Literature / 11/22/63

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11/22/63 is a Historical Fiction novel written by Stephen King and published in 2011.

Jake Epping, a divorced high school teacher, discovers from his dying friend a time portal to a date in 1958 at the back of his friend's diner. His friend proposes that he go back in time to stop John F. Kennedy's assassination. There, Jake lives a different life and falls in love all while preparing for the eventual date that will change history.

A television series by J. J. Abrams and Stephen King starring James Franco as Jake aired on Hulu in 2016.

This story provides examples of:

  • Age Lift: Bill Turcotte is noticeably younger in the series than he is in the book, most likely to go with his large role (see below)
  • The Alcoholic: The mysterious Yellow-Card Man pre-suicide, as well as Jake's ex-wife.
  • The Alleged Car: When Jake tries to change the past, every single car he touches turns into this.
  • Alternate History: Jake creates a spectacularly bad future, where the Vietnam War went nuclear, George Wallace and Curtis LeMay became president, the Civil Rights Act never passed, and racial tensions are even worse. And that ignores the Earthquakes that will destroy the world...
  • And I Must Scream: The Guardians. They are not only confined to an extremely small area (in this case over a broken sewer pipe), but the Time Travelers' effects drive them all insane.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Jake Epping is Jimla.
  • Arc Words:
    • JIMLA!
    • Life turns on a dime.
    • The past harmonizes.
    • The past is obdurate.
    • Dancing is life.
    • For the television show: "You shouldn't be here."
  • Artistic License – History: One of Jake's friends tells him to stop wasting his time and bet the Bears to win the NFC in 1963. The Bears did win the title that year, but it was still the NFL. The NFL/AFL merger (which led to the creation of the NFC and AFC) would not be agreed to until 1966, and was not consummated until 1970.
  • Ascended Extra: Bill Turcotte has a much larger role in the miniseries than he had in the book. In the book, he only appears during the part set in Derry. In the series he becomes Jake’s ally in his quest to save Kennedy, and moves with him to Jody, posing as Jake’s little brother.
  • Axe Crazy: Johnny, Sadie's obsessive-compulsive ex-husband who tracks her down and nearly kills her but for Jake and Deke's timely intervention—at least in one timeline.
    • Not to mention Frank Dunning, who brutally murders his wife and children with a sledgehammer.
  • Bad Future / Crapsack World: The result of Kennedy being saved.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Subverted. Sadie is disfigured and given a Glasgow Grin on one side of her face by her crazy ex-husband. She gets better by the end of the book but still retains a scar.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jake finds out that not only did stopping the Kennedy assassination make a world far worse, it will eventually destroy the fabric of time. Jake is able to undo this easily, but sadly he can't ever meet Sadie again. Thankfully, she turns out to still be alive in modern days, albeit wounded by her crazy ex. Ultimately, the only thing he changed was that he aged the years he spent in the past.
  • Bookends: Jake makes his first trip in time because Harry Dunning tells him the disturbing history of his life, and Jake realizes he can fix it. He makes his final trip because Harry Dunning tells him the disturbing history of the new world his time travel has created, and again Jake knows that he can fix it.
  • Butterfly of Doom: The "butterfly effect" is explicitly mentioned (multiple times) in the novel. Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder is named. It's impossible to make a completely positive change to the past. Positive changes will be accompanied by some negative effect—and a large enough change can unravel the very fabric of the universe.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good: Zigzagged on the FBI. After saving Kennedy, the FBI agent in charge is content to help Jake disappear and gives him a large amount of money to do so. However, in the Crapsack Future, it is revealed that Hoover actually ordered the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • During his stay in Derry, Jake runs into Richie Tozier and Beverly Marsh, two of the "Losers Club" from It. A certain clown is referenced as well.
    • The number 19 crops in a few places. An example would be Jake's safe deposit box number being 775. This may make this book fit in with The Dark Tower series. June 19,1999, the day King was hit by a car and nearly killed, is mentioned as the day nuclear war broke out.
    • One of the cars seen in the Bad Future is a Takura Spirit, also from The Dark Tower series.
    • A red Plymouth Fury keeps turning up as well, particularly as it's driven by Sadie's psychotic ex.
    • Jake fears killing Frank Dunning could result in his imprisonment in Shawshank State Prison.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Lampshaded. Situations keep repeating for Jake as the past "harmonizes."
  • Cool Car: The portal happens to dump travelers out near a dealership with a killer Ford Sunliner for sale.
