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The Body


The Body

Stephen King, the prolific American master of horror, has seen a number of his novels and stories adapted to the big and small screen. One of the most acclaimed and widely appreciated is the film Stand By Me, which was released in 1986. It is a terrifically acted and quite affecting coming of age tale and one that showcased the talent of several young actors. Stand By Me was faithfully based on King’s 1982 novella, “The Body,” first published in his collection entitled DIFFERENT SEASONS,  which also includes “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” This summer the novella is being published again and it is worth revisiting or discovering for the first time.

"King’s writing is amazing in THE BODY and though the prose and references are at times dated, the themes and the characters themselves are relatable and compelling."

THE BODY takes place over a few days in the summer of 1960 in and around Castle Rock, Maine. Like some of King’s best work, at the center is a small group of essentially unsupervised children on the brink of adolescence. These four boys are not naive but they are innocent in many important ways. Teddy Duchamp, dumb but fun and a real risk taker, was severely burned by his father when he was eight years old and now wears hearing aids in his deformed ears. Vern Tessio struggles in school but is loyal to his friends. Chris Chambers comes from a family of violent criminals but has an intelligence and innate sense of justice and compassion that few people recognize in him. The narrator is Gordie Lachance, a creative and smart boy about to turn 13 who dreams of becoming a writer. Gordie lives in the shadow of his older brother who recently died and so his best friends are all the more important to him. When Vern overhears his own older brother talking about the body of a missing boy found in the woods beside the railroad tracks, the four friends decide to set out on an adventure to find him. Focused on the body of Ray Brower, their two day trip challenges them physically and emotionally in ways they didn’t expect.

From junkyard dogs to leech infested waters, from oncoming trains to loaded guns, the four boys are lucky to make it back home alive. The crux of King’s story is not the actual journey (or the revelation of Brower’s body and the confrontation that takes place over it) but the ways in which the journey uncovers their own identities and worldviews as they reach toward maturity. Gordie, in looking back many years later, and from his vantage point as a successful writer, understands that in symbolically moving closer to death, by actually coming in contact with a dead body of a boy much like themselves, they shared a singular and meaningful experience. “The most important things are the hardest to say,” King has Gordie state at the very beginning of the story. As a writer (and besides young boys, some of King’s best characters are writers), Gordie works to put the summer of 1960 and the search for Ray Brower into words. King is successful at creating Gordie’s voice and capturing the fleeting and uncomfortable emotions he felt at 12 as well as the ways his friends brought out the best in him, even when they were so easily dismissed as troublemakers or worse. There are chills and frights here, but THE BODY is not horror in the way that much of King’s work is. It is more subtle and psychological and in some ways all the more frightening for it.

King’s writing is amazing in THE BODY and though the prose and references are at times dated, the themes and the characters themselves are relatable and compelling. Gordie reflects, “The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away.” In THE BODY, King magnificently leads readers to the secret heart of Gordie Lachance.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on July 10, 2018

The Body
by Stephen King