First edition cover
|April 5, 1974|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Carrie is an epistolary horror novel by American author Stephen King. It was his first published novel, released on April 5, 1974, with a first print-run of 30,000 copies. Set primarily in the then-future year of 1979, it revolves around the eponymous Carrie White, an unpopular friendless misfit and bullied high-school girl from an abusive religious household who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who torment her. During the process, she causes one of the worst local disasters the town has ever had. King has commented that he finds the work to be "raw" and "with a surprising power to hurt and horrify." It is one of the most frequently banned books in United States schools, because of Carrie’s violence, cursing, underage sex and negative view of religion. Much of the book uses newspaper clippings, magazine articles, letters, and excerpts from books to tell how Carrie destroyed the fictional town of Chamberlain, Maine while exacting revenge on her sadistic classmates and her own mother Margaret.
Several adaptations of Carrie have been released, including a 1976 feature film, a 1988 Broadway musical as well as a 2012 off-Broadway revival, a 1999 feature film sequel, a 2002 television film, a 2013 feature film and a 2018 television special episode of Riverdale. The book is dedicated to King's wife Tabitha King: "This is for Tabby, who got me into it – and then bailed me out of it."
In the Maine town of Chamberlain, Carietta "Carrie" White is a 16-year-old girl who is a target of ridicule for her frumpy appearance and unusual religious beliefs, instilled by her despotic mother, Margaret. One day, Carrie has her first period while showering after a physical education class; the terrified Carrie has no understanding of menstruation as her mother, who despises everything related to intimacy, never told her about it. Carrie's classmates, led by a wealthy, popular girl named Chris Hargensen, throw tampons and sanitary napkins at her. The gym teacher, Rita Desjardin, helps her clean up and tries to explain. On the way home, Carrie develops an unusual ability to control objects from a distance. Margaret furiously accuses Carrie of sin and locks her in a closet so that she may pray.
The next day, Desjardin reprimands the girls who bullied Carrie and punishes them with a week's detention, with the penalty for skipping being suspension and exclusion from the prom; this punishment is given to Chris when she defiantly leaves. After an unsuccessful bid to get her privileges reinstated through her influential father, Chris decides to exact revenge on Carrie. Sue Snell, another popular girl, feels shame for her previous behavior and convinces her boyfriend, Tommy Ross, to invite Carrie to the prom instead. Carrie is suspicious, but accepts his offer, and begins sewing herself a prom dress. Meanwhile, Chris persuades her boyfriend Billy Nolan and his friends to gather two buckets of pig blood as she prepares a measure to rig the prom queen election in Carrie's favor.
The prom initially goes well for Carrie: Tommy's friends are welcoming, and Tommy himself finds that he is attracted to her. Chris's plan to rig the election is successful, and at the moment of the coronation, Chris, from outside, dumps the blood onto Carrie's and Tommy's heads. Tommy is knocked unconscious by one of the buckets and dies within minutes. The sight of Carrie drenched in blood invokes laughter from the audience. Unable to withstand the humiliation, Carrie leaves the building.
Outside, Carrie remembers her telekinesis and decides to enact vengeance on her tormentors. Using her powers, she hermetically seals the gym, activates the sprinkler system, and causes a fire that eventually ignites the school's fuel tanks, causing a massive explosion that destroys the building. Those present at the prom are killed by either electric shock, the fire, or the smoke. Carrie, in an overwhelming fit of rage, thwarts any incoming effort to fight the fire by opening the hydrants within the school's vicinity, then destroys gas stations and cuts power lines on her way home. As she does all this, she broadcasts a telepathic message, making the townspeople aware that the carnage was caused by her, even if they do not know who she is.
Carrie returns home to confront Margaret, who believes she has been possessed by Satan and must be killed. Margaret tells her that her conception was a result of what may have been marital rape. She stabs Carrie in the shoulder with a kitchen knife, but Carrie kills her by mentally stopping her heart.
