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Literature / The Dark Half

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The sparrows are flying again…

The Dark Half is a 1989 novel by Stephen King.

Thad Beaumont is a novelist who writes gory crime thrillers under the pseudonym of George Stark. Following an unsuccessful blackmail attempt, Thad resolves to put the pseudonym to rest, going so far as to hold a symbolic funeral and erect a headstone for the late Stark. Not long afterwards, someone with Thad's fingerprints and going by the name of George Stark starts killing people...

Was made into a feature-length film in 1993, directed by George A. Romero and starring Timothy Hutton as Thad and Michael Rooker as Sheriff Alan Pangborn.

The Dark Half provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: Steve Brown, who discovered in real life that "Richard Bachman" was Stephen King, was just an innocent store clerk who happened to notice writing similarities and, using the Library of Congress, determined that Bachman was King's pen name. King's response was to phone him, suggest he write an article on how he learned the truth, and agreed to an on-the-spot interview. Fred Clawson, Brown's expy, instead decides to try and blackmail Thad when he learns the truth about him being George Stark. Thad, like King, had kept it a secret mostly to preserve the mystery, and thus Clawson's plan failed. Brown didn't even try to blackmail King; he just wrote to King's publishers and asked what to do.
  • The Alcoholic: Thad. He's on the wagon through the book (it's mentioned that even cooking items and mouthwash in the Beaumont household are of the alcohol-free variety). When he's mentioned in Needful Things, he's relapsed.
  • Animal Motif: Sparrows.
  • Arc Words: "The sparrows are flying again."
  • Asshole Victim: Not many people will feel sorry for Fred Clawson when Stark kills him, considering he was a blackmailer.
  • Author Avatar: Thad Beaumont, to an extent. Stephen King has written (and still does, occasionally) under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman, and he treats Bachman like a separate person, even giving him a separate biography in Bachman novels. He wrote The Dark Half partly to explore that idea in a literal sense.
  • Big Bad: George Stark, Thad Beaumont’s Evil Twin and pen-name who died in utero but was resurrected when Thad revealed his identity and killed him off. He seeks revenge on the people who caused his death and makes Thad write a novel with him to allow him to live again.
  • Blackmail Backfire: The whole plot is kicked off when a man named Fred Clawson discovers the link between Beaumont and Stark, then tries to blackmail him, threatening to reveal to the media that Beaumont and Stark are the same person. However, Beaumont was already considering giving up his pseudonym, and this blackmail attempt is the final push he needs to reveal his secret to the media and officially declare Stark dead, leaving Clawson with nothing. As if that wasn't bad enough for the unsuccessful blackmailer, it gets worse when "Stark" comes to life as a separate entity and begins a murder spree to hunt for Beaumont. One of his first victims is Clawson since it was his blackmail attempt that drove Beaumont to kill off Stark in the first place.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Stark is destroyed, but it's revealed in Needful Things and Bag of Bones that the psychological scars left by the ordeal drove Thad to drink and ruined his marriage, and eventually he killed himself.
  • Body Horror: Stark's body as he "loses cohesion" starts to decay and rot.
  • Can Always Spot a Cop: After one of his murders, Stark is hiding near the scene when a black man dressed in ridiculously stereotypical 80s clothing goes running by to check out the scene. Stark is amused and thinks to himself about how cops just can't seem to stop themselves from going over the top when dressing "undercover". He thinks the guy might as well be carrying around a giant sign saying "I am a police officer" in bold letters.
  • Cool Old Guy: Homer Gamache, a friendly old man and war hero who lost an arm serving in the Korean War.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Stark's specialty, with a special mention to Fred Clawson and Homer Gamache’s deaths.
  • Clueless Deputy: Norris Ridgewick.
  • Composite Character: In the film, Homer Gamache is given the role of Phyllis Myers as the photographer who suggests making the mock grave for Stark, but keeps his prosthetic limb and the dubious honor of being Stark's first victim.
  • Dedication: The book is dedicated to the late Richard Bachman.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: Stark is carried off back to the afterlife by tens of thousands of sparrows.
  • Driven to Suicide: Bag of Bones reveals that following the events of this novel, the traumatized Thad saw his marriage disintegrate and eventually killed himself.
  • Enemy Without: This should be self-explanatory.
  • Evil Smells Bad: A policeman inspecting the car George Stark had used earlier notes that it smells hostile and animalistic. Stark also falls into this trope later in the book, being followed by the stench of his own decaying body.
  • Evil Twin: If Stark was really Thad's vanished twin, he could be considered this.
  • Eye Scream: During Thad's childhood his fetal twin begins to regrow in his brain including an eyeball and several teeth. A surgeon lances the eyeball and extracts it. Cut to the future where Thad is an author writing crime fiction about a character who — you guessed it — lances someone's eyeball with a paperclip.
