On my shelf is a tattered, well-loved movie tie-in edition of Stephen King’s The Green Mile. I don’t remember when I got this copy, and I don’t remember my first time reading this stunning novel. Instead, this haunting story of a Depression-era death row where good and evil mix and miracles happen seems to be an ever-present fixture in my life, requiring regular rereading, as it continues to stand as one of my favorite books.
The book’s original publication in 1996 was a publishing phenomenon. It was released in volumes, one per month, over the course of six months, with each volume hitting the New York Times bestseller list. In my movie tie-in edition with Tom Hanks on the cover, all of the volumes were compiled into one, but it is still possible to see how this story was once presented.
In volume one, we’re introduced to the inhabitants of Cold Mountain State Penitentiary’s death row, also known as the Green Mile. Told from the point of view of Paul Edgecomb, the block supervisor, the first volume details the arrival of the block’s newest prisoner, John Coffey, who has been found guilty of a heinous crime. Paul hints at what is to come, making it clear that there is significance to John Coffey’s arrival, but it is necessary to read the subsequent volumes to discover the miracles that will occur on the Green Mile.
From volume one, it appears that John Coffey is one of mankind’s most vile, but as the story continues, it is easy to become emotionally attached to Coffey and the other prisoners on the Mile. While these prisoners are presented as murderers, the most contemptible character is one of the guards, Percy Whitmore, whom Paul says finds a sort of glee in the torture of other beings. It is evident that there is little difference between Percy and the sadistic criminals, and in later volumes, it becomes clear that evil and hope do not necessarily lurk in the most obvious places.
Considering how young I was in 1996, I didn’t have the opportunity to be introduced to this story in small increments, devouring new portions month by month and having the tension build between each installment. While I still greatly enjoy the twists and turns this story takes, I feel as though I missed out on some of the emotions this book can evoke as readers anxiously awaited the next installment.
I may always feel as if I missed out on some of the suspense built during its original release, but now may be the perfect time for new readers to discover this captivating story. It is currently being released serially in e-book form, mimicking its original print publication. “The Two Dead Girls” and “The Mouse on the Mile” came out in April, followed by “Coffey’s Hands” and “The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix” in May, and “Night Journey” and “Coffey on the Mile” in June.
I may not be able to take advantage of this opportunity, but while I sit here putting another crack in the spine of my paperback edition, I envy those who will soon be able to have the experience I missed in 1996.
Erin Flaaen works in marketing at Simon & Schuster.