Mortally wounded, Carrie makes her way to the roadhouse where she was conceived. She sees Chris and Billy leaving, having been informed of the destruction by one of Billy's friends. After Billy attempts to run Carrie over, she mentally takes control of his car and sends it racing into the tavern wall, killing both Billy and Chris. Sue, who has been following Carrie's "broadcast," finds her collapsed in the parking lot, bleeding out from the knife wound. The two have a brief telepathic conversation. Carrie had believed that Sue and Tommy had set her up for the prank, but realizes that Sue is innocent and has never felt real animosity towards her. Carrie forgives her, then dies crying out for her mother.
A state of emergency is declared. As the survivors make plans to relocate, Chamberlain foresees desolation in spite of the government allocation of finances toward rehabilitating the worker districts. Desjardin and the school's principal blame themselves for what happened and resign from teaching. Sue publishes a memoir based on her experiences. As a "White Committee" report concludes that there are and will be no others like Carrie, an Appalachian woman enthusiastically writes to her sister about her baby daughter's telekinetic powers and reminisces about their grandmother, who had similar abilities.
Carrie was actually King's fourth novel (the other three being Rage, The Long Walk and Blaze), but it was the first one to be published. It was written while he was living in a trailer, on a portable typewriter (on which he also wrote Misery) that belonged to his wife Tabitha. It began as a short story intended for Cavalier magazine, but King tossed the first three pages of his work in the garbage can. Of King's published short stories at the time, he recalled,
Some woman said, 'You write all those macho things, but you can't write about women.' I said, 'I'm not scared of women. I could write about them if I wanted to.' So I got an idea for a story about this incident in a girls' shower room, and the girl would be telekinetic. The other girls would pelt her with sanitary napkins when she got her period. The period would release the right hormones and she would rain down destruction on them… I did the shower scene, but I hated it and threw it away.
His wife fished the pages out of the garbage can and encouraged him to finish the story, saying that she would help him with the female perspective; he followed her advice and expanded it into a novel. King said, "I persisted because I was dry and had no better ideas… my considered opinion was that I had written the world's all-time loser."
De Palma’s approach to the material was lighter and more deft than my own... it was that high school is a place of almost bottomless conservatism and bigotry... adolescents who attend are no more allowed to rise “above their station”. But there’s a little more subtext to the book than that, I think—at least, I hope so. If The Stepford Wives concerns itself with what men want from women, then Carrie is largely about how women find their own channels of power, and what men fear about women and women's sexuality...writing the book in 1973... I was fully aware of what Women's Liberation implied for me and others of my sex. The book is, in its more adult implications, an uneasy masculine shrinking from a future of female equality. For me, Carrie White is a sadly misused teenager, an example of the sort of person whose spirit is so often broken for good in that pit of man- and woman-eaters that is your normal suburban high school. But she's also Woman, feeling her powers for the first time and, like Samson, pulling down the temple on everyone in sight at the end of the book. Heavy, turgid stuff—but in the novel, it’s only there if you want to take it.
The character of Carrie White is based on a composite of two girls Stephen King observed while attending grade school and high school. Of one of them, he recalled:
She was a very peculiar girl who came from a very peculiar family. Her mother wasn't a religious nut like the mother in Carrie; she was a game nut, a sweepstakes nut who subscribed to magazines for people who entered contests … the girl had one change of clothes for the entire school year, and all the other kids made fun of her. I have a very clear memory of the day she came to school with a new outfit she'd bought herself. She was a plain-looking country girl, but she'd changed the black skirt and white blouse – which was all anybody had ever seen her in – for a bright-colored checkered blouse with puffed sleeves and a skirt that was fashionable at the time. And everybody made worse fun of her because nobody wanted to see her change the mold.
King says he wondered what it would have been like to have been raised by such a mother, and based the story itself on a reversal of the Cinderella fairy tale. According to one biography of King, later the girl "married a man who was as odd as her, had kids, and eventually killed herself."
