The Big Ol' 11/22/63 Ramblepost (spoilers abound)
Posted: Posted June 7th, 2019 by Cruinn-Annuin
There's so much content here that I can't tie it all together in a readable fashion, so this is just going to be a point-by-point breakdown of things that I thought. I will try to organize it in the order of chronological relevance, with general notes at the beginning and cosmological implications at the end.
11/22/63 is not a time travel story. Well, to be more specific, it is only a time travel story in a minor sense. Mainly, it is a spy novel. This only occurred to me at the point that Jake was sneaking around and planting bugs in Lee's apartment, at which point I felt like a dolt for not realizing sooner.
The Hulu miniseries is a very decent adaptation, once you factor in the somewhat necessary adjustment towards the much more dramatic angle that the miniseries takes in order to keep their audience engaged. The miniseries, while good at what it does, is very different from the novel. While it was to be expected for them to accelerate many of the plot points, they also completely rearranged and re-wrote many of the elements of the novel. However, the last two episodes drift back towards a faithful adaptation. Overall, it was just as exciting for me to watch as it was for my girlfriend, who hadn't read the novel beforehand.
While the miniseries changes a lot of things about the plot, almost all of the themes and details (down to the color of certain cars) are completely intact. In fact, the miniseries actually has more specific detail than the novel in certain areas.
In the novel, Al does not die naturally. He commits suicide in order to artificially force Jake into action before the diner becomes off-limits. Jake admits that he would have spun out into months or years of obsessive researching before even trying to take action if Al had not died.
In the novel, the health and sanity of the Yellow Card Man deteriorates with every visit to the past - this is the only thing that changes every time. When Jake finally commits to the mission, he steps through to find that the Yellow Card Man has committed suicide and that his card has turned black.
In the novel, Jake Epping takes on the identity of George Amberson. In the miniseries, his alias is Jake Amberson, I suppose to keep from confusing the audience, especially considering that George de Mohrenschildt shares that name. In the novel, he does reference Jake as his middle name - in the miniseries, this is reversed.
In Frank Dunning's butcher shop, there is a sign that advertises meat at 19c per pound. The number 19 is a major recurring detail in the Dark Tower series. The number being in red-over-white reinforces this reference - in the Dark Tower cosmology, White and Red are symbolic of Good and Evil. This may seem like I'm reading too much into it, but this will be correlated with more detail later.
The sports shop that Jake buys the revolver from is named Machen's. This is a reference to playwright Arthur Machen, whose play The Great God Pan was one of the major inspirations for King's novel Revival.
In the novel, Bill dies on Halloween night. He goes to confront Frank right as Frank arrives home to kill his family, but suffers a heart attack in the bushes outside before he can do anything. However, this happens to be where Jake also tries to hide out before confronting Frank - Bill, suspicious of Jake, holds Jake and questions him until Bill has the heart attack, preventing both of them from stopping Frank Dunning. Jake has to return to the present and then attempt to save the Dunning family multiple times - eventually shooting Frank in cold blood well before Halloween and leaving a message for Bill, warning him to get his heart examined (with information about his dead sister in order to demonstrate that the warning is serious and well-founded).
In the miniseries, Bill and Jake become partners, which I see as a somewhat necessary tool for turning the internal conflicts that Jake has in the novel into visible conflicts that the miniseries viewers can understand. This also allows the writers to insert the Bill and Marina subplot, which reinforces the theme of dudes doing dumb shit because of women.
Miz Mimi is not black in the novel. They rewrote her as black in the miniseries, which I think is a misstep. It solidifies the setup for a tragic plot twist that they don't follow through on (explained later).
In the miniseries, the belt from the school leather shop that Miz Mimi gives Jake is stamped with the word "char". This is a word from the High Speech of All-World in the Dark Tower series; it means "death". In 11/22/63, it may be construed as an incomplete "Charlie"; Charlie was a Dark Tower character whose name was noted to be based on the word for death.
I think that they made a misstep with the scenes where Jake finally returns to the present after saving JFK. In the miniseries, everything essentially became Fallout. In the novel, the situation is much more serious. Everything became Fallout and everyone is going to die and there's literally nothing anyone can do to stop it. Whatever weapons were employed in the hot war that Jake's actions precipitated, they destabilized the earth to the point that the tectonics and gravity of Earth was going to literally tear it apart within the next hundred years. In addition, Jake sets society back some number of decades; the civil rights movement is replaced by race war and swastikas are openly displayed on buildings. This makes Jake's sensitivity to the plight of colored Americans tragic, as he actually completely fucked everything up for them in the present. This payoff is completely left out of the miniseries, despite making it a point to show the setup for it.
