I just finished Stephen King's Revival in record time (in three days). I have some observations to make an questions to ask. There are spoilers below.Revival tells the story of Jamie Morton, beginning with his early childhood in the early 1960s. Jamie is six when he meets the new Methodist minister, 25-year-old Charlie Jacobs. Jacobs is joyful, flamboyant young pastor with a beautiful wife Patsy, and adorable four-year-old son Morrie. The latter becomes a sort of mascot for Jamie and the other children when they go on adventures, which earns him the name Tag-Along Morrie. Jacobs also has an obsessive fascination with electricity, and conducts experiements that delve into tis mysteries. He has constructed a mechanical figure Jesus, and runs on electricty. He demonstrates how it works when he shows young Jamie how electrial power makes the Jesus toy walk across water, thus inspiring both faith and an interest in science for the boy.
I had read a review which suggested that the ending of Revival was very disturbing, but the book was very thought-provoking. I actually took a chance and read it. The reviewer did not exaggerate about the ending. But it was so thought provoking the experience was worth the read--especially since this particular King novle dealt with the topic of religion.
All seems right with the world until (wouldn't you know, since this is a King story) a terrible tragedy strikes the Jacobs family: Patsy and Morrie are killed in a accident, and the man who caused it (an older gent who's lived most of his life) manages to live until up in his eighties. Little Morrie has his face torn off, and we're "treated" to PastOr Jacobs howling in anguish about what happened to his son's face.
After the funeral, Jacobs seems to recover somewhat, and gives a soon-to-become infamous sermon, in which he begins by thinking his congregation for their support, and build by reciting tragic incidents he's spent the last week looking up in the newspapers (in one of them two boys and their father jump in to save their dog from drowning in a lake; the dog survives but the man his two children drown). Jacobs ends by essentially renouncing God, and saying of the afterlife:"maybe there's something there, but I'm betting it's not God as any church knows". Jacobs walks out the church, quits his ministry and leaves town. There is a following scene in which Jamies hurtles the electirc-powered Jesus across a room, wailing and cursing Jesus for not being real.
That's just the setup.
The next several chapters follow Jamie as he gorws into a teen and young adult in a guitar band. There is a literally electrfying scene in which jamie and his girlfriend visit a hilltop (which jacobs has referred him to), where an iron rod drawa bolts of lightening during an electric storm and turns vivdly blue, crimson and purple as it absorbs its power. It's an incredible experience the King describes it.
Later on, Jamie finds himself addicted to heroin, but he runs into Jacobs, now a carny showman. Jacobs draws crowds with incredible picture shows generated by electricity. Jacobs manages to cure Jamie, which makes the younger man indebted to him. Years later, he runs into Jacobs again, only know the former paster has ditched his carny act, and is now a flamboyant revival preacher. He soon learns that Jacobs has hardly rediscovered his Christian faith--if anything, he's grown even more bitter, and is willfully taking advantage of his gullible patrons, the way some many televangelists are infamous for. But Jacobs is snake-oil salesman: his miricles actually seem to work! The thing is, a relatively small portion of the people he "cures" eventually go insane in a variety of bizarre ways. It all has to do with Jacobs' strange experiments with lightening, which enables him to tap into what he calls "the deep electricity, " a vast power hiterto unknown to science. It is suggested that Jacobs' insane patrons may have gotten a glimpse of something "beyond" during their treatments, which has blasted the reason from their brains.
It all culminates in a grand experiement which Jacobs theorizes will allow him and Jamie to "peak through the keyhole' and catch a glimpse of the afterlife.
SK has written tragic, downbeat endings many times before, and back in the eighties especially. His worldview seems to have brightened just a bit around the time he wrote Desperation, how at the end David Carver reflects that the human condition is maybe "not so bad" as I recall.As one of the advertisments for Pet Semetary claimed back in the mid-eighties, you might say that SK has "really done it" this time, not just "done it again."
But now, its obviously taken a turn backwards.
SK has killed off many sympathetic, likeable, even heroic characters in sometimes pointless ways, in order to illustrate the sometimes pointless nature of life. But here he takes a leap forward. (spoilers below)
In other stories what lies beyond death is left unrevealed, the great mystery that it actually is. But in Revival, he does not merely kill of Patsy and Morrie in a sickening, pointless manner---he actually sends to hell. And, not merely them, but by implication, countless others as well.
This is not a traditional hell, nor a judgmental hell. But it is effectively hell nonetheless. It is obvious these people are suffering. It seems likely also that they will continue to suffer, at least for a very long while.
This book was obviously written by someone who has great fear of what comes after death. I think a great many of us do, and that is why the book strikes so strong a chord. SK may be imagining as horrifying an afterlife as he can, so that maybe, just maybe, when he arrives there himself, it may not be so bad after all. Jesus might even turn out to be real.
