Eddie Hodges's Reviews > Needful Things

Needful Things by Stephen King
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Jun 01, 10

Read from May 28 to June 01, 2010

I was barely able to put this book down until I finished it. It had some flaws, most of which tend to show up in a lot of Stephen King novels, but as a whole it shows why King deserves his reputation as a great writer.

First, let me praise before I condemn. King does great characters many of whom start off as ‘stock’ characters; such as the abusive, self important bully who appears in several of King’s stories, but he turns stock into real layering these characters with their own fears, foibles and self doubts so that they not only jump off the page at you, but you occasionally almost feel sorry for them…almost. With other characters that are even more original your heart does ache for them as you get to know them and as the evil they face begins to prey on them. Several times as the antagonist, Mr. Leland Gaunt (and isn’t that a great name for a horror villain?) caused some of these characters pain I found myself closing my eyes and imagining how good it would feel to crawl inside the book and punch Gaunt right in the snoot!

Next, King knows how to keep the suspense high and the momentum going while juggling a multitude of characters in a book large enough to do you injury if you were to drop it on your foot. There are no dead zones, pun intended, during the book so the more you read the more you want to find out what happens next. The fuse to a firecracker is lit, metaphorically speaking, and you want to keep turning pages so you can watch it go bang until the climax at which point the firecracker turns into a stick of dynamite.

There was also a good moral message to the story beyond the one that people need to get along. The message of how things, inanimate, soulless objects, can become too important to us. So much so that we often put the car, the fishing rod, the collection of stamps, coins or baseball cards ahead of what should matter the most; the people in our lives. The story proves that if we set these things aside and reached out to other people our lives would be much happier and more satisfying.

As I said, there are some fairly flaws in the book though. First, I don’t know Stephen King so I can’t say for sure, but reading his books I get the impression that he has an animus against religion in general and Christianity in particular. I’ve read roughly two thirds of his books and in every one I can remember, including Needful Things, when Christians, especially Pastors, Ministers and Priests, are shown they are played as at best as low hypocrites and at worst borderline lunatics. Given that King’s characters are often striving against demonic forces it would be nice to see at least one devout Man or Woman of God lead the charge though in fairness King may have done so in one of his books I haven’t read. It comes across as a type of bias in his writing, whether he intends it as such or not, that is mildly offensive and distracting.

Further, in several of his books, again including Needful Things, any aliens from space reading his books would get the impression that 99% of the human race is just a breath away from grabbing an AK-47 and climbing up a water tower. I know that under the right circumstances a large number of people can become an insane, raging mob, but I also know that under the same circumstances many people, more than King tends to portray in my opinion, would keep their heads and act human in the best possible sense of the word. There are characters, other than the hero, who actually do keep their humanity, but not as many nor as actively as I would have liked to seen. Also, while there were characters in the book that were strong enough not to be taken in by Mr. Gaunt none of these characters were ever shown doing so as he tended to avoid those people. Now it makes sense that Gaunt would have avoided these people, but it would have tickled me if he had misjudged just one person; just one person who would have resisted Mr. Gaunt’s wiles, laughed in his face, and walked away from him.

Given the setup the ending of the book, while good, was a bit anti climatic for my tastes. I had a few other nits to pick, but they were all minor mostly involving dust and spiders. Nothing that detracted from the story and that discussing in detail would involve spoiling the book so I’ll skip those unless asked.

Neither praise nor a condemnation, but the physical violence in the book is very gory as well as being the result of one human trying to damage another and not of a ‘monster’ nature. The real and even more disturbing violence is emotional as Mr. Gaunt manipulates the hearts of the citizens of Castle Rock destroying many of them in the process.

I strongly recommend this book to horror fans.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Moloch Leicester If you want to see Stephen King write about a priest who isn't so bad you need only look to "Salem's Lot," his vampire book. He does tend to lampoon preachers and clergy, but as a class of folks they have earned it, don't you think?

Eddie Hodges Not as a whole; no, they haven't earned it. That road leads to bigotry because if that's true then one could say that because some blacks are stupid; they all are. If some Hebrews are greedy; they all are. If some Hispanics are lazy; they all are. There are Pastors and Ministers who deserve the sort of characterization King seems to portray all religious men as, but not all of them are like that. I believe it's a bias on his part and tends to make me, as a Christian and as a person who tries to be fair, very uncomfortable.

As for Salem's Lot, it's literally been decades since I read that one (God I'm old), but as I recall the Priest you've referring to had one powerful moment of faith, long enough to save two people from the vampire, but then lost his faith to the point the vampire regarded him as irrelevant; not important enough to bother to kill. Immediately after that the Priest put his tail between his legs and left town leaving others to oppose the vampire. Not what I'd call a positive portrayal of religious figure.

message 3: by Moloch (last edited Nov 09, 2011 02:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Moloch Leicester I like the Father Callahan character, and do you know that he makes an appearance again in "Wolves of the Calla," the fifth book in the Dark Tower series ?

He has a drinking problem and struggles with faith, but this makes his character realistic. He tried to help his old town "Salem's Lot" and he does what he can to protect his adopted town in end-world.

All sorts of religious figures struggle with faith sometimes, and I bet you would too if a vampire was after you.

edit: either that or you would become a fanatic!

Eddie Hodges Or perhaps I'd just hold onto my faith. Opinions; like people, vary.

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