WRITERS ON SCREEN: Stephen King’s THE LANGOLIERS – The Writer as Unassuming Hero, Pt2

I’m a mystery writer deduction is my bread and butter. Bob Jenkins, The Langoliers


Putting the horror and macabre elements aside, Stephen King really knows how to tell a good story  especially about what it means to be an ordinary person faced with extraordinary circumstances; King’s novella The Mist comes to mind. No, I’m not one of those literary elitist who believes just because an author is popular they’re trash—Charles Dickens was popular in his day for god’s sake, so was Hemingway.Langoliers

With Stephen King the demons and monsters of metaphor are alive and all too real. They torture not only the soul but the flesh. The Langoliers are just such monsters conjured up and regurgitated into an alternate reality from the mind of creepy Craig Toomey; planted there in childhood by his abusive father to teach little Craig a lesson. By the time we the audience meet Toomey he is a corporate psychopath in the throes of a nervous breakdown and one of ten people who wake up to find they are the only passengers left on American Pride’s Flight 29.

These ten remaining passengers provide some pretty vivid archetypes that include: The Hero, Nick Hopewell who serves and sacrifices; The Innocent, insipid school teacher Laurel Stevenson, who remains steadfastly in denial throughout; The Shadow/Trickster Craig Toomey who destroys and disrupts; blind twelve year old Dinah Bellman, The Herald, whose empathic and psychic abilities allow her to warn and challenge and The Mentor/Sage who guides and seeks the truth, the writer Bob Jenkins.


 If it were just the plane I could come up with a scenario. – Bob Jenkins

Bob’s eyes are ablaze and his writer’s brain is working overtime. He starts churning out possible reasons for what has happened that encompass all kinds of conspiracy theories including a carefully planned government experiment, but when he looks out the aircraft window and sees, “Just mountains of darkness” Bob realizes, “What has happened has not just happened on this plane, and that’s where the deduction breaks down.” But thisonly fires  Bob’s imaination. He  re-calibrates and sets off in another speculative direction. What I love about the way Dean Stockwell portrays Bob is the enthusiasm, the excitement that is so electric in Bob his hair is practically standing on edge. This is a writer who loves process!

While Bob is doing his Mentor/Sage thing, Brian the pilot and Nick, Mr. MI6 are in the cockpit discussing how what has happened is so like the Sci-Fi stories they read as kids.Then, they too try to deduce what’s going on by using what they remember from those stories they loved. Maybe they and the others are “…slipping into another dimension like in a science fiction story.”

 Mark Chapman Lindsay as Nick Hopewell and David Morse as Captain Brian Engle, The Langoliers (1990)

We’re discovering the unlovely truth about time travel. –Bob Jenkins

But when the plane finally is able to land in a deserted airport in Bangor, Maine Bob’s take is quite different from Brian’s and Nick’s: “What we’re dealing with here is time, not dimensions,” Bob intones.

At every turn when either, fatigue, hunger, fear, the homicidal shenanigans of Craig Toomey or the monstrous Langoliers threaten, Bob the writer has a plausible solution, and if he doesn’t he knows the right questions to ask and the right person to put them to. When Dinah Bellman says to Bob, “I like listening to you. It makes me feel better,” she’s echoing the sentiments of the audience.

In the end, it’s not the airline pilot, Capt. Engle or the MI6 Special Agent Nick Hopewell or the psychic powers of little Dinah Bellman that save the day, although they contribute mightily, it’s Bob Jenkins, the mystery writer, whose lips are always poised to ask the two mystical and most powerful words that have served writers throughout time: “What if…”

Bob Jenkins
Dean Stockwell as Bob Jenkins, The Langoliers (1990)