Genre Dark Fantasy Publisher Viking Year Published 1979 Review Posted on 10/16/2005 Reviewer Rating
8 out of 10
The Dead Zone, by Stephen King
Book Review by Jeff Edwards
Have you read this book?
A car accident throws John Smith through the windshield and into a coma that lasts nearly five
years. When he wakes up, the world has changed around him: his mother has slid deeper into
religious mania, his girlfriend is now married and has a child, and Johnny is cursed with second
sight - a strange and terrible power that overwhelms him with psychic images when he touches
people. After shaking hands with a rising politician and being struck by the certainty of
"approaching doom, perhaps even the Armageddon," John faces the ultimate moral dilemma:
How far is he willing to go to prevent his vision from coming true?
The Dead Zone is a masterpiece, drenched in an atmosphere of foreboding from its first
sentence to its closing paragraphs. One critic described the book as having "a sense of high
Greek tragedy." John Smith suffers through the entire story, agonized by a seemingly God-given
talent that brings him nothing but sorrow. He remembers his mother's words ("What a power God
has given you...He has a job for you") and he saves lives with his talent - but those around him
regard Johnny with more fear than gratitude.
Weaving symbolism through his narrative as he did in earlier novels like "The Shining," Stephen
King includes serpent similes here to represent John's aversion toward his psychic power ("He
had thrown the scarf on the floor where it lay like a twisted white snake," "Touching that coat had
been like touching a writhing coil of snakes," "He looked at [the phone] the way a man might look
at a snake he has just realized is poisonous"). King also uses the Wheel of Fortune to imply that
life is like roulette and the odds are against us. But the book's central image is a half-Jekyll, half-
Hyde face ("His arm cast a shadow and she saw with something very like superstitious fear that
his face was half-light, half-dark," "That red left eye - and the scar running up his neck - made
that half of his face look sinister and unpleasant"). Foreshadowed by a Halloween mask that
Johnny wears briefly as a joke, the image becomes more complicated and disturbing as the book
progresses. Although John is compelled to do the right thing for the greater good, his outward
appearance deteriorates into a scarred and haggard young man, obsessively filling notebooks
with newspaper clippings and nighttime scribbling.
Perhaps in an attempt to lighten the mood while writing such a dark book, King playfully scatters
references to his own novels: Tibbets' Garage, a Marsten gravestone, and a mention of
Jerusalem's Lot are all nods to "Salem's Lot"; Flagg Street is named after a character from "The
Stand." King even has a character shout, "It's his fault, that guy there! He made it happen! He set
it on fire by his mind, just like in that book 'Carrie.'" The Dead Zone also includes seeds
of ideas that King later nurtured into full-length novels. A dog near the beginning of the story
might have inspired "Cujo" ("[A] big mean farm dog advanced out of the barn, its ears laid
back...It kept coming, big and mean"), and another passage must have intrigued King enough to
write "Christine" ("[M]usic like some mad, dented hot rod that was too tough to die, rumbling out
of the dead and silent fifties like an omen").
Within The Dead Zone, a character says, "[S]ome things are better not seen, and some
things are better lost than found." But Johnny can't close his eyes to his destiny, no matter how
difficult it may be. John Smith never could control the Wheel of Fortune; he only had a
premonition about where it would stop.