The Tommyknockers


The Tommyknockers

infobox Book |
name = The Tommyknockers
title_orig =
translator =


image_caption = First edition cover
author = Stephen King
cover_artist = One Plus One Studio
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Horror novel
publisher = G. P. Putnam & Sons
release_date = November 10, 1987
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 558 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-399-13314-3
preceded_by = Misery
followed_by = The Dark Half

"The Tommyknockers" is a 1987 horror novel by Stephen King. While maintaining a horror style, the novel is more of an excursion into the realm of science fiction for King, as the residents of the Maine town of Haven gradually fall under the influence of a mysterious object buried in the woods.

In his autobiography, "On Writing", King attributes the basic premise to the short story "The Colour Out of Space" by H. P. Lovecraft. It also draws fairly obvious parallels with the classic 1956 movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and the 1959 novelette "The Big Front Yard" by Clifford Simak. King wrote the book during a period of acknowledged substance abuse, and has written that he realized later on that the novel was a metaphor for that addiction.

The writer and critic Kim Newman has cited another influence on the novel, saying that in it King had "more or less rewritten "Quatermass and the Pit","Newman, Kim in cite episode|title=The Kneale Tapes|series=Timsehift|credits=Producer - Tom Ware; Executive Producer - Michael Poole|network=BBC Four|airdate=2003-10-15] a 1950s BBC television science-fiction serial. This influence was also picked up on in "The Times" newspaper's review of the book on its release.cite news|title=Space horror; Review of 'The Tommy Knockers' by Stephen King|first=Tom|last=Hutchinson|publisher=The Times|date=1988-03-17]

Plot summary

While walking in the woods near the small town of Haven, Maine, Roberta (Bobbi) Anderson, a writer of Wild West-based fiction, stumbles upon a metal object which turns out to be the slightest portion of a long-buried alien spacecraft. Once exposed, the spacecraft begins releasing an invisible, odorless gas into the atmosphere which gradually transforms people into beings similar to the aliens who populated the spacecraft. It also provides them with a short-sighted form of genius which makes them very inventive, but does not provide any philosophical or ethical insight, instead provoking psychotic violence (on the part of people like 'Becka Paulson, who kills her adulterous husband by fatally rewiring the TV, killing herself in the process) and the disappearance of a young boy (David Brown, whose older brother Hilly teleports him to another planet referred to as Altair 4 by the Havenites).

The book's central protagonist is a poet and friend of Bobbi Anderson, named James Eric Gardener, who goes by the nickname "Gard". He is a man with left-leaning, liberal sensibilities who is apparently immune to the ship's effects because of a steel plate in his head, a souvenir of a teenage skiing accident. Unfortunately, Gard is also an alcoholic. His relationship with Bobbi deteriorates as the novel progresses. She is almost totally overcome by the euphoria of "becoming" one with the spacecraft, but Gard increasingly sees her health worsen and her sanity disappear. The novel is filled with metaphors for the stranglehold of substance abuse, which King himself was experiencing at the time, as well as for the dangers of nuclear power and radioactive fallout (as evidenced by the physical transformations of the townspeople, which resemble the effects of radiation exposure), of unchecked technological advancement, and of the corrupting influence of power. Government agencies are uniformly portrayed as corrupt and totalitarian throughout the book, and Bobbi and Gard themselves are led into thinking that they can use the ship's "power" as a weapon to overthrow such authority figures.

Seeing the transformation of the townspeople worsen, the torture and manipulation of Bobbi's dog Peter, and people being killed or worse when they pry too deeply into the strange events; Gardener eventually manipulates Bobbi into allowing him into the ship. And after he sees that Bobbi is not entirely his old friend and lover, he gives her one more chance before he finally kills her with the same gun that Monster Dugan almost had killed her with in her back field previously. However, just before he finally ends her life, Bobbi sends a telepathic APB and all the townspeople show up at her place very quickly. In the meanwhile, Gardener manages to accidentally (by dropping the gun) shoot himself in the ankle. In exchange for using the "new and improved" computers and what little "becoming" he underwent to save David Hillman, Ev Hillman helps him escape into the woods (which soon catches fire from one of the Tommyknocker's "toys") at which point Gardener enters the ship, activates it, and with the last of his life he telepathically launches it into space, resulting in the deaths of nearly all of the changed townspeople but preventing the possibly disastrous consequences of the ship's influence spreading to the outside world. And very shortly after (in the epilogue) members from the FBI, CIA, and "The Shop" invade Haven and take as many of the Havenites as possible (they kill nearly a quarter of the survivors) and a few of the devices created by the altered people of Haven. Also, it is discovered that David Brown has been sent to Hilly Brown's hospital room, safe and sound.

The book takes its title from an old children's rhyme:

quote|Late last night and the night before,

Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door.

I want to go out, don't know if I can,

'Cause I'm so afraid of the Tommyknocker man.

King himself wrote the second verse; and claims to have heard the first verse when he was a child.

Miniseries

A TV miniseries based on the novel was shown in 1993 on ABC starring Jimmy Smits as Jim Gardner and Marg Helgenberger as Bobbi Anderson.

