Hail to the King

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.

12 thoughts on “Hail to the King

  1. Believe it or not, the first SK book I read was a later work: CELL. I love that book. I don’t like horror or zombies or any of the things that are in that book, and yet….I love that book. I need to re-read it to figure out how Mr. King made me love a book that’s full of everything I hate, because that’s some talent right there.

  2. For me, there are four reasons King resonates for me: although considerably wordier than Gerald Kersh (whom you should read – Harlan Ellison cites him as his favourite author and he does horror and hardboiled brilliantly) but he has the same ability to describe scary $#!+ in a matter of fact/nonchalent way that almost always has more impact than more lurid prose might elicit; he understands that we relate to characters better if we understand their senses of humor, or if they are introduced in such a way that we laugh with them; technically, he’s a far better writer than a lot of “lit’ry” snobs would ever care to admit, and finally, on top of everything else, he’s simply a great storyteller.

  3. I love reading King’s books. Although I find that he start of slow. Some times way too slow, but then they get going. I love ‘The Dead Zone’ and believe that David Cronenberg did an excellent job of recreating it into a movie (one of the best translations I’ve seen to date). I agree wholeheartedly with you that he should be edited more now (I’ve read “Cell” and I didn’t like it–I thought he rambled too much and felt that he was trying to hard to get in on the “zombie” craze). And I did read “From A Buick 8”, I thought it was alright–“Christine” was the much better story.

    As for the “Dark Tower” series, I couldn’t get into it. I will admit that I have not read the whole series (gave up after #3); but I have read the Marvel Comics version (it just ended this month). I liked it. The artwork was amazing and Robin Furth did a fantastic job of writing the story for the comic. I really liked that the last 4 pages of every issue she gave information about that issue (telling the whys and hows of the story–what changed from book to comic, etc.). Peter David (another of my favorite writers) did a great job in editing it all and making it coherent. Marvel aslo recently published “The Stand” in comic (a fantastic job was done–also beautiful artwork). Some company attempted to do “The Talisman”; but I think they gave up after the first 5 issue story arc.

    I do have a question for you: Have you ever read Terry Pratchett?

    • I enjoyed Christine, and Dead Zone as well. I haven’t read The Shining yet, to my shame. I have a copy lying around. Maybe once it snows! I have only read “Good Omens” by Pratchett and Gaiman, and it really wasn’t my thing. I admire Pratchett’s sense of humor and think he is quite talented, just not for me. I’m more of a Christopher Moore kind of guy. Good Omens turned me off reading American Gods for 10 years, and I regret not reading that sooner. I liked it very much, despite the reliance on nostalgia. What Pratchett book (not a series. Just one) would you recommend?

      • He just came out with a book named “Dodger”. It’s PTerry’s tale of the Artful Dodger and other Victorian era characters. I have not gotten it yet (Amazon said they shipped it today). But once I get it, I’ll read it–after “The Long Earth” (another one by him–and co-written by Stephen Baxter. I think it’s PTerry’s first foray into Science Fiction.) It’s a multiple earths story. It sounds interesting. I read a Young Adult book by him called “Nation”. I thought that was a really interesting story. Set in Victorian era (he must love that era) a boy was sent away from his tribe to become a man. His life changes after a tidal wave passes by. Then there’s “the girl”. (By the way, I’m 45 and I still read Young Adult stories). I thought it was decent story.

        It’s funny that you asked “book, not series”. His biggest series is The Discworld series itself. But all of the stories in it are set-up so that you don’t have to read them in order. You can tell when a story is going to be a “Night Watch” story (the police), and you can tell when the story is going to be a witches story or wizzards story (hardly ever together), or when there’s a Death story (“Reaper Man”–which got me started reading PTerry). There are some stories that deal with the Disk itself (mythology of it–“Pyramids” and “Small Gods”; the other continets–“Monstrous Regiment” “Jingo”; and then there are the “statement’ books, the books he wrote about Hollywood “Moving Pictures”, it was ‘eh’ but it brought a great Wizzard character to the world “Ponder Stibbons”). I like them all, but my favorite stories are about Commander Vimes and The Night Watch; Death and his granddaughter; and the Tiffany Aching stories. Those characters are the ones I like the most, mainly because of the groups of characters that are associated with them. Fun stuff.

        Sorry for rambling, but you brought up one of my favorite subjects: Stephen King. Thanks. (The Shinning (book) was good. It was remade into a mini-series a few years ago with Steven Weber (from “Wings”) as the Jack Nicolson character. It was pretty good too.

  4. Actually, Terry Pratchett wrote two SF books before he wrote the first Discworld book: Strata, and The Dark Side of the Sun. Opinions vary. But you seem to like horror, and he isn’t into horror.

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