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Four Past Midnight - Stephen King

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Author: Stephen King / Genre: Horror

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      26.07.2008 19:18
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      If you only want to read one of the tales - make it the Langoliers

      Four Past Midnight is a collection of Four Novellas - "The Langoliers", "Secret Window, Secret Garden", "The Library Policeman" and "The Sun Dog". Two of these have been made into movies - "The Langolier" as a 3 hour television movie and "Secret Window, Secret Garden" as a film starring Johnny Depp, shortened simply to "Secret Window" - I don't know maybe "Secret Garden" will come out as a sequel one day. Anyway, my favourite of all the stories is "The Langoliers" - the story of a group of people on a flight who find themselves slightly out of synch with time and having to find a way to escape before the creatures that munch through the past finally catch up with them. Okay as a concept it doesn't sound great but Stephen King reall carries this one off. Secret Garden is the tale of a writer accused of plaigarism by a psycopath with a difference. The Library policeman shows us a man forced to face the horrors of his past and the final story "The Sun Dog" tells the story of a boy who buys a camera with a difference. It also acts as an amusing prologue to Stephen King's next book "Needful Things". All Four stories are very good, however I am still not sure of the need to have bunched them all together in this way as they have no real common themes. But still a good read.

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      27.06.2006 11:42
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      Original King work in a different style to his usual!

      Idly flicking through the Stephen King section on Amazon, I happened to come across 'Four Past Midnight' - a collection of King stories I'd never read before. I purchased it, thinking that 4 stories would be a quick, but entertaining read. So, when it arrived on my doorstep I was somewhat surprised by the hefty packaging and brick shaped book.
      At a total of 676 pages these stories can, in no way, pass off as 'short'. Realistically, if King had extended them slightly they could all have been sold as novels of a reasonable length. 'Four Past Midnight' allows King to prove to an audience that he can adapt his style of writing to almost any fiction genre. In these four stories, he focuses on his old favourite - horror, with an equally pleasing sci-fi interlude in the form of the first story, 'The Langoliers'.

      The Langoliers -
      This is the first book in the collection and aptly titled 'One past midnight; The Langoliers'. It begins from the view of an airline pilot, Captain Brian Engle. Just into the airport after a particularly rough flight, he is given the disturbing information that his ex-wife has been killed in a house-fire. Tired and unable to understand what has happened, the airport arranges a seat for him on the next aeroplane home. So he gets on board and falls to sleep fitfully.
      When Brian awakes, he finds himself alone in his section of the plane but, as he walks into other compartments he realises that he's not the only passenger left. There's Dinah Bellman, a blind girl who's sight seems to extend past that of normal vision, Albert and Bethany - confused teenagers, Laurel - a young school-teacher on a strange mission, Jenkins - ghost writer and ageing scholar, Nick - an Englishman, and Craig Toomy, who's a little obsessed with getting off the plane...
      As events begin to unfold, and the new crew decides to land, they realise there's something wrong with the world they're in. Where's the wind and birds and life? Why does food seem to have no taste? How are they going to refill the plane? And what's that buzzing that seems to be getting louder... closer...

      'The Langoliers' is easily the best story in the collection - intelligent, interesting and exceptionally imaginative, King mixes the genre he performs best in with classic sci-fi. The transition is seamless, and the idea is highly original.
      Character development is staggeringly good, as always. In particular, Toomy's slow descent into madness is as accomplished as Jack's in 'The Shining' - an effect that Stephen King seems to have perfected to a point where it almost sounds rational. The character of Jenkins as the wise writer with potential theories is excellent, as is that of Nick - the Brit with a mysterious background. In fact, all the characters in the story are very memorable and really stand up on their own - something you don't expect from what could be 'just another' Stephen King short story.

      Based on idea, entertainment, character development and effectiveness of the story - 10/10.

