King Essay, Research Paper
7 March, 2000
Stephen Edwin King is one of today’s most popular and best selling writers. King’s major contribution to horror literature is to situate it within the general anxieties of contemporary life. His focus is not on vampires, werewolves and such, but on ordinary people faced with these horrors and the darker horrors of lost jobs, disintegrating families, mental breakdown, and all the other fears that haunt the modern age. What makes Stephen King?s stories almost magical is that the settings of his stories. King has the ability to make terrifying situations out of apparently ordinary circumstances. Additionally, King’s writings are true to life in people?s minds because he draws upon common fears. King’s writings are so widely appealing that over 45 of his works have been based upon or turned into Hollywood movies.
Stephen King was born on September 21, 1947 in Portland, Maine he was a suprise addition to the family, as his mother had been told that she would never have children. His parents, Donald and Nellie King, were experiencing difficulties in their marriage, and when Stephen King was only 2, his father, a door-to-door salesman for Electrolux, left the house to buy a pack of cigarettes but never returned. His father?s walking out had a huge indirect impact on his life. In the autobiographical work Danse Macabre, Stephen King recalls how his family life was altered: “After my father took off, my mother, struggled, and then landed on her feet. My brother and I didn’t see a great deal of her over the next nine years. She worked a succession of continuous low paying jobs” (67). While young, Stephen King and his family moved around the North Eastern and Central United States. When he was seven years old, they moved to Stratford, Connecticut. Here is where Stephen King got his first exposure to horror. One evening he listened to the radio adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s story Mars Is Heaven! That night King recalls he “slept in the doorway, where the real and rational light of the bathroom bulb could shine on my face” (Beaham 16). Stephen King’s exposure to oral storytelling on the radio had a huge impact on his later writings. King tells his stories in visual terms so that the reader would be able to “see” what was happening in their own mind, somewhat in the same fashion the way it was done on the radio. One day little Stephen was looking through his mother’s books and came across one named The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. After his mother finished reading the book to him, he was hooked. He immediately asked her to read it again. Stephen King recalls “that summer when I was seven, [my mother] must have read it to me half a dozen times”(Beaham 17). Ironically that same year, while Stephen was still seven years old, he went to go see his first horror movie, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It was during this year that Stephen King discovered the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. King would later write of Lovecraft, “He struck with the most force, and I still think, for all his shortcomings, he is the best writer of horror fiction that America has yet produced”(Beaham17). Inspired by such writers as H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch and Jack Finny he began thinking more about horror writing, and published I Was A Teenage Grave Robber.
While growing up and moving around the way his family did, Stephen King was never able to ?feel comfortable and settle down in one place and make friends they way other kids his age did?(Underwood 77). Around the age of twelve, the King family finally settled in the town of Durham, Maine. For King, Durham was the place where his imagination began to shine. It was at this time that he first began to make friends. Although he enjoyed going out and having fun, as soon as he walked in the door Stephen King would immediately write down his experiences and observations. Frequently Stephen King would place his friends and family into childhood fantasy tales.
Stephen King did not receive any real recognition for his writing until college. In the fall of 1967 King finished his first novel, The Long Walk, and turned it into his sophomore American Literature professor for review. After a couple of weeks and a couple rounds around the department, the English professors were stunned. They realized that they had a real writer on their hands. From then until he graduated with a bachelor?s degree in English from University of Maine at Orono in the spring of 1970, King concentrated on rounding off the edges of his writing technique. While studying at University, he met his wife-to- be Tabitha Spruce. They met in the stacks of the Fogler Library at the University of Maine at Orono, where they both worked as students. He received his bachelors of Science in English in 1970, then married Tabitha Spruce in 1971. Stephen and his wife have been blessed by the births of their three children Naomi Rachel, Joseph Hill, and Owen Phillip.
While writing, he supported himself by teaching and working as a janitor, among other jobs. ?As a high school English teacher, King collected rejection letters for his first two novels before receiving a $2,500 advance for Carrie, which his wife had rescued from the trash can.?(Mr. Showbiz) His first published novel, about a tormented teenage girl, Carrie White, gifted with telekinetic powers, appeared in 1974 and was an immediate popular success. Carrie was the first of many novels in which Stephen King blended horror, the macabre, fantasy, and science fiction. The book and subsequent movie were hits, and he embarked on a wildly prolific and lucrative career as a writer. So far, he has sold over well over one hundred million copies of his terrifying tales ? what he calls “fearsomes”. Forbes magazine lists Stephen King as the 31st richest writer and the 27th most powerful person in his field (56).
