Text Mining: The Dead Zone


You want to talk about an out-there outlier for what we’ve seen of Stephen King’s bibliography so far, let’s talk about The Dead Zone.

A quick run-down: John Smith suffers a head injury as a kid but comes out mostly ok. Greg Stillson is a crazy but wildly charismatic traveling salesman. Johnny becomes a teacher, falls in love, and then is driven into a coma by a car accident. When he emerges he has wild psychic powers where he can touch people and know both their secrets and their future. He endures some tabloid celebrity, solves murders, tries to keep teaching and being normal, saves some kids from dying, and then discovers that Stillson, now running for office, is going to win and eventually become President briefly before destroying the world in a nuclear holocaust. Johnny becomes a would-be assassin, dying but also revealing Stillson to be a huge coward and an electoral loser after he grabs a kid as a human shield. It’s a timely examination of the American hunger for an end to the seemingly endless corrupt two-party circus and a bit of a satire of the then-blossoming American Tabloid market.

The soundwave graph looks like this:


Nothing particularly out of the ordinary here, except that the peak for the book happens just after the halfway point, with a quick shock right near the end. The peak on the graph is the chapter where John Smith, erstwhile psychic, is contacted by the doomed Sheriff Bannerman and ends up solving the Frank Dodd murders. The end burst, of course, is where he prevents batshit future President Stillson from ever being elected and thus destroying the world through nuclear war.


Word contributions for the book.


Distribution of sentiment, and this is where you can really start to notice how skewed this book is compared to the ones before it (and, as you’ll see, the ones ahead of it). There’s a definite wave of sentiment over 0 here, and it’s true: the mean sentiment score of The Dead Zone is positive. The stats run like this:

MIN: -59

MAX: 78


MEAN: 7.821

The Dead Zone is overall a positive book, from the standpoint of emotional sentiment. This makes sense when you consider it. Unlike other books, where characters struggle against a particular foe or entity or concept, etc, The Dead Zone features John Smith running around saving the day a lot. He gets knocked out into a coma and loses his One True Love, sure, but he comes out comparatively okay for all of that. His psychic powers allow him to solve murders, prevent (some) deaths, and steer the world away from nuclear annihilation. He does get to shack up with his lady love at least once, his life is spent either living with his loving father or with a boss who seems to actually respect him. There’s some grisly bits here and there, especially during the Dodd affair, but otherwise a lot of the focus is on John just trying to make his way in the world. The book’s main antagonist, Greg Stillson, doesn’t occupy nearly as much space as other King villains. We catch up with him a few times here and there, but it’s not until the last chapter that he seems really physically present in the story. There isn’t as much space, then, for negative sentiment to really take hold and fester.




19-20 are very high sentiment peaks for King books; only The Stand has a higher maximum sentiment score and that’s only by virtue of the sheer amount of text available per chapter. 19 is where Johnny meets Jimmy Carter and first catches wind of how, uh, delightfully eccentric Greg Stillson is. The intersection of Johnny and Stillson functions as the emotional climax of the novel; everything that follows from there is a matter of unfolding logic.

This particular passage bears mentioning in this brave year of our lord 2018

“Democratic candidate David Bowes calls Stillson a practical joker who is trying to throw a monkeywrench into the workings of the democratic process. Harrison Fisher is stronger in his criticism. He calls Stillson a cynical carnival pitchman who is playing the whole idea of the free election as a burlesquehouse joke. In speeches, he refers to independent candidate Stillson as the only member of the American Hot Dog party. But the fact is this: the latest CBS poll in New Hampshire’s third district showed David Bowes with twenty percent of the vote, Harrison Fisher with twenty-six-and maverick Greg Stillson with a whopping forty-two percent. Of course election day is still quite a way down the road, and things may change. But for now, Greg Stillson has captured the hearts—if not the minds—of New Hampshire’s third-district voters.”

Who’s that remind you of?

20 is where he goes to a crazy carnival Trump Stillson rally and realizes that this guy is going to destroy literally everything.

Interesting how those two end up being a high sentiment peak for King’s work in his first decade of writing.

Also of interest is that the lowest sentiment peak is the prologue, when Johnny first injures his head and we are first introduced to crazy nutjob Greg Stillson.

So The Dead Zone is actually a positive book, from a sentiment standpoint. This is an anomaly for everything I’ve processed thus far (up until about 1984 at this point) and it will be interesting to see if this is replicated at some point.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s