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"The Langoliers" is the first of four long short stories/novellas in Stephen King's 1990 collection, Four Past Midnight. It's about a red eye flight from Los Angeles to Boston that takes a most unusual detour, and to say much more than that would give away a great deal. If you like speculative fiction and don't mind elements of horror, then "The Langoliers" is pretty good stuff. Like most of Stephen King's writing, it may not be great literature, but it's entertaining, gripping, suspenseful, and hard to put down. "The Langoliers" is available on audio cassette in its complete and unabridged form, read by Willem Dafoe. I haven't heard any of this, but I bet it would be all kinds of intense.

"The Langoliers" features a number of entertaining characters, the most memorable of which is the antagonist, Craig Toomy. He's nuts, but not entirely unsympathetically so, and his obsessive habit of tearing paper into neat little strips was a running joke with me and my friends in middle school for months. In the 1995 made-for-TV miniseries of "The Langoliers", Toomy was played by Bronson Pinchot doing his very best to escape the typecasting of his most famous role, Balki Bartokomous on the comedy series Perfect Strangers.

"The Langoliers" was the first Stephen King story I ever finished; I still haven't read any of the other stories in Four Past Midnight, because they strike me as being more "typical" King horror/supernatural writing. Although I now know that's not all King writes, it's still the first thing his name makes me think of, and for a long time it kept me from reading any of his work. In middle school I had a few friends who were obsessed with King's horror novels, and avidly read their way through his entire bibliography (I'm sure the sex scenes, often just as graphic as the blood and guts, didn't hurt their enthusiasm). I could never bring myself to join in the fun; just the blurbs on the back covers or book jackets were enough to send my overactive imagination into nightmare overdrive, and when I got It as a birthday present, the cover illustration of Pennywise the Dancing Clown was enough to make me exchange it for bookstore credit. Eventually one of my friends recommended "The Langoliers" to me as being unlike the Stephen King that I was too scared to read, and indeed, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise (scary, yes, but not in a nightmare-inducing kind of way). It was the first indication I got that King wrote anything besides pure supernatural gross-out horror scariness, and that was kind of a revelation for me. Without "The Langoliers", I might never have developed my highly enjoyable addiction to the Dark Tower series. Heck, I might still be vaguely afraid of the font used to print King's name on mass-market paperbacks, and even I know that's just silly.

King, Stephen. "One Past Midnight - The Langoliers", Four Past Midnight. A Signet Book, 1990.

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