Rage (King novel)
First edition cover
|Author||Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)|
|September 13, 1977|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
Rage (written as Getting It On; the title was changed before publication) is a psychological thriller novel by American writer Stephen King, the first he published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. It was first published in 1977 and then was collected in 1985 in the hardcover omnibus The Bachman Books. The novel describes a school shooting, and has been associated with actual high school shooting incidents in the 1980s and 1990s. In response King allowed the novel to fall out of print, and in 2013 he published a non-fiction, anti-firearms violence essay titled "Guns".
Charlie Decker, a Maine high school senior, is called to a meeting with his principal about a previous incident in which he struck his chemistry teacher with a pipe wrench, leading to the teacher's hospitalization and Charlie's suspension. Charlie then subjects the principal to a series of insulting remarks, resulting in his expulsion. Charlie storms out of the office and retrieves a pistol from his locker, then sets the contents of his locker on fire. He then returns to his classroom and fatally shoots his algebra teacher, Miss Jean Underwood. The fire triggers an alarm, but Charlie forces his classmates to stay in the room, killing a history teacher, Mr. Peter Vance, when he attempts to enter. As the other students and teachers evacuate the school, the police and media arrive at the scene.
Over the following four hours, Charlie toys with various authority figures who attempt to negotiate with him, including the principal, the school psychologist, and the local police chief. Charlie gives them certain commands, threatening to kill students if they do not comply. Charlie also admits to his hostages that he does not know what has compelled him to commit his deeds, believing he will regret them when the situation is over. As his fellow students start identifying with Charlie, he unwittingly turns his class into a sort of psychotherapy group, causing his schoolmates to semi-voluntarily tell embarrassing secrets regarding themselves and each other.
Interspersed throughout are narrative flashbacks to Charlie's troubled childhood, particularly his tumultuous relationship with his abusive father Carl. Several notable incidents include a violent disagreement between two female students and a police sniper's attempt to shoot Charlie through the heart. However, Charlie survives due to the bullet's striking his locker's combination lock, which he had earlier placed in the breast pocket of his shirt.
Charlie finally comes to the realization that only one student is really being held against his will: a seeming "Big Man On Campus" named Ted Jones, who is harboring his own secrets. Ted realizes this and attempts to escape the classroom, but the other students brutally assault him, driving him into a battered catatonic state. At 1:00 p.m., Charlie releases the students, but Ted is unable to move under his own power and remains. When the police chief enters the classroom, the now-unarmed Charlie moves as if to shoot him, attempting suicide by cop. The chief shoots Charlie, but he survives and is found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a psychiatric hospital in Augusta, Maine until he can answer for his actions.
The final chapters contain an inter-office memo concerning Ted's treatment and prognosis at the hospital where he is now a patient, and a letter from one of Charlie's friends describing assorted developments in the students' lives during the months following this incident. The story ends with Charlie addressing the reader: "That's the end. I have to turn off the light now. Good night."
Connections to actual school shootings
The novel's plot vaguely resembles actual events that have transpired since the book's publication, to such a degree that the author is no longer comfortable with the book's being in print for fear that it may inspire similar occurrences ("[Rage is] now out of print.") as it had already been associated with incidents of high school shootings and hostage takings:
- Jeffrey Lyne Cox, a senior at San Gabriel High School in San Gabriel, California, took a semi-automatic rifle to school on April 26, 1988, and held a humanities class of about 60 students hostage for over 30 minutes. Cox held the gun to one student when the teacher doubted Cox would cause harm and stated that he would prove it to her. At that time three students escaped out a rear door and were fired upon. Cox was later tackled and disarmed by another student. A friend of Cox's told the press that Cox had been inspired by the Kuwait Airways Flight 422 hijacking and by the novel Rage, which Cox had read over and over again and with which he strongly identified.
- Dustin L. Pierce, a senior at Jackson County High School in McKee, Kentucky, armed himself with a shotgun and two handguns and took a history classroom hostage in a nine-hour standoff with police on September 18, 1989, that ended without injury. Police found a copy of Rage among the possessions in Pierce's bedroom, leading to speculation that he had been inspired to carry out the plot of the novel.
