August 21, 2009

Four Past Midnight

Title : Four Past Midnight
Author : Stephen King
Reading Dates : 21 Aug - 25 Aug 2009

Book Summary of Four Past Midnight.
This is an anthology of 4 horror stories by Stephen King published in 1999.

The Langoliers.
Near the start of The Langoliers , 10 passengers on American Pride's Flight 29 from Los Angeles to Boston awaken and realize that they are the only 11 people left on board. All its crew and most of the other passengers seems to have disappeared in mid-flight leaving their assorted belongings behind. Luckily enough for them, 1 of the passengers left behind is Captain Brian Engle, a pilot also employed by American Pride, who happens to be hitching a ride. With the help of Nick Hopewell, a man of rather strange talents, Brian breaks into the cockpit. When their emergency hails are not answered and they realize that Denver has somehow mysteriously disappeared, Brian opts to divert their course to Bangor International Airport.

The 10 survivors finds that BIA is as completely deserted as the other cities they have flown over. Through deductive reasoning, Robert Jenkins who is an author of numerous mystery novels, theorizes that they have somehow flown into a rip in time into the past. The reason the other passengers have disappeared is that they were somehow vaporized when flying through the rip. Only those passengers who were asleep survived their crossing over. And in order to find their way home, they must retrace their flight through that same hole.

As the passengers prepare to refuel their plane and fly again, they find themselves racing against time as well. Unhinged by recent events, Craig Toomy severely wounds Dinah Bellman, a young blind girl and kills Don Gaffney, another fellow passenger. However, the other survivors find that they do not have time to deal with Craig as creatures that Dinah dubs the Langoliers, after Craig's personal boogeyman, appear to destroy the "old" world they are in. Dinah somehow uses Craig to buy them time for the plane to takeoff before dying herself.

Just as they find and approach the rip, Bob Jenkins realizes a mistake they have made. If they are to survive their return, they must be asleep. But if everyone is asleep, who is to fly the plane. In hopes of redemption for his past deeds, Nick sacrifices himself so that they others may safely fly through the rip. The rest arrives safely back in Los Angeles, and even arrive early enough in the future to see how a new world is created every day.

Secret Window, Secret Garden.
The second tale in the book, Secret Window, Secret Garden starts with writer Morton Rainey being accused of plagiarism by a stranger calling himself John Shooter. Mort is currently alone in his summer house in Tashmore Glen after being recently divorced from his wife, Amy whom he found in bed with another man. Mort finds that Shooter's story Secret Window, Secret Garden bears an uncanny resemblance to one of his earlier short stories, Sowing Season. Believing Shooter to be unhinged but determined to handle things his way, Mort sets about requesting an original copy of the magazine where his story Sowing Season was published to be delivered to his summer home.

In the meantime, several mysterious incidents including the burning of Mort and Amy's house in Derry occurs. Although unsure why he is doing so even though he himself suspects Shooter, Mort plays down his suspicions and even lies to those around him to prevent them from suspecting a connection.

It is only towards the end that Mort realizes that Shooter exists only in his imagination. The arson and the murders that Shooter committed, was actually done by Mort during the times when he believed himself asleep. Mort tries to kill Amy when his Shooter persona takes over, but is killed instead. Once Amy recovers from her ordeal, she surmises that Mort did once steal someone's work and Shooter was his way of punishing himself for the crime. More than that, Shooter might have in some way become real because she found a note from him after Mort's death.

The Library Policeman.
When the acrobat who is supposed to give the talk on Junction City Rotary Club's Speaker's Night has an accident, Sam Peebles reluctantly agrees to be the stand-in. Determined to do his best, Sam acts on Naomi Sarah Higgins suggestion and goes to the library to look for some books to enliven his speech. There he meets the strange head librarian, Ardelia Lortz who suggests The Speaker's Companion and Best Loved Poems of the American People. Before checking out the books, Ardelia reminds Sam to return the books on time lest she sets the Library Policeman on him.

The speech is a success, but it is only after receiving a call from Ardelia that Sam realizes he has forgotten to return the books on time. He soon realizes he has lost the books but when he goes to the library to apologize and compensate the loss of the books, he finds the library changed, the head librarian a different person and none of the library assistants seem to know who Ardelia is. Furthermore, those who have heard of Ardelia Lortz reacts badly when he asks who she is. Sam quickly realizes that he somehow met a ghost but before he can investigate further, the Library Policeman pays Sam a visit. Sam is given until midnight to return the lost books.

