Imprisoning the Soul: The True Horror of Castle Rock

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It’s come to the point where Castle Rock (available on Hulu and now on Blu-ray) has been on my mind so much that I just have to write a bit about it. Stephen King is far from an up-and-coming author (like most of those I feature on this blog) but we can all hope to be one day so successful. And the best parts of King’s legacy are present in this show–even if he himself did not write it: the horror of the everyday, the horror of humans in their day-to-day interactions. This is not unlike the horror that The Terror captured so perfectly, though in that show, men were subjected to intense strain. In Castle Rock, there is a supernatural bleakness that suffuses the titular town, but there is also everyday, normal horror, present most intensely in the depictions of the for-profit prison system (Shawshank) and the racism of a small New England town.

We can’t ignore that Shawshank’s literary past already emphasizes the racism inherent in America’s prison and political systems. However, Castle Rock doesn’t fall into the same trap of exoticizing (via magical qualities) the black man as some of King’s other works do (especially in their movie and TV adaptations). Instead, Henry Deaver, as one of the main characters and main perspectives on the unfolding events (we must recognize the important distinction between those two roles) is a smart lawyer, down-to-earth, tired, and concerned for his mother. He is, by all first appearances, a pretty normal person by King standards. Even when the show begins to unpack and mystify his past, Deaver does not lose his grounding, his this-worldness. And, importantly, the show asks us whether we should and how much we should invest in the stories that estrange him. This is because we have already observed the subtle slights and attentions Deaver accrues by being a black man adopted into and returning to a very white New England town.

The character arc of the prison guard Zalewski is also intensely emotional as we realize that his struggles with the system he helps to support ultimately precede the supernatural revelations of the first episode. They are grounded in the problematic violence and abuse endemic to the for-profit prison system.

These are but a few reasons that Castle Rock has so gripped me and why I wish that it was receiving the same sort of attention as The Haunting of Hill House, which, though occasionally interesting, lacks this level of social commentary and complexity.