Staff Picks Book Review - Children of the Corn by Stephen King

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Children of the Corn by Stephen King Originally a story in a popular magazine of the era and then a part of the 1978 anthology Night Shift, Stephen King’s short story Children of the Corn is a recognizable part of pop culture even if people do not tie it to the reigning “king” of suspense fiction. The dramatic adaptations began in 1984 with a low budget adaptation starring a fairly unknown Linda Hamilton before she would go on to Terminator fame. Like the Terminator, Children of the Corn would be back, a total of six films being made through the 1980s and 90s. A new adaptation is soon to come out. How true it plays to the original print version remains to be seen.

Burt and Vicky are a couple on their way through Nebraska. Fighting over which road they should have taken and anything else that comes to mind, our hero and heroine are both wondering “why did I marry this person?” Their feuding ends abruptly when Burt hits someone or something that has run out of or been thrown out of the seemingly endless cornfield that surrounds the road. Strangely, it seems the boy’s throat was cut, an injury not possible from the collision. Not wanting to leave the boy and scared of running into whoever had attacked the boy and cut his throat, Burt takes the body with them and continues driving. Little do they know; the scariest part of their ordeal lies ahead.

Coming into the town of Gatlin, Burt and Vicky find they are its only occupants. Outdated phonebooks and prices they have not seen in nearly a decade indicate businesses that have stood idle for years. Things get more cryptic when Burt goes to the local church and finds ledgers with birth and death dates that show a tragic event must have happened in 1964 as so many of the residents died simultaneously.

For those who have been exposed to this story or the films and remember the villains Burt and Vicky meet, they are attacked by the town’s children. We meet Isaac, a child with all the fervor of a fire and brimstone preacher and Malachai, one of the older children who slaughters unbelievers and interlopers as did the Angel of Death in the Old Testament. Having done away with all adults in the community, the children are ready to offer up Burt and Vicky to their god, “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”.


The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

A short story whose themes are echoed in Children of the Corn, Jackson’s tale of a society starts out rather benign. Members of a small town are gathering for the “lottery”. After making sure everyone is there, the local official commences with having each member come up and draw a paper from a small, black box. Once each member has a slip in hand, one member of the community discovers he has “won” the lottery. As the reader’s attention is then diverted to a pile of stones the children have been gathering, we find out that even when you win, you sometimes lose.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its power and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs

In this chilling short story an old couple are presented a mummified monkey paw which a holy man has imbued with the power to grant its owner three wishes. The wishes, to the horror of the person who makes them, will come with unintended consequences. Think, for instance, if you made a careless wish like “I don’t ever want to go to work again” and ended up losing your job. The couple in the story make similar thoughtless wishes with disastrous consequences.

Sailor’s Knots and Other Stories by W. W. Jacobs

An exciting collection of stories from W.W. Jacobs, a London based novelist famous for his humor, horror and travel stories. This volume includes some of his iconic work: Deserted, Homeward Bound, Self-help, Sentence Deferred, Matrimonial Openings, Odd Man Out, The Toll-house, Peter's Pence, The Head of the Family, Prize Money, Double Dealing, Keeping Up Appearances.

Many Cargoes by W. W. Jacobs

The stories in this book are centered on a dockside pub where the same people come to tell each other stories and let the night watchman cadge a pint from them. 

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Though it had a love story and political strife not included in Children of the Corn, the young adult series and the movies it inspired depicted a society that sacrificed certain community members so the whole society could prosper. Similar to the drawing in The Lottery, each district sent a male and female to compete in a fatal game that would end in each participant being either a martyr to be honored or a victor to be worshipped. By keeping the districts at odds with one another, the powerful elites in the capitol could prosper. The games and the human nature that allowed them to continue are a perfect example of how we will do things as part of a group that we would not do alone.

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