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Ruminations on the Works of Stephen King
#1
A friend recentlys ent me an e-mail saying he's reading "Firestarter" for the 1st time, and really enjoying it. He has commented several times in the past, & did so again in this e-mail, that he finds King eminently readable. "I'd read that guy's grocery list", he once quipped. He then asked my opinion as to what exactly it is about King's writing that makes him so readable.

I gather from the tone of some posts I've seen 'round these parts that there are those here who think it's not hip to like Stephen King. Whatever. He's one of my favorite authors, and has been since I read "Cujo" at age 9, which prompted me to go right out and buy and read every book he'd written to that point (most of which were better than "Cujo", of course). Color me unhip, I guess. But I'd be willing to bet there are some out there who still like the King man, on the strength of his earlier work, if nothing else. The following is more or less what I wrote in response to my friend's inquiry:

I think King's works succeed on one level because they're very accessible. His writing took horror into the mainstream more than any author before or since ever has. The reason for this, I think, is that he writes like I imagine he talks; it's a very conversational style. I once had a college professor who taught writing (in an academic, not a creative setting, mind you) who said that when you're as comfortable, as facile, with writing as you are with talking, you've made it as a good writer. King's main characters usually come off like regular Joes, and their inner monologues reflect that. King comes from a blue collar type background, and his writing fluidly expresses the thought processes, perceptions and mind set of that kind of person. The fact that these mental "conversations" happen to be written by a witty, funny guy makes it all the better. Even if King had never gotten into academia or writing, I think he would have ended up being the smartest guy at the mill where he worked. The one everyone enjoyed talking to and having a laugh and a brew with at the bar after work.

I would argue that before King there was no really big name horror writer that wrote in a contemporary style. That's not to say there weren't big names; but who could compare to what King became before that happened beyond Poe and Lovecraft? And their style can hardly be called accessible to the average 20th century reader. Their styles were incredibly dense at times ("The Pit and the Pendulum" being a good example). The points they made in their stories were often also made obliquely rather than with brutal directness. Much more was often implied in their works than was stated. Brilliant as they were, most readers hardly found them accessible. And before King made contemporary horror fiction into the money maker it was for the shining decade of the 80's (which I think kind of holds over to a lesser extent today), the usual horror fiction you'd find were reprints of stories by older authors. How many anthologies did we see in the 70's and early 80's that contained stuff we'd already seen by authors like Poe, HPL, Algernon Blackwood, Sheridan LeFanu, and so on? Because of this trend, I'd argue that many of the writers writing just before King hit it big were heavily influenced by these authors in style and tone, which left the mainstream readers flat most of the time.

I mean, how many of us are likely to inherit a mansion from a long lost, occult dabbling uncle, and move in to pursue our unspecified studies with no visible means of support, to set the scene for the eerie goings on that ensue? By contrast, how many of us can more easily picture losing our teaching gig because of our drinking, and being so desperate for work that we come to think taking a job as caretaker in a snowbound Colorado hotel is a good idea? Or being the kid that gets picked on in school and wishing we had the means to get back at our tormentors? Or getting trapped with our kid in that damn clunker of a car by a rabid dog? Or volunteering for a medical experiment in college for beer money? The occupationless Victorian gentleman protagonist has been replced by the much more realistic ad exec, out of work teacher/aspiring writer, and the handsome, arrogant rock star, among others. Refernces to fictional occult works like the Necronomicon are replaced by references to Madonna songs and Neil Diamond albums. For these reasons, what happened to King's characters hit us a lot closer to where we live.

