Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Green Mile by Stephen King


by Stephen King

 Please see the story synopsis below. [1] And what the heck is a green mile, anyway? And whatever is it about a book in the horror genre by a novelist known for writing horror stories that would prompt me to place it on my Top Ten Favorite Books List...especially when horror novels are not usually my cup of tea?

Well, first, this book isn't really horror...I'd say more thriller than horror. No jump out of your seat moments that cause you to scream, jump, or flinch. It does have its dramatic moments, but The Shining, also by Stephen King, it isn't. It has, however, received the The Bram Stoker Award for best novel, 1996, from the Horror Writer's Association, and in 1997 was nominated for the prestigious Locus Award as well as for the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel.

Book to movie: The Green Mile was adapted for film and came to the big screen with a title of the same name in 1999, winning the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA in 2000 for Best Supporting Actor (Michael Clarke Duncan), Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Clarkson), and Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film. Also in 2000, it won the BMI Film Music Award, the Critics Choice Award for Best Screenplay and for Best Supporting Actor; it also won the People's Choice Awards, USA for Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture/Favorite Motion Picture; and importantly, it won from the Political Film Society, USA, the PFS Award for Human Rights.

The StoryThe Green Mile.  What is a green mile? It is quite literally, the last steps a condemned man takes from his cell to his execution. In this book, The Green Mile, we find the character John Coffey, innocent of the crimes committed, under sentence of death and living on death row waiting to walk the green mile to his execution.

So, down to why I included this novel among the other nine novels in my all time Top Ten Favorite Books List. First, Stephen King masterfully draws a picture for us, indeed, shows us why the death penalty is by its very nature wrong. King never preaches or stands on a soap box spewing vehemence against the Death Penalty, he does not rip open his shirt and rend his garments, saying, "Ain't it just awful!" He doesn't insult the reader or embarrass himself in taking a strident open stand. Instead, he gently pulls us into John's story. He simply shows us that the government, the courts, and people can make mistakes because they have been morally outraged over a heinous crime and then, in their rush and in blindness (a deliberate pun on the legal system), condemn an innocent person...in John Coffey's case, a very good person. 

Historically, many innocent people have been sentenced to prison and death; later it was discovered through DNA or other evidence that the person could not possibly have committed the crime and the condemned, exonerated (See the Death Penalty Information Center for a list of 142 persons on "The Innocence List," so condemned and then later acquitted or dismissed.). This social stand, we as Americans have taken in the name of public safety, reminds me so much of Nazi Germany where untold numbers of people were executed because they were considered to be of inferior creation...ethnicity, religion, skin color....how many Einstein's, Jascha Heifetz's, Carl Sagan's, Marc Chagall's, Bob Dylan's, Levi Strauss's, Alan Greenspan's, or Jonas Salk's have been killed and lost to the world?

Moreover, King shows us that people really don't see into other people to see a true nature of the other...except in some cases. Even in this story where most of the people are blind to what is real, a prison guard (Paul Edgecomb) and the Warden's wife look past John's hulking frame, black skin, low intelligence and inarticulate nature to the beautiful gift that has been given to the world. The gifts of healing, hope and miracles.

John stands as the Christ figure, here--all about miracles. He heals others of their physical, emotional and spiritual wounds, and he chastises and punishes the wicked (Wild Bill Wharton, killer of the two little girls). He resurrects a little mouse ("Mr. Jingles"), very like Lazarus raised from the dead. He even gives mankind a part of himself--akin to the religious rite of Holy Communion (when he gives Paul Edgecomb a part of himself in order to show what happened to the little Girls). And, in the end he suffers for humanity and like the lamb led to the slaughter, takes on the sins of the world and chooses to walk himself to his own death.

King's writing is superb, maybe the best of his career. The Green Mile characters are realistically drawn, the plot engaging, and King walks us down through the last mile of this elegiac and moving story. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and am happy to have read this hauntingly beautiful novel.

Until next time...many happy pages of reading. Sharon.

REFERENCES
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http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120689/awards List of Awards for the movie, The Green Mile.

http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-list-those-freed-death-row, for the Death Penalty Information Center, Innocence List.
http://www.horror.org/blog/ for information about the Horror Writer's Association and the Bram Stoker Award


[1] Green Mile synopsis: Paul Edgecomb, now 104 years old looks back on his life to the time he was a prison guard on Death Row and tells Elaine (a nurse at the convalescent home) his story. He tells the following story...John Coffey, a tall black man, of low intelligence and inarticulate, arrives on Death Row, convicted of the rape and murder of two little white girls. John cures Paul of a urinary tract infection and reveals further mysterious powers by resurrecting a little mouse (later named "Mr. Jingles") that was killed by sadist Percy Wetmore. Paul then begins to doubt John's guilt. John is snuck out of prison to cure the Warden's wife (Melinda) of a brain tumor, and just as quickly snuck back into the prison. The guard, Percy Wetmore, sabotages the execution of Edward Delacroix, the caretaker of "Mr. Jingles," causing Delacroix a horrific death witnessed by all. William "Wild Bill" Wharton arrives on Death Row to complicate things even more; at one point Wharton grabs John Coffey's arm and John psychically visualizes Wharton's rape and murder of the two little girls. John punishes the bad men by passing Melinda's disease into Percy--Percy goes mad and kills "Wild Bill." Percy is then shipped off to the insane asylum, and John takes his last walk down the "green mile" to his execution. Paul is so disturbed by all the events, he leaves to work elsewhere. Back to the present, Paul introduced "Mr. Jingles," the inordinately long-lived mouse, to Elaine and then "Mr. Jingles" dies. Having lost his wife and everyone he has cared for, Paul remains in a kind of death row of his own, wondering how much more time he has left to serve before he will be able to walk his last mile.