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The Green Mile by Stephen King

The Green Mile (1996)

by Stephen King

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9,048124512 (4.24)1 / 272
  1. 40
    Different Seasons by Stephen King (sturlington)
    sturlington: If you enjoyed The Green Mile, you should read King's novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, contained in this collection.

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John Coffey tried to save twin girls after they had been raped and murdered, but he found himself on trial for the crime. Set in the 1930s, John is sent to death row to await his turn to sit in "Old Sparky", the electric chair. Edgecomb, the superintendent of the Green Mile, comes to realize the special gifts that John possesses. This is a riveting story filled with emotion. ( )
  Elizabeth_Bishop | Nov 1, 2018 |
4.5 stars. 😭 ( )
  lhofer | Sep 26, 2018 |
Came to this with no preconceptions- never seen movie, didn't think Stephen King was 'my thing'...well, it's absolutely unputdownable, and I'm now looking out for more of his novels.
This is a spooky, supernatural tale, set on 'Death Row' - it works because the narrator (a decent, good-natured chief warder) and the world he describes are utterly plausible. There are the other staff - mostly good but one not- and a few convicts. Despite the enormity of their crimes, we still feel for them as their date of execution rolls round. And then there's the apparently simple-minded John Coffey, accused of a vile crime, and yet so apparently mild annered, and with strange powers...
Written from a pespective of many decades - the narrator is now an unwilling resident in an old people's home - I guess it's quite a simple storyline, but King introduces twists and turns that keep you absolutely riveted.
What a writer! ( )
  starbox | Sep 21, 2018 |
Could [a:Stephen King|3389|Stephen King|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1362814142p2/3389.jpg] get any better? Truly?

Probably not, he's already the best there is.

[b:The Green Mile|11566|The Green Mile|Stephen King|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1373903563s/11566.jpg|15599] is a book I've intended to read since I first opened a GoodReads account. I've been a fan of King since 2002 and just hadn't gotten around to it... I'm slowly filling in the gaps in my reading, but I've by no means had a comprehensive King education as it were. I just love what I have read, and forever intend to read more.

[b:The Green Mile|11566|The Green Mile|Stephen King|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1373903563s/11566.jpg|15599] is one of those odd moments where the book and the film overlap nearly perfectly. I'd seen the movie several times over the years and always loved it, and thus my reading experience was highly informed by what went on the screen. Happily, though, the overlap wasn't bad. It was a pleasurable experience, trudging down the hall and listening to the prisoners as they yelled, mumbled, or simply whispered. It was good getting into the head of the characters, reading the writing that translated so smoothly the cinema of my mind could run free. It was nearly a comforting read for all that.

Then the ending happened.

King has often been criticized for his endings, but let me tell you, this one was incredible. One of those rare experiences where I was glad the film didn't do it. Savored the surprise and let it sink in deep. The two formats complemented one another perfectly, veered off at just the right spots. Well, it was a pleasure.

Take your time and read the Foreward and the Afterword. Learn about how the book was written and what went into it. Relish the now unusual method of delivery and compare it, if you can, to [b:Wool|13453029|Wool Omnibus (Silo, #1) (Wool, #1-5)|Hugh Howey|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1349614200s/13453029.jpg|18979356] and see how two authors handled the very real style differently. It's fun, it's good, and it really expands the medium of the book. ( )
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
Stephen King

The Green Mile

Orion, Paperback, 1999.

12mo. xviii+453 pp. Introduction [vii-xi, 6 Feb 1997], “Foreword: A Letter” [xiii-xviii, 27 Oct 1995] and Afterword [451-3, 28 Apr 1996] by Stephen King.

First published in serial form, March–August 1996 [6 instalments].
First published in a single volume, May 1997.
First Orion edition, 1998.
First Orion paperback, 1999.
Second impression, 1999.


