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Monday, March 1, 2010

Stephen King moments-

Many, many years ago I got to wondering what was so big about this Stephen King fellow. I figured he had to be some kind of hack writer to be so popular, with all of his popularity and such. My wife picked up Pet Sematary for me, and I had my first taste of his writing.

I immediately got a grip on what was so compelling about Stephen King's horror. He takes ordinary, flawed human beings and presents them in such a way that you get to like them. Then he does terrible things to them. After that he does more terrible things to them. Then things go downhill from there.

He also has a knack for pacing. I have actually (informally) studied his techniques to improve my own writing. His stories may not always be deep or profound, but they are always compelling.

Following the reading of Pet Sematary I had my first Stephen King moment. I was afraid of the dark for two days. I had not had a generalized fear of the dark since childhood, yet that book made me afraid of the dark.

I read Carrie next. This was King's break-out novel, the one that gave him sufficient wealth to become a full-time writer. I haven't been to a prom since reading this book, but that is not a Stephen King moment. I just haven't been invited. My dress is still hanging in the closet, but that is another matter, entirely.

Over time I read a lot of King's works. Not all, but a significant percentage. Some were very good, others not so much so, but everything was worth the time invested. And so, not in any particular order, I present the other works that are associated with a Stephen King moment.

The Stand is arguably one of his finest works. Epic in scale, beautifully knit together, and a classic theme of GOOD versus EVIL. Anyone sneezing following the reading of this book became a Stephen King moment. I have read it several times, once in the original published version and twice in the expanded version. Every time it caused me to pause whenever anyone sneezed.

IT. I really liked this book, both from the perspective of entertainment and from a technical standpoint. I studied the character development, the flash-back technique, and the difficult development of children as characters. That I did much later. First, I remember coveting the book.

This book came out at a time when I just did not have the money to buy hard-back new releases. The cover art work was compelling, and the book was prominently displayed in bookstores everywhere. I hungered to have this book. What was that evil thing lurking in the sewer drain? I had to know.

That might or might not be the first hard back Stephen King novel I received for Christmas. I have no real memory for such things. For many years my wife knew that the latest King release would serve as a suitable gift for me, and I have quite a number of his hard backs on my shelf. Suffice it to say that I somehow got the coveted volume, and devoured it.

My wife also read this one, and had her Stephen King moment before I did. She was driving the kids to or from something, I don't recall what, when a balloon drifted across the road just in front of her windshield. A balloon is a very strange phobic device, but King had used it in IT. For such a phobic device to suddenly drift in front of a moving vehicle, a device that was a portent of evil to come, can be very disturbing. It was.

My own was equally strange. I was riding the metro bus home along a country road. I looked to my left out of the window, and saw a clown leaning on the roadside fence. I did a double-take, and the clown was still there. A very real clown, leaning on the fence and staring across the street down which I was traveling.

Moments later we passed a field in which a circus tent had been erected, and it all made sense. For a moment, having only recently read IT, it was surreal. For those unfamiliar with IT, the clown is another phobic device in the tale. A very powerful phobic device.

That's about it for Stephen King moments. Oh, except for Gerald's Game. I happened to be working in a field in which handcuffs were a part of my equipment. After I read that book, I gave it to my wife to read. Following that reading I was no longer encouraged to bring the handcuffs home.


Laura said...

This post hits home as my only tattoo says "WalKing Fan". (kidding!)
Excellent write, Michael.

Yes, I have been afraid of the dark, too, because of him. Also, after "It" I never saw clowns the same way. My daughter asks me about the subject of "It" and I keep telling her lies until she'll have the proper age to read it herself. I don't want to spoil her fun at the circus. It's enough that King put the "ow" in the "clown" for me.

My King moment was after reading "Cell". I was in a parking lot and this man was talking on his cell phone, I mean yelling into it, and as I passed him by I noticed his eyes were blood shot. A shiver snaked down my spine and King was in my mind that very second.
Silly, but well, that's the King-effect I guess.

Postman said...

I used to think he must be a hack, too. Then I picked up a few of his works, and though some bits of him still seem a bit hack-ish (that may be just jealousy of his prolific talent), I enjoy him thoroughly. "The Shining" in particular stands out as one of the best books I've ever read in any genre...masterful pacing, suspense-building, foreshadowing and characterization. And "The Gunslinger" and its concept became one of the inspirations for my own novel series.

I was walking through Universal Studios with a friend not too long ago and some thundering jungle drums came over the speakers. Goosebumps popped out all over my skin and a chill ran up the back of my neck; they were exactly what I thought the god-drums in "The Waste Lands" must have sounded like.

Carol said...

I love Stephen Kimg I own and on a regular basis re devour all of it. You are very right, some is good, some not so good but all of it finds it's way into you mind and stays there until you too have a Kimg moment. I have them often and love that other people are sharing the same irrational fears I am! Love this post and look forward to reading the rest of your blogs.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

After I read 'It' I found myself wishing that he had left out the evil clown monster bits because the childhood background he created demonstrated that he is a really good writer. The coming of age aspects were great without the soul eating part.