Friday, December 23, 2011

Super 8, a Film by J. J. Abrams, and Christine, a Book by Stephen King

Sometimes the monsters in coming-of-age stories are not human. In Super 8, a film directed by J. J. Abrams, adolescents on the brink of first love fight for their lives against an inhuman military force.  In Christine, a 1983 novel by Stephen King, Dennis Guilder tells the story of first loves, his own and his best friend’s, Arnie Cunningham. Dennis falls for Leigh Cabot while Arnie falls under the spell of a haunted red Plymouth Fury.

In both Super 8 and Christine, the narrators are likeable. Readers quickly give their affections to each boy because he has a good heart. Joe Lamb, in Super 8, perseveres after his mother’s death and under the governance of a distracted, distant father. He is a loyal soldier for his friend with a dream of becoming a great movie-maker and falls for the daughter of a man indirectly responsible for his mother’s death. Dennis Guilder, the hero and story-teller of Christine, shows strength and courage from the first pages because he continues to befriend Arnie, his friend since grade school, even though Arnie has grown into a self-loathing, bitter outcast. In American high schools, befriending those who are different, on the fringes, may affect one’s social standing, but Dennis persists, even after Arnie grows handsome, arrogant, and dangerous. In fact, Dennis risks his life to rescue Arnie from the clutches of a demonic Plymouth Fury.

Joe Lamb also risks his security and life. First, he refuses to abandon Alice Dainard in spite of his father’s directive. Second, he dares a cruel, dictatorial military and a volatile alien to rescue Alice when she’s taken hostage. Third, he confronts the alien, ten times larger than young Joe, and proves his brave heart by not hating it anymore than he hates the man that his father blames for his mother’s death.

With our sympathies directed at these narrators, we care very much about their quest. We want them to succeed without being twisted and corrupted by the events they must face. We want them to be conquer their fears, to love and be loved in return, and grow wiser after their trials.

Joe achieves all of these. He remains hopeful and generous in spite of the many adult monsters he encounters. He overcomes fear to save his fair lady from the clutches of a tormented alien. He loves his best friends, and they befriend him in return. He loves Alice, and she reciprocates. At the end, he runs into the arms of his father who has learned not to shut off his emotions because of his great grief. Joe’s father accepts his son for who he is and recognizes an iron within his fair boy. Joe, we believe, will face what comes for the rest of his life with the confidence that he can fight and win for the good guys.

Dennis also succeeds in spite of many inner conflicts about falling for Arnie’s girl and uncovering the truth about Christine, Arnie’s Plymouth Fury. Dennis must believe that an old junk car can become a showpiece overnight and that no matter what its condition, it has a will to destroy all those who would come between it and its driver. After Dennis forgives himself for his role in a love triangle and believes in the evil power of the Fury, he finds the courage to free Arnie from the Fury’s spell, and at first, it appears that he succeeds. Dennis, with Leigh’s help, crushes the car while Arnie is away. Dennis believes, as readers do, that a mere mortal such as Beowulf, Joe Lamb, Sir Gawain, or Dennis can rid the world of evils. We learn with Dennis that the spirit of Christine, a dark-eyed, single-minded fury often called revenge, lives on. Dennis learns that somewhere in this universe is an unseen menace from which we can never escape for it thrives on bitterness and selfishness.

One coming-of-age tale, Super 8, closes with the best of human nature in evidence. The other, Christine, demonstrates the sins of man, both venal and mortal. The film and the book feature antagonists different from the ones faced by Scout and Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird, but all three demonstrates the terrible ends to which we come when power is our aim.

Reading Challenge:

“Read” Super 8, director J. J. Abrams’ tribute to the work of Steven Spielberg. And if you have not yet read Christine, I think you’ll like it very much.

Writing Challenge:

My father told me once about the time he was in naval training in San Diego. One night, while playing poker in the barracks, two big guys admired his watch. He told them, “Thanks, but it’s lost the hour hand. I haven’t had a chance to get it repaired.” Those guys offered to take Dad’s watch, package it, and send it home for repair. Dad thought he’d just met the nicest guys in the world--until he figured out later that those guys had just stolen his watch. Dad learned a coming-of-age lesson that day: sometimes friendly gestures hide the true, larcenous intentions of others.

Recall a coming-of-age lesson of your own. Write it.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics):

Should greetings of the season become Season’s Greetings with an apostrophe to show possession, Seasons’ Greetings with the apostrophe behind the final “s” to indicate more than one season, or just Seasons Greetings without an apostrophe?

Most manuals and experts agree that an apostrophe to show possession is correct so avoid holiday cards that read Seasons Greetings. On the other hand, many consumers prefer Seasons Greetings with or without the apostrophe because they wish to send best wishes to those who celebrate Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in addition to or in lieu of Christmas. Some people, including me, like to think I’m sending good will not only for the December holiday but for the new year as well. For me, then Seasons’ Greetings would be the best choice because I have more than one holiday in mind as I write notes and address envelopes.

I fear, however, that the apostrophe will become an insignificant piece on holiday cards for many card-makers ignore it, and the marketplace often sways public opinion. Until then, keep an eye out for that apostrophe if you wish to be correct.