John Dies at the End
|August 15, 2007|
|Media type||e-Book, print|
|Followed by||This Book Is Full of Spiders|
John Dies at the End is a comic horror novel written by David Wong that was first published online as a webserial beginning in 2001, then as an edited manuscript in 2004, and a printed paperback in 2007, published by Permuted Press. An estimated 70,000 people read the free online versions before they were removed in September 2008. Thomas Dunne Books published the story with additional material as a hardcover on September 29, 2009. The book was followed by a sequel, This Book Is Full of Spiders, in 2012 and What The Hell Did I Just Read in 2017. A film adaptation by Don Coscarelli was released in 2012.
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The novel begins with a short prologue story that introduces us to the main characters and some background information. Dave and John are pair of slackers who live in an unnamed midwestern town (referred to in the novel as "Undisclosed") where through a series of bizarre events, have become paranormal investigators. The prologue takes the reader through a typical investigation, this one involving a poltergeist made of frozen meat products.
The main story is told in two parts, labeled "Book 1" and "Book 2". There is a framing story, where Dave is recounting the origin of his and John's unusual abilities to a human interest reporter from a national magazine, named Arnie. He meets Arnie in a local restaurant, and the main storyline is intercut with scenes between the incredulous reporter and Dave's multiple attempts to prove the veracity of his increasingly bizarre story.
The main story begins with Dave and John at a party, where John is performing with his band. At the party, Dave is followed by a dog named Molly (as indicated by its nametag) and John and several other friends hang out with a drug dealer named Robert Marley. Dave leaves the party early, and overnight receives an incoherent phone call from John; Dave goes to pick John up to take him to the hospital, but John convinces him not to and the two head to Denny's. John reveals that he has taken a drug known as "soy sauce" and shows Dave a syringe containing the drug. Dave pockets the syringe. The two attempt to return the dog Molly to her owner, "Big" Jim Sullivan, who was at the party with the two protagonists, but which they learn from his sister that he had never returned home. Late for work, John and Dave head to the video store where they work, and while there Dave accidentally injects himself with the drug in his pocket (somewhat mysteriously, as he had broken the needle off the syringe earlier) and begins to feel the effects of the drugs. Shortly thereafter Dave and John are picked up by a local police officer named Lawrence Appleton (but who Dave refers to as "Morgan Freeman" as he forgets his real name).
Dave is brought to the police station and questioned by Detective Appleton, who is investigating bizarre, gruesome events that killed several people who attended the after-party. During the interrogation, Dave is informed that John is dead, but after being nearly killed by an entity impersonating a cop, Dave receives another impossible phone call from an alive John, who leads him to the fake Jamaican Robert Marley's trailer, uncovering the stash of Soy Sauce and a strange symbol. However, he is ambushed by Detective Appleton, who shoots Dave and sets the trailer on fire, having deduced the Soy Sauce is actively killing people around the town.
High on the Soy Sauce, Dave inadvertently travels into the past to the moment the bullet he was shot with was manufactured and accidentally distracts the quality assurance employee. This leads to a poor quality bullet that ultimately fails to kill him in the present. Molly and John rescue him from the burning trailer. Along with Detective Appleton, Big Jim, and several people who were at the party, the group tries to track down the body of one of the Soy Sauce users, now possessed by multiple demonic entities, called "Shadow Men" - nihilistic, reality-warping ghosts who seek to control all dimensions and do so by utilizing the Soy Sauce, the essence of Shadow Men, and their powers, able to manipulate reality and time to their will and kill people to remove all traces of their existence. The Shadow Men possess or kill those who ingest the Soy Sauce - such as Appleton, who is killed en route.
The Soy Sauce user appears and takes them all hostage. They are all driven to the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, where Marconi is having a conference on the paranormal. The Shadow Men plan on using the belief of those present to tear open a portal to another world, bringing in more of the Shadow Men. A massive battle breaks out, and Big Jim is killed in the process, but the group, with Dr. Marconi's help, manages to seal the nascent portal.
