I finished reading Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone” today, and holy cow, I really enjoyed it. Reading it reminded me how much I enjoy King’s writing style and really reignited a fire in me to read more of his works. While he is primarily known for his horror stories (many people forget he wrote “Shawshank Redemption”, arguably one of the best films ever made), he has a wide variety of genres that he taps into. King is not a horror writer, he is a character writer. He is skeptical of plots and instead he puts characters into a universe and just lets things play out.
This method feels more real to me, and in a sense more “true”. But, of course, that means that the good guys and bad guys are not always easy to identify and the endings are not always happy or satisfying. King was once asked how he felt about the ending to The Dark Tower series and I think his response sums up most of his work, “it ended the way it should end.” There are sometimes loose ends, sometimes the bad guys win, but that is how life is. Writing like that is what separates entertainment from art. Art is concerned with being true and entertainment is concerned with pleasing an audience.
Anyway, onto “The Dead Zone”. The basic premise of the book is the protagonist gains the ability to see things about the future and the past when he touches someone or certain objects. During one experience he realizes that a rising politician was going to become President someday and would start a nuclear war, killing millions. It is basically a “would you go back in time and kill Hitler” story.
It is basically a “would you go back in time and kill Hitler” story. I am sure we have all thought about this and many people say yes, they would. But I wonder how people would really act. For one, ending a human life is not easy. It is unlikely that a time traveler would be looking down the scope of a gun and see Hitler in the act of hurting someone… acting in self-defense is relatively easy compared to shooting someone while they are playing with their puppy or taking a nap or eating dinner.
Second, most people want to believe they are noble and will sacrifice their own life and safety for “the greater good”, but rarely do people really go through with something to any real degree. How often have we all heard that either Obama or Trump is “Hitler” or a fascist or going to destroy America? If people truly believed that then there would be assassination attempts all the time, but it doesn’t happen because people either don’t believe it or they are not willing to risk their own safety for the greater good. I actually think it is mostly the former… I think people like to bitch and moan on the internet but don’t actually believe what they are saying, or maybe most people are cowards.
Regardless, I enjoyed the book. It is a true work of art that makes you wonder what you would do in a fictional situation and how you will live your life in the real world with the knowledge we have. Is there a point where any of us would risk our safety to stop someone from doing harm? Would we stand by and watch an assault? A rape? A murder? Do we cut back on unnecessary purchases to donate money to refugees? Blood to the Red Cross? Hours to a homeless shelter? What is our comfort, our time, or life worth, when others reap the benefits? How comfortable should we be with the way we live our lives (and in some ways waste our lives) when others are living in discomfort? Art raises questions, art makes us uncomfortable, art puts a mirror in front of us, art uses a story to show us truth, art inspires us to play in that universe and write our own truth, and King is a damn good artist.