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First edition cover
|November 10, 2009|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (October 2013)|
First edition cover
|November 10, 2009|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Under the Dome is a science fiction novel by Stephen King published in November 2009. Set in and around a small Maine town, it tells an intricate, multi-character and point-of-view story of how the town's inhabitants contend with the calamity of being suddenly cut off from the outside world by an impassable, invisible barrier that literally drops out of a clear blue sky.
At 11:44 a.m. on Saturday October 21 of an unspecified year after 2012 (evident by mention of a faded bumper sticker for Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign; possibly 2017, as this is the soonest October 21 falls on a Saturday after 2012), the small Maine town of Chester's Mill is abruptly and gruesomely separated from the outside world by an invisible, semipermeable barrier of unknown origin at this point. The immediate appearance of the barrier causes a number of injuries and fatalities, and traps former Army Captain Dale "Barbie" Barbara—who is trying to leave Chester's Mill because of a local dispute—inside the town.
Police Chief Howard "Duke" Perkins is soon filled with joy when his pacemaker regenerates when he gets too close to the dome. This removes the last significant opposition to James "Big Jim" Rennie, used car salesman and the town's Second Selectman. Big Jim exerts significant influence within Chester's Mill, and seizes the opportunity to use the barrier as part of a power play to take over the town.
Big Jim appoints one of his cronies, the incompetent Peter Randolph, as the new police chief. He also begins expanding the ranks of the Chester's Mill Police with questionable candidates, including his son, Junior Rennie, and his friends. Junior has frequent migraines caused by an as-yet undiscovered brain tumor which has also begun affecting his mental state; unbeknownst to Big Jim, Junior was in the process of beating and strangling a girl to death when the barrier appeared, and has killed another girl by the time Big Jim places him on the police force.
Elsewhere in Chester's Mill, Col. James O. Cox (who is stationed outside of the Dome) calls Julia Shumway, the editor of the local newspaper, and has her carry a message to Barbie to contact him. Cox then asks Barbie to act as the government's agent in an effort to bring down the Dome, as it has come to be known. Drawing similarities to Barbie's Army specialization in locating enemy munitions factories, Cox gives him the task of locating the Dome's power source, which is believed to be somewhere in the town. Cox is also able to foresee the small-town political ramifications of such a situation. By virtue of a Presidential order, Barbie is reinstated in the U.S. military and brevetted to the rank of Colonel. Barbie is also presented with a decree granting him authority over the township. However, small town politics being what they are, this action is not well received by Big Jim and his misguided band of renegade police officers.
As Big Jim covertly encourages and orchestrates unease and panic among the townspeople to build up his grab for power, Barbie, Julia and a number of other townspeople attempt to stop things from spiraling out of control. After crossing Rennie's path on several occasions, Barbie is framed and arrested for four murders. He is accused of killing Reverend Lester Coggins, who laundered money for Rennie's large-scale methamphetamine operation, and Duke's widow Brenda Perkins, who were both murdered by Big Jim, as well as the two girls Junior killed. While Barbie is in jail, other residents track the source of the Dome to an abandoned farm, and the device is strongly indicated to be extraterrestrial in origin. The restrictions issued by Rennie become more severe and the police force grows more abusive, galvanizing the town and eventually leading some residents to break Barbie out of jail, killing Junior seconds before he can murder Barbie.
The semi-organized resistance flees to the abandoned farm, where multiple people touch the strange object and experience visions. They not only conclude that the device was put in place by extraterrestrial "leatherheads" (so named for their appearance), but that specifically they are juveniles who have set up the Dome as a cruel form of entertainment, a sort of ant farm used to capture sentient beings and allow their captors to view everything that happens to them.
On an organized "Visitors Day"—when people outside the Dome can meet at its edge with people within—Big Jim sends Randolph and a detachment of police to take back control of his former meth operation from Phil "Chef" Bushey, who is stopping Rennie from covering up the operation as well as hoarding the more than four hundred tanks of propane stored there (Chef wants it all, explaining, "I need it to cook"). Big Jim underestimates Chef's capacity for self-defense and meth-induced paranoia; he, as well as the now-ostracized head selectman Andy Sanders (whom Chef has introduced to meth use) defend themselves and the meth lab with assault rifles. Many are killed in the ensuing gunfight and Chef, who is mortally wounded, detonates a plastic explosive device he has placed in the meth production facility. The ensuing explosion, combined with the propane and meth-making chemicals, unleashes a toxic firestorm large enough to incinerate most of the town.
