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Literature / Revival

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"Every man and woman owes a death."

"Something happened."

Revival is a novel by Stephen King.

Spanning five decades, Revival chronicles the relationship between the protagonist, Jamie Morton, and Charles Jacobs, a reverend obsessed with the powers of electricity who Jamie meets as a boy. When tragedy strikes Jacobs' family, he delivers a sermon in which he curses God and all religious belief and is subsequently banished from town. Many years later, Jamie, now a heroin-addicted drifter, meets Charles Jacobs again, and the two form a pact with dark consequences for both.

King has listed Frankenstein, The Great God Pan and the writing of H. P. Lovecraft as being influences for the story.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Addled Addict: Jamie got addicted to painkillers after a motorcycle accident in his 20's, which eventually led to heroin abuse that left him destitute, alone and barely functional. If he hadn't stumbled across Jacobs at the fairgrounds that fateful night, he'd almost certainly have died. In the narration, the older Jamie states that sometimes he wishes he had.
  • And I Must Scream: Die, and become a slave to (and maybe eventually part of) Mother. There's nothing to suggest any alternative.
  • Animal Motifs: Ants. Jamie has a recurring nightmare about his dead loved ones singing Happy Birthday for him, with large ants crawling out of a rotting birthday cake, and Yates has a vision of the crowd at Jacobs revival show as massive, human-sized ants.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished:
    • Discussed, but averted with Astrid after Jamie sees her in her cancer stricken state. Jamie lampshades this cliche by saying how he would be expected to say that she has still maintained her beauty despite the cancer, but that is not the case.
    • Played straight with Mary Fay; Jamie notes that, despite her suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakobs disease, she's beautiful in death.
  • Bury Your Gays: Zig-zagged; while technically Astrid and her nurse/partner both die during the big die-off at the end of the story, Con makes it out relatively well, only falling into a mute fugue from which he seems to be recovering.
  • Big Bad: Charles Jacobs, following his Face–Heel Turn, becomes a Mad Scientist who dupes people into becoming the guinea pigs for his experiments to reveal the other world through his "special electricity".
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The giant ant-like things herding souls in the Null, and Mother herself, who (while not specifically named) has at least one titanic tarantula-leg for an arm, albeit with a claw made from human faces.
  • Big "NO!": Jamie let's out a massive one when he's shown a vision of The Null, the true afterlife and the reality of what lies beyond death. It somehow draws the attention of not just the human souls and the ant-creatures, but also Mother, who finally makes an appearance "in person".
  • Bloodless Carnage: In the Null, the human souls who falter in their endless march are mauled by the ant-creatures until they get back up, and Jamie describes them as having wounds that don't bleed, since they don't actually have bodies anymore.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Jamie manages to defy Mother on her own turf and keep her from reaching out into the real world. Impressive as that is, that means that now she's waiting for him to die so that she can do something especially horrible to him in the afterlife.
  • Cheated Death, Died Anyway: Jamie has a dream of the future where he learns that his brother Andy died at the age of fifty-one from prostate cancer. He fervently tries to badger Andy to go in for a prostate exam and he eventually does, and they find the cancer in time and manage to cure it. And then, at the age of fifty-one, Andy dies from a heart attack.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The suicide note talks about what Jamie eventually sees: the souls of the damned in Null and the creatures tormenting them.
  • Central Theme: Death, loss, old age, and trying to make peace with the fact that Life Isn't Fair and that your own life didn't turn out as you had hoped.
  • Consummate Liar: Both Jamie and Charles become quite adept at lying. Jamie built the skill while a heroin addict, Charles develops it over time as a carny and as a faith healer. Jamie notes that Charles lies casually and needlessly about the most important event in his life while giving a sermon, and conceals his true intent from even people he associates with closely.
  • Continuity Nod: It's mentioned that Charles worked briefly at an amusement park called "Joyland" before moving on.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: It's eventually revealed that the "special electricity" Charles uses in his healings actually links the people it contacts to a dimension that Eldritch Abominations inhabit.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: The death of his family serves as this to Charles and causes him to abandon his religion.
  • Dashed Plot Line: The story spans five decades but much of it is not shown.
  • Dark World: The Null, the hellish dimension that lies above the mortal world. It consists of an endless line of human souls walking towards the horizon, herded by ant-like monsters, through the ruins of some massive, eldritch city. The sky is described as being "fake", little more than a veil beyond which the true rulers of reality, insane, immortal monsters, exists.
  • Despair Event Horizon: For Jacobs, it's the death of his wife and child in a horrific car accident. Everything he does after that is an effort to bring them back, or at least see them again.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Jacobs earns his fortune as a revival preacher. His ultimate plan is to revive someone from death.
