30 October 2012


"Two or Three" Book Club Meeting 20

Can you believe we're finally done?!?!?! The best novel I read in 2012 is still F. Sionil Jose's Ermita (See my Reading Diary entry!)--but Stephen King's Pet Sematary certainly gave it a run for its money.

. . . And the house stood empty in the May sunshine, as it had stood empty on that August day the year before, waiting for the new people to arrive . . . as it would wait for other new people to arrive at some future date. A young married couple, perhaps, with no children (but with hopes and plans). Bright young marrieds with a taste for Mondavi wine and Lowenbrau beer . . . They would congratulate themselves on their lack of superstition, on their hardheadedness in snaring the house in spite of its history--they would tell their friends that it had been fire-sale-priced and joked about the ghost in the attic, and all of them would have another Lowenbrau or another glass of Moldavi, and they would play backgammon or Mille Bourne.

And perhaps they would have a dog.

One thing I never considered was that the house was in cahoots with the Micmac burying ground!!! (So now we know why Church is able to get in all those times . . .) Perhaps it's a good thing to be superstitious. At least once in a while.

And now I realise that "superstitions" is the word I wanted last week, which is when I started saying "taboos." =P

Chapters 55 to 62 and Epilogue

As Angie pointed out during our last meeting, it's no longer just Louis, Rachel and Jud trying to avoid, to catch or to stop each other. But maybe it never was. This was always a battle between Good and Evil, with various characters caught in the crossfire. Some of the latter just didn't see it until it was too late.

By this point in the plot, Good seems woefully impotent next to Evil, doesn't it? Yes, this is a Horror novel, so that kind of imbalance is to be expected; but I'm looking for the inner logic of it. Why should Good be so ineffectual here? Why is the only knight it sends to the rescue a Good Samaritan trucker with no idea of the role he is playing in this war?

I actually wondered that for a minute before I remembered that Good had been sending troops to the front lines long before this point. It started with Victor Pascow. It recruited Ellie. It got Jud working overtime to clean up what he had fouled.

Who is to say why Good wins one battle and Evil wins another? Who is to say why some men gaze into the eyes of a triumphant Wendigo . . . and why other men manage to evade it at the very edge of its territory?

And now we seem to have crossed over into the wild again, past the highway, past the Creeds' house, past the pet cemetery, and past the deadfall . . .

[Louis] told himself not to be ridiculous, to be like Jud and avoid ideas about what might be seen or heard beyond the Pet Sematary--they were loons, they were St. Elmo's Fire, they were the members of the New York Yankees' bullpen. Let them be anything but the creatures which leap and crawl and slither and shamble in the world between. Let there be God, let there be Sunday morning, let there be smiling Episcopalian ministers in shining white surplices . . . but let there not be these dark and draggling horrors on the nightside of the universe.

Do we really believe that the orderliness--or rather, the orderlinesses--we have created through technology, through home defense, through society, through civilisation, and even through religion are enough to keep the forces of disorder at bay? All of these are the equivalent of "Keep Off the Grass" signs: they are only as strong as the respect they are awarded.

And no, we don't really believe that all these formalities keep us safe, which is why we rationalise with all our might that the dark things our ancestors feared were merely superstitions. But when St. Boniface, back in the eighth century, chopped down that sacred tree, he was not demonstrating that the deity the pagans believed in did not exist, but showing them that the God he worshipped was greater. (Yet there's an interesting "Don't try this at home, kids!" element to this story. Even children know that this kind of direct challenge to evil will not work for everyone who worships St. Boniface's God. And it's kind of curious that we don't seem to have similar stories about the missionaries who were sent to North America and who would have encountered the Wendigo.)

The only defenses worth having are those which are powerful in and of themselves. The Vatican is right: there should be a trained, experienced exorcist in every diocese. 

But what about those of us who really don't believe in any of this?