- On January 18, 1993, Scott Pennington, a student at East Carter High School in Grayson, Kentucky, took a .38-caliber revolver that was owned by his father and fatally shot his English teacher Deanna McDavid in the head, during her seventh period class. He subsequently shot and killed the school's custodian, Marvin Hicks, and held the class hostage for 20 minutes before releasing them. Just before the shootings he had written an essay on the book Rage and was upset that McDavid had given it a C grade.
- Barry Loukaitis, a student at Frontier Middle School in Moses Lake, Washington, walked from his house to the school on February 2, 1996, and entered his algebra classroom during fifth period. He opened fire at students, killing two and wounding another. He then fatally shot his algebra teacher, Leona Caires, in the chest. As his classmates' shock turned to panic, Loukaitis reportedly said, "This sure beats algebra, doesn't it?"—a line erroneously believed to be taken from Rage. (No such line appears in King's story. The closest is when Charlie Decker quips, "This sure beats panty raids.") Hearing the gunshots, gym coach Jon Lane entered the classroom. Loukaitis was holding his classmates hostage and planned to use one hostage so he could safely exit the school. Lane volunteered to be the hostage, and Loukaitis kept Lane at gunpoint with his rifle. Lane then grabbed the weapon from Loukaitis, wrestled him to the ground, then assisted the evacuation of students.
- In December 1997, Michael Carneal shot eight fellow students, three of them fatally, at a prayer meeting at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky. He had a copy of Rage within the Richard Bachman omnibus in his locker. This was the incident that moved King to allow the book to go out of print.
End of publication
When King decided to let Rage fall out of print in the United States, it remained available only as part of The Bachman Books. In contrast, the other novels that appeared in that compilation – The Long Walk, Roadwork, and The Running Man – are available separately in the US. Rage remained available in the United Kingdom and other countries in The Bachman Books for a time, but later appeared to become unavailable. New editions of The Bachman Books do not include Rage.
In a footnote to the preface of the novel Blaze, dated January 30, 2007, King wrote of Rage: "Now out of print, and a good thing."
King said, in his keynote address at the VEMA Annual Meeting on May 26, 1999: "The Carneal incident was enough for me. I asked my publisher to take the damned thing out of print. They concurred." King went on to describe his view on this subject, which acknowledged the role that cultural or artistic products such as Rage play in influencing individuals, particularly troubled youths, while also declaring that artists and writers should not be denied the aesthetic opportunity to draw upon their own culture—which is suffused with violence, according to King—in their work. King went on to describe his inspiration for stories such as Rage, which drew heavily upon his own frustrations and pains as a high school student.
In an article on the ominous writings of Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho for Entertainment Weekly, King said: "Certainly in this sensitized day and age, my own college writing—including a short story called 'Cain Rose Up' and the novel Rage—would have raised red flags, and I'm certain someone would have tabbed me as mentally ill because of them..." After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, he elaborated in a non-fiction essay, titled "Guns" (2013), on why he let Rage go out of print. King's website states: "All profits from 'Guns' will benefit the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence."
- King, Stephen (June 2007). "Foreword". Blaze.
- Associated Press (April 27, 1988). "Hijack Tied to Teen Classroom Siege". The Press-Courier. Oxnard.
- Katz, Jesse (January 14, 1990). "A High School Gunman's Days of Rage". Los Angeles Times.
- Associated Press (September 18, 1989). "Kentucky Youth Frees 11 Hostages and Surrenders". The New York Times. McKee, KY.
- "Two Killed in School Shooting in Kentucky". The New York Times. January 19, 1993.
- Buckley, Jerry (October 31, 1993). "The Tragedy in Room 108". U.S. News and World Report.
- AP (25 August 1997). "Loukaitis trial starts today". Ellensburg Daily Record. Seattle. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
- King, Stephen (May 26, 1999). "Stephen King's Keynote Address, Vermont Library Conference, VEMA Annual Meeting". horrorking.com.
- "The Bachman Books". Hodder & Stoughton. 2008. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
- King, Stephen (April 23, 2007). "On Predicting Violence | News". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved March 14, 2010.
- King, Stephen (January 25, 2013). Guns (Kindle ed.). Philtrum Press. ASIN B00B53IW9W.
- "Promo: Guns". StephenKing.com.