Here’s Something I Learned In Empis: Good People Shine Brighter In Dark Times

I don’t know what day I started this chronological read. Even looking back on the blog doesn’t tell me because I was several books in when it hit me that since I was kind of compulsively taking notes and highlighting things anyway, maybe I should turn them into posts, and I wrote the first few all at once and just scheduled them to publish one at a time. It was sometime in August or maybe late June. I started the blog in August, so that’s what I’m going with. But I know exactly which day I hit the finish line (the temporary finish line, I assume — as far as I know, there’s a Holly Gibney-focused book coming out sometime next year. Well, this year, by the time anyone’s reading this.) I finished Fairy Tale on Thanksgiving Day 2022, sometime around 3 AM. I was listening to the last part on Audible while I was getting the sides ready and prepping the meat for the Thanksgiving meal. So that’s fun.

Fairy Tale is one of a few books that I just went ahead and bought in 3 formats — I got the e-book, I got the audiobook and I got the hardback. The hardback, by the way, is gorgeous. That’s probably why I felt like I needed to get it. I almost never do this — I’ve talked before about how much I love ebooks for their portability and the fact that I can’t really lose them or permanently damage them — but Fairy Tale is the kind of book I actually want sitting on a shelf. I didn’t get a special edition or anything (I spent enough on this book as it is), but the colors and pictures are just beautiful. I read the ebook as soon as it was released and did ebook/audio for the purposes of this post (which means, yes, I read the thing twice in just a little over two months, once when it came in and then again when I actually reached that point in my re-read. Good thing I like this one.) so I haven’t actually spent much time with the pages of the hardback (though I did look through it — there are illustrations at the beginnings of the chapters, too) but I just like looking at it on my shelf.

I’ve seen somewhat mixed responses to this one, but I’ve got to say that I really, really enjoyed it. It reminds me of The Eyes of The Dragon, which has always been a favorite. Funny, because I think if you’d asked me a few years ago, I would have said that I’m not really into fantasy. Except for Tolkien. And The Eyes of The Dragon. And the Game of Thrones series. And now this. And some random other things. I’m thinking it’s safer to just say that I like some fantasy at this point.

At any rate, we start in “our” world (I assume, at least, it looks like Keystone Earth, at least) with our protagonist and future prince, Charlie Reade. But we don’t stay there; we actually spend a large part of the world in Empis, which is — definitely not Keystone Earth. It’s also not Mid-World or The Territories. It’s one of those other worlds on another level of the tower. Or in the basement of our level, maybe. Who knows?

I’m not usually precious about spoilers, and I’m pretty sure that I have said a few times that you very well might read spoilers here, but since this book was only released a few months ago as of when I’m writing this, and not that much more time is going to pass before this publishes, I want to be respectful of the people who visit this blog with some regularity (I see you! Thanks for reading!) who may not have read it yet. So no promises, but I’m going to try very hard not to give anything much away, which probably means I will keep this fairly short (if that’s possible after already writing 650+ words, anyway.)

I said this book reminded me of The Eyes of The Dragon because that’s the first King thing with heavy fantasy elements I can think of, but it really has quite a lot in common with The Talisman, too. Empis is not The Territories — at least, I’m pretty sure that it’s not — but it’s similar in a lot of ways, too. The air is invigorating (though our air does not have a corresponding good effect on Empisians who venture into our world, which also sounds familiar), the food is good, even with the land under a curse or while you’re in a dungeon, there’s a royal family, the animals are similar to ours but larger… I have seen speculation (from completely random fans who have no insider knowledge, so don’t take it to mean anything) that Fairy Tale was meant to be a third installment in The Talisman series, but with the unfortunate passing of Peter Straub, he turned it into a standalone book instead. I don’t really think that’s true — prior to Straub’s death, I feel like he reportedly said that there wasn’t going to be a third, and he just wasn’t up to it, and I don’t think King would have been working on a possible third story knowing that his co-author wasn’t interested or wasn’t able to participate, but that would explain why Empis has such a Territories feel to it. I think the similarity probably just comes down to ideas that King tends to come back to repeatedly — the Territories themselves resemble some descriptions of idealized rural America that you often see (and not just in King’s work) — fresher air, unspoiled land, hearty and tasty meals, simple, honest, plain folks population. I mean, that’s roughly how the New York Times talks about random Trump voters in middle-American diners, too. I’m not well-traveled; I’ve lived in one state my whole life and haven’t even moved around much in that, and it’s a state known for being weird and touristy and full of odd or goofy crimes, not a heartland state. So I don’t know how much of that is real and how much of it is just the way we seem to want to think about those areas. But I know it’s a pretty common way to talk about a certain type of rural America, and the Territories and now Empis seem to be based somewhat on “what if those descriptions, but even better, and with royalty and magic?”

