Friday, February 22, 2008

A Blast From The Past - My Journey With Stephen King.

Looking at how Duma Key, the latest book by Stephen King, is rapidly climbing up the bestsellers chart reminded me that the horror master has not lost his magic touch and at the same time, brought back many fond memories.

My journey with Stephen King began more than 30 years ago, in the 70s', when I was still a boy. Like most children during the 70s' who made do with hand-me downs, including books, I remembered being attracted by the book cover of Salem's Lot, brought to school by a better-off classmate. The black cover, with an etching of a girl's face and a drop of blood at the corner of her mouth, captivated me. Well, guess what I did? I "borrowed" the book (it's still with me) and so begun my journey with Stephen King.

Over the years, I have read most of King's books, including his earlier novels Carrie, Cujo, Christine, Firestarter and even books that he had written under a pseudonym, the "Richard Bachman" novels like Rage and The Regulators. So ardent am I a fan of his, that I have also watched all the movie adaptations of his work (unfortunately, the adaptations are all bad except for Misery).

Spell bounded by his rich imagination and his gift for telling compelling stories, Stephen King was largely responsible for my induction into and love for the horror genre. And every time the word "horror genre" comes up, his name will automatically pop up in my mind. So, going down memory lane, here are my all time favorite Stephen King books :

Salem's Lot
The book that started it all. Published in 1975, it came about when Stephen King asked his wife : "What if Dracula came to modern America?" "He will probably be knocked down by cars in Sixth Avenue!" said his wife.

Originally titled "Second Coming", this is the only book in my life that I finished in one night and it left me scared *stiffless. Set in a small town, it tells the story of the arrival of an old vampire, his corruption and decimation of the town populace and the struggles of a man to fight this menace. Rich in characterization and plot, it stands out among the many vampire novels during that time.

*Readers are advised that I, sometimes, take liberties with the English Language and there is no such word as "stiffless."

The Shining
Having watched the movie adaptation of this book, with Jack Nicholson as the derange father, I felt the movie paled in comparison in fleshing out the sense of eeriness of the hotel and the helplessness of the young son.

Published in 1977, though a simple premise of a couple with a young son isolated from the outside world in a old haunted hotel up in the Colorado mountains, the story fleshed out brilliantly the eeriness of the hotel and the helplessness of the young son in trying to deal with both the demonic forces and a murderous father. King's description of the derange morphing of the father got me hooked on this book and made me think twice about looking too long at a mirror.

Even among favorites, there are "favorites". I have read "IT" a total of 4 times over the years and I had never gotten tired of it. Published in 1986, it is one of King's few books of the monster-horror genre. Set in Derry, Maine (like most King's books), it tells the story of a evil clown who lurks in sewers and lures children to their death.

Spanning across their childhood years to growing up as adults, it also describes the heroic efforts and determination of a group of children in fighting this evil. King's superb characterization of the group's fears and their triumph over evil, especially the stuttering leader Bill, made "IT" a book to remember for a long time. And "IT" was definitely no clown.

The Talisman
Imagine a book that can transport you to another world, a parallel universe, a world so different and enchanting that you do not want to return. That was what the magic of "The Talisman", my all time favorite, did to me. Published in 1984, the book was King's collaboration with Peter Straub (another great horror master).

Wonderfully told, rich in characterization and plot, it tells the story of a boy, Jack Sawyer, and his travels in a parallel universe - The Territories - in search of the "Talisman" to save his mother. I was spell bounded by the rich imagination of the authors with their description of this parallel world and its inhabitants. Most of all, their concept of "Twinners", our twins in the parallel world, made this book such a wonderful read and further introduced me to the magical world of the "fantasy" genre.

When I first read the synopsis at the back of this book, my first thought was : "This is so unlike Stephen King, what is there to be scare about a fan and an author?" How wrong I was! Published in 1987, "Misery" was unlike King's previous books with its story about a rabid fan and her favorite author.

With only two main characters in the story, only King can turn it into a bestseller. His story of an author being kept prisoner by his number one fan and forced to bring back a character from the dead was a masterpiece. And the movie adaptation was, in my view, the only one of the many King's adaptations that was able to fleshed out the story. Kathy Bate's portrayal of the fanatical fan was fanatically good.

*Related Posts :
- In Memory Of Gary Jennings


clairec23 said...

I never knew that Stephen King wrote Salem's Lot. I won't ever read the book because when I was really small, my mother took me out of bed to watch the film with her because she was scared. I am still petrified of it!! I won't even allow the dvd in my home. :D

I know I'm wierd...

I have Misery - it is pretty creepy just because you never know what kind of person you're going to come across in real life and it makes you really believe in that sort of character.

My Den said...

