I was amazed to discover that I had never read this particular King novel when I saw it on the syllabus. However, when it arrived in the mail (thanks, Amazon) I could see why. It was an early form of the graphic novel, only unlike most graphic novels this one is more story than comic book. Nevertheless, I might have passed it by in the old days, thinking it wasn’t anything special and even if it was I couldn’t afford to spend X amount of dollars on a Stephen King book that wasn’t at least eight hundred pages long. So, I never read it. Until now.
Cycle of the Werewolf is actually twelve short stories held together by a common theme in a single location, a little town called Tarker’s Mills. There’s one story for each month, each full moon, of the year. Berni Wrightson’s illustrations are part of the engine that runs this beast. You could have the story without the pictures, or the pictures without the story, but why would you? They go great together. Kind of like chocolate and peanut butter. (Or maybe vodka and grapefruit juice?) The one informs and supports the other.
The stories start off, like so many of King’s stories it seems, with some old coot cheating at Solitaire. Then a dog scratches at his door during a January blizzard, and while the old coot is still thinking about the chances of that happening, the door smashes in and the monster gets him. The same story basically repeats itself for the next several months. The monster eats a lovelorn fat woman, a hapless drifter, a kid with a kite, a janitor, a café owner … until the Fourth of July when the monster finally meets his match – a ten-year-old boy in a wheelchair.
I loved a couple of things about this book. One was the format. Breaking a big story down into a bunch of smaller ones, but with a unifying theme has probably been done before. However, this idea, along with this particular execution of it, felt brilliant. The other thing I loved about it was King’s use of the important “kid” events of the year to empower his hero.
Every American kid loves the Fourth of July, and Hallowe’en, and getting to stay up late on New Year’s Eve. (Christmas is strangely absent from this list, perhaps because any mention of Christmas in a story automatically makes it a “Christmas story.”) So, in this non-Christmas story, King’s hero first wounds the werewolf on the Fourth of July with a pack of fireworks. He discovers who the werewolf is on Hallowe’en while he’s out trick-or-treating, and he slays the beast on New Year’s Eve with his uncle’s gun and two silver bullets. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Except when it does.
Two of my favorite bits are a couple of little “extras” thrown into the story. One is that the kid in the wheelchair has an ally; his Uncle Al. Uncle Al is the uncle that every kid wants, and all too often, needs. He listens, he empathizes, and he doesn’t tell you to “Grow up” when you tell him something a little bit crazy. The Uncle Als of the world remember what it was like to be a kid in a grownup world.
The other bit I liked was how King took his secretly abusive husband character all the way through the story, unnoticed and unharmed, until the very end when he made old Milt Sturmfuller the werewolf’s last victim. Booyah.
4 thoughts on “Cycle of the Werewolf, by Stephen King”
Gwen, I think we shop for books the same way. “I have ten bucks, what’s the longest book that looks good?”
You mentioned that Christmas was oddly absent. I think it has less to do with him not making it a Christmas story and more that New Years is the last day of the year, completing the year-long cycle and, completing the year and allowing Tarker’s Mills to start the new year off werewolf free.
And I love how bad people almost always get their comeuppance in a King novel. I think it’s his own therapy from his own childhood.
Chad, I agree. And it’s better than paying for a shrink!
I wish I had thought to comment on how the illustrations helped make the story. You are so right, like a calendar…they work without the pretty pictures, but having one themed to that month, makes it so much better. Good point. Also, vodka and grapefruit juice? Are you sure? That sounds a little too bitter for my tastes.
Also, it did not occur to me until you pointed it out, that the major events that lead to the defeat of the monster all fell on important “kid” holidays. I love King for his treatment of kids in general. He is an Uncle Al. He never treats them as babies who don’t get it. Most of the time, they are the ones who see things as they really are long before the adults catch on.
I have nothing to disagree on, except that I expected more from King (probably I want a sprawling epic of a werewolf novel). Also, next res, we should all meet and drink this grapefruit vodka thing. That’s what I’m taking out of this class.