Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Haven Tropes & Myths: Stephen King

In the unlikely event you don't already know it, Haven is based on The Colorado Kid, one of King's short stories. And the writers are giant nerds. We say this with love. (We'd have to. I mean, look at this blog.) Plus, we're fairly certain King's basement muse does things to everything associated with the man's work, whether or not he's actually acting as a writer/consultant on the show. Ahem. That said, we know about SyFy's tie-ins section on the Haven site. What we've done instead is pull out a list of Stephen King tropes (some of them actually from TVTropes, some of them phrased more specifically to the genre and especially to the author) which Haven's overall plot uses. Many of these are self-explanatory, but they all bear additional examination. Why no, we're not hoping to predict the show's metaplot. We would never.

At some point we'll probably be gluttons for punishment who hit up SyFy's tie-in video clips and discuss how each of them affects the episode they're from in an overall thematic sense. That day is not today.

The World Has Moved On/After The End: We'll start off with one of the more arguable tropes! King does a lot with this one, specifically in Dark Tower, where the setting is sometime after an apocalypse that left the world largely desert. And deserted. From watches that don't keep accurate time to most mechanical equipment not working right, the setting is clearly postapocalyptic. Haven isn't nearly as obvious about this, but there are still aspects there. Technology progresses, but so, it seems, do the Troubles. We'll know more in a few episodes (post-Sarah) about this one, but it seems as if the Troubles weren't always this bad. Additionally, for all that we've got references to places outside Haven, until this two-parter episode we've never seen anyone leave. Or even express a desire to, particularly. The show opens in Audrey's Boston apartment, presumably set up by her Agent Howard for the purpose of reassuring her that she has a normal life. With the possible exception of Tommy Bowen, we haven't had anyone enter Haven from outside the Troubled families in three seasons - and we still don't know exactly what his game is, nor do we have confirmation that he's not Troubled. (Can't prove a negative!) Overall, it seems entirely possible that not much outside Haven exists.

Isolation: That, or we're going with the stereotypical King trope of utter isolation. Other places may exist, but damned if you can get to them. Especially when your focal point is somewhere in Maine. You'll note that we're not even bothering to give Maine its own category, because really now. Had potential to be subverted in Magic Hour based on the trip to Colorado, though not as much as it might be, because guess how close to Boulder (see: The Stand) Nederland is. Go on, map it, I'll wait. If anything it's reaffirmed: any onscreen contact outside of Haven has been with Troubled people, the Guard, and/or people who knew either Sarah (whose last name we still don't know and we will be very curious indeed to watch the upcoming eps) or Lucy Ripley. Or Sarah's son, James Cogan (the Colorado Kid). Or both. With the possible exception of June Cogan's nurse, there's not even an extra to indicate the presence of people who aren't part of the mystery - and she mostly serves as a necessary bit of difficulty to overcome for getting information from the poor woman. 

This Is Not Your/Our Universe: Every single date we've checked for day-of-week correspondence has been off by two days. In the same direction. I refuse to believe this is coincidence. (K: I did the math. The odds are one in a very big number.) In the original short story, "The Colorado Kid," King mentioned in an interview that the lack of Starbucks in Denver in 1980 is no mistake. Anyone who's read enough King to know how much he likes dropping in tiny details that make it clear the world in the novel is just a step to the side of ours should be suspicious of the dates/day of week issue. Then we have Dandel-O's, see below on canon welding, which are straight out of Dark Tower. Definitely not our universe, or even a particularly near cousin to it. Maybe a second cousin thrice removed. We haven't seen Nozz-A-La yet (for those of you who remember the short-lived Kingdom Hospital, the small sign that everything was the way it should be was that the Nozz-A-La vending machine became a coke machine) but we're waiting for it. Or it has shown up and we missed it, yes, this is possible.

