Cujo: The Personification of Karma?
There’s times in Stephen King’s work where the book has a message to give. In Needful Things, King showed us how much we as people could sell practically our souls to gain material possessions. In IT, King’s message was that it was okay to be afraid as long as you knew that you had to be brave and face the monsters (psychical or mental) no matter what. In The Stand, the message was loud and clear: we are the creators of our own destruction and demise.
Cujo is another novel from King that has a message: we are the total sum of our decisions. That message is on full display in a novel that King himself admits that he barely remembers writing. But I’ll bet that he was thinking about more than just a dog with rabies. He was thinking about Karma…
On the surface, Cujo is about a St. Bernard that is bitten and transmitted rabies and slowly goes mad as he chews people apart that crosses his path. There’s more to Cujo the novel than just murder and mayhem. What’s in the novel other than the over-sized dog? How about Cujo being a representation of Karma?
Karma is a Sanskrit term that means “action” or “doing”. In the Buddhist tradition, karma refers to action driven by intention which leads to future consequences. That’s what this novel is all about: karma. The actions by Donna Trenton being the cheating married woman that she is and Joe Camber (Cujo’s elder master) being a top rated prick to his wife over the length of their marriage are the actions they both set in play that are driven by intentions. It’s these actions that Donna and Joe set into motion that lit the fuse that started Cujo in motion.
If you believe in the idea that if we do bad things, then bad things come back to us, then this novel really sits well with you. If not, then all it is is a book about a rabid dog on a killing spree; he’s Michael Myers with fur. But if you’re like me, you see what Cujo the dog is: karma. Cujo comes to them to wipe the slate clean; to collect the debt, balance the scales, whatever you want to call it.
With all the bad things that Donna Trenton and Joe Camber did in their lives, it all came to a point at the Camber home. All the decisions, all the actions that they made led them to Cujo. Hell, even the Cambers getting Cujo back when he was a pup was setting the wheels in motion for the future payments he (Joe) and Donna were going to have to settle.
In looking at Joe Camber, he lost his life and unbeknownst to him at the time, his wife because she had finally had enough and went to visit her sister in another town. She was done with Joe. Cujo killed Joe wiping his life debt clean. It only cost him his life for all the wrong he had done over the years.
Donna Trenton suffered not the same fate as Joe, but at the end of the book she wished she had. For all her terrible decisions that put her family in harm’s way, she lost the most valuable thing she had: her son. Although Cujo didn’t directly kill Tad Trenton, he was a decisive factor in him dying by holding the mother and son hostage in a car as the two of them suffered greatly.
Cujo the novel isn’t really about the dog at all. It’s about people; it’s about how we all make decisions in our lives good and bad that have a way of finding their way back to us. Sometimes those bad decisions that we put into motion costs us very little. But most times they cost everything that we’ve got.
Cujo the dog is the storm no one saw coming. He was the serve storm that just popped out of nowhere on a sunny day leaving total destruction in his wake; no warning, no public service advisements, no town horns firing off warning people to take shelter. Cujo was the culmination of everyone’s decisions; a vortex where everyone’s lives intersected at the Camber home.
Remember this: we’ve all got a Cujo coming to us…question is, will you see him before its too late?
Bag of Bones: The Most Important Book in Stephen King’s Library
17 years ago perhaps the most important novel in Stephen King’s library was published. It was not the best novel, certainly not on anyone’s “Best of Stephen King” top 10 lists. What Stephen King and his new novel, Bag of Bones, was able to do was demonstrate a fresher business model for the publishing industry on how to handle power brands like King without the risk of losing money in their investments. Also the novel was the official start of a more mature, self aware writer than we were used to in years past.
For years King has always been regarded as a horror writer. This is a label that he never fought against. In all honesty, King never went out and tried to define what it was that he wrote. He viewed himself as an American author and nothing more than that.
In 1996, King began to write more mature work starting with The Green Mile. In that year, he was approached with the idea of making The Green Mile a serialized book. King was excited and dove deeply into the story. With Desperation already in it’s final revisions, King was able to begin his journey into a more mature writing that would be his standard even today.
After writing The Green Mile, King penned another mature self aware novel called, Bag of Bones. At this point in his career, King was looking to leave his long time publisher, Viking. So why the split and bad feelings after all the success over the years?
It all began over a merger of two publishing houses: Viking and Penguin Putnam Group. And when the two places were fused together by the economics of the times, there were more than just King that were big writers: Tom Clancy and Patrcia Cornwell to name a few were sharing rooms now.
A report from the New York Times told back in the day about the rift between King and Viking that King was nervous about the newly merged publishing houses becoming Tom Clancy’s publishing house since he outsold King. Why did he feel this way? Sources close to the situation at that time cited that King had an incredible competition with Clancy.
