The Tommyknockers is still one of my favorite Stephen King books. It’s a pretty trippy novel, but I think it works. Like most of the early horror books I read as a kid, I grabbed Tommyknockers from the bookmobile when it pulled into Spring Creek Elementary. Much later, I was intrigued but not shocked to learn that it was written during a period when King was in the midst of his most serious addictions.
I was a sucker for aliens, giant books, and I loved to be scared. It certainly fit the bill at the time.
Plot summary of The Tommyknockers
A writer–yes, another writer in a King novel, one of his most frequently recurring character occupations–named Bobbi Anderson is walking through the Maine woods behind her house when she trips over something sticking out of the ground. That something turns out to be the tip of a massive spacecraft that crashed on Earth way back when.
She begins excavating the craft by herself. The more she uncovers, the weirder things get in the nearby town. The ship is emitting some sort of gas that effects people in the strangest ways. Some become immediate geniuses and start doing unsettling things with computers.
A picture of Jesus starts talking to a housewife. This was the creepiest part of the book for me. I don’t know why, but I can still remember how freaked out I got every time the book would return to her and the problems in her house. And the picture, of course.
My absolute favorite part of the book involves a young magician who makes his brother disappear during a neighborhood magic show. My own little brother was three or four years old at the time and the thought of sending him somewhere by accident, and then trying to deal with my parents, made me shiver.
That’s the core of the book. Ship gets dug up, town goes increasingly nuts with every excavated inch. One of Bobbi’s friends (another writer, a poet this time), played in the horrible made-for-TV movie by Jimmy Smits, tries to talk some sense into her as her own mental and physical condition deteriorates in terrible ways. Jimmy wasn’t half-bad before he started helping Dexter kill people. The fate of the town and the ship ultimately revolves around him. I actually thought the end of the book was pretty good, but I know a lot of people who absolutely hate it.
Revisiting The Tommyknockers
I read the book again about three years ago when I turned 30. I still think it’s good. I still had fun reading it. By that point I knew more about Stephen King and his history, largely thanks to his wonderful book On Writing (reviewed by one of my guests).
The stamp of addiction is all over Tommyknockers. If I was nightmarishly transported back to my college English classes and forced to write a long paper on this book, I would focus on all of the addiction themes. Compulsions, loss of control, and the hurt caused to families when someone is ruled by impulse. That would be my story for a paper.
But I’m not in that class, so I’ll just say that it’s a cool story about aliens and if you’re a fan of Stephen King’s, I think you’ll like it. And if not, you’ll know quickly in the first few pages.