among Jim Rennie’s supporters. After springing Barbie and Rusty from jail, the conspirators decide to use the abandoned McCoy residence atop Black Ridge, where the dome generator is, as their safe house so they can protect the generator from Big Jim, should he try to gain access to the device. Joe McClatchey recommends that they find a way to return the Geiger counter to the town hall’s bomb shelter so that, should Big Jim and his men attempt to attack the McCoy place, they will be frightened away by the Geiger counter’s warning, ignorant of the fact that the radiation at the Black Ridge site is “just a belt” through which they “could drive right through. . . without any protection at all and not get hurt” (813)

Julia’s dog Horace, left with Andrea Grinnell, again hears the voice of the dead Brenda Perkins, urging the Corgi to take the incriminating file concerning Big Jim’s illegal activities to Andrea. The selectman recalls the newspaperwoman’s earlier visit and opens the envelope so that “most of Big Jim Rennie’s secrets” fall “out into her lap” (816).

King surprises the reader by Andrea’s choice not to reveal to Julia that Horace found the file of evidence that Brenda’s husband, Police Chief Howard (“Duke”) Perkins had been compiling against Big Jim. Instead, Andrea loads a pistol, intending to murder her fellow selectman as soon as she gets the chance to do so.

Junior, having awakened in his hospital room is so sick that even he is aware of it, despite the fact that he is not suffering from one of his many, frequent headaches:

There was a suspicious weakness all down the left side of his body, and sometimes spit slipped from that side of his mouth. If he wiped it away with his left hand, sometimes he felt skin against skin and sometimes he couldn’t. In addition to this, there was a dark keyhole shape, quite large, floating in the left side of his vision. As if something had torn inside that eyeball. He supposed it had (824).
Junior hallucinates, and he is not always able to recognize these breaks with reality, As a result, he comes to believe that his father, Big Jim, has conspired with Thurston Marshall to poison him. Paranoid, Junior thinks only Alice and Aidan Appleton are trustworthy; everyone else is out to get him. He plans to kill Barbie and his father before kidnapping and becoming the caretaker for the Appleton children. Once he becomes their surrogate father, Junior believes, God will extend his lifetime, preventing his death from “thallium poisoning” (826). Better yet, he decides, he will take the children to the McCain pantry, in which he’d stored the bodies of Angie McCain, Dodee Sanders, and Lester Coggins.

Awakened by pain caused by the injuries she’d sustained during the food fight at the Food Town supermarket, Henrietta Clavard, released from the hospital to finish recuperating at home, hears the lamentations of her neighbor’s dog, Buddy. She is joined in her investigation of the incident by Douglas Twitchell, who is passing by, and they discover Henrietta’s neighbors (Buddy’s owners) dead; like an increasing number of other Chester’s Mill residents, the elderly couple has committed suicide.

Big Jim, having checked out of the hospital, meets with several of his lieutenants at Sweetbriar Rose: Police Chief Peter Randolph, Deputy Freddy Denton, and Special Deputies Melvin Searles and Carter Thibodeau, his bodyguard. Once again, for a character who is modeled upon Dick Chaney and George W. Bush, Big Jim seems a great deal like Barack Hussein Obama: “he had already started drafting a list of executive orders, which he would begin putting into effect as soon as he was granted full executive powers” (832). During their luncheon, Big Jim sets up the raid on the methamphetamine lab. Colonel C ox calls to deliver the news that there is radiation atop Black Ridge.

Claire McClatchey wants to accompany the others to break Barnie and Rusty out of jail. Her son and Jackie Wettington dissuade her.

As Rose, Ernie, and Norrie, drive to Jim Rennie’s Used Cars, King’s omniscient narrator reminds the reader that the environment under the dome is continuing to deteriorate:

“The air smells so bad,” Norrie said.

“It’s the Prestile, honey,” Rose said. “It’s turned into a big old stinky marsh where it used to run into Motton.” She knew it was more than just the smell of the dying river, but didn’t say so. They had to breathe, so there was no point in worrying about what they might be breathing in. . . (836).
After Ernie steals a van from Jim Rennie’s Used Cars, he, Norrie, and Romeo load it and Romeo’s Escalante with supplies: rifles, lead rolls, food, masking tape, and other items.

Ollie Dinsmore, tossing rocks at the dome, laments his mother’s suicidal death.

