“You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”
― Stephen King, On Writing
From The Shawshank Redemption to The Green Mile and from Pet Sematary to It, author Stephen King is best known for leaving readers variously horrified, disturbed, or disgusted – yet equally captivated. King’s novels, short stories, audiobooks, essays, movies, comics (deep breath) poems, screenplays, and television shows, are among the undisputed classics of contemporary horror, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy.
- His works have sold over 350 million copies worldwide.
- He has published another 200 short stories (to date), and under the pen name of Richard Bachman he has written seven fiction and five non-fiction books.
- He has been awarded the Bran Stoker Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the British Fantasy Society Award – to name only a few. His novella, The Way Station, was also a Nebula Award novelette nominee.
- And his accolades keep rolling in.
My first foray into King’s literary world was in high school, with his science fiction series The Dark Tower and its first book,The Gunslinger. I had heard of Stephen King before, of course, and had seen his many books lining the library shelves, but I hadn’t read any of his novels before picking up this book at a sale.
For those who haven’t read the series, let alone this novel: Go.
It’s brilliant. King himself describes this series as his magnum opus.
King’s masterful blend of fantastical horror and old-school western, touched with advanced technology – travelling between worlds, anyone? – results in an intriguing world and kickass characters. Oh, and there’s magic, too! The first novel introduces us to Roland Deschain of Gilead, the last living member of a knightly order known as Gunslingers. He is also the last in line of “Arthur Eld,” which is this world’s equivalent to the mystical tales of King Arthur. Roland’s quest is to find a fabled building known as the Dark Tower that is said to be the nexus of all the universes. Of course, along the way he stumbles across: a fanatic preacher he comes to call the Man in Black; some epic battles; and many, many questions.
The Gunslinger is a wonderful introduction to a crazy world; the book adeptly sets everything up for the forthcoming novels, of which there are eight in total. Admittedly, the first novel is sparse on details of Roland’s motives, goals and, well, personal life, but it does set up the remaining installments nicely.
A short story, “Little Sisters of Eluria,” was also written as a prequel, while the eighth book (or book 4.5, according to King), The Wind Through the Keyhole, was written in 2012 – eight years after the series officially concluded. A series of prequel comics were also published after the Dark Tower series was completed in 2004.
It just keeps going.
Soon after I finished The Gunslinger, my aunt surprised me by delivering a box of books – not just any books, but practically the entire collection of Stephen King novels available.
I was in heaven.
And then I realized that there were movies.
The more critically-praised King adaptations include The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Where Shawshank tells the story of a banker in prison for the death of his wife and a money laundering operation, The Green Mile looks at a death row supervisor and his encounters with supernatural gifts (healing, empathy). But of course many of King’s other literary works have been adapted into films or television shows: more than fifty, at last count.
The first such adaptation, Carrie (1976), revolves a high school girl who discovers she has telekinetic powers. A shy girl who is bullied and abused both at home and at school, she eventually exacts a shocking revenge on those who teased her. The image of Sissy Spacek in a delicate white dress with pig’s blood streaming down her face and off her arms is not easily forgotten; and a remake featuring Chloë Grace Moretz in the title role will hit theaters in October, 2013. Other notable King film adaptations include The Shining (1980), Children of the Corn (1984), Misery (1990) and Apt Pupil (1998).
On television, mini-series made of King’s works have long been acclaimed (It, Salem’s Lot, The Tommyknockers, The Stand). Most recently, after a tense few months of uncertainly, Syfy has announced thatHaven will get a fourth season this fall. Based on King’s “The Colorado Kid” and much lauded for its creative and quirky sci-fi whims and humor, Haven follows FBI agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose, Jericho) and her journey to Haven, Maine to complete what appears to be a routine case but instead places her in the center of an enclave of people who possess a range of supernatural abilities. At this point, her past, which she can’t seem to recall, starts to emerge and the townspeople’s dormant abilities begin to express themselves.
The latest adaptation of King’s work is Under the Dome, based on his 2009 novel. Cloverfield’s Mike Vogel and Twilight’s Rachelle Lefevre lead an impressive cast that includes Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris andSabrina the Teenage Witch’s Beth Broderick. This series has debuted to mixed reviews; the general consensus has been that though its premiere was riveting, the following episodes proved lackluster. Where King is able to provide a subtle dimension to his characters in his novel, many viewers feel (and I concur) that the acting falls flat—which is a shame, since the pilot showed so much promise.
The novel of Under the Dome is a sociology experiment depicting how residents of Chester’s Mill, a small American town, cope with the sudden appearance of a transparent dome around their town. Yet despite the initial similarities, showrunner Brian K Vaughan noted the show aims to veer off course with a different ending than the novel. Despite the changes to the story – which were made with King’s approval – the author wrote in a letter to his fans: “If you loved the book when you first read it, it’s still there for your perusal. But that doesn’t mean the TV series is bad, because it’s not. In fact, it’s very good.” Good or bad, the first season of Under the Dome is slotted for 13 episodes, with each episode costing around $3.5 million. The fate of the series beyond the first season will depend on whether or not the pace picks up, but it’s still up in the air.
I’ve found that King’s novels range from featuring thought-provoking societal issues to disturbingly creepy situations that leave goosebumps trailing up my arm. There are some that I can’t put down, while others I can’t bring myself to finish. And there are some that I just cannot read at night. Between my overly active imagination and his vividly eerie worlds, sleep becomes the last thing on my mind.
Which is why I’m still working my way through the 823 brilliant but terrifying pages of The Stand.
Originally posted inGeek Speak Magazine.