One year later, Dave and John are called in to help investigate the apparent death of a local sportscaster, Danny Wexler. He is alive, but possessed by Shadow Men. With the help of Wexler's girlfriend, Krissy, John and Dave track down the possessed Wexler after being nearly killed by various creatures made by the Shadow Men. Despite nearly being possessed, Dave manages to exorcise Wexler.
The next summer, Dave notices that someone is watching him through his television set. One winter night, he has an episode of missing time, around the same time Amy disappears. Dave, fearing he may have accidentally killed Amy, searches his house, and only finds what he is certain is a dead body in his toolshed. On the verge of a breakdown, Dave recovers when John calls him, having found Amy. Investigating her disappearance, John and Dave find more of the strange symbol that was found in the fake Jamaican's trailer, along with an unusually high volume of Shadow Men.
Tracking the Shadow Men, John and Dave, with Molly and Amy in tow, find a hidden entrance in an abandoned mall, leading to a multi-dimensional bazaar. Fighting their way through strangely human guards, the two wind up in another dimension, where they are greeted by strange, masked cultists who call them "chosen ones". It turns out they were "chosen" by a massive, God-like, eldritch biological computer, Korrok, who commands the Shadow Men in a bid to conquer all possible universes for consumption and amusement via acts of mass genocide and torture. They are informed that through their use of the Soy Sauce, they are now the "chosen" vectors through which the Shadow Men will invade their world.
Through knowledge granted through their use of the Soy Sauce, John and Dave built an incredibly explosive bomb prior to their journey into the mall, unwittingly hidden from the cultists by Molly, who ate it. Escaping their captors, the two flee with Molly just as the bomb detonates. Their captors had hoped to destroy Dave's dimension with a species of rapidly breeding insect introduced into a duplicated version of Amy. The duplicate is thrown back into their dimension at the last minute, destroying their dimension instead of Dave's.
An incredulous Arnie refuses to believe Dave, even after being shown one of the monsters the Shadow Men summoned. Dave, after Arnie refers to himself as black, realizes Arnie is, in fact, a ghost modeled on how Dave imagined him to be, and reveals the real Arnie - dead in the trunk of his car. Arnie panics, and disappears.
Sometime later, John and Dave find a portal to another dimension on their yard. Traveling through to a post-apocalypse world, a paramilitary organization tells them they are chosen ones who will save them. Annoyed, John and Dave leave, and watch as unwitting teenage archetypes travel through the portal and save the dimension.
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David Wong: Author surrogate and the novel's protagonist. Dave narrates the novel from the first-person perspective. Dave is self-conscious and sarcastic, thus his narration is unreliable as the truth (he says he has been "mostly" honest with Arnie, and thus the reader). Dave does not immediately believe or trust people. Coupled with his sarcasm and bitterness, he intentionally makes himself difficult to get close to, potentially stemming from the fact that Dave was adopted, his birth mother being in a mental institution and his biological father is unknown. He has a distant, withdrawn kind of emotion when discussing his adoptive parents, putting the word "dad" in quotation marks, as if he never considered him as his true parent. During his initial meeting with Arnie, Dave claims he had his name changed to make him harder to find, suggesting that Wong is the most common surname in the world.
When he was in high school, a bully and his friends attacked him and did something to him he refuses to detail. In revenge, Dave brought a knife to school, disfiguring and blinding his bully with it, who later committed suicide. His adoptive father—a lawyer—kept Dave out of the juvenile justice system, instead shunting him into a Behavior Disorder program in school. Amy was also in this program.
At first, the paranormal lifestyle does not sit well with Dave. While John was excited about their new world of unusual encounters, Dave initially would rather not acknowledge the horrors he had seen. He gradually accepted his moral obligation to do what was right and help if necessary, and his interview with Arnie shows he needs people to believe in him and understand there is a second layer of truth to the world. He willingly walks into the darkness. He willingly keeps silent to protect his loved ones. He doesn't want to be a hero, but knows that he and John are the only ones who can do the job.
