|April 5, 1974|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Carrie is a 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, a friendless, bullied high-school girl from an abusive religious household who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who torment her. In 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". 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. Carrie was one of the most frequently banned books in United States schools in the 1990s because of its violence, cursing, underage sex and negative view of religion.
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, and a 2013 feature film, which serves as a remake of the 1976 film. 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 in the year 1979, 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 in the girls' locker room after a physical education class. Carrie is terrified, having no understanding of menstruation as her mother, who despises everything related to intimacy, never told her about it. While Carrie believes she is dying, her classmates, led by a wealthy, popular girl named Chris Hargensen, insult her and throw tampons and sanitary napkins at her. The gym teacher, Rita Desjardin, helps Carrie clean up and tries to explain. On the way home, Carrie practices her unusual ability to control objects from a distance. The only time she recalls using this power was when she was three years old and caused stones to fall from the sky by her house. Once Carrie gets home, 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 gives them a week's detention; Chris defiantly leaves and is punished with suspension and exclusion from the prom. 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 who tormented Carrie in the locker room, feels ashamed of her behavior; she convinces her boyfriend, Tommy Ross, to invite Carrie to the prom instead. Carrie is suspicious, but accepts and begins sewing herself a prom dress. Meanwhile, Chris persuades her boyfriend Billy Nolan and his gang of greasers 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 finds that he is attracted to Carrie as a friend. Chris's plan to rig the election is successful, and Carrie and Tommy are elected prom queen and king. However, at the moment of the coronation, Chris, from outside, dumps the pig blood onto Carrie's and Tommy's heads. Tommy is knocked unconscious by one of the buckets and dies due to serious blood loss. The sight of Carrie drenched in blood invokes laughter from the audience. Carrie leaves the building, humiliated.
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, inadvertently electrocuting many of her classmates, and causes a fire that eventually ignites the school's fuel tanks, causing a massive explosion that destroys the building. Most present at the prom are killed by electric shock, fire, or smoke; a few lucky staff and students escape. 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. She unleashes her telekinetic powers on the town, destroying several buildings and killing hundreds of people. As she does all this, she broadcasts a telepathic message, making all 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 Carrie 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 fights back by mentally stopping Margaret’s heart as she says a prayer. 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 a wall, killing both Billy and Chris.
Sue, who has been following Carrie's "broadcast," finds her collapsed in the parking lot, bleeding 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 and then dies, crying out for her mother.
A state of emergency is declared and 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. A "White Committee" report investigating paranormal abilities concludes that there are and will be 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.
Style and themes
Carrie is a horror novel, and is an example of supernatural and gothic fiction. It is an epistolary novel: the narrative is organized through a collection of reports and excerpts in approximate chronological order, and is structured around a framing device consisting of multiple narrators. Leigh A. Ehlers, a literary scholar, has argued that this structure is used to indicate that no particular viewpoint, scientific or otherwise, can explain Carrie and the prom night event.
The novel deals with themes of ostracization, centering around Carrie being ostracized for not conforming to societal norms. A driving force of the novel is her first period in the shower leading to her being pelted with tampons and further scorned. Sue is one of the few people to feel genuine remorse for Carrie and arranges a date with Sue's boyfriend, Tommy, for the Spring Ball. However, Chris's need for vengeance against Carrie results in pig blood being dumped on Carrie during the Spring Ball. This results in Carrie committing a massacre among the school and Chamberlain. Following the massacre, Sue is subject to the same exclusion as Carrie, despite her altruistic motives. John Kerrigan, a literary scholar, and Victoria Madden have observed that throughout the novel, Carrie is often associated with pigs, which are considered "disgusting" animals.
The novel also deals with themes of vengeance. Throughout the novel, Carrie is forced through various hardships that she manages to endure for years without using her supernatural powers. However, after being invited to a prom only to have pig blood dumped on her, Carrie "breaks" and annihilates the city. Kerrigan considers Carrie to be an example of a revenge tragedy. Ray B. Browne argues that the novel serves as a "revenge fantasy", while novelist Charles L. Grant has stated that "[Stephen] King uses the evil/victim device for terror." Some scholars have argued that Carrie is a social commentary. Linda J. Holland-Toll has stated that "Carrie is about disaffirmation because society makes the human monster, cannot control the monster, yet still denies the possibility of actual monster existence while simultaneously defining humans as monsters."
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.
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 doughnut 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.[failed verification] 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.
The hardback edition of Carrie sold modestly, but not spectacularly; it was not a bestseller. Sources of the number of sales for the hardback edition vary, ranging from 13,000 copies to 17,000 copies. In contrast, the paperback edition sold exceedingly well. In its first year, the edition sold one million copies. The sales were bolstered by the 1976 film adaptation, totaling at four million sales. Carrie became a New York Times bestseller, debuting on the list on December 1976 and remaining on it for 14 weeks, peaking at #3. According to the novel's publisher for the UK, Hodder & Stoughton, the novel is still selling well as of April 2014.
Though King himself was averse to Carrie, the novel received generally positive reviews and has become a fan favorite. Various critics considered it an impressive literary debut. Newgate Callendar of the New York Times stated that despite being a debut novel, "King writes with the kind of surety normally associated only with veteran writers." The Daily Times-Advocate's Ina Bonds considers the novel an "admirable achievement" for a first novel, and Kirkus Reviews believes that the debut novel is handled well by King with little nonsense. Bob Cormier from the Daily Sentinel & Leominster Enterprise believes that the novel could've failed because of the subject matter, but didn't, and thus finds King to be "no ordinary writer".
The story was generally praised. Various critics wrote that the plot will scare readers. Liz Cardinale from the Times-News opined that Carrie "keeps you interested and horrified to the very last page." Mary Schedl of the San Francisco Examiner wrote that the novel "goes far beyond the usual limitations of the [occult] genre" to deliver a message about humanity. Joy Antos wrote for Progress Bulletin that while the conclusion is foregone by the style of Carrie and the characters were slightly stereotypical, it didn't prevent her from reading the novel and made it a "tale of sweet revenge". In contrast, Library Journal criticized the characterization and does not recommend it to readers.
Retrospectively, the plot and characterization of Carrie have been assessed as brilliant. Literary critic Michael R. Collings and horror author Adam Nevill declared that the plot holds up decades after publication. Collings attributed it to focus and conciseness, while Nevill attributed it to the characterization and structure. In his literary analysis, Rocky Wood called the plot "remarkably short but compelling." Michael Berry of Common Sense Media lauded the characterization and said that the epistolary structure "lend[s] a sense of realism to the outlandish proceedings." While both Grady Hendrix, writing for Tor.com, and James Smythe of the Guardian similarly praised the story; Hendrix felt that the writing was awkward much of the time, and Smythe found the epistolary-style extracts to be "worst [and slowest] parts of the novel."
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.
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