16 October 2012


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 16

How did I ever get this far without a post to discuss Church the cat properly??? What is a book called Pet Sematary without a featured pet?

Looking at Church made Louis feel sad. It was ridiculous but that didn't change the emotion. There was no sign of Church's former feistiness. No more did he walk like a gunslinger; now his walk was the slow, careful walk of the convalescent. He allowed Ellie to hand-feed him. He showed no sign of wanting to go outside, not even to the garage. He had changed. Perhaps it was ultimately for the better that he had changed.

Neither Rachel nor Ellie seemed to notice.

The above cover is silly, but it lets Church be the centre of attention.
And if you think that's some random cat, give it a squint
and see whose name is on that grave marker! ;-)

Do you know what's really interesting about the passage I've just quoted? Read on and find out . . .

Chapters 19 to 27

Church has been the Creed family pet for several years, but it isn't until they move to their new home that Louis agrees to have him neutered. It's for Church's own protection: the new house is right next to a highway over which big tanker trucks pass and nobody wants him crossing the road at night. But although Louis tells himself that the operation is all for the best, he is not so sure about it.

I can't find the relevant passages right now, but I recall that Louis kind of identified with the tomcat. Although the former is happily married, he isn't about to curtail another's "bachelor" lifestyle forever--even if the other is just a cat! =P

So what's interesting about the passage I quoted above is that it does not describe the Church who came home from the pet cemetery after his funeral, but the Church who came home from the veterinarian after his "fixing." In Louis's eyes, neutering is not quite akin to death, but it is a form of zombification!

He thinks that because he has not yet seen a real zombie. =P But that's about to change . . .

I don't know about you, but Chapter 22 and five chapters that follow COMPLETELY FREAKED ME OUT. (That's the plan, though, right? LOL!)

At first, I thought that Jud killed Church. After he started repeating the same lines as Victor Pascow, I immediately feared that the older man had been "possessed" by whatever it was that took control of the dead boy, making him deliberately go for Church to get to Louis. "The Wendigo made him do it," you might say. "Maybe I did it because kids need to know that sometimes dead is better," Jud himself says, alluding to Ellie's beliefs about death. But the real reason is so much darker than either scenario.

"That's why, but it ain't why . . . I did it for the same reason Stanny B. did it and for the same reason Lester Morgan did it. Lester took Linda Lavesque up there after her dog got run over in the road. He took her up there even though he had to put his goddamn bull out of its misery for chasing kids through its pasture like it was mad. He did it anyway, he did it anyway, Louis . . . and what the Christ do you make of that?

. . . "Lester did it and Stanley did it for the same reason I did it. You do it because it gets hold of you. You do it because that burial place is a secret place, and you want to share the secret, and when you find a reason that just seems good enough, . . . why then you just go ahead and do it. You make up reasons . . . they seem like good reasons . . . but mostly you do it because you want to."

Ah, yes . . . That sounds about right.

Throughout this readalong, I've been going on and on about rites of passage being a deep-seated spiritual need, to the extent that our characters become stunted if we don't get them--the way our bodies become stunted if we don't get enough nutrients growing up. Some of us, like the children in the novel, are wise enough to improvise what we sense is lacking. But it's not that healthy desire for symbolic death and rebirth that compels Jud to show Louis the ancient burial grounds beyond the pet cemetery.

Rites of Passage can move over now. We need room for our second theme: something else more traditional cultures have always insisted on are taboos. There are some things that you just don't do, some lines that you just don't cross, some places where you just don't go. It doesn't at all matter that there is no rational reason for forbidding them. That's partly the point.

I actually came up with an unspeakable example of a way we might violate a certain ancient taboo that is still in force today. I'm not sharing it because if I did, this post would be so disgusting that nobody would ever come back to my blog. Let's just say that I was able to make a completely rational case for removing the stigma and accepting it as just another freely chosen lifestyle element. By the end of it, I disgusted myself so much that I wanted a shower.

There are some things that are not allowed simply because they corrupt the soul. It's not arbitrary societal rules that forbid them, but our inborn sense that evil is very real, and very dark, and very dangerous.

Now, if you think our modern age is bad when it comes to rites of passage, then you haven't pondered what we have sunk to when it comes to taboos.

What are your thoughts on Chapters 19 to 27?

1. What do you think of neutering as a metaphor for "zombification"? What's the equivalent for people?
2. Do you agree that sometimes dead is better--not just for animals, but also for people?
3. What do you think of taboos?

Image Source: Pet Sematary by Stephen King


Angie Tusa said...

1. Louis' comments about getting his cat neutered didn't sit well with me at all. It's an old stubborn way of thinking. Both of my cats had their "manhood" taken away as kittens and trust me, it didn't do a thing to change their feisty nature!

As far as the human equivalent, well, we have obvious neutering surgeries available.. but I think the "zombification" that most people would consider is marriage. The idea that once you are married all the fun times and partying are over seems to still be pretty prevalent an idea.

