Friday, November 28, 2014

Stephen King's 'Revival: A Novel'

Stephen King has never been one to shy away from wrestling with the most important issues of life. He knows how to use the horror genre effectively as a vehicle for sobering reflections on God, good and evil, human nature, love, hope and despair, and the meaning of life.

King is also disturbingly inventive when it comes to portraying evil in all its gory detail. It's been said that we all have a better handle on evil than good because we understand it better. Maybe King's just more honest than most about following that trajectory to its conclusion.

In Revival: A Novel, King has reminded us once again why he is the master in his genre. By blending a number of significant influences in his life (Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan,"  H.P Lovecraft's  Cthulhu, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) as well as his religious upbringing, he has crafted a tale that I can best describe as bleak. To give you an idea of just how bleak, I offer something  Bertrand Russell wrote in A Free Man's Worship as a means of comparison:

"That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins--all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

Mr. Russell would recognize the foundation and scaffolding upon which King has safely built his story.  Revival shows the conflict between good and evil, but not in the sense we typically understand it. Those labels are utterly, terrifyingly meaningless. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can help any of them beyond the grave. In this world, "there is no such thing as light, and our belief in it is a foolish illusion... we live in darkness like animals in a burrow, or ants deep in their hill. And not alone." That's the worst part. Not alone. That's not a blessing.

Revival clearly maps out where there be monsters, but whatever the characters feel or think about them is sound and fury, signifying nothing. They try so hard and get so far, but in the end it doesn't even matter.  This may be King's most effectively horrifying novel yet as he takes an honest look at the depth of despair in a senseless universe. Just be warned - when you look into the void, it sometimes looks back (the ending haunted me for days). If you are looking for hope in the midst of darkness, fear and pain, you will need the kind of revival found in the Greatest Story of them all.


  1. That Russell quote strongly reminds me of something else I've read - something that started out, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity...".

  2. Yes, Steve, very much so. Two very different Kings with a similar outlook.

  3. I am delighted to see Vintage Stephen King developing characters that I can call my friends and adversaries from 1960-ish Southern California.

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