Carrie's telekinesis resulted from King's earlier reading about this topic. King recalls, "Carrie was written after Rosemary's Baby, but before The Exorcist, which really opened up the field. I didn't expect much of Carrie. I thought, 'Who'd want to read a book about a poor little girl with menstrual problems?' I couldn't believe I was writing it."
Recalling, King was not confident in the beginning of the novel, since he could not relate to Carrie's problems and doubted the significance of the novel. With the support of his wife Tabitha, then employed in a donut shop, he decided to proceed with his writings. King structured his novel to have multiple self-conscious narrators, having three narrators reinforces the novel's warning against the limitations of reason and the potential for abuse in the product of reason.
At the time of publication, King was working as a high school English teacher at Hampden Academy and barely making ends meet, although it has been presumed that King drew inspiration from his time as a teacher. To cut down on expenses, King had the phone company remove the telephone from his house. As a result, when King received word that the book was chosen for publication, his phone was out of service. Doubleday editor William Thompson – who would eventually become King's close friend – sent a telegram to King's house in late March or early April 1973 which read: "Carrie Officially A Doubleday Book. $2,500 Advance Against Royalties. Congrats, Kid - The Future Lies Ahead, Bill." According to King, he bought a new Ford Pinto with the money from the advance. Then, on Mother's Day, May 13, 1973, just a month or so later, New American Library bought the paperback rights for $400,000, which, according to King's contract with Doubleday, was split between them. King eventually resigned from the teaching job after receiving the publishing payment. The hardback sold a mere 13,000 copies; the paperback, released a year later, sold over 1 million copies in its first year.
The first adaption of Carrie was a feature film of the same name, released in 1976. Screenwritten by Lawrence D. Cohen and directed by Brian De Palma, the film starred Sissy Spacek as Carrie, along with Piper Laurie as Margaret, Amy Irving as Sue, Nancy Allen as Chris, John Travolta as Billy, Betty Buckley as Miss Collins (changed from Miss Desjardin), and William Katt as Tommy. It is regarded as a watershed film of the horror genre and one of the best film adaptations of a Stephen King work. Spacek and Laurie received Academy Award nominations for their performances.
A 1999 sequel to the first film titled The Rage: Carrie 2, starring Emily Bergl, was based on the premise that Carrie's father had numerous affairs and had another daughter with telekinetic powers. Amy Irving reprises her role as Sue Snell, the only survivor of the prom and now a school counselor.
In 2002, a made-for-television film of the same name was released, starring Angela Bettis as Carrie, Kandyse McClure as Sue, Emilie de Ravin as Chris, and Patricia Clarkson as Margaret. However, in this version, Carrie survives the end of the story.
In 2013, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Screen Gems gained rights to make a new film version written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and directed by Kimberly Peirce, known for her work on Boys Don't Cry. The film is said to be "less a remake of the De Palma film and more a re-adaptation of the original text". Chloë Grace Moretz plays the title role, with Julianne Moore as Margaret White, Judy Greer as Miss Desjardin and Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell. Portia Doubleday plays the role of Chris Hargensen, Alex Russell plays the role of Billy Nolan, and Ansel Elgort, a newcomer at the time, plays the role of Tommy Ross. Released on October 18, 2013, the movie received mixed reviews. It also left many fans disappointed because much of the material from the book was cut.
A Broadway musical adaptation, Carrie, was staged in 1988; it had transferred to Broadway from the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The book and orchestrations were revised and updated for a 2012 Off-Broadway production. The 2012 Off-Broadway production was a moderate success receiving mainly positive reviews unlike its predecessor.
Playwright Erik Jackson acquired King's consent to stage a non-musical spoof, which premiered off-Broadway in 2006 with female impersonator Keith Levy (also known as Sherry Vine) in the lead role.
The television series Riverdale featured an episode based on the musical, "Chapter Thirty-One: A Night to Remember", with series stars Madelaine Petsch and Emilija Baranac, who played the characters Cheryl Blossom and Midge Klump as different versions of Carrie, respectively.
- The Fury, a 1976 novel with a similar premise and its 1978 film adaptation, also directed by De Palma.
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