More than a thousand of the town's residents are quickly incinerated on national television, leaving alive just over 300 individuals who gradually die out as the toxic air ensues to restrict their breathing. Among the survivors are the twenty-eight refugees at the abandoned farm, an orphaned farm boy hiding in a potato cellar, and Big Jim and his informal aide-de-camp, Carter Thibodeau, in the town's fallout shelter. Big Jim and Thibodeau eventually turn on each other over the limited oxygen supply (and Big Jim's worry that Thibodeau may act as a witness against him if they survive); Big Jim stabs and disembowels Thibodeau, only to die several hours later when hallucinations of the dead send him fleeing into the now-toxic environment outside. The survivors at the barn begin to slowly asphyxiate, despite efforts by the Army to force clean air through the walls of the Dome.
Barbie and Julia go to the control device to beg their captors to release them. Julia is able to make contact with a single female leatherhead, no longer accompanied by her friends and thus not caught up in their peer pressure. After repeatedly expressing that they are real sentient beings with real "little lives", and by sharing a painful childhood incident with the adolescent alien, Julia convinces the leatherhead to have pity on them. The Dome rises slowly and vanishes, allowing the toxic air to dissipate and finally freeing what is left of the town of Chester's Mill.
The novel contains an expansive cast of minor characters while maintaining a rather small circle of central players.
Multiple other minor characters, including many who are introduced just prior to being killed, appear throughout the book. Other human survivors are Dougie Twitchell, Ginny Tomlinson, Gina Buffalino, Harriet Bigelow, Janelle Everett, Judy Everett, Pete Freeman, Tony Guay, Claire McClatchey, Joanie Calvert, Alva Drake, Little Walter Bushey and Lissa Jamieson. Julia Shumway's dog 'Horace' also survives.
In January 2008, Time magazine quoted King as saying he would "be killing a lot of trees" with his next novel. The first draft was completed in late August 2008, with the manuscript weighing 19 lb (8.6 kg). King has stated the novel is twice as long as his most recent, Duma Key, at "over 1,500 pages in manuscript", and "deals with some of the same issues that The Stand does, but in a more allegorical way". King also described the novel as "very, very long", adding: "I tried this once before when I was a lot younger and the project was just too big for me." King read from the first draft at "The Three Kings" reading event that was held on April 4, 2008 at the Library of Congress, which was broadcast by C-SPAN as part of their Book TV series on May 4, 2008.
Under the Dome is a partial rewrite of a novel King attempted to write first in 1972 under the same title and then a second time in 1982 as The Cannibals. As King stated on his official site, these two unfinished works "were two very different attempts to utilize the same idea, which concerns itself with how people behave when they are cut off from the society they've always belonged to. Also, my memory of The Cannibals is that it, like Needful Things, was a kind of social comedy. The new Under the Dome is played dead straight." From the material originally written, only the first chapter is included in the new novel.
According to Stephen J. Spignesi's 1998 book The Lost Work of Stephen King, The Cannibals (originally titled Under the Dome) is an unpublished unfinished 450-page handwritten novel written in 1982, while King was filming Creepshow. This work later served as inspiration to King's new novel Under the Dome. In 1982, King said: "I've got about four-hundred-and-fifty pages done and it is all about these people who are trapped in an apartment building. Worst thing I could think of. And I thought, wouldn't it be funny if they all ended up eating each other? It's very, very bizarre because it's all on one note. And who knows whether it will be published or not?" In Douglas E. Winter's book The Art of Darkness, Stephen King is also quoted, talking around the time of Creepshow, about the origins of Under the Dome: "I worked on a book called The Cannibals—I had started it five years before, but it was called Under the Dome then. It didn't get finished either time."
