March 18, 2004

The Sun Dog

I have just finished the first story I have ever read that has truly scared me. I believe this is quite important for me because of the amount of horror stories I read.

The story that accomplished this feat is the novella "The Sun Dog" featured in Four Past Midnight by Stephen King. It is the last novella in the book.

The novella is about a teenage boy who is given a Polaroid camera (a "Sun" model) for his birthday. The camera is a bit odd. Instead of taking photos of the things it sees it takes photos of a strange dog standing in front of a white picket fence. As more pictures are taken, the boy discovers that the dog is moving and appears to be violent in nature. Why did this story terrify me? I'm still not entirely sure, but I do have a few ideas.

In order to truly explain these out I have to reveal more of the plot. If you feel that you probably won't be reading the story I would suggest continuing reading.

Now, in order to describe the effect this story had on me I need to give away more details about the plot. The following paragraph pretty much tells the entire plot.

Before the boy realizes that the pictures the camera takes are all slightly different from one another, he takes the camera to be examined by a...what is the right, opportunist of a repairman who has had some slight experience with supernatural things. This man discovers that the photos are each slightly different and gives the boy a schedule of times to take more photos. They discover that the movements are much more noticeable after more time passes. They also discover that the dog is becoming much more menacing. The boy decides to destroy the camera because he believes the dog is coming to kill him. The man appears to agree. However, before the boy can destroy it the man switches it with a different camera so that he can attempt to sell the odd one. After many failed attempts to sell the camera it begins to affect him in strange ways. He begins to take photos without even realizing it. He awakes one night to discover he is taking photos in his sleep. At this point, the dog is about to leap towards the camera. The man decides to destroy the camera. That morning, he subconsciously deceives himself into thinking he does destroy it. He in fact destroys a cuckoo clock. The boy is at this point having dreams where he is trapped in a two-dimensional world where the dog is chasing him. He realizes from these dreams that his camera was not destroyed. He tries to go see the repairman only to discover that the man has bought more film and is taking more pictures. By the time the boy gets to the man, the man has taken the final photo needed for the dog to come to the "real" world. The dog begins to break through the photo (or be "born" according to the story) and is stopped by the boy thanks something he realized from his dream.

Why did this story scare me?

1. I have always enjoyed photography. Personally, I think I am horrible at taking pictures. I prefer to let others do it. However, I love looking at great photos. Hookah (as he calls himself when he comments) has taken some absolutely gorgeous photos. I think I still have some of them on my computer. The fact that the story deals mainly with an art I enjoy, though I know little about it, might be the foundation for this fear.

2. The story deals with the downfall of a character that starts because of his greed. Unfortunately, I am a greedy person. This happens to be one of my most hated aspects about my personality. I don't like loaning money. I hate giving things away. I can be a horrible miser at times. I don't think this part factored in all that much, though. After all, I huge number of horror stories include the demise of greedy characters.

3. The final ending (by which I mean the final few paragraphs) show that, despite the best efforts of all involved, the "Sun dog" is not destroyed. Not only is he still "alive" but he has also somehow been transferred into a computer. The villain of the story is an evil that can not be vanquished. While this does contribute to the horror of the story, I can not see it adding to my horror caused by the story. Lovecraft happened to use unconquerable evils in several of his stories and none of them have affected me to this magnitude.

4. I believe this is the biggest factor. The story deals with the self-deception of the mind and the subconscious desire of a person to walk into an unpredictable and frightening situation. The man unwillingly leads himself to his own painful death. I have always closely guarded my mind. "Brainy" things are some of the few things that I happen to both think I am good at and enjoy doing. Anything that deals with a person's mind deceiving and leading him down a path to self-destruction is frightening to me. It is a terrifying concept as far as I am concerned.

That is really all I can think of at the moment. I'm sure there might be more hiding in there somewhere. In fact, I'm sure it could all be traced back to my mother if I looked far enough. However, I do not feel I'm particularly well-suited to attempt that task at this incredibly late/early hour. I think I will try to sleep now.

Posted by Randy at March 18, 2004 03:20 AM | TrackBack