The Mist, by Stephen King
Published: 1980, then 2007 for movie tie-in
Much has been written about how Stephen King’s mind works. From multi-generational horror of It, to the locked-up ghosts of eternity of Doctor Sleep, to the alcoholic isolation of The Shining, King writes monsters as terrifying as anyone. What King does better, as these novels also show, is people.
The monsters on offer in 1980 novella The Mist are the stuff of nightmares and speak well of King’s fervent imagination. The title mist, seemingly released from a parallel dimension by an army experiment, brings with it all manner of critter and creature, including giant, multi-limbed beasts and slug flies. The mist, like King’s mind, is unknowable and what emerges from it is as horrifying as it is fascinating.
Monsters aside, it’s the people of The Mist who steal the show. Narrator David Drayton is both cowardly and courageous, caught between protecting his son and coming to terms with the likely death of his wife, while finding time to lust after another shopper caught in the supermarket when the mist struck. He’s one of a dozen characters who are instantly recognisable and hard to pin down with such little light shone on them. Ollie Weeks, the supermarket’s co-manager, drinks through his terror while proving to be most industrious. Mrs Carmody, the novella’s bad guy, goes from crazy old lady to the leader of a mini cult, whipping the terrified inhabitants into a murderous frenzy that has fatal consequences.
The Mist is a brief experiment in what happens “when the machines fail, when the technologies fail, when the conventional religious systems fail”, finding that “people have got to have something”, even when that should really be each other. King is most definitely a people person, and his people are often the worst monsters of all.