My review... spoilers

  • This message board permanently closed on June 30th, 2020 at 4PM EDT and is no longer accepting new members.

Sweet One

Well-Known Member
Jan 27, 2008
527
116
This thread was supposed to be on the forum for the Institute. I got a notice saying it had been moved and I discovered on a thread titled self-promotion. I don't understand because it's all about the institute. it might not reach its audience. If I take out the blog link can it be moved back?

Understand, I not finished, and even so there could be spoilers in places. I've read further now. But it's such a thought-provoking book that simply had to write about my thoughts so far.Here is my review from my (nearly deceased) blogger:


Ya, know, maybe I should just post the review, as this is the place for it. Please read it, think about it, and answer carefully.



Welcome to my new blog about Stephen King!

I've wanted to write new posts and new blogs for a long time now, but I've been a bit dispirited about them.

But now that Stephen King's brand-new book, The Institute is out, I knew I had to start. It's as good a place as any.

I've read a few reviews, so far, avoiding spoilers for the most part.

At this point of writing, I am just over half-way through the book itself.

There's stuff I don't know yet. Important stuff. For that reason I'll speculate some, and make a follow-up post later.

Let's start by my saying Stephen King is a fantastic writer. Always has been. The first time I read him, ages ago, I actually hated it, but found it brilliant. I read almost anything I could about SK, but avoided reading him for the most part. That is, until the third Dark Tower, book then everything changed. Or almost everything. I haven't read everything by SK, but I was hooked on DT, that's for sure.

The above could be expounded upon for pages, but let's get to the immediate point as soon as possible. But there's one thing to keep in mind first of all.

Stephen King is a lot of things as an author, but first and foremost, for the purposes of this review, SK works are above all, a thinking person's horror. The same term has been applied to the works of satiric horror author Bentley Little, and I can't argue with that (though Little's works seem to be in a slump currently in my opinion). But it applies even more so to Stephen King himself (who also happens to be a Bentley Little fan, BTW).

As an example of this, King's fairly recent book Revival, may be the most thought-provoking book I've yet to read regarding the nature of the human condition, along with the fact that it's possibly the most disturbing book about the same thing.

But his current release may well be equally thought-provoking in regard to the nature of good and evil. It's very profound, especially since it has arrived smack in the middle of our current political climate. Did you ever notice that each side of any political issue claims the moral high ground?

In any case, here is the summary from the blurb from Amazon.com, since I don't care to reiterate the plot:

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as
Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of It, The Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

Note that very last line: the good guys don't always win.

The question here, posed by what I've read so far, is just who the 'good guys' are.

As for the story, I was somewhat thrown by the very first chapter (as have been more than a few others), which was all about a semi-retired policeman taking a part-time job in a hick town.

The next chapter plunges right into the story proper, which is precisely as the blurb describes. Luke is a freakishly bright twelve-year-old, and a minor telekinetic or TK (he has the ability to move things with his mind). From the book we know that Luke's parents are murdered in the deal, though the Miss Trunchbull-like Mrs. Sigsby tells Luke otherwise, assuring him that he and the other kids will be safely returned home once it's all over. In other words, blatantly lying. It soon becomes obvious that the kids never leave the Institute alive; they are killed somehow after suffering the horrors of the infamous Back Half, their corpses apparently disposed of in a Auswitz-like crematorium. In the Institute's Front Half, the captives are treated rather "pleasantly" in the Front Half, and are allowed treats from the vending machines, including even cigarettes and alchohol. This right here is a big signal that they will never leave the institute alive: the adults running the place aren't concerned with the futures of these children because they know very well they won't have any.