On September 15, 2009, Stephen King's official site posted a 61-page facsimile excerpt from King's original novel The Cannibals, consisting of the first four chapters of the original typescript. A further 63 pages were posted on October 4. The excerpts served to also document how long ago King had had the idea of being under a dome:
Several Internet writers have speculated on a perceived similarity between Under the Dome and The Simpsons Movie, where, [...] Springfield is isolated inside a large glass dome [...]. I can’t speak personally to this, because I have never seen the movie, and the similarity came as a complete surprise to me...although I know, from personal experience, that the similarity will turn out to be casual. For the doubters, this excerpt [from The Cannibals] should demonstrate that I was thinking dome and isolation long before Homer, Marge, and their amusing brood came on the scene."
Regarding the theme of Under the Dome, King said:
From the very beginning, I saw it as a chance to write about the serious ecological problems that we face in the world today. The fact is we all live under the dome. We have this little blue world that we've all seen from outer space, and it appears like that's about all there is. It's a natural allegorical situation, without whamming the reader over the head with it. I don't like books where everything stands for everything else. It works with Animal Farm: You can be a child and read it as a story about animals, but when you're older, you realize it's about communism, capitalism, fascism. That's the genius of Orwell. But I love the idea about isolating these people, addressing the questions that we face. We're a blue planet in a corner of the galaxy, and for all the satellites and probes and Hubble pictures, we haven't seen evidence of anyone else. There's nothing like ours. We have to conclude we're on our own, and we have to deal with it. We're under the dome. All of us.
I was angry about incompetency. Obviously I'm on the left of center. I didn't believe there was justification for going into the war in Iraq. And it just seemed at the time, that in the wake of 9/11, the Bush Administration was like this angry kid walking down the street who couldn't find whoever sucker punched him, and so turned around and punched the first likely suspect. Sometimes the sublimely wrong people can be in power at a time when you really need the right people. I put a lot of that into the book. But when I started I said, "I want to use the Bush–Cheney dynamic for the people who are the leaders of this town." As a result, you have Big Jim Rennie, the villain of the piece. I got to like the other guy, Andy Sanders. He wasn't actively evil, he was just incompetent—which is how I always felt about George W. Bush. I enjoyed taking the Bush–Cheney dynamic and shrinking it to the small-town level. The last administration interested me because of the aura of fundamentalist religion that surrounded it and the rather amazing incompetency of those two top guys. I thought there is something blackly humorous in it. So in a sense, Under the Dome is an apocalyptic version of The Peter Principle.
The preliminary dust jacket cover art was released to online retailers like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble with the words "cover to be unveiled". In late August 2009, it was revealed that the real cover would be unveiled on October 5, 2009, with parts of it being shown on September 21, 25, and 28. The cover art design for Under the Dome is said to be a departure from King's previous illustrated covers, using a combination of illustration, photographs, and 3D renderings. The final jacket design was released in two variations: with white lettering; and with the less common dark gray lettering.
Stephen King held a book signing at The Magic Lantern movie theater in Bridgton, Maine, the town that the fictitious Chester's Mill is modeled after, and made several TV appearances discussing the similarity between the real town and the fictional one. “I live 18 miles out of town and I’ve lived there for a long time,” said King. “I looked at the police station, that’s the police station in the book. I just used the geography, the lake; everything is there.” King was a Bridgton resident for nearly five years. It also served as the model for the town in The Mist. On the day of the release, Stephen King was in New York City at The TimesCenter to promote the book.
In mid-October, Under the Dome became one of the highly discounted book preorders on Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Target, sparking a "price war" between the retailers. The price for Under the Dome and several other high-profile hardcover books to be released in November 2009, typically around US$25, was set at just US$9 (a discount of nearly 75% off on a new hardcover). Later, Wal-Mart lowered the price to US$8.98 and included free shipping. Target's price was set at US$8.99.
A number of viral marketing websites for popular locations referenced in Under the Dome were created to publicize the book, including Big Jim Rennie's Used Cars, the Sweet Briar Rose Diner, the Chester's Mill Democrat Newspaper, and others. A site was created for the Town of Chester's Mill, which provides links to all points of interest. An alternate reality game also took place utilizing all of these sites, beginning at the blog of Scarecrow Joe, one of the characters in the novel.