And what happened to those characters is also a large part of the reason King's work resonates with so many readers. He tears away the pervading veil of lingering Victorian modesty, and isn't afraid to get brutal and violent. Georgie Denbrough doesn't just disappear into the sewer never to be seen again, like doomed Sarnath climbing the peak to challenge the Elder Gods, with no clue but his echoing screams as to his ultimate fate. No, IT rips Georgie's fucking arm off, and he dies bleeding in the rain. I always thought "It" failed as a TV miniseries because it had to tone this scene in particular down (along with the woeful miscasting). Had we been allowed to see this the way we read about it, we'd have better understood why the children of Derry were so afraid of IT (and don't give me that "But Pennywise was a clown" shit; some of us aren't all that scared of clowns in and of themselves). Give me a reason to think he was more than just a little creepy; make me FEAR him like Bill Denbrough did after seeing what IT did to his brother; make me think IT is the greatest menace the 10 year old protagonist will ever face in his life. I think King succeeded in the book because he presented us with exactly the kind of violence IT was capable of in a very matter of fact, brutally honest manner. Couple his ability to do things like this with his accessible characters and prose style, and the writing hits home all the more readily, making the writing all the more compelling and memorable.

Last, but certainly not least, King has a keen understanding of what scares us. I read a story in college, "Tonio Kroger" by Tomas Mann, in which the autobiographical protagonist, a writer, is suffering a crisis of faith. He doesn't understand why he doesn't fit in to this world he writes about, despite the fact that he very desperately wants to. He commiserates with a painter friend (because we all know those Bohemian artist types live in little enclaves), and she tells him the reason he doesn't fit into the world is because as an artist, he perceives the world more acutely than the madding crowd. This is his blessing because it allows him to write moving prose based on his observations, but also his curse because the rest of the world doesn't perceive things the same way he does, and thus they'll never understand him and he'll never quite fit in with them. Tonio just needs to accept this and use it in his art. I would argue that king has just such a keen artist's perception, but that it's more attuned to the darker side of human nature most of the time (he has written some stories that aren't at all horrific, and are damned moving). He taps into the primal rages and fears we all feel but don't generally like to confront or think about, dragging them into the light and forcing us to look at them. The fact that King often does this through children as characters, with a rare level of skill, also ratchets up the scares a notch. No one, I'd argue, is better at regressing the reader back to their childhood mindset, and the things that scared us then, than Stephen King. Ramsey Campbell tries, but I don't think he can hold a candle to king in this regard. Violence against children is also a societal taboo he's broken on more than one occasion, and I've gone on record at length in the past on these boards about what an effective device I think this would be for writers and filmmakers to use, and wondering why it isn't utilized more often. And I don't think that he uses it as a cheap, shocking parlor trick, either. I discussed IT's violence against children above, and would add the other most famous example, Gage Creed from "Pet Sematary" as a device with a point. Perhaps more poignantly conveyed in the film than the book is the horror a parent would feel at first losing their infant child to a terrible accident, and then having him come back as a monster that you have no choice but to kill. By your own hand. Particularly if you're a parent, that scene where he sticks the needle in his son's neck while Gage tries to play on his sensibilities by crying and calling him "Daddy" hits you very hard in several uncomfortable places (or at least it should). I'd call it brilliant, in its own way.

Well, that's my two cents. What are your thoughts? Is King eminently readable to you, too, and if so, why? Do you think he's a hack? And if so, why? Share with the rest of the class.
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#2
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Originally Posted by IggytheBorg
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I would argue that before King there was no really big name horror writer that wrote in a contemporary style.

You don't have to argue that. King changed the business, like other huge-selling authors such as Grisham, in that a whole industry of copy-cat novels sprang up in the wake of his popularity. He's why there's been a separate horror section in big book stores for the last 3 decades, although oddly enough, I see that's being phased out. Barnes and Noble shelves King and other horror novelists in general fiction now.
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#3
The phasing out of the horror section is a trend I hate, too. But not everyone whose work saw the light of day because of King's popularity was a pale imitator. I don't think Clive Barker would have enjoyed the justly deserved popularity he garnered for himself in his heyday had king not paved the way. Peter Straub, either. And whether you like them or not, probably brian Lumley and Anne Rice. He's probably directly responsible more so than anyone else for Jack Ketchum's long overdue surge in popularity as well. Even if you don't like King's writing, we all owe him big for that.
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#4
I'm not really sure though that we wouldn't have had say Barker without King... he probably wouldn't have been as well-known, but since really he has been more a fantasy writer than anything else in recent times, who knows.

