Sunday, July 18, 2021

Skeleton Crew: Here There Be Tigers (1968).

A while back I read and reviewed a children's short story by Phillipa Pearce.  It was called The Lion at School, and I gave it a positive enough review, as I recall.  It's one of those neat little literary staples of childhood, the kind you grab and read through on your way onward and upward.  Then if you're lucky, or curious enough, it turns into one of those dug up relics from your past that you decide to indulge in during an idle mood.  You probably dredge it up out of the mothballs expecting just some light fluff, one of those pieces of doggerel that seemed epic in youth, and just wind up sounding trite to adult ears.  It's the kind of expectation that helps make the surprise all the more pleasant.  What you might discover is that Pearce's story is one of those titles that manages to carry enough thematic weight to allow even the world of grown-ups a few moments of genuine enjoyment.  In my case, it was sort of like mining around for random spare traces of gold, and hitting a small, yet decent enough vein.  At least it seemed good enough to give it a vote of confidence, anyway.  All that happened is I discovered, I read, I thought it was pretty good.  So, I just thought it worth writing down my two cents on the matter.  No more, or less.

In nine out of ten cases, that's usually all there is to it, at least as far as I'm concerned.  For some reason, I'm the type of critic that likes to be as encyclopedic as possible about the stories I like.  Even if I wind up with a bad final product, I tend to prefer to be as thorough and constructive in figuring out why the whole thing didn't work.  What this means, though, is that while I'm sure I will never succeed at it, I always try to discuss as much of the subject as possible.  That's a pretty tall order for any critic, and I'm sure I've not even come close to it once.  There's always bound to be something overlooked, some detail or plot element I forgot to mention or place under the microscope for further inspection.  There are also those exceptions where sometimes a topic seems too big to try and encompass in just one article.  These are the stories and writers that get the lucky break of multiple posts.  It doesn't happen often, yet they're not blue moon occurrences, either.  It's all just part of the gig, really.  Then there are those interesting hybrid moments where sometimes all it takes is for one simple story to spark an idea or association off in my mind, and then I find myself with unforeseen results on my hands.  That's sort of what happened when I got done reviewing Pearce's story.

What I got thinking about was one or two other stories of a similar nature.  Another good way of stating the facts is that Pearce's writing kinda-sorta sparked a simple question: Haven't I read all this somewhere before?  The answer, it turns out, might surprise you.  It's one of those weird cases where I have to say more or less no and yes at the same time.  I think it's a mistake to claim I've read the same story told by different authors.  Each of the other stories I'm thinking of now were written in such a way as to give them their own distinct identities, ones where even a novice would able to tell the differences between all three of them.  It's just that even thought each of these other two stories were like their own beasts, there was also this remarkable level of similarity in terms of both setup, and even characters, to a certain extent.  It's not enough to erase the boundaries that separate each tale.  However, I do wonder if the resemblances might be enough to act as a kind of thematic unity.  I'm not talking about plagiarism at all here, in other words.  What I mean instead is that I'm wondering if three individual authors, each at divergent points on the historical timeline, might nonetheless have had their imaginations sparked by the same archetype, or imaginative moment of inspiration?  

Granted, that is all just one big question, not a statement of fact.  There's also a lot of speculation going on there as well.  The real kick in the teeth is that there's not really anything like a solid account from any of the writers involved on just how they each came to conceive of, and then set down their respective creative efforts.  That leaves the critic with the unenviable task of having to theorize into the void.  I'm not saying it can't be done.  If that were the case, would arts criticism in general even be able to exist?  I just feel obligated to point out that this kind of approach is precarious at best.  It's the literary-critical equivalent of building up your own soapbox flying machine, and then taking off without some kind of established safety net to fall back on.  It's also probably the norm for the great majority of this particular business.  If that's the case, then at least I'm flying no more blind than everybody else in this rarefied air.  For the time being, therefore, let's just stick with this idea of a shared archetype inspiring three otherwise unrelated writers.

I've already mentioned Philippa Pearce.  The first story that wound up sharing an uncanny level of resemblance with her own efforts were Tiger in the Snow, by Daniel Lynn Barber.  We now turn to the final, and last installment in the informal series examining the strange connective threads between stories.  The final offering for tonight was a story that first saw the light of day a long time ago, in a strange place known as the 1960s.  It was a very early effort, and it's author was just some small town kid, really.  I recall correctly, I think his name went something like, Stephen Edwin King.

The Story. 

"Charles needed to go to the bathroom very badly.  There was no longer any use in trying to fool himself that he could wait for recess.  His bladder was screaming at him, and Miss Bird had caught him squirming.  There were three third-grade teachers in the Acorn Street Grammar School.  Miss Kinney was young and blonde and bouncy and a boyfriend who picked her up after school in a blue Camaro.  Mrs. Trask was shaped like a Moorish pillow and did her hair in braids and laughed boomingly.  And there was Miss Bird.

"Charles had known he would end up with Miss Bird.  He had known that.  It had been inevitable.  Because Miss Bird obviously wanted to destroy him...Charles squirmed again.   Miss Bird cocked an eye at him.  "Charles," she said, clearly, still pointing her pointer at Bolivia, "do you need to go to the bathroom?"  Cathy Scott in the seat ahead of him giggled, wisely covering her mouth.  Kenny Griffith sniggered and kicked Charles under his desk.  Charles went bright red.  "Speak up, Charles," Miss Bird said brightly.  "Do you need to-" (urinate, she'll say urinate, she always does).  "Yes, Miss Bird".  "Yes, what?"  "I have to go to the base - to the bathroom."  Miss Bird smiled.  "Very well, Charles.  You may go to the bathroom and urinate.  Is that what you need to do?  Urinate?"  Charles hung his head, convicted.  "Very well, Charles.  You may do so.  And next time kindly don't wait to be asked."  General giggles.  Miss Bird rapped the board with her pointer.

"Charles trudged up the row toward the door, thirty pairs of eyes boring into his back, and every one of those kids, including Cathy Scott, knew that he was going into the bathroom to urinate.  The door was at least a football field's length away.  Miss Bird did not go on with the lesson but kept her silence until he had opened the door, entered the blessedly empty hall, and shut the door again.  He walked down toward the boys' bathroom...dragging his fingers along the cool tile of the wall, letting them bounce over the thumbtack-stripped bulletin board and slide lightly across the red (BREAK GLASS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY) fire-alarm box.