Those who "cooperate" receive tokens, as the blurb says; those who are rebellious or who dare to sass the workers are tazered and flogged. The kids are forced to endure a barrage of unethical tests and experiments, including being repeatedly submerged in a tank of freezing water (which also doubles as a punishment for rebels). The kids are divided into two main categories, TP (telepathic) and TK (telekinesis). Then there are those with low vs. high paranormal abilities. Luke is a low level or "pink", according to Institute jargon, but one who shows high-level potential, making him of special value, and subject to particularly horrendous treatment to activate in slumbering powers he may harbor. In the dreaded Back Half, our hapless lab subjects are made to watch cartoons and old movies which makes them see spots and suffer crushing headaches. That's just the setup for some unknown greater Horror waiting them in the back half of Back Half.

In any case, Luke isn't fooled one whit by their lies. Though the Trunchbull-like "headmistress" assures him they undergo a sci-fi mind wipe and sent home, he doesn't buy it for a second.

Naturally, Luke determines to escape, which he actually manages to do with the help of a guilt-stricken caretaker (who afterward hangs herself as a sort of atonement), and another kid named Avery.

I'll stop here to comment on the incredible power found in King's writing. Reading King, as opposed to other author, is like actually experiencing a fictional tale in the written equvilalent of intense 3D. The characters are simply writ deeper in his stories, and the situations hold a realism to a degree that exceeds pretty much every other writer.

For example, the scene in which the young hero mutilates his own ear with a pen knife to rip loose the electronic bug, afterward flinging it back over the wire fence as a distraction, is incredible. This actually fools them BTW, and enables Luke to be long gone before they are even aware (partially because of the distraction caused the said caretaker's guilt-suicide). The hunger and (especially) thirst pangs which torment Luke while on the run are so vividly conveyed they must be read to be believed. I've noted before that King characters commonly find themselves in situations where they suffering terribly from thirst and hunger, something I'll explore further in other posts. Just a couple of examples here.

I am, like I said, not finished with this. I've reached the point in which it looks like Luke's path just might cross with that of the cop we met in the first chapter.

According to one review there are a number of Dark Tower references in Institute, while another reviewer said there weren't. I didn't notice any. The first reviewer noticed a 'Salem's Lot reference, but I didn't see it (or haven't come to it yet).

The main thing about all this is, like I said, the nature Good and Evil, the main reason I decided to write about it.

A long time ago, when I first began to question to existence of objective evil, was when I took notice of the altogether obvious fact that real-life "villains", including history's vilest, most evil men, almost never considered themselves to be so. They all professed to being on the side of the angels, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, you name them (a possible exception being Ivan the Terrible). You just don't bad guys chortling about how eeeevil they are, or who are out to crush the "forces of good" other than comics, cartoons, and the less realistic brands of fiction.

The Institute workers are generally cold and callous to their young test subjects. Most have become inured to the suffering of children. One is smarmy and hypocritical and flashes a plastic smile. Some are very clearly sadists. Some are so cold they appear to downright hate the kids (though quite possibly, if asked, they'd say something like, "You can't allow yourself to think of themselves as children. You just can't. It can be really hard sometimes. But you just can't give in. You have to remember they're test subjects, you can't let yourself forget what's at stake here."

And that's just it. We soon learn that Mrs. Sigsby not only believes their work justifiable, but absolutely vital.

Why, knowing that they operate at Mengele-like levels depravity and cruelty?

It seems Sigsby and her workers are convinced in that some manner of cataclysmic horror will befall humanity and all life on earth if they don't do what are doing. Just what is this unseen world-destroying menace? I haven't been told yet.

But just to give an example or two from the SK multiverse, suppose that whatever they're doing to the kids to utilize their powers (and resulting in their deaths) is somehow averting a flood of Todash monsters from the cracks between the worlds. Or maybe a situation like in The Mist, only on a global scale. Suppose they are right, so far as the menace is concerned. And the only known way to keep it at bay involves the wasting of innocents. Does that make it right? To answer in the affirmative would seem to render the terms "good" and "evil" themselves useless. Are good and evil, right and wrong, really objective realities if a cataclysm must be avoided by such as the Institute?


