In honor of Halloween and scaring the hell out of each other, let me talk about Stephen King.
He wasn’t the first to scare the crap out of me. That goes to Alien, which still gives me bizarre nightmares. Then The Thing, Poltergeist and An American Werewolf in London came along. In 6th grade I started reading bullshit paperback collections that put forth old ghost stories and weird tales like “Gef the mongoose” as true, unexplained phenomena.
And then my mother let me read Stephen King. She’s a big fan of The Stand, but I’m not sure that was first. I think I chose Salem’s Lot, because I flipped it open and saw the word “fart.” I twelve or thirteen, living at my grandmother’s house, where the enormous oak rapped against my window at night like the tree from Poltergeist about to swallow me up and spit out my Hulk wristwatch. I was ripe to be terrified, and Mr. King did not disappoint.
I read The Stand, Cujo, Firestarter. I plowed through his voluminous collections of short fiction, still some of the best shocker and switcheroos and utterly crazy-imaginative tales I’ve read. And then came It, which upped the ante, by bringing horror to kids my age. I sat on the couch reading that book until I fell asleep, then fought nightmares of electric trees and rampaging Tyrannosaurs and undead creeps who could turn the floor into glue as I tried to escape. No clowns, though. Clowns never bothered me. Perhaps thanks to Alien and The Thing, my brain-beasties were always skinned and toothy four-legged monsters that looked like slabs of quartered chicken tied to bloody animal skeletons. (And don’t worry, that novel will be written soon enough.)
King is difficult to explain, except that he is a fantastic storyteller. People apologize for him. They call him a guilty pleasure. I haven’t read any of his books since From a Buick 8, but I loved that story. I also dug The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I was disappointed with the Dark Tower’s resolution, but I respected it. Those novels are as raw and unfiltered a journey through a very imaginative storyteller’s brain as we’re likely to get. I’ll forgive the indulgences, because he bared it all.
Like any big name, he probably should be edited more now that his very name is all that’s required to sell a book. But has he changed, or have we? I’m inclined to think the latter. I’m glad he’s still writing, and I’m glad that the “front of the house is for the fans,” but I still couldn’t step out of my car as we passed through Bangor. He gave me enough back when I first read his work. Maybe some of us have lost patience for moody character tales that descend into hometown horror, but I’m glad he’s still writing and that his books still resonate with millions of readers, including me.