The Green Mile Review - The horror in people
by Stephen King
Published in 1996
Like all great Stephen King novels, The Green Mile was adapted into a movie starring Tom Hanks and that was my first experience with anything Stephen King. I remember watching the movie with my mom and just sobbing nonstop. It was filled with such great performances and was overall just such a fantastic movie that I actually thought maybe it was an original movie, until I learned that it was based on a book written by Stephen King. At the time, I was extremely hesitant to read a Stephen King novel because I assumed I wouldn’t like it, but I was completely wrong because The Green Mile was an even more powerful book than it was a movie.
The Green Mile begins with Paul Edgecombe in a nursing home in 1996 remembering his time as a block supervisor in 1932 at Cold Mountain Penitentiary death row, aka “The Green Mile”. John Coffey, a 6 foot 8 inches tall black man, is the new inmate on the block after being convicted of raping and murdering two little white girls. Along with him are the inmates Del and Wild Bill who have also been convicted of rape and murder. Percy is a sadistic guard who constantly torments the inmates for his own amusement and is “untouchable” because he is the nephew of the Governor’s wife. He asks to oversee the execution of Del, however deliberately decides not to wet the sponge when putting him on the electric chair, thus elongating an excruciating death. Del’s mouse, Mr. Jingles decides to spend his time with John Coffey after Del’s death.
Paul begins noticing that there is something special about John. Regardless of his conviction, he seems like a kind and friendly man who wouldn’t so much as harm a fly. He also is strangely observant and empathetic of those around him, as if he can see into the depths of their soul. He helps heal Paul’s urinary tract infection through touch alone as well as revive Mr. Jingles after being stomped to death by Percy. Paul and the guards throw Percy in a straight jacket and drug Wild Bill so they can sneak John out of the block to the Warden’s home. John Coffey heals the Warden’s wife of her inoperable brain tumor and when he returns back to the block, he transfers over the sickness into Percy. Now with the brain tumor, Percy becomes erratic and shoots and kills Wild Bill before he’s sent to a psychiatric ward. John explains to them that he did this because they were “bad men”.
It is revealed that John does have more than his healing powers and that he can also see into the hearts of men. He reveals to Paul that he had never raped or killed the girls, but that it was Wild Bill. After Wild Bill had killed the girls, John had found the bodies and was found trying to heal the girls and because he was black was immediately convicted as guilty. Paul is heartbroken knowing that John is innocent but will never be able to prove it because the truth is in his mind. John tells him that the world has always been cruel and that he is ready to die. With his execution being the hardest John had ever had to do, he decides to quit after John’s death. We then return to him in his old age showing that Mr. Jingles is still alive 64 years later… and so is he. Those that are healed by John’s hand had their lives elongated and even at 104 years old, Paul will never forget John.
Final Rating & Thoughts: 9/10
In my opinion, The Green Mile is probably one of Stephen King’s top 5 best novels (that could be a list for another day!). The beauty of this book is that it’s not so much the horror that makes this book stand out, even though there is plenty to fear, but in fact the miracle. John’s gift is beyond understanding. There’s no insight as to why John has this gift or for how long or what it’s true purpose really is. It wasn’t even enough to save his own life, even though he managed to save countless other lives. It’s interesting because in the book at first it is seen as a blessing because he can save lives until you later see that it has been a curse for him. He gets to see the best of people and like Wild Bill he also gets to see the worst of people and those visions cut through him like a knife knowing he can’t do anything about it.
Besides the miracle of John, what I love about this book is that the horror doesn’t lie in a monster or alien but instead in the horror of people. Wild Bill is terrifying because he’s erratic and unapologetic. He doesn’t care about the lives he has taken because if given the chance, he will do so again. He has an evil heart and I can only imagine the things John had seen when Wild Bill touched him because just seeing the murder of the two girls. As if Wild Bill’s insanity isn’t terrifying enough, we see Percy’s heart is just as black as his. However, he is in a position of authority which only comes to show that the “good guys” aren’t always good guys. The worst thing about the two of them is that they were cruel without purpose. They just loved to torment and kill.
Overall, this book really is incredible and I would recommend to all. It is classic Stephen King with excellent character development, a captivating plot, and a man who is both a gift and a curse. What I love about how Stephen King wrote John Coffey is there are almost two sides of him. One is illiterate and clueless and simple and the other is profound beyond words. From the beginning I viewed John Coffey as no better than Del and Wild Bill and by the end of the novel I was sobbing at his death. Only Stephen King could put together a story with that kind of arch. On top of having such an amazing book, the movie was also incredible and is the perfect watch if you are in the mood to ugly cry at the end.