2. Given what happens here, absolutely. :) And in a more real life application, I'd certainly rather see a person or animal reach their final rest than continue to suffer through fatal illness here.

3. You have thoroughly tickled my curiosity with your so gross you can't post it idea! The problem with taboos is that they are different for everyone depending on your culture, religion, upbringing, etc. But I think in terms of discussion at least, no topic should be taboo.

Enbrethiliel said...


1. I also think Louis was being silly about neutering Church, but suspect we're being given some insight into his psyche that will be relevant later.

Your answer of marriage surprised me--which made no sense, since I am also aware that many people think of it as a kind of death. I guess I tend to file it under "Rite of Passage" rather than "Zombie Ritual". LOL! This new direction you've pointed me to reminds me of something Leonardo da Vinci said at the end of his life: "While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die." I'm going to bury this quote and see what comes back to me. ;-)

2. After these nine chapters, I think that "Sometimes death is better" should be the tagline on the cover of every future edition of Pet Sematary!

3. You say that now, but you have no idea what I would have written. ;-)

But I admit that if there were no written record that someone could dredge up and totally misunderstand, and if I felt that I had a totally reasonable audience, then I would go ahead and say it, because it would help me make my point like nothing else.

Here's a hint, though . . . I'm not crazy about Sigmund Freud's ideas, but I think he's right about two taboos being universal. (And the $64,000 question is: "Which literary character breaks both taboos and lends his name to one of Freud's pet theories???") My unspeakable example involves one of them. There truly are some things we just don't want in our communities--not because we're snotty from upbringing or puritanical from culture--but because we know deep inside that they're, well, evil. (I feel like an old, religious fuddy-duddy for using that word, but I think it's the most precise one the English language has.)

Angie, when you voted for Pet Sematary in the poll and said that it would have so much about how we deal with death, I couldn't fathom a tenth of what you meant. But now that I have a better idea, I can't begin to tell you how right you were! And I'm only on Chapter 27!

Angie Tusa said...

But I admit that if there were no written record that someone could dredge up and totally misunderstand, and if I felt that I had a totally reasonable audience, then I would go ahead and say it, because it would help me make my point like nothing else.

Ah yes. While the internet connects so many of us no matter how far away, the permanence can certainly be an issue when it comes to being taken out of context. I certainly understand your hesitance. :)

"Which literary character breaks both taboos and lends his name to one of Freud's pet theories???"

As someone who refused to read Flowers in the Attic despite the fact that a group of my friends were very much invested in and enjoying the series, I know what you mean. :) Which isn't to say I would be opposed to hearing your theory, just that I understand why you don't wish to record it for the ages!

But now that I have a better idea, I can't begin to tell you how right you were!

In preparation for the almost guaranteed power outage we were going to get after Hurricane Isaac, I had planned a few things to occupy my time.. and discovered that all I really wanted to do was keep reading Pet Semetery! I'm so glad you're also finding so much to chew on!

Jenny said...

You're making me want to read this one! I've only seen the movie and it was only so so for me.

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Jenny! I hope I can encourage you to give this novel a try. It's one of King's quicker reads, so it won't be a huge time investment, and it's so much better than (what I can remember about) the movie. =)

DMS said...

This is a great post! Fun : ) I loved the book Pet Sematary. I have always been a big Stephen King fan- he's an amazing writer!

Answers to questions:

1) I think when it's necessary, you snip... we have the technology, and there's no shame in being responsible. For both people and animals!

2) I think if you choose to accept that all things are fleeting, and that, in nature, everything is subject to the cycles of creation and destruction- then only you can determine whether or not being dead is better than being alive, as you are forever yourself, and can never be someone else. For me, it's the difference between nothing and something- chances are I would pick something.

3) I think that taboos are useless. Nothing should be considered taboo. I think there should be standards and laws that regulate social behaviors so that everyone can function and do what they need to do peacefully. And, as long as no one is being hurt or suffering, I feel that judging someone for their beliefs or calling their lifestyle taboo is a waste of time and energy.

And that's my 2 cents! : ) Thanks! ~ Jess

Enbrethiliel said...


Thank you, Jess! I think Stephen King is completely underrated--but that's also half the fun of reading him. =)

1) I agree about being responsible for our pets, but I think what muddies the water when it comes to the sterlisation of people is that there are so many more motivations that come into play.

2) Your answer is especially interesting to me since you've already finished Pet Sematary. It seems to me that the whole message of the book is that we should let the dead be dead--that the "resurrected" animals are not better than nothing, but worse than nothing. I don't want to probe more deeply yet, because this sounds like a spoiler-rich discussion that should be saved until everyone has finished the story, but I do hope you come back to explain in a future Book Club post. =)

3) I really think that some taboos (such as but not limited to Freud's universals) are not a social construct but a kind of spiritual/psychological reality, to the point that people who transgress even the taboos that are mainstreamed (or even embraced) by their societies will become "dark" or "bent" in some way. But this is just the first time I've thought about taboos in any depth and I'm mostly going by intuition here.