Foreword: A Letter

Part One: The Two Dead Girls
Part Two: The Mouse on the Mile
Part Three: Coffey’s Hands
Part Four: The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix
Part Five: Night Journey
Part Six: Coffey on the Mile



Much like Shawshank, Stephen King’s The Green Mile is a fairly non-horror prison story which has had the great fortune to be adapted for the screen and directed by Frank Darabont into a masterpiece. I knew the movie pretty well before I came to the novel. The script, as it turned out, follows the original even more closely than Shawshank. There are plenty of cuts, of course, but nothing new significant enough to note (as, for example, the Mozart opera in Shawshank). Is the book worth reading then? Yes, certainly, but...

Unlike Shawshank, I didn’t find the original as gripping as the movie. I don’t know why, but I have a few notions.

There is nothing wrong with Paul Edgecombe, chief prison guard at E block of the Cold Mountain penitentiary (aka “the bull-goose screw of the Green Mile”). He is a fine chap. The author is rightly proud of him. There are many things he likes about this novel, he says in “Foreword: A Letter”, “but nothing more than the narrator’s essentially decent voice; low-key, honest, perhaps a little wide-eyed, he is a Stephen King narrator if ever there was one.” I don’t mind the rather obvious fact that Mr Edgecombe’s way with words is far too sophisticated for a prison guard, even one of unusual longevity. This is entirely within the limits of poetic licence. Only mediocre writers strive for realism: the great ones create something much more real than that. Mr King is amusing, but also revealing, on this subject in his Introduction:

I felt as if I were creating a world almost from scratch, as I knew almost nothing about life on death row in the border South during the Depression. Research can remedy that, of course, but I thought that research might kill the fragile sense of wonder I had found in my story – some part of me knew from the first that what I wanted was not reality but myth.

But Paul Edgecombe is not as compelling as Shawshank Red. He is less witty, sometimes in a flippantly inappropriate way, and he is more digressive and more verbose. He certainly relies more on cryptic allusions to spice up his narrative; “John Law”, “Betsy Ross”, “Brer Rabbit” and “Pony Express”, to give but a few among countless examples, may make a lot of sense to American readers, but to me they sound like trying too hard to be funny. He is a good storyteller, but his none-too-linear narrative is not without problems.

There are some silly repetitions which betray the origins of the novel in serial form. The most obvious example is the coming of Wild Bill, which we have twice, in the end of Part Two and the beginning of Part Three. The latter is thankfully abridged, but it contains plenty of sentences copy-pasted from the former. The same thing, if on a smaller scale, happens in the beginning of all other parts except the first. Now in a serial, when you have read the previous instalment a week or a month ago, it is useful to have this kind of remembrance of things past. But in a novel it is annoying and worthless. It should have been edited out. It sounds like an insult to the reader who, presumably, cannot muster enough attention span to remember what happened fifty pages ago.

The serial birth of the novel (explained at somewhat tedious and repetitious length in the Introduction and the Foreword) is also responsible for some errors of pacing. The beginning of Part Four is the worst of these. After one of the most dramatic, and for me certainly one of the most tragic, events in the whole novel, we are brought back, or forward, in time to our narrator’s stay in a nursing home some sixty years after the story he has to tell. As you can guess, this happens regularly in the beginning of each part. These are fine, poignant scenes, with some perceptive reflections on old age and time. But, all the same, they slow down the action too much at crucial points. A writer of Stephen King’s talent and experience should have done better than that. Much to his credit, he is very frank with his readers:

At some point I’d like to revise it completely, turn it into the novel it can’t quite be in this format, and issue it again. Until that time comes, this will have to do.

Whether Paul Edgecombe is a worse storyteller than Shawshank Red or the Stephen King narrator is simply better suited to novellas than to novels, I don’t quite know. But The Green Mile never did turn into a page-turner for me. Nor did I ever find the characters as supremely believable as only great fiction can make them.

