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novella

novella

[noh-vel-uh]
novella: see novel.

Story with a compact and pointed plot, often realistic and satiric in tone. Originating in Italy during the Middle Ages, it was often based on local events; individual tales often were gathered into collections. The novella developed into a psychologically subtle and structured short tale, with writers frequently using a frame story to unify tales around a theme, as in Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron. The term is also used to describe a work of fiction intermediate in length—and sometimes complexity—between a short story and a novel. Examples of novellas include Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground (1864), Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902), Thomas Mann's Death in Venice (1912), and Henry James's The Aspern Papers (1888).

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The Body is a novella by Stephen King, originally published in the 1982 collection Different Seasons. It is subtitled "Fall from Innocence".

It was adapted into the acclaimed film Stand By Me in 1986. Directed by Rob Reiner, it stars River Phoenix as Chris,Wil Wheaton as Gordon,Corey Feldman as Teddy, and Jerry O'Connell as Vern.

Plot introduction

The story takes place during the summer of 1960 in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. A kid named Ray Brower had gone out to pick berries and never returned, having been thought to have been hit by a train. Gordon Lachance and his three friends, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio set out to find his body when their parents are told they are camping out.

In comparison to King's prior works, the narrative of The Body is complicated in that it is told in first person point of view by the now thirty-something novelist Gordon Lachance. Most of the story is a straight retrospective of what happened, but comments, or entire chapters that relate to the present time, are interspaced throughout.

Although he is only twelve at the time of the story, Gordon's favorite diversion is writing and storytelling. Three times during the narrative, he tells stories to his friends, and two stories are presented in the text as short stories by Gordon Lachance, complete with attribution to the magazines they were published in.

As much as the story itself is basically a coming of age tale of Gordon and his pals and their mostly comical adventures in the woods, there is a bittersweet, poignant quality running throughout it. This is especially the case whenever Gordon, the narrator, begins waxing nostalgic whether describing the bygone sights and sounds of the town he grew up in or when delving into some of the more painful and bitter aspects about his own and his pals' dysfunctional home lives. In the end, the story becomes more of a chronicle describing the moment when Gordon and his pals leave their childhood behind and a foreshadowing as to the tragic fates that would befall all but him.

Plot summary

Main narratives

Vern Tessio informs his three friends that he has overheard his older brother Billy talking with a friend about the location of the corpse of Ray Brower, a boy from Chamberlain, a town forty miles or so east of Castle Rock who has gone missing. Billy and his friend mentioned a place called Back Harlow Road, so the four friends decide that they will find it.

The boys walk along the railroad tracks toward the presumed location of the corpse. Along the way, they are chased by a junkyard dog and Gordon and Vern are nearly run over by a train while crossing a bridge. While at a resting point, Chris states that Gordie will grow up to become a famous writer - perhaps he'll even write about his friends some day.

When they finally find the spot where the body lies, Vern's older brother, Chris's older brother and a number of their teenage bully friends arrive just after they do. The older boys are upset to see the four friends, and during an argument, Chris pulls his father's gun that he has taken from his home and fires in front of one of them and then threatens Ace Merrill, the leader of the gang. After a brief standoff Ace realizes that Chris is serious, and the teenagers leave after promising to get the boys later. The older boys ultimately decide to phone in the location of the body as an "anonymous tip" and it is eventually found by the authorities as a result. After they arrive home, Ace and another thug break Gordon's nose and fingers and kick him in the testicles, and are on the verge of harming him more seriously when they are run off by Gordon's neighbor, Aunt Evvie Chalmers. Chris's brother breaks Chris's arm and "leaves his face looking like a Canadian sunrise." Teddy and Vern get less severe beatings. The boys refuse to identify their assailants to the authorities, which earns them the respect of their peers, and there are no further repercussions.

Following the end of the 1960 part of the story, the narration goes into fast-forward. It describes the next year or so briefly, stating that Teddy and Vern drift off, befriending some younger boys. In high school, just as Chris predicted, Gordon begins taking college-preparation courses. Unexpectedly, so does Chris. In spite of abuse from his father, taunts from his classmates and distrust from teachers and counselors, he manages to be successful with help from Gordon.

The ultimate chapter describes the fates of Gordon's three friends; none of them survive past young adulthood. Vern is killed in a house fire after a party. Teddy, while under the influence of alcohol and drugs, crashes his car and kills himself with a number of others. Chris, who became an outstanding high school and college student and who is preparing to attend law school, is stabbed to death after trying to stop a fight in a restaurant. Gordon is the only one who survives. He continues to write stories through college, and publishes a number of them in small literary journals and men's magazines. He has the great luck of having his first novel become a smash hit, and a successful film as well. At the time of writing about the events in 1960, he has written seven novels about the supernatural, and he has a wife and three children.

Stories told by "Gordon Lachance"

"Stud City" was originally "published" in Greenspun Quarterly 45 in the fall of 1970. It has also been published as a separate short story by King in Ubris (University of Maine's literary journal), Fall, 1969.

"The Revenge of Lard Ass Hogan" was "published" in Cavalier magazine in March 1975.

