How Awesome is Stephen King?

My brother took me to see a film when I was young – – the movie was Salem’s Lot. I had never seen a movie that scared me so much! I found out that the writer of the book was Stephen King – – ever since, I have followed his novels.

American novelist and short-story writer, whose enormously popular books revived the interest in horror fiction from the 1970s. King’s place in the modern horror fiction can be compared to that of J.R.R. Tolkien’s who created the modern genre of fantasy. Like Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens or Balzac in his La Comédie humaine, King has expressed the fundamental concerns of his era, and used the horror genre as his own branch of artistic expression. King has underlined, that even in the world of cynicism, despair, and cruelties, it remains possible for individuals to find love and discover unexpected resources in themselves. His characters often conquer their own problems and malevolent powers that would suppress or destroy them.

“I wish I could get away from horror for a while, and I do – or I think I do, and then suddenly I discover that I’m like the guy in the poem by Auden who runs and runs and finally ends up in a cheap, one-night hotel. He goes down a hallway and opens a door, and there he meets himself sitting under a naked light bulb, writing.” (King in Faces of Fear by Douglas E. Winter, 1990)

Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine. His father, a merchant seaman, deserted the family in 1950. The young Stephen and his brother David were raised in Durham, Maine, by their mother who worked in odd jobs to support her children. At the age of six, he had his eardrum punctured several times – a painful experience which he never forgot. King attended a grammar school in Durham and Lisbon Falls High school, where he started to write short stories and played in an amateur rock band. In 1960 he submitted his first story for publication – it was rejected. He edited the school newspaper, The Drum, and also wrote for the local newspaper, Lisbon Weekly Enterprise. His first story, entitled ‘In a Half-World of Terror’, King published in a horror fanzine. In 1970 King graduated from the University of Maine. Next year he married Tabitha Spruce, who has also gained fame as a writer. “My wife is the person in my life who’s most likely to say I’m working too hard, it’s time to slow down, stay away from that damn PowerBook for a little while, Steve, give it a rest.” (from On Writing, 2000) Most of his career King has lived in Bangor, Maine. Many of his books are set in the imaginary town of Castle Rock, Maine, which is totally destroyed by greed in Needful Things (1993).

From 1971 to 1974 King was an instructor at the Hampden Academy, earning $6,400 a year. His first novel, Carrie (1974), was a tale of a girl with telekinetic powers. King had thrown the first pages of the story in a garbage pail, but his wife rescued them and urged him to finish the work. Carrie had first only a moderate success and sold 13 000 copies in hardcover. However, Signet paid $400,000 for its paperback rights. Carrie’s film version was launched in 1976 and after the breakthrough novel Salem’s Lot (1976), King established quickly his reputation as a major horror writer. In the late summer of 1974 King moved with his family to Colorado for an extended holiday. He visited the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, and set there his next novel, The Shining. Stanley Kubrick’s film version of the book, from 1977, did not satisfy the author, and the King himself turned his novel into a television miniseries in 1997.

In the late 1970s King published his first paperbacks under the name of Richard Bachman. The Talisman (1984) and its sequel, The Black House (2001), were written with Peter Staub. King has also published non-fiction. In his collection of essays, Danse Macabre (1981), King described the writing process as a kind of “dance” in which the author searches out the private fears of each reader. In the textbook of macabre he goes through the horror genre, from film monsters to books, focusing mostly on the post-war era. “It’s not a dance of death at all, not really. There is a third lever here, as well. It is, at bottom, a dance of dreams. It’s a way of awakening the child inside, who never dies but only sleeps ever more deeply. If the horror story is rehearsal for death, then its strict moralities make it also a reaffirmation of life and good will and simple imagination – just one more pipeline to the infinite.” (from Dance Macabre)

After writing The Pet Sematary King considered he don’t need to publish his “the most wretched, awful thing” he made, Bag of Bones (1998). The story dealt with the grief process in an uncompromising way. In Bag of Bones King returned to the theme of loss of a family member, and added into it the classical haunted house idea and familiar elements from his previous works: a small town where people know more than they tell, the collective guilty, and a hero who can’t avoid confrontation with the evil powers. Old crimes, sins and secrets, hidden deep, are gradually revealed in an analysis of the conscious and unconscious like on a Freud’s sofa. Playing with fire, King plunges into the mind of Mike Noonan, an author who suffers from the writer’s block. Noonan’s wife has died unexpectedly and he retreats to Sara Laughs, their happy home during summers. There he meets a young mother, Mattie, and her daughter, whom he helps in an custody struggle. – Mattie is one of the liveliest characters in King’s works. Her sudden death, a logical twist of the plot, comes like electric shock. In the last pages of the novel Noonan/King returns to it and states correctly that ‘to think I might have written such a hellishly convenient death in a book, ever, sickens me.’ Bag of Bones continues the series where King explorers the writing process and the work of an author. The Shining, Misery, The Dark Half and now Bag of Bones are among his most revealing and personal works. – King is not among those writers who claim that they don’t have time to read. Bag of Bones offers a delightful analysis of Herman Melville’s story Bartleby, and comments about books and authors. Among them is Thomas Hardy, who stopped writing novels at the peak of his career and changed into poetry. Hardy supposedly said, that the most brilliantly drawn character in a novel is but a bag of bones.

A number of King’s stories have been adapted into screen, among others Carrie (1976), The Shining (1980), Misery (1990), The Shawshank Redemption (1995), and The Green Mile (1999). His novels are richly textured with multitudinous references to films, television, rock music, literature, popular culture, and in his own books. Several of early King’s novels explored the agonies of childhood, parental neglect and abuse (Carrie; Firestarter, 1980). In the 1980s his perspective shifted into the various pains of adulthood, the loneliness of older people (It, 1986; Insomnia, 1994). He has also provided fully-realized women characters in such novels as Gerald’s Game (1992), Dolores Clairborne (1993), and Rose Madder (1995).

This was just a brief history of what Stephen King has done and his works have been amazing. Imagine how the new 1408 movie would be?! I loved Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and Misery. They are all horror films but they are created in different tones, all of which gave me a different scare! Now Stephen King is at it again – and I can’t wait to see this film. The one thing I love are ghost stories – – and this one should do it.

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