Yes, the movie is better. I may be prejudiced because I saw it before I read the novel. But I don’t think so. Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, Mr King’s writing is trenchant and very readable. But chapter by chapter, part by part, it is slow moving, wordy and repetitious. Nearly every scene – and there are plenty of great scenes here – is just a little too long, just a little drawn-out. I wish The Green Mile had been shorter and smarter, like Shawshank. I certainly am glad the movie skipped completely Paul Edgecombe playing Sherlock Holmes, his hysterical wife towards the end, and the Alabama melodrama in the last chapter.

Having said all that, this is still an excellent novel. It remains readable from start to finish, even if it never becomes compulsively readable, and it tells a great story which deals with human nature in an uncompromising yet compassionate way. The writing, whatever its faults, is unique. Only Stephen King could use an acute urinary infection to question God’s existence:

I looked at my urine, already soaking into the ground, and wondered if any sane God could make a world where such a little bit of dampness could come at the cost of such horrendous pain.

As usual with books turned into successful movies, the original provides some fascinating background you don’t get on the screen. Some of it is just trivia, for instance when the prison guards are most vulnerable during execution. Other parts are essential. Paul’s religious background is a case in point:

As a boy who’d grown up going to whatever Baptist or Pentecostal church my mother and her sisters happened to be in favor of during any given month, I had heard plenty of Praise Jesus, The Lord Is Mighty miracle stories.

When you read something like that, you begin to understand much better Paul’s perception of John Coffey as an instrument of God and his ideas of atonement. All this seems natural to a man who “grew up in a tradition of miracles and healings”. The religious angle is more prominent than in the movie, but it’s handled well. It is never oppressive, preachy, puerile or anything like that. Though he may be a believer, Paul is not a fanatic. Whether you take John Coffey’s Gift for a freak of nature or the will of God, he seems to say, doesn’t really matter. It is written with a capital “G” either way. In fact, reflecting on the pain and misery that dominate the world, Paul ends up as a defiant atheist: “If it happens, God lets it happen, and when we say ‘I don’t understand,’ God replies, ‘I don’t care.’”

Another revealing detail from Paul’s background is the story of the only woman he ever had to deal with in E block, one Beverly Matuomi, “black as the ace of spades and as beautiful as the sin you never had nerve enough to commit.” She never did walk the Mile. The governor commuted her sentence to life, the last ten years of which she spent free teaching Sunday school and single-handedly rescuing a small-town library. She was guilty of cutting her husband to death with one of his own razors, and yet “I was glad to see Bev’s round ass going left instead of right when she got to the duty desk, let me tell you.” Now, on the Green Mile “left” and “right” have special meanings:

A left turn meant life – if you called what went on in the sunbaked exercise yard life, and many did; many lived it for years, with no apparent ill effects. Thieves and arsonists and sex criminals, all talking their talk and walking their walk and making their little deals.

A right turn, though – that was different. First you went into my office (where the carpet was also green, a thing I kept meaning to change and not getting around to), and crossed in front of my desk, which was flanked by the American flag on the left and the state flag on the right. On the far side were two doors. One led into the small W.C. that I and the Block E guards (sometimes even Warden Moores) used; the other opened on a kind of storage shed. This was where you ended up when you walked the Green Mile.

This description tells you as much about Paul’s humorous compassion as his casual remark that “there was no segregation among the walking dead” and the whole episode with “Bev”. Their job on the Mile is to keep the inmates calm, talk to them, promise them anything posthumously. They have enough on their minds already. In a way, Paul’s advice seems to be, we are all walking our Green Mile, it’s not long at all, hardly even sixty paces of linoleum with the “color of tired old limes”. And we should do the best we can on it.

As usual, the first-person narrator brings to life plenty of other characters. As always, the bad guys are a lot more interesting than the good ones. Paul Edgecombe knows, as does Stephen King, that “there is no sense in writing something as long as this if you can’t say what feels true to your heart”. Writing is the most powerful process of self-discovery yet invented, “a special and rather terrifying form of remembrance”. It unlocks the unconscious as nothing else.

