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Apt Pupil

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Apt Pupil (1982) is a novella by Stephen King, originally published in Different Seasons (1982).

The book has been filmed as Apt Pupil (1998), directed by Bryan Singer and starring Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro[?].

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

Format of the story

Apt Pupil consists of 30 chapters, many (but far from all) of which are headed by a month. The story takes place over a period of about four years (from mid-1974 to mid-1978) with most of the action taking place during the first year and the last months. It is told in the third person.

The Story

Todd Bowden is thirteen and a smart kid with good grades. He and a friend rummage around in the friend's garage looking for comics. Instead Todd finds old war magazines with stories from the concentration camps and is fascinated by them. He begins to read everything he can get his hands on about the war and the camps.

One day he sees an old man on the bus that he recognizes. He goes to his house and rings the bell. The sign on the door says "Arthur Denker", but when the door opens Todd calls him "Kurt Dussander". He has recognized him as the commandant of the Nazi concentration camp at Patin. At first the old man denies everything, of course, repeating that his name is Denker. As Todd gives him more and more details, however, he finally admits to being Kurt Dussander.

He finds out that Todd isn't out to expose him (although he threatens to do this if Dussander doesn't do what he wants) and he's not interested in money (his family is pretty well-off). What he wants is to hear "all the gooshy stuff" about the camps. Dussander is reluctant, but finally caves in to Todd's threats of exposure.

Dussander lives off some stocks that he bought just after the war. The man who helped him with the investments was Andy Dufresne.

In the first escalation of the story, Todd brings Dussander a present. It turns out to be an SS uniform. He forces Dussander to put it on and then begin to march around on command.

As Todd spends lots of time with Dussander, his performance at school is beginning to slip. To his parents he says that he helps the old man to read books that he can't see to read himself. He also begins to have nightmares about the camps and his grades slip further. After the first time, he begins to modify his report cards before giving them to his parents to hide the decline.

Finally, it goes so far that he's in danger of flunking several courses. Since he has changed previous cards, his parents have no idea of what's happening (although they are getting a little bit concerned about the amount of time he spends with Mr. Denker, and also that he's becoming thin and having dreams). Todd once again changes his report card. He then brings in Dussander to speak to his guidance counsellor, Ed French. He goes there pretending to be Todd's grandfather, and presents a story about Todd being upset about his parents who are on the verge of a divorce. This is a total lie, but Ed agrees to let Todd get one more chance before contacting his parents.

By now Dussander tells Todd that he is as deeply entrenched in problems as Dussander is. Todd knows that Dussander is a wanted war criminal. Dussander on the other hand knows that Todd has been fiddling with his reports cards and knowingly socialized with a war criminal for several months without telling anybody. Sure, the punishment would be worse for Dussander, but on the other hand he's an old man. Todd has his entire life ahead of him.

Since Dussander now has power over Todd, just like Todd has power over him, he sees a way to avoid having to recount old stories about the concentration camps (he has been getting his old nightmares back as well). He now forces Todd to spend time at his house studying instead of listening to stories. Todd has earlier claimed to have given a letter with facts about Dussander to a friend if anything should happen to him. 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.

Soon after this, Todd goes out and stabs a wino to death. He finds that this somehow pushes his nightmares away. His schoolwork is picking up again, and although he has to kill a few more winos, he manages to get back into the top of his classes again. Dussander has also taken to killing winos, but he invites them home, fills them with booze, kills them and buries them in his basement. They are not aware of each others' exploits, however.

Todd's visits to Dussander have become much less frequent. His school performance is good enough to win him both prizes and a scholarship, but at the same time he also taken to aiming at people on the highway with his rifle.

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 place, and finishes up the burial in the basement before finally calling an ambulance. At the hospital, Dussander shares a room with Morris Heisel, an old Jew with a broken back. Heisel thinks that he recognizes Dussander (known as Denker at the hospital, of course), but it takes a few days before he realizes that he is Dussander, the commander from the Patin camp that he managed to survive, but where his wife was killed.

Soon after Heisel has left the hospital, a Jewish war criminal-hunter called Weiskopf turns up at Dussander's hospital bed telling him that he has been found out. After he has left, Dussander steals some drugs and commits suicide.

In the morning, Todd's parents find pictures of Mr. Denker along with a picture of Dussander as commander of Patin in their morning paper with a large heading screaming "War criminal". Todd gets them to believe that he didn't know. After a while a police inspector comes and talks to Todd, and he isn't as convinced of Todd's story.

Meanwhile, Ed French has paid a visit to Todd's real grandfather since he happened to be in the neighbourhood where he lived and had nothing to do. He mentioned their previous meeting and was of course greeted with incomprehension. Naturally, he gets suspicious and starts investigating Todd's old report cards and finds out that they have been tampered with.

Now convinced that something is wrong, Ed goes to visit Todd who is just finishing cleaning his rifle. After Ed has told Todd what he knows, Todd shoots him. He then takes his rifle and goes to the highway where he has been aiming at drivers previously, but this time he brings all the ammunition he has got.

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