Archive for June, 2007|Monthly archive page

The King and I

I love the books of Stephen King.

Maybe that’s not the most original literary or cultural statement out there, because, I mean, the guy has a lot of fans, and I’m sure it would’ve been much more impressive if I came here and told you that my favorite author is some unknown genius that I’ve discovered long ago and he’s my fun little secret. Well, that’s not the case here.

Because there’s no denying one simple fact: During the last 30 years, King has published 51 novels and short story collections, and I’ve read 26 of them. Now, that’s roughly half, and I’m sure there are far greater King afficionados out there than me, but the fact is that there is no other single writer of whom I’ve read so many books.

It took me some time to start reading King. As a kid, I was too frightened by his gruesome reputation, I guess… :-), but I think it was sometime in the early nineties when I picked up my first King, Gerald’s Game, one of his lesser known works but one of his most terrifying ones, and I was hooked ever since. To this day I think that Gerald’s Game is one of his best.
The Stand is an epic tale about the end of the world as we know it (Cell, one of his latest novels, a brilliant refelection on our cell-phone addicted society, reminds that classic in more ways than one). The Shining is a frightening piece about descent into madness, and It is a masterpiece about the pains and joys of childhood, with a shivers inducing twist.

Many have already said this before, but I feel I can’t write about King without saying that myself: The genius of this author is in his ability to weave the supernatural and the horrific into an everyday reality we all know and are able to identify. His stories do not take place in dark, grimy, cob webbed castles or in hunted forests, but in broad day light, usually in picturesqe American towns.
The real horror lies in the psyche, in the stuff men are able to do and dream of, in parallel realities just beyond our doorstep.
In his magnum opus,The Dark Tower, King plays the parallel reality idea to the hilt, along with countless influences ranging from Sergio Leone’s westerns to The Lord of The Rings books. It tells of a parallel world which at some point coalesces with our own and sends our heroes into an enormous quest.

The Dark Tower is super cool because it inhabits not only its own storyworld, but also many of King’s other stories, which, if you’re an avid King fan, makes for a lot of fun reading.
This series has its upside and downside. It is filled with amazing imagination and harrowing scenes (It is more Fantasy than Horror, but why pigeonhole it?), but it was not envisioned as a seven book series from the outset, meaning King basically made it all up as he went along – and sometimes it shows – But still, The Dark Tower is a wonder to behold. I wish I could make-up-as-I-go-along a story like this. 

Stephen King was in Toronto a few days ago as a guest of the Canadian Booksellers Association. The ceremony included some warm words from fellow writers Margaret Atwood and Clive Barker (who went up and spoke with such a husky voice, I wasn’t sure if it’s from cigarretes of if he just screamed all week at someone). Barker told of how Stephen King helped launch his career by calling his first short stories collection “The future of horror”. After that the both of them hugged. It was quite touching.

And then King went up for a one-on-one interview conducted by American writer Chuck Klosterman, which turned out to be poignant, informative and extremely funny. One only have to read a King book to know that the guy has a great sense of humor, but to see him on stage crack jokes is another thing entirely. After the interview was over, King recieved a life-achievment award, said a few words, and then it was over.
Here are some picturs (sorry about the blurriness…)

King gets his award…

…and the speech afterwards

Today King is probably the second most famous writer in the world (after J.K Rowling), and it was amazing to see the crowd’s enthusiasm when King entered the theatre. You could’ve thought we weren’t there to listen to an author speak of his work but to watch a rockstar doing his thing. King himself isn’t very comfortable with all of this, he admited, but he learned to accept it, and even enjoy it.

I think that a big part of Stephen King’s charm is his generosity and down-to-earth attitude. He doesn’t sit in his Ivory tower and looks down upon us mere humans, and he doesn’t carry himself with a dishonest humility. He knows he is good, but he knows that what he does is not some sort of humongous task that isn’t possible for others to tackle, and by that I don’t mean the fame but the success as a writer. One only needs to read his amazingly candid and inspiring work, On Writing – part autobiography (including the tale of his accident from 1999), part an unpretentious and extremely readable guide for the basics of writing fiction – to realize that.

It was really exciting and special to see and hear Stephen King in person. I don’t think even J.K Rolling has that – The ability to charm and entertain an audience to such a degree. In spite of what King says, I think he has some performer genes in him. He’s very good at it.

During the interview, he said that he’s not writing horror, but books. The reason his books are in the Horror section is “they need to be arranged alphabetically somewhere”. I think there is some truth in it, but I also think that Stephen King has managed to tap the the human psyche in a way that few authors – or artists for that matter – has been able to do. His characters, even the minor ones, carry within them a psychological whirlpool of amazing versatility, including pop-references galore. When he’s at his best, Stephen King forces us to peel our eyes, forget about all the bullshit which dominates our world – both our inner world and our outer world – and through his characters, makes us peer into our souls and seek out the truth. And although the truth is sometimes unpleasent and usually scary, it can also be liberating.