Also, I'm not entirely convinced that its because of King that Horror gained acceptance... I suppose it would have anyway with someone else, King just happened to be the one that made the "industry", much like Tolkien did with fantasy even if the idea of the "genre" was being prepared by publishers before him.

I do find the "uncool"/"unhip"ness of King in recent days rather stupid and for some bizarre reason, even if I don't really like the tone in which he writes, I seem to "respect" him more than many other better authors. I can't be sure why, but On Writing sort of paints him as rather admirable in his down-to-earthness...
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#5
Growing up in the 80's, SK was as important to me as Lucas & Spielberg. His stuff was magical when discovered at the right age. Can still remember summer of 87 pouring thru IT in one long marathon. Finishing that, really seemed the ultimate. How could he top it? He never did.

I think the sad thing is (not unlike Lucas), once all the clout & artistic freedom was achieved, he got lazy. (The way he wrapped up THE DARK TOWER series left a bad taste, and kind of ended my membership in the fanclub)

Haven't revisited his early works in years; not sure you can.

EDIT--Interesting read, Iggy
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#6
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Originally Posted by Fat Elvis
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Growing up in the 80's, SK was as important to me as Lucas & Spielberg. His stuff was magical when discovered at the right age. Can still remember summer of 87 pouring thru IT in one long marathon. Finishing that, really seemed the ultimate. How could he top it? He never did.

I think the sad thing is (not unlike Lucas), once all the clout & artistic freedom was achieved, he got lazy.

Haven't revisited his early works in years; not sure you can.

Just finished re-reading IT again, the first time I've read since it came out in 1986. I still find it second-tier King. It contains some of his strengths (characterization, mood) and his glaring weaknesses (massive bloat).

However, I think his run up to IT is phenomenal. The Shining, The Talisman, Salem's Lot, The Stand, Shawshank, and, my personal favorite, The Dead Zone are all incredible.

His stuff since the 90's, I've found to be extremely hit or miss. The last novel of his that really engaged me was Hearts in Atlantis, of all things. All his other more recent stuff has been passable to bleh. And don't get me started on The Dark Tower. That went down in flames quicker than TWA Flight 800.
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#7
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Originally Posted by Fat Elvis
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Growing up in the 80's, SK was as important to me as Lucas & Spielberg. His stuff was magical when discovered at the right age. Can still remember summer of 87 pouring thru IT in one long marathon. Finishing that, really seemed the ultimate. How could he top it? He never did.

I think the sad thing is (not unlike Lucas), once all the clout & artistic freedom was achieved, he got lazy. (The way he wrapped up THE DARK TOWER series left a bad taste, and kind of ended my membership in the fanclub)

Haven't revisited his early works in years; not sure you can.

EDIT--Interesting read, Iggy

Thanks for the compliment. Yeah, some of his later stuff is pretty poor compared to the earlier work (TDT being a prime example). BUt some of the latter day stuff isn't bad; the beginning of "Cell" was a great read. "Bag of Bones" was a good ghost story. "Desperation" was a fun bloody romp. And I liked "From a Buick 8", even though it gets little love. "Hearts in Atlantis" even had some moments, but some of the best were in the stories that weren't horror.

But as for revisiting his work, I read the original version of "The Stand" twice, and the unabridged version once, which is kind of like reading it again (it's my favorite book, not surprisingly), and it held up each time. I actually hadn't ever read 'Carrie" for reasons I'll never understand until fairly recently as well, and was simply blown away, kicking myself for not reding this years ago. So even today, one of his older books has some power on a reader.

Edited to add: Don't kill me, but I even kinda liked "Dreamcatcher".
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#8
The Dark Tower 2 & 3 are probably my favorite 'fun' books of all time. I've always liked King. The people who hate him most usually haven't even read him, in my experience anyway.
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#9
I think one of his gifts used to be dialogue; capturing the way people talked. Reading CELL, it was painful seeing him try to stay current, and fumble the rhythm & slang.