Shades of Gray: King loves his evil that isn't actually as evil as you thought. Or the evil that looks pleasant and charming on the surface and is rotten underneath. Or the good intentions that do more harm than true evil ever did. Or... you get the point, I think. Though horror calls for a strong black-and-white, good-and-evil set of morals, things are rarely that simple in Stephen King's universe, which makes them that much scarier. Because you, too, could fall victim to the same justifications and twisted morals of his protagonists. Nobody in this show is clearly evil or clearly good. Even Reverend Driscoll was at least charming enough to have a wife and daughter and has demonstrated kindness to some people, most often children. Not even Audrey, who's recently made a couple questionable decisions. I don't argue that they were ultimately the correct decision, but it's very difficult to argue that blinding and deafening a house or that manipulating your friend into killing a man are good decisions. Duke starts off as a smuggler, con man, and general all-around bad boy and morphs into one of Audrey's best friends and someone she and Nathan can always rely on in a crisis. Nathan is reliable but kind of an asshole to the people he calls friend and one of these days we're going to get Audrey to smack the white knight tendencies out of him. And that's just the main three characters. We have unreliable sources all over the place on people who are supposedly good, supposedly evil, or supposedly misguided - The Guard, Jordan, Vince and Dave, Dwight, Simon Crocker. Plus there's the overall picture of whether or not the Troubled did anything to merit these supernatural afflictions, or if they're some kind of chosen people to live apart from others. Since it's bloodline-inherited, there's also the possibility that their ancestors did something to be cursed with the Troubles, in which case you have gnarly moral questions about how one justifies passing that along so many generations who didn't do anything. And so on, and so forth, and there could probably be an entire essay just on this one.

Canon Welding: Do I really have to say it? Damn near all of Stephen King happens in the same universe, or in adjacent universes that you can get to from the next one over. Probably the most egregious example of this is in Dark Tower, where he pulled from enough other stories of his that I'd need to reread the TVTropes page to remember all of them. (Actually, I lie, the Tropes entry for Canon Welding reads, "The Dark Tower draws in characters, plot-lines, and themes from about two dozen other King novels." My point, you take it.) Haven is mostly guilty of that along the same lines as King, though every once in awhile you get a reference that indicates a larger universe out there. Specifically, the X-Files joke in The Trial of Audrey Parker, which if you really want to get technical about it puts them into the Tommy Westphal multiverse. (Do not click that link unless you have a couple hours to spare. It's as bad as TVTropes. I'd apologize, but share my misery). Notable King Things that crop up more than once are Shawshank Prison, no points for guessing where that one comes from, and Little Tall Island, from Kingdom Hospital and Storm of the Century.

All Of This Has Happened Before (And All Of It Will Happen Again): The end of Dark Tower, which is the beginning of Dark Tower, which is the end... ahem. Suffice it to say, Stephen King had arguably one main story that he needed to tell, and that was Dark Tower. Only it never - quite - ended. Because Roland has to keep chasing the man in black across the desert until he gets it right. With the DT references coming out in full force in season 3, it seems likely that the writers will enforce a similar ending with Haven. Certainly if this does not all happen again, the point is to tell the story that breaks the cycle. Every 27 years, AudSarLu comes, and every 27 years the Troubles peak. I would not in the least be surprised to find that the solution to stopping the Troubles is to kill AudSarLu - certainly I think that's what Simon Crocker thought. I would also not be in the least surprised to find that killing AudSarLu is different from killing Audrey Parker. More subtly (and by more subtly I mean they used a smaller anvil) it seems that they're working towards every AudSarLu incarnation having two men or possibly small groups of people representing sides between whom she must choose. When she was Lucy clearly she had the Colorado Kid helping her in a way similar to Nathan and Duke now, and Garland Wuornos, and she also seems to have had the help of Vince and Dave Teagues. Whether those two dubious gentlemen were helping her when she was Lucy or when she was Sarah remains to be seen, although it's also worth noting that the Sarah incarnation was Dave Teagues' worst nightmare. (See: Fear & Loathing)

