The novel “Pet Sematary” by Stephen King was published for the first time in 1983.
Louis Creed is a doctor who has just found a good job at the University of Maine and moves to a house near the town of Ludlow with his wife Rachel, their two children Ellie and Gage and the cat Winston Churchill nicknamed Church. An elderly couple, Jud and Norma Crandall, live near them and look like friendly neighbors. In many ways it’s an ideal situation even if the house is close to a road traveled by trucks but initially there are other problems.
The beginning of Louis’s job on the University campus is troubled when he tries to rescue Victor Pascow, a student victim of an accident with such serious injuries that Louis can only see him die in front of his eyes as he says words that apparently make no sense. His love life is also disturbed when Rachel gets very angry after Jud brought their family to a pet cemetery near the house because she fears that Ellie may ask uncomfortable questions. The whole family will soon be forced to confront death.
In 1902 William W. Jacobs published the short story “The Monkey’s Paw, in which following a spell a mummified monkey paw allows three wishes to be fulfilled. However, the consequences are terrible, to the point that in the end the protagonist family must use the third wish to cancel the second one with its horrendous consequences. The story has become a classic that inspired other works and Stephen King was also inspired by it, going so far as to quote it within “Pet Sematary”.
The novel begins with what looks like a happy family that just moved into what looks like a really nice place to live. Their happiness doesn’t last long due to some nefarious events but the first part of the novel isn’t exactly horror since it concerns the characters’ personal relationship with death. There are no explicit supernatural elements but the tones become gloomy because the theme is painful and the losses suffered by Louis and Rachel brought them a lot of pain.
In the second half the supernatural element emerges powerful in a very hard way. Louis is a doctor and is forced to deal with death but he knows he doesn’t have the means to defeat it and that every victory is only temporary. But what if there was a way to defeat death? Louis has good intentions, the kind that pave the road to hell, the one on which Louis walks down more and more into an abyss from which he doesn’t really want to get out.
In his exploration of the themes of loss and pain related to death, Stephen King talks about what people could do to get back someone they love. In his descent towards a horror that becomes increasingly agonizing page by page, “Pet Sematary” also explores the Jud and Louis’s motivations while they do what they do. The author also shows the reactions, with their dark sides, of other characters that contribute to keeping the reader engaged with the story but also to the increasingly dark tones of the Creed family’s tragedy.
For these reasons “Pet Sematary” is both a supernatural and a psychological horror. In my opinion, Stephen King mixed the two elements very well, obtaining a novel that can really disturb the reader. The first part tends to have a slow pace but it’s useful to build the foundations of the story with moments of which one can fully see the point only by reading ahead.
From this novel the 1989 movie “Pet Sematary” was adapted, scripted by Stephen King himself and with two Ramones songs, and a recent movie with the same title.
“Pet Sematary” is a novel that can become difficult to read as the tones become increasingly dark and the supernatural events become increasingly scary. However, in my opinion it’s worth facing the anguish you can feel because Stephen King didn’t just write a story of brutal deaths but he did it in a way that offers food for thought about our relationship with death. For these reasons I recommend reading it also to people who are not fans of the horror genre.