"Miss Bird liked it.  Miss Bird liked making him have a red face.  In front of Cathy Scott - who never needed to go to the basement, was that fair? - and everybody else.  Old b-i-t-c-h, he thought.  He spelled because he has decided last year God didn't say it was a sin if you spelled.  He went into the boys' bathroom.  It was very cool inside, with a faint, not unpleasant smell of chlorine hanging pungently in the air.  Now, in the middle of the morning, it was clean and deserted, peaceful and quite pleasant, not at all like the smoky, stinky cubicle at the Star Theatre downtown.  The bathroom (! basement!) was built like an L, the short side lined with tiny square mirrors and white porcelain washbowls and a paper towel dispenser, (NIBROC), the longer side with two urinals and three toilet cubicles.

"Charles went around the corner after glancing morosely at his thin, rather pallid face in one of the mirrors.  The tiger was lying down at the far end, just underneath the pebbly-white window.  It was a large tiger, with tawny Venetian blinds and dark stripes laid across its pelt.  It looked up alertly at Charles, and its green eyes narrowed.  A kind of silky, purring grunt issued from its mouth.  Smooth muscles flexed, and the tiger got to its feet.  Its tail switched, making little chinking sounds against the porcelain side of the last urinal.  The tiger looked quite hungry and very vicious (155-57)".

Classroom Terrors.

Stephen King once said that he was perfectly content to let his readers get know him through what he says in his own books.  The statement itself can be simplistic, though it is surprising just how well a lot of it holds up when put into practice.  The fact is there are times when it seems like you really can piece together certain aspects or facets of the life of the author within or behind the fiction.  The irony is that once you put a lot of it together, it almost sounds like something out of a book.  The first thing King ever knew is that he was born into circumstances which were very close to being a living cliche.  His life is so prototypical in its trajectory, that it almost reads like a blueprint for the American Dream success story.  He grew up and spent most of his early years living on the poor side of the tracks.  His father did a walkout on the young boy and his mom.  And to top it all off, the artist found himself surrounded by the lingering vices and traces of New England's guilty Puritan past.  It's a regional influence which I remain convinced is what served as the key, shaping influence on his imagination.  Nor do I believe this could have happened anywhere else.  He was a small-town-boy with little in the way of discernible future prospects, and yet he was able to find ways of channeling it all into his rich inner fantasy life, and making it pay off for him like gangbusters.  

That, in essence, is the story of America's Favorite Boogeyman.  Like all capsule summaries, it has to live with the irony of being the truth, while also never remaining the whole story.  There is always more waiting to be uncovered.  So far, at least, the best reliable biographical information we've got to go on is the author's own textbook style autobiography, On Writing.  That still leaves us waiting for the future arrival of the definitive scholarly life story, complete with as much of a three-dimensional picture as possible.  Granted, it could be a question of whether such a critical study will ever come.  However, one way or another, the curious fact still holds true.  It's possible to learn a great deal about King through his own books.  This can best be seen in the constantly recurring themes, motifs, and situations that find themselves spread out through the author's entire oeuvre.  For the purposes of this article, the one that will have to stick out the most might just have to be the writer's somewhat skewed and jaundiced take on our Country's educational system.  

In his 1980 text, Danse Macabre, King's makes the following observation on his 1974 breakout novel, Carrie.  "If it had any thesis to offer, this deliberate updating of High School Confidential, it was that high school is a place of almost bottomless conservatism and bigotry, a place where the adolescents who attend are no more allowed to rise "above their station" than a Hindu would be allowed to rise above his or her caste (180)".  It's a theme the author has sounded more than once in the course of his writing career.  In the later novel Christine, for instance (a book which could also be considered the gender-flipped companion to his earlier book), King gives us a passage which further cements the idea of the modern American school as more a place of confinement than of opportunity for expanding horizons. 

"High school society is very conservative, you know.  No big lecture, but it is.  The girls all wear the latest nutty fashions, the boys sometimes wear their hair most of the way down to their assholes, everyone is smoking a little dope or sniffing a little coke - but all of that is just the outward patina, the defense you put up while you try to figure out exactly what's happening with your life.  It's like a mirror - what you use to reflect sunlight back into the eyes of teachers and parents, hoping to confuse them before they can confuse you even more than you already are.  At heart, most high school kids are about as funky as a bunch of Republican bankers at a church social.  There are girls who might buy every album Black Sabbath ever made, but if Ozzy Osbourne went to their school and asked one of them for a date, that girl (and all of her friends) would laugh herself into a hemorrhage at the very idea (199)".

The consistency with which King maintains this literary "thesis" in his work marks it out as something fundamental to his outlook.  It speaks of a very low opinion of then current status of the educational system of his time.  King's remarks don't seem aimed at the concept of education as such.  Indeed, if someone were to ask him what he's got against educating kids, he'd probably reply that he just wished that we all really could learn how to teach these kids properly.  He'd then probably point out that so far we seem to be doing a real shitty job of it.  There is at least one spot on the educational map where King seems willing to reign in the fire and brimstone, and that place is known as college.  For a number of reasons, King seems more kindly disposed to that collegiate middle ground between the finale of childhood, and the first steps into the world of adults.  I think a lot of it is down to both the mostly positive experiences he had himself as a college student.  Another aspect to it is that the author came of age at a somewhat ideal point in time.  The 1960s seem to have been the moment when the American College was able to achieve a kind of height which it has probably not been able to recover since.  

It's like King seems aware of an unseen, yet very real door concealed somewhere within the very idea of college life itself.  It's not something anyone can verbalize all that well, nor is awareness of it all a top-drawer level matter.  It's more like an atmosphere that everyone is aware of on a subliminal level.  Something that you can access with the right signal or password.  If, or once you're able to do that, then you've managed to jimmy this secret door open, and allowed all the untapped Dionysian possibilities a chance to stir things up, to steal the car keys and go for a little wild ride, at least for one brief moment.  Maybe it's one of those one ticket per customer type deals.  Either that or I'm not making any sense at all, here.  I think what I'm trying to get at is that one of the things King seems to have learned, perhaps even as a very young man growing up, is the way that positive institutions can be turned toward less than ideal methods of application.  He seems to have discovered a very layered understanding of the various uses and abuses that people are capable of in an educational setting.  A lot of it comes down to the idea of the various levels of bullying that tends to crop up a lot in such environments.  King implies that this is a phenomenon which cannot be limited to just the students, but also encompasses the staff, as well.  It creates a kind of dire marathon run for anyone close to normalcy, and a potentially good way of ruining ones' sanity in the bargain.