Either way, King wanted out and had this new novel that he had written that was by his assessment one of the best. ”My feeling is that it could sell better than anything I’ve done in years,” Bag of Bones was written and now all it needed was a new home after it was apparent that he and Viking were not going to be on the same side.
In an interview later on after King signed on with Scribner, King said about Viking: “The marriage with Viking, I played the woman’s part. I felt like the little housewife who stays home and works all day, while my husband is out taking all the credit and sporting around town in his nice tailored suit. And I felt that I wasn’t being respected and I was being taken for granted.”
When news came down that King and Viking could no further negotiate a deal, the publishing world was a buzz. Most thought that King being a free agent was a joke. It was no joke. King was looking for a new home for a book that was perhaps the best thing he had written in years.
The word around the publishing biz was that King was allegedly shopping Bag of Bones, then a 1,000 page monster of a novel for the price tag of 17 million dollars. This made several of the more prominent publishing houses stay away from King because of the investment and the royalty that King was said to have wanted (reportably 26% of the gross sales).
As the King camp talked and negotiated with other publishing houses in the publishing-sphere, Simon & Schuster jumped into the fray with a division of their own called, Scribner.
Simon & Schuster (Scribner) had a pretty sweet deal that would minimize the loss of money if there was any. The basics of the publishing deal was to give King a 3 book contract (Bag of Bones, Hearts in Atlantis and On Writing) along with 50% of the books sales with a “profit sharing” incentive and a much smaller advance than King was used to getting. Basically Scribner was being careful in investing too much money in a brand name writer in a volatile publishing arena.
King said about his new deal with a new publisher: ”You become a partner in how the book does and you’re not expecting somebody to take the fall if the book does badly. The problem with the big advance today, particularly for a writer who has sold as well as I have in the past, is that it says to the publisher that ‘all I’m doing is taking out flop insurance.’ ”
With the contract in ink and King with a new house, others in the publishing field criticized the way Simon & Schuster (Scribner) conducted the contract. Several critics of the deal went out and said that authors need to get as big of an advance as they could because publishers were highly inefficient. And that “profit sharing” with a writer seemed highly questionable and probably wouldn’t work.
With his new mature book King did something he hadn’t done lately with some of his others. He went out and promoted it. He did late night interviews, book store stops, anything to get the word out about his new book, Bag of Bones. Mostly, King wanted his new effort to be huge because he felt so strongly about it being the best thing he had written in years.
Also, he wanted more women readers: “It was clear,” King says. “that a lot of people who had fallen away were women. A lot of them felt that I was writing strictly horror stories and I knew that wasn’t true. And I’ve always been a little shy about saying, ‘Now, wait a minute, I’m a lot more than just a horror writer’ because it sounds so conceited.”
King, with his new novel and cool new publishing deal, wanted a higher spike in readership because after all, he had a larger stake in the finical part of the book’s success. He wanted to outsell his competition: ”I would like to sell”, King explains. “I wanted to have one more book that was big, that felt like I was running the tables in terms of sales. I wanted to knock Tom Clancy out of the No. 1 spot. Like Leonardo DiCaprio, I’m king of the world, even if it’s only for two weeks, whatever. I wanted those things.”
Bag of Bones ushered in a new era for King as not only did he help shape a newer way for authors and publishers to do business, but his writing was more mature, more poignant more self assured than years past. He had finally hit that creative nirvana.
Sure, King still had his odd tales, his creepy crawlies throughout his work even after ‘Bones, but they were in the details. Had it not been for The Green Mile, we perhaps would have never seen Bag of Bones. Had it not been for Bag of Bones we certainty wouldn’t have such novels as, Lisey’s Story, From A Buick 8, 11/22/63, Hearts in Atlantis, or Mr. Mercedes.
Breaking away from Viking was a good thing for King in the long run. It gave him a chance to kind of reinvent himself. “I give them [Scribner] a lot of credit,” King tells. “To some degree, they rehabilitated my reputation.”
That reputation that King had was transforming and publishers and readers, hardcore fans and casual ones, began to notice. Bag of Bones stands as the most award winning novel in his library to date with 3 highly distinct acknowledgements.
In 1998, Scribner shipped out 1.55 million books of Bag of Bones. That was more than previous years for King.
At the end of the day, Bag of Bones, at least to me, is the turning point in King’s writing career. Sure, he had written some really awesome stories, humanistic ones at that, before in the past. However, ‘Bones was something different altogether. It was the official beginning of what Stephen King is now: the best damn writer in the last hundred years.