Jake Epping is a strange King character in that he's portrayed as being blatantly heroic, with only minor flaws. Especially in the novel, there are multiple subplots where Jake simply makes things better with rationality and foreknowledge. This created a distinct unease in me, because this isn't how King writes main characters. I knew there was going to be a payoff for this, and there was...
Johnny Clayton was one of the two actual "heroes" of this story, though this is a very subtle move that the miniseries didn't have time to pull off. In the novel, Johnny was much more psychologically abusive of Sadie. By profession, Johnny was a statistician and he was obsessed with data about nuclear armaments and nuclear war. He was a paranoid schizophrenic that was implied to have had latent psychic sensitivity. He constantly had intrusive thoughts about a future in which nuclear war exterminated vast swathes of the populace and left a diseased wasteland for the survivors to die miserably in. After the separation with Sadie, he was institutionalized and treated with electroshock therapy (a plot element that the miniseries attributed to Bill). Instead of making him "better", the electroshock therapy actually strengthened his psychic ability and made him more certain - the esoteric power of electricity was one of the major themes of King's Revival, wherein a madman uses electric currents and a dying woman to tear open the veil between the living world and the afterlife. Of course, Johnny was entirely correct about his premonitions - he was just insane. Jake, on the other hand, was perfectly sane but entirely wrong about his predictions.
King symbolizes Johnny as a hero in the novel by referencing Johnny's car as having a "white-over-red" color scheme. The colors White and Red, as previously noted, are King's symbolism for Good and Evil, with the specific phrase "White over Red" being indicative of the triumph of Good. This has been in play in King's work for many years, even factoring into the white-over-red (and alternate red-over-white) design of the dust jacket for Insomnia. This is the equivalent of having a character in a old cowboy serial ride a white horse and wear a white hat.
The other "hero" of the work is Lee Harvey Oswald. Despite the fact that Oswald was an open Marxist, King is careful to never have him (or any Russian) called a "Red", or to make reference to the "Red Scare", in order to avoid conflating Marxism with the cosmological Red of King's multiverse. In addition, there are few stories more dramatic and powerful than the assassination of JFK - King mentions the hundreds (or thousands!) of books written about the assassination multiple times. This is important because...
In King's omniverse, one of the most important cosmological theories is the theory of narrative causality and dramatic appropriateness. King's world is a world where stories, archetypes and symbols have objective power. Beyond that, every world in and of itself - past, present and future - constitutes a discrete object: a story. Each world is given overarching structure and stability by narrative. We know that the past pushes back in general when you try to change it, but what happens why you try to change the past by destroying one of the greatest stories ever told? The effect is catastrophic. You don't change the future, you damage the future. It's like smashing the foundation of a pillar with a sledgehammer. In fact, even just by being there, Jake is damaging the fabric of reality.
The Yellow Card Men are watchers and caretakers, people who are able to hold simultaneous alternate realities within their sensorium. Every time Jake time travels, he is adding a thread (plotline) to the already-tangled skein of history (the narrative). As he does so, the Yellow Card Men (audience) have their sanity damaged further and further. They try to weave the threads back together in an orderly fashion, but the well-meaning and ultimately tragic Jake will not be placated until the runs headlong into disaster.
The devastated "saved JFK" timeline might actually have been the origin story of All-World of the Dark Tower series. In the Dark Tower lore, we know that the Old Ones had a nuclear war that essentially destroyed society some hundreds or thousand of years ago. In addition, King mentions a strange, watery ripping sound that occurs intermittently in the Saved JFK present. This sound is not explainable by anything mentioned in 11/22/63, but it may be an indication of a Beam-quake - the phenomena associated with the weakening and eventual shattering of one of the mystical leylines that binds the fabric of reality. Jake saving JFK may have damaged the universe so severely that it began the unraveling of reality that resulted in the strange, semi-magical fantasy land of the Dark Tower.
That's all I can think of right now. I'm probably missing several things that I wanted to talk about. Oh, well. I'll remember them eventually, with discussion and time.
Fatherland, Work, Justice
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