Stephen King asks the burning question, “If you could go back in time to 1932, would you kill Hitler?”
Actually, I’d just bludgeon the bastard until he was left a drooling moron and kill Goebbels instead. But then King didn’t ask me.
Instead, he wrote The Dead Zone, where high school teacher Johnny Smith awakens from a five-year coma and comes out of it psychic. For Johnny, it’s a strange time to lose five years of his life, not that there’s any normal time. Johnny takes out pretty Sarah Bracknell to a county fair and wins an unusual amount of money betting on the Wheel of Fortune. The night was to end with Johnny and Sarah spending the night together, but Sarah gets a bad hot dog. So Johnny sees her home, promises to call her in sick the next day, and grabs a cab. And that’s it for Johnny. The cab slams into a drag racing car, killing the driver and leaving Johnny comatose. When he awakens, he has an unwanted talent for predicting the future.
In one of King’s first Castle Rock stories, Johnny is called in to find a serial killer who just murdered a fourteen-year-old girl. Johnny picks up some sickening vibrations and manages to catch the town’s deputy sheriff, Frank Dodd (later a supernatural villain in Cujo). He’s approached by a tabloid editor to do a sleazy column that would fleece readers. Johnny doesn’t even need to write the column. When Johnny responds by shoving the editor in the mud, the tabloid responds by slandering him.
But it’s Greg Stillson that scares Johnny. During the 1976 election season, Johnny decides to see if his talent will let him see who will be president by shaking hands with the candidates as they pass through New Hampshire. (Jimmy Carter gets a jolt in one appearance.) Stillson, who is equal parts Ross Perot, Morton Downey, Jr., and Carrot Top, unseats the perennial Republican Congressman. Johnny shakes his hand at a rally and gets his own jolt. He sees Stillson over a decade later taking the oath of office as president, then only a couple of years later, the destruction of the world in a nuclear apocalypse triggered by a mad, grinning Stillson. It doesn’t help that King has already depicted Stillson as a bat-shit insane psychopath on a power trip.
With his late mother’s religious mania echoing in his head, Johnny seems to think it’s his mission to stop Stillson. He asks himself the question of killing Hitler in 1932 over and over again and realizes that yes, he would.
The Dead Zone posits another situation: What if you fell asleep while Nixon was president, Vietnam raged, and Jimi Hendrix was alive, only to wake up after Watergate, Vietnam, and on the eve of punk and disco?
It would be very strange, but you wouldn’t expect anything less from King.