Somehow, evil is so much more disturbing to me when its defenders attempt to justify it as good (which they nearly always do). But what's even more disturbing is the lurking possibility that such defenders might turn out to be right. Now consider: Suppose that Sigsby's fear is correct, and only the Institute and its monstrously inhumane practice is all that stands between humankind and obliberation. Could even this justify such monstrous crimes? Contrary to what the headmistress believes, some of us definitely don't agree that "the ends justify the means" (or to semi-quote Lenin, as opined by one reviewer, "to make an omelet, you need to break a few eggs"). I don't really think King believes that either.

It would much more comfortable if it were revealed that Mrs. Sigsby's beliefs are totally false after all. Fortunately, I can't think of a single instance in which unethical acts on par with the institute, or mass killings or any inhumane treatment of children, etc. was actually proven justifiable or necessary. But I rather suspect King won't let the reader off that easily. He seldom does. The few slight semi-spoiler I've read in regard to this suggests that King might very well have ended this story with moral ambiguity. This suggests that there's at least something to Sigsby's fears concerning a impending cataclysm. Still, I think King ultimately considers the Institute works the bad guys; he once expressed the opinion that the "for the greater good argument" was wrong in regard to the end of Storm of the Century. Some reviewers have suggested that this work is fairly optimistic for King, an author notorious for tragic endings. The kids just might win in this one. But will the question linger over who the good guys really are? An unsettling one to say the least.

(as a postscript, I did heard a suggestion that (POSSIBLE SPOILER), that menace might have something to do with nuclear war. I didn't read far enough, and don't know. Now, its up for grabs whether there will ever be a nuclear war, and can't see how torturing and killing kids would be necessary. On the other hand, if you suppose that you had proof that such a cataclysm had really been averted by the Institute, it would put the situation in a different light! Still, the future would still be uncertain)
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • Like
Reactions: GNTLGNT and Neesy

Sweet One

Well-Known Member
Jan 27, 2008
527
116
...got moved to self-promotion, and I'm not sure why, except maybe for the link to my blog. Which I can remove, if I can edit it, by I think it's too late. Here's a link to self-promotion page, since I'm not sure its audience can find it there:
 

FlakeNoir

Original Kiwi© SKMB®
Moderator
Apr 11, 2006
44,082
175,641
New Zealand
...got moved to self-promotion, and I'm not sure why, except maybe for the link to my blog. Which I can remove, if I can edit it, by I think it's too late. Here's a link to self-promotion page, since I'm not sure its audience can find it there:
Yes, it will be because of the link to your blog. I'll just edit that out for you now and then can move your post into this thread.
 

Marty Coslaw

Low-BDNF Gork
May 19, 2018
177
720
34
DC
Didn't like this one as much as you did, but I appreciate the thought you put into it. Based on your interest in the story crossovers and preventing future disasters, I wonder if you read Gwendy's Button Box? If not, I think you'd really enjoy it (sequel by Richard Chizmar coming soon!).
 

Sweet One

Well-Known Member
Jan 27, 2008
527
116
I finally finished the whole thing, and yes, as anyone else knows the threat was nuclear war, not todash monsters. I was thinking of Dark Tower references, and there weren't any. No connection with the institute at all. The last paragraph literally teared me up, it was so bitterswet.

I'd like to say, in the words of a long-ago advertisement for Pet Semetary, "Stephen King has REALLY done it this time, not just done it again." Anyone else think this is his best work ever?

The final chapter indeed reveals King's position that willingly sacrificing a few for the sake of the many is NOT the moral choice, even though he leaves the possibility that a nuclear attack is not impossible.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • Like
Reactions: GNTLGNT

William8675309

Well-Known Member
Mar 9, 2018
106
476
53
When first announced folks speculated a connection to Firestarter. Its been so long since I read it. Were there references other than the obvious custodian helping kids and a shady government facility?
 
  • Like
Reactions: GNTLGNT