Friday, 6 November 2009

Carrie - Stephen King

R. A. Salvatore mentioned something during his talk at the World's Biggest Bookstore that Guy Gavriel Kay said to him. Mr. Kay, in discussing the Lord of the Rings movies said something along the lines of, "Do you realize that no one from now on will approach the Lord of the Rings the way we did, by reading the book?"

At the time I thought that was improbable. Tolkien's books are classics, and while the movies were good, there's something to be said about reading the books. But that doesn't necessarily mean the books will be read first. Which would be a shame.

Take Carrie, by Stephen King. The book came out in 1974, several years before I was born. It's considered a classic of horror. And yet, I saw the movie long before reading the book (which I finally did this week). I imagine most people know the story. Or think they do.

Carrie is about a 16 year old girl who is brought up by a fundamentally religious woman, and whose unfortunately public onset of puberty set forth a chain of events that resulted in death and destruction. It's the kind of story where you imagine the suspense is in the ending, and is therefore ruined by knowing what's coming.

But it's not. The novel itself is told from many viewpoints and many time points. You get third person narrative following the various characters as the events slowly unfold interspersed with sections by future scholars analyzing the events, as well as memoirs and testimonies by survivors at the White Commission, designed to discover if such a disaster could reoccur. In other words, from early on in the novel you've got a pretty good idea of what's going to happen. You may not know all the details, but you already know telekinesis is involved and that... Well, I don't want to spoil the book for those who haven't read it. Suffice it to say, the suspense doesn't come so much from the ending as it does from two other things:

1) The explanation of how events proceed to bring such a conclusion, and
2) The personal motivations of the characters for their actions, all of which combine to form the final conclusion.

In other words, it's the journey not the destination that makes reading so much fun. And most of the interesting nuances from the book are necessarily lost when making a film. You can see some motivations but not all. It's one of those instances where telling actually works better than showing (something that's hard to do with movies).

Carrie White herself is an intriguing character. It would be easy to hate her, especially given her description at the start of the novel. And yet, as the book progresses you sympathize with her more and more, wanting things to go well for her. You honestly want the prom to be a chance for her to start anew, even while you know (because King tells you) that that's not going to happen.

Carrie's a great book. And there's more to it than the movie would have you believe.

I'm left wondering however, how the book would have affected me if I hadn't known the ending in advance. I found myself constantly trying to fit what was happening into my fuzzy recollections of what I remembered about the film. So maybe it is true that future generations will be less likely to read the book if a movie's out based on it.

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