Having read and reviewed John Hardman’s superb Life of Louis XVI (Books in Brief, August), I was encouraged recently to pick up a copy of Louis XIV: The Other Side of the Sun, by Prince Michael of Greece (a descendant of the Sun King’s on the maternal side), first published in the United States in translation by Alan Sheridan. It is a beautifully realized book written with a novelist’s narrative technique and fullness of characterization, and an historian’s feel for fact and historical context.
Louis, as the prince portrays him, was a strikingly intelligent boy, with a royal poise, composure, self-assurance, and physical and moral courage even before he reached the age of ten, though also an astonishingly lonely and neglected child left to wander the palace during the day as he cadged food wherever he could find it. His mother, Anne of Austria (a Spaniard), became queen regent after the death of her husband when in a lit de justice the Parlement abrogated the will of Louis XIII to allow her to succeed him until their son attained his majority. In those years the French monarchy was in dire need of revenue (as it was to be in 1789, with fatal consequences), and the royal household, if not impoverished, led a far less lavish existence than the great families of France. A quarter of the way through the book’s 447 pages, I’m most struck by the degree to which the court intrigues that gave rise to the Fronde also produced events that eerily anticipated the terrible events of the 1790’s: risings of the Paris mob, the flight of the queen and the young king together with her ladies, near starvation in the capital city. The French Revolution had historical precedents, and Prince Michael makes the most of these in shaping his dramatic narrative.
—Chilton Williamson, Jr.
I have always liked the idea of Stephen King more than I have cared for any of his books. At a meeting of the John Randolph Club here in Rockford many years ago, Tom Sheeley, in the midst of a lunchtime performance of classical guitar, asked, “What is creativity without editing?” His question was meant to be rhetorical, yet had someone answered “Stephen King” even Tom, more of an admirer of King’s writing than I, would have been hard pressed to deny that to be true.
Since the release of Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Carrie in 1976, filmmakers and TV producers have acted as King’s de facto editors, with mixed success. While many film and TV adaptations of King’s work have flopped, either by adhering too slavishly to the source material or, conversely, excising the truly brilliant parts, the best directors and producers have used King’s genius as inspiration for their own works of art. Among the successes I would count Stand by Me, Needful Things, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Mist. (Don’t ask me about The Shining; I do not share the general belief in Stanley Kubrick’s genius.)
So when I greatly enjoyed the Hulu original miniseries 11.22.63, I naturally assumed this to be another case in which the visual adaptation rose above the written source. Yet I was fascinated enough to pick up the 1,100-plus-page book—and was delighted to discover that I was wrong.
This story of a high-school teacher who spends five years in the past in an attempt to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy never drags (though it could have benefited, as usual, from a good editor). Unlike the miniseries, which largely portrays the first few years of the 1960’s in golden tones, King’s work realizes the world of nearly 60 years ago in its fullness, letting the reader sense what has been lost, both for ill and for good. And while there are obvious anachronisms (including a ridiculously frequent use of profanity), the sense of entering another time is as palpable as in Jack Finney’s Time and Again, which King himself acknowledges as “The great time-travel story.”
That said, I recommend both watching the miniseries and reading the book, because there are ways in which the former rises above the latter, including the change in the character of Miz Mimi (more true to the state of race relations in small-town Texas at the time) and the very ending, when Jake Epping (the high-school teacher) and Sadie Dunhill (his love from 1963) are reunited. This scene—more fully realized in the miniseries—was not King’s idea; he included it as an epilogue in the book at the suggestion of his son, Joe Hill, who, as a novelist, may more fully approach the Platonic ideal of Stephen King than King himself has ever been able to do.
—Scott P. Richert
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