Wednesday, September 23, 2020
September 23, 2020: Legends of the Fall: The Body and Stand by Me
[As the leaf-peeping begins in earnest (seriously, that’s a thing we do here in New England), a series on some iconic American images of the loss of innocence that we so often associate with autumn. Add your thoughts on falls, seasonal or symbolic, for a crowd-sourced post sure to be as popular as pumpkin spice (if such a thing is possible)!]
On the novella that’s explicitly about the “fall from innocence,” and the film adaptation that’s less so.
In 1982, frustrated by his inability to publish works that weren’t part of the horror genre in which he had risen to fame, Steven King decided to release four such novellas as one collection, Different Seasons, with each novella linked to one of the four seasons. The most famous, thanks to its cult classic film adaptation, is almost certainly the collection’s first piece, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (seasonal subtitle: Hope Springs Eternal). But nearly as well-known, thanks in large measure to its own popular film adaptation Stand by Me (1986), is the collection’s third piece, The Body (seasonal subtitle: Fall from Innocence). (The collection’s summer novella, Apt Pupil: Summer of Corruption, has also been made into a recent film, and is, in its portrayal of a teenage boy corrupted by a former Nazi war criminal, a candidate for both this week’s series and last weeks on Nazis in America.)
On the surface, The Body and Stand by Me are almost identical: in each forty-something novelist Gordie Lachance narrates the story of a teenage adventure with his three best friends, a trip that the four boys take after hearing about a dead body out in the woods near their hometown. Moreover, each ends with (among other things) Gordie informing the audience that his best best friend, Chris Chambers, worked his way out of a poor and violent upbringing to reach college and law school, only to die in a random and tragic stabbing, a detail that certainly symbolizes the loss of childhood innocence as the protagonists move into the often brutal and cold adult world. Yet the change in title from the novella to the film illustrates a broader thematic shift: Rob Reiner’s movie is far more centrally concerned with the camaraderie and joys of teenage friendship (its last line is “I never had any friends like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”, which appears in the middle of King’s book and is thus emphasized far more in the film); while King’s novella depicts the world’s brutalities much more consistently, including a savage beating that all four boys receive at the hands of an older brother and his friends.
Which is to say, at the risk of oversimplifying the two works, Reiner’s film is ultimately pretty nostalgic about the world of childhood, while King’s novella complicates and to my mind ultimately rejects that kind of nostalgia. Concurrently, the two could be read as depicting the loss of innocence in very different ways: Reiner’s film portraying it as a moment of genuine shift, from one kind of life and world to another; and King’s as more of a realization about the darkness of the world we have always inhabited, even as young people. I think there’s a place in our narratives and images for both stories, and that they complement each other nicely; but I also think that King’s story is a bit truer to the world of young adulthood, which while certainly free of various adult responsibilities and pressures can still be (as the Knowles and Cormier books from Monday’s post illustrate) as fraught and perilous as the darkest realities of adult life.
Next fall tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Images of fall, or The Fall, you’d share?