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The A to Z of Stephen King
M is for... Misery
It's true that fiction often mirrors reality but it's spooky when the opposite is true. In June 1999 Stephen King was walking on a quiet country road when a motorist lost control of his Dodge Caravan and struck the writer inflicting serious injuries. King had to endure many operations and has only recently returned to public life. Paul Sheldon, the writer in King's book Misery, suffers a similar accident when his car crashes on a snowy mountain road. Fortunately for him, he is rescued by his "number one fan", Annie Wilkes, who lovingly nurses him back to health in her snow-bound house. Lovingly that is, until she learns her favourite character has been killed off in Sheldon's latest as yet unpublished novel. Then her psychotic fury is unleashed as she forces her captive to write a new book... The novel was filmed with Kathy Bates and James Caan in the main roles and while the relationship differed slightly from King's original vision, the split-personality of Bates' Wilkes (for which she won an Oscar) and the sharp-witted cunning of Caan's Sheldon make a memorable movie...
N is for... Nellie Ruth King
Stephen Edwin King was born in Portland General Hospital, Maine on the 21st of September, 1947. His mother was Nellie Ruth King nee Pillsbury, and father Donald King, a former captain in the Merchant Marines, who had changed his name from David Spansky. Stephen has an older brother, David Victor, born and adopted in 1945. King's birth was something of a surprise as the Kings had believed they could not have children. However when Stephen was two, his father abandoned the family. After a number of years between various relatives in Indiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, the boys and their mother settled in Durham where she looked after her own parents who by this time were advanced in age. After they died Nellie worked at various jobs usually clearing up after people who looked down on her and her family. Although she rarely complained, Stephen saw the injustice of the way his mother was treated, and it is a theme that often turns up in his novels. Sadly Nellie King died in 1973 of cancer, living just long enough to see her son's book Carrie accepted for publication but not to see it in print.
O is for... On Writing
One of King's projects for 2000/01 is a book called On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, which concludes the three book deal covering Bag of Bones and Hearts in Atlantis. The book will be in two parts: firstly, King will describe how and why he became a writer, an autobiography of sorts. The second part is a how to guide. Fans of course are already familiar through his books on how or how not to write - many of the leading and supporting characters are novelists or poets themselves. However it will be interesting to read how the author achieves the richness of character that populate his worlds, and how he plots a successful story. Having the talent and determination to follow his example may be perhaps beyond most of us, but it will be fun having a go nevertheless...
P is for... Pseudonym
While some of King's fictional authors use pseudonyms for their books, King of course does not. However after the publication of Thinner, the fifth novel by co-horror writer Richard Bachman, KIng was confronted by a part-time bookstore clerk, Steve Brown, and asked whether King and Bachman were one and the same person. They were. With the cat out of the bag so to speak, work on Bachman's next novel Misery was abandoned... Strangely few people at King's publishing house had been aware of the identity of Bachman either. The five books already published Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, The Running Man and Thinner are darker books than the normal King novel where the lines of good and evil are more apparent, and lean more towards the science fiction writing of King's youth. A sixth novel, The Regulators, a kind of companion book to King's Desperation was published posthumously in 1996. Some of these novels have now appeared with King's name on the cover... Why Stephen King adopted the pseudonym to write these books is an interesting question. Some were based on early works rejected before Carrie so perhaps the rescue of these works was the reason. Or perhaps King wanted to stray from the horror path a little without losing his audience? Whatever the reason it strikes me that King's alleged literary aspirations would be better served by the use of another pseudonym... Then again perhaps they already are?
Q is for... Quiz Book
One of the fun things I came across while researching these pages was a Stephen King Quiz Book written by Stephen Spignesi. Published in 1990 the book only covers those novels up to The Dark Half (of course) and has sadly run out-of-print. Since then Spignesi has also published The Complete Stephen King Encyclopedia. If you can find the quiz book it is fun although be warned - if you've been saving some of King's novels to read in the future then this book contains many spoilers. Hopefully an up-to-date version will be released someday. Anyway here are few sample questions from it for you to test your knowledge of the man and his books...
S is for... The Stand
The book which started my lifetime fascination for Stephen King is the wonderfully wrought story of germ warfare catastrophe, The Stand. From the opening car crash through the death of almost the entire human race, to the stand between the good in Denver and the bad in Las Vegas, King grips you with characters (that you feel you've known all your life) and situations that you don't want to be reading alone in the middle of the night. For many of the characters the line between good and evil is heavily blurred, making you despise some of the heroes and sympathise with a few of the villains, and although the ending is somewhat of a let down the book is so memorable, it stays with you for a long time. I'm not sure if the "uncut" version adds much (except bulk) but, apart from It, I doubt you'll find a better novel from King's early work.
