The Mist is another of King’s works that, like Carrie, has become such an integral part of society’s collective consciousness regarding fear that it’s become almost cliche. And, as with Carrie, my visit to the Mist completely altered my perception of a story I thought I knew. In my opinion, it went a long towards explaining why King chooses to end stories the way he does, which I’ll get into later. All that being said, The Mist is a quick little journey into the frightened mind, a dissection of mob mentality and the way fear plays itself out within a group of strangers who are thrown together by sudden and unexplained danger. It’s disturbing and thoughtful and does a fantastic job of putting readers in the shoes of its characters.
One thing that King excels at in my opinion is developing believable characters who make believable if unfortunate decisions based on their fear. Our main protagonist and his son find themselves trapped in a supermarket with a bunch of other bystanders, ranging from strangers on holiday to year-round neighbors. In the aftermath of a terrible storm, a strange mist rolls into town. Unfortunately, the mist is much more than the dense fog it appears to be; hidden within the mist are horrid, unearthly creatures that want nothing more than to feed, and humans are evidently pleasing to their palates. Unable to leave the market for fear of being eaten, this motley crew of strangers and neighbors must decide what to do in order to survive.
I found it absolutely fascinating to see how group dynamics were fostered and altered by such a large group being trapped together. Little tribes were formed, and leaders of those tribes battled for dominance and greater numbers. We witness a cult develop, led by one of the creepiest human antagonists I’ve witnessed thus far in King’s fiction. We see inhibitions lowered, animal instincts rear their ugly heads, and heroism revealed in the unlikeliest of candidates. We see bravery and cowardice, greed and selflessness, adaptation and blatant closed-mindedness, all writ small within a glass menagerie of a microcosm. I found seeing these big ideas played out on such a small stage incredibly telling of the mixed bag that is humanity. We are capable of such brilliant good, and such mind boggling evil. And all that separates one from the other is the path we choose to follow. Everything always comes back to free will with King’s stories, which rings very true for me.
Something I really appreciate about King is his ability to convey belief in something as right and true even in the midst painting religion as horrid and garish. I’ve read around twenty King books, and probably at least a half-dozen of those have featured religious fervor in a negative light. And yet King does a brilliant job of not portraying religious belief itself as evil. Instead, he shows these villains to be fanatics who have twisted religion in some way to suit them. So far, this has always been some twisted form of Christianity, and yet I have never once felt that King was poking fun at Christians. He is instead showing the evil that can be wrought in the name of religion, and how Christianity can become a horribly twisted and dangerous entity when approached from a desire to judge and appear superior instead of a desire for forgiveness and acceptance and love. I have seen my faith twisted in such ways in real life, and it always both saddens and infuriates me. I sense a bit of that in King’s work and it really resonates with me.
One thing I particularly appreciated about this book in particular was a nugget near the end of the story that in my opinion explained King’s approach to endings, regarding which he is kind of infamous as they are often ambiguous.
“This is what happened. Or, nearly all-there is one final thing I’ll get to in a moment. But you mustn’t expect some neat conclusion…It is, I suppose, what my father always frowningly called “an Alfred Hitchcock ending,” by which he meant a conclusion in ambiguity that allowed the reader or viewer to make up his own mind about how things ended. My father had nothing but contempt for such stories, saying they were ‘cheap shots.’”
I really believe this is both an apology and a defense, in a way. King gravitates towards ambiguous endings because they leave things in the hands of readers, but he realizes that this trend of his isn’t always popular. I honestly kind of like ambiguous endings for the very reason King gives us here from the lips of his protagonist. Without a blatant end, readers are free to imagine up their own conclusions, and such stories often live on in our mind longer than their neatly tied counterparts. This is why I think King excels at short stories, because ambiguous endings are for some reason more acceptable when delivered in that format.
The Mist is, like most of the books I’ve read from King, not perfect. I can see the flaws, but I was in no way deterred by them. This novella as engrossing as a story set predominantly in a grocery store can hope to be. I just so happened to read the majority of this book on an unusually foggy day, which definitely added on odd ambiance to my reading experience. I also can’t help feeling that novels like Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer might never have been written if not for this little book. The Mist is definitely worth reading, and it a good way of dipping your proverbial toes into King’s scarier stuff.
You can purchase a copy of the book Skeleton Crew, which contains The Mist, here, with free shipping worldwide!