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NOS4A2 - Joe Hill

“Already, though, she understood the difference between being a child and being an adult. The difference is when someone says he can keep the bad things away, a child believes him.”

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Charles Talent Manx with his silver hammer.

Some people are born with bad wiring. Some people get caught in a whirlpool of one tragic circumstance after another that has a detrimental effect on their sanity. Some people are too fragile; some are too hard, and some accumulate so much baggage that their soul gets lost in the jumble. To stick a pin in a man like Charles Talent Manx and compose a label that will define exactly what level of crazy he is would take a team of talented psychologists.

Crazy is one thing, but when crazy becomes wrapped in a smelly, wooly blanket of cosmic evil, things that shouldn’t be possible, suddenly become so substantial that they actually wink into existence. The whole concept of Christmasland sprang from the demented mind of Charlie Manx.

You might think to yourself that Christmasland doesn’t sound that scary. In fact, it even sounds like a great place to take the kids over winter break. The only problem is that its creator is bat shit crazy, so there might be candy canes and Christmas trees, but there are also razor blades and very, very sharp teeth.

It is The Nightmare Before Christmas stepping out of the silver screen and intersecting with a sliver of Colorado.

Now, you can’t just drive to Christmasland even if you do have a general idea of where it is. Not just anyone is welcome. Manx has a key, a horcrux that might very well have eaten his soul, in the form of a vintage 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith. He drives it back and forth between the real world and Christmasland.

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Vic McQueen has a key as well, a bicycle that when she rides it can take her over the Shorter Way Bridge to anywhere in the world where something she lost exists. On one of her journeys, she goes to Here, Iowa, and meets a librarian named Maggie who has stuttering issues. She also has Scrabble tiles that can help her much the same way Vic’s bicycle helps her. Maggie is, by far, my favorite character in the book because she says stuff like this:

“No one looks too closely at a librarian. People are afraid of going blind from the glare of ssss-ssso much compressed wisdom.”

And she is a naughty librarian too.

“If books were girls and reading was s-ss-ssss-fucking, this would be the biggest whorehouse in the county and I'd be the most ruthless pimp you ever met. Whap the girls on the butts and send them off to their tricks as fast and often as I can.”

It only stands to reason that Vic with her key and Manx with his key would end up in the same place eventually. Manx, with the help of a loathsome companion named Bing who is a very, very dangerous dingaling, is going around the country “liberating” abused children from parents and taking these kids back to Christmasland. These kids, once they arrive, grow rows of serrated teeth and become hungry for munching on adults. If you are an adult who somehow accidentally falls through to Christmasland, you are breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert, depending on how fast you can run.

Vic and Manx intersect. She helps to put Manx in prison, and that is when the phone calls begin. They are kids from Christmasland, condemning her for her role in Manx’s incarceration. She spends time in and out of mental institutions. For the sake of her sanity, she tries to forget things like the Shorter Way Bridge, Rolls Royces with vanity license plates, a skeletal gray man with red eyes, and children singing demented Christmas carols.

But now she has a son, and Manx is coming for him. She is going to have to remember everything and believe again if she is going to have a chance to save him.

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Joe Hill likes to make sketches along with his signature. In this case, he drew Nosferatu. Eventually, he will probably quit doing this, so later these books with the sketches will be more collectible.

I’ve been following Joseph Hillstrom King’s career very closely. It has been impressive to me that he decided to be a writer, a profession that his father has dominated for decades, but also that he decided to be a horror writer, forcing direct comparisons with his father’s work. For a man capable of inducing so much fear in others, he has shown no fear in his decision to be a writer. Instead of thinking of his father and his father’s fame as a hinderance to his own career, he must have decided to consider both those aspects assets. He did shorten his name for his writing pseudonym, but if the thought was to hide his relationship to his father, then it has turned out to be one of the worst kept secrets in publishing.

His father was always good about dropping pop culture and geek references into his books, and so is Hill. There is a moment when the father of Vic’s child is giving him advice. ”If i die in a plane crash remember to always bag and board your comics. Love you too.” Wisdom, such as this, passed to your offspring will insure that your kids will be mutant nerds.

The Americans and the British publishers used two different covers. The collector in me always likes this because with an author that I like this much I enjoy having both books. Another interesting element is Charlie Manx’s vanity plate. The Americans went with NOS4A2, and the British went with NOS4R2. I find that it is always prudent to defer to our cousins across the pond when it comes to points of contention with the English language.

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The American edition is on the left, and the British edition is on the right.

Hill wrote a graphic novel called Wraith that gives his readers more background on Charlie Manx. I decided to read it first, even though it was published after NOS4A/R2, because I thought I might benefit from knowing the origins of Manx and might enjoy this book more. It certainly allowed me to consider Manx in a more well rounded light. In some strange way, he did feel like he was doing the right thing, that his madness was a John Brown type of madness, rather than the insanity of, say, a John Wayne Gacy.

”Vic understood everything. Whatever the children had become, whatever he had done to them, he had done to make them safe, to keep them from being run down by the world. He believed in his own decency with all his heart. So it was with every true monster, Vic supposed. “

The true believers are generally the most dangerous humans. The cause supersedes any contemplation of the effects of their actions on others. Hill has created characters and a story I won’t soon forget. I can guarantee you all one thing that if I see a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith gliding down the street in my direction I will flee like my life depends on it. This is one of the hazards of being a reader with an overactive imagination being matched with a writer with expansive creative ideas. This could prove to be Hill’s masterpiece.

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