A Collector's Edition (limited to 25,000 copies) and a Signed Edition (limited to 1,500 copies) were published by Scribner concurrently with the regular trade edition. These editions feature a dust jacket without any lettering, a removable band with author name and title, printed endpapers with the map of the town in color (regular edition contains a black and white map in the book's front matter), 27 illustrations by The New Yorker cartoonist Matthew Diffee, a ribbon marker, and also contain a deck of cards with the Diffee illustrations. These editions are printed on specialty paper with different binding.
A signed and numbered UK edition, published by Hodder & Stoughton, sold exclusively by both Hatchard's Bookshop and Waterstones, was limited to 500 copies. It included the 4-color endpapers, the 27 trading cards illustrated by cartoonist, Matthew Diffee, and was packaged in a slipcase.
The author Dan Simmons, to whom Stephen King sent the manuscript for Under the Dome as a gift, commented on it on May 5, 2009, calling the novel "huge, generous, sprawling, infinitely energetic [...], absolutely enjoyable and impressive." Publishers Weekly reviewed the novel on September 11, 2009, calling it "formidably complex and irresistibly compelling." The review said the book contains "themes and images from King's earlier fiction, and while this novel doesn't have the moral weight of, say, The Stand, nevertheless, it's a nonstop thrill ride as well as a disturbing, moving meditation on our capacity for good and evil". In a review for The Plain Dealer, Daniel Dyer calls Under the Dome "a massive cautionary novel", saying it is "busy, ambitious, overlong but addictively munchable, [and] fundamentally a novel about human cruelty, animated by our desires for power, pleasure and sex."  USA Today called the novel "propulsively intriguing", "staggeringly addictive", and stated that "[r]eaders can wallow in this glorious novel's metaphoric and oh-so au courant messages about U.S. domination, freedom of the press, torture and environmental abuse, but they also can come to this novel just for the story."  The Los Angeles Times called Under the Dome "impressive", containing "lucid prose and chilling precision."  Janet Maslin's review for the New York Times said that Under the Dome "has the scope and flavor of literary Americana." Maslin says, "Hard as this thing is to hoist, it’s even harder to put down." Ted Anthony of The Associated Press states that "Under the Dome is one of those works of fiction that manages to be both pulp and high art, that successfully—and very improbably—captures the national zeitgeist at this particularly strange and breathless period in American history." On November 9, 2009, the author Neil Gaiman in his blog stated that "Under the Dome was one of my favourite books of the year so far."
James Parker of the New York Times noted in his review of Under the Dome that the novel contains lines that are "stinkers", which made him feel "the clutch of sorrow." Regarding King's "pulp speed" output, James Parker noted: "We shouldn’t be too squeamish about the odd half-baked simile or lapse into B-movie dialogue."  The review in the New York Post states that Under the Dome "shares some of The Stand’s faults, like a left-field disaster [...] that works almost as a reverse deus ex machina, randomly wiping out half the cast. In both novels, the climactic "battle"—if you can really call it that—pales to the buildup. King is better at characters and situations than causes and reasons. But at least The Stand feels like a saga [...]. I won’t reveal the secret of the Dome, except to say that the payoff is more Star Trek (original series) than epic."  John Dugdale, in a review for The Sunday Times wrote: "King's inability to raise his game—to relinquish the methods of his more straightforward tales of the paranormal—prevents you taking his socio-political vision seriously. The simple division of characters into goodies and baddies, the use of magic, the homespun style, the sentimental ending, the vital role played by a dog in defeating the forces of evil—all of these belong in fiction for older children, not the grown-up novels he's bent on emulating." 
Shortly after the release of the book, it was announced that Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks Television would be developing a cable miniseries based on the novel. Spielberg and King were announced as executive producers. Showtime was to broadcast the miniseries. Brian K. Vaughan was hired to adapt the book. On November 29, 2012 it was announced that a 13-episode adaptation of Under the Dome would premiere on CBS in the summer of 2013. Vaughan wrote the first episode, which was directed by Niels Arden Oplev. Neal Baer will serve as showrunner and executive producer along with Stephen King, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Brian K. Vaughan and Stacey Snider. It premiered on June 24, 2013. A second 13-episode season was announced with Stephen King writing the first episode. The finale of season 2 aired to 7.1 million viewers on September 22nd 2014, leaving the story open for a third season which was renewed on October 8th, 2014.