Yesterday, I officially turned in my copyedits for Paper Valentine, which means that it is now closer than ever to being a Real! Live! Book!
Also it means that now I have all this time to Think About Stuff again. And what I’ve been thinking about today is the broad and fascinating spectrum of author influences.
I’ll be the first to admit that my books aren’t exactly keeping any secrets in terms of my personal interests. Even the most casual reader could probably infer that I’m a big fan of horror movies, and the more academically-minded might go so far as to identify prevailing themes of autonomy, or observe that I clearly have a longstanding affection for Shirley Jackson and Gothic literature and moral ambiguity.
Today, though, I want to talk about an influence that might not be so obvious. Specifically, the trope of the Monstrous Fairy Godmother. (Also, I just made that last thing up, but I don’t care because it totally exists, and I will prove it!)
Before we go further, I want to officially notify you that somewhere below, I’ve included several images of horror-movie grotesquery and they may be disturbing. I can justify this to myself because I really want you to understand exactly what I’m talking about, and it’s a known principle of the internet that people enjoy blog posts with visual aids, and also TNT used to show this movie constantly, meaning that if you happened be channel-surfing on a Saturday afternoon you could very well stumble across the same upsetting content, only it would be live-action and you would be seeing it entirely by accident. See? I am giving you more warning than Turner Broadcasting would, because I’m conscientious like that!
And now, the actual salient point of all this:
When I was twelve years old, I became mildly obsessed with Victor Pascow.
Which is unprecedented and a little weird, because Victor Pascow is not a real person. In fact, Victor Pascow isn’t even a main character.
The groundwork for my obsession actually took place much earlier—the summer I was nine, which is when the movie version of Pet Sematary came out. Its premise appealed to me as both an animal lover and an exceptionally morbid child, and I beggedbeggedbegged my mother to take me to see it. In a fit of ill-advised benevolence, she did. Then, halfway through, in a fit of serious reconsideration, she decided it was way too grisly and we needed to leave.
As a result, I didn’t find out how the story ended for another three years, when I discovered that the public library had something called a “Horror Section.”
Also, if the totally-80s B-movie version of Pet Sematary is not for nine-year-olds because there are long-haul trucks running people over and a zombie cat, the book version is not for twelve-year-olds for so many reasons. Among them, a visceral and unflinching examination of mortality, a prancing cavalcade of totally gruesome deaths, and some very adult sexy-times.
However. At twelve years old, I did not care one iota whether or not the book constituted age-appropriate reading material, because at least I got to find out what happened to Louis Creed and Family. (I’ll give you a hint: nothing good.)
And once having read the book, I became more determined than ever to see the end of the movie. Which my mother allowed, 1) because I’d already seen The Shining and The Exorcist and had survived them both, and 2) if I watched Pet Sematary at home, she could just leave the room at the gooshy parts.
As it turns out, the movie is where Victor Pascow gets awesome. In the book, he’s there … but not really. In fact, Pet Sematary constitutes a rare instance in which a minor character actually plays a far (far, far, far) larger role in the film than in the novel.
What I’m about to tell you now might seem deeply at odds with the movie stills I’m about to show you, but bear with me.
Victor Pascow is the most unambiguously good character in this story.
Despite missing half his face, Victor is joyful.
What we know about him is minimal. He’s a college student who dies jogging, victim of a hit-and-run. (Dubious) protagonist Doctor Louis Creed is on-scene, but ultimately unable to save him. However, because Victor is a gracious and appreciative person, he recognizes that Louis made a valiant effort and works hard to return the favor. To this end, Victor makes it his business to keep bad things from happening to the Creed family. Also, he is largely unsuccessful in this effort, but it’s not for lack of trying.
He hangs out in cemeteries. Not because he is dead, but because he is the Monstrous Fairy Godmother of Louis Creed, who has very poor judgment and is always hanging out in cemeteries.
Victor’s main super power (aside from generally lurking around the movie in order to cultivate an impending sense of doom) is to subtly influence the other characters by hovering behind them to impart subliminal messages and instructions, like so:
See? He is so helpful!
Basically, he is the wise, mystical figure who can be depended on to lead the way, even though his general appearance suggests that you should never ever follow him, and he has to contend with other characters who are offering conflicting guidance and sincerely think they’re doing the right thing and still have their whole faces.
Which is unequivocally effective and cool and surprising and transportive, and at twelve years old, made me want to recreate the whole thing, even though I had no idea yet how I would manage it, or that writing books was something normal people were actually allowed to do.
And that is the story of how I came to love the Monstrous Fairy Godmother.
Also, I’m not telling you to see this movie, because it’s not very good. Which makes me really sad, because the screenplay is actually pretty decent. King adapted it himself and was able to capture the spirit of the book fairly well, but the whole thing is hindered by the primitive special effects—not to mention, the acting is really hammy.*
*Except Fred Gwynne, who is perfect. (If a little hammy.) (But still!)