First edition cover
|Cover artist||One Plus One Studio|
|Publication date||November 10, 1987|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
The Tommyknockers is a 1987 science fiction novel by Stephen King. While maintaining a horror style, the novel is more of an excursion into the realm of science fiction for King, as the residents of the Maine town of Haven gradually fall under the influence of a mysterious object buried in the woods.
While walking in the woods near the small town of Haven, Maine; Roberta (Bobbi) Anderson, a writer of Wild West-themed fiction, stumbles upon a metal object which turns out to be a protrusion of a long-buried alien spacecraft. Once exposed, the spacecraft begins releasing an invisible, odorless gas into the atmosphere which gradually transforms people into beings similar to the aliens who populated the spacecraft. The transformation, or "becoming," provides them with a limited form of genius which makes them very inventive, but does not provide any philosophical or ethical insight. Instead, it provokes psychotic violence (on the part of people like Becka Paulson, who kills her adulterous husband by fatally rewiring their TV, killing herself in the process) and the disappearance of a young boy, David Brown, whose older brother Hilly teleports him to another planet, referred to as Altair 4 by the Havenites.
The book's central protagonist is a poet and friend of Bobbi Anderson, named James Eric Gardner, who goes by the nickname "Gard". He is a fundamentally decent person with left-leaning, liberal sensibilities who is apparently immune to the ship's effects because of a steel plate in his head, a souvenir of a teenage skiing accident. Unfortunately, Gard is also an alcoholic, prone to binges which result in violent outbursts followed by lengthy blackouts. His relationship with Bobbi deteriorates as the novel progresses. She is almost totally overcome by the euphoria of "becoming" one with the spacecraft, but Gard increasingly sees her health worsen and her sanity disappear. The novel is filled with metaphors for the stranglehold of substance abuse, which King himself was experiencing at the time, as well as for the dangers of nuclear power and radioactive fallout (as evidenced by the physical transformations of the townspeople, which resemble the effects of radiation exposure), of unchecked technological advancement, and of the corrupting influence of power. Government agencies are uniformly portrayed as corrupt and totalitarian throughout the book, and Bobbi and Gard themselves are led into thinking that they can use the ship's "power" as a weapon to thwart the authorities' nefarious designs.
Seeing the transformation of the townspeople worsen, the torture and manipulation of Bobbi's dog Peter, and people being killed or worse when they pry too deeply into the strange events, Gardner eventually manipulates Bobbi into allowing him into the ship. After he sees that Bobbi is not entirely his old friend and lover, he gives her one more chance before deciding to kill her with the same gun that state trooper "Monster" Dugan had almost killed her with in her back field previously. However, Bobbi was able to read Gardner's mind after loading him up with Valium, and sent out a telepathic APB when she sensed he had a gun. As a result, her death sends all the townspeople swarming to her place intent on killing Gardner. Meanwhile, Gard accidentally (by dropping the gun) shoots himself in the ankle. Ev Hillman, David and Hilly's grandfather, helps Gardner escape into the woods (which soon catches fire from one of the Tommyknockers' "toys") in exchange for using the "new and improved" computers and what little "becoming" he underwent to save David Brown. Gardner enters the ship, activates it, and with the last of his life telepathically launches it into space, resulting in the eventual deaths of nearly all of the changed townspeople but preventing the possibly disastrous consequences of the ship's influence spreading to the outside world. Very shortly after (in the epilogue) members from the FBI, CIA, and "The Shop" invade Haven and take as many of the Havenites as possible (they kill nearly a quarter of the survivors) and a few of the devices created by the altered people of Haven.
In the last pages, David Brown is discovered in Hilly Brown's hospital room, safe and sound.
The book takes its title from an old Dartmoor children's rhyme said to be about the spirits of dead tin miners:
Late last night and the night before,
Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door.
I want to go out, don't know if I can,'Cause I'm so afraid of the Tommyknocker man.
King himself wrote the second verse; and claims to have heard the first verse when he was a child.
The writer and critic Kim Newman has cited another influence on the novel, saying that in it King had "more or less rewritten Quatermass and the Pit," a 1950s BBC television science-fiction serial involving the excavation of a long-buried alien spacecraft, and the growing influence of the dormant machine on surrounding human beings. This influence was also picked up on in The Times newspaper's review of the book on its release.
The original 1987 hardcover edition was issued with dust jackets in three different states. The most common ones are with the author's name in gold (pictured on the right) or red lettering. The more rare state of the dust jacket features the author's name in silver lettering and pale blue light shining from under the door, as opposed to green as in the other two variants.
A TV miniseries based on the novel was shown in 1993 on ABC starring Jimmy Smits as Jim Gardner and Marg Helgenberger as Bobbi Anderson. The film differs from the novel by stating the aliens return to life by sucking life out of the Haven residents, instead of the Haven residents slowly transforming into aliens.