That’s why Percy Wetmore, a sadist if there ever was one, and William Wharton (aka Wild Bill), a man who “just doesn’t care” (twice underlined in the original), are the superstars here. Mr King knows there are people who are suckers for the suffering of others. Be it physical or mental, it gives them great pleasure, almost sexual if not even more intense. And there are those who really don’t care how much suffering they cause so long as they enjoy themselves. Mr King is not afraid of depicting such characters on both sides of the prison bars. Despite his professions of myth-searching, he is a starkly realistic writer. He is contemptuous of unrealistic escapism:

I’ve seen lots of jailhouse movies over the years where the official phone rings just as they’re getting ready to pull the switch on some poor innocent sap, but ours never rang during all my years on E Block, never once. In the movies, salvation is cheap. So is innocence. You pay a quarter, and a quarter’s worth is just what you get. Real life costs more, and most of the answers are different.

John Coffey, the simple-minded miracle worker, is a plot convention rather than a character. He is not a Christ-like figure, nor a paragon of virtue or goodness. He is just what Paul says he is: an instrument. He is vividly described all the same, even if sometimes he speaks quite out of character. When he is asked by the prison guards if they need to chain him up, his reply “can if you want to, don’t need to” is way beyond his mental powers as described in the whole book. He certainly hasn’t got the brains to commit the murder for which he was convicted. And he never would have been but for the fact that he was a black man in the Deep South of the 1930s. Our narrator is quite explicit on this point.

My favourite character, by a real mile, is Mr Jingles (aka Steamboat Willy), surely the finest rodent in fiction. Paul is right. He is “one of God’s mysteries”. Of course it was quite out of character for him to run outside the cell after that spool at that precise moment. But we all make mistakes, don’t we? And we all like to think they are “out of character”.

By all means do read this book and do see the movie. Both are worth it. But for my part the movie wins over the book. Not by a mile, not even a Green Mile, but with the same certainty as that we are all, in the words of Toot-Toot, “walkin’ again, walkin’ again, yes sir, walkin’ on the Green Mile.” ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Apr 13, 2018 |
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This happened in 1932, when the state penitentiary was still at Cold Mountain.
Atonement was powerful; it was the lock on the door you closed against the past.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This isn't actually just one volume, but a collection of six separate parts of the whole...
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Book description
At Cold Mountain Penitentiary, along the lonely stretch of cells known as the Green Mile, killers await death, whilst their guards watch over them. Good or evil, innocent or guilty, none of them have ever seen the likes of brutal new prisoner John Coffey, seemingly a devil in human form.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0671041789, Mass Market Paperback)

This novel taps into what Stephen King does best: character-driven storytelling. The setting is the small "death house" of a Southern prison in 1932. The charming narrator is an old man looking back on the events, decades later. Maybe it's a little too cute, maybe the pathos is laid on a little thick, but it's hard to resist the colorful personalities and simple wonders of this supernatural tale. As Time magazine put it, "Like the best popular art, The Green Mile has the courage of its cornier convictions ... the palpable sense of King's sheer, unwavering belief in his tale is what makes the novel work as well as it finally does." And it's not a bad choice for giving to someone who doesn't understand the appeal of Stephen King, because the one scene that is out-and-out gruesome can be easily skipped by the squeamish. The Green Mile was nominated for a 1997 Bram Stoker Award.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:28 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Welcome to Cold Mountain Penitentiary, home to the Depression-worn men of E Block. Convicted killers all, each awaits his turn to walk the Green Mile, keeping a date with "Old Sparky," Cold Mountain's electric chair. Prison guard Paul Edgecombe has seen his share of oddities in his years working the Mile. But he's never seen anyone like John Coffey, a man with the body of a giant and the mind of a child, condemned for a crime terrifying in its violence and shocking in its depravity. In this place of ultimate retribution, Edgecombe is about to discover the terrible, wondrous truth about Coffey, a truth that will challenge his most cherished beliefs ... and yours.… (more)

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