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Stephen King Threatens Children
Stephen King has no problem putting children in danger. In fact, Pet Sematary, Salem’s Lot, and The Shining all include children in danger as an integral part of the plot.
Salem’s Lot has the most children in danger. Technically, every single child in town is in great danger, especially after the first (Danny) has been changed into a vampire. After that, it’s only a matter of time before they are all dead and/or vampires. There are, however, only four children that play major roles within the story. (I use children to refer to those under the age of thirteen; after that, they’re teenagers or adults, and better able to fend for themselves.)
The first of these four is Ralphie Glick. He disappears, and we believe he has been kidnapped and sacrificed. This is both good old fashioned physical violence, as well as supernatural because of the reason for the kidnapping and sacrifice. The next is Danny Glick, the first vampire we really find out about. The threat to him is almost completely supernatural, and the physical and emotional are purely there because of the effect of the supernatural.
The youngest is the ten-month-old, Randy McDougall. In the beginning of the story, he is suffering from physical and emotional threats. His mother doesn’t seem to care for him very much, and has a habit of beating him. His father cares less than his mother does, and ignores the signs of violence. Finally, like everyone else in town, he falls prey to the vampires, and we hope and assume that he comes back and becomes the perpetrator of the supernatural threat, turning him parents into vampires as a bit of revenge for his treatment throughout his life.
The last of the four is Mark Petrie. As one of the main protagonists, we know more about him than any of the others. When we meet him, he is in physical harm’s way because of a bully, but he manages to survive, and even thrive in this situation, which is a good harbinger of what’s to come. He is in danger from physical and supernatural danger when he tries to fight the supernatural and the supernatural beings that exist around him, including his friend Danny who comes back as a vampire and tries to get into his room. After that, he is in emotional danger -- seeing his parents and friends killed, having to be part of killing vampires that were once neighbors and friends, and physical danger -- being violently tied up and threatened with further violence, and of course more supernatural danger as Barlowe, the “head” vampire is after him.
In Pet Sematary, there are two children in danger, Gage and Ellie. Gage is in physical and supernatural danger. These blend together, as supposedly (according to Judd), the cemetery kills him through the trucker so it can have another person -- apparently the cat whetted its appetite. Once he comes back, his body is still in danger. His father “kills” him, much in the way that the vampires in Dracula are killed, with the one responsible for the being in charge of its slaying, and like the vampires, Gage (in the movie, anyway) cries out, realizing that he’s dying, once the spirit/demon that possesses him flees.
Ellie is in all three types of danger. The basis for all of them is the emotional danger based on the supernatural experiences she is having. Pascow (as she calls him) comes to her, warning her, speaking to her. While not in danger from him directly, Ellie is in emotional danger from the effect of his visits and knowledge, suffering from screaming and crying fits, nightmares, and uncontrollable fears. She isn’t able to handle it, finally needing to be sedated. Because of her handling of the situation, she is in physical danger. While the supernatural might not be able to harm her directly, by harming her emotional, she is set up for physical harm. Finally, although unexplored in this book, is the question of whether she was ever in danger from Gage. If she had been at home, would he have turned on her? If unstopped by his father, would he have been able to search her out and harm her wherever she went? Would the cemetery have wanted her next?
Finally, in The Shining, there is only one child who can be in danger, and that is Danny, or Doc as his parents call him. He is obviously in danger from all three. As the Kubrick version of the movie portrays him, he is unable to handle everything he encounters, and so slips away emotionally, cracking completely, and losing it. The violent threats come from his father with an uncontrollable temper, as well as the past violence his father has done to him, including breaking his arm, but it also stems from the Overlook. Danny is in fear of not only the violence promised by his father’s slow acceptance into the Overlook’s cadre of evil, he also the violence from the inhabitants of the Overlook themselves, once they gain enough strength. The bushes outside are also supernatural, and like the Overlook’s inhabitants, they also promise physical harm. Of course, the true supernatural threat is from the Overlook itself, and its wanting of him. The uniting evil of the Overlook obviously means to take his power for its own uses, but we never truly understand what it will do with it, or how it will take it. Would it just trap his mind and soul there? Would it be a form of psychic vampirism? It’s never fully explained in the book, yet the threat is there, and it is something that Danny greatly fears.
It’s obvious that children in danger are something that Stephen King uses in his books. Looking at these three examples helps to show that children in danger are useful tools for authors that want to turn the screws on the readers. No one enjoys reading about a child in harm’s way, and so by using them in that way, the reader is drawn in, forced to choose sides, and of course they find themselves siding with the child.