At the same time, there are those Dionysian forces I just mentioned, and the way they might effect the balances and scales of the universe.  That's another conclusion the author seems to have arrived at.  King tends to see life as a strange combination of Dionysian and Apollonian elements.  These twin, polar opposites seem to be in a constant struggle, though ultimately it always seems as if the Dionysian always tends to give ground to its more ordered and ordering opposite number.  By Dionysian, King seems to mean all those facets of life which can lead to disruption and chaos, or else to a disruptive rearrangement of the established order of things, whether on the personal or collective level.  Or macro and microcosm, as he seems prone to think of it.  The Apollonian seems to be his borrowed term for all the drive human beings have to make our lives livable and enjoyable.  The suggestion being that once we lose our grip on the Apollonian, this in turn allows the Dionysian forces a chance to run wild and cause a little mischief.  Sometimes its purely destructive, while at other times it is merely mercurial, recofiguring things to some semblance of normal, albeit in ways the can seem anarchic.

If I had to take a guess, I'd say all of the above represents at best a possible outline of what is going on in a story like Here There By Tygers.  Let's star with the basic setup.  You got a kid suffering through life in what appears, for all intents and purpose, to be you average, dysfunctional classroom.  Our protagonist, Charles, doesn't seem to be having so hot a time of it.  It's implied he gets picked on by a local class bully, and worst of all his teacher is one of those old battle axes who seem to have taken to the teaching profession less for the purpose of helping kids with their future, and more because of the level and sense of power and domination it places at their disposal.  If that sounds extreme, you'd be surprise how many out there will in fact try to grab that particular brass ring, as long as they believe it can help them dominate others, especially if those others are in a weaker position, thus giving the renegade the field advantage.  So in other words, you could kinda of say our hero is dealing with a deck that's mostly well stacked against him as the story opens.       

While the main character himself is just a work of fiction, there is very strong enough case to be made that he is, at least in part, drawn from life.  I'm not saying Charles is based on any specific person who has ever existed.  Instead, it's more that the character works as an amalgam of various types of students unlucky enough to find themselves on the receiving end of all the prejudices that a bad classroom can hurl at them.  It's the kind of situation which has gone on to become a national news item as the years go by, in other words.  In fact, Charles is so familiar that even actual readers in the audience have been able recognize him, to an extant.  It may not be a case of seeing oneself in the protagonist, and yet it's like he's always familiar enough.  That's why I think the review of this story over at The Truth Inside the Lie blog site is able to give perhaps the closest thing to an in-depth, informative summation of the type of character and setup that King has provided us with.

For instance, there is an implicit understanding of the quasi-tribalistic nature of the schoolroom setting itself.  "I remember," this critic writes, "going to elementary school with a girl named Agatha.  Agatha was a relatively homely girl, and was unpopular, and the reason for that was that she had supposedly farted in class once.  She was an absolute pariah.  I remember that about her, and I remember that she helped me pass a note to a girl I liked once, and that's the sum total of my knowledge about Agatha.  I also remember that if you got caught...there was no hope for you.  This persisted into my high school years...Why?  Beats the hell out of me (web)".  More important than this, however, has got to be the idea of how certain classroom and school hall experiences can often be enough to fill a specific type of student with a sometimes overwhelming sense of dread.  It's a critical reading which, I have to admit, appears to contain an almost deadly sense of accuracy to it.

"A lot of us can probably also empathize -- and sympathize -- with Charles based on the teacher/student relationship, which we quickly find out is none too wonderful, at least not from Charles's point of view.  "There were three third-grade teachers in the Acorn Grammar School," we are told: Miss Kinney, a bouncy young blond woman; Mrs. Trask, shaped "like a Moorish pillow" and prone to booming laughter; and Miss Bird.  "Charles had known he would end up with Miss Bird.  He had known that.  It had been inevitable."

"Here, King is playing with the idea of dread, and he is doing it in such a way as many children would immediately recognize.  Dreadful children (by which I do not mean Honey Boo Boo, but instead children who are prone to feel dread over things) confronted by a fate that involves one of three teachers, one of whom is patently wonderful, the other of whom seems less wonderful but nevertheless essentially decent, and one of whom is a horrible hag of a woman, will of course see it as their innate destiny to end up with the horrible hag.  All it takes is for one or two such fates to actually come to pass, and you've got a kid who will dread things for the rest of his life.

"It may be that this is where the idea for horror fiction comes from.  If you're a child who finds good reason to dread things like whether your third-grade teacher will be Miss Kinney or Miss Bird, you may also be the kind of child who dreads things like whether there is a monster in your closet, or one under your bed, or whether there is a werewolf outside the door, waiting only for you to open it before opening its jaws.  If you are that child, then -- even if only while the lights are out and you are trying (vainly) to get some sleep -- such ideas seem real.  Because if you knew -- just knew -- that you were going to get Miss Bird, and that happened, well, why couldn't there be a monster under your bed (ibid)"?

In addition to this, I'd argue the picture puzzle is almost completed when we turn once more to King himself.  Getting back to Danse Macabre, there is a passage in that book where King gives us a brief rundown of how the American school system of his youth was portrayed in works of pop culture.  Let me head off the inevitable argument that a classroom as portrayed on the big screen is not the same as the real thing.  With all due respect, that sort of misses the point.  The real issue is that a lot of those films reflected more the way a lot of those real kids in both the movie and classroom aisles wished, or hoped to see themselves.  In that sense, King is right to point out the ironies of what such a self-image tells us about the reality of the School Confidential situation. 
"And in the movies themselves, there were no fat kids; no kids with warts or tics; no kids with pimples; no kids picking their noses and then wiping it on the sun visors of their hot rods; no kids with sexual problems; no kids with any visible physical deformity (not even such a minor one as vision that had been corrected by glasses - all the kids in the AIP horror and beach pictures had 20/20 vision).  Their might be an endearingly wacky teenager on view - of the sort often played by Nick Adams - a kid who was a bit shorter or did daring things, kooky things such as wearing his hat backwards like a baseball catcher (and who had names like Weirdo or Scooter or Crazy), but that was as far as it ever went.  The setting for most of these films was small-town America, the scene the audience could best identify with...but all of these Our Towns looked eerily as if a eugenics squad had gone by the day before production actually began, removing everyone with a lisp, birthmark, limp, or potbelly - everyone, in short, who didn't look like Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Robert Young, or Jane Wyatt (42-43)".

