Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Miss Sidley Was Her Name, And Teaching Was Her Game: A Look At Stephen King's "Suffer the Little Children"

My outside cat hasn't come up this morning, so I must admit I am a little worried. The weather feels amazing today, though, and we live in the woods with plenty of places for cats to burrow down in and sleep. He's done this numerous times before, but I can't help but worry just a bit every time. I suppose this puts me in the right frame of mind to write about "Suffer the Little Children," though, which is good -- it's definitely one of Stephen King's darker short stories to date. It was written back in the '70s, when King was a young author. He was drinking a lot, which probably helped give his novels and short stories that certain edge. It's pretty unexplainable, but if you've read King's older work you know what I'm talking about.

Stephen King in the 1970s.

"Suffer the Little Children" is, if I'm not wrong, the shortest story in the collection. It's quick and painful, like a knife to the throat -- a quality present in the best of King's work. It's about Miss Sidley, a stern, older school-teacher being driven insane by her students so she takes them one by one down to the sound-proofed mimeograph room and shoots them with a small hand-gun she's concealed in her purse. She's discovered by a fellow teacher who happens to come into the room, and is soon sent away to Juniper Hill (connection to IT! connection to IT!!!), a mental institution in Augusta. Soon after, she slits her throat. Of the story, King says this in the book's notes:

"This story is from the same period as most of the stories in Night Shift, and was originally published in Cavalier, as were most of the stories in that 1978 collection. It was left out because my editor, Bill Thompson, felt the book was getting "unwieldy" -- this is the way editors sometimes tell writers that they have to cut a little before the price of the book soars out of sight. I voted to cut a story called  "Gray Matter" from Night Shift. Bill voted to cut "Suffer the Little Children." I deferred to his judgement, and read the story over carefully before deciding to include it here. I like it quite a lot -- it feels a little bit like the Bradbury of the late forties and early fifties to me, the fiendish Bradbury who reveled in killer babies, renegade undertakers, and tales only a Crypt-Keeper could love. Put another way, "Suffer the Little Children" is a ghastly sick-joke with no redeeming social merit whatever. I like that in a story."

King said all that needs to be said on the subject, so I'll go now. I know this has been a short entry, but "Suffer" is a really short story and doesn't really warrant a deep analysis. I loved it, but that's no surprise. I'm sure I won't be able to say that a little later on when discussing a few of the stories in this book, but so far Nightmares & Dreamscapes is 3 for 3.

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