John Dies at the End is a comedic horror novel by David Wong—pseudonym of Jason Pargin, one of the senior editors for humor website Cracked.com. It was originally written as an ongoing web serial before being collected and revised into a single book. A film adaptation was released in early 2013.
Seriously, this is the weirdest book I’ve ever read
Even after reading John Dies at the End, I really couldn’t tell you what this book is about, and trying to describe it is even harder. I’ve read plenty of blurbs and synopses for the book online, but none of them really do Wong’s novel justice. I’ll give it my best shot, though. John Dies at the End follows David (the author) and John, who both become exposed to a mysterious demonic drug known only as “Soy Sauce.” They gain the ability to see into other worlds, and begin to encounter a variety of monstrous creatures who are wrecking havoc in their small town (which, in an ongoing joke, is called “Undisclosed”); David and John make it their mission to fight these creatures in whatever ways they can. Insanity ensues.
If you really want to know what you’re getting into with this book, here’s a better (if more vague) description: put H.P. Lovecraft and the brain of a teenage boy in a blender, and then throw the resulting pulp at the wall. This will give you something resembling John Dies at the End. It’s weird, it’s erratic, it’s immature, and it’s completely crazy to a degree beyond anything I’ve ever read before.
Strengths and weaknesses
It feels odd to attempt to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a book as unorthodox as John Dies at the End, but that’s what I’m here to do. One of the book’s greatest strengths is its use of Lovecraftian, cosmic horror. If you’re not familiar with Lovecraft’s works, this is a type of horror that proposes the existence of gods and monsters that are so vast, so immense, so powerful, that they are completely beyond the scope of human comprehension. This is one of my favorite types of horror, and John Dies at the End makes fantastic use of it. The book’s other greatest strength is its humor. This mostly comes directly via John’s wisecracking and self-referential remarks (which consist almost solely of teenage humor and jokes about a certain part of his anatomy), but there are some truly hilarious moments in this book.
John Dies at the End also has some significant problems. It skips around wildly through time and space, perhaps a consequence of its former format as a serial, and I found this to be rather disorienting. In addition, due to a lack of clarity on the part of the author, there were confusing sections of the book in which I didn’t know where the characters were, who knew what, or what they were trying to do. The plot is so thin that I’d be hard-pressed to say that one even exists, and I was ready for the book to be over by the time I was halfway through. John Dies at the End is a couple hundred pages longer than it should be, and it becomes significantly bogged down in the middle of the book. Finally, there are the characters. None of them are as developed as they should be for a book of this length; beyond their names and place of occupation, I could tell you almost nothing about the book’s two major protagonists. However, I don’t think this is as big a problem as it might be in another book. John Dies at the End really isn’t about its characters, and their lack of development didn’t detract from the reading experience; in fact, I didn’t even notice how underdeveloped they were until I had finished the book.
Why should you read this book?
John Dies at the End is one of those books that will appeal almost exclusively to a very niche audience. If pulpy, cosmic horror and a teenage sense of humor appeal to you, you’ll love John Dies at the End. If not, then this is a book you’ll probably want to stay away from. For me, it was a mixed bag. There were some genuinely funny moments that made me laugh out loud, and as a fan of Lovecraft, I loved the cosmic horror elements (in fact, I wish they had been more of an emphasis in the book); on the other hand, I found the story’s tendency to skip erratically through time and space with little to no warning to be annoying. John Dies at the End definitely isn’t a book for everyone, but if it sounds like something you’d enjoy, I encourage you to check it out. After all, you must be curious: does John really die at the end?