“Late last night and the night before,Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door.I want to go out, don’t know if I can, ‘Cause I’m so afraid of the Tommyknocker man.”
– Stephen King, The Tommyknockers
Those things that have a rhythm to them tend to be the ones that stick around the longest. At the start of his novel The Tommyknockers, Stephen King provides us with a rhyme: Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers knocking at your door. What. The. Fuck. is a Tommyknocker? Can’t say for sure in a broad sense, but in the context of this novel, they are alien life forms that are stumbled upon by Roberta Anderson, owner of the old Garrick Farm. Bobbie, as we know her, becomes obsessed with digging out a strange piece of metal that was protruding from the ground and as the pages turn we learn that the thing buried is a space ship that had been there for the better part of 25,000 years. Am I the only one who wondered whether there was something connecting this space ship and the thing that was It that arrived in the neighbouring town of Derry all those many years ago? It arrived millions of years ago, but was perhaps acting as a beacon?
The spaceship doesn’t just look pretty. It sheds genius insights to all those near it. Soon Haven town is awash in neat gadgetry that were once things like smoke detectors, coke machines, and typewriters, that now work on telepathy, some weird green light, and a whole hell of a lot of batteries. As they say, the Tommyknockers are builders not idea men so it never occurred to them to use Central Maine Power to juice up their gadgets.
Bobbi enlists the help of her alcoholic, wife-shooting, sometimes lover Gard to dig up the ship. Gard is largely immune to the effects of the ship because of a steel plate in his head. Let’s hear it for trusty metal, protecting another person from fairy magic (Tommyknocker Magic?).
A mid-to-late eighties King book, the Tommyknockers if a middling sort of story. Like it’s chronologically and geologically close cousin, It, Tommyknockers tells the story of how the finding of this ship affects not just a handful of people, but the whole town of Haven. As a consequence we are given a great wealth of detail about many of the town inhabitants. The longer of King’s books are generally like this, especially in the seventies and eighties work (I can’t speak too much for the later novels because I have not yet read them). This type of writing has benefits and drawbacks. In the first case, it leads to a broader canvas. We get to know not just one or two people of a town, but many of them. We feel almost like a town insider. This is the fun part. The drawback of writing about an entire down is that it inevitably increases word count and so we are saddled with books that are at least six hundred pages.
Tommyknockers draws on more than a few of King’s previous works. It, is of course the most obvious, with reference to the clown and to Derry itself. Firestarter is referenced near the end when we learn that The Shop is still in action, and there is reference to Charlie, Miss Firestarter herself, though not by name. And of course, the best part of all is when Mr. King makes reference to himself, as he did when he had Ev Hillman talk about the down home-ness of Bobbi Anderson’s westerns, which were so much better than the monster stories written by that guy up in Bangor. The perks and drawbacks of being a cultural icon, I suppose. It is good that Mr. King has a sense of humour about his own status in pop culture.