Today I will not be talking about the popular Choose Your Own Adventure Series from back in the day. Instead I am talking about Stephen King. Now, I have never read a Stephen King novel before. This is mainly because I don’t really enjoy the whole thriller/horror genre, and I like to be able to get to sleep at night. But when a friend pointed out to me that King’s latest book 11/22/63 deals with time travel, and I am writing a story that deals with time travel, I figured I should check it out. I particularly wanted to see how he constructs time travel in the novel, how his characters deal with it etc. For research purposes. I am charting unknown territory here. After all, Wilson Mizner, an American playwright, said
If you steal from one author, its plagiarism; if you steal from many, its research.
So in my literary travels I might be keeping an eye out for time travel books. I still like variety in my reading habits, and if I read too much of one thing I need a break, but every now and again I might throw some time travel in there to keep me on top of things.
Anyway, back to the book. The premise of King’s novel revolves around a plan to go back in time to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK in Texas on November 22, 1963. King’s protagonist, Jake Epping is sent on a mission by his colleague, Al to travel through a wormhole in Al’s store room that drops him off in the summer of 1958. Epping’s mission is to take a new identity and stop the JFK assassination. Through the butterfly effect: the idea that changing one event can alter many others, Al and Jake plan to save the world. I am interested that King chose this moment in history to change – it is definitely a big one, but his explaination behind it left me wanting to know more.
Now, I feel like I should put a disclaimer that I have not finished this book yet. I have not been reviewing the few books that I haven’t finished since starting this blog. But I do want to discuss this one, even though I am only about 300 pages in – as I said, it is a long book. It is relevant, after all to my story idea, and it is an interesting read, although at times it can be over written. I have been enjoying it, and am planning to finish it, but it is a very dense, long historical book, and I just finished another good dense, long historical book. As I said before – I like variety in my reading selections. So I am planning on returning to this book in the near future after reading some fun YA.
I knew that Stephen King is well known in his genre of horror and triller novels, but I did not know that he had branched out beyond that theme as well. Although 11/22/63 has some very dark and haunting elements to it that echo King’s genre, I would not say that it falls into the same category as most of his other books. He has also written a book On Writing, which looks interesting. I was impressed by King’s writing style – genre fiction tends to be popular for the plot as opposed to the writing style, but then again it is Stephen King we are talking about here. And 11/22/63 is considered to be more literary science fiction. I pictured the opening scene of 11/22/63 being studied in literary or writing classes – all the key elements are there in just a few pages. We learn about the protagonist, we see his motivation that drives him through the rest of the story emerge, and we get his backstory. And bam we are in the middle of the story.
So as I said earlier in the post, I read this to see how King wrote time travel. Right from the start I could tell that it was not the same route that I was taking with the subject. Jake Epping goes through a portal/wormhole, while my characters have a belt that does the work for them. This means, that since Jake was dropped off in 1958, he has some time to kill before saving Kennedy in 1963. It is in this portion of the novel that Jake makes his mission personal. He has some of his own business to deal with, and takes it upon himself to save the family of one of his students from a brutal murder. This gives Jake a sense of motivation, but this also develops into a bit of a hero complex later in the story. It also makes the book very long.
Another difference that I saw, and that King emphasized in his book, was that every time Jake entered 1958 through the portal it was a do over. Everything he or anyone else had managed to change in the past was erased, and he would have to do it again. This meant that King had to rewrite scenes that the reader had previously read. In my opinion, he did a good job of writing a scene from an alternative POV, which is an interesting challenge within itself. That is something I am going to keep an eye out for as I continue the book. King also does a good job of creating a world that no longer exists, a world where Jake can no longer use his cell phone, and has to use different money. This was especially interesting after reading Fall of Giants, which also set up a world that doesn’t exist anymore, but on a much more global scale. King nailed down the small rural town feel of the late ’50’s, and really invested in his characters from the past. The setting has a sense of hyper reality to it that makes the past seem familiar whether a reader has read through it or not.
I was thinking about this the other day – time travel is a subject that has been seen in tv shows and novels again and again, but there is no one way of doing it. I am not saying that there should be, instead I am saying the opposite. It makes the research and creation process more interesting, at least for me, with all the different options there are out there. The idea of time travel itself is cannon, but the rules stop there. You can do whatever you want – you can choose your own adventure. Some travel around in a little blue box, while others walk through a wormhole, and still others fly through space in a car from the ’80’s. Some even stay in Neverland. But it’s all time travel in its own right. Just as long as everything fits together within the realms of the story. I know I’m writing about World War I, but I’m excited to see how I get there and what happens while I’m there.