He should try setting his stories in a different period. His writing might work better with a 70's vibe.
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#10
That ain't all he fumbled in that one.
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#11
I can't defend CELL too much, but I think it's one of the few good Stephen King endings.
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#12
It's interesting mentioning Grisham and I for the life of me cannot enjoy his books. I used to read James Patterson quite a bit but even though those were trashy reads, the quality has substantially gone down.

Although I admit to never reading King. The only King book I ever read was his book on writing which to me was very interesting.
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#13
Huh, Ed. Figured every geek alive had read THE STAND.
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#14
Well, I'm not really a horror fan to begin with. And while I'm familiar with The Stand. I never really got into those things. My dad was more of a classic Sci-Fi/horror reader who tried to introduce me to Heinlein and Clarke. I'm just more of a crime/history guy. Although the only massive sci-fi series I ever read from beginning to end was Harry Turtledove's if the South had won the Civil War and went through World War I and II.
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#15
Stephen KIng was actually the benficiary of an earlier wave of popular horror novels: Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, Tom Tryon's The Other and Harvest Home, and Blatty's Exorcist. (Note two of those novels were turned into blockbuster movies). King himself references these novels as making horror more acceptable to mainstream publishers, and thus enabling him to publish Carrie.

I discovered King via picking out Carrie in the school library and reading the damn thing through in one sitting. And I kept on reading everything he put out up until Pet Sematary. Those novels and short stories roped me in in a very intense way. I still re-read The Stand once a year, and it somehow always grabs me. Salem's Lot is great as a novel itself, and as a counterpoint to Brna Stoker's Dracula. Dracula has this underlying theme of rationality and science driving out superstion and "old world monsters", the light driving out the dark. In Salem's Lot we find normal middle Americans taping tongue depressors into crosses to fight the monsters: Rationality being driven out by superstition. And the short stories in Night Shift still have a real bite to them.

I haven't liked a lot of his recent output. I've heard that Duma Key is pretty good. The Dark Tower series lost me after The Wastelands . BUt for that run from the mid 70's to (I guess) the early 90's King just could not be matched for good, accessable writing.

I'd recommend two books by King on King: On Writing and Danse Macbre. The later has an index where King recommends 100 horror books and movies (it is out of date, since the book was published in 1980 )
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#16
I'm actually reading Blaze right now and can't put it down. The Long Walk happens to be my favorite King novel, behind The Stand of course.

There is a time and place for all types of literature and King is the best at what he does. Is it ground-breaking literature? Rarely, but he knows that. I find his work still incredibly enjoyable. I dug Cell but didn't like Duma Key so it's still a bit hit and miss but even his misses are fun to read. He's like fiction's Steven Spielberg.

You can read the joy he has while writing. And it's a dark, demented joy. His writing is always like some creepy narration, as if he knows what's coming around the corner and loves that you don't. He can get under my skin better than most.

I don't like Mick Garris all that much but he has one of the best quotes about King: "Stephen King isn't writing about the monster in the closet, he's writing about the people who own the house that the closet is in."
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#17
I used to be a Stephen King fan. With the exception of the Dark Tower Series, I've read all of his classics up untill Insomnia.
My favourites are IT, Needful Things and The Tommyknockers. His Richard Bachman books aren't bad as well. "Rage" and "Roadwork" especially.

I am interested in what you thought of "The Running Man" though.
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#18
"Dance Macabre" was a big one for me. (Even if now I find some of his choices & taste suspect. <PROPHECY, really, Steve?>)

Love to see him update this.
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#19
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Originally Posted by Dranbon
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He's like fiction's Steven Spielberg.

I think he's more like fiction's John Carpenter. Same timeline vs. quality, in my opinion.
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#20
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Originally Posted by Ratty
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Just finished re-reading IT again, the first time I've read since it came out in 1986. I still find it second-tier King. It contains some of his strengths (characterization, mood) and his glaring weaknesses (massive bloat).

