Stephen King is renowned for his epic horror novels. Since the publication of his debut book, Carrie, King has spent the last three decades reveling in fame and literary recognition. His prose is simple and meant to appeal to a middlebrow readership. Nevertheless, King is able to write in a way that captures the imagination and invites the reader into the depths of his world.
Revival was published in 2014. Similarly to most of King’s books, the story is set in his home state of Maine (at least during the first half of the novel). The novel chronicles the life of Jamie Morton, from age six to his late fifties, and highlights his encounters with a charming, yet eccentric preacher named Charles Daniel Jacobs.
Although the story is written from the first-person perspective of Jamie Morton, Jacobs could qualify as the lead protagonist as well. This tale is just as much about him as it is about Jamie.
Charles Daniel Jacobs is introduced as an young, enthusiastic Methodist preacher who arrives in tiny Maine town of Harrow with his wife and son for his first pastoral assignment. In Harrow, Jacobs meets six-year-old Jamie and immediately takes a liking to him. Jacobs exposes Jamie to the bizarre, yet fascinating world of electricity, of which Jacobs exhibits an infatuated obsession.
One fateful day, Jacobs’ wife and son fall victim to a car accident. Unfortunately, they didn’t survive which tears Jacobs apart. On the following Sunday at the local Methodist church, Jacobs delivers a heart-wrenching diatribe, later termed by the parishioners and townspeople as “The Terrible Sermon”. Jacobs lashes at God and derides religion as nothing but an insurance fraud. Unsurprisingly, Jacobs leaves town. However, that wouldn’t be the last time Jamie sees him..
The novel effectively touches on numerous themes that are all intertwined, including religion, tragedies, death and the esoteric potential of electricity. Although the story drags into numerous irrelevant subplots of Jamie’s life, it leads towards a bone-chilling, Lovecraftesque climax, and unveiling the mysteries of death and the afterlife.
Revival, in echoing Stephen King’s own perspective, exposes the covert manipulation of tent revivals. In one passage, Charles Jacobs cynically chides the enthusiastic attendees as “rubes” who only “want to be healed”.
I’m reminded of the numerous charismatic retreats I was dragged to as a child. Although the majority of the congregation were seemingly rejuvenated by the spirited ambiance, I was disturbed by the exaggerated displays of emotion and the complete surrender to blind faith.
A priest (or lay minister) would spew a series of half-baked Christian platitudes, ending every two sentences with “Praise the Lord”, and the congregation would cling to his every word. Yet numerous of my fellow parishioners flocked to these retreats, even if they regularly fail to attend Sunday mass. As Charles Jacobs said, people just want to be healed. And with life’s innumerable burdens and calamities, who could blame them?
This is where the esoteric secrets of electricity come in. As a young preacher, Jacobs devoted himself to studying electricity as a hobby and often used it as a teaching tool for the church youth group.
When Jamie’s brother, Connie, lost his voice, Jacobs riskfully harnessed the powers of electricity to heal Connie of his affliction. That was the first time Jacobs utilize electricity behind its typical application of lighting a bulb.
After the terrible sermon, Jacobs was driven into obsession over electricity. He would discover that the healing potential of electricity could ignite a new type of “revival”. However, in his old age, there was one mission that was left to be accomplished. And he would need the assistance of a fifty-something year old Jamie Morton.
Despite the handful of irrelevant subplot, this novel is worth reading. If you’re a lapsed Christian, this story will make you reflect on your own religious upbringing and give you further insight on the inner-workings of religion