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-by Susan Wise Bauer

Stephen King's Tragic Kingdom

Nightmare or fantasy, [amusement] parks allow one to inhabit a world where some powerful narrative once held sway, a narrative that gave people a reason for living, and in whose absence a kind of psychic trauma ensues. Even if a narrative places one in hell, it is better to be there than to be nowhere.

-Neil Postman,

The End of Education

Welcome to Stephen King's amusement park. It's all fun and games on the surface; a sprawling, glittering, multi-billion-dollar entertainment estate, boasting 46 massive King attractions-novels, movies, short stories, collections. Every ride is guaranteed to set your heart racing and color your dreams for weeks to come. No self-respecting critic would put a toe through the turnstiles, but millions of Gentle Readers cram in. At one point last year, during the publication of King's paperback serial novel The Green Mile, King occupied five spots on the New York Times best-seller list. He has just made yet another movie deal, for 1994's Rose Madder. His two new novels, Desperation and the pseudonymous The Regulators, total nearly twelve hundred pages and come shrink-wrapped together with their own reading light. Now you can stay in the park after dark.

But be careful. In the King theme park, danger is more than an illusion. Evil exists. Supernatural forces lurk in gloomy corners. Demons are real, and they're waiting just inside the gates to rip your head off.

In Desperation, which King calls "the best story that I've written in probably ten or fifteen years," Tak-the demon du jour-has been trapped underground in a copper mine for centuries. When a strip-mining company opens its imprisoning shaft, Tak immediately escapes and possesses one of the inhabitants of a nearby town.

The life of a roaming demon is not as easy as you might suppose, and Tak has two sizable problems. Its superhuman energy wears out the bodies of its human hosts in short order, forcing it to jump ship as its present body disintegrates in typical King style. (Let's just say ...

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