Junior Rennie leaves the hospital. Instead of killing his father first, Junior, thinking more clearly and feeling better (his limp has vanished and the keyhole shape in his left eye is smaller), decides to kill Barbie first instead, since Big Jim’s speech will provide “good cover” (849). He is still hallucinating, though: he sees a wolf in the house he shares with his father and imagines that he is now the wolf, having become a werewolf. His limp returns, too. He leaves the house, laughing at a joke he never understood and the punch line to which he’s forgotten.

Carolyn Sturges packs sandwiches for her charges, Alice and Aidan Appleton, who want to attend Big Jim’s speech.

Andrea’s appearance is much better, although she hasn’t finished undergoing her withdrawal from pain pill addiction. She stows her .38 and the file of incriminating evidence against Big Jim in her purse, intent upon killing the villain “in front of this whole town” (852).

The townspeople begin to arrive for Big Jim’s speech. Linda, with her police radio in a pocket of her dress, sits with Andrea. The Appleton children introduce themselves to the women and vice versa.

Big Kim gives Chief Randolph and Special Deputy Thibodeau instructions as to how to enter the stage and what to expect concerning the agenda: prayer, National Anthem, speech, and vote, concluding “This is going to be fine.” King’s omniscient narrator overrules Big Jim, though, announcing “He was certainly wrong about that” (856), providing foreshadowing that maintains--indeed, to a degree, increases--suspense.

As the Star-Spangled Banner begins to play inside the Town Hall, Barbie’s rescue team swings into operation, Rose Twitchell, Claire McClatchey, Joe McClatchey, Norrie Calvert, Benny Drake, Lissa Jamieson, and Joanie Calvert taking Rose’s car and the Sweetbriar van to the McCoy cabin atop Black Ridge while Ernie Calvert serves as the “wheelman” (857) for Jackie Wettington and Romeo Burpee, who use the van that Ernie stole from Big Jim’s used car lot as the getaway vehicle after the former deputy and the department store owner have liberated Colonel Barbara and physician’s assistant Rusty Everett from the Chester’s Mill police station.

During his speech, after reminding his audience that Barbie has been arrested “for the murders of Brenda Perkins, Lester Coggins, and . . . Angie McCain and Dodee Sanders,” Big Jim explains the origin of the dome (not, of course, that his explanation is likely to be trustworthy):

“What you do not know,” Big Jim continued, “is that the Dome is the result of a conspiracy perpetuated by an elite group of rogue scientists and covertly funded by a government splinter group. We are guinea pigs in an experiment, my fellow townspeople, and Dale Barbara was the man designated to chart and guide that experiment’s course from the inside!” (860)
Big Jim also informs pins his own methamphetamine operation and identifies Colonel Cox as an impersonator who is really a part of the conspiracy of “rogue scientists” and “government splinter group” members. His speech has the desired effect; it enrages his audience. Then, Big Jim tells them that, should they want Barbie shot, it will be by “police firing squad,” not by lynching (861).

Junior starts for the police station, to kill Barbie.

Big Jim warns his listeners not to believe whatever Colonel Cox says during the Dome Visitors’ Day tomorrow, cautioning them that the supposed military man may even say that Big Jim himself headed the methamphetamine operation, to which Andrea Grinnell declares, “You did” (862). She presents Big Jim’s audience with a challenge of sorts, arguing:

“You people need to put your fears aside for a moment. . . . When you do, you’ll see that the story he’s telling is ludicrous. Jim Rennie thinks you can be stampeded like cattle in a thunderstorm. I’ve lived with you all my life, and I think he’s wrong” (862).
When Big Jim orders her evicted from the town meeting and escorted home or to the hospital, the people surprise him by insisting that she be allowed to speak, too, since “she’s a town official, too” (863). Andrea holds the file of incriminating evidence against Big Jim aloft, so the audience can see it, but as she starts to explain the envelope’s contents, she gets the “shakes” (864), her revolver falls from her purse, and she is shot to death by Special Deputy Thibodeau, who also steals her envelope, hiding it under his shirt. Carolyn Sturges is shot and killed by Deputy Freddy Denton.

At the police station, Junior shoots his way past the deputies on duty, killing all three--Rupert Libby (Piper’s cousin), Stacey Moggin, and Mickey Wardlaw, reloads using Stacey’s ammunition, and goes downstairs, to the cells, to kill Barbie.

