Stephen King: A Primer

Posted 31 October, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Authors

Stephen Edwin King. Born in Portland, Maine on September 21, 1947. He and his wife Tabitha, own two residences in Maine and also owns property in Sarasota, Florida. May be considered by Floridians as a ‘snow bird’.

He is the undisputed master of horror, taking on the genre and breathing new life into it with his first novel Carrie in 1974. Less than a year later the veritable ‘Salem’s Lot was published. ‘Salem’s Lot is still hailed as a fantastic novel in the vampire sub-genre.

This Constant Reader first discovered Stephen King as a part of her father’s library with the novel Cujo. I was 11. I never looked back, my days with Nancy Drew and The Babysitter’s Club were over.

King has three distinct periods of his writing. His early career spans from Carrie in 1974 until The Dark Half in 1989. During the 1980’s King admittedly had a serious drug and alcohol problem until his friends and family staged an intervention, dumping evidence of his addiction in front of him. King agreed to seek help and has been sober since 1990. His early career is characterized by easily recognizable monsters such as Kurt Barlow in ‘Salem’s Lot, Pennywise in It, Randall Flagg in The Stand. Admittedly this is a vast oversimplification of King’s early works, but in general one can see the distinction.

The second period of King’s writing begins in 1990 with Needful Things, his first novel written in sobriety and ends with the vehicle accident that almost claimed his life in 1999. King’s ‘sobriety period’ is recognizable by a shift from outright ‘balls to the wall’ horror to something more subtle and closer to home. Rose Madder deals with domestic violence, though often overlooked by fans AND critics there were many individuals that came forward during a Reddit AMA that King did recently praising the strength and realness of the characters and stating that the novel was instrumental in helping abused readers realize they could get out of their situation. The Green Mile, which was originally published in serial format (more on writing gimmicks and innovations later on) deals with capital punishment and the reality that the American justice system sometimes executes innocent men and women. Most of King’s novels in this ‘sober period’ retain an element of supernatural and horror, but the monster is quieter and closer to home than most of us feel comfortable with.

In 1999, King was walking along the side of Route 5 in Lovell, Maine when he was struck from behind by a minivan. The driver was distracted by an unrestrained dog in the back and was not drunk or otherwise incapacitated. His injuries were severe, including a punctured lung, shattered hip and leg. King purchased the wreckage of the minivan to avoid parts of it from showing up on eBay. He also expressed a desire to smash up the van with a sledgehammer. It was crushed in a junkyard before he had the opportunity to do so.

By 2000 King was back to work on his memoir On Writing, despite being able to sit for periods of only about forty minutes without pain. On Writing is an invaluable source to burgeoning writers and Stephen King fangirls alike. From 2000 to present King’s work (for the most part) have become even more subdued. Though books like Cell hearken back to the gore and horror of his early works, there’s something different, more nuanced about it. Duma Key, Lisey’s Story, and Under the Dome, are all still steeped in the supernatural but also very character-centric.

For this Constant Reader, 11/22/63 (2011) was a return to King’s heyday. Combining time travel with specific rules and deep personal connections, King crafts a story of a man who goes back in time to stop the assassination of JFK. It sounds hokey, but in the hands of the master it’s a compelling, deeply moving tale. His most recent novel Doctor Sleep, the much anticipated sequel to The Shining is a brilliant blend of the old and new King warm, yet scary, and yes, I just took a 12 hour car trip. and eyed every single RV with suspicion.

Finally there is King’s magnum opus. The Dark Tower it spans all of his works and worlds. Beginning with The Gunslinger in 1982, Roland and his ka-tet, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake travel mid-land through eight books in search of the Tower. It’s a brilliant blend of fantasy, spaghetti westerns, horror, and a touch of science fiction. Space between the worlds are thin. It’s a long strange ride that’s so satisfying, after finishing the last novel The Dark Tower (2004) I immediately wanted to start again with The Gunslinger. Theses will be written on this work. I’ll spare you, for now.

Stephen King keeps himself relevant in kind of the same way that Cher and Madonna do – except that it seems he actually has it easier. But that’s what I like about Stephen King, he keeps re-inventing himself and his works and has delved into almost every ‘literary’ medium conceivable, even though he doesn’t have to. The Green Mile released as six serial novellas in 1996 are an example of the ways King is always trying to get to new readers. He’s always been interested in film and often cameos in the movie adaptations of his books. He collaborated with John Mellencamp for the musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County which is currently touring! He released one of the original Kindle Singles with a delightful little piece entitled ‘UR’ when the Kindle 2 was launched in 2009.  He had a small guest role on Sons of Anarchy last season.

The best thing about Stephen King? He seems like a pretty awesome person. He does a lot of grassroots charity things like giving to local libraries, using his fame and money to do good things within his own community. He chooses to use his voice in a constructive manner to promote literacy. His essay Guns is easily one of the most rational and poignant pieces of commentary we have about the U.S. gun debate. Also, he loves to write. The fact that he writes because its his passion is inspiring to me everyday. How are we so lucky to have Stephen King as a national treasure?

Tabitha. It’s a great love story. From her pulling the first pages of Carrie out of the trash and encouraging him to keep going, to her threatening to leave and take the kids if he didn’t sober up when he was a millionaire it seems like she’s always been there by his side. So, thank you Tabitha King. Now I must go and rectify a problem that I am ashamed has gone on too long. I must read a Tabitha King novel.

Trivia
Loves the Red Sox, but always takes a book to the games.
Was in a rock band with Amy Tan and other literary giants. The Rock Bottom Remainders
Everything about Richard Bachmann.

May I also suggest you take a look at the piece from the New York Times entitled King’s Family Business?

Happy Halloween, Reader!

April @ The Steadfast Reader

4 Comments/ : , , , ,

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  • Darlene O.

    Nice post April! Love it!

  • I love this! And I agree completely- his work goes so far beyond horror. I also think he’d be pretty damn funny to hang out with. The photo of he and Stephen Colbert holding hands is one of my all-time favorites because it makes me laugh every time I look at it.