It is possible to nitpick that whole passage, of course.  King is talking about teens, and not young adults.  No matter how true such an observation is, I'd argue that this also misses the point.  There is a very deliberate and actual sense of continuity between the world of the child, and that of the teen.  The only real difference, so far as I can see, is that as you get older, the stakes begin to rise perceptibly.  What begins as mere sandbox roughhousing in elementary school morphs over time into the parking lot brawl.  Sooner or later, someone involved will think to bring a switchblade to a fistfight.  The event remains the same, it's just what the years can add on that makes us think they're different, when they're really not.  It's for this and similar reasons that I'd argue what King is talking about in Macabre, and the initial setup he presents us with in Tygers, more or less amounts to the same type of situation.  The fact that the main cast is made up of elementary kids, and not high-schoolers, does little to change the fundamental dynamics in play.  Whether young or old, King implies, both kinds of students are forced to survive the same unforgiving gauntlet.  And that can have dangerous consequences for them. 
With this in mind, the underlying ideas of the opening scene, and the figures who populate it, begin to become a lot more clear.  The Acorn Street Elementary School is King's stand-in for Our Town; a microcosm within a microcosm, if you will.  The students of Miss Bird's classroom are an inverted, and slightly unmasked version of  those chipper, young, pre-Brady Bunch clones of American International Pictures.  The difference here is that King is more than willing to let the daylight into this cozy sounding picture, so that all the blemishes stand out a lot more clearly.  Indeed, by turning this All-American picture on its head, King finds the perfect image to convey the kind of stacked-deck that the classroom presents against those who are forced into it.  Even if it is a room full of Bright Young Americans full of Pioneer Spirit, the irony is that King seems to imply that this is all part of that same house of cards, and it can be more than willing to swallow you whole.  At least, that's the prospect Charles seems to intuit on a basic level.  In this scenario, Charles is shackled with the unfortunate task of being the designated Scooter in the room.  That's the worst place for guys like him to be.  And then, Scooter had to go to the bathroom, and it's once he gets there that reality tilts on it's axis.

"Tyger, Tyger".

It's the moment when Charles finds the tiger waiting for him in the corner that things take a turn for the weird.  Everything we'd been reading up to now probably hasn't led us to expect it.  However, once the big reveal happens, it's like everything shifts into a very different gear.  It's also the point at which King's story begins to resemble a lot of others.  This is not a bad thing, for the record.  On the contrary, this very setup can help us get a better understanding of what's going on in this story.  This whole thing originated with Philippa Pearce, and how she told of a young girl who encountered a big cat on her way to school one day.  It's not her fault, nor has she really started anything.  I just can't help thinking that's where it all began, with Pearce and her lion.  She's indirectly set in motion a chain of thought, all of it centered around the curious fact that several differing authors, all a disparate times and places nonetheless seem to have found a good amount of inspirational mileage out of literary image, or archetype.

If I had to give a good, general summation of what that image is, or could look like, then it would have to be a bare bones, illustrated snapshot of an ordinary looking human being, confronted with a feline predator on an otherwise normal looking street.  Even if there's no actual picture to be seen, some of you reading this may still have found yourselves having the appropriate imaginative response.  There's something interesting about an imaginary portrait like that, even if it can only exist as a picture made up of words.  Part of it might be the way the idea is able to tap into a piece of our minds that still recall what it was like to live in caves, or else in the tops of trees, when all you could do was hope the burning light would keep the predators at bay.  That's part of it's power.  The other part probably stems from the way it can mess with our more civilized sense of expectation.  We've all left the caves and tree-tops far behind, after all.  What in hell could any of that miserable crap have to do with us?  Aside from the fact that we all lived in the forest once upon at time (because no one could live anywhere else), there's just this lingering sense of the strange about the whole image.  It presents us with a normal setting, and then skews the whole thing up by having just one element out of place.  It's not what we were expecting.

The overall effect may be surreal, and that's kind of the point.  As an image, it really does gain its effect and power through that sense of dislocated juxtaposition.  It's a technique that painters like Rene Magritte were able to pioneer and make famous.  The surrealists seemed to have a perfect knack for the uncanny.  The best of them always seemed to know that all you had to do to unsettle audiences, especially those living in the comforts of the greater metropolitan areas, was to simply take the trappings of daily life, and then invert one of those features, or else introduce a outside element.  This chosen outsider subject could either introduce an off-key note to the scene, or else it had the discordant melody contained within itself.  The usual result was an unsettling frisson or thrill that was able to captivate in the same moment that it made us shudder.  That, I believe, is the effect that King's story is going for.  And it's this same note of terrifying surrealism, all based around an out-of-place animal, that has acted as the guiding thread in the last few pieces we've been examining here.  

Apparently, the image of a cat in the wrong place is enough to generate more than enough storytelling material for those who are able appreciate it on the right artistic level.  What's interesting is how all three writers concerned here manage to arrive at variations of a similar conclusion.  Out of all the three, it is Pearce alone who is able to find a note of genuine whimsy in the image of a predator in a place where it shouldn't be.  In contrast, both King and Daniel Barber see only the horrific aspects, or latent terrifying possibilities contained in the image, and this is the note that both of them wind up playing in their respective yet resembling narratives.  The curious part is how it can argued that King's story helps us bring things full circle, in a warped manner of speaking.  We end as we began, with the picture of a young child confronted by a dangerous king of the jungle.  While Pearce and King are each telling a different type of story, the remarkable part is just how much each tale shares a great sense of thematic overlap.  

A good way to show or explain this might be if we stop and take the main characters of King and Pearce's tales, and then mentally place them next to each other.  It shouldn't take long to see that Betty and Charles have a lot more in common than we or they might at first realize.  While it's never stated outright in either story, the apparent fact is that neither of them quite feels like they fit in.  They are each the odd boy and girl out.  Betty doesn't like having to go to school much, on account of the way it tends to sap her self-confidence.  Charles, meanwhile,  seems of the inarticulate idea that all school amounts to is a system for the embarrassment and destruction of the individual student.  If you put these two situations together, what you get amounts to the same set of circumstances, albiet expressed in different keys and vantage points.  Both stories feature children at the mercy of a bad set of circumstances.  And then, into this untenable setting emerges a creature that somehow contains more in its nature than just a big, dumb, wildlife animal.  The fact that in each story this figure appears in the form of a Big Cat must be a pointer to some kind of thematic significance, right?  So what's that supposed to be, if anything?

To start with, I think it's a mistake to claim that we've got a ripoff on our hands.  For one thing, King first wrote and published his story way back in 1968.  Phillipa's child's fable first saw the light of day way back in 1985.  If you want to take the lazy route and claim plagiarism, then you'd have to take the basic accusation and then turn it upside down, claiming Pearce stole from King.  The trouble with such easy thinking is that oftentimes it just sounds like a way of looking to get off the hook of actual thinking.  It's a lazy outlook which tends to view all writing as a form of cheap hack work with no intrinsic value.  Rather than take this popular yet inaccurate approach, I think a better way to look at it is to claim that what King has done is found the same or similar archetype, and the way it's written presents us with a view of Pearce's story where everything remains the same, while also being slightly turned on its head.

