Three years ago, when Stephen King's serialized novel The Green Mile was topping bestseller lists, I received an advertisement from a book club that read: "Sometime soon, Steve, when you're alone in the dark, he will come for you. And he will scare you to death. Stephen King is back with The Green Mile."Trouble was, I'd already read most of the novel by then, and I knew full well that The Green Mile was no horror story, at least not in the ghosts 'n' goblins sense of the term. If the book has any horror in it at all, it is the horror of a man trapped by circumstance into destroying his benefactor. Its dabblings in the supernatural are confined to miracles and visions, not séances or spells. While the advertisement promises sleepless nights "checking under your bed, suspicious of every sound," King's novel is more likely to keep you up nights contemplating your own role in destroying every good gift of God.

Hawking Stephen King's image rather than his writing probably makes good business sense for the book club, but it helps kill the chance that King will ever fully escape being pigeonholed as a simple horror writer. That's unfortunate, because he's one of the few modern writers willing to regularly tackle spiritual themes, who asks the reader to believe in what he calls "an unseen world all around us." His stories can be vehicles for contemplation and renewal for Christian readers who are willing to look beyond the King stigma. The just-released film version of The Green Mile might help with that process, as King's involvement is shadowed by the collection of Oscar-winning talent at work, including audience favorite Tom Hanks. While many movie adaptations of King's books leech away emotional depth in favor of the horror trappings, this one is faithful in content and tone, effectively capturing the grim search for hope by its conflicted protagonist.

The Green Mile tells of prison guard Paul Edgecombe (played by Hanks in the film), supervisor to all executions at Louisiana's Cold Mountain Penitentiary during the Depression. The job bothers him, but it's the only work he can get in that economy, so he carries out his duties with as much compassion and humanity as he's able. When Edgecombe befriends the childlike giant John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), who is brought to Death Row, he slowly comes to suspect that Coffey is a conduit ...

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