Apt Pupil

Apt Pupil

:"See also Apt Pupil (film)"

Infobox short story |
name = Summer of Corruption: Apt Pupil
author = Stephen King
country = United States
language = English
genre = Horror short story
published_in = "Different Seasons"
publisher = Viking Press
media_type = Print (Paperback)
pub_date = 1982
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Apt Pupil" (1982) is a novella by Stephen King, originally published in the 1982 novella collection "Different Seasons", subtitled "Summer of Corruption".

Format of the story

"Apt Pupil" consists of 29 chapters, many of which are headed by a month. Set in a fictional suburb of San Diego in California called "Santo Donato", the story unfolds over a period of about four years, with most of the action taking place during the first year and the last months. It is the only novella in "Different Seasons" to be narrated in the third person.

Plot introduction

Paper boy Todd Bowden meets neighbour Arthur Denker and discovers his dark secret. The pair form a bond over the next few months which deepens when Todd is also implicated in keeping the secrets he feeds on and thrills to as well as keeping company with a war criminal and forging his own school records as a cover up for his activities. The secrets and the shared experiences bring emotional problems for both and in their personal choice of outlets in an attempt to assuage their disturbance, both indulge in murder and social menace. Both Todd and Denker use moves and counter moves to blackmail each other to keep silent, but within four years circumstances expose them and spin out of their control.

Plot summary

The story begins with 13-year old Todd Bowden, arriving at the doorstep of neighbour Arthur Denker and accusing him of being Kurt Dussander, the "Blood Fiend" of Patin (a fictional extermination camp). At first Dussander denies the allegation, but eventually confesses. To Arthur's surprise, Todd is not interested in blackmail or in alerting the authorities, but only in hearing the stories of the atrocities Dussander committed while in charge of the camp, what he refers to as "the gooshy parts".

Over the next several months, Todd visits Dussander nearly every day under the pretext of reading newspapers and novels to him, all the while threatening and badgering Dussander into revealing more and more details of the tortures and murders he oversaw. In the first escalation of the story, Todd brings Dussander a present. It turns out to be an SS Obersturmbannführer's uniform. Todd forces Dussander to put it on and then to march around on command.

Spending time with Dussander means his performance at school begins to slip. Todd also begins to have nightmares about the camps and his grades slip further. After the first confrontation with his father about the grades, he modifies his report cards before giving them to his parents.

Eventually, Todd's concentration deteriorates to the point that he's in danger of flunking several courses, and is given a letter to his parents requesting an appointment with Edward French, the school guidance counselor. Todd does not want his parents to find out, so he takes the letter to Dussander, who concocts a ruse: Dussander, posing as Todd's grandfather, Victor, goes to the appointment. He presents a story about Todd being upset about his parents who are on the verge of a divorce and promises to make sure Todd's grade improve; the counselor accepts the story and the promise.

Dussander now tells Todd that he is as deeply entrenched in problems as he himself is. Todd knows that Dussander is a wanted war criminal. Dussander on the other hand knows that Todd has been doctoring his report cards and knowingly socialized with a war criminal for several months without telling anybody. He now forces Todd to spend the visits studying. With great effort, Todd is able to pick his schoolwork back up to the point where Ed French's concerns are sufficiently ameliorated. Since he no longer has any use for Dussander, Todd resolves to kill him in his home and make it look like an accident.

Todd has earlier claimed to have given a letter with facts about Dussander to a friend if anything should happen to him. Before Todd can carry out his murderous intent by pushing the old man down his basement stairs, Dussander now claims that he has written down what has happened and put in a bank deposit box, so that it will be found upon his death.

After school ends for the year, Todd goes out and stabs a homeless alcoholic to death. He finds that this somehow pushes his nightmares away. It is the first of several murders Todd commits over the next months.

Years pass and Todd's visits to Dussander become much less frequent, and as he progresses through high school, his athletic and academic performance is good enough to win him both high marks and a college scholarship. He loses his virginity, but finds the joys of sex with a willing partner unsatisfying compared to the thrill of murdering local derelicts. When circumstances do not allow him to do that, he picks a concealed spot overlooking the freeway and aims at people in passing cars with his hunting rifle.

Dussander, suffering from his own nightmares, has also taken to killing winos for essentially the same reason as Todd, but he invites them home, gets them drunk, kills them and buries them in his basement. Despite the link between them, Dussander and Todd are not immediately aware of each others' exploits.

One night when Dussander is digging a grave for his latest kill, he has a heart attack. He manages to get to the phone to call Todd, who comes over and cleans up the mess of blood that the wino has left all over the house. Todd also buries the corpse in the basement before finally calling an ambulance. At the hospital, Dussander shares a room with Morris Heisel, an elderly Jewish man recovering from a broken back. Heisel thinks that he recognizes "Mr. Denker", but cannot place him.

When Todd visits Dussander in the hospital. Dussander admits his threat about the letter in the bank deposit box is a ruse, as is Todd's threat of a letter with a friend. Dussander has read about the winos whose murdered bodies have been found by the police, and tells Todd not to get careless. Todd pleads ignorance, but Dussander is not fooled, telling him that "we are quits". Todd leaves, uneasy about the implications of Dussander's news.

A few days later, Heisel realizes that Denker is Dussander, the commandant of the Patin camp where his wife and daughters died in the gas chambers. Soon after Heisel has left the hospital, a Jewish war criminal hunter named Weiskopf turns up at Dussander's hospital bed telling him that he has been found out. After Weiskopf leaves, Dussander steals some drugs from the hospital dispensary and commits suicide.

In the morning paper, Todd's parents find pictures of "Mr. Denker" along with a picture of Dussander as commander of Patin. Todd convinces them that he didn't know about Dussander's identity or the corpses buried in his basement. A few days later, Weiskopf, accompanied by a police detective named Richler, visits Todd, and is not so easily convinced.

Meanwhile, Ed French has met Todd's real grandfather since he happened to be in Victor's hometown for a conference. When he mentions their previous interview, he meets with incomprehension. Ed becomes suspicious and checks through Todd's old report cards, finding that they have been tampered with. Later, he sees a newspaper article concerning Dussander's death and identifies him as the man who met with him about Todd's grades. Convinced something is wrong, he confronts Todd only to be shot dead.

Todd then takes his rifle and ammunition to his hideout by the freeway. The book tells us that it takes the police five hours to take him down.

Film adaptation

Sony Pictures released a film version of "Apt Pupil" in 1998. The film was directed by Bryan Singer. Brad Renfro stars as Todd and Sir Ian McKellen stars as Kurt. [ [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118636/ Apt Pupil (1998) ] ] The ending of the film is significantly different.



Stephen King, Summer of Corruption: Apt Pupil (published in "Different Seasons"), Viking Press, U.S.A., 1982.

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