Someone recently mentioned to me that I had to read Stephen King’s 2014 novel Revival, because it is, of course, ultimately about necromancy, and in good, old-fashioned horror style, necromancy most definitely does not pay.
It begins innocuously enough, with a young, small-town preacher befriending a young boy. The preacher has an affinity for tinkering with electrical gadgets and so when the boy, Jamie, comes to him with a problem, which is that one of his brothers has been injured and can no longer talk, the preacher makes what he calls an “Electrical Nerve Stimulator” and tells Jamie and his brother and sister that “the idea of using electricity to limit pain and stimulate muscles is very, very old. Sixty years before the birth of Christ, a Roman doctor named Scribonius Largus discovered that foot and leg pain could be alleviated if the sufferer stepped firmly on an electric eel.”
His device is successful.
Jamie sometimes calls the young preacher his “fifth business,” a term for a change agent in a movie. He meets up with him at turning points in his life, and as this continues to happen, readers, like Jamie himself, start to believe that his first meeting with the boy, when he cast a shadow over him, was symbolic of his effect in his life.
Almost everything we learn about the preacher at first makes him seem more saintly. He lost his young wife and son in a terrible car accident, lost his faith, and began working in a carnival, where he found Jamie in the audience one night, fainting from the effects of the flu and heroin dependency. He nurses him back to health and breaks his drug habit with the help of a new electrical device. After the cure, Jamie sometimes come to in the act of poking his arm with a fork or a stick, thinking “something happened” but not knowing what.
Over the years, Jamie sees and hears about others who have been healed by the preacher, who has established himself on the faith healing circuit. There is often some unanticipated side effect of the preacher’s healings, and occasionally they drive one of the healed completely crazy. Jamie begins to believe that the preacher is seeking forbidden knowledge, available only in the six forbidden books known as “grimoires.” He is told that “the couplet most people remember from Lovecraft’s fictional Necronomicon was stolen from a copy of De Vermis….’That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons, even death may die.”
Jamie begins to fear that De Vermis Mysteriis is “the most dangerous book ever written.”
Finally the preacher admits his evil plan: “Using lightning as a road to the secret electricity, and the secret electricity as a thoroughfare to potestas magnum universum, I intend to bring Mary Fay back to some form of life. I intend to learn the truth of what’s on the other side of the door that leads into the Kingdom of Death. I’ll learn it from the lips of someone who’s been there.”
Of course, what Jamie sees and hears when the preacher’s electrical device is successful at raising the dead is horrifying, It kills the preacher and brings Jamie himself to the edge of sanity, where he totters, off-balance for the rest of his days, afraid to die and find out that the horrifying glimpse he had of life beyond death is all that there is.
Spooky, huh? It’s a traditional tale of necromancy, even mentioning “The Monkey’s Paw” at one point. There are lots of in jokes, even at the end, when we find out that Mary has a son named Victor. If you like an old-fashioned horror tale, this one will bring you a few chills but no real surprises on an October night.