Stephen King’s seventh novel has no supernatural elements. There are references to strange doings in the town of Castle Rock, Maine, but these are merely part of local lore. Little Tad Trenton sees the boogie man in his closet, but it’s banished by The Monster Words.
Cujo is about the titular dog, a lovable St. Bernard who loves kids and chases rabbits and generally lives the idyllic life of a dog on the fringe of a rural town in Maine. Unfortunately, Cujo gets rabies from a bat bite. And we soon see how he becomes a monster. Cujo’s dog mind doesn’t comprehend much compared to what even the dimmest humans do. But he understands that he hasn’t felt well since chasing a rabbit down into a hole where the bats lived. The sun is unbearably bright. Sounds torment his ears. And he’s foaming at the mouth. All he knows is he’s in such agony that he wants to kill anyone or anything that crosses his path, thinking they must be causing his pain.
King brilliantly puts us in the dog’s head. So where you hope in one passage for someone with a shotgun to appear over the horizon to rescue Donna and Tad Trenton, trapped for two days in a Pinto, in the next, you think, “Poor doggie.”
But there are definitely monsters. There is the rabies turning Cujo from a beloved family pet to a tortured killer. There’s Steve Kemp, who was giving Donna some strange on the side, only to get dumped and handling it like an overgrown toddler who needs a time-out. There is Joe Camber, Cujo’s owner and abusive drunk. He is one of Cujo’s first victims, and it’s a little hard to feel sorry for him. After all, Cujo’s not feeling well.
But no ghosts – at least until the story is grafted into The Dark Tower series. The closest we come to anything remotely supernatural are vague references to the events of The Dead Zone.
Like all King’s horror, it’s not really about monsters. It’s about suburban angst in the present day. The monsters – be they rabid animals and violent criminals or vampires and demonic spirits – only drive the real horror to the surface. I’ve said before Satan may show up in a Stephen King story, but he’s not the villain. In fact, he wants you to bring back those lawn clippers you borrowed.
And the strange man down the street gives him the heebie jeebies.
Because in a Stephen King novel, the heebie jeebies never come from where you expect them.