Main characters
Name Description
Gordon Lachance is the main character and narrator. At the time of the story, his older brother, Dennis, has recently died in a traffic accident on an Army base. Gordie's parents are still mourning the death of their (favorite) son, and Gordon is subsequently ignored by both of them. As an adult, Gordon is a writer living in Ellsworth, Maine.
Chris Chambers Gordie's best friend. He is frequently beaten by an alcoholic father. His older delinquent brother, "Eyeball" Chambers, is a member of Ace Merrill's gang. Despite Chris's intelligence and maturity, adults and peers see him as a troublemaker just like his father and brother. Chris Chambers is the most handsome out of the four and never marries despite his extremely good looks. He graduates from high school and goes on to become a law student. He is tragically stabbed to death after trying to settle a dispute in a fried chicken restaurant.
Teddy Duchamp Teddy's father is a shellshocked World War II veteran who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. After deliberately burning Teddy's ear on a stove in the middle of a psychotic episode, Teddy's father was sent to a mental hospital. As a result of the damage to his ear, Teddy has hearing loss and wears a hearing aid. Also, despite poor eyesight, Teddy is prone to taking "dares" and exhibits dangerous and reckless behavior (he tries to dodge a train at one point in the novella). He idolizes his father and wants to join the army after high school. His dream does not come true because of his disabilities. As an adult, he spends time in jail and working small jobs around Castle Rock. He dies in a drunk driving accident.
Vern "Penny" Tessio Vern is nicknamed "Penny" after a large jar of pennies he buried in his front yard while pretending he was a pirate. As the "treasure map" was accidentally destroyed, he regularly attempts to find the jar (fruitlessly). His much-feared older brother Billy is another member of Ace Merrill's gang. Vern overhears his brother talking about happening upon the dead body while he (Vern) is looking for his pennies. Vern dies in an apartment building fire.

Differences between the novella and the film

Film

  • In the film, Castle Rock is located in Oregon.
  • The only one of the friends that dies is Chris Chambers. In the novella, all of Gordie's friends die.
  • The store owner is a kind and sympathetic man who is curious about Gordie’s personal life, and who empathizes with Gordie over Denny’s demise, as he himself lost a brother during the Korean War. However, it can be noticed that the grocer attempts to put his thumb on the scale, until learning of Gordie's relation to Denny. The incident serves as a further example of Gordie's world, caught between untrustworthy adults and reliance on the memory of his brother Denny.
  • Ace Merrill and his goons never beat up the friends.

Novella

  • The kids get attacked by leeches when they jump into an artificial lake created by beavers to go for a swim. However, in the film the kids are attacked by the leeches when they have to cross through a large marsh while going through the woods.
  • The town is in Maine. In the movie it takes place in Oregon.
  • Gordie's big brother, Denny, is an excellent baseball player, while in the film he is a football star.
  • Gordie is not close to his brother and at night fears that his brother's corpse may jump out of the closet, while in the movie he is very close to his brother.
  • The store owner is portrayed as a grumpy person who tried to cheat Gordie of his money twice and yelled angrily at him as he left the shop.
  • At the end of the story, Ace and his friend severely injure them, especially Chris and Gordie.

Connections to other novels

  • There are parallels between Stephen King and the character Gordon. At the time of writing, they are the same age, profession and social class and were born, raised and live in Maine. Both men have written successful books that were turned into successful movies. Gordon also mentions teaching high school English at the beginning of his career as a writer, another parallel with King. The only notable differences are that Gordon served in the military (there is a brief reference to his serving in the Vietnam War — King was not drafted) and Gordon's complex relationship with his emotionally absent father. King's father left the family when he was a very young child. In childhood, King also had a friend who died when hit by a train.
  • Chris Chambers mentions the Maine town Jerusalem's Lot when asserting that "lots of real towns sound stupid." Jerusalem's Lot is the fictional setting for King's vampire novel 'Salem's Lot and short stories "Jerusalem's Lot" and "One for the Road".
  • There is a passing reference to Derry, Maine, the fictional town famously inhabited by the creature It.
  • Teddy Duchamp is mentioned briefly in King's novel Carrie, despite being published eight years before "The Body." Carrie sabotages the pumps at an Amoco gas station once operated by Teddy, leading to a devastating explosion. Minor character Thomas Quillan testifies that "Teddy Duchamp's been dead since 1968, God love him but his boy locked those pumps up every night just like Teddy himself used to do." Inconsistencies regarding Teddy Duchamp in the two stories can be explained by King's Dark Tower series, which establishes that most of his works take place in alternate universes where characters with the same name can play different parts.
  • Ace Merrill is featured in King's novel Needful Things, as a 40+ career criminal, and is killed. He also makes a brief cameo in the short story "Nona", in a flashback, along with Vern Tessio.
  • "Constable Bannerman" is mentioned a couple of times. This is the same Bannerman who would later be Sheriff of Castle Rock. He is featured in "The Dead Zone" and later in "Cujo."
  • Cujo is mentioned when the narrator describes Chopper, the dog from the junkyard that chases Gordie: "Chopper was--at least until Joe Camber's dog Cujo went rabid twenty years later--the most feared and least seen dog in Castle Rock."
  • Shawshank Penitentiary from Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is mentioned in this novella when Teddy says that they "won't get sent to The Shank" for treaspassing in the junkyard.

Popular culture references

  • A character on the TV show 24, is named Milo Pressman, the same as the dump-keeper who owned Chopper. Series star Kiefer Sutherland portrayed Ace Merrill in Stand By Me, the film adaptation of the novella. It is unclear if this is an intentional nod to the novella and film.
  • Scottish band "The Twilight Sad" wrote a song based around the short story, That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy, it was featured on their debut album.

References

Footnotes

Notations

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