At its heart, both stories seem to be about outcasts at the mercy of a system that is not there to help.  It's a setup that is able to grant what happens next in both cases the slightest hint, not of believability, yet legitimacy.  The reader is pulled into and along by each story, either despite or because of its symbolic power.  This is fitting inasmuch as the title character really does amount to a kind of symbolic figure.  If there's anything that differentiates King's cat from that of Pearce and Barber, then it has to be in the sense that this time the mask has pretty much been ripped off for good and all.  Here, for instance, is how King writes Charles' second encounter with the title character.  "With groaning (but silent) trepidation, he went to the corner of the L and peeped around.  The tiger was sprawled on the floor, licking its large paws with a long pink tongue.  It looked incuriously at Charles.  There was a torn piece of shirt in one set of claws (159)".  I think the key phrase out of all those words is King being anxious to highlight that note of "silent trepidation".  He never writes the title character as if it were just a wild animal.  Instead, he's more than content to let the whole thing stand for itself, with all trappings of a traditional Horror story.  The imagery and actions conjured up for the Tiger suggest less a normal jungle dweller, and on the whole is more suggestive of a troll under a bridge in a fairy tale.

There's one simple and pure statement in the short story that is able to effectively tip the entire narrative firmly into the realm of the supernatural and abnormal for me.  And it all happens in the form of an understated, yet potent, observation.  It comes in a brief moment of expectation.  After running from the men's room, Charles has just been cornered by the school bully.  All his attempts to try and convince the little snot that there's at least something haunting the public facilities just has the effect of making Kenny toss Charles aside, and barge into the bathroom with all the resolve of a bulldozer in a lumber yard.  It's what happens next, however, that is really telling.  "Charles darted out the door again and pressed himself against the wall, waiting, his hands over his mouth and his eyes squinched shut, waiting, waiting for the scream.  There was no scream (158, italics mine).  It's the one line that jumps out at you, and let's the reader know that something other than normal is up.  That kind of damage always makes a noise, there's just no escaping it.  It's as inevitable as the law of the jungle.  So why aren't those normal laws coming into play here?  By all rights they should, and yet they never do. 

It's like the one big clue in all of the story.  It's the narrative's way of telling us that what's going on is more than a case of When Animals Attack.  We've just crossed over into Twilight Zone territory.  A tiger that's out of place, and that doesn't kill people, so much as make them vanish, or cease to exist?  That's no ordinary walking striped pelt.  If I had to guess, it's more akin to Melville's White Whale, or else it really is like a bridge troll.  As long as we're spitballing here, then perhaps it doesn't hurt all that much to point out that there are elements in this text which could make it sound a lot like the same author's later mid-80s powerhouse performance with It.  Perhaps this tiger which isn't a real cat is the same character from the later book?  Are we reading a prequel, of sorts?  Or if we're dealing with two separate figures, are they the same type of entity?  With all due respect, such ideas seem both a bit too on the nose, and more complex than I think the story itself is asking things to be.  

For my money, here's the part where Havard Norjordet's digging up of the Medieval-Renaissance concept of the "middle spirit" (an otherworldly creature that is neither angel or devil, and instead occupies a "middle ground" on the scale of things, much like the cyclops, griffin, or the so-called "Fair Folk") stands as the closest thing to a best explanation on offer.  The idea of a given protagonist, such as young boy encountering an otherworldly entity is a concept as old as folklore itself.  I'm even inclined to say that Tygers works on very much the same level as story like The Boy Who Cried Wolf, or Hansel and Gretel.  In that case it seems like we're dealing with what King describes "mythic fairy tale horror (188)".  He seems to be describing a those moments where the genre is able to tap into that childhood level where the emotions of fear and wonder can make us nervous for the ways in which the underlying ground of the story tends to shift from the norm imperceptibly into the uncanny.  This seems to have been the same kind of narrative logic that directors such as Robert Zemekis were able to understand on an instinctive level, and tap into for certain segments of a film like Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  It's the style and mode of storytelling where marvels and miracles tend to have just as much weight as the horrors.  And what do you do when the two show up as one and the same?

For any story told in this mode, its not out of the question for a creature which may or might not be a tiger (with eerie shades of magic and the unexplained about it) to be waiting in a corner of a children's school.  Just as there are gnomes in the garden, and clowns in the sewer.  Each is a likely possibility in the kind of world posited by this narrative  The real truth, of course, seems to be much more symbolical.  Taken as an element in the story, Charles's tiger seems to be a near primal expression of those very Dionysian forces of misrule that King talked about.  The tiger, in this sense, counts as a disruptive force just by its very presence.  It manages to turn the norm into the abnormal almost without having to lift a finger.  It's an exercise in the kind of power that is impressive for how little effort it needs to achieve its goals, no matter how simple or complex.  The curious part happens when you stop and examine just what those goals are.  Here's the part where things get kind of interesting for me.  I have described this dream tiger as a Dionysian agent.  If there's any truth to that statement, then what's notable is that the tiger never seems to introduce it's terrors just for the heck of it.  Whether or not there is any deliberate selectivity involved, the fact is that by the end of the story, a lot of Charles problems have been more or less solved for him.  And he has a strange cat-like being to thank for it.  Perhaps this serves as a huge pointer to the tiger's purpose in the story.

Perhaps it's a mistake to claim, for instance, that the tiger itself is an extension of Charles's own mind.  That would imply we're dealing with a pint-sized psychic with some kind of reality warping powers.  No matter what it sounds like on paper, I'm not at all convinced that would make any kind of sense, not for the kind of story that's being told here, at least.  The idea may have it's place, this story just doesn't sound like the right one, however.  Let's instead say that perhaps the tiger is its own external entity, one that just happens to be a reflection of a lot of the main character's personal conflict.  In that sense the animal can be seen as serving a rather ironic sense of purpose.  It may just be passing through, and yet merely by doing so, it has more or less removed not one, but two discernible problems that Charles was facing in his life.  As a result, his encounter with an inexplicable agent of terror has wound up leaving him in a better place than when he started.  Through whatever strange twist of cosmic fate, Ka, or else just plain, good old fashioned karma, the main character has become the beneficiary of those same Dionysian forces that tend to act as one of the twin turbines that power Horror genre as a whole.