Stephen King has explored almost every terror-producing theme imaginable, from vampires, rabid dogs, deranged killers, and a pyromaniac to ghosts, extrasensory perception and telekinesis, biological warfare, and even a malevolent automobile.
Carrie resonates with a residual dread of the women’s liberation movement. Salem’s lot reflects America’s post-Watergate fear that corruption exists on every level of society. In The Shining the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel seem to ebb and surge in response to the growing pathology of the caretaker, and the hedge maze poses as an analog of mind, tortured by writer’s block and social isolation. Thinner , published under the pseudonym ”Richard Bachman,” deals with the curse of anorexia nervosa. King typically adapts his metaphors from the stock repertoire of horror fiction. IT, shows childhood fears in the form of such classic Universal Studio movie monsters as Frankenstein, Wolfman, and the Mummy (Underwood 58).
One short story that best shows the type and technique of Stephen King’s writing is The Body. The Body, which has been adapted into to a Hollywood movie, was first published in the collection of short stories called Different Seasons. The story is a tale of four twelve-year-old friends who at the end of one summer go out on a journey in into the woods to see a dead body. While on their journey they learn about life, friendship, and are propelled from the innocence of youth. On the surface of the story, it appears to be simple journey with its occasional mishaps, but the true magnificence is that this story has a strong autobiographical coincidence.
Bruce Handy summed up what could be described as just why Stephen King has become so successful. ?You might even say the palpable sense of King?s sheer, unwavering belief in his tale is what makes the novel work as well as it does. Or maybe it is the palpable sense of his sheer need to write? (40).
Recently, Stephen King was in the news again. On June 16th, while on one of his daily long walks from his summer home, he was struck by a Dodge Caravan that the driver lost control of because of a dog that was loose inside of the van. As a result of the accident, ?King suffered a broken leg, hip, and a punctured lung? (Best Selling Author?A+). Due to the mental and physical strain of the accident, Stephen King has had a setback of sorts. The number of writings he was working on has been cut in half. In a Dateline NBC interview Stephen King said that he was suffering from writer?s block because of the accident. He was working on several ideas at the time of the accident but since the accident, they have all been shelved for the time being.Stephen King may be suffering from writer?s block but his alter ego ?Richard Bachman? is in fine form these days publishing The Regulators. Which in itself is no small feat but Richard Bachman has been dead since 1985, after suffering from cancer of the pseudonym. His editor who also just happens to be Stephen King?s editor also found the novel in a basket along with several other unfinished manuscripts. This is great news for his fans in that he can continue to write from beyond the grave, only a true horror master could pull this off. The truth about the two has just recently been discovered since the identities were strictly on a need to know basis, not even the president of the publishing house knew the secret.
Stephen King is a man who just wants to be known as the writer down the street, not the crazy horror writer in the scary house on the hill. He tries to lead as normal life as possible.
A gentle, cheery family man who lives in a twenty-five-room house near exciting downtown Bangor, Maine, the master of the macabre enjoys bowling, poker, and getting together with Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Matt Groening, Robert Fulghum, and Roy Blount Jr. in a “hard-listening” band called the Rock Bottom Remainders (Mr. Showbiz?).
Stephen King has become one of the worlds best known writers by doing what he likes to do. That should be a lesson to us all.
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Beaham , George . The Stephen King Story, : A Literary Profile . Kansas City: Universal Press Syndicate, 1992.
?Forbes Celebrity 100, Stephen King? Forbes.com n. pag. Online. Internet. 21 Feb. 2000. Availablehttp://www.forbes.com/tool/toolbox/celeb100/asp/tearsheet.asp?power_rank=27
Handy, Bruce. ?Monster Writer.? Time 2 Sep.1996: 35-40.
King, Stephen. ” The Body , ” in Different Seasons . New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1982.
—–. “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” in Different Seasons . New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1982.
—–. Danse Macabre. New York: Viking, 1988.
?Mr. Showbiz Celebrities: Stephen King Biography? Mr. Showbiz.com: n. pag. Online. Internet. 18 Feb. 2000. Available http://mrshowbiz.go.com/people/stephenking/content/Bio.html.
?Stephen King: Best SellingAuthor in Hospital After being Struck by Van on Saturday.? Washington Post 21 June. 1999: A+
Underwood, Tim & Chuck miller, eds. Conversations on Terror with Stephen King . New York: Warner Books, 1988.
—–. Fear Itself: the Horror Fiction of Stephen King. New York: Plume, 1984.
Who?s Who Among American Writers. New York: Oxford, 1997. *
* not cited