Rage: The Banned Stephen King Book

A disturbed high-school student with authority problems kills one of his teachers and takes the rest of his class hostage.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a huge fan of the works of Stephen King. I have read, re-read and re-re-read many of his books and have never bored of his stories, but there’s one story that’s always really intrigued me.

In 1977 King published a book called “Rage” under his now famous pseudonym ‘Richard Bachman’, The story had actually been written in 1965, over a decade before it saw a release and long before Stephen King had made a name for himself in the world of literature with the release of “Carrie”.

The story had actually been written in 1965, over a decade before it saw a release, long before King had made a name for himself. Unfortunately after a spate of saddening school shootings in the late 80’s and the early 90’s that were linked to the book which led to King himself requesting that his publishers remove it from publication all together.

Jeffrey Lyne Cox, a senior at San Gabriel High School in San Gabriel, California, took a semi-automatic rifle to school on April 26, 1988, and held a humanities class of about 60 students hostage for over 30 minutes. Cox held the gun to one student when the teacher doubted Cox would cause harm and stated that he would prove it to her. At that time three students escaped out a rear door and were fired upon. Cox was later tackled and disarmed by another student. A friend of Cox’s told the press that Cox had been inspired by the Kuwait Airways Flight 422 hijacking and by the novel ‘Rage’, which Cox had read over and over again and with which he strongly identified.

Dustin L. Pierce, a senior at Jackson County High School in McKee, Kentucky, armed himself with a shotgun and two handguns and took a history classroom hostage in a nine-hour standoff with police on September 18, 1989, that ended without injury. Police found a copy of ‘Rage’ among the possessions in Pierce’s bedroom, leading to speculation that he had been inspired to carry out the plot of the novel.

On January 18, 1993, Scott Pennington, a student at East Carter High School in Grayson, Kentucky, took a .38-caliber revolver that was owned by his father and fatally shot his English teacher Deanna McDavid in the head, during her seventh period class. He subsequently shot and killed the school’s custodian, Marvin Hicks, and held the class hostage for 20 minutes before releasing them. Just before the shootings he had written an essay on the book ‘Rage’ and was upset that McDavid had given it a C grade.

Barry Loukaitis, a student at Frontier Middle School in Moses Lake, Washington, walked from his house to the school on February 2, 1996, and entered his algebra classroom during fifth period. He opened fire at students, killing two and wounding another. He then fatally shot his algebra teacher, Leona Caires, in the chest. As his classmates began to panic, Loukaitis reportedly said, “This sure beats algebra, doesn’t it?” — a line erroneously believed to be taken from ‘Rage’. (No such line appears in King’s story. The closest is when Charlie Decker quips, “This sure beats panty raids.”) Hearing the gunshots, gym coach Jon Lane entered the classroom. Loukaitis was holding his classmates hostage and planned to use one hostage so he could safely exit the school. Lane volunteered to be the hostage, and Loukaitis kept Lane at gunpoint with his rifle. Lane then grabbed the weapon from Loukaitis, wrestled him to the ground, then assisted the evacuation of students.

In December 1997, Michael Carneal shot eight fellow students, three of them fatally, at a prayer meeting at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky. He had a copy of ‘Rage’ within the Richard Bachman omnibus in his locker. This was the incident that moved King to allow the book to go out of print.

Of course Stephen King isn’t the first famous person to be put in this situation, other celebrities have had the finger pointed at them for similar things as well but each person deals with it in their own way. In a footnote to the preface of the novel Blaze, dated 30 January 2007, King wrote of ‘Rage’: “Now out of print, and a good thing.”

King said, in his keynote address at the VEMA Annual Meeting on May 26, 1999: “The Carneal incident was enough for me. I asked my publisher to take the damned thing out of print. They concurred.” King went on to describe his view on this subject, which acknowledged the role that cultural or artistic products such as ‘Rage’ play in influencing individuals, particularly troubled youths, while also declaring that artists and writers should not be denied the aesthetic opportunity to draw upon their own culture — which is suffused with violence, according to King — in their work. King went on to describe his inspiration for stories such as ‘Rage’, which drew heavily upon his own frustrations and pains as a high school student.
In an article on the ominous writings of Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho for Entertainment Weekly, King said: “Certainly in this sensitized day and age, my own college writing — including a short story called ‘Cain Rose Up’ and the novel ‘Rage’ — would have raised red flags, and I’m certain someone would have tabbed me as mentally ill because of them…” After the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, he elaborated in a non-fiction essay, titled “Guns” (2013), on why he let ‘Rage’ go out of print. King’s website states: “All profits from ‘Guns’ will benefit the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.”
King  has acknowledged that he wrote the novel in a world very different from the present-day – “I suppose if it had been written today, and some high school English teacher had seen it, he would have rushed the manuscript to the guidance counselor and I would have found myself in therapy posthaste. But 1965 was a different world, one where you didn’t have to take off your shoes before boarding a plane and there were no metal detectors at the entrances to high schools.”
After being withdrawn from publication in the United States the story was still available to read as part of ‘The Bachman Books’, a four story collection. That would be it though, no further publications were made of the story and ‘The Bachman Books’ would go on to become a three story collection.
Because of this the book has become something of a collectible, it can be found online but only if you’re willing to stump up the cash for it (copies in very good condition can reach four figures) something I certainly don’t have but I do envy those who have got a copy or at least got to read a copy when it was available.

As someone who has enjoyed the works of Stephen King I have to say that it’s quite frustrating that I cannot get a hold of this story, I have been informed that you can download it that just isn’t right to me, even though I am desperate to one day read it, I’m not desperate enough to do it that way, I’m old school, I need to hold an actual book.

Have you read the book? Do you own a copy? What did you think of Kings decision to self impose a ban on the book? I’d love to hear back from you and hear your opinions on it all.

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