Granted, this is about as far as I can go in terms of figuring out the why of the tiger.  There's probably a whole lot more going on here than even I'm aware of.  Even if that's the case, both the story and the author are content to close things on an ambiguous note.  Both Charles and the reader never seem to hear any more of the tiger, and there's an end to it, at least as far as the narrative proper is concerned.  It's an ending that's guaranteed to leave readers asking themselves a great many questions.  The most common one would have to be along the lines of: "What the fuck did I just read"?  I've done the best I can to provide an answer to that specific question in all of the above paragraphs, at least so far as I can make any sense out of it.  Right now, I'm more curious about what could happen after the story is over.  I'm not talking about the curse of sequelitis here.  My thoughts are limited strictly to questions of fallout and legacy, if that makes any sense.  I mean sooner or later, someones got to notice something, right?  Even if there are no mortal remains, that in itself would have to be suspicious.  What I imagine is that sooner or later, it's going to sink in that Miss Bird isn't coming back, and that's what gets the attention of everyone in school, both children and adult.

Maybe the class in which Charles is in, or the period afterwards, starts to realize that no one is standing watch, and so, kids being kids, they start to raise the roof, and make enough noise and mischief to alert one of the other school staff (perhaps Miss Kinney or Miss Trask?) to step in and try to re-assert some Apollonian virtues on her little Dionysian wards.  When this other teacher asks where Miss Bird is, the class can be honest and say they don't know.  Charles could chime in, however, and say he last saw both her and Kenny down in the basement.  When Kinney or Trask looks at them puzzled, Charles will simply explain (perhaps while blushing to his roots) that he means he thinks they're still in the little boys room.  This other teacher then either goes to investigate, or else sends someone else to do it, and from there, things to begin to escalate at a slow building, yet unnerving pace.  There's no one in the basement bathroom, however there may be leftover pieces of cloth or thread that might belong to Kenny Griffin's shirt.  That and maybe the slightest specks or daubs of red here and there in the corner.  There's no sign of Ken or Old Lady Bird, though.  To say nothing of the tiger, of which there's not a trace left behind.

From there, things go as you pretty much expect.  After a brief consultation, the police are called in.  They do the best they can, yet there's very little to go on.  The one person they can talk to is Charles, yet even if they do question him, all he can tell is that he last saw Kenny and Miss Bird headed inside the school men's room.  Beyond that, he can't say what happened to them.  Rather, let's say, that even if he told the truth, would anyone believe him?  Here's the part where some may disagree.  Some are bound to ask, well how come he doesn't just tell them about the tiger?  For whatever reason, I just can't see the character acting in this way.  In first place, even if he told the truth, he'd just get dismissed as either fibbing, making things up, or else throw suspicion on him when some begin to ask if he's hiding more than he knows, when in fact he's not.  That whole approach just creates too many questions, ultimately leading to a dead end, at least from a proper dramatic point of view.  Therefore it makes a lot more storytelling sense to just have Charles tell the cops that he last saw the two school bullies headed into the same room together, and just not mention the tiger at all.  Some wiser, unconscious part of his mind just perks up and tells him mentioning the Big Cat would be a very bad idea, so he keeps mum, and gives the adults whatever it is they think they want to hear.

It works like a charm of course, in a rather warped sense of the term.  The cops can't turn up anything else.  Neither teacher or student show up again, either in the classroom or their respective homes.  With nothing else to go on, the cops declare the whole thing a child abduction case.  Little Kenny Griffin gets his mug plastered onto milk cartons and telephone poles, while the unfortunate Miss Bird achieves an infamous celebrity by becoming a local version of America's Most Wanted.  I can't see much of what happens after that.  I don't know what happens to the school itself, or how this affects things for the staff and students there.  I do know if I was Charles' dad, I'd probably drive him clear out of that particular establishment as fast as I could, and the double and triple vet the next school I sent him to.  

I do know at least one more thing that happens to Charles himself, though.  Either way, he seems to go on to have a more or less uneventful (and therefore safe enough) life.  As the years go by, they make their cruel subtractions, and over time Charles' memories of the event begin to cloud, and grow murky.  In time, he'll probably forget all about the tiger (at least on a conscious level) and come to believe the same thing as everybody else.  That he got lucky.  One of his elementary school teachers was a total child abducting, wacko perv, that's all.  She was just some twisted old bitch, one who probably had it out for everybody as far as the world was concerned, and he was lucky to get away as he did.  It's kind of unnerving, and yet, he's still here, life goes on.  

Then, perhaps, one day, say when he's a lot older, and is now a college student, something happens.  It's nothing major, in the strictest sense.  All that happens is that Charles gets assigned an old William Blake poem that he has to read and write an essay on as part of his English Lit class.  So he either goes to the library, or else takes his textbook home and opens up to the page in which the assigned poem is printed.  He reads the title, and then mentally comes to a dead stop.  After a moment, he continues to read, with a growing sense of dread.  For whatever reason, something about the lines he has to memorize just cause the proverbial goose (or maybe something else?) to walk over his grave.  The poem begins as follows: "Tyger, tyger, burning bright/in the watches of the night.  What immortal hand or eye/could frame thy fearful symmetry"?

Conclusion: The Start of Great Things.

The first time anyone was ever aware of a story like Here There Be Tygers would have had to be way back when King first published it back in 1985.  There was little choice in the matter, seeing how that was the story's breakout debut, at least in terms of public awareness.  That's pretty much how it's remained to the casual reader in the street.  Most of them don't even bother to take a closer look at the copyright page.  If they did, they'd find the original copyright for the story listed as 1968.  That's because Tygers stands as an under-acknowledged milestone in King's career.  It was not his first ever printed publication, that honor probably belongs to a short piece with the glorious title of "I was a Teenage Grave Robber".  Tygers is perhaps the more accomplished of the two, and yet that's not the only reason for it's deserving a special notoriety.  It marks a part of the first few handfuls of the author's early work to see print well before he started to become one of America's best known brand names.  As a result, it means the story holds kind of an important place in the history of it's writer's artistic development.  King was still a college student on the cusp of graduation when his story appeared in the pages of Ubris, the University of Maine's resident literary periodical.

Before that, I think some two others were The Reaper's Image, and Cain Rose Up, two other stories which wound up as part of the Skeleton Crew collection.  The latter story also appeared in the same issue as Tygers, at least if I'm remembering what I've been told.  That's the one where the author tries to grapple with the phenomenon of disturbed minds, like those of Charles Whitman in a fictionalized format.  It was a topic he would later give a full-length treatment as part of a Richard Bachman novel entitled Rage.  Considering that it appeared alongside Tyger in the same Ubris issue, some are bound to take the leap and claim there must be a connection between the two stories.  I think the best answer to that question is provided by the words of scholar Stephen J. Spignesi.  Somewhere between the pages of The Lost Work of Stephen King, Spignesi devotes a goodish amount of space detailing the author's work on a self-made weekly column with the name of King's Garbage Truck.  The whole thing acts as a time capsule of an era, along with being a sort of informal diary of the author's mind at the time of writing, mixed in with the occasional signs of its future development.  I'd argue it's more than just a curio, and deserves a print edition all its own, complete with scholarly commentary and footnotes.  Right now, however, a very decent survey on the subject can be found in one, two, and three parts.