    • Stark shoots Phyllis Myers right in the eye.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Stark is perfectly genial to Liz, and the twins adore him, but he never lets her forget he's willing to kill any of them if they don't behave.
  • Fictional Document: Thad's novels. The book uses "excerpts" from them as epigraphs.
  • Giallo: Obviously not fully, but the film has a killer wearing black leather gloves who slashes people to death with a straight razor. This is very in line with a giallo killer.
  • Gender Flip: In the novel, Rawlie is an old man. In the film, Rawlie is an old woman.
  • Gorn: This is definitely one of King’s bloodier novels.
  • Impaled Palm: Stark at one point makes Thad stab himself through the hand with a pencil. See Poke in the Third Eye.
  • Grave Humor: Stark's headstone reads "Not a Very Nice Guy".
  • Groin Attack: George Stark combines a old-fashioned straight razor, an upward slashing attack, and the groin of an unfortunate cop. All are described with typical King skill. Did you just wince? Imagine reading it.
    • Stark also cuts Fred Clawson’s penis and tongue off, then stuffs his penis inside his mouth.
  • It's for a Book: Thad uses this excuse when asking his coworker Rawlie DeLesseps if sparrows play a role in any kind of American folklore. He even lampshades that one of the benefits of being a professional writer is that you can always rely on this excuse if people want to know why you want certain information.
  • Kick the Dog: Stark brutally kills Homer Gamache, a Cool Old Guy who had nothing to do with Stark’s “death”, simply to steal his truck.
  • Killed by Request: An In-Universe example. When Thad hates writing the books by George Stark, he chooses to kill the pseudonym persona, with a funeral and everything.
  • Killing Your Alternate Self: Stark's ultimate goal, and what Thad ends up doing to him instead. With the help of some murderous sparrows.
  • Madness Mantra: "The sparrows are flying again."
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Thad Beaumont, like many of King's protagonists, is a novelist.
  • Nice Guy: Sheriff Alan Pangborn.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Thad's colleague, Rawlie DeLesseps, at first appears to be nothing more than an absent-minded professor. Actually, he is very knowledgeable about folklore and literature and helps Thad to uncover the mystery behind the phrase, "The sparrows are flying again."
  • Painting the Medium: Like a few other of King's books, some parts appear as actual handwriting instead of the typed font.
  • Poke in the Third Eye: Thad has a telepathic link to Stark, and in one scene he tries using it to get information from him. It doesn't end well.
  • Psychopomp: The sparrows, mentioned by name.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: Thad's first novel, The Sudden Dancers was nominated for the National Book Award.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sheriff Pangborn. After Stark leaves a bloody fingerprint perfectly matching Thad's at a crime scene, Pangborn arrives to arrest Thad. But when Thad produces an ironclad alibi, Pangborn believes him and does all he can to help catch Stark.
  • Rise from Your Grave: Stark manifests himself by digging out of his fake grave.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: After Stark is "killed", he begins to exact revenge on everyone he views as being responsible for his death.
  • Serial Killer: Alexis Machine, the arch-villain of George Stark's crime novels, is one of these.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Some see the story as this in light of what happens to Thad afterwards (See Bittersweet Ending).
  • Split Personality: George Stark started out as this.
  • Slashed Throat: Stark uses a straight razor to slash his victims' throats.
  • Slasher Movie: Stark murders 8 people in the film, and possibly more in the novel.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: One of the few murderers Sheriff Pangborn arrested during his career was a wife who beat her abusive husband to death. He thinks the woman didn't get what she really deserved for her crime: a medal.
  • That Man Is Dead: Played with and subverted when Thad has a mock photo shoot in front of Stark's grave.
  • Twin Telepathy: A plot point.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: An in-universe example. The protagonist has written several highly intellectual novels with great reviews and poor sales. In the meantime, he has also written under Stark's name intentionally trashy books that engorge themselves on sex and violence which have gone on to become bestsellers. King wrote the book in part as a response to his own pen name Richard Bachman becoming public knowledge. The stories he wrote under the pen name in turn tended to be less psychological than those with his own name on them.
  • Villain Protagonist: Alexis Machine in Stark's books.
  • Vomiting Cop: When Norris Ridgewick finds one of Stark's victims (an old man beaten to death with his own prosthetic arm), he throws up, but manages to avoid the corpse.
  • Would Hurt a Child: After Stark fails to write himself back to life, he tries to shoot Thad's children, but Thad stops him by knocking his aim off balance with a typewriter.
  • You Do Not Want To Know: One of George Stark's murders is so gruesome that King leaves it completely to our imagination (when Liz is asked if she wants to know how the victim met her end, she immediately says "No").
  • Zerg Rush: Stark meets his end when he is ambushed by thousands of sparrows.