  • Deconstruction: Of romanticizing the so-called "good old days". As noted below, there is quite a lot of Deliberate Values Dissonance and aversions of Politically Correct History, not to mention the fact that trying to change the past to better the future ends up leading to disastrous consequences for everyone.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: It's very frequent. From Sadie not knowing anything about OCD, to Deke, one of Jake's elderly friends, reminiscing about Minstrel Shows.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: In the Bad Future, Kennedy runs the Vietnam War the same way Bush ran the second Iraq war, with even worse results.
  • Domestic Abuser:
    • Oswald is one. Frank Dunning is worse.
    • Johnny Clayton's abuse of Sadie is more emotional and psychological, especially his putting a broom between them. At least until he comes to cut her up.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: When Jake tries to change the past, ever more significant calamities befall him. When he gets close to making a big change, the universe stops dicking around and tries to kill him repeatedly.
  • Evolving Credits: After going unchanged for most of the series, the opening for the final episode changes things up. Given its rather foreboding imagery, such as the drooping red strings, the diner being on fire, and the overturned car, it's an early tell that something has Gone Horribly Wrong.
  • Fallen States of America: The US ends up like this by 2011 as a result of Jake preventing the Kennedy assassination.
  • The Fifties: Technically straddles the 50's and 60's, but Central Texas isn't exactly known for being on the forefront of social trends.
  • For the Evulz: George de Mohrenschildt basically confesses that he baited Lee Harvey Oswald into shooting at Edwin Walker for fun.
  • Freudian Excuse: Oswald has these.
  • Grandfather Paradox: Hand Waved. When Jake asks about it, Al just asks what kind of sicko would even want to try? As Jake goes on, it becomes evident that if possible, it would at the least be very, very difficult.
  • Gray's Sports Almanac: Al's notes. Some of which are actual sports scores for betting purposes.
    • Deconstructed; placing big sports bets is a surefire way to draw the attention of organized crime, which happens to Jake on three separate occasions. Also, Al leaves behind the results of a boxing match that took place after he left the 1960's (and could not use himself) just in case Jake needs extra cash. Jake not only uses the match results to pick up more money, they also serve as a bona fide to Sadie that he is in fact a time traveller.
  • Historical-Domain Character: A chunk of the book is Epping keeping a close eye on Lee Harvey Oswald and monitoring his life and relationships with friends and family.
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Extends it to every major event in history. It turns out that changing such events can and often will lead to a slow-but-certain Time Crash, other nasty side effects notwithstanding. Jake finds this out the hard way.
  • Idiot Ball: Three major ones, two relating to the fact that every trip through the time portal is a Reset Button.
    • Al wants to prevent the Kennedy assassination, but he only feels 95% sure that Lee Harvey Oswald is the real killer and acted alone, so he (and later, Jake) spends five years in the past attempting to make sure. Why not just track down and kill Oswald right away, head back through the portal, and spend five minutes on the Internet checking to see if Kennedy was still killed? You can always just hit the Reset Button and try again if you got it wrong. note 
    • By the time Al gets back from his mission to save Kennedy, it has become clear that the timeline resists change, that the resistance is proportional to the magnitude of the change, and that it will resist a large change like preventing the Kennedy assassination with near-irresistible lethal force. Being too ill to complete the mission himself, he passes it on to Jake... who proceeds to go on a potential suicide mission without informing anyone else what he's up to. Okay, granted, he wants to keep the time portal a secret, but surely he could have found ONE trustworthy person to sit outside the portal with instructions that if Jake is not back in two minutes (meaning he has died in the past), to find ANOTHER trustworthy person to wait while the first attempts to complete the mission that both Al and Jake have failed.
    • Al is aware of the Butterfly Effect, as is Jake. They talk about it at some length. And yet, it never occurs to either of them that making such a fundamental alteration to world history as they are planning would necessarily result in millions of people dying or never existing simply as a result of countless things happening differently than they actually did. In Al's case, he's an idiot because he completely disregards the possibility that the changes might be very negative, and Jake is an idiot because he has five years to think about the repercussions and never really does.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: A weird, non-lethal subversion: While Jake blames Sadie getting stabbed in the face on his mucking around with the past, when he eventually fixes the Bad Future his saving Kennedy caused, he finds out that Sadie gets stabbed anyway... because the past really does harmonize.