Believing his only hope is to find out more, Sam seeks out Naomi and Dirty Dave Duncan. Naomi seemed to recognize Ardelia's name when Sam mentioned it to her before and Sam recognizes some of the posters he saw in the ghost library as Dave's work. Dave reveals to Naomi or Sarah as she is known among her Alcoholics Anonymous group and Sam that Ardelia is a vampire who feeds on fear. The townspeople believe that she killed herself after murdering 2 children, but Dave knows that she merely went to sleep. She is now awake and is apparently targeting Sam. Furthermore, Ardelia will kill Sarah and Dave as well since Sarah knows about her now and Ardelia has an old score to settle with Dave.

Dave suggests that if they are to beat Ardelia at her game, Sam must return the lost books and remember his personal Library Policeman since the Library Policeman must be based in part on Sam's memories. Sam and Sarah fly to Des Moines to purchase copies of the lost book. On the way back, Sam dreams of his past and remembers that he was raped as a child by a man claiming to be exacting a fine from Sam for not returning his library books on time. Armed with this knowledge Sam defeats Ardelia but Dave is killed in the fight.

The Sun Dog
The story starts with Kevin Delevan getting a Sun 660, a Polaroid camera for his 15th birthday. Only there seems to be something supernatural about the camera which seems to take pictures of a dog no matter where they point the viewer at. Hoping to discover more, Kevin takes the camera to Reginald "Pop" Merill, owner of the Emporium Galorium selling used goods. After trying out an experiment suggested by Merill, Kevin becomes convinced that the Sun Dog is dangerous and it would be better to destroy the camera. Merill who intends to sell the camera to rich eccentrics with a taste for the supernatural tricks Kevin and his father, John into believing that the camera is destroyed.

In time Merill finds that not only is he unable to sell the camera, but that the camera has somehow taken possession of him and is actually making him continue to take pictures of the Sun Dog. Kevin who has been plagued by nightmares where he visits the world of the Sun Dog, realizes that Merill has tricked them and pleads with his father to help destroy the camera. They arrive too late to stop the Sun Dog from killing Merrill but manage to trap it again with another Polaroid camera. However, on his 16th birthday Kevin receives a message telling him that the Sun Dog has escaped and is very angry at Kevin.

Book Review of Four Past Midnight.
The first time I read the Langoliers years ago, I thought it to be 1 of the best short stories by Mr King that I'd read. While I still enjoy it this time round, I find myself wondering about the ending. How are these people going to explain to the authorities what happened ? If they were to tell the truth, would anyone believe them ? I doubt it and yet how else could the authorities explain a crashed plane suddenly appearing in Los Angeles Airport.

As for Secret Window, Secret Garden, knowing the ending lessens the impact. When I read the story the first time around, sharing in Mort's believe that Shooter is plotting to drive him crazy and then finally realizing that Mort is Shooter was staggering. But once you already know the ending, like any magician's illusion, the glamour simply loses its hold. Not a bad story, just not as interesting when you know how it'll end. I wonder though why the movie makers of Secret Window chose this particular story to make a movie rather than the other stories in this book ?

I liked the Library Policeman more for its characters than its storyline. Sam goes from a likable but lonely man to a courageous one while Sarah goes from being a mere secretary to an angel. And it is not that the character transforms throughout the story, but more that we learn more of the characters as we go along. Still waters run deep and as the characters learn more about each other, we too learn more. Who could have expected that the reason for Sam's isolation was the shame from a rape he no longer remembered. Or that staid Naomi was also the "Angel" who kept Angel Street's Homeless Shelter afloat.

The Sun Dog starts out rather slowly and does not really catch my interest until the last few chapters when Kevin realizes that he has been tricked by Merrill. It is interesting that Kevin saves both his father's life and his by acting upon the hints dropped in his dreams. It struck me then that Mr King used dreams in all 4 of the short stories. Captain Brian Engle too acted upon his dreams in The Langoliers in the final solution which saves their lives. Mort was plagued by restless dreams in Secret Window, Secret Garden. Sam remembered his past in a dream in The Library Policeman.

My favourite stories in this book is in this order : The Langoliers, The Library Policeman, The Sun Dog and Secret Window, Secret Garden. There isn't a story that I hated in this collection, just varying degrees of like and enjoyment.

Links to other Stephen King books.
  • Kevin in The Sun Dog dreams of Oatley, where Jack Sawyer once stopped in The Talisman.
  • There is a mention in events in Cujo in The Sun Dog.

Related Posts.

Links of Interest.

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