Salem's Lot was a frightening book and the decay and corruption, was brilliantly fleshed out by King. It was also a vampire book that was way ahead of its time when it was published in the 70s', till Anne Rice came along with her Vampire Chronicles.


Keli said...

I've read many books, but never one written by Stephen King, mostly because I didn't want to be scared "stiffless." But youe description of "The Talisman" does make it sound mighty intriguing. I think it's about time I read one.
By the way, I noticed you recommended "The Alienist" on your sidebar. One of my favorites!

My Den said...

LOL! Guess only you would be able to pick that word out, all thanks to your inspirational use of the word "winningly".

Go ahead and read The Talisman as it is a marvelous fantasy-adventure book that exceptionally rich in both plot, characterization and imagination.

Because of its unorthodox approach, The Alienist by Caleb Carr is one of my all-time favorite thrillers. The birth of psychological profiling of murderers, the rich description of 19th century New York, great plot and mesmerizing characters like Dr. Kreizler, Sara Howard and a fictional involvement of one of the great presidents of US - Franklin Roosevelt - all adds up to a rollicking tale.


Scott said...

Good Post - I've been a fan of King for years as well. The Stand is one of my favorites, and I really enjoyed The Dead Zone. Pet Sematary scared me a bunch also. Actually - too many good ones to list.

There have been a couple of his stories turned into movies that have been good - notably Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, oh and Stand By Me.

And I just love The Alienest also.


My Den said...

Hi Scott,
Yes, epics like The Stand, The Dead Zone and Needful Things were also great books and have a distinct psychological bent to them. Thanks to your reminder, Shawshank Redemption was a great movie. Best.

Quality Tale said...

I know the Stephen King and his creativity ... even though I read his 2-3 books but not satisfied with readings .... bcoz he has written such that I read it twice and thrice...good writer ever ...



Entrepreneur said...

Stephen King, even now that I am an adult, still frightens me. That's how good he is. But I don't read any of his works anymore ... I guess my interest in his genre has long passed.

I love his personal story though. How his wife kept him writing even though they were penniless because his teaching job didn't pay enough.

My Den said...

Hi Entrepreneur,
Stephen King has a gift for the macabre that is very rare and the only other author who I think can match him will be Anne Rice.

Yes, we all move on as we aged and along with that, so will our reading interests. I think the last book that I read of King was The Black House, abt 2 years ago, which is the much-awaited sequel to The Talisman.

It great to have you here. Hope to see you again.

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi I echo your SK experiences. I read Pet Semetary in one sitting overnight at a boring house party after everyone had fallen asleep and (silly ending apart) it scared the dodo out of me...

I think SK is great at the 'small' novels with a small cast of characters, not so hot on the ensemble novels, The stand perhaps excepted.

My Den said...

Hi Ken,
I shared your sentiments about King being exceptionally great with novels that have a small cast. It is one of the reason why Misery was such a success. Other than The Stand, subsequent epics were a bit of a let down.

To me, his greatest moments were during the earlier part of his writing career. But he is still an exceptionally gifted writer.


Grumpus said...

Stephen King figures hugely in my younger reading life. For some reason, though his novels are obviously designed to be disquieting, there is also a type of homey or folksy element that made them oddly comforting. I remember around age 11 being ill, stuck at home and out of school for several days...I spent the time reading "It" and wallowing in bed. My earliest reading memories are of his books.

His collaborations with Peter Straub are superb!!!

I could summon a more critical commentary of his work, but the fact remains that he's talented, incredibly hard working, and his books have been around all of my life, so I am never going to pick on him.

I always thought Tabitha wrote "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon", though.

My Den said...

Hi Grumpus,
A foreboding sense of dread against a backdrop of.. belonging is a common theme running through King's books.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon must be one of his strangest books as it was never clear whether the supernatural events encountered by Trisha were real or hallucinations. And you are right - King's collaboration with Peter Straub was fantastic.


ettarose said...

Stephen King. I could never say enough about him. I fell in love with his writing in the late 70's. The first book I ever read was It I think. I have stayed at the Stanley hotel where he lived while he wrote The Shining. That was the biggest thrill to me. I have to say I have all his books, but the worst one he wrote was The Cell! That one to me just sucked bad. When I got to the end I called him a bad name and threw the book!

Tracee said...

I don't even know where to begin when listing my favorite Stephen King books, there are just too many. I do agree that most movies don't live up to the book (no matter what book is in question). But I do agree that Shawshank, Misery, and Carrie are all adaptations that almost mirror the book (or short story as the case may be). My favorite author of all time - thanks for the great post! P.S. Salems Lot is terrifying!

My Den said...

Hi tracee,
Sorry for the late reply as I am still recovering from my recent accident. Thanks for reminding me abt the movie adaptations of Shawshank Redemption and Carrie - quite good adaptations actually especially Carrie. And thanks for dropping by.