Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Does Stephen King have a Hate-Hate Relationship with the Poaceae?

WARNING: Spoilers below!!!

I am a serious Stephen King fan.

I remember reading some of his classics like Firestarter, Carrie, The Dead Zone, and Pet Sematary when I was in my early teens, and I even made the usual pilgrimage of King fans by going to Maine and seeing some of the iconic spots that somehow made it into his books. We even have the same political leanings, and I love how he uses his pulpit to try to right wrongs in the real world.

However, after finishing his new story In the Tall Grass, I have to wonder whether he has a hidden aversion to anything involving grasses. Some of his work features examples of this plant family (Poaceae) as major parts of the story, and in almost all cases they are used as ominous and terrible omens, settings, and even actual antagonists in the plot.

Who dares enter this field of tall Phragmites australis grass?
In the Tall Grass is about a brother and sister who inadvertently get lost in a tall field of grass, after they hear the cry of a child who is seemingly lost in it. But when they go in after the child, they find out that they suddenly cannot find their way back to the road, and that the field of grass is somehow malevolent and actively preventing them from escaping.

The use of tall fields of grasses as an ominous symbol is also very much in evidence in another short story, the classic Children of the Corn. In this case, the fields of corn not only provide a dark setting for the story, but it also hides the demonic He Who Walks Behind the Rows.

Finally, a somewhat mundane suburban lawn becomes the setting for another King short story, The Lawnmower Man. In this case, a "field" of turfgrass grows wild when a homeowner fails to do his weekly mowing, and his call to a professional mowing company brings to his home another demon whose appetite for grass knows no bounds.

A dimly-lit bamboo grove likely hides evil demonic beings, or at least it might in Stephen King's stories
Perhaps a less hostile view of grasses occurs in the novel Wolves of the Calla, which is the fifth book in King's Dark Tower series. Here the town of Calla Bryn Sturgis has grown rice since time immemorial, and there are parts of the story with positive connotations of this most important plant.

In the novel, rice forms an integral part of the town's culture. For example, it figures prominently in their dance, as when the protagonist Ronald dances and sings The Commala, which  asks Lady Oriza to bless the rice and is in celebration of the harvest season,

Another example of something in the novel which shines a positive light on the Poaceae are the so-called orizas, which are sharpened plates wielded by some of the women in town when they defend it against marauders. The name of course is in reference to the genus of rice, which is Oryza.

Finally, instead of being a place of evil and foreboding, the rice fields in Calla Bryn Sturgis shelter and protect the children of the town during the attack by the wolves.

Thus, at least in this Dark Tower novel,  King goes against his usual grain (haha) and gives a nod towards the importance and positive aspects of these plants.

Do you know of any other instance in his work where King uses a species from the Poaceae for either evil or good?

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