Twins: Sometimes in a literal sense, sometimes in a metaphorical sense of light-and-dark, two sides of the same coin, etc. King often runs parallels along with actual twins: Roland's first and second ka-tet (that we're given names for), Roland himself contrasts Cuthbert's jovial and bloodthirsty temperament with Alain's more laconic and methodical demeanor. Again in Kingdom Hospital, we combine Twins with Magical Disabled Person with the hospital workers with Down's syndrome who speak together, and in riddles, and by the way can see the hospital ghosts and know a little more about what's going on in that haunted building than ordinary people should. Haven gives us a lot of the same talking over each other, interrupting each other, knowing a little more verging on just enough to be creepy, in the form of Vince and Dave Teagues. While not literally twins and perhaps not even biologically related (who said one of them wasn't adopted?) they share overlapping goals with grossly divergent ideas about how to achieve said goals. When he does use actual twins he tends to supercharge the creepy, as seen in the film of The Shining with the creepy twin girls, and also in The Dark Half with the author whose parasitic twin uses the author's nom de plume to create himself a real identity. And King writing so often about authors going bugshit and destroying their world is a whole other trope, but not one that's relevant to Haven. I hope.

Body Horror: Hey, speaking of parasitic twins! Body Horror is a horror trope in general, and one King makes copious use of. (Mordred, anyone? That still gives me nightmares.) You could argue that many of the Troubled are examples of this, living with a power that changes their body either in reality or in their perception of it. Trapped in a body with a power they never asked for. But then we also have the girl from Sketchy who was able to erase people's faces, their actual mouths and eyes and things. We have the organ-jacker from Farmer and his creeptastic Aliens-esque probiscus. To an extent we even have the man-animal shifting, because what could be more horrifying than being a creature who's never even conceived of the Troubles, has no idea how to explain what's happening to it, suddenly having its bone, muscle, brain structure reorganized to the specifications of another species? If you were one of those dogs you'd probably be fucking terrified. And then there's the chameleon, who essentially has no body of its own.

Sinister Ordinary: King has long been the horror master of making bright sunny days really fucking scary. Lost pet advertisements in Hearts in Atlantis. Toothpicks in Dreamcatcher. Your favorite pet dog in Cujo. I wonder how many girls read Carrie and secretly worried that their first period was going to turn out like that. Haven follows right along in his footsteps. Just running off the top of my head: a butterfly. (Butterfly) Eating a sandwich. (Consumed) The lighthouse. (Ball and Chain; Spiral) A poker game. (The Trial of Audrey Parker) A swimming pool. (The Hand You're Dealt; Over My Head) A convenience store. (Stay) I could go on, but you get the point: anything familiar and ordinary is just as likely to harbor horrors related to the Troubles, or related to people's reactions to same, as it is to be mundane. Worse, sometimes it is mundane, and then you've got all this adrenaline pumping through your system because they've trained you. Like Pavlov's dogs. And you're waiting and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Thanks, guys, I didn't need those years off my life.

Randall Fucking Flagg:  Gets his own entry due to being King's basement muse. We're still not sure if there's any reason for Flagg to be in the opening credits of Haven for any reason other than it's based on a King short story and he is one of the creepiest bastards out there, but we're putting nothing past the writers. If nothing else, we can assume that Flagg's influence lurks somewhere in Haven - maybe the Herald (the subtle play on angelic-related words would suit him well), maybe the Guard (lots of people to manipulate), maybe the Rev (see the Guard, see also lots of fanatics' strings to yank). Or everywhere. Not that we're naturally suspicious, cynical people. Just when it comes to Stephen King's twenty foot neon lettered patterns. Really, Flagg's customary arc is to lurk in the background and work behind the scenes to set everything up just the way he wants it, and then lose it all in a spectacular fit of childish temper and impatience. And if he were to turn up in person in Haven, while it wouldn't surprise us very much it might surprise us a little, just because we haven't seen him working behind the scenes to set everything up and giggling as he does so. That said, there's a number of people who could be his agents. Ruling nothing out yet.

Coma Patients Are Special: Notably in Last Goodbyes, with the Trouble of the week, though it's possible that future instances are forthcoming. People in comas, people hit by vans and in comas as a result, often mentally ill/unstable people in general but especially coma patients. They are special. They create worlds around them by the power of their belief, they're capable of deciding how the rules of their universe should work. Often but not always subconsciously until someone hammers it into their skull that they're responsible for this. Most notably within King's writing as his characters from Dark Tower coming and smacking him in the face with a dead fish.

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