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|Published in||Four Past Midnight|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Publication date||September 1990|
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On a cross-country red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Boston, ten passengers awaken to find that the crew and most of their fellow passengers have disappeared, leaving the Boeing 767 airliner under the control of the autopilot (a Lockheed L-1011 is substituted in the TV adaptation).
The remaining passengers are Brian Engle, an off-duty airline pilot traveling to Boston to attend his ex-wife's funeral; Dinah Bellman, a young blind girl with psychic powers headed to Boston for an operation to restore her sight; fifth-grade teacher Laurel Stevenson, who takes to watching over Dinah; Nick Hopewell, who initially claims to be a "junior attache" and "mechanic" for the British Embassy; Don Gaffney, a retired tool-and-die engineer on a trip to see his grandchild; Rudy Warwick, a perpetually angry businessman; Albert Kaussner, a talented Jewish teen violinist heading to a prestigious school of the arts; Bethany Simms, a teenager being sent by her family to drug rehab; Bob Jenkins, a successful mystery writer who acts as the voice of logic; and Craig Toomy, an irritable investment banker on the verge of a psychotic breakdown due in part to excessive pressure put on him by his mentally abusive father. They realize that only those who were sleeping at the moment of the event which seems to have occurred - whatever it may have been - are now left on the plane. Engle takes control from the autopilot and lands the plane in Bangor, Maine for safety reasons, despite Toomy's aggressive and angry protests to continue on to Boston.
Upon arrival, the airport is abandoned with no signs of life. Everything seems gloomy; there are no odors, electricity, or echoes anywhere. The weather patterns are motionless, there are rapid shifts from day to night, food and drinks are tasteless, and matches simply sputter out. One by one, beginning with sharp-eared Dinah, they soon hear a "radio static" like sound in the distance. The sound appears to be threatening and dangerous and the group eventually reaches a consensus that they must leave before it arrives. Craig believes it to be "the Langoliers", monsters he was afraid of as a child, who go after those who are lazy and waste time.
Unable to get to his business meeting at Boston's Prudential Tower, Craig snaps, hallucinating his angry, Type A personality father, who tells him that the Langoliers are coming after him and will eat him if he does not get to his business meeting on time. He then takes Bethany as a hostage and shoots Albert, who escapes injury since the bullet from the gun was as "worn down" as everything else in this strange place. Craig is then subdued and tied up by the others.
Bob begins to speculate that they have flown through a "time rip", resembling the aurora borealis, that the airline had earlier spotted over the Mojave Desert. He postulates that the world they are in is the past, a place that forbids time travelers to observe or interfere with past events, instead being a deserted world that time and everything else has left behind. To return to their own time, Bob theorizes, they must fly back through the "rip", which may still be there. However, this seems to be impossible because the plane has little to no fuel remaining and Engle insists that the plane cannot be refueled because the jet fuel is just as "worn out" and "used up" like everything else in the dead world.
Albert soon discovers, by noting how much brighter the plane appears compared to its surroundings, that the plane is the only thing there that has life. He brings in matches from the terminal on to the plane and, after a few failed attempts, is eventually able to successfully light a match. Albert comes to the conclusion that the plane has "present time" and when things from outside are brought on board they eventually catch up to the present time. The survivors work together to refuel the plane to prepare to escape the looming static noise, eventually syphoning the jet fuel from an abandoned Delta Boeing 727 into the Boeing 767 (pumped from an underground fuel tank to the L-1011 in the TV adaptation).
Meanwhile, Craig, now completely insane, escapes and rampages through the airport. Believing the others to be manifestations of the Langoliers, he stabs Dinah in the chest, flees once more, and shortly afterwards kills Mr. Gaffney. Albert disables Craig and leaves him badly injured on the airport floor. Nick comes across the scene and, after calming Albert and sending him back to the plane, is tempted to kill Craig, but is dissuaded at the last moment after reflecting upon an earlier brief discussion with the injured Dinah who insisted Craig must not be killed as they "need him".
While the plane is in its final preparations to depart Bangor, Dinah telepathically communicates with Craig and persuades him that his board meeting is being held on the runway. Craig struggles to make his way outside and hallucinates arriving at the meeting. There, in his mind, he has the breakdown he wished for before his boss and the entire board of directors, screaming that he deliberately cost the company millions of dollars; ensuring his disgrace and firing as a way of relieving the intense pressure he has felt throughout his life, thereby getting even with his father and putting his demons to rest. Craig's father then appears at the meeting table, angry and enraged. Craig confronts his father telling him that he doesn't frighten him anymore and that he made up the story of the Langoliers just to keep him in line. Craig's father smirks at the remarks and then proceeds to summon the monsters.