On his way to Barbie’s cell, Junior notices Rusty Everett. Before he can kill the physician’s assistant, however, Barbie calls to Junior, taunting him by saying, “I got you, didn’t I? I got you good!” and flipping him off with both middle fingers. As Junior shoos round after round of ammunition at Barbie, the colonel manages to dodge the terminally ill assassin’s aim, taunting him all the while. As Junior closes in for the kill and Barbie remembers the knife he’s hidden inside his mattress, Barbie hears Rusty cry, “Get him!” (877) and the soldier wonders which side the physician’s assistant is on.

Although Rusty came across as brave in the earlier scene in which he relocated his own dislocated fingers, he is terrified of the mad, monstrous Junior. Shamefully, “Rusty stepped backward, thinking that perhaps Junior would miss him on his way by. And perhaps kill himself after finishing with Barbie.” Rusty is ashamed of himself for thinking these thoughts: “He knew these were craven thoughts, but he also knew they were practical thoughts. He could do nothing for Barbie, but he might be able to survive himself” (871). Certainly, the reader loses some respect for Rusty, because of his display of cowardice, but the reader also realizes that the physician’s assistant, unlike Barbie, is a civilian, not a military man trained in survival tactics and close combat skills. Unlike Barbie, Rusty has never served in the military, much less in combat. Therefore, his fear is understandable, whereas Barbie’s own fear (he sweat and shook when Deputy Ollie Ortega had threatened to shoot him) is less forgivable, as is his “forgetting” about the knife he’d hidden inside his bunk’s mattress. It seems most unlikely that a man with blacks ops training, hand-to-hand fighting training, and combat experience would forget such a vitally important fact. King’s soldier does, however, and this forgetfulness could easily have cost him both his life and Rusty’s.

Fortunately, during Junior’s attack, Jackie Wettington and Romeo Burpee entered the police station and, seeing the dead deputies, hastened down to the cells, where the former deputy shoots and kills Junior before the selectman’s son can assassinate Barbie. It was to them, unseen by Barbie, that Rusty had been shouting “Get him!,” meaning Junior, not Barbie, of course.

Deputy Freddy Denton and Special Deputy Melvin Searles enter the police station just as Romeo Burpee comes upstairs. Holding the bogus lawmen at gunpoint, Rommie orders them into a cell downstairs.

Barbie, Rusty, Jackie, and Ernie wave to police officers outside the Town Hall as they drive their stolen van out of town, “headed toward Black Ridge” (881).

King’s omniscient narrator keeps the reader reading by concluding many of these brief scenes with a sentence or two that foreshadows imminent violence, conflict, or catastrophe:


. . . at least if she’s with the rest of the town, she’s safe.

That was what he thought before the gunfire started (859).



Later she would wonder how many lives might have been saved if she had told Rommie okay, let’s roll (862).

In the pandemonium, no one heard the shots from next door (867).


“Ah, Jesus,” Rusty said. “We’re in trouble.”

“I know,” Barbie said (867).



“Hello, Baaarbie,” he called down the stairs. “I know what you did to me, and I’m coming for you. If you’ve got a prayer to say, better make it a quick one” (870).



“Close your eyes, Fusty,” Junior said. “It’ll be better that way” (871).



Before the next gunshot came, Barbie had just time to think, Jesus Christ, Everett, whose side are you on? (877)



What his collapsing body revealed was Dale Barbara himself, crouching on his bunk with the carefully secreted knife in his hand. He never had a chance to open it (877).



“Let’s get out of here while we still can,” Everett said (880).
By the way, and for the record, Barbie, who was jailed on page 533 of the novel, finally gets out of his cell (thanks to his rescuers) on page 877 or thereabout, making him Jim Rennie’s prisoner for an approximate count of 344 pages, or 32 percent of the entire story! During this large portion of the novel, Rusty Everett has filled in as the protagonist, apparently, because King’s omniscient narrator (or maybe it’s the voice of the extraterrestrial invaders who may be the inventors of the dome and the cause of all the mischief) declare, when they state as much when they observe that “for the time being, these two men--our heroes, I suppose--are sitting on their bunks and playing Twenty Questions. It’s Rusty’s turn to guess” (802). The existence of two “heroes,” alternating as the story’s central and most important characters makes them both, in effect, protagonists, a feat that seems impossible, even for Stephen King, since, according to the very concept of the protagonist’s being the story’s main character suggests that he or she must also be the only such type of character in the story, for “main” means “chief,” and there is only one chief in any enterprise, a work of fiction included. King’s wanting his reader to believe that there are two “main” characters in his novel betrays another of the narrative’s problematic and confusing elements.

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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.

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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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