What is the “night journey” in the context of Stephen King?
First, Winter shows how all of King’s works deal with some sort of journey. The idea of story as a journey is not new. Joseph Campbell is well known for his “Hero’s Journey”, and I’ve often encountered the aphorism that “the main character must change” (which is essentially an internal journey - A to B).
What I find most interesting is how Winter chooses to discuss the idea of journey in King’s works. It is described initially as a journey from “East to West”, and I covered this a little in my first post.
So what are some of the “night journeys” that Winter identifies?
In Carrie, it is the coming of age of a young woman, albeit a very special girl in peculiar circumstances. It the struggle of adolescence, which we find in many works of horror. But there’s more to it. Winter quotes King as saying, “We fall from womb to tomb, from one blackness and toward another, remembering little of the one and knowing nothing of the other … excep through faith.” So the journey in this story, while at the waystation of adolescence, is also meant to be representative of life itself. I guess that’s what Winter is getting at. Personally, I think that’s a broad interpretation of the story, and the quote given by King isn’t presented as a quote specifically about Carrie. While I agree with King’s quote, and appreciate it, I think it’s enough to say Carrie is about the journey through adolescence.
‘Salem’s Lot is more about not so focused on a journey, per se, but rather on Vampires and a Haunted House (great combination). But, there is a “night journey” in there according to Winter. Ben Mears, the main character, is already an adult, so his is a journey of shrinking away from experience and returning to innocence. The town he’s returned to was his home for a brief period in his childhood (connections with the haunted house), and it’s a sort of return to his past, a nostalgic yearning for the past.
There’s a similar journey in The Shining, per Winter. Jack Torrance is trying to escape his past, and is opposed to Ben Mears’ journey in that respect. But, Winter points out that both men suffer from the “modern American nightmare… grief and loss for the past, and terror of the future.” I have a deep appreciation for this concept. I’m not going to comment on whether or not these really are the “modern American nightmare”, but they are core human emotions. We grieve for the dead, not solely because they have died, but also in large because we will miss them. We rarely grieve for those we never knew.
At one point in his discussion of Firestarter, Winter makes the statement that the “…night journey need not represent more than literal adventure, and this is particularly true in horror fiction…”
To me, the journey is the change a character undergoes and must struggle through. The “night journey” is a subset of these changes, one that deals with fears. It could be physical, as in** Thinner. It could be mental, such as what happens to Jack Torrance in The Shining. It could even be a change external to the character, such as the apacolypse that occurs in The Stand. But, what these changes share is that they stem from our cultural fears. I think Winter nailed it when he said that the “modern American nightmare… grief and loss for the past, and terror of the future.” There are elements of King’s work that reflect more current issues, but this is what stuck with me.