The question I have (one of them anyway) is what this hellish afterlife implies for everyone in the SK multiverse. Castle Rock is referenced in the story, as is Jerusalems' Lot. So this obviously is taking place within the SK universe. Therefore, it seems that anyone who has died in an SK story has wound up there. Lovable tykes like Tadder, Gage, and Pie Carver, heroes like John Coffee, Wolf from the Talisman--they're all being herded by giant ant-things--that's what this story tells me. Is there anything that suggests differently? I don't think so. There is some suggestion that Jamie's vision might have been false, but it's strongly implied otherwise.
Okay, there are exceptions to this. Jake Chambers wound up somehow in Midworld, and the spirits ALL of Roland's Ka-tet somehow merged with their counterparts in some alternate version of New York. But what about the rest?
Now it has come to my attention that there indeed other King novels that deal with the topic of the afterlife in which it appears to be unlike that described in Revival. Someone on King's site has brought to my attention Bag of Bones. What about the spirits in Overlook Hotel, for example? Or, for that matter, the shade of Jack Torrence visiting Danny on his graduation (this happened in the Shining TV miniseries, BTW, not the book, though I beleive King wrote the screenplay, and that was the version he approved of). I didn't get the idea he'd been to the hell Jamie saw. Perhaps the world of Revival takes places in aseparate but connected alternate realit, like those in the original Bachman Books. But if that's the case, why those place names still there?
Another thing: Revival is ultimately a nihialistic novle, in which the very concepts of good and evil are rendered meaningless. The theme of the hubris of science is a strong one, but in a universe devoid of meaning or purpose, who's to say that Jacobs' experiements, and his desire to peak bhind the veil, are actually wrong in any moral sense. King even cites Arthur Machen, adn H.P. Lovecraft as inspriational to this novel, and for good reason. The problem is, it classes with his own mutliverse. Consider the Dark Tower novels, which are built aroudn the classic conflict between the forces of good and evil. But in light of Revival, Ka is rendered nil. Is the Crimson King really wrong in seeking to destory themlicnhpin of the multiverse, causing all the realities to unravel? It would not seem so.
I have not read Bag of Bones so I can't comment on that story directly, but King has, indeed, been notoriously inconsistent over the years in regard to his own worldview. That's not surprising, since his worldview fits the very defintion of agnosticism. Now, I'm sure King would want to describe himself thusly, and the way the term "agnostic" tends to be used these days is very close to the word "atheist," even though that's technically incorrect. In an eithies interview with Douglas E. Winter, then the most famous King expert, King is quoted as saying,
...it has to put into the equation: the possibility that there is no God and nothing works for the best. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that view, but I don’t know what I do subscribe to. Why do I have to have a world view? I mean, when I wrote Cujo, I wasn’t even old enough to be president. Maybe when I’m forty or forty-five, but I don’t now. I’m just trying on all these hats.
That's pretty much the very essence of agnosticism. I also recall King as saying, and do forgive me if I've got it wrong that "Jesus Christ might have been divine" and that ultimately, "wer'e livng in the center of a great mystery." I think that really echoes Jacobs' observation near the end of his imfamous sermon that "we come from a mystery, and to a mystery we go." You can't get much more agnostic than that.
But the very concept of an agnostic hell seems a contradiction in terms. Hell is almost always associated with religion, most specifally with scaring potential converts into the faith--at least it works that way with Christianity and Islam. This brings something else that I don't really mean to go into in this article, partly due to its deeply disturbing nature. This is the concept of innocent human beings, such as certain of the the unevangelized and (most specifically in relation to King's novel) certain children, in hell. King, in fact, seems to wish fervetly that the whole story of Jesus and heaven were real, but fears it's all just foolish pipe-dream.
But he seems to have entirely overlooked the fact that conservative Christianity sometimes presents a version of hell even more disturbing, in a sense, than his own. Christians are, in fact, somewhat divided as to the fate of unevangelized. C. S. Lewis argued that it was possible for an unevangelized person to enter heaven. David Platt argues, among many others, argues that it is not. When it comes to children, most, it seems, do not beleive that hell awaits them, and tend to accept some form of the "age of accountability." For the record, I don't think that the age of acountibility is a Biblical doctrine, and in fact no strict age may exist. But God's promise to David and Bathseba appears to rule out the possibilty of infants in eternal torment.I also beleive that the simplistic concept of eternal bliss on one hand and eternal torment on the other is a far, far too simple picture of the fate of spirits on the Other Side. Jesus addressed only adult men and women with normal brain function as to salvation, and when he discussed hell, it was always in regard to behavior, not worldview or factual information. Yes, it's one's spiritual state, not behavior per se that determines that determines one fate to the Christian, but that's a different story.
But it is nontheless true that there are Christians do beleive and defend the concept of innocents such as children in hell. I even once had a minster he who beleived this. What makes this more disturbing than King's agnostic version? Well, in the story, Jamie observes that his deceased sister "deserved heaven," but got this instead. It's very very clear that many of these deceased are indeed "innocent." But show me a Christian who defends children or the unconverted in hell, and he or she will insist that even children are not truely "innocent," that all humans, even small children, as so bestial and depreaved that they somehow "deserve" it. The main thing that makes such a concept so dreadfully unjust is the very fact that it purports to represent justice.
At least SK is suggesting no such thing.