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dome darkling“The dead also do not see, unless they look from a brighter place
than this darkling plain where ignorant armies clash by night.”

These words leapt off page 439 of Stephen King’s Under the Dome, as they are almost an exact quote from Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach (see below). In that poem, Arnold is standing on the shale of the beach looking out at the light of the moon as it reflects across the English Channel and on the distant coast of France.

Similarly, the residents of Chester’s Mill are gazing up at the stars which have been distorted by the haze of the Dome, giving them a pink, streaked appearance, as if the stars are raining down upon them. In both instances, celestial phenomena prompt an observation on how small, and somewhat insignificant, people are compared to the greater world at large.

Arnold’s poem deals with a crisis of faith, and King’s narrator also seems to have lost faith in the society under the Dome. The Dover Beach quote is followed by a list of those who have died since the mysterious barrier came down, and then (spoiler alert!) cuts to the town’s first Dome-driven suicide.

Arnold seems to be searching for faith in human intimacy (“ah, love, let us be true to one another!”) despite a melancholy world that “hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light.” The people in Chester’s Mill appear to personify and magnify this outlook on humanity. Those who connect and support each other eventually become the only ones who have a chance. (A bit like “live together, die alone” from LOST—a quote which I kept expecting to appear in this book.) Dover Beach hints at dystopia and then King brings this to fruition Under the Dome.

The ‘darkling plain’ is also a loaded reference to Shakespeare’s King Lear, Act I Scene 4. Arnold certainly understood this, and I feel that King too is alluding to the Fool’s observation: “We were left darkling.”

The Fool has realized that Goneril is betraying her father, though Lear can’t bring himself to accept this, asking “Are you our daughter?” This is the moment when Lear begins to question his new situation and his new reality—the moment which ultimately kicks off his descent into madness and rage. Like Lear, the people of Chester’s Mill are going to face new unhinged reality and widespread madness.

Dover-Beach-bookDover Beach must be a favorite of King’s as he also references it in The Shining. Jack wanders around the Colorado Lounge thinking what it must have been like there celebrating there in 1945, “the war won, the future stretching ahead so various and new, like a land of dreams.” Here King is juxtaposing this hopefulness against Jack’s own Lear-like descent into madness.

Finally, it must be noted that in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Dover Beach is the poem that Guy Montag reads aloud in a desperate attempt to reach out to his wife and her friends. King was an unabashed fan of Bradbury’s, having stated “without Ray Bradbury, there would be no Stephen King.”

Dover Beach has long been one of my favorite poems for its complex tension of hope and despair—also the words are beautiful. It’s thrilling to think after more than a century, nearly two, a Victorian poet (who ironically was known for his concept of “sweetness and light”) could exact such an influence on writers like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury.

Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;–on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain;
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Under the #DomeAlong

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under the dome paperbackArgh! I am totally hooked on this book … but stopped right in my tracks owing to the fact that I don’t actually have a copy in hand. Oops! I’m trailing the pack in the Under the Dome readalong, aka the #DomeAlong.

I’ve gotten to the end of the free digital preview, which is page 138 on my iPad. Although, turns out that is only, er, page 82 of the actual 1,072 page printed book.

I have been top of the list for Under the Dome at the library for three weeks. They had two copies, which seem to have also disappeared “under the dome.” After prolonged searching, the library has now told me they must order the book.

I’ve cracked and ordered the book myself. I know I could download it, but I prefer real books for long reads. (Yes, illogical as they are so heavy!)

Now, I am left hanging all weekend until Under the Dome arrives. If you’re thinking of reading Under the Dome, why not join us?! This book is addictive! The readalong runs through July 27th—click here to sign up!

I’m Going Under the Dome for a Summer Readalong!

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Under the Dome roundedI’ve just started Stephen King’s Under the Dome and I’m hooked! I’ve joined the #DomeAlong—a two-month readalong organized by Natalie aka Coffee and Book Chic. This group read runs through July 27thSo sign up and join us!

I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t read much King lately … partly because his books are just so darn scary that I can’t sleep afterwards. This book, however, has been billed as more of a psychological thriller, hopefully not too gory.

I will say that Under the Dome is pretty intriguing right from the start. I’m only about 20 pages in, but already I have that tingly thrill of anticipation that I used to get from watching LOST.

No matter how much I love a book (Harry Potter, A Song of Fire and Ice), I tend to get antsy when books stretch over 1,000 pages. I start to crave that feeling of satisfaction you get when you finish.

Enter #DomeAlong, with fabulous reading tweeps who will keep up the energy and fun with blog posts and banter on twitter as we slog through this together. Even before I cracked the book, I totally got into the spirit by reading all the tweets. Come on Under the Dome and join us!

Under the Dome comes out in paperback on June 11 (not too late to join us) and the CBS mini-series debuts Mon June 24th.

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