However, I think his run up to IT is phenomenal. The Shining, The Talisman, Salem's Lot, The Stand, Shawshank, and, my personal favorite, The Dead Zone are all incredible.

Yeah, a fantastic run. Haven't revisited because they're perfect in my mind <especially THE TALISMAN>.

I've heard those complaints about IT. That's how I feel about NEEDFUL THINGS. Know people who used to swear by it though.
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#21
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Originally Posted by Ratty
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I think he's more like fiction's John Carpenter. Same timeline vs. quality, in my opinion.

I think Spielberg is accurate, in the way how in his wake the industry basically formatted itself. Carpenter's quality was mostly felt in other filmmakers, not so much in the model itself for the genre.
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#22
I've been a fan of King's ever since I first read Salem's Lot. Sure, he's not the best when it comes to wrapping a story up, but he's always been good at delivering on some great themes and exploring some lurking evil. His classic work (ie - The Stand) remains his best, although as far as his recent stuff goes I loved From a Buick 8 because it's one of the first times I've seen King really capture Lovecraftian horror of the unfathomable.

Good post Iggy, glad someone's showing King some love.
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#23
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Originally Posted by Fat Elvis
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"Dance Macabre" was a big one for me. (Even if now I find some of his choices & taste suspect. <PROPHECY, really, Steve?>)

Love to see him update this.

I think King's a better essayist than a novelist at this point. I really enjoyed Danse Macabre and just about any column he's ever written.

As someone pointed out above, his main problem is bloat. I read the Shining years ago and was shocked at how long it is and how little happened to justify the size. Same thing with It. I enjoyed It a great deal, but his structure could be improved quite a bit.

Personally, I think the worst thing King foisted upon readers was his success. And now a lot of wanna-be writers are aping his style and doing it poorly. You can't learn to write by reading Stephen King.
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#24
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Originally Posted by Devildoubt
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I think King's a better essayist than a novelist at this point. I really enjoyed Danse Macabre and just about any column he's ever written.

He's fine when it comes to writing about fiction, but he should stop writing about music forever.
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#25
I personally loved The running man. The reality tv aspect and the ending were just great.
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#26
Nice thread, Iggy. I mostly gave up on King after The Tommyknockers (was that supposed to be ironic or was he having a coke problem when he wrote that?) but have found some things to like in the first few Dark Tower books. I'm taking a two week beach vacation starting next week and I was actually thinking about rereading Carrie, Salem's Lot and The Shining for the first time in 15+ years to see if they still hold up. Now I think I'll definitely do that.

I loved those books as a kid and still have great respect for King as a "storyteller." That's the way I always think of him. When he was on his imagination was almost unparalleled, and his storytelling and voice were as tight and compelling as Elmore Leonard's and maybe even Cormac McCarthy's. Which is not to say that he is on the level of either as a novelist. But I wish an editor with a choke-chain and a cattle prod would rein him in, because I miss the stories he used to tell.
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#27
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Originally Posted by Dranbon
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I'm actually reading Blaze right now and can't put it down. The Long Walk happens to be my favorite King novel, behind The Stand of course.

There is a time and place for all types of literature and King is the best at what he does. Is it ground-breaking literature? Rarely, but he knows that. I find his work still incredibly enjoyable. I dug Cell but didn't like Duma Key so it's still a bit hit and miss but even his misses are fun to read. He's like fiction's Steven Spielberg.

You can read the joy he has while writing. And it's a dark, demented joy. His writing is always like some creepy narration, as if he knows what's coming around the corner and loves that you don't. He can get under my skin better than most.

I don't like Mick Garris all that much but he has one of the best quotes about King: "Stephen King isn't writing about the monster in the closet, he's writing about the people who own the house that the closet is in."

What a grat post. In his reply to my long winded essay, my friend said an eerily similar thing about his misses still being enjoyable, which I agree with (he then went on to say he thought "The Tommyknockers" wasn't a miss at all; I don't know if I'd go that far).