John "Cheese": Long-time best friend of Dave. John is an eccentric, alcohol- and drug-addled slacker who finds it impossible to keep a job. He tries to live his life as big and loud as possible, leading to exaggeration for dramatic effect (including boasts about his sexuality and embellishments of his personal achievements that border on and—in many cases—infringe on outright falsehood), and Dave knows not to take what he says at face value. Dave says that John lives under a fake name as well, "John" being suggested as the most common first name in the world. John, unlike Dave, still has family in Undisclosed, including his Uncle Drake, a police detective. John has spent a short time in jail, but Dave narrates it as being not a big deal.
John and Dave met in Mr. Gertz's computer class (from which John was later expelled for lewd behavior). Dave's relationship with John wavered through the story, especially when Dave and Jen were living together. John's enthusiasm for the lifestyle of "expert" in the field of unusual phenomena was resented in part by Dave. Later it became apparent that John was really the only person Dave had in his life that he could trust.
John is a loyal companion and, in spite of his idiosyncrasies, surprisingly moral and upstanding. John also promised to follow through with the last wishes of the two hostages who didn't make it back from Vegas, spreading the rumors of Fred Chu's ghost haunting the city, and keeping an eye on Amy for Jim. Later, when Amy is uncomfortable about digging into her brother's old stuff for information, John said something wildly inappropriate to make her laugh, making Dave remember why he "keeps John around". By the third act, John and Dave both feel that even though their mission is doomed from the start, they had better try. John's enthusiasm when saying "Let's go, we're going to be late for certain death," shows they knowingly walking into ridiculously bad odds. John is pivotal in helping resolve Dave's identity crisis, recruiting Amy to protect Dave from himself, and keeping the situation light and humorous to reduce the need for negative consequences.
John owns six videogame systems, John and Dave are frequently playing, typically sports or gunfight-type games. This becomes an interesting tie-in while chasing Danny Wexler in the abandoned Mall. Through the Soy Sauce, Wexler projects monsters to defeat them, but they project the scenario as it would in a shoot out game. They spend the chapter collecting ammo from kills, breaking crates for items, numbered keys to locked rooms, and specifically for John's benefit, what appears to be a 1-up mushroom that saved him from the gunshot Dave delivered to his head, reversing the titular death.
John was in a band called "Three Armed Sally". He played guitar and sang. Their most popular song is "Camel Holocaust".
Amy Sullivan: A timid girl who needs John and Dave's help. Dave begins the story believing Amy is a mentally handicapped or special needs girl, the fragile little sister of "Big Jim" Sullivan. Dave knew Amy from his school's Behavior Program and was responsible for her unflattering nickname "Cucumber" due to her habit of vomiting like sea cucumbers, (but not for any innuendo reason as was typically assumed). Amy is the rightful owner of Molly, though her fear of strangers leads her to give the dog to whatever stranger that tries to return her (like Dave and Krissy Lovelace). Amy lost her hand in a car accident that killed her parents. She was cared for by her aunt and uncle during that time, but went on to live with her older brother in the family's Victorian style home until Jim's death in Vegas. Jim's last request was that someone keep an eye on his sister, which John respected and kept in regular touch. When Amy is targeted by supernatural forces, John and Dave step in to protect her and reveal the mystery surrounding other similar events.
Amy and Dave are both misfits, through this realization they become a romantic pair. In learning more about her, Dave finds out that she is just as misunderstood as he is, and not as limited as he had been believing for the first two acts of his narrative. Most of her shy and odd behavior was explainable by the medication to keep her well after her car accident. Mood swings (from timid to cheerful) and vomiting were both revealed to be side effects of the meds. Outside of the amputated hand, the car accident also left Amy with her spine damaged, requiring an implanted brace.
With the addition of a set of Scooby-Doo "Ghostvision" glasses sent to Dave from a fan, Amy is able to see some of the unusual things Dave and John can see naturally.