  • Irony: While in the past, someone mentions that having Kennedy for president will lead to the end of the world, with people living in pollution and open sores on their bodies. This is exactly what happens after Jake saves Kennedy and travels back to the future to see how things have changed.
  • It's All About Me: While Sadie is recovering from Johnny's attack all Sadie's mother can talk about is how they look in front of Johnny's family. Sadie appropriately throws her out.
  • It's for a Book: Jake's original cover story as to why he was traveling to Dallas. Eventually, he actually starts writing a book.
  • John F. Kennedy: Saving him from death is the main plot point.
  • Just in Time: Jake stops Oswald at the very last minute.
  • The Mafia: Jake wins a few long shot bets from them to fund his time in the past. It burns him when he doesn't account for their interstate connections.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Jake hits Johnny in the head with a fire poker, driving the spike clean through his skull. Perhaps as a result of the amateur lobotomy, Johnny just stares at him blankly, looking a bit confused. Then Sadie, to everyone's immense relief, blows Johnny away with the handgun he dropped.
  • Mister Sand Man Sequence: An unmistakably late 50s scene greets Jake everytime he goes through the portal, scored with Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs 1960 hit "Stay."
  • Mondegreen: One of the characters Jake meets is called "Silent Mike", because when he was little, he misheard the song "Silent Night", thinking that it was all about him.
  • Mundane Utility: Al Templeton initially uses the time portal to get meat at a cheap price in 1958 to make a profit in the present.
  • My Beloved Smother: Oswald's mother, Marguerite.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After Jake comes back after having saved Kennedy, when talking to Harry.
  • Mystery Meat: Subverted. It's assumed by everyone that the reason why Al Templeton's meat is so cheap is because he's using roadkill. In reality it's because he's getting it from 1958.
  • No Communities Were Harmed:
    • Like in It, Derry is meant as a stand-in for Bangor, Maine.
    • King never states outright exactly where Jodie, TX (or Denholm County, in which it is located) is meant to be but it is close enough to Dallas/Fort Worth, where Jake moves to in order to spy on Oswald.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Al believed preventing the Kennedy assassination would lead to a better and brighter future, and recruits Jake's help in doing just that. Instead, this causes serious damage to the fabric of time, and creates an even bleaker future.
  • Oh Crap!: When Jake hears cheerleaders chanting "Jim-La!".
  • Phony Degree: Jake has a genuine degree... from 2011, and knows better than to produce it to get a job in the late 1950s/early 1960s. So he gets a second degree from a diploma mill. It only works for so long, as the school officials in Jodie take time to investigate his background. A state law requiring vaccination records for all schoolteachers ultimately undoes Jake's ruse, although he's garnered enough goodwill that he's allowed simply to leave once his contract expires rather than forfeit all pay and possibly go to jail.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Jake has to observe Frank Dunning and Lee Harvey Oswald but avoid actually interacting with them at all costs due to the very real danger of altering their behavior in a way he won't be able to predict. Because of this, for the overwhelming majority of the book, Jake just follows his targets around and does almost nothing to progress the plot himself.
  • Politically Correct History: Averted. While traveling through the Jim Crow-era South, Jake notices that the "Colored" toilets at a gas station are a stump over a stream surrounded by poison ivy. He mentions that he thinks about it every time he starts to romanticize the past.
  • Portal to the Past: At the back of a diner. Turns out that's where the owner is getting an amazing deal on meat.
  • Reset Button: Anyone who travels through the portal overwrites the actions of the previous person. Zack Lang, a.k.a. the Green Card Man, hints that there may be a lot more work involved offstage.
  • Revolvers Are For Amateurs: Jake's choice of .38 revolver hints at his inexperience with firearms. Since he's learning as he goes, he chooses it due to its compactness and simplicity.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: When in Derry, Jake makes use of a .38 revolver. He becomes fond of it and purchases a second one when he moves to Dallas.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: Affects anyone in immediate proximity to the portal. Although having to reconcile multiple alternate realities can be bad for your mental health.
  • Russian Girl Suffers Most: Lee's Russian wife Marina certainly has it the worst.
