The Body is a novella from Stephen King's collection Different Seasons. A movie was made of the story, called Stand By Me. Below is the plot of The Body. The plot concentrates on the book, with a section highlighting the differences between the movie and the novella.
The plot of The Body
The story takes place in 1960 in Castle Rock, Maine. Gordon Lachance, and three of his friends, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio hear of the whereabouts of the corpse of Ray Brower. Ray had gone to pick berries, but never returned. Gordon and his friends believe Brower was hit by a train.
At the end of the summer vacation the four boys are playing cards in their tree house. Vern has heard his older brother Billy speak to his friends about the body of Ray Bowner. The corpse had been found in a place called Back Harlow Road. Vern's brother Billy and his friends dare not tell anyone about the body since they had discovered it whilst driving a stolen car. Vern tells his friends about this corpse.
The boys decide to go to spot that Billy has described, to find the corpse. The journey is longer than they can walk in a single day. The boys tell their parents that the are going to camp in Vern's back yard. They rig a flashlight in a tent to make it look like they are actually there. Gordon's parents react with little enthusiasm. Gordon's older brother Dennis died earlier that year in a traffic accident. Dennis was the favorite, and the family are still mourning, leaving little time for Gordon. This is echoed in Gordon's story Study City.
The Body novella contains a chapter where Gordon analyses the story of Stud City. He dismisses it as a typical product of an undergraduate creative writing workshop. The story has a number of elements from Gordon's own life, such as the deceased older brother. This is the first story Gordon has not shown his parents, as it had too much of Dennis in it, "and most of all, too much 1960." The description of the Stud City character Chico's older brother just before he gets smashed between two cars is echoed in the story about Gordon and his friends a little later.
After Study City the novella continues. The boys start walking along the railroad tracks toward the location of the corpse of Ray Brower. At the town dump, they scale the fence and take a drink from the water pump. The dump is rumored to have a vicious dog that the caretaker sets upon trespassers. This rum our does not escape the boys. Gordon goes off to buy some food while the others wait. On his way back he is discovered by the caretaker and is chased by the dog. After a tense chase over the fence, they look back and see that he dog is not fearsome at all. The boys taunt the caretaker and the dog through the fence. The caretaker, having recognized Teddy, calls Teddy's father a 'loony'. Teddy reacts to this and tries to climb back over the fence to attack the caretaker. The other boys stop him doing so. Teddy's father is a shell shocked World War II veteran, who has lived in a mental institution for physically abusing his son. This incident led to Teddy's loss of hearing. The boys eventually drag Teddy away from the dump, and continue along the railroad.
They reach a bridge, which they can cross to avoid making a 10 mile detour. Crossing the bridge is dangerous, as a train can approach at anytime, leaving them no where to run but in front of the train. The decide to risk crossing the bridge. Whilst Gordon and Vern are crossing a train approaches. They have to run to avoid being run over by the train. They make it unhurt. The excitement prompts Gordon to tell the story of The Revenge of Lard Ass Hogan.
Gordon's friends complain a little that this story has no resolution. But they agree that they do normally like Gordon's stories. The boys continue down the tracks. Chris says to Gordie that he will become a famous writer, and that perhaps he will write about his friends some day. Chris also says that soon their friendship will be over. Chris tells Gordie that he will take the the college-preperation classes in high school. Then he will go on to college, and get somewhere, whilst the other three will trundle along in vocational shop classes, and spend the rest of their lives in Castle Rock. Gordie tells Chris not to be 'wet', even though he has though of this himself already.
The boys stop for the night. After they have eaten Gordie tells another story. He tells one of his 'Le Dio' stories, about a US Army unit 's adventures in a French village during World War II. This story isn't repeated in the text like Gordie's other stories.
In the morning the boys continue on the railroads tracks, discovering they still have a way to walk. Once they arrive at the spot, they find the body. Also there is Vern's older brother, Chris's older brother and a number of their teenage friends. This gang are not happy to see a bunch of kids at the site of the body that they had planned to discover. After some name-calling, Chris pulls out the gun he has taken from his drunken father's things. He fires the gun in front of one of them and threatens Ace Merrill, the leader of the gang. After a standoff Ace realizes that Chris is serious. The teenage gang leaves, threatening to get the boys later.
The boys get back home, having walked all night. They haven't been missed. The teenage gang have not told their story about the body. The body is eventually found by the authorities after an anonymous tip. They hold their promise to get the younger boys though. Ace and another break Gordon's nose and fingers and are about to do him more harm when they are run off by Gordon's neighbor, Aunt Ewie Chalmers. Ace and Aunt Ewie later appear in Stephen King's novel Needful Things. Chris's brother breaks Chris' arm and "leaves his face looking like a Canadian sunrise." Teddy and Vern get less severe beatings. The boys don't reveal who has assaulted them to the authorities. This earns them the respect of their peers.