  • Downer Ending: Charles dies; most of the people he "healed" that hadn't already gone insane snap and kill themselves, others, or both; Jamie ends up living in Hawaii under psychiatric care and knowing that his fate will eventually be to join the souls being tormented by the creatures in Null. There may be some comforts he can take, but he can no longer hope for them.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Mother.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: In the weeks and months following the climax and the disastrous events at Skytop, almost everybody Jacobs healed over the decades using his "special lightning" commit suicide, go on killing sprees, or both, implied to be caused by Mother as a form of revenge. This includes Jamie's first love Astrid, his friend and employer Hugh Yates, Jacobs former devotee Al Stamper, most of the people who Jamie had researched earlier about the side effects of Jacobs healing, and many others. Jamie's brother Con "gets away" with only attacking his partner and ending up in a mental hospital because he was Jacobs first patient, and thus only had limited exposure to Mother.
  • Evil-Detecting Baby: Jamie's infant niece takes to him instantly the first time he meets her. When he returns to his brother's house after dealing with Mother, she takes one look at him and starts screaming and thrashing to stay as far away from him as possible. Jamie takes this as evidence that he's been tainted, and distances himself from his family so they won't be marked as well.
  • Evil Old Folks: Charles Jacobs by the end of the novel, by then in his 70's and not even bothering with the pretense of charm and faith anymore, since he's made all the money he needs for his experiments, and willing to go to any lengths to finish his work.
  • Eye Scream: One of Jacobs patients tried to blind herself by pouring salt in her eyes as a side effect of his "healing".
  • Face–Heel Turn: Following the deaths of his wife and son, Jacobs delves into his obsession with electricity and begins performing experiments on unwitting people with horrific aftereffects, all in the guise of "healing them".
  • Fake Faith Healer: Pastor Charles Jacob is accused of being one. The truth is more complicated: many of his healings are not fake, but his faith is, and he's cynically using the people he heals.
  • Faith–Heel Turn: The loss of his family causes Jacobs to completely lose his faith, although he later becomes a traveling preacher who "heals" people using the "special electricity".
  • Facial Horror: Jacobs' son loses his face in the car accident that kills him. His poor mother is no more lucky, managing to live several minutes with her eye draped over her cheek.
  • Fat Bastard: Al Stamper, a once-famous soul musician who became slavishly devoted to Jacobs after the reverend cured his cocaine addiction. He used to be rail thin during his time at the top, probably thanks to his drug use, but ballooned in weight afterwards. He treats Jamie like shit for no reason, though Jamie suspects it's because he doesn't like sharing Jacobs with anyone else. He's one of Jacobs former patients who snap after the climax, inviting his two ex-wives for dinner, killing one of them with a baseball bat, and dies of a heart attack while chasing after the second one to kill her too.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The entire book is written from the future so we know early on that Jamie will eventually view Jacobs as his nemesis and that things will turn very bad for both of them.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Jamie discovers that he did this during his blacked out state after the climax; he returned to the lab, placed the gun he'd used to kill the Mother/Mary Faye thing in Jacobs hand, and fired a fifth bullet into the wall, making it seem like Jacobs killed Mary Faye himself before dying from a stroke. With all traces of the supernatural reality of the events gone, and the only other possible witness (Jenny the nurse) having run off before the climax, the police would likely go for the most plausible explanation.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: At least one of the people that Charles healed saw Null and its inhabitants, as hinted at in his suicide note. The same fate may very well have happened to all the people that snapped after Charles opened the portal to Null on Skytop.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: "Mother", the Eldritch Abomination seen in the other plane of reality, turns out to have been gathering human souls for enslavement. And beyond her, there are other monsters in Null.
  • Harmful Healing: Charles Jacobs uses his experiments' electricity to 'cure' people of various ailments. A small percentage suffer side effects, ranging from odd movements and a bit of temporary language difficulty to hallucinations, with outright insanity being the rarest but worst. In the end, Jamie discovers that, not long after the disaster at Skytop, almost everyone who was 'healed' ended up completely snapping, often killing someone else, themselves, or a combination of the two.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Charles Jacobs who, after losing his wife and son in a horrific accident, gives one final sermon lambasting the belief in a higher power. Much of his life is then spent exploiting people who he perceives as less intelligent than him, especially in his time as a faith healer. Averted with Jamie, however, whose loss of faith is in reaction to Charles's Terrible Sermon, is a well-adjusted individual (after recovering from heroin addiction, at least), and finds Charles's exploitation appalling.