Friday, April 01, 2005

King: It Returns—Least-Quantitative Generational Linguistics

Born down in a dead man's town.
—Bruce Springsteen
This post-Apocalyptic comedy of manners is Stephen King's futuristic vision of life in a anti-Darwinian utopia. It Returns is richly peopled with thinkers gone mad, planners gone agley, and children gone to the dogs. The novel will inevitably be contrasted with King's other post-hospitalization fiction, notably The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and On Writing.

The story opens with Sheena, a process server, lost in the big city that symbolizes so much gone wrong in our modern society. Seeking to complete her court-appointed task, she accidentally connects with Et Tu, an alien traffic-expediter whose career has been sidetracked by its need to find a male, a female and a byneel of its species. Unless "it" can convince Sheena to help, its species will end with the present generation.

Meanwhile, Afgren Prime contemplates the school system of his world. So many children are progressing from class to class without ever learning the basics of AFD and the Wovon physics they will need to succeed in life. Does he dare authorize a world-wide competency exam? Perhaps it will be sufficient to subsidize a Saturday morning cartoon starring a Wovon adept who can also see through windows.

Afgren Prime, Sheena and Et Tu are on a collision course that only the likes of Stephen King could script. This is a thoroughly enjoyable tale; but it has deeper implications for our present crisis. For one thing, it is obvious King meant the Wovon disciplines to stand in for our oil dependency, and AFD is certainly intended to equal drilling in ANWR. I can only speculate that Sheena is a loosely-disguised Condoleeza Rice (prior to her appointment to be Secretary of State), while Afgren Prime is clearly meant to stand in for Jon Stewart.
Beyond them, the rain had spilled out of gutters clogged with branches and rocks... The water had first pried fingerholds in the paving and then snatched whole greedy handfuls——all of this by the third day of the rains... But everyone agreed, the worst was over.
And what of Et Tu, the eponymous "it"? In reading this novel, I was struck repeatedly by the similarity of the neuter alien with bad-boy self-anointed King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Jackson's search for the perfect mate, unbounded by gender or maturity, seems drearily like that of blue spam-warden Et Tu.

I don't think we will ever know for sure—and Stephen King isn't telling.

The movie version of It starring Tim Curry makes many of these same parallels. Curry reprises his gender-ambiguous role from The Rocky Horror Picture Show with a sinister twist not found in that more-innocent film.

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