[Louis's colleague Steve] was by no means a religious man (in college Steve had been a member of the Atheists' Society for two semesters and had dropped out only when his advisor had told him--privately and very much off the record--that it might hurt his chances to obtain a med school scholarship later on), but he supposed he fell as much heir to whatever biological or biorhythmic conditions passed for premonitions as any other human being, and the death of Pascow had seemed to set a tone for the year that followed, somehow. Not a good year by any means.

Steve Masterton's character reminds me of an issue I almost brought up a few meetings ago. Who would be more frightened by Pet Sematary, I wanted to ask, a believer or a non-believer? Then I realised that the question is superfluous: scary is scary, whether you are the type who observes that old superstitions find refreshed popularity in wartime or the type who notices that there are no atheists in foxholes. And the universe of Horror is greater than any battleground in military history. (" . . . sed potius eum timete qui potest et animam et corpus perdere in gehennam . . .")

But Stephen King does seem, at least in this story, to be coming down squarely on the side of belief, saying that we ignore these forces at our peril. And he hints that the only reason the Wendigo does not make more of an effort to get Steve, too, is that it is content--for the meantime--with everything it has been able to do with Louis. Perhaps that is the reason Evil does not reach out so far for the rest of us as well.

What are your thoughts on Chapters 46 to 54?

1. Is there one ancient "superstition" that you think was probably true and that we ignore today at our own peril?
2. What "superstitions" do you swear by when it comes to protection against the forces of Evil?
3. My reading of Pet Sematary has inevitably been coloured by my religious beliefs. Is there anything really important you think I missed because of this (unapologetic) bias?

Now I'd like to thank everyone who has participated in this readalong, especially those who have left comments. Angie has been especially awesome, so if you haven't checked out her blog Another One's Treasure yet, you really should!

Image Source: Pet Sematary by Stephen King


Angie Tusa said...

Aw, thanks! It's been a lot of fun having the discussion!

But now I have to disagree with you, or at least show that I feel differently than you. :)

You are right in that believers vs. nonbelievers are going to approach this book differently. As someone who doesn't believe in superstitions, this ultra heavy Good vs Evil making puppets of humans gets annoying to me by the end of the book.

As I've said before, I'm far more interested in the idea that grief is what compels Louis to make these foolish mistakes and damn his family, not the spirits living in the Micmac burial ground. I think King had an interesting enough story on his hands with that, and adding in these forces that control the characters and take away their free will is just disappointing.

You made an excellent point last time about Rachel acting out of character and it's true. One cannot help but think that because of her own inability to deal with death, if Rachel knew about the powers of the burial ground all along, she might have helped Louis bury Gage. But Ellie's too small and Jud's hands are unclean thanks to his part in guiding Louis there, so we get Rachel the hero instead. (Well, failed hero...)

Speaking of, poor Ellie! The girl is now an orphan living with her not exactly warm and loving grandparents. I wonder if King will ever choose to write a sequel on where Ellie ended up like he recently did Danny from The Shining.

Enbrethiliel said...


I see what you mean by "ultra heavy" Good vs. Evil. Even I was kind of surprised at the appearance of a literal Wendigo.

I think that Good and Evil can nudge us in certain directions or encourage certain tendencies without necessarily making puppets of us, but as you pointed out, that doesn't happen so smoothly in this story. Long before Rachel turned into an action heroine, there was Jud letting the Micmac burial ground get the better of him the night Church died. That was incredibly out of character and really did make him seem like a puppet. Although he explained it afterwards and it does fit into the logic of the story, I just can't square it with his fatherly, lovable character. You may remember that when I wrote the post about that incident, I wondered whether he had been possessed!

When it comes to Louis, though, I think the influence of Evil was just right. He already had a tendency to wish himself far away from reality, and Evil exploited it--and his grief--brilliantly.

And yes, there's Ellie. =( Just when I was thinking she was the most well-adjusted member of her family . . . Not any longer! Her therapy bills are going to be bigger than her college tuition. If King ever does write a sequel about Ellie, I will definitely read it! I just hope she doesn't turn out too badly.