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Jacobs final patient, Mary Fay, becomes this after being used as a gateway to the afterlife upon dying, and Mother uses her as a foothold to reach into the human world. Jamie describes her head looking like a monstrous jellyfish with her human face stretched out across it, with Mothers giant claw reaching out through her mouth. After Jamie re-kills her and closes the gate, she returns to her original appearance, albeit with two bullet holes.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: The novel is a Reconstruction of the trope, played first for awe and mystery, then for horror. The specifics are handwaved as being the "secret electricity" which makes nuclear power and fusion look downright puny. Its climactic point: Charles using lightning strikes on the rod on Skytop to power the apparatus he uses to try to resuscitate Mary Fay. A pity that the reason the secret electricity is so effective is because it's the emanations of the Great Old Ones.
  • Living MacGuffin: Jamie turns out to be this. The how and why of it is not explained, though it's vaguely alluded to be fate, Ka, or some form of symbolic tension.
  • Mad Scientist: Charles effectively becomes this with his experiments using electricity.
  • Magitek: Charles' electrical inventions slowly become this over the years as they move from regular electricity into the "special electricity," growing in power and complexity and gradually shifting from plausible but exaggerated technology to blatantly impossible configurations.
  • May–December Romance: Jamie and Bree has one, though neither of them ever expects it to last and they eventually part ways without much regret.
  • Real Name as an Alias: Charles Daniel Jacobs uses an impressive number of combinations of those three names over the years.
  • Red Right Hand: Charles Jacobs ages very poorly, and the further he descends into madness the more he is diminished. By the end of the book, multiple strokes have dramatically reduced his ability to move and express himself, permanently robbing him of the ability to smile beyond a hateful sneer.
  • Sexy Priest: To begin with, Pastor Jacobs is noted as being quite handsome, to the point that every teenage girl in town has a crush on him. Unfortunately for them, he's Happily Married... until things start going downhill.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Mary and her son Victor are clear references to Frankenstein.
    • Lovecraft's line "That which is not dead may eternal lie / And with strange aeons even death may die" is directly quoted, and De Vermis Mysteriis is referenced a few times as being one of the works Jacobs used in his research about the "special electricity". In-universe, Lovecraft quoted the couplet from Mysteries of the Worm. Which, in context, is really more like the Mysteries of the Ant.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: An unassuming man named Roy Easterbrook cuts Jacobs' Terrible Sermon off at the knees with just a few words. While it comes across as very harsh at the time, Jacobs' later villainy turns it into this trope retroactively especially if Jacobs' early experiments were the reason why his wife had taken to drinking as is hinted near the end.
    Roy Easterbrook: Rev'run. I heard there was a bottle of hooch in the glovebox of your car. And Mert Peabody said when he bent over to work on your wife, she smelt like a barroom. So there's your reason. There's your sense of it. You ain't got the spine to accept the will of God? Fine. But leave these other ones alone.
  • Sinister Minister: Initially, this is not the case; Pastor Jacobs is a genuinely Nice Guy who's great with kids and well-liked by everyone in town. After he hits the Despair Event Horizon and loses his faith, Jacobs assumes this role when he acts as a healer at revivals to further his research. Ironically, by this point he's long since been defrocked, and only cynically pretends to still be an active minister.
  • Slice of Life: Much of the book is a down-to-earth story of a man's life from his youth to his getting into music. Charles Jacobs and his experiments are the main source of the uncanny. By the last pages of the book, the normal facade has fallen away.
  • Their First Time: Jamie and Astrid lose their virginities together during a thunderstorm.
  • Time Skip: The story stretches all the way from the 1960's to the 2010's, with only periodic stops focusing on Jamie and his life; childhood, his teenage years, his reunion with Jacobs as a drug-addicted adult, and eventually middle age. He's 63 by the time the story ends.
  • Tragic Villain: The ultimate goal of Jacobs was to discover the truth of reality using his "special electricity", and to see if his wife and son were on the other side. It's a shame this process involved mentally breaking countless individuals he "healed" when they were driven mad by the aftereffects, and very nearly destroys the Earth entire.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: It helps that "Pastor Danny" has been healing a lot of people.
  • We All Die Some Day: Played for horror, unusually enough; there is no escaping the Null or Mother, no matter what you do and how you live your life. Eventually, you'll have to die and be condemned with the rest of mankind.
  • Wham Line: Where's my little boy's face?
  • Where It All Began: The plot returns to Jamie's hometown several times, including the climax, which takes place on Skytop, a mountain area that hosts a massive lightning rod.
  • You Could Have Used Your Powers for Good!: Jacobs at one point off-handedly mentions that with what he now knows of the special electricity, he could easily provide the whole world with free energy. However, he has no interest in doing the world any favours, and so keeps his research to himself. Given where the special electricity ultimately turns out to come from, this might have been for the best.