What all this has to do with Tygers is laid out by Spignesi when he turns his attention to a column of March 17th, 1970.  Spignesi considers it "a critically important column because it gives us an intense and vivid glimpse of the superb writer Steve King had already become, even though he was still four years away from publishing his first novel.  Almost the entire column consists of a letter King wrote - but never mailed - to a girl named Maureen (6)".  Having read a copy of the actual column, I can well attest that Spignesi's claims here are right on the mark.  His essay details King slow build-up of an image.  It's the Maine campus itself, yet this version is somehow strangely abandoned.  The doors are off their hinges, and the walls, floors, and general area looks in a state of disrepair.  King then goes on from this foreboding setup to detail the slow, yet inevitable way nature reclaims this dwelling all for itself. 

"Morbid, but oddly beautiful," he tell Maureen.  "big world out there, big dark, little us.  Very little."  The final paragraph of this column is especially revealing: "In a lot of my writing I've been worried about the morbid, about Things that Lurk.  Maybe those things...are only part of an urge to externalize the internal monster in us all."  He then quotes W.H. Auden, who wrote, "We are all children in a happy wood/Who have never been happy nor wise nor good," and concludes that we are all wandering through "our haunted woodland...knowing that here there be Tygers..."

"Two years earlier, in the spring of 1968, King had published his chilling short story "Here There Be Tygers" in...(the U of M's) literary magazine.  The image obviously still haunted him.  King ends the column, though, on an up note, reminding his readers that spring was on the way, and that they can call "worry about the Tygers some other time (60-61)".  With all due respect, I think that time has arrived, right here and now.  Bear in mind, though, I'm not here in order to murder to dissect.  It's a simple matter of reading the between the lines, or stripes if you prefer.  Knowing how to look close and learning to see if there is indeed a pattern to the pelt.

I think the biggest thing to jump out at me in Spignesi's text is that he's allowed King himself to give us the closest we're ever likely to get to an author's commentary on his own story.  He theorizes for a moment that the series of Gothic images (post-apocalyptic desolation; a wild dream tiger) are all his ways of externalizing and exorcising some inner demons.  It's a train of thought that can be shown to progress and develop along with the writer as King fine tuned his talents in the genre, and his related thoughts reached a greater sense of maturity.  So far, what might be its final expression is that of learning whatever possible order there might be in life, and knowing how to avoid disorder.  Even as far back as the late 60s, we can see this train of thought moving in an embryonic form.  It's something that applies as much to the story under discussion here today, as well as to pretty much everything else King ever wrote.  What we see happening in a narrative like Tygers is the same dynamic mapped out by Tony Magistrale in the latter's Landscapes of Fear study.  In that book, Magistrale is able to note a constant, recurring motif in King's books.  It's the dichotomy and/or balancing act between the Apollonian and Dionysian.  One is safe and ordered, the other is dangerous.

What Magistrale is good at pointing out is the sense of responsibility King keeps attaching to human actions and choices in relation to this particular dynamic.  The way it works in each of his books is something akin to the vampire legend.  In folklore, it is said that you have to invite the bloodsucker into your own premises, only then can he even begin to start attacking you.  What King seems to have done is taken this motif, and then liberally applied it to all of his horrors, undead or otherwise.  It's a form of narrative logic that seems to be at work even in an early piece like Tygers.  The key thing is that time and again, it is the choices of the corrupt and broken characters in his fiction that allows the monsters and haunts of King's work to wreak their havoc on the secondary world of each story, and the characters who lead imaginary lives within it.  What it does is to always set up this unspoken yet present ethical aspect to the dilemmas his cast of characters often find themselves in.  This breach in the order of things comes most often from parental or authority figures who choose to abuse their power at the expense of their fellow human beings, whether grown-up or child.

This seems to be the case with a figure like Miss Bird, who is all too willing to go out of her way to torture and humiliate the students under her care.  The implication here is that it is her breach of Apollonian trust that allows the Dionysian forces (represented by the tiger) to step in and "make an example of things".  In that sense, there's a sort of irony involved once you start to make comparisons between this story and another narrative.  Phillipa Pearce is really the one who set this whole chain of thought in motion.  In one sense, she deserves all the credit for this.  In another sense, it's almost like we've come full circle.  Of all the stories examined in these posts, it is Pearce's Lion at School and King's Here There Be Tygers which come off as having the most in common.  Both of them center around kids who find themselves situated as the odd ones out in their surroundings.  In each case, some animalistic looking agent comes along that either helps them cope with, fend off, or else just plain solve their problems in a way that can only be described as fantastic.  

Rather than asking if we have a chicken-and-egg plagiarism situation going on, I continue to maintain that it is perfectly possible for two separate authors to hit upon the same idea (or uncover the same literary fossil, or archetype) at differing times and places, and still find their own ways of making a story that works out of it.  This seems to have been what happened with first King, and then Pearce.  What's interesting to note is how much their respective outlooks might have helped frame, or shape the stories they had to tell once they both reached the finished product stage.  If both stories are at heart about some inner-external force that winds up helping the protagonists to solve their problems, then I think it's just as informative to examine the lens or standpoint that each writer takes in observing their stories as they unfold.  Pearce seems to find a more positive, upbeat expression for the idea, while King's turn of mind views the setup and its characters as a danger to be either avoided, or else approached with the utmost caution.  The irony is that both writers seem to find the Gothic as their best form of artistic expression. 

I think what sets the two writers and their stories apart comes from the central conflict each is describing.  Both Lion and Tygers seem to share the core idea of bullying at school, and how to overcome this problem.  It's a topic that tends to crop up a lot of the time in King's work.  His stories are filled with characters who are all too happy to act as the local thugs willing to heap abuse on the heroes of the stories in all sorts of creative ways.  It's an aspect that King seems to want to explore a lot further than Pearce.  Which is not the same as saying that she's the lesser writer, far from it.  It's just that King always prefers to walk further up and into the darkest places of the Gothic territory.  It could be that Pearce does the same, however.  Bear In mind, I've just gone through two of her stories.  There's plenty more where that came from.  All I can say right now is that she views the central conflict more in terms of building self-confidence, and overcoming adversity.  It could be that King might be approaching things in a more or less similar light, however he keeps casting a jaundiced eye on the whole affair.  That seems fitting when you consider that he now regrets writing a book like Rage.  The irony in all this is that while I get exactly where King is coming from, if I had to choose, I'd say Philippa is at least doing what she can to take the best course of action in her story.  If that makes any sense.  Then again, it's not as if King would disagree with such a sentiment, considering his further treatments of this theme.

