The Langoliers (from Four Past Midnight) – Stephen King

The Langoliers is like nothing I’ve ever read by King before. It’s much more Twilight Zone-style creepy/suspenseful than most of the books of his I’ve read. It actually probably owes a lot to that one Twilight Zone episode where the jet somehow goes back in time to some prehistoric age inhabited by dinosaurs, and then manages to get back to the “future,” but only to 1939 instead of the 1960s (i.e., present time).

On a flight from LAX to Boston Logan, deadheading pilot Brian Engle wakes from a nightmare to the sound of a little girl screaming. Incredibly, he appears to be one of less than a dozen people left on the enormous 767. The crew is gone along with most of the other passengers.

What could have possibly befallen over 100 passengers—in midair, no less—that left only eleven unaffected? What could have caused so many people to completely, and apparently soundlessly, disappear, leaving all their personal effects—purses, wallets, wedding rings, even dental fillings and pacemakers—behind? That’s what Brian, along with the few remaining passengers, has to find out, and fast.

The Langoliers reads, as I said above, quite like an episode from The Twilight Zone. In fact, it wasn’t hard at all to imagine the creepy Twilight Zone theme as the background music to this story. But The Twilight Zone (any episodes I’ve seen, anyway) tends to be rather more benign than The Langoliers. The Twilight Zone can be truly creepy and has some great twists, sure. But The Langoliers is just in a whole ‘nother league. Utterly unputdownable.

This story, like most by Uncle Stevie, starts bad and just gets worse. Brian Engle, our hero, has just landed at LAX after an incredibly stressful flight when he is informed that his ex-wife, Anne, has perished in a fire in Boston. So, instead of going home and crashing out for a dozen or so hours as he had planned, he ends up on flying out of LAX en route to Boston only a few hours later. Naturally, one of the passengers remaining on the plane is an utter nutcase intent on getting to Boston no matter what it takes, ready and willing to leave a path of casualties in his wake if necessary. And when Brian finally lands the plane in Bangor, Maine, after being unable to reach anyone on the radio, what they find is even worse than anything they could have expected.

I’m actually somewhat surprised that, at over 200 pages long, The Langoliers wasn’t published on its own as a standalone novel. On the other hand, if it had been, I probably would have been dissatisfied with the length and complained about it, so there’s that. At least with the Four Past Midnight collection, I still have some 400 pages to read—completely different stories, yes, but the sense of loss I feel at the end of a book is tempered by the remaining pages ahead of me.

I also just discovered that The Langoliers was made into a miniseries in the 90s. Reviews on Amazon seem to give it a pretty solid “B,” so maybe it’ll be worth trying to watch one day!

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