Here is the book that started it all. Carrie will always have a place in the history of the horror genre as a turning point akin to Stoker, Poe, and Lovecraft. The debate will go on, I’m sure of if it was a good thing or a bad thing. But that is more about taste, no matter how academic the reasoning. The fact is, with Carrie, King starts to add ideas not only into the horror genre, but about how to write it.
Carrie is one of the first horror novels that doesn’t rely as heavily on the traditions of Gothic literature. Yes, there are elements, but many stories up to this point use them to the point where they seem otherworldly because of the settings, themes, and characters. Carrie really brings everything into modern setting and re-imagining or re-inventing what the Gothic would be today. Carrie White’s telekinetic ability is the supernatural element, but through out the story is developed in a scientific outlook. The monster is more anti-hero than villain. Instead of a dilapidated castle, we have a rundown house. It shed the mysticism and occult that helped defined the horror genre up to this point and sought to build a foundation in the current reality the reader lived in.
With these changes, it also allowed King to heavily focus on the characters of the book. Characterization is King’s strength, and it is the characters that invoke the terror then the supernatural elements that is common in Gothic literature. From the locker room scene where the the girls attack Carrie to the encounters Carrie has with her mother, it is the interpersonal situations that build the tension of the upcoming terror of Prom Night. In fact, the story would be just as strong and just as horrific if the telekinesis was taken out and Carrie did everything by normal means.
Today, it brings up an interesting discussion: Who is this aimed toward? Back in the mid 70’s, when it was published, most likely it would be considered an adult book. Especially with the Chicago Tribune calling it “Gory and horrify,” I can’t see too many kids getting a hold of it. The truth is, it is not that gory except for the the procurement of the pig’s blood. Also, most of the characters are teenagers. So is it still an adult book? I would say it one of those books that walks the line of YA and adult. I would even say that because of the themes of bullying and social outsiders King explores, this is more of YA read, albeit towards the older range, than it is a adult read. Not only that, but it is as much a book for young women as much as, if not more so, a young men.
By no means a perfect book, Carrie does so much in just a short amount of time that will be expanded upon through out King’s career, that this “big bang” in modern horror is an essential read.
Horror Reader Level: Beginner