Beyond all this considerations, of course, there is the most important question.  Is the story any good?  The funny thing is there are two ways (or perspectives) of answering this question, the current and the chronological.  The current response, even after all these years, would have to be a definitive yes.  Or least that remains the big takeaway I always get from it.  It's a singular story that really appears to be a seamless melding of different narrative tropes and genres.  We start out in a situation that makes it look like your average slice of life setup.  Then the tiger shows up and for a minute it seems like we could be headed anywhere.  For a brief minute, some may even wonder if we've stumbled into one of those down-the-rabbit-hole quest narratives that people like C.S. Lewis were so fond of.  Then the description takes over and we realize that, yup, this is straight-up Horror alright.  It even classifies as what many fans might now think of a Vintage King.  One of those efforts where we get the see the writer in his prime, firing on all cylinders, and putting the peddle to the metal.  The funny thing is how even with all this taken into account, King shows his own unconscious strengths by keeping the sense of fantasy alive, even in what is ostensibly a Gothic setting.  It's something he is able to accomplish with greater skill here than in a story like The Dark Tower, if I'm being honest.

I said there were two ways of looking at this story, however.  I've just outlined the contemporary response above.  That just leaves the chronological.  How does this story look in terms of its place in the history of King's development as a writer?  It's sort of an important question, based just on the fact of how early it appeared in the course of his professional career.  It's the product of a college student on the cusp of actual adulthood (whatever that is), and yet even here the level of maturity on display is striking.  However this chronological vantage point goes even further when you consider that no one at the time even had a clue who King was, or what he might become as an artist.  It's an aspect of the whole topic that, once again, a frustratingly few voices of critical commentary are willing to take the time and address.  As of this writing, the best example I know of this level of close reading has to come once more from the Truth Inside the Lie article on the story.  The observations found there still ring true up to now, especially with the logical extrapolation of how a completely novice reader of King's story would have reacted to it.

From the chronological perspective, then, Here There Be Tygers is a story filled with both skill, style, and above all, a sense of promise.  King was making a name for himself at the time, and while he might have just started earning his name, he still had yet to establish himself as the King of Horror that we know now.  The irony, however, is just how short a time jump there was from that simple campus magazine story to King's big break with Carrie.  A span of no more than four years, as Spignesi has pointed out.  That's got to be one of the strongest chain of lucky breaks I can ever imagine happening to an artist.  Maybe that in itself is a topic worthy of study.  The most important fact in all this, however, remains the same.  The story itself holds up pretty damn well, all things considered, and that's sort of what counts the most in the end. 

I'd have to say this whole thing amounts to an odd critical journey, one that I can't say I was expecting to make.  None of this was planned, merely observed, if that makes any sense.  If not, well, what can I say, that's just the way literary criticism seems to go sometime.  What I do know is that I can honestly say I've had a blast with this extended excursion.  Not sure I can promise whether or not anything like it will happen in the future.  This is one of those spur of the moment things, really, nothing more.  However, if there's one thing I'm grateful for in all this, it' that reading a new-old piece of work has helped me gain a better understanding of several other stories I've enjoyed in the past, and has helped deepen and enrich their contents beyond what I was expecting.


  1. (1) "Indeed, if someone were to ask him what he's got against educating kids, he'd probably reply that he just wished that we all really could learn how to teach these kids properly. He'd then probably point out that so far we seem to be doing a real shitty job of it." -- One hopes it can't possibly get any worse, but I'm not optimistic; it probably can, and if so then it surely will. This country has no interest in education.

    (2) "More important than this, however, has got to be the idea of how certain classroom and school hall experiences can often be enough to fill a specific type of student with a sometimes overwhelming sense of dread." -- Yep, dread. Absolutely. I don't remember it very often, but when there's an occasion for the memory to float to mind, that's how I think of school: I dreaded going, every day. I am not by any means alone in that sentiment, I think.

    (3) "Let me head off the inevitable argument that a classroom as portrayed on the big screen is not the same as the real thing. With all due respect, that sort of misses the point." -- I'd stand up and applaud this if I thought anyone would know about it.

    (4) Oooh, linking this story to "Rage" is a compelling idea. It immediately strikes me as true and useful to do so. They're even both named a variant of Charles/Charlie.

    (5) "There's no sign of Ken or Old Lady Bird, though. To say nothing of the tiger, of which there's not a trace left behind." -- That's my gut impulse, too. This tiger appeared only in relation to Charles. But what if it didn't vanish back into the Twilight Zone? Is there now a man-eating tiger roaming this school? That's no good for anyone, except maybe Charles.

    (6) "However, if there's one thing I'm grateful for in all this, it' that reading a new-old piece of work has helped me gain a better understanding of several other stories I've enjoyed in the past, and has helped deepen and enrich their contents beyond what I was expecting." -- Gotta love a result like that!

    1. (1) More's the pity.

      (2) I can dredge up just enough memories, here and there, to see the point of stories like Ray Bradbury's "The Playground". It all seemed to get better as both I and everyone else around me got older. Anyone else had that experience?

      (3) I can see how that can also amount to a potentially dangerous lack of insight, unfortunately. Then again, maybe I've just been letting my imagination misbehave. One hopes?

      (4) Let's just hope the two characters aren't one and the same (which does seem like a stretch, if I'm being honest). Wanna know something surreal? If you scroll up and look at the author photo of King in the high school letter jacket, you might just realize that his posture subtly mimics that of the figure on the cover of "Rage"

      The whole thing creates an ironic, subconscious relation or juxtaposition that I SWEAR was not intentional on my part. All that happened is I was looking for around for photos to place in around the text. I just saw the one of King in the jacket and thought, "Oh yeah, that fits". So in it went. Then, without any forethought whatsoever, I thought something like, "Oh yeah, maybe better put a cover photo of "Rage" in there as well". I'll swear that is as far as it went with me. Doesn't make it any less weird.

      (5) Even then, I'm not sure how beneficial a situation like that would be even for the main character. For some reason, it's one of those scenarios where at least some kind of supernatural explanation just makes the whole thing work best.

      (6) Didn't King himself even observe at one point that sometimes life has its compensations?