Novels · Reviews · The Stephen King Project

The Stephen King Project: The Dead Zone

Hi friends, today I’m back with the next novel in my Stephen King Project. The Dead Zone is King’s 5th novel and the last one from the 1970s.

I read this from February 7, 2021 – May 16, 2021 (3 months)

The Book (1979)

The Dead Zone
  • The Dead Zone starts off really intriguing; the main character, Johnny hits his head on ice & this changes something in him. The first chapter was long; the way King wrote Sarah’s character was slightly off putting but there is still intrigue to where this story is going.
  • Johnny gets into a bad accident and no one knows if he’ll wake up from his coma. The next few chapters we get a sense of who his parents are and it gives the reader more context into his character. We’re also left in anticipation on whether he lives or dies.
  • It’s feels like we’re reading two different stories at this point. We get a small chapter about a man who has strangled a woman, but then we flip back to Sarah’s life. The reader doesn’t get the connection yet. There is also a lot of foreshadowing that feels overbearing to the story. Years pass in the span of one chapter and the reader questions why Johnny is still in a coma 4 years later.
  • Johnny is finally awake. Now that he’s conscious, when he touches a person he can see things no one else can, a glimpse into the future or the past. It feels like the story is finally officially starting. After all the preamble from the first 5 chapters we’re getting these engaging chapters that create these freaky mind games that beg the question where does the story go from here? The reader is fully hooked now.
  • This has been a slow-paced novel but it’s finally finding a groove and the reader is quite enjoying seeing where Johnny’s story is going. His physic ability thing is freaky but that’s what makes this compelling. It’s also strange reading this in 2021 and to read about the presidents then, after the last 4 years.
  • The plot is still sluggishly moving along. We get one more instance where Johnny uses his gift and a little bit of hell breaks loose. The reader would like to move on from these episodes to see what is going to happen next. When his mother falls ill Johnny believes it to be his doing, this leaves the reader curious about his ability. King gives just enough so that it’s not boring even at this snail pace.
  • The story is starting to formulate. Johnny has left the hospital; his mother dies and his old girlfriend Sarah is worried about him. We also meet a new character, Greg who the reader is sure will have significance to the story later on. The first impressions of him aren’t great; he’s the mayor but a big bully who is fuelled by power, destruction and belittling people. How will these stories intersect?
  • Again, more very slow progression. The reader believes that something is on the horizon for the Greg character we met, but it’s not developed enough to really know what is going to happen. Then John’s character is slowly moving along, but again, not much happening. It’s feels like we’re on the cusp of something big but it’s a mystery as to what.
  • We get a nice long chapter that looks to have changed Johnny’s course. The foreshadowing that we got early on in the book pays off and Johnny is brought in to help find a serial killer using his special abilities. This was the first fast-paced chapter and leaves the reader curious where his life is going to go as his normal life looks to be over.
  • We’re now into part two of the book and we’re introduced to a new character, Chuck, a teen with a reading problem. Not sure how his story plays a part but it feels like King is foreshadowing what’s to come in the slowest possible way. A lot of description which is nice, but the plot is barely moving.
  • This novel has always had a political undertone and now it’s coming out full shine. The new political candidate running for president, Greg Stillson, is on a campaign run and Johnny goes out to see him because he can’t believe this man is running. He wants to use his power to shake his hand… and when he gets close all hell breaks loose in what he sees. The encounter is frightening yet confusing.
  • We get a long chapter on the back history of Greg, who he is and where he came from. At first the reader wasn’t sure why, but it’s revealed a little later that Johnny is writing some sort of essay comparing this guy to Hitler. He’s asking people in his life if they would time travel to kill Hitler. It’s an interesting comparison but feels like it’s happening too late in the book.
  • The tension is definitely building and it looks to be leading to Johnny killing Greg? The reader is intrigued. After Johnny predicts a huge fire he goes on the lamb. At first it didn’t seem clear the connect between the two plotlines, but it seems to be slowly coming together. Hopefully the ending will be satisfying.
  • Things are happening in rapid succession; we see Johnny as he follows Greg through his campaign to where it all comes to a crashing end… where Johnny chickens out. This was fast paced with a lot of tension but by the end it was disappointing. After everything we’ve been through on this journey the end wasn’t satisfying. There’s one last chapter to redeem that.

Final thoughts: Overall, for a slow paced novel this still had a lot of intrigue that kept the reader going. If it wasn’t for the subtle clues here and there each chapter would have been so mundane. King’s slow set up gave the reader time to take in the plot and the characters and really appreciate them. It was fascinating to watch Johnny over the course of the novel as he slowly spiralled. All the characters in Johnny’s life held a purpose, even if it wasn’t clear at first, and especially when they were introduced way late in the novel, it ended up making sense in the end.

The final chapter we’re lead to believe that Johnny killed himself and that the reason, or part of the reason he did what did, was because of a brain tumour he’s had his whole life, which at first doesn’t seem all that scary, it seems so ordinary, but brain tumours are scary when you think about them out of the context of this novel.
As far as endings go, this wasn’t a bad ending, it gave closure to all the characters, even if it did feel slightly cheap and out of left field to end things and explain them out with a brain tumour, it was still good.

The Movie (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983) - Rotten Tomatoes
The Dead Zone (1983)
  • The film felt like it did a disservice to the book.
  • The film, from start to finish was really boring. As much as the book was slow paced, it worked in book format, but as someone sitting and watching something, it really work because the viewer found themselves really bored; it was just really un-engaging.
  • It was short at least, clocking in at around 1 hour and 40 minutes, which with the slowness of it made it feel longer, but it feels like whoever created this movie didn’t utilize the time correctly. There is a lot that happens in the span of this book and instead they chose to give us bits and broken fragments of things that happened, that in the film don’t connect very well.
  • The overall arch of the story was left in the movie, but all the small minor details, the details that brought everything together, changed and it wasn’t for the better. Maybe it was to cut down on time, but they could have maybe had a 2 hour movie, developed some of the smaller details so that it wasn’t like bang, bang, bang, the end. That’s honestly how it felt. There was so slow build up like the book, it was just, this happened, then this, then this, now it’s over.
  • The ending, that left the reader confused because they didn’t remember it ending that way in the book, and the fact that everything changed in the movie it’s possible it didn’t originally happen that way, but it was an alright ending, not really what the viewer wanted.
  • Lastly, the casting was interesting. Christopher Walken was an interesting choice – he didn’t really seem like the John Smith in the book; in he book he was young and seemed kinda cool, but the movie he looked old and nerdy. Martin Sheen was a good cast for Greg though.
  • It was sad that we didn’t really get to see the other secondary characters much because they were a big part of the book.
  • Overall, this was an alright movie, but as stated, this just did a disservice to the book; alone as a movie it was a really slow, disengaging film.

The TV Show (2002-2007)

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Lastly, there is a TV show called The Dead Zone that aired from 2002-2007 for 6 seasons.

I’m slowly making my way through them and I will be creating TV Tuesday posts on them. Once they’re posted I will update to add the links below.

Up Next: The Bachman Books

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