“Sometimes being alive feels like a long game of chicken on a badly-lit road.”
-- Michael Marshall Smith, from the introduction to PS Publishing's Christine
Love for Stephen King’s 1983 haunted car story has always seemed a little light on the ground. It’s not that anyone ever hated Christine; it’s just that the passion with which readers discussed classic novels like The Stand or The Shining or recent books like Bag of Bones or 11/22/63 seemed to pass Christine by. During King’s most popular decade, the novel failed to hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list (though #2 isn’t exactly a struggle for chart success.) Literary critic and King expert Dr. Michael R. Collings once referred to Christine as a “minor” novel, especially in comparison to the major statement of Pet Sematary, also released that year.
Yet in the thirty-plus years since the book was published, Christine has become a cultural touchstone. In the same way Carrie has become shorthand for “bad prom,” or Cujo is a colloquialism for “creepy dog,” so has Christine become synonymous with spooky cars. Even those who aren’t King readers (or readers at all) know what Christine looks like, have at least a visual familiarity with her make and model… and they know what she does. Revenant that she is, she has made her way into at least two other King projects (the novel IT and the movie Cat’s Eye) and her presence casts such a shadow that King’s later stories about unusual cars – “Uncle Otto’s Truck,” From a Buick 8, “Mile 81” – are inevitably compared, despite the myriad differences.
Now, then, seems the perfect time to celebrate the quietly enduring legacy of one of Stephen King’s most underrated novels. Enter PS Publishing, a premier British small press specializing in fine editions of genre work. PS first came on the King scene with the 2007 limited hardcover release of The Colorado Kid, initially released as a mass-market original through Hard Case Crime. The aesthetics of that book impressed fans: PS commissioned work from three different genre artists to create three unique hardcover versions of King’s slim novel, with new covers and new interior art, and all the whistles and bells of a fine limited edition.
Their approach to Christine, six years later, is equally impressive. It starts with the stunning wraparound cover by artist Tomislav Tikulin, whose recent covers for Cemetery Dance’s releases of King’s Full Dark, No Stars were at once understated and unsettling. His work for Christine imagines Arnie Cunningham as a hot-rodding James Dean, leaning up against the hood of his (literally) mean machine, lit only by a lone streetlight and surrounded by ground mist. It’s borrowed iconography, but that’s part of the point: the 1958 Plymouth Fury was never anyone’s idea of an icon until Christine happened (it’s no Mercury ’49, for instance), and Arnie Cunningham was nobody’s idea of a tough guy. There’s an undercurrent in the novel about the way the '70s fetishized the '50s (it’s no mistake that Dennis Guilder takes his girlfriend to see Grease at one point); Tikulin manages to capture those themes in a single image. His impressive work continues to the full-color endpapers and interior landscape work.
Jill Bauman, World Fantasy Award nominee perhaps best known for memorable cover art for books like Ramsay Campbell’s The Doll Who Ate His Mother and Slippage by Harlan Ellison, provides all the interior art for Christine. In 1983, prior to the novel’s initial release date, small press Donald M. Grant (best known for their editions of King’s Dark Tower books) published the first limited edition of the novel, illustrated by Stephen Gervais. Gervais’ stark work tended toward impressions of horror, rather than blood and gore; Bauman’s pieces are straight-up shockers. Fangs, skulls, and headlights like eyes: the horror here is front and center, unmuted and eerily effective.
We are treated to two new essays on the book, welcome additions to the relatively small bibliography of writing on Christine. Richard Chizmar, of Cemetery Dance Publications, provides a short, moving essay about his personal experiences with the novel, recalling his recent afterword in the Cemetery Dance anthology Turn Down the Lights. Michael Marshall Smith (We Are Here, Spares) contributes a lengthy, insightful foreword, bringing to the fore the novel’s major themes of growing up and growing apart. Throughout the novel, King repeatedly cautions that clinging to the past is a fatal mistake; it’s both ironic and telling that these two fantastic 2013 essays recall rapturously reading this novel from the '80s set in the '70s and obsessed with the '50s.
Her measurements, you ask? She comes in a unique slipcase, also adorned with Tikulin’s wraparound artwork. She’s signed by Bauman, Chizmar, Smith, and Tikulin, and each of her 750 copies is numbered. While King didn’t sign the book himself, his facsimile signature appears on a special illustrated signature page.
Quite a few Stephen King novels have had theses and even books written about them (there’s a Shining Reader, for instance). Some have gotten stellar critical reception (Bag of Bones and 11/22/63 spring to mind), and some have been nonstop publishing juggernauts (The Green Mile, say, or Joyland). Christine somehow missed out on all that. However, it – she – has now received two stellar limited editions, thirty years apart. That says something about the quality and unending longevity of this simple, tragic love story of a boy, a girl, and the terrible car that comes between them.
Kevin Quigley is an author whose website, CharnelHouseSK.com, is one of the leading online sources for Stephen King news, reviews, and information. He has written several books on Stephen King for Cemetery Dance Publications, including a book on comics and Stephen King, Drawn Into Darkness, as well as Chart of Darkness, Blood In Your Ears, and Stephen King Limited, and co-wrote the recently released Stephen King Illustrated Movie Trivia Book. His first novel, I’m On Fire, is forthcoming. (He recently also sports a Christine tattoo.) Find his books at cemeterydance.com.