And the dark demented joy thing, the Spielberg analogy and the Garris quote were great contributions. I hadn't thought about any of that in exactly those words, but they all hit the nail on the head, IMO.

Edited to add: Also, re: the "grat literature" thing, I had a short debate over the merits of King's work with a guy I went to law school with. He was a too cool for the room hipster type, and felt that if you're going to read anything, it had to be something with some kind of snooty literary worth. he said he had a college prof who said King's work had some good allegory in it, but that was about all, and my buddy didn't even agree with that. Therefore, King wasn't worth reading. Personally, I think most of the allegory you might find in King's books (or perhaps more aptly put, his stories, even the book length ones, since I agree with Brian that he's a storyteller first and foremost) is probably unintentional. He just wants, as he's said numerous times in the intos to his books (which can be almost as much fun to read as the books themselves) that he's out to write a good STORY and entertain his reader more than anything else. I for one se nothing wrong with that. As an aside, I went back to visit my high school the year after I graduated while I was on spring break (which is something I advise against in hindsight), and was speaking to one of my English teachers, who knew I was a hughe King fan. He showed me the next book his freshman hionors class would be reading, as per some organization or other's suggested curriculum: "The Shining". The fact that this was a Catholic school made this pretty impressive to me.
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#28
Duma Key was, in my opinion, every bit as good as Bag of Bones. Then again, I've been a quiet King Fanboy for years. Iggy already brought up all of the reasons to like his work. Honestly, I think he gets a lot of hate because of his popularity, it's cooler to call him a hack then it is to say you like reading his work, pop culture references and all.
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#29
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Originally Posted by felix natalya
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I His Richard Bachman books aren't bad as well. "Rage" and "Roadwork" especially.

I am interested in what you thought of "The Running Man" though.

"Roadwork" was my favorite Bachman book. Glad to see it getting some love; it always semed like the underdog of the bunch. "Thinner" was really good, too, IMO. Disappointing film, though. Personally, I loved "The Running Man". I was pretty disappointed that the film didn't follow its realistic approach. Darabont could probably make this a really creepy and effective social commentary film, if he made a version that did so.

But let's be honest: stupid as it was, the movie version we have is kind of fun.
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#30
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Originally Posted by Cylon Baby
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Stephen KIng was actually the benficiary of an earlier wave of popular horror novels: Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, Tom Tryon's The Other and Harvest Home, and Blatty's Exorcist. (Note two of those novels were turned into blockbuster movies). King himself references these novels as making horror more acceptable to mainstream publishers, and thus enabling him to publish Carrie.

Don't forget 2 other important ones: Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, Twilight Zone eps) and especially Shirley Jackson (The Haunting).

Within the past 10-12 months, (through audiobooks) I've listened to the 1st 6 DARK TOWER books (holding off on the last, for fear of the disappointment I've heard is inevitable), revisited IT (the mini-series creeped me out, but I was a 13 year old coulrophobic horror amateur), revisited the TALISMAN (still holds up as my fave and where's my film adaptation?), popped my SALEMS LOT cherry (then revisited both TV miniseries adaptations to compare and then revisited Stoker's Dracula for more to chew on), and enjoyed the hell out of Darabont's THE MIST (in theater and on dvd) which I feel as if I've waited forever for (since reading it at the age of 9 in Skeleton Crew).
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Originally Posted by IggytheBorg
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The fact that King often does this through children as characters, with a rare level of skill, also ratchets up the scares a notch. No one, I'd argue, is better at regressing the reader back to their childhood mindset, and the things that scared us then, than Stephen King. Ramsey Campbell tries, but I don't think he can hold a candle to king in this regard. Violence against children is also a societal taboo he's broken on more than one occasion, and I've gone on record at length in the past on these boards about what an effective device I think this would be for writers and filmmakers to use, and wondering why it isn't utilized more often. And I don't think that he uses it as a cheap, shocking parlor trick, either. I discussed IT's violence against children above, and would add the other most famous example, Gage Creed from "Pet Sematary" as a device with a point. Perhaps more poignantly conveyed in the film than the book is the horror a parent would feel at first losing their infant child to a terrible accident, and then having him come back as a monster that you have no choice but to kill. By your own hand. Particularly if you're a parent, that scene where he sticks the needle in his son's neck while Gage tries to play on his sensibilities by crying and calling him "Daddy" hits you very hard in several uncomfortable places (or at least it should). I'd call it brilliant, in its own way.