Molly: Molly is David's adoptive dog, an "Irish rust dog", whose tags indicate she previously belonged to Amy. Molly is an easygoing dog but has a mysterious connection to the supernatural events that run through the book. She hosts John's disembodied spirit and experiences effects of the Soy Sauce in the first act. In the second act, she appears to be responsible for a murder while under the care of Krissy Lovelace, and soon dies violently after appearing hovering off the ground and speaking in a guttural voice about Korrok. In the third act of the book, the "dead Molly" was revealed as likely a doppelganger, as she is found again in the care of Amy. She plays a direct part in the assault on Shit Narnia.
It is generally accepted that Molly has a special supernatural connection. However, a scene near the end of the book, the Fred Durst lookalike that gave John and Dave a ride back from the mall may have been Molly herself. He tells Dave that he is on their side, "I been watching you. In fact, you could say that I've been 'dogging' you the whole time." Some take this to believe that Molly is a kind of angel that has been supporting them, since the word 'dogging' was specifically emphasized in quotation marks so not to be confused with the slang the figure was speaking.
Jennifer Lopez: Dave's ex-girlfriend (and not the actress of the same name). Jen was a primary character in the first act of the book, and lived with Dave for a period of 6 months after the Las Vegas incident. She broke up with Dave after some arguments about a false pregnancy alarm. Currently, she lives with her other friends and rarely has contact with Dave. While being the only other person who had first hand experience with the Soy Sauce, she refused to acknowledge its side effects. She doesn't like John because of his constant reminder of the terrible events of Vegas. When a harmless supernatural event is witnessed by John, Dave and herself at a restaurant, she cries. Where John and Dave take a moral obligation with their "gift", Jen leaves and tries to repress it all.
Krissy Lovelace: Becomes involved with John and Dave after the murder of her neighbor in the second act of the book. She is a temporary owner of Molly, and has a romantic connection to Danny Wexler. In the investigation of Wexler and his connection to the Soy Sauce and Shadow Men, her Christian faith proves useful when Dave is possessed by Korrok in the abandoned mall in Undisclosed, saving his life. She sends a necklace with a cross on it to David later in the book.
Arnie Blondestone: A journalist investigating paranormal affairs, Arnie Blondestone is referred to David by way of Amy. David's relating of his tale to Arnie acts as a framing device for the narrative. Each act of the story is framed with a conversation with Arnie. He is a highly skeptical individual, which proves to be a challenge for David given the absurd (and largely unfalsifiable) aspects of his account. Arnie believes he may have had unusual experiences and memories (involving video games, a shadow, a cat and the Pope), and through that connection, he does seem to want to believe Dave, and gives him far more chances than a true skeptic would.
Korrok: Believed to be an evil deity worshiped by several different cultures in human history, Korrok serves as the novel's major antagonist, with many of the demons encountered by David and John throughout the novel acting as his servants. Korrok is depicted in many ways, both physical and metaphorical.
Doctor Albert Marconi: A former priest, Albert Marconi has researched paranormal activity and, in his travels, has become very learned in all matters supernatural. He is first encountered in Las Vegas, where his knowledge of the occult allows for many demons to be cast back into their own dimension. Excerpts from his book on Korrok are included throughout the narrative, and plays a crucial role in the prologue (albeit briefly, and through a long-distance telephone call).
James "Big Jim" Sullivan: The large older sibling of Amy Sullivan, "Big" Jim is a religious former classmate of David and John's and a science fiction and special effects enthusiast. Jim is among the group of hostages that travels to Las Vegas. Sketches, stories and models that Amy shows John and Dave imply he has significant foreknowledge of the crisis at hand. It was Jim who attempted to spiritually reach out to the Fake Jamaican, and who ended up getting the Soy Sauce to Wexler (though he was hoping someone would investigate it).
