11/22/63 – Don’t Ruin It, J.J. Abrams

The day is almost here. The day I’ve been awaiting for months and months and months. This Monday, 11/22/63 debuts on Hulu. I finished the novel for the second time last night, so I am fully prepared and cautiously optimistic that James Franco won’t ruin it. I’m also scared, as this mini-series will be treading on sacred ground. Stephen King is my favorite author, and 11/22/63 just so happens to be one of my favorite books of all time. That’s a lot of “favorites” in one sentence. Therefore, if JJ Abrams desecrates the book with the show, I will be very loudly airing my grievances here.

11/22/63 is at its core a love story, which is not what I was expecting my first time through. Yeah, yeah, on the surface it’s about a man going back in time to stop the assassination of Kennedy, but there is a lot more to it. That’s fairly obvious, since it’s over 800 pages in length.

Our protagonist, Jake Epping, is tasked with saving JFK. Blown away. What else do I have to say? Sorry, I can’t say “JFK” without adding the rest to it. The catch is that the portal to the past spits him out in 1958, so he has to hang out in the “Land of Ago” for five years. During this time, he spies on Lee Harvey Oswald and his family to absolutely confirm that he was the lone assailant. Jake also assimilates himself into the time period, acquiring a job as a high school teacher and unexpectedly falling for the school librarian.

The past can be changed, but it makes it difficult to do so, thus Jake faces many obstacles, which increase in severity depending on the magnitude of the change to be made. Preventing Kennedy’s death really pisses the past off. When Jake goes back through the rabbit hole to 2011, the repercussions of meddling with history are many and terrifying; the future is not the bright one that Jake thought it would be.

Stephen King is fond of this sort of cautionary tale. I’m always reminded of good old Jud Crandall in Pet Sematary: “Sometimes, dead is better.” Whenever man messes with the natural order of things, it ends badly. But that never stops him from trying.

This brings me to the mini-series. I want it to be awesome, but I’m not sure that it can convey all of the feels that King so brilliantly articulates. From the first test trip that Jake takes to the “Land of Ago,” readers get the feeling that it can’t be this easy to go back and forth without some sort of repercussions. Jake knows it too, but that doesn’t stop him, and it probably wouldn’t have stopped me either. Jake becomes a part of that era, which complicates his mission in more ways than one. He is likeable yet flawed – the perfect King hero. When I started the book for the second time, even knowing that James Franco was cast in the role, I couldn’t picture him as Jake. I still can’t. All I see is this:

But again – I’m cautiously optimistic. I know that King was heavily involved in the making of the show. I also know that he personally offered it up to JJ Abrams. There are other promising factors as well. For one thing, the idea to make the behemoth of a novel into a mini-series instead of a movie was absolutely the right decision. The book is so long and so complex that a movie would have been overly-reductive, undoubtedly cheapening a multi-faceted story with such rich, complex characters. And there’s the fact that I love the casting of Chris Cooper as Al Templeton.

Time will tell; my fingers are crossed. I’ll be watching Monday, and I’ll be joining my bestie Trey from over at Geeks and Geeklets to cover the series on 2 Girls, One Show, which I’ll also be sharing here at danetrain.

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