The narration goes into fast-forward, describing the next year briefly. Teddy and Vern drift off, befriending younger boys that the boss around in the tree house. As Chris predicted, Gordon starts taking college-preperation courses. But unexpectedly, so does Chris. Despite the abuse of his father, taunts from his classmates and the distrust of teachers, Chris pulls through, with a lot of help from Gordie. Chris had not paid much attention to his classes, and had to catch up quickly.
The penultimate chapter describes the fates of Gordon's friends. None of the boys survive past young adulthood. Vern is killed in a house fire after a party. Teddy crashes his car and kills himself and a number of others, whilst under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Chris, who became an outstanding high school and college student and who prepares to go to law school, is stabbed after trying to stop a fight in a restaurant.
Gordon is the only one that survives. He continued to write stories throughout college. Several where published in small literary journals and men's magazines (just like Stephen King stories). His first novel and film become hugely successful (again like King). He goes on to write several supernatural novels, and has a wife and three children (once again like King).
Differences in the movie from book
- The screenplay of the Stand by Me movie is loyal to Stephen King's novella The Body. There are however several noticeable differences. The year of the movie is one year early, 1959 rather than 1960. The story takes place in a town called 'Castle Rock': in the book this is in Maine, in the film in Oregon.
- Some parts of the story’s timeline are different in the film. Chris and Gordie’s conversation about his writing career and what will be different when they are in junior high, the scene where Chris tells Gordie the truth about the milk money incident, and Gordie’s story about Lardass all take place at completely different moments than they did in the film. The book also features more events that occur shortly after the journey. It describes what happened when the boys came back to their homes, and an incident where Gordie was attacked by Ace but refused to turn him in.
- Some scenes are added to or removed from the movie. Stand by Me has more scenes involving the older gang than The Body, as the scenes where Ace steals Gordie’s cap, when the gang plays “mailbox baseball,” when they discuss Ray Brower’s body together in the junkyard, and when they have a race together on the highway were not in the book. The film ignores Gordie’s short story entitled Stud City, and adds two of his flashback scenes, in which his brother gives him a baseball cap and when he takes part in a family dinner. The film’s two scenes with also Gordie as an adult at the beginning and the end were not in the book.
- There are a number of repeated elements that are added into the film, including the boys continually singing the theme song from Have Gun — Will Travel, Vern’s comical obsession with his comb, Gordie and Chris doing "pinky swearing" when they give each other promises, and the characters giving each other "two for flinching" by softly punching each other. In addition, Gordie’s relationship with his brother is much more intense in the film, while in the novella Denny and Gordie were not entirely close to each other.
- The film includes some additional conversations between the boys that weren’t in the book, including their discussions around the campfire, their argument over whether or not they should go back after the leech attack, whether to cross the field as a shortcut to the Royal River, what kind of animal Goofy is, and who would win in a face off between Mighty Mouse and Superman. Other debates are trimmed down. In the book, the boys threatened to inform police about Milo trying to sic his dog on Gordie during the argument that arose after he called Mr. Duchamp a lunatic, and Teddy later argued quite a bit in the attempt to bring Ray Brower’s body back with them.
- There are some actions in the plot that are performed by different characters in the book than in the film. In the book, it was Gordie, not Chris, who wrestled Teddy off the tracks before he could attempt a train dodge, while in the book it was Chris who pulled out the gun, but Gordie does it in the movie. Also, the gang member who threatened the boys with a knife in the book was actually Jackie Mudgett, and not Ace. Some lines of dialogue are spoken by different characters. In the book, the line "…going to see a dead kid, maybe it shouldn’t be a party" was spoken by Vern, and the line ”you won't mind if we check the seat of your jockies for Hershey squirts” was spoken by Teddy. In the movie, both of these lines are spoken by Gordie.
- The movie features some characters that weren’t in the book, and vice versa. For instance, in the book there were two additional boys in Gordie's "gang" named John and Marty DeSpain who were out of town during the story, but they are never mentioned in the movie. In turn, the book didn’t feature the various members in the crowd during the pie contest that the movie identifies.
- Some of the characteristics of the people in the story are changed. For instance, both of Teddy's ears had been burned in the book, but in the movie only his left one is. (The book also gives a more thorough description of the events leading up to Teddy's father being institutionalized, including said burnings). Chopper was a mongrel dog, while in the movie he is a golden retriever, The name of the mayor who serves as the announcer during the pie contest is changed from “Charbonneau” to “Grundy”, and Vern’s nickname “Penny” (because of the incident where Vern spends nine months looking for pennies, and not four years as in the book) is never brought up. Gordie was also a huge Red Sox fan in the book, and his admiration for Ted Williams was noted. This trait is never stated in the movie, and since Gordie is willing to wear a New York Yankees cap, it is highly unlikely.
- Another notable difference between the book and the movie is the character of the store clerk. In the book, he was a grumpy person who tried to cheat Gordie of his money twice and yelled angrily at him as he left the shop. In the movie, he is a kind and sympathetic man who is curious about Gordie’s personal life, and who empathizes with Gordie over Denny’s demise, as he himself lost a brother during the Korean War. However, in the movie, it can be noticed that the grocer attempts to put his thumb on the scale, until learning of Gordie's relation to Denny. The incident serves as a further example of Gordie's world, caught between untrustworthy adults and reliance on the memory of his brother Denny.
