Written works – much like movies – are made up of scenes. Some are short, some are long, but it requires all of these scenes put together as a whole to make a full coherent story, and a story that works. In that regard, it is often hard for people to pinpoint a certain scene as one they really enjoy because, taken out of the context of the whole story, it just does not work.
I recently read an essay in an old movie magazine (1994 – 20 years ago!)where a person detailed their 5 favourite Arnold Schwarzenegger movie scenes. It was done as a sort of thing for the upcoming True Lies, and listed the “I’ll be back,” scene from The Terminator, the scene in the shopping mall from Commando… the usual suspects.
I decided to do another top 5 list of my 5 favourite book scenes, but I could not cut it down to just 5. It was impossible to pick only 5 from all the wonderful scenes on the written page. However, there was one that I knew was going to be there, and this one is my very favourite scene ever. Not for what happens, but for how it is written.
It occurs in the novel Pet Sematary by Stephen King (1983), and the scene is the one where Jud takes Louis to the “real” Pet Sematary at night for the first time, in order to bury the recently killed cat of Louis’ daughter. He had already described the Sematary earlier in the novel, but at night time, as written by King, it seems to take on almost a living personality. And it is menacing:
“…The flash’s beams centered brightly on the jumbled heap of
fallen trees and logs.”
This when they approach a deadfall that blocks the path. The image of the trees looking like the defleshed bones of some huge creature suits the general atmosphere of impending doom and recent death. The words are so carefully chosen, it’s like a visual artist with an easel.
The imagery further on:
“…but after stepping over half a dozen tussocks, he looked down and saw that his feet, calves, knees, and lower thighs had disappeared into a groundfog that was perfectly smooth, perfectly white, and perfectly opaque. It was like moving through the world’s lightest drift of snow.”
Something so beautiful in the midst of such death and horror. This juxtaposition seems to almost represent the two sides of death – the horror and the beauty. The actual description is not too detailed; like many good horror writers, King understands that the greatest horror is what you can come up with yourself, that the things left to the imagination can be worse than anything written (or shown on the screen in truly great horror films).
But when King does describe, the turns of phrase he uses actually can add to the terror he is building on the page:
“They were standing on a rocky, rubble-strewn plate of rock which slid out of the thin earth directly ahead like a dark tongue.”
Not stuck out, but slid out. A tongue of rock. Images that add to the image of entering a mouth of hell. A real mouth, yet without saying it as such. It lets the reader know in a subtle way that this is where the really bad stuff is going to happen.
The sense of place in this passage is eerie and also scene-setting for what comes very soon after, but also leaves enough to the imagination to make it just that little bit worse for the reader. A scene of great power and creepiness. And, simply put, just great writing.
My favourite scene.