Stephen King was still a fairly new writer when I first read “Lawnmower Man” for an English class in high school. Carrie had been published by then, but I didn’t read any more Stephen King until after my academic job ended. (There is, for those who are curious, a correlation between that traumatic change and my interest in horror.) Like many, I suspect, I saw some of the movies before reading the King books behind them. With a writer as prolific as King there’s always the issue of where to start, and I’m often subject to the selections independent bookstore owners make. I seldom buy fiction through Amazon—I have to see the book for it to grab me (a kind of King thing to happen).
A used copy of Carrie recently came my way. Now, I’ve seen the movie (both versions) many times; it is discussed at some length in Holy Horror. I’d not read the novel until now. Obviously there are differences between book and movie, but as this was Stephen King’s debut novel it struck me just how central religion was to the fearful scenario he paints. That’s pretty clear in the film, I know, but it’s even more so in the novel. Carrie is made into a monster by religion. One could argue that she was born that way—telekinesis as a genetic marker is also a theme in the book, although absent from the films. Still, it is Carrie’s rejection by others, largely because of her religion, that leads her to use her powers to destroy Chamberlain, Maine.
In a strange way, Carrie is a coming-of-age story from a girl’s perspective. Strange because King is a man and some literary magazines won’t even accept stories written from the point-of-view of someone of the opposite gender. Men can’t know what women go through. Indeed, most of the male characters in the story are less than admirable, while some are downright wicked. The real question is whether religion saves from wickedness or causes it. There’s not much ambiguity here on the part of Mr. King. Holy Horror, although it deals with movies and not novels, makes the point that films based King don’t infrequently use religion as a source of horror. Long-time readers of this blog know that I frequently make the point that this genre, more so than most, relies on religion as an engine to drive it. And religion also has a role in repressing women. Coincidence? Ask Carrie.