Two creatures, followed by hundreds more, resembling giant meatball-like monsters expanding and contracting with semicircular caves as mouths and chainsaw-like teeth leaving trails of black nothingness in their wake, emerge from the forest and head for the plane, consuming everything in their paths. Craig flees in terror and heads for the terminal. The first two Langoliers follow him past the plane, eventually catching up to him and tripping him on the ground making him sitting prey. Too injured to get up, Craig pleads to his father that he promises to be a "good boy" if he makes them go away but the Langoliers eat him, anyway. This event, much to the horror of the other passengers who helplessly watch, allows Engle enough time to get the plane moving towards the runway.
In the plane, Bob offers the idea that the Langoliers are the timekeepers of eternity; their purpose is to clean up what is left of the past by eating it and that they themselves and the plane would have been eaten if Dinah had not forced Craig out to attract them. The plane takes off and, as they turn to the west, the passengers watch the rest of the land below falling into a formless, black void. As the aircraft heads back to Los Angeles, they discuss their pasts. Nick reveals himself as a specialist in the British Army, on a mission to assassinate the girlfriend of a Boston politician funding the Irish Republican Army. Dinah speaks to Laurel about how her life is ending happily and being able to see everything; then quietly succumbs to her injuries. Nick confesses his feelings for Laurel and his hopes of a romance with her after returning home. Albert and Bethany reveal a similar attraction to each other. All the characters realize that they have considerable regrets in their pasts and that the trip through the rip has allowed them to come to terms with their actions.
Bob's theory about rediscovering the "time rip" pans out, but at the last moment, averting sure disaster, he realizes that they should be asleep to survive going through the rip again. Nick volunteers to fly the plane through, knowing full well this will cost him his life. He takes a moment to ask Laurel to pass a message to his father, explaining that he, Nick, was going to leave the "business." The cabin pressure is decreased and all but Nick, breathing through an emergency oxygen mask, fall into a deep sleep. Nick vanishes as the plane passes through the rift, leaving only his teeth fillings and an artificial knee behind.
The survivors awaken unharmed, with the exception of nosebleeds caused by the air pressure drop. Seemingly, nothing has changed. The plane lands in a deserted Los Angeles. When they check outside; however, the passengers are able to smell the remains of the burnt jet fuel and they soon again hear a noise. It is not the ominous sound of the Langoliers, but a relaxing hum. Inside the airport, sounds echo and food has taste. Bob and Albert conclude that now the time rift brought them a short distance into the future and that this is not a dead world, but one waiting for the present to catch up. The group takes shelter against a wall to avoid the soon-to-appear human traffic in the airport. They begin to see colors with holograms of people and activity going on. A flash hits them and they find themselves in the present again. The novella and TV adaption ends with the group happy to be back and going outside for some fresh air.
Television film adaptation
The Langoliers was adapted for a two-part TV movie in 1995. The TV movie starred Kate Maberly, Kimber Riddle, Patricia Wettig, Mark Lindsay Chapman, Frankie Faison, Baxter Harris, Dean Stockwell, David Morse, Christopher Collet, and Bronson Pinchot.
The movie version of The Langoliers, produced for broadcast on ABC-TV, was filmed almost exclusively in and around the Bangor International Airport in Bangor, Maine (author Stephen King's hometown) during the summer of 1995. King himself, echoing Alfred Hitchcock's famous numerous cameos, made a cameo appearance in the film as Craig Toomey's boss during Toomey's hallucination.
Connections to other works
When Brian looks on the fuel port of the other airplane in Bangor he notices a round smiley face sticker, similar to the one Randall Flagg wears in The Dark Tower book 7.
While on their way to Bangor, Bob tells Albert that they may be part of a government experiment. His guess is that it is The Shop.
Similar themes were explored decades earlier in the 1961 Twilight Zone episode The Odyssey of Flight 33, i.e. airliners flying through time rifts, the fuel crisis on the plane, and the return to the rift, etc.
- The text of the novella
- King, Tabitha; Marsha DeFilippo. "Stephen King.com: Biography". Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- Stephen King (1995). Stephen King's The Langoliers (DVD). Artisan.
- The Langoliers title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- The Langoliers at the Internet Movie Database