Tommyknockers

The word Tommyknockers is not the true name of the aliens who originally crash landed on earth eons ago, but rather a title bestowed on them subconsciously by Jim Gardener which was adopted by the people of Haven (Bobbi herself admitted that the alien race had no name to call their own and simply accepted whatever title was given to them on the planets they landed on). Their appearance was revealed after Jim and Bobbi finally enter the spaceship as creatures taller than a human due to abnormally long legs (a ladder within the ship had rungs spaced at least four feet apart) along with feet that ended in a single over-sized claw each and extended dog-like faces with gray translucent skin and milky colored eyes. Their species lacks any distinctive gender and also possesses telepathic abilities which they use to communicate with each other as well as read the minds of any who aren't like them. Yet despite their hive consciousness and their level of scientific skill, the Tommyknockers are ultimately revealed to be little more than "cavemen from space" as Jim put it who are able to improve technology but not to create it or even harness it to its greatest capabilities. They also have the mentality of unruly children, cooperating only in the most dire circumstances and frequently turning on each other at the slightest provocation. In fact, when Jim and Bobbi entered the "bridge" of their spacecraft, the reason for the crash was revealed to be due to a fight that had broken out among its pilots.

The Tommyknockers greatest creation is of course their spaceship which is also their means of reproduction given their asexual nature. Cast in the shape of an immense flying saucer (when unearthed the ship completely shadowed over the surrounding forests and was seen for miles around) the alien vessel was piloted by mental control and powered by the life force of lower ranking Tommyknockers. Upon exposure to an alien atmosphere, an unknown gas is released through oxidation into the surrounding area. Initial exposure to small amounts of the gas results in any sentient creature mutating into a Tommyknocker, a process they refer to as "the becoming." Less advanced creatures are incapable of adapting to the gas and are subsequently killed off by it. The first stage begins with the person gaining the ability to improve (but not understand) the surrounding technology (as in Haven where the exposed populace altered a variety of devices using little more than scavenged electronic components and D-sized batteries). As the amount of alien gas in the air increases, continued exposure results in the person undergoing drastic change as their teeth and hair fall out and their personalities become increasingly unstable. In the final stages; their skin fades to translucent, their blood congeals and turns green, sexual characteristics fade away, and they become incapable of surviving outside of the gas's influence. Likewise, any person entering the contaminated area during the final stages of the becoming will suffer physical damage similar to radiation poisoning and quickly die. It's also revealed towards the novel's end that the ship transmits a mysterious signal throughout the contaminated area capable of shorting out radio signals and other electrical equipment. Both are required for the becoming to occur, so as long as a person is protected from either (in the case of Jim Gardner whose metal plate from a skiing accident blocked the transmission or those who donned portable oxygen units to prevent breathing in the gas) would be temporarily immune to the ship's influence.

References to the Stephen King Universe

*On a trip to retrieve batteries, two Haven Tommyknockers in the process of becoming pass through Derry. One of them, who is exhibiting severe withdrawal from Haven's atmosphere, claims to see a clown "with silver dollars for eyes." This matches the description of King's titular character from "It".
* Jim Gardner comes out of a week-long bender to find himself on a New Hampshire beach near the Alhambra Hotel, and soon after he encounters and has a conversation with a teenaged boy named Jack. The location and name suggest that this could be Jack Sawyer, the main character of Stephen King and Peter Straub's novel "The Talisman".
*References to a secret government scientific/military group, called "the Shop", are made. The remaining aliens were taken there. A reference to a young girl who had previously set the place on fire, is a reference to "Firestarter". A little girl brought there for experimentation burnt the place down with her supernatural fire power.
*Stephen King himself is mentioned in the novel, though not by name. The missing boy's grandfather says he is a fan of Bobbi's novels because they are realistic and not about made up stuff like the guy who "writes up in Bangor"; a reference to King himself.
*David Bright, a Bangor newspaper reporter, meets with Ev Hillman, who attempts to explain to him what is happening in Haven. Bright had previously interviewed Johnny Smith in King's earlier novel "The Dead Zone".
*Ev Hillman muses on the strange history of the woods that the spaceship is buried in, in the process touching on nearby Ludlow and the Micmac Indian curse detailed in King's "Pet Sematary".
*While Ev Hillman is staying in Derry, he claims to hear laughter coming from the drains. The laughter, along with voices, are also heard by the characters in "It".
*Hilly promises his younger brother that he will give him all of his G.I.Joes, even Crystal Ball, a villanous character. Stephen King actually wrote Crystal Ball's file card for G.I.Joe in 1987.
*Gard makes a comparison between himself and Jack Nicholson in the movie "The Shining", which is based on a novel written by Stephen King
*While Claudell Weems and Andy Torgeson are heading for Haven, they pick up police news on their radio, one of them coming from Arnette, Texas, a fictional town, home to Stuart Redman in The Stand.
*At one point, Gardener listens to the radio station WZON, which is actually owned by Stephen and Tabitha King. The radio station is named after The Twilight Zone.
*The book mentiones that Jim Gardner is being driven by his "ka" which is a reference to The Dark Tower Series.

Cultural References

*Blind Guardian has a song off of their album "Tales From the Twilight World" called "Tommyknockers". The song is based on the book, and includes the first verse of the Tommyknockers rhyme as part of the chorus. There is another song on the album called "Altair 4".

Editions

* ISBN 0-606-04113-3 (prebound, 1987)
* ISBN 0-451-15660-9 (mass market paperback, 1988)
* ISBN 84-01-49998-4 (hardcover, 1992)
* ISBN 84-01-47465-5 (hardcover, 1999)
* ISBN 0-399-13699-1 (hardcover)

Footnotes


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