The Thing about King
I am sure that you will have realised from my user name that I am a big Stephen King fan; in fact I am a huge Stephen King fan and have been since I was fifteen years old. At the age of fifteen I had stopped reading mostly for a couple of years after being a prolific reader as a child – I think this was because I hadn’t found anything that grabbed my attention and then I stopped looking. One day I happened to notice The Firm by John Grisham on my Dad’s bookshelf and as it happened the film had been released not long before. I picked it up (I know it’s not King, but I’m getting there) and decided to give it a go. I really enjoyed The Firm, and to this day I still think it is a great book, it also reignited my passion for reading. As soon as I had finished it I was looking for the next book. I remember going into the WH Smiths (other bookshops are available) in Great Yarmouth to seek out my next read and I came out with Pet Semetary by Stephen King, this is where my love of all things King started.
Now, I do count myself as quite lucky, Pet Semetary is a particularly good book and pretty scary too. This clearly helped me enter into King’s world – I was instantly hooked. Pet Semetary was scary when I was fifteen and I had never experienced anything quite like it. Since then I have re-read Pet Semetary a couple of times and I think that on each reading I have been more scared, even though I know what’s going to happen. When I re-read it a couple of years ago I hadn’t counted on being petrified for completely different reasons now that I am a ‘grown-up’ (apparently I am?!?!?), but more significantly, now that I have children. There is one particular part of the book which chills me just to think of it, I won’t divulge any more information as I don’t want to reveal any plot spoilers, but I should think any parent reading would have a similar reaction as mine. What I find quite astounding about my reaction to the book is that despite being quite a rational person, and knowing that it is a complete fiction I still have the reaction – this is a testament to King’s skill as a storyteller, the reader is engulfed into the world of the novel.
Pet Semetary was the start, as I have said, I don’t know in what order I then read other Stephen King books. I’m pretty sure that I read ‘It’, ‘Carrie’, and ‘Salem’s Lot’ pretty early on. What I do know is that by the time I went to university at eighteen I had read most of his back catalogue and re-read some of it too. I would wait for the new King novel to be published and then agonisingly wait a further year for the paperback edition to come out before I could afford to buy it (remember when hardbacks were expensive everywhere?!?). It didn’t occur to me to go to the library, I think partly because I wanted to own it and indulge myself in a new copy. I remember the day that ‘The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon’ was released in paperback I bought it and then stayed up all night reading until I had finished it. Every now and then I would get hold of the Hardback, this would normally be if the release date happened to be close to Christmas and I was able to request it as a gift. Nowadays, all new King releases I buy on Hardback, he is the only author I consider doing this with.
I understand why I love King’s work so much, and much of it is pure sentimentality. I’m sure most people have ‘that’ author that they love no matter what, and I am also sure it stems from an initial adolescent pleasure. I do also think that King’s work is often exceptional. In more recent years his body of work isn’t horror although I am not sure how to classify it. Many of his books have horrific elements to them, but then so do the great thrillers of the world. When reading something like ‘Under the Dome’ (which although over 1000 pages and released in 2009, I am currently reading for the third time) you would never say that it was a ‘horror’ novel in the same sense that ‘Cujo’ and ‘Salem’s Lot’ are. It is more a character study, a novel showing an extraordinary situation (although supernatural) but dealing with how the characters react. And even though it is a supernatural novel, with absurd ideas running through, the reader is completely involved and believes what is happening. Many members of my book group, including non-King readers have read this tome and loved it – all surprised how much they enjoyed it because they expect to be scared. King isn’t all about the scares anymore.
King does big, sweeping novels with a large cast of characters very well. In my opinion his best novel (and it’s a very close run thing) is ‘The Stand’ – a post-apocalyptic nightmare of a novel, sweeping the entire US landscape with a cast of characters so well developed throughout, that you are with them all the way. It is a grand novel that deals with the quite pure and fundamental idea of Good vs. Evil. The story sets up the ‘goodies’ and the ‘baddies’ and then pushes them together. Again, it is a character driven novel, and the reader will have their favourites, willing them on. King writes people so well, including their flaws, so that they are believable and you can get behind them – root for them.
Another of King’s styles which I love is the way in which a story will build and build, becoming more and more surreal but quite subtly so you are drawn in to believing even the most absurd, supernatural ideas. Then the novel will descend extremely quickly into chaos, within a blink of an eye (seemingly, as by this point you are so wrapped up in the characters and novel) the story has changed dramatically into something truly wild and the reader has been duped (and enthralled) and will now believe whatever is thrown up by the book. It’s exciting and not until you’ve finished do you reflect on what actually happened and how crazy it all sounds.
If you’re looking for a really good scare (Misery, Pet Semetary, Salem’s Lot, It) or a grander story (The Stand, Under the Dome, 11:22:63) or something in between (Rose Madder, The Dark Half, Firestarter) then maybe you should give King a go. Start with a shorter one, see how it fits then just keep going. I really think that there is a King novel out there for everyone!