(Photo: Screengrab from an ‘in conversation’ event with George R. R. Martin)
A man who has published 54 novels, 6 non-fiction books, and countless short stories is not a man who can be easily defined and compartmentalised in a short blog post. Particularly when that man is still going strong. I could say he’s a monster of mainstream fiction, which would sound clever given his record of successful horror fiction, but it wouldn’t really begin to scratch the surface of Stephen King.
I doubt I’ve read even 40% of Stephen King’s work so who knows, maybe someday we’ll have a Wordsmith Wednesday pt.2, where I continue to explore what I find in his fiction. What I can say of the things I’ve read so far is that they’ve certainly made enough of an impression for me to write a bit about him here.
The first thing I read by Stephen King was Salem’s Lot, his story about Jerusalem’s Lot, a fictional town in Maine, and the subsequent happenings once a vampire makes it his new home. It was a real experience, reading that book. King tends to rely on the setting of his story for building atmosphere, tension, and suspense. It works every time. I can’t say I was ever really afraid of the vampires in the story, not on their own. It was only when their presence was in the shadow of the Marsten House, all-powerful and all-corrupting, that they became frightening. Jerusalem’s Lot, the short story that accompanies Salem’s Lot, establishes the evil that has somehow taken control of this place, and ends with a delightfully chilling sentence.
“There are some huge rats in the walls, by the sound.
Signed, James Robert Boone 2 October 1971.”
– Stephen King, Jerusalem’s Lot
The Dark Tower series is King’s fantasy epic, taking a protagonist from a magical, Western setting, and throwing him into a multitude of new environments throughout the course of his quest. The Dark Tower itself is, after all, the centre of the multiverse, the nexus of all universes. King even fashions our own universe into the story, and features Stephen King as an important character, his role of writing the series seen as integral to the Gunslinger’s quest. It all gets very weird very fast. I’d definitely recommend it. The ending may rub you the wrong way, but it’s definitely a fun read: unexpected, supernatural, fantastical. It will introduce you to scenarios and possibilites you never dreamed were possible, all while drawing from our own classic and contemporary fiction.
Still, I always find myself drawn again and again to Stephen King’s horror. It’s what he’s famous for, it’s what he does the most, and I’m sure it’s because he’s just so good at it. I read Stephen King not because I want to be scared, but because I want to be comforted. When faced with terrors that we are powerless to avoid, taking back power becomes about confrontation and courage. Not everyone will live, and I doubt anyone will escape unharmed or unchanged, but people find a way to deal or cope. When I read King, I know that there is an imminent struggle, and there can’t be a struggle without a degree of hope and strength.
― Stephen King,