The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
Published in 1951 and controversial to this day, the book is the epitome of teen angst, confusion and identity. Odds are you’ve either read it in school or burned it in front of one.
Anyway, the book’s antihero, Holden Caulfield, is a student at Pencey Prep who get’s booted out for shoddy grades and embarks on a drunken wandering through New York City. He ponders on family, life, phonies, hookers and ducks. In the end, he comes to know himself a little better, perhaps, and appreciate his relationships a little more, why not.
On December the 8th, 1980, Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon. Chapman, a wandering, born-again, guitar playing former mental patient, had come to identify very strongly with the book “The Catcher in the Rye”. Becoming obsessed with the prevalence of phonies and the work of John Lennon, he decided the reasonable course of action was to shoot Lennon to death in front of his hotel while Lennon’s wife watched.
Robert John Bardo, a serial stalker and all around loon, also shot and killed a celebrity, Rebecca Shaeffer, after obsessing over the novel. Would-be presidential assassin and president of the Jodie Foster fan club, John Hinckley Jr., was also found to have a copy of the book in his hotel room after he was arrested for shooting Ronald Reagan.
The grisly murder of Lennon left a hole in the lives of his friends, fans and family, as well as changing the face of popular music. The association of the novel with the shootings has helped those who wish to suppress it for various moral reasons, depriving untold individuals from reading what is considered to be among the finest examples of American literature. And Mark David Chapman wonders why his parole hearings never seem to go in his favor.
Rage (Stephen King)
Published in 1977 by the horror king himself (pun intended), it appeared under the penname “Richard Bachman”. The book is also no longer in print, and with good reason.
The story revolves around the plucky Charlie Decker who, for reasons possibly related to repeatedly listening to a couple of choice tracks from “The Wall”, bashes his chemistry teacher with a wrench. You know, a chemistry wrench. Anyway, he gets expelled by the principal. Willing to fight for his right to an education, Charlie decides to grab a gun and really stick it to his algebra teacher. What follows is a very tense, psychologically interesting standoff between the gunman, the police and his classmates.
The story is the classic example of angry, misunderstood loner-turned-school-shooter. Many of Charlie’s actions might even seem a little familiar to those who have kept up to date with the cases that have taken place over the last several decades. And there may in fact be a reason for that: as many as three school shooters and hostage takings have been linked to the book, either taking it as inspiration or simply having read it prior to their attack.
Dustin Pierce took his algebra class hostage for nine hours in September of 1989 using a number of firearms, and was later found to own the book. In February of 1996, Barry Loukaitis took his algebra class hostage as well (what is it about math?) using a rifle and handguns, killed three and was also found to own the book, which he quoted during the attack. In December of 1997, Michael Carneal killed three and wounded five people in a prayer group at his high school when he fired at them with a .22 pistol, and was found to have the book in his locker.
King himself decided to let the book go out of print, as well as the compilation “The Bachman Books” in which it appeared, though you can still find either in many libraries or that creepy guy from your work’s “angry bunker”. Surprisingly, King hasn’t shied away from addressing the work, even discussing it in depth on occasion.
While recognizing that some damaged individuals may latch on to violent media, he is quick to defend the right of creative types to get a little psycho.
Have some more macabre novels that provided grisly inspiration? Post them below! You can keep tabs on Kevin Mack’s descent into madness by following him on Twitter.
- - The Collector (John Fowles): http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/74/TheCollector.jpg http://images.travelpod.com/users/travelingirl/3.1208881980.creepy-basement.jpg http://www.toptenz.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/cyanide.jpg
- - The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig (David Graham Phillips): http://www.amsbook.com/database/55a6ce9c-310f-49d8-93c2-d9008b6c0853/Products/da3c42eb-f830-4ca6-8854-c8924dbc52df/9781407629216-L.jpg http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:LphYu9Hu_0hZhM:http://www.peoplequiz.com/images/bios/gregory_peck.jpg-1212.jpg&t=1 http://www.seeingtheforest.com/STFphotos/Mission-accomplished.jpg
- - The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger): http://lagrandelife.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/the-catcher-in-the-rye-cover.jpg http://www.listown.com/images/group/200902/Holden-Caulfield-20090222094920.jpg http://www.unfogged.com/John-Lennon-New-York-1974-Posters.jpg
- - Rage (Stephen King): http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/6a/Ragebachman.jpg http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/pipe-wrench-1.jpg