T is for... The Dark Tower Series
It's difficult for me to comment on King's Dark Tower series because as an opponent of genre fiction's overwhelming move into series production, I have yet to read any of the books. However from the reviews I've read and conversations I've had with other fans, it seems I'm missing one of King's better works. The series begins with a novella collection, The Gunslinger and advances through The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands to the recently published Wizard and Glass. Time-travelling between recent decades and flitting from our universe to others, the epic is likely to spawn more volumes as King has admitted he could live to 300 and not be done... Perhaps I better get started if I'm ever to catch up?
U is for... The Undead
Another early work of King's which was adapted into an excellent TV mini-series is Salem's Lot. Owing much to Bram Stoker's Dracula, King's novel is set in a small Maine town which like Whitby in the vampire original is slowly taken over by an undead creature with a human servant. The mini-series starred David Soul with James Mason as the delightfully creepy Straker. At the time it was genuinely scary to watch, with scenes which shocked more than any other TV series of its day. Unlike Stoker, King takes the story into darker more realistic territory, with the jealousies, secrets and small evils of the small town breathing life into the darkness that threatens to engulf it. Written at the time of (and perhaps influenced by) the Watergate scandal in Washington, King's second published novel is one of the best undead stories ever written...
V is for... Visitors From Space
Another personal favourite of mine and much more science fiction than horror, is Stephen King's 1988 novel, The Tommyknockers. Drunken, talented yet under-achieving poet Jim Gardener returns to the town where friend and fellow writer Bobbi Anderson lives. Seeking sympathy he instead finds the beginnings of madness not just in Bobbi but in the whole damn town. And it seems to be something that Bobbi has found in the woods near her home that's the cause, something which is giving everyone strange ideas... Despite its nasty turns, The Tommyknockers is full of creative and extremely witty inventions, and is the only King novel where I've laughed so much and still been gripped by the story. The ending, which doesn't suit everybody, seemed just fine to me... Wonderful. A mini-series of the book was made for TV and while it's well-made, it takes the whole thing far too seriously...
W is for... Wealth
So just how successful is Stephen King? Well, it's difficult to say exactly but there's no doubt he is the world's most wealthy author, in 1996 his estimated earnings were $84 million. And yet if the stories are true, he receives about $200 a week for pocket money! Certainly he has simple tastes - dressing in jeans and casual clothes, preferring poker and bowling with friends to jet-setting or fancy parties. And he loves playing in his band, the Rock Bottom Remainders with fellow authors Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Robert Fulghum, Matt Groening and Roy Blount Jr not for money or even critical acclaim, just for the sheer fun of playing rock and roll classics. Maybe it's this down-to-earth approach to his success that has kept King in touch with his readers? If so then we're all the more richer for it...
X is for... the X-Files
First aired on 2nd August, 1998 Chinga, an X-Files episode written by Stephen King and Chris Carter, is the story of witchcraft and a demonic doll. Dana Scully, while vacationing in Amma Beach, Maine, is called to the assistance of a grocery store owner who has stabbed himself in the eye with a knife. Video footage shows that customers of the store were afflicted by a burning sensation in their eyes at the time and that a young mother pushing her baby out of the store seemed unaffected by the phenomenon. The locals believe the women is a witch but it seems it is her daughter and the doll given to her by her late father that's the cause. Creepy and gory the episode is a treat for King fans...
Y is for... Youth
As he grew up Stephen King and his brother worked on many writing projects together some of which they published by mimeograph or by hand and sold to local people. During this time he wrote a lot of science fiction, but his lack of scientific knowledge would turn him to a more effective genre for his work, horror. However it's clear from the novels that Stephen King didn't spend his childhood indoors writing - no-one can beat King's ability to get inside the minds of a child, and to remember the exhilaration of riding a bike, playing games in the woods or going to Saturday morning cinema.
Z is for... The Dead Zone
Another of King's 1970s novels, The Dead Zone is perhaps the one that has most effectively been translated to film. Ordinary John Smith awakes from a coma after five years to find the world has changed both in terms of society, and in his personal life where his fiancée no longer feels the same way about him. He has also changed, being given the power to see the possible future of those around him. In the film version Christopher Walken is superb as the emaciated and haunting Smith while Martin Sheen is gripping as the potential presidential candidate. Directed by (for a change a subtle) David Cronenberg this film is crying out for a DVD release...
Thanks for reading my A to Z of Stephen King. While it's in no way a definitive biography on the world's greatest genre writer, I have researched the facts widely and hope that they are accurate.
If you have any corrections or suggestions for improvement, don't hesitate to email me. I will be adding news and reviews as time goes by, so please come back often. Thanks for visiting!
|© 2000, 2001 Compiled by Alan J Stuart|