Joe Hill's 'NOS4A2': not mere child's play

A vivid tale of a monstrous kidnapper of children is a feat of the imagination

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For most children in America, Christmas is the most magical day of the year. Santa Claus, the sweet anticipation of finding presents under the tree, cookies and candy; why can't every day be this wonderful?

But as we get older the magic slips away. You never get exactly what you want. You start to question if Santa is real. The tinsel and the wrapping paper of today is trash tomorrow. The magical facade begins to fade to reveal the underlying truth of the everyday. The breathless anticipation of the child becomes the vague disappointment of the adult.


By Joe Hill
HarperCollins ($28.99).

In his latest novel "NOS4A2," Joe Hill addresses the loss of magic that comes with adulthood.

As a child, Victoria McQueen had a bike. Whenever Vic needed to find something, a lost bracelet or an explanation for things she didn't understand, she would ride her bike across a covered bridge and it would take her wherever she needed to go. The bridge didn't exist in the real world, but only in her mind ... unless she imagined it hard enough. Then it was real.

Charlie Manx has a car, a beautiful classic Rolls-Royce Wraith, with a license plate that reads NOS4A2 (Nosferatu, the German word for vampire). For decades Charlie has been kidnapping children, although he prefers to think of it as "rescuing" them from bad parents, and taking them to Christmasland, a world that only exists in his mind.

In Christmasland there is only joy and happiness, and you get to stay there forever. Except none of it is real, and Manx consumes your soul in order to stay young. When young Vic, angry at her parents, goes out looking for trouble, she crosses the bridge to Christmasland. She is the only person to escape from Manx, leading to his arrest in the real world.

Twenty years later, Manx escapes, and Vic and her 12-year-old son are his primary targets. Mr. Hill's metaphor couldn't be more obvious. There are people in the world who are able to make their imaginations real: artists, writers, musicians. Anyone who can take their thoughts and make them tangible in the world are making magic. When this is done well, other people can then share in the experience of their imaginal world.

But Mr. Hill implies that there is a cost for using magic, as well as for losing it. Mr. Hill's characters are broken people. As an adult, Vic suffers from mental illness and addiction. Maggie Leigh, a quirky librarian who can work magic through the use of Scrabble tiles, loses her ability to speak. Manx has lost his humanity, staying alive by feeding on the lifeforce of the children he captures.

Every time Vic crossed the covered bridge she lost bits of her mind. She can't reconcile her childhood memories with reality. Although she has achieved success as an artist and a writer, she believes she has been a terrible wife and mother. She has become the bad parent Manx wants to "rescue" children from.

This seems bleak. Mr. Hill is saying that, with or without overt magical ability or creativity, we can never recapture the magic of youth. . Once we know Santa isn't real, we can never see anything but the facade. It is Vic's husband, Lou, who most clearly represents a deeper understanding. Lou is a grossly overweight manchild, who loves comic books and Star Wars and at first glance seems to be a giant cliche.

Lou never had the ability to work magic or had much of an imagination of his own. He is fueled by the shared imaginations of others. But as an adult he has skills Vic doesn't. He is patient and genuinely loving of his family. His job as a mechanic represents the way he lives in the world. He works patiently on a problem until it is fixed. He is constant.

Behind the tinsel and commercialized expectations of Christmas the underlying magic exists in the concept of giving. It's not the presents that count. It's the love they represent.

• • •

It is always tempting, although not always fair, to compare Joe Hill to his father, the best-selling author Stephen King. This book seems to invite that comparison. Mr. Hill not only references characters and events from his own previous work, but also he mentions Shawshank, Derry and Pennywise, places from Mr. King's novels. It would seem that Mr. Hill is suggesting that his stories take place in the same literary universe.

But rather than simply grafting his novel onto Mr. King's oeuvre, this choice reinforces the themes already present in the book. When creative people make their imaginations real, then anyone can participate in those worlds. Every time we read a book, Mr. Hill's or Mr. King's or anyone else's, we are traveling across Vic's bridge into another person's imagination. They are all shared worlds the reader can traverse. And that type of magic is one of the greatest gifts one can experience.

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Wayne Wise is a writer and novelist living in Lawrenceville (


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