The cover of the picture book Charlie the Choo-Choo by Beryl Evans, illustrated by Ned Dameron, is splayed with a glowing blurb from horror great Stephen King: “If I were ever to write a children’s book, it would be just like this!”
Normally, we’d do well to take book blurbs with a grain of salt, but this one couldn’t be more true. That’s because King did write Charlie the Choo-Choo, under the pen name Beryl Evans. In fact, both the book and Evans appear in the third installment of King’s Dark Tower series, The Waste Lands, published in 1991.
In true King fashion, the anthropomorphized train, Charlie, ranges from spooky to dolorous throughout the book. Even cheery Charlie, hard at work as a locomotive and besties with his engineer Bob, seems a bit, well, off. For one thing, he has so many pointy teeth that Little Red Riding Hood would feel compelled to comment on them.
In The Waste Lands, Jake Chambers buys the book at a bookstore called the Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind and reads it. Despite the positive depiction of Charlie, he reacts with suspicion: “Jake found that he did not trust the smile on Charlie the Choo-Choo’s face. You look happy, but I think that’s just the mask you wear, he thought.”
Poor Charlie, however, comes up against the same obstacle as so many anthropomorphized steam-powered machines in children’s entertainment: He’s made obsolete. Just like Mike Mulligan’s steam shovel, Charlie is deemed outdated by the brass, and he’s left to rust away.
Here’s where the book, based on sample pages from Amazon, gets really dark:
Unless you want to teach your small children a particularly jolting lesson about the grimness of mortality, this might not be a book to bring home for your 2-year-old. But, for fans, it’s a brilliant tie-in to King’s expansive Dark Tower universe.
The books first turned up in a special promotion batch at San Diego Comic-Con this summer, whereupon they immediately became red-hot commodities among King buffs. But now, months later, they’re listed for pre-order on Amazon with a release date of Nov. 22, 2016. If you couldn’t rustle up the cash for a secondhand Comic-Con copy this July, you may now breathe easy.
Next up: Waiting patiently for “The Dark Tower” film adaptation to hit theaters next February.