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!)
I just recently started following your blog and OMG I love you even more because of this post! I read Pet Semetary for the first time when I was 12 and have watched the movie version countless times since then and each time I’m delighted and disturbed by what King has created and on one hand I think, “you have to have a pretty twisted imagination to come up with a story like that” while on the other I think, “Awesome! I want to grow up and write stories like that one day!” :)
Oh, I’m so glad you liked it! I have such a soft spot for this movie *because* of the book, which I think is just so smart and upsetting and twisted and wonderful. I keep hearing that there’s a movie-remake scheduled for some time in the next few years, and then I vacillate wildly between thinking that this time they’ll really get it right, and thinking that this time it’s going to be more terribly executed than I could possibly imagine. Which, I don’t see how—but that’s kind of the point: so terrible that I can’t even imagine how exactly they’d ruin it! Then I remind myself that it’s Hollywood and things get cancelled all the time, and so the chances of it actually getting made are miniscule. And then I go eat a cookie.
This blog post was thoroughly entertaining. The subject of the movie Pet Sematary comes up a lot in my house because one of my mother’s coworkers has a son named Gage because Pet Sematary is her favorite movie. I have not seen Pet Sematary because I scare easy with movies and then can’t sleep after watching them. But I already have insomnia and now I’m interested so I’ll have to see it. Also, I shared this post with my mom and she thought it was hilarious :D
Okay, I am totally morbid and I’ll freely admit that—but I don’t think even I could name my kid Gage! Now that’s a hardcore horror fan!
Re: insomnia—now that I think about it, this may have actually contributed to why I was such a little horror-junkie as a kid. I didn’t usually sleep a lot, so there wasn’t much to interrupt, which meant no negative consequences for watching all the scary movies I wanted!
Haha :D. Yeah, she gets that a lot. I remember when my mom came home and told us that her boss has a kid named Gage. At the time, I was completely clueless as to why it was so shocking, other than it being a unique name, but then I did some research on the movie and was shocked myself. I like to collect weird names and stories behind names, so I found this very interesting. I think it would be kind of cool to have a name like that. Now he has a strange story behind it.
A little sidenote: I also remember that story because it was around the same time that my mom told me I was supposed to be named Wednesday after the Adams Family, but then she changed her mind after watching Untamed Heart while she was pregnant with me. It made her sob and it moved her so much that she decided to name me after Marisa Tomei, but changed the spelling because she liked it with two s’s better. And that’s a great story but I think being named Wednesday would’ve been much cooler haha :D.
Okay, the Untamed Heart story is definitely a good one, but yeah, I’d still be a little regretful over missing out on Wednesday! (My own name turned out to be kind of ironic, because it essentially means “black-haired,” because everyone in my immediate family has really dark hair and they just figured I would too, and then I turned out to be just the blondest little kid!)
I’m a huge Stephen King fan, I’ve read almost every book he’s ever written and, out of all that disturbing mess of horror, Pet Sematary was one of the few that really got its hooks into me. I honestly can’t imagine naming a child after Gage, but to each his own. haha.
I think the scene where Gage first dies (while running to get his ball) was the most haunting, horrible, vivid, heartbreaking scene I’ve ever read in a book. (maybe that’s cause I have kids who were around Gage’s age when I read it) Despite the fact that it depressed me enough to put the book down for a month, I eventually couldn’t resist picking it back up and finishing. I never saw the movie, cause the book disturbed me so much, but I love the idea of the gruesome looking “fairy godmother.” Classic King–you’ve gotta love him!!
I think the scene where Gage first dies …
Aaaaand that’s exactly where my mom made us leave the movie. As a kid, I don’t think I had the perspective to understand just how devastating the entire scenario was, so even when I read the book at 12, it simply didn’t have the same impact as when I read it again at 20.
To this day, reading Pet Sematary as an (admittedly young) adult is the only time I’ve ever been absolutely petrified by a book. I was reading it at the end of my shift at work, which was behind a service counter in an incredibly cheerful and well-lit grocery store, and I can still remember wishing and wishing for someone to just walk past so I wouldn’t feel like I’d slipped into some secret crack in the world. Also, future-husband was out of town that week, and it turned out that yes, I could actually be scared to sleep alone. And pet the cat. And open the refrigerator. And look at my own reflection in the mirror.
Haha…I totally understand. Books normally never scare me, but that one did. That and Cujo–which had the same heartbreaking edge to it as Pet Cemetery, even though they were totally different books. Did you ever read that one?
And now…I’m going to do the gushing fan thing and tell you how excited I am that you actually responded to my comment. haha. I LOVE your books, I can’t wait to read your next one. I’m a huge fan of Maggie’s and that’s how I found you. I used to read all the short stories on the Merry Sisters of Fate. Then The Replacement came out and the writing in it was mind-blowingly good.Then, of course, The Space Between. Truman Flynn instantly became one of my all time favorite characters. Like most people floating around the book blogging/author section of the internet, I’m an aspiring YA writer. Your writing is an inspiration for me to try to do better. Thanks for the comment back! It made my day. :)
Hahaha—honestly, I’m always just so excited when people comment on my blog, and I’m really happy to have conversations! I’m not very good at twitter, which is where I feel like a lot of writers really congregate and interact, so I definitely try to make up the difference here.
(Also, I’m glad you like Truman!)
(Also-also, I’ve never read Cujo because my sister read it when we were kids and explained the plot to me and said it was sad and that all the grown-ups were stupid and made terrible decisions, so I skipped it. Now I kind of want to read it though, because King talks about being high out of his mind when he wrote it, and I kind of have this perverse curiosity to see what that looks like.)
haha…Well, him being high would explain parts of that book. I read it when I was young–maybe fifteen or sixteen. Most of what I remember is the ending, which really impacted me because (at that age) I hadn’t had much experience with non-happy endings. Now I understand they’re a King specialty. Plus, we had this dog that lived next door to us a few years before that. It was part Wolf and it was this giant, scary beast. It actually killed my puppy, and–although I’m a huge dog lover–I hated that thing and I was terrified of it. In my head, all the parts with rabid Cujo descriptions became Wolf descriptions, and I could imagine being pinned in my car by him…so, yeah, now that I’m thinking about it, my reaction to Cujo might’ve been based on more personal fear than awesome writing. I’d still check it out though. It’s a King classic. :)
That movie was the best part of childhood. We used to SCREAM at the end when Gage had the scalpel and did the thing with the tendon and the thing. I also remember reading a library copy of the paperback under the covers at night with a flashlight.
PS: Love the PV’s cover. Remember it when it was a wee thing. Now it’s almost a pterodactyl!
Oh, my sister and I used to huddle on the couch and pretend that it was the scariest thing that had ever, ever happened! (Then she would turn to me and say in a totally creepy baby-voice, “We had an awful good time—now I want to play with YOU.” Because apparently we are just dark and gleeful like that.)
And yes! It’s so weird to think that PV used to be the little tiny thing that I sometimes poked at on the internet, and now it’s like a real-live Thing.