"Shitload": One of Korrok's supernatural minions. Shitload's natural form consists of a swarm of small, white insectoids comparable to rods described in cryptozoological theories. He is a vulgar and dangerous presence, speaking in profane street slang and hopping from body to body as he sees fit in a process that is painful and inevitably lethal to his hosts. Furthermore, Shitload has a tendency to attack enemies in the scrotal region and can continue using host bodies without difficulty after they have suffered fatal wounds. The character is a parody of the Biblical demon "Legion" ("For we are many,"). The character similarly introduces himself as Shitload, "Because there's a shitload of us in here."
Detective Lawrence "Morgan Freeman" Appleton: Detective in the Undisclosed Police Department. Appleton questions David on the night of the "soy sauce" overdoses and quickly becomes aware of the dangerously supernatural aspects of his case. David mentally compares the detective to Morgan Freeman, referring to him as such in his narration, even though Appleton shares little physical resemblance with the actor. It is implied he more closely resembles actor Michael Clarke Duncan, and David is misremembering his name.
Reviewer Bryan Gatchell considered it "a horror novel parody," saying, "The story combined the horror of the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and the surrealism of Heironymus [sic] Bosch painting with the early 20s (i.e., their age) asininity of its two main protagonists, David Wong and John... [T]hey can see things no other human can see such as shadow men, demons, floating worms, obscene fast food murals, ghost doors, men observing them through the television and dog-sized, wig-wearing, scorpion-like creatures... Wong is much more at home when it comes to the humorous aspects of the story... Strangely enough, the best moment of the novel has neither to do with horror (in the traditional sense) or humor. The novel becomes the most gripping when David describes a violent incident as a high school student. The rest of the novel is amusing, but at this moment, the novel breaks away from its jokey Internet origins and seems to come into its own as a genuinely good book."
The book received a positive review in The Guardian, with reviewer Eric Brown comparing it to the works of Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson and writing "it may be a farrago of nonsense, but it's also unputdownable thanks to great narrative pace and its pair of likeable layabouts".
A review in Kirkus Reviews criticised the writing as "clunky" but ultimately praised the book, concluding "when it’s funny, it's laugh-out-loud funny, yet when the situation calls for chills, it provides them in spades".
A sequel to the book, This Book Is Full of Spiders, was published on October 2, 2012. It originally had the working title of John and Dave and the Fifth Wall before Wong announced the official title. Part of the book was originally hosted on the official website under the title of John and Dave and the Temple of X'al'naa'thuthuthu, but was removed from the site. Wong later re-posted the excerpt on the website in February 2009, but removed it the following year.
A third book in the series was released on October 3, 2017, under the title What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror.
Filming began on October 21, 2010. The movie stars Paul Giamatti as Arnie Blondestone and Clancy Brown as Dr. Marconi, with Giamatti also helping to produce. Actors Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes play the lead roles of Dave and John, respectively.
- "September 29, 2009 That’s the release date for the book." Archived September 7, 2012, at Archive.today, Official Site, May 18, 2009
- Gatchell, Bryan (July 1, 2010). "Reader's corner: John Dies at the End". Fort Polk Guardian. Fort Polk, Louisiana: Natchitoches Times.
- "Science fiction & fantasy roundup – review". The Guardian.
- "Fiction Book Review: John Dies at the End". Publishers Weekly. April 5, 2010.
- "John Dies at the End". Kirkus Reviews.
- "The SF site Featured Review: John Dies at the End".
- "Don Coscarelli to Direct 'John Dies at the End'" Archived February 11, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, Bloody Disgusting, February 16, 2008
- "John Dies at the End (2012)". International Movie Database. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
- "Quint knows what Don Coscarelli's new movie is! And more importantly he knows Paul Giamatti and The Kurgan are in it!", Ain't It Cool News, October 21, 2010
- Warner, Denise (January 24, 2012). "Sundance: Paul Giamatti in 'John Dies at the End' | Inside Movies | EW.com". Insidemovies.ew.com. Retrieved February 18, 2014.
- "JOHN DIES AT THE END | Archives | Sundance Institute". Filmguide.sundance.org. Archived from the original on April 28, 2012. Retrieved February 18, 2014.