What kind of story would attract the guy directing the new Star Wars and new Star Trek movies to do an Internet-only TV series?
Italian promotion of 11-22-63
Stephen King’s Kennedy assassination novel 11-22-63 is what. J. J. Abrams has been announced as the director of the story as a Hulu miniseries.
I just finished the massive 880-page 2012 book 11-22-63 (it was highly recommended on Audible) and King is right; there is a lot in it that would make a great TV miniseries.
It also has all the trademark King touches that prevent his work from ringing true: an adolescent sensibility about sex and profanity, caricatured Christian bad guys and partisan ideology.
And that made me notice a couple of interesting ironies: One about King’s take on Jesus and one about King’s take on Reagan and Obama.
King clearly rejects Christianity in his new book (the only sympathetic Christian characters are the non-dogmatic ones) but he is also clearly obsessed by it. You don’t get more Christ-haunted than King. Christ literally spooks his characters, from the crucifixes in Carrie to this recurring image the narrator sees in 11-22-63.
“One day I saw a roughly carved Jesus go floating down the canal and into the tunnel that ran beneath Canal Street. It was three feet long. The teeth peeped from lips parted in a snarling grin. A crown of thorns, jauntily eskew, circled the forehead; bloody tears had been painted below the thing’s weird white eyes. It looked like a juju fetish.”
Jesus in King novels is a grotesque figure: disturbing and suspect. So is Christian morality. But King can’t help but acknowledge the primal power of Christian imagery.
A central theme of 11-22-63 is “the blood of the redeemer” which at turns in the novel refers to a church, JFK’s blood and a central character’s blood. The resolution of the book features a very Christ-like act of redemption through bloodletting.
Second, the President.
A second irony of the book is how real history has already unexpectedly mirrored King’s partisan version— but with a significant difference.
To his credit, King does not deify any president; he understands the weakness of even the men we admire most. But the book includes a time-travel element and at one point it shares a potential version of the future that is telling.
The book came out in 2012, when the party line was that ISIS was the “Jayvee” and the real threat, Al Qaeda, had been dispatched once and for all by Obama.
The book imagines an alternate late 20th-century history in which the Middle Eastern crisis of Islamist terror happens early, in Ronald Reagan’s America.
“In November of 1979, Iranian students overran the American embassy in Tehran and took not sixty-six hostages but over two hundred. Heads rolled on Iranian TV. Reagan had learned enough from Hanoi Hell to keep the nukes in their bomb bays and missile silos, but he sent in beaucoup troops. The remaining hostages were, of course, slaughtered, and an emerging terrorist group calling themselves The Base — or, in Arabic, al Qaeda — began planting roadside bombs here, there, and everywhere.”
A character in the book sums up Reagan’s inadequacy against the militant state this way:
“The man could speechify like a m—, but he had no understanding of militant Islam.”
I wonder if King winces when he sees that, indeed an inadequate president who speechifies but misunderstands militant Islam has indeed arisen – but that his name is Obama, not Reagan.
He is a man who releases Taliban leaders and declares sort-of-war on ISIS that pleases nobody.
I expect J.J. Abrams, who is as good at what he does as King is at what he does, will avoid both Jesus and Reagan in his version and strip the story down to its essentials. That will leave the best of what King has written.