      Secret Window, Secret Garden -
      The writer (There's a surprise!), Mort Rainey is taking some time off after a painful separation with his wife, Amy. He retreats to an old house he owns in the countryside and decides to start work on his new book. Soon, there's a knock at the door, and Mort makes his first acquaintance with the character of John Shooter. Tall, thin and wearing a black cowboy hat, Shooter claims that Mort 'Stole his story' and says that he must write another one in his name.
      Certain that he stole nothing from Shooter, Mort refuses and the tall man leaves. Soon after though, he visits again and this time mysterious 'accidents' seem to follow him. Something happens to Mort's pet dog, his ex-wife's house burns to the ground, and all the while - Shooter is telling him to write his story. As events become more irrational and violent, Mort has to find some way of keeping Shooter from visiting again.

      Largely based around the one main character, there's a strong claustrophobic atmosphere to this story. Again, King accomplishes character development very well and Mort's panic-caused deterioration is completely gripping. Not the most original of stories, King tackles the idea very successfully - leading to an unexpected ending. This one is more of a psychological thriller than a horror, although it does have its moments.

      Based on idea, entertainment, character development and effectiveness of the story - 8/10

      The Library Policeman -
      This is my least favourite of the stories. It revolves around Sam Peebles, small business owner and normal American man. After one of his friends convinces him to fill an empty time slot by making a speech about local businesses, he goes to the library to see if he can find any books to help. Whilst there, he spots the 'Children's Library' - a small room where children can read. Initially charmed by the colourful display, he soon finds that he has a inexplicable fear of the small room, and the poster that says 'Avoid the Library Police! Good girls and boys bring their books back on time!'
      The Librarian, Ardelia Lortz, has some peculiar views on children's tastes and Sam takes an instant disliking for her. She talks about the 'Library Cops' and tells him that if he forgets to bring the books back, they just might come for him. Sam thinks she's joking initially...
      But then he misplaces the books, and when he returns to the library everything is completely different - the rooms are brighter, the disturbing posters are gone... but something knows Sam's lost them, and wants payment of a different kind...

      Although my least favourite in the collection, this is an intriguing look into the childhood perceptions of a library and authority. At some points very creepy, this is more of the traditional King storytelling - horror and imagination. The reason this scores lowest is because each of the other stories in the collection has a defining difference to his usual style - this, although an excellent story, doesn't really stand out from other King works. Nevertheless, if you're reading for quality of story and atmosphere, this could be classed quite highly.

      Based on idea, entertainment, character development and effectiveness of the story - 7/10.

      Sun Dog -
      The last in 'Four Past Midnight', 'Sun Dog' is the story of Kevin Delevan; a 15 year old from Maine. On his birthday, he gets exactly what he asked for - a Sun 660 Polaroid camera. After taking the first picture of his assembled family, his little sister knocks the camera off the table it's lying on and damages it. The first picture that comes out isn't of his family as expected, but of an old dog standing in front of a white picket fence. Naturally, he's a little surprised and takes the picture again - same dog, same fence. The family assume that someone involved in the manufacturing of the camera has had a little joke, and resolve to swap the camera on the following Monday.
      Kevin, on the other hand, can't wait that long and he goes to see Pop Merrill (a recurring King character), who might be able to fix his camera. After taking a few more pictures, Pop and Kevin realise that the dog inside the picture is moving. It's becoming bigger, it's turning around to face the camera, and it seems to be aware that they are there. As the image changes and the dog becomes more horrifying, Kevin decides to destroy the camera. Merrill, however, decides otherwise...

      What initially sounds like a cliché story becomes something very original and chilling under King's more-than-capable hands. In particular, the Polaroid world in Kevin's recurring dreams provides incredible imagery, and a sticking point for the whole story - something that will stay with the reader long after they finish reading. However, the lack of a completely solid conclusion may irritate some readers and the character development of Kevin and his father is lacking somewhat - it doesn't gain the full 10/10 because of this.

      Based on idea, entertainment, character development and effectiveness of the story - 9/10.

      So, overall - 8/10.
      An impressive collection of stories, with an interesting mix of genre's and styles. King proves that he's capable of handling all fiction, and there's some excellent information included before each story - saying how he came up with the idea, when he wrote it etc. These are entertaining in themselves and are a good insight into how King writes his books.