- Stand By Me establishes much less about Gordie’s family than the book does. In the book, the ages of Gordie's parents are mentioned during the time the boys searched for the body and the age of Gordie's mother was when she became pregnant with Dennis is also mentioned; none of this was mentioned in the movie. In the book, Denny was in the military at the time of his death. The movie doesn't establish this, although props in Denny's room gives the idea that he was probably out of high school and maybe even in college when the accident took place.
- Significantly, the book provides an epilogue that kills off not just the protagonist's best friend, but all of the supporting characters. Both of the two characters whose fates are ignored in the movie meet the least distinguished of fates in King's book: Vern passes out on a cigarette and sets a blaze, and Teddy is unceremoniously killed following a race-induced car crash in which he is propelled through what was then called the "death seat" (passenger-side front seat -- before airbags -- was notorious for sending the unfortunate over the dashboard and through the windshield without interference). In both the book and the movie, the tragic figure is Chris Chambers. King engages in ample foreshadowing by establishing Chris as preternaturally and essentially good, the more so because of his "diamond in the rough" nature: his family is composed of criminals, in a time and a town where the apple rarely fell far from the tree. Chris is tough and well-grown, but uses his maturity to be a peacemaker rather than a warrior. His peacemaking tendency and maturity are established repeatedly: He is throughout the book and movie the voice of reason, saving his mates from both physical and emotional harm. Chris's death is an early but fitting sacrifice: in a fast food restaurant, he instinctively steps between two men who have engaged in a knife-fight. Chris is stabbed in the throat, being granted an instant death. Gordie is the sole survivor, an intentionally transparent representation of King himself, who lives on and writes, but without his friends. Note that in a dream sequence following the infamous leech sequence in the book, King shows his ambivalence to childhood friends--envisioning his friends as grasping to his limbs and drowning him, and declaring that friends only "hold you down." The loss of his best friend Chris reminds him that he will "never have friends like that again."
- The ultimate punishment is only shown in the book: the fate of the antagonist, Ace. Rather than the quick death granted to Chris, Teddy, and Vern, Ace is seen by Gordie years later in a local bar: his sharp features softened by fat, grown old before his time. Gordie's victory is that of living well.
- Stephen King told the cast and crew after a private screening of the film that it was his favorite adaptation of any of his works up to that point.
- Kiefer Sutherland and Corey Feldman both costarred in the 1987 film The Lost Boys.
- The film was shot in Brownsville, Oregon where Castle Rock is, other parts of the film where shot in locations in Oregon.
- Sean Parlaman received permission from King to make a short, independent sequel, entitled Stud City. A script was written, but the film was never actually produced.
Gordon's similarity to Stephen King
There are several parallels that can be drawn between Stephen King and the character of Gordon. He is the same age at the time of writing, of the same profession and same social class, they where raised and live in the same state of Maine. Gordon also went to have a successful first novel and film, subsequently successful novels, he become married and had three children, all like Stephen King.
As a child King witnessed a terrible accident: one of his friends was caught on a railroad and struck by a train. It has been suggested that this was the seed of King's dark and disturbing creations. King has dismissed this idea. It could also be said that this event is the seed of The Body.
Several stories appear in the novella, as written by Gordon, who is a budding writer. Obviously these stories where written by Stephen King, and have appeared as separate publications under King's name.
Stud City - Originally published in Greenspun Quarterly 45 (1970) as Gordon Lachance. Published as a separate short story by Stephen King in Ubris (University of Maine's literary journal), 1969.
Study City is about a young man called Chico. Chico still lives at home. His older brother died several years ago in a racing accident. Chico's father has remarried, and Chico does not like his stepmother. He also has a younger brother. Chico drives his girlfriend home one night, in his old car. When he returns to the house the rest of his family have returned home. His father, who has been prompted by his stepmother, gives Chico a hard time about the girl. The story ends with Chico driving off into the rain in his old car, to sleep over at a friends house.
The Revenge of Lard Ass Hogan - Originally published by Gordon Lachance in Cavalier (March 1975). Printed as a separate short story by Stephen King in The Main Review (July 1975)
The Revenge of Lard Ass Hogan is about a fat kid called Davie Hogan. Nobody likes Davie. In his fictional hometown of Gretna, Maine, there is a yearly pie-eating content. Davie enters the competition. No one thinks that Davie has a chance of winner against the town's veteran eaters. At the competition, as the pie-eating starts, it becomes obvious that Davie is a serious competitor. Davie is soon in the lead, by a whole pie. However, before the competition Davie drank a bottle of castor oil. He now starts to vomit all over one of his competitors. This causes a chain reaction involving all of the contestants and the audience. Lard Ass Davie smiles and takes the microphone from the speaker. He declares the contest a draw and goes home.