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Three and a half years ago, Stephen King released a short story collection entitled Just After Sunset. Twelve of the stories in the book had been previously published, leaving one new title to bring the total up to that wonderful number of thirteen. That story was N.

N. was one of the most terrifying stories that I’d read at the time I first encountered the book, and it still chills. King crafted a phenomenal series of layers of narrative. N. is the story of a psychiatrist named John and a patient referred to in his records only by his first initial, the titular N. N. is suffering from insomnia and severe obsessive compulsive disorder that he claims stem from a visit to a field near John’s home town. When N. eventually commits suicide, John is driven to investigate more, to see if there was something that he could have done to save his patient.

The outer layers of the story focus on John’s investigation and the impact that his own visit to the field has on his family and friends. It’s eventually revealed that part of the madness that comes upon the people who visit Ackerman’s Field derives from a series of standing stones in the middle of the field. There are seven stones (a bad number) there when the field is viewed by the naked eye. Gazing through a filter of some sort such as a camera, however, reveals an eighth stone. Is it there? Touching each of the stones in turn seems to prove that there are eight, but the other stone isn’t always there. N. believed that something, some Lovecraftian horror, lurked in the center of the stones, and as long as there were eight (a good number), it would be contained. “Eight stones would keep them captive, but if there were only seven…they’d come flooding from the darkness on the other side and overwhelm the world,” he said. Was he right, or is it only a delusion?

I recently returned to the world of N. Marc Guggenheim and Alex Maleev collaborated with Stephen King to transform his novella into a skillfully paced graphic novel.  If you’re a fan of well-written horror, I would highly recommend giving N. a read, in either format. The graphic novel maintains the delightful and terrifying prose that King is known for, and shows just how unsettling uncertainty can be.

King himself has said that, despite the Lovecraftian atmosphere of the story, it’s actually inspired by Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, of which Lovecraft himself said “No one could begin to describe the cumulative suspense and ultimate horror with which every paragraph abounds.” Time to add that to the list of stuff to read tonight.

4 Comments

  1. I haven’t read N, but now I really want to. My brother has just lent me Nighmares & Dreamscapes because I haven’t read much of Stephen King’s work. Great post!

    • Thanks! I’m a huge fan of King’s work. Nightmares and Dreamscapes has some great stories, like Dolan’s Cadillac and You Know They’ve Got a Hell of a Band. I’m personally reading through ‘salem’s Lot and 11/22/63 right now.

  2. I read the comic. Cthulu just sneaks up on you.


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