      Prices vary on Amazon of course, but it's likely that you'll get this book for under £5 used, and slightly more expensive new. Postage and packaging will be a couple of pounds as well, as it's a pretty large book.

      Lastly, I'd recommend this to anyone who has read both short and full stories by Stephen King, and who would like to read something slightly different with all his usual style. If you're reading King for the first time, this is also a good way of reading concisely written not-quite full length novels, which exclude the 'padding' and unnecessary information you tend to get in some of his books. So really, it's a good all-rounder and well worth a read.

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        21.04.2001 06:12

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        On the front cover of Four Past Midnight it says 'words are his power' - not in this book. Although Four Past Midnight is infinitely better than Nightmares and Dreamscapes its not up to Kings standard. It contains four long short stories - The Langoliers, Secret Window-Secret Garden, The Library Policemen and The Sun Dog. The first two stories are quite good, especially Secret Window-Secret Garden which has a neat twist at the end but I lost interest half way through the Library Policemen. The stories were readable but easy to put down as I discovered and definitely not as gripping as much of Kings other work. The writing style is also not a sleak and toned as his later work, to a certain extent the stories smack of first novels. I was disappointed by Four Past Midnight, its old but in a bad way, which books such as The Shining and The Stand are not.

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        05.10.2000 00:13
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        This book, a collection of short stories contains one of my favourites - "The Langoliers". This tells a unusual story of a group of people trapped in, well Im not going to spoil the plot - its part of the fun! This is one book that sticks in my mind, there are some classic lines in it, but be warned it has a shocking event in it, that I did not expect. King can have that effect, he can get you to really feel for a character. Four past Midnight is worth the money just for this story alone, but even better, you get another 3 included!

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          22.09.2000 16:42
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          Anyone who has read any of my opinions on Stephen King books will know that I'm a big fan - so much so that he is one of only two writers who's books I routinely by on the first day of publication. Although it's 10 years since Four Past Midnight appeared, I can still remember buying it and still remember the thrill of anticiaption of having almost 700 pages of 'virgin' Stephen King to look forward to reading. However, when I decided to write an opinion on it, much to my surprise, I couldn't actually remember anything about the book itself! So, having refreshed my memory... This book is actually four short novellas - hence the title Four past midnight. This is a format that King has successfully used before (Different Seasons) but sadly, in this book, he doesn't quite pull it off. The first novella,entitled "The Langoliers", tells of an internal flight in the USA in which ten passengers suddenly wake up from sleep and realise that all their fellow passengers - and the crew - are missing, and that the 'plane is busy flying along on auto pilot, taking them heaven only knows where. Of course, one of the surviving passengers is a qualified pilot ( a little too convenient,Mr. King!), otherwise there would be no tale to tell. When the plane is finally landed, the world as we know it has ceased to exist. The novella is the survivor's story, the account of how they try to get back to reality.Normally, King's strength lies in his ability to get his reader to believe that the horrific and supernatural events he is describing might just happen. "The Langoliers" stretched the imagination just that bit too far. Novella number two is called "Secret Window, Secret Garden". This is the tale of a writer who finds himself confronted by a mysterious stranger who claims that the writer has stolen his ideas. Anyone who has read King's book "The Dark Half" will instantly recognise this plot - in fact King admits in his introduction that "secret Window" is "The D
          ark Half" from another perspective - sadly, it's not different enough. Number three, "The Library Policeman" is perhaps the best of the four, being a tale of the horrific consequences of not returning a library book. This is near to King at his best. Finally, number 4, "The Sun Dog" is the story of a polaroid camera which takes photographs of things that are not there. As the story progresses comes the realisation that the pictures are sequential - something is coming... and you ain't gonna like it! I can't really reveal any more without giving away the plot - however, I can say that, just when you think there's a happy ending,the plot twists. I feel that King could have developed any of these four novellas into a successful novel - yet, in shortened form, they seem unfinished. Anyone who likes King's unique writing style and his way with words will enjoy this book. However, it is not King at his best - a fact that may leave regular readers disappointed and wanting more.

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