There’s a quest, a capture, and a period of confinement during which a transformation takes place. There’s a daring escape, a gathering of a ka-tet (though it’s not called that), a final boss battle, a triumph, a potentially dangerous wound, a period of recovery, a return home (back to the Keystone world), and a final good-bye. This is absolutely a fairy tale’s structure and format, and while Charlie Reade repeatedly tells us that he’s not that kind of fairy tale prince, I’d be surprised if you didn’t think of squeaky-clean Prince Peter from The Eyes of The Dragon when you meet him. Maybe Prince Peter if Peter had been more of a Prince Thomas in his tweens or early teens, then grown out of it.

Just a few stray thoughts — I was somewhat disappointed when the story called attention to a cookie jar stuffed with pecan sandies and chocolate marshmallow cookies… it really seemed for a minute like maybe this was going to tie into the short story “The Cookie Jar,” which I would have loved. It didn’t, though. The jar was just a jar. Charlie, early on, makes some disparaging remarks about an academic writer using “five-dollar words,” which I thought was kind of funny because at the point where I made that note, I’d already had to look up 3 different words, and I have four others highlighted after that point. And it’s actually pretty unusual for me to have to look up words! Charlie uses a decent amount of five-dollar words himself for someone who makes a point of being bored/annoyed by pretentious writing. Wonder if that’s part of Charlie’s character or just part of King’s? There’s a thing about prime numbers here — they’re important to Susannah in Mid-World, and they’re important here. There are also some interesting parallels between Empis and Earth that make me think about the parallels between the Territories and Earth. Earth’s fundamentalist Christians try to “pray the gay away”, Empis’s try to “pray the gray away” (the gray being a cure/sickness) Also, an Empisian Dwarf seems to have a twinner in the Keystone world, though they’re unaware of each other.

I’ve been thinking about what I want to do after finishing this book and this post. It feels odd not to have a next book on my reading list. I’ve been immersed in the Kingdom for over a year now, after all. There’s been a next book every time. It’s not that I don’t have a reading list a mile long that I’ve been putting off while I did this; I just couldn’t figure out how to pick one right away. Also, I want to keep writing about the Kingdom. I try not to make these blogs ridiculously long, but I have pages and pages of notes and thoughts that I’d like to try to organize into some type of coherent narrative. But at the same time, I also want to read some non-King/King-related books for a while. Too much of a good thing is still too much; my brain needs some variety.

So, here’s what I’m thinking right now. I think I’m going to go over what I have here and all the rest of my notes that aren’t published to see if I can put together a book. Sort of a fan exploration of the Kingdom, since I’m not an academic or an expert. I don’t know if I’ll be successful, but it feels like something I want to try. I may be posting here with King movie recaps, Joe Hill book recaps, Tabitha King book recaps, overall Kingdom thoughts, or something else. I’m just not sure. I’ll certainly be back once there’s a Stephen King book in 2023 to go over, and I think we can count on that happening.

Thanks to those of you that have come along or checked in as I went on this journey. I never really promoted this blog – I’ve basically just been doing this for me because I think and organize thoughts best in writing, and I didn’t really expect anyone to notice me here — and I don’t think that many people read random blogs anymore, so I’ve been sort of surprised that anyone found me at all, let alone followed or checked back regularly. It’s been really neat for me to see people show up anyway. I’m glad you’ve been here with me. And for anyone finding this in the future, I’m glad you’re here now too. This isn’t goodbye — I’m not sure what my next posts will look like or when they’ll happen; I think I might need a break for a while, but I’ll be back with something. Hopefully, sooner rather than later. But I do want to acknowledge that this is a milestone, at least for me, and I’m glad that it’s not an entirely solitary one. I didn’t think I would care if it was solitary, and maybe I wouldn’t have, but it turns out I do care that I’m not alone.


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