Classic Horror Reviews: Carrie by Stephen King

[Betlehem Fekade | Innovation Editor]

As Stephen King’s first published novel, one does expect great things from Carrie. I suppose you would also expect it to lack the intricate touches that an author develops over time; however I cannot say that the quality of Carrie is any lesser for it being the starting point of a career that would span four decades, fifty books, sixty movies, and counting.

The book is told in what would become King’s standard third person narrative, with a slew of fictitious newspaper articles, police interviews, and autobiographies. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the narrative style; it is quite quirky and manages to tell the story in the perspective of many of the characters, but this does create a disjointed account of Carrie’s life which is vastly clouded by the opinions of other characters. In a way though, this adds to the supernatural mystery of the plot.

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The premise of the story is nothing short of a masterpiece. Published in the 1970s, when the typical paranormal story was more concerned with the monsters under our beds rather than the ones we find inside the minds of people, it did a great job of breaking the mould. Move over head-spinning little girls and would-be children of the devil; the true monster is within your mother, or the girls you go to school with. The ‘monsters’ in this book probably never thought that they’d be the subject of someone else’s nightmares.

Let’s turn to Carrie’s mother: a devoutly religious woman who – in hindsight – probably never recovered from the loss of Carrie’s father. She used her faith to escape the harsh reality of her situation. Consumed by loneliness, and probably a good dose of madness, she attempts to indoctrinate Carrie into a fundamentalist and obsessive worship of God. This obsession manifests itself primarily as self-loathing, and more specifically hatred towards female anatomy and any feminine traits.

As the story unfolds, Carrie struggles to come to terms with what is happening to her body due to a serious lack of education about puberty and the female anatomy. Combine this with ignorance from her mother’s teachings, her inability to blend into the masses, and her shame for her own body, she is forced to become a social pariah. King does an excellent job of confronting the difficult issues of puberty, religious mania and the consequences of social exclusion, a rare talent for an adult author, since themes like growing up and bullying tend to be within the province of Young Adult fiction.

King also toys with the reader’s perception of who the ‘monster’ in this book really is. Yes, it would be easy to assume that Carrie’s mother would be the main antagonist in this book; after all, for the majority of the novel she torments her daughter repeatedly. On the other hand, we could assume the girls in Carrie’s class were the true monsters for taking advantage of her innocence and playing on her vulnerability. With so many questions and possible antagonists, by the end of the book King makes you question if Carrie herself could be considered the true monster.

Perhaps if Carrie were written today, our protagonist would be celebrated as an anti-hero, an archetypal teenage girl who, despite the misfortunes in her life, has an essentially ‘good heart’. But King chooses to confront the ugly reality; in the end, it doesn’t really matter who the monster is. The hatred and ignorance that surrounds Carrie throughout her entire life is channelled through her, and she becomes simply a focal point for the evil of a misogynistic and twisted society.

I have read a few of King’s books, and none of them appealed to me in the same way that this book did. It is confrontational, dark, and blood chillingly frightening. Overall, a very well written story which confronts some difficult themes and ideas, while still doing what King has always done best – frightening the proverbial pants off of the reader.

Have you read Carrie? What did you think? Tweet us @TridentMediaUK.

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Classic Horror Reviews: Carrie by Stephen King