Daytime Nightmares Paired

In this neck of the Macabre Republic at least, this afternoon’s much-hyped solar eclipse proved to be a dud. If today’s celestial event also left you feeling underwhelmed, then you might find a more thrilling experience by turning back three decades–to the literary rendition of a total eclipse in the linked Stephen King novels Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne.

The dark curtain that the July 20, 1963, eclipse drew down over King’s Maine landscape cloaked some seriously illicit acts: premeditated murder (of Dolores Claiborne’s drunken, abusive husband) and traumatizing molestation (of ten-year-old Jessie Burlingame by her own father). False nightfall also gives rise to some truly strange conditions, as the protagonists of the respective novels are able to glimpse (via enhancement of the mind’s eye) moments of their counterpart’s ordeal. The path of the eclipse appears to cut straight through The Twilight Zone.

Aside from such Gothic/uncanny plot elements, King also darkens our encounter of this eclipse with passages of memorably creepy description. In Gerald’s Game, the “premature twilight, both entrancing and horrifying” triggers the untimely and “very scary sound” of an “old hooty-owl” crying out in the woods (King’s subtle nod to Manly Wade Wellman’s Dark Forces story titled “Owls Hoot in the Daytime”?). Jesse is further unnerved by the eclipse’s unusual optical effects: “What scares her the most is the way [her and her dad’s] shadows on the deck are fading. She has never seen shadows fade quite like that before, and is almost positive she never will again.”

Dolores Claiborne, meanwhile, lends the eclipse a dark fantastic aspect. The eponymous narrator’s depiction of the benighted heavens hearkens back to Tolkien. Sauron’s evilly omniscient and captivating Eye is ostensibly matched by the outré orb Dolores observes:

The eclipse wasn’t total yet, but it was close. The sky itself was a deep royal purple, and what I saw hangin in it above the reach looked like a big black pupil with a gauzy veil of fire spread out most of the way around it. On one side there was a thin crescent of sun still left, like beads of molten gold in a blast furnace. I had no business lookin at such a sight and I knew it, but once I had, it seemed like I couldn’t look away.

Two unique narratives conjoined by central astronomical device, Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne clearly demonstrate that when it comes to giving an unsettling twist to a natural phenomenon, there is no eclipsing King.


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