Stephen King’s “Carrie”, power, and love.

I have started what I hope and pray is the final edit of Princess of Shadows. Initial progress is slow, but that was the pattern with Princess of Wonders and Princess of Secrets as well, so I expect the pace will pick up.

So far no major issues have turned up, but I am finding that certain bits of inattentive writing still linger after four drafts (or is it five? I’ve lost count…). Here’s a fairly representative example–

The guard and Swallow conducted Kathy down a corridor
and out a door. Steps led down to a wide courtyard. It was wide,
nearly a hundred feet or so, and perhaps half that across.

Sigh. Fortunately, as I mentioned before, the CreateSpace proof PDF is proving to be very useful at spotting this sort of thing.

Meanwhile, as part of my research for my unnamed superhero novel, I have been reading Stephen King’s Carrie. That may seem like a strange choice as a superhero story, because, of course, Carrie’s not a superhero, but I am not approaching the subject in the traditional manner. This goes back to my discussion of the movie Chronicle (see the May archive) and the theme of what ordinary people do when suddenly given incredible power.

Full disclosure– I am not a horror fan, nor am I a particular fan of Stephen King. I have never read any of his books, other than an abortive attempt at The Gunslinger some years ago. On the other hand, I can, at least from a distance, recognize a skilled writer.

I picked up Carrie because it has some superficial similarities to the nascent concept I have in my head. As with Chronicle, I wanted to see how other authors have handled this subject, mainly because my own thinking about my story remains pretty nebulous.

(Mild spoilers– mild for me, at least– herein follow)

Stephen King himself has said that Carrie was “a young book by a young writer“, and at times I can see that– there are places where the narrative is thin, and some of the characterizations are two-dimensional. One of the devices King employed was the insertion of passages from reports, investigation testimony, and books written by characters after Prom Night, as it’s called, which tends to telegraph the action, perhaps more than we want it to.

On the other hand, King’s writing in general is taut, and his depiction of Carrie, her mother, and their relationship is harrowing, and form the effective core of the book. Margaret, Carrie’s mother, is a fanatic with a twisted religious lens, through which she views the world and her daughter. Her abuse of Carrie lays the foundation for Carrie’s inability to handle the power she has (in this case, hereditary), as well as her victimization by the outside world. Carrie has no foundational love on which to fall back.

For a moment, when Sue Snell, a girl who thoughtlessly participated in the moment of public humiliation of Carrie that starts the novel, tries to make amends by inducing her boyfriend to ask Carrie to the prom, it looks as if maybe Carrie will defy her mother, come out of her shell, and start to find some joy in life. This is taken away from her in an instant by the vindictive petty vengeance of a spoiled rich girl, which tips Carrie over the edge into creating a holocaust.

Parts of this novel are hard to read, and not just the horrifying interactions between Carrie and her mother. Carrie’s humiliation at the prom is painful, because you want this kid to emerge from the hell of her previous life, and that chance is taken away by shallow cruelty. There is not a lot of redemption in this book, except possibly for Sue Snell, the one character who appears to grow as a consequence of what happens. I wish there was more redemption, more affirmation, and that is undoubtedly a critical difference (one of many, doubtless) between me and Stephen King. King isn’t afraid to look straight and unflinchingly into the heart of pain and failure. I find that difficult in my own writing. In some way or another, I need to learn how to do this.

As to power, though, Carrie seems to confirm an understanding that has been forming in my own mind. I go back, once again, to Superman. Superman has the foundational love of the Kents to anchor him and to teach him how to use his powers for good; Carrie has nothing but the abuse and psychosis of her mother, which leaves her unequipped to handle either her power or the petty cruelties of other children. When she lashes out, it is rather analogous to a teenager opening fire in a classroom with an AK-47– a school-shooting by other means.

Of course, that analogy is part of the point– Carrie’s superpowers are a metaphor for the power anyone has to cause pain and suffering, whether it’s with a gun or a cruel word. We learn to use our power for good rather than harm as we are taught to empathize– to understand and to love others as we love ourselves.

I can almost state the interaction of foundational love versus power as a formula–

love > power

At least, we hope it is. Myths like Superman (and it is a myth) tell us it is. Looking at the real world, though, a note of doubt interrupts our certainty. There are plenty of people who have betrayed their love for power, or wealth, or some other lie that at some moment appeared more important or of more weight than the fuel that actually makes us human. People fail to love for many different reasons, and often with catastrophically tragic results.

So there is an uncertainty in how this contest between love and power will play out in each human being. And in that uncertainty, perhaps, lies the key to my story.

Hmm– maybe I need to see Man of Steel, after all.

Later.

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