The Body (novella)
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2009 audiobook edition cover
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The Body is a novella by American writer Stephen King, originally published in his 1982 collection Different Seasons and adapted into the 1986 film Stand by Me. Some changes were made to the plot of the film, including changing the setting year from 1960 to 1959 and the location of Castle Rock from Maine to Oregon.
The story takes place during the summer of 1960 in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. After a boy from Chamberlain, Maine named Ray Brower disappears and is presumed dead, Gordie Lachance and his three friends, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio set out to find his body after telling their parents they will be camping out. During the course of their journey, the boys, who all come from abusive or dysfunctional families, come to grips with some of the harsh truths of growing up in a small factory town that does not seem to offer them much in the way of a future.
In comparison to King's prior works, the narrative of The Body is complicated in that it is told in first person point of view by the now adult Gordon Lachance. Most of the story is a straightforward retrospective of what happened, but comments, or entire chapters that relate to the present time, are interspersed throughout. Although he is only 12 at the time of the story, Gordie's favorite diversion is writing and storytelling. During the narrative, he tells stories to his friends, and two stories are presented in the text as short stories by Gordon Lachance, complete with attribution to the magazines in which they were published.
Vern Tessio informs his three friends that he has overheard his older brother Billy talking with his friend Charlie Hogan, about the location of the corpse of Ray Brower, a boy from Chamberlain, a town 40 miles or so east of Castle Rock, who has gone missing while going out to pick blueberries. The four friends decide to find it so as to be famous.
Gordie explains how he and each of his friends come from either abusive or dysfunctional homes:
- Gordie's older brother Dennis has been killed in a car accident while undergoing basic training in the army, and his parents (who are old enough to be his grandparents) have largely ignored him since then. Gordie also struggles over his brother's death and searches for a way to make peace with his loss.
- Chris is regularly abused by his alcoholic father and older brothers, and is treated with contempt by his teachers because of his family's criminal reputation.
- Teddy's father suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from World War II and burned both of Teddy's ears against a stove, in a fit of rage that caused him to be sentenced to a sanitarium. Although he suffers vision and hearing problems, Teddy still holds his father in high regard due to his military service.
- Vern, although his parents do not seem to be abusive towards him, is harassed by his brother and continues a long-term search for a jar containing several dollars worth of pennies he buried under his porch. Gordie, Chris, and Teddy all believe that Vern's brother Billy stole the jar. Vern refuses to believe this since he hates his brother and doesn't want to admit Billy outsmarted him.
The boys walk along the railroad tracks toward the presumed location of the corpse. Along the way, they trespass at the town dump and are chased by Chopper, the dump custodian Milo Pressman's dog. Milo insults Teddy's father, which causes Teddy to unleash his anger on Milo.
Gordie and Vern are nearly run over by a train while crossing a trestle. While at a resting point, Chris predicts that Gordie will grow up to become a famous writer – perhaps he will even write about his friends one day.
When the boys finally find the body, a gang of bullies arrives just after they do. The gang is composed of Vern's older brother Billy, Charlie Hogan, Chris's older brother Richard "Eyeball" Chambers, Norman "Fuzzy" Bracowicz, John "Ace" Merrill, Vince Desjardins, and Jack Mudgett. The older boys are upset to see the four friends, and during an argument, Chris pulls a gun belonging to his father from his bag and fires into the air. Chris then threatens Ace; the leader of the gang. After a brief standoff Ace realizes that Chris is serious, and the teenagers leave. Having seen the body, the boys realize that there is nothing else to be done with it and return home without further incident.
The older boys ultimately decide to phone in the location of the body as an "anonymous tip", and it is eventually found by the authorities as a result. Some days after the confrontation, Ace and Fuzzy break Gordie's nose and fingers, and kick him in the testicles, and are on the verge of harming him more seriously when they are run off by Gordie's neighbor, Aunt Evvie Chalmers. "Eyeball" Chambers breaks his brother's arm and "leaves his face looking like a Canadian sunrise". Teddy and Vern get less severe beatings. The boys refuse to identify their assailants to the authorities, and there are no further repercussions.
The narration then goes into fast-forward. Gordie describes the next year or so briefly, stating that Teddy and Vern drift off, befriending some younger boys. In high school, just as Chris predicted, Gordie begins taking college-preparation courses. Unexpectedly, so does Chris. In spite of abuse from his father, taunts from his classmates, and distrust from teachers and school counselors, he manages to be successful with help from Gordie.
The final two chapters describe the fates of Gordie's three friends, none of whom survive past young adulthood:
- Vern is killed in a house fire after a party in 1966.
- Teddy, while under the influence of alcohol and drugs, crashes his car in 1972, killing himself and his passengers.
- Chris, who became an outstanding high school and college student, and is in his second year of law school, is fatally stabbed after trying to stop an argument in a fast-food restaurant.
Gordie, the only survivor, continues to write stories through college, and publishes a number of them in small literary journals and men's magazines. His first novel becomes a best-seller and a successful film. Since writing about the events in 1960, he has written seven novels about the supernatural. Gordie has a wife and three children, and is revealed to be a veteran of the Vietnam War and the counter-culture of the 1960s, occasionally referred to in the flash-forward narratives during the main story.
The story ends with Gordie visiting Castle Rock and seeing Ace, realizing that he managed to escape the town and is finally able to make peace with the painful memories of his childhood.
References to Stephen King's works
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- Another story from Different Seasons, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is referenced in this story; Shawshank is described as one of Maine's state prisons.
- Ray Brower, the boy who went missing and the reason Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern took the camping trip to Back Harlow Road, is from Chamberlain, which is the setting for the King's first novel, Carrie. (Carrie, which takes place over ten years later but was written eight years earlier, features a reference to a Teddy Duchamp, but he is clearly not the same person as the Teddy of the novella.)
- Jerusalem's Lot, from the novel 'Salem's Lot is referenced when the boys first listen to Gordie's "Lard Ass" story.
- The novel Cujo is referenced when Gordie compares the dog Chopper to Cujo. Aunt Evvie Chalmers is a minor character in Cujo, which is set 20 years later.
- A "Constable Bannerman" is mentioned in the story, but he clearly is not the same person as George Bannerman, the county sheriff who appears in Cujo and The Dead Zone.
- Chapter 19 includes an unnerving encounter with a wendigo making similar sounds to those described in Pet Sematary.
- Ace Merrill and Vern Tessio later appear in "Nona", a short story from the collection Skeleton Crew.
- Ace Merrill also appears in the last King novel set in Castle Rock, Needful Things, as Mr. Gaunt's employee. He also remembers the happenings of The Body when four snot-nosed kids cheated him and his friends out of something they wanted. Aunt Evvie appears again in a flashback narrative told from the perspective of her niece Polly, one of the major characters in the story.
Accusation of plagiarism
In Lisa Rogak's unauthorized biography Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King, a friend of King's, George McLeod, claimed that King had cribbed the idea for The Body from a short story McLeod had written, but these claims are disputed by King. McLeod requested a portion of the royalties from The Body and Stand by Me; King refused. McLeod sued, which ended their friendship. Since then, King has refused his fans’ requests to read their manuscripts for advice; King has claimed that he is concerned that there may be further accusations of plagiarism.