  • Series Continuity Error: While in Derry in 1958, Jake is told the body of Patrick Hockstetter, one of the victims of Pennywise, has recently been found in The Barrens. However, in "IT" Patrick was dragged into the tunnels underneath Derry by Pennywise and remained there undiscovered for decades. The Losers encounter his (skeletal) remains down in the tunnels in both 1958 and again in 1985. Likewise, by this time Henry Bowers should have been apprehended by the Derry Police, and under intense pressure from both police questioning and severe psychological strain from what transpired in the sewers, falsely confessed to the murders and sent off to Juniper Hill. The townspeople of Derry don't seem to be aware of this, however, even suspecting that the killer may still be out there, or even unsure that the murders have stopped for good. Justified in that Jake's changes to the timeline with each visit may have made subtle changes to events in Derry which altered the narrative for that timeline.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: That's the plan at least.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: Jake rescues President Kennedy at the last moment, but Sadie is killed. When he returns to the present, he finds out that this only made things a lot worse, and changing history always does. So, he goes back in time once more, which resets the whole thing.
    • Jake's attempts to save the Dunnings become this. The first time he does it, one of the Dunning children still ends up dead, and in that timeline, Harry died in Vietnam. In the spectacularly Bad Future created by saving Kennedy, Harry is still alive, but still paralyzed, this time in the Vietnam War.
    • Made even worse when you consider that the result of a change doesn't even matter, since it always damages the fabric of time, so any attempt was doomed from the beginning.
  • Shown Their Work: King did extensive research on what life in the 1950s was like (helped by the fact that he grew up in the fifties; he would have been eleven in the year the story is set) and even interviewed historians about what life may have been like had Kennedy not been shot. The appendices even include recipes from the period.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Jake and Sadie.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Sadie stands about 6'1" and earns admiring glances from plenty of men at the party where she meets Jake.
  • Stupid Evil: Johnny, even though you were holding a loaded gun, it was a really, really bad idea to serve a man a tall glass full of powerful bleach, tell him that it's bleach, order him to drink it, threaten to kill the woman he lovesnote  if he doesn't drink it, and finally, when he's actually holding the glass in his hand, lean across the table at him but not so close that anything that hits you might splash back on him, and scream at him that he'd better drink it or else.
  • Take That: Jake is thoroughly creeped out by Dallas and flees to Jodie because he can't spend another night there. He finds Dallas ugly, smelly, racist and utterly miserable. And he can sense a great evil in the city, as he did in Derry. King noted in the afterword that some thought he was too hard on Dallas, but claims that, if anything, he was not nearly hard enough on the Dallas of the early 60's. And King made clear that he doesn't think the Dallas of the 2010s is much better.
    • The treatment Dallas receives is mild compared to how Fort Worth is portrayed. In particular, the Mercedes Street neighborhood where the Oswald family (and Epping during his surveillance) lived is described as a Wretched Hive.
  • Thanks for the Mammary: When Jake and Sadie first meet, their introduction involves her tripping, him catching her, and his hand totally unintentionally landing on her breast.
  • Time Police: There are "guardians" of respective time portals. Drastic changes to the past make them, along with the time-space continuum itself, worse for the wear.
  • Time Travel: The MacGuffin behind a diner allows a modern person to go back and forth in time.
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit: Al Templeton used the portal to get meat from the same day in 1958 and make a profit selling it for cheap in the present. As a result, everyone assumes that he's using roadkill in his burgers.
  • Time Travelers Are Spies: In addition to the questions that increasingly pop up over his past, Jake worries that his proximity to figures involved in the Kennedy assassination may implicate him in the plot as well, especially if the FBI finds Al's diary. The FBI agent who questions Jake after the attempt on JFK ultimately assumes he is a spy given his murky background, and arranges for his 'escape' in exchange for staying quiet about how the FBI dropped the ball on Oswald not once but several times. Jake's mysterious disappearance and assumed identity eventually become part of the JFK conspiracy theories in the Bad Future he unwittingly created.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: How time travel works can be rather... confusing at times.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Jake feels this hanging over him all during the time he spends in Derry. On the other hand, Jodie, TX may be the first small town to ever appear in a Stephen King novel which isn't an example of this.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: In addition to stopping Kennedy's assassination, a large chunk of the novel is spent on Jake's life and various relationships while living in the '50s.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Poundcake" is Jake and Sadie's euphemism for sex.
  • Who Shot JFK?: One of the reasons why Jake just doesn't kill Lee Harvey Oswald right off the bat is because of the conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy's assassination and the possibility that another person may have been involved. In the end, it's just Oswald working alone. In the afterword, King notes that after reading all he could on the subject, this is the situation he considers by far the most likely.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: No matter how long one spends in the past, returning through the portal dumps you two minutes after you left.

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