In a recent article of mine on Mysterious Universe, I mentioned how lately I’ve been exploring the work of Stephen King. Continuing in that direction, I recently picked up a copy—at a bargain price from Kmart, no less—of his hugely popular novel Under the Dome.
Published in 2009, Under the Dome is over a 1000 pages in length, making it one of King’s longest and most ambitious novels to date. It’s also been adapted into a successful television series, of which the third season is due to air this year.
One of the first things I noticed when I turned back the cover of Under the Dome is its two page list of characters. There are, would you believe, around sixty noteworthy characters in the novel, three of which are of the canine variety. (It’s no secret that King is a dog lover.) Also featured is a map of where the story takes place: the small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine.
One morning, to the shock and surprise of everyone concerned, a huge transparent dome materializes over Chester’s Mill, completely sealing it off from the outside world. Much mayhem and many deaths result from the sudden and inexplicable appearance of the dome—for example, as a result of people crashing into it in their cars. The dome proves to be a kind of force field, as opposed to a solid object.
Where did the dome come from it and what is its purpose? Is it the product of a top secret military experiment? Is it the work of terrorists? Or was it put in place by an advanced and technologically sophisticated alien race? Nobody seems to know. The military, which denies having anything to do with the dome, embarks on a series of efforts to try to bring down the invisible and seemingly indestructible barrier.
Offering a glimmer of hope in what appears to be a futile situation is the brave and intelligent Dale Barbara, a drifter and former Army lieutenant, who unsuccessfully attempted to leave Chester’s Mill on the exact morning of the dome’s appearance. Barbara is reinstated in the military and given the mission of locating and deactivating the dome’s supposed power source.
James “Big Jim” Rennie, the town’s Second Selectman—a character King modeled after Dick Cheney—is the epitome of greed, corruption, and selfishness. He views the crisis gripping Chester’s Mill as the ideal opportunity to sink his fangs of power and authority even deeper into the hearts and minds of the town’s residents. He’s actually grateful for the appearance of the dome, attempting at every turn to thwart the efforts of those who want it gone, yet all the while considering his actions to be those of a good Christian. It’s worth noting that pretty much all the “bad guys” in the story, of which Rennie is obviously one, occupy positions of authority.
The scenario presented in Under the Dome mirrors that of Lord of the Flies, with some of the citizens of Chester’s Mill committing such deplorable acts as rape, murder, arson, and looting. Fortunately, helping to balance all this nastiness, and lighten the mood somewhat, is King’s dry and intelligent wit.
As well as having much to say about the ugly side of politics and human nature, Under the Dome has an important message to impart concerning humanity’s destructive impact on the planet. To quote King from an article in PopMatters:
“I saw it as a chance to write about the serious ecological problems that we face in the world today… We’re a blue planet in a corner of the galaxy, and for all the satellites and probes and Hubble pictures, we haven’t seen evidence of anyone else. There’s nothing like ours. We have to conclude we’re on our own, and we have to deal with it. We’re under the dome. All of us.”