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Early in "Fairy Tale," Stephen King points out that the original "Jack and the Beanstalk" was much darker and more violent than the version that's popular these days. Far from just briefing us on literary history, King is foreshadowing what lies ahead.

Teenage Charlie is hired by an elderly neighbor, Mr. Bowditch, who has suffered a broken leg. It's an easy job. He stops by the house a couple of times a day to dole out Bowditch's pain pills and tend to his dog. In the evening, he returns, keeping Bowditch company as they watch old movies on TV. (King mentions Turner Classic Movies so many times that we wonder if they paid a product placement fee.)

For these easy tasks, Charlie is paid $500 a week, which even he thinks is excessive until he discovers that the old man has squirreled away a wealth of gold nuggets. Bowditch finally admits that a deep hole in his backyard that resembles an abandoned well actually is a passageway to a mystical land that is the source of the gold.

While Jack climbed up the beanstalk, Charlie is going to climb down the hole. And from what King said earlier, we know that when he gets to the bottom, he isn't going to find an enchanted goose laying golden eggs.

Unlike "Jack and the Beanstalk," it's unlikely that this is going to be adapted for a Little Golden Book. But we suspect that King is fine with that.

Jeff Strickler is a features editor at the Star Tribune.

Fairy Tale

By: Stephen King.

Publisher: Scribner, 598 pages, $32.50.