I read John Dies at the End (pseud. David Wong; Jason Pargin; Thomas Dunne Books, 2009) on the basis of a review that promised I would not be able to put it down if I made it through the first three pages. The review promised bizarre and zany strangeness beyond my wildest expectations. How to resist? In reality, the book was somewhat entertaining, but not as zany as I’d hoped. It began as a chapter posted online in 2001 by the author. As the chapter gained admiring readers, the author posted another, and then another until, a few years later, he published the results as a novel. A sequel is apparently on the way. And three days after reading the novel, I discovered the just-released film of the same title, made by Don Coscarelli, the director of Bubba Ho-tep (2002), one of my favorite films. How to resist?
In the novel, Stephen King and Dean Koontz are called out, especially the latter, whose name one of the characters sarcastically invokes. In the film, less successful than the book, production values are an issue, along with a plot that plods rather than doing anything else. There is ample humor, some of it forced. The one great moment comes when frozen food from a meat locker assembles itself into a talking apparition. Then the film shifts briefly into the realm of Bubba. More often it trots along as a more serious, more creative, less fun version of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989).
This isn’t the first published web serial that later became a published book. But it may be the first to achieve such success. Serial publications were common in the novel’s early history. Dickens published many of his novels serially, one chapter at a time, in newspapers and magazines. More recently, Gurney Norman’s Divine Rights Trip was printed first in 1971 a chapter at a time in The Last Whole Earth Catalog and then later made its way to book form. Now we’re to a point in the novel’s history where its physical appearance hardly matters. John Dies at the End existed in free-to-read form on the web for a good while before it was removed and published. The same apparently applies to its sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don't Touch It. You can’t fault these titles.