Great points and something I think is one of his key successes (besides making the horror happen to normal people)... tapping into that childhood experience, sending you back in time, uncovering fears and nightmares you left behind. I said it in another thread, but: Stephen King, in many of his books, has a knack for writing kid's dialogue. As a result, STAND BY ME is one of the best film examples of pitch-perfect kid banter and behavior I can think of. You do get transported (and almost transformed, or regressed as you stated clearly) and that makes the horror much more effective when you read it in IT, The Talisman, Salems Lot, etc.

EDIT: Something else I noticed, he often makes the main character an author like himself. Bill Denbrough, Ben Mears, Thad Beaumont/George Stark, Jack Torrance, etc. Exorcising some of his own demons, I'd imagine. And no need to mention the Dark Tower's (spoiler)direct inclusion of himself.
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#31
King has never been able to finish a story well in my opinion.

His early work was great, but I think alot of it has to do with when the reader found and read it. As a 16-18 year old I loved his work, afterwards, not so much.
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#32
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Originally Posted by DARKMITE8
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Don't forget 2 other important ones: Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, Twilight Zone eps) and especially Shirley Jackson (The Haunting).

I'm not that familiar with Jackson's work, but Richard Matheson is a huge influence on King. Matheson's characters were all average folks trapped in horrific circumstances and many of his stories took place in urban settings. There are very few old haunted mansions in Matheson's short stories and novels.
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#33
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Originally Posted by DRANBON
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I don't like Mick Garris all that much but he has one of the best quotes about King: "Stephen King isn't writing about the monster in the closet, he's writing about the people who own the house that the closet is in."

That's such a great quote, especially within the context of some of King's short stories. I'm thinking of "The Boogeyman" in particular here, one of my favorite of King's short short stories.

Also, the thing about King is that he prepared me as a kid for future reading as well. I remember in the summers after 7th and 8th grade just tearing through all his stuff, and some of it was just so damn long, and I think, in part, that gave me the courage to pick up a lot of different books that I may not have otherwise had the gumption to start.
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#34
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Originally Posted by Devildoubt
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Personally, I think the worst thing King foisted upon readers was his success. And now a lot of wanna-be writers are aping his style and doing it poorly. You can't learn to write by reading Stephen King.

I don't think you can learn to write by reading any one author. I'm also not much of a writer, but there are a couple of things I learned from years of King fandom. For one, absolute ruthlessness, which is essential for any horror or horrorish writer. When I first started reading King, I had certain things I knew to be true about books. No matter how scary things would get, the kid would never die, or the main character, at least until the very end, and the character who wasn't around during the climax would show up just in time to save the day. After reading 2 of his books I started to realize that those things weren't true at all, and that as good as he was at creating likable characters, he was just as unflinching about killing them off.

Also, the importance of outlining. The man is like one big cautionary tale about how even the most talented of writers can't overcome the start-typing-and-see-where-it-goes style, because it ends up going everywhere and ending somewhere that feels arbitrary. I think it was years of mounting frustration with King let-down endings (after adoring oh so many 3/4 of his books) that led me to think that starting with an ending and reverse-engineering the story was a better route.
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Originally Posted by Bill Brasky
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Also, the thing about King is that he prepared me as a kid for future reading as well. I remember in the summers after 7th and 8th grade just tearing through all his stuff, and some of it was just so damn long, and I think, in part, that gave me the courage to pick up a lot of different books that I may not have otherwise had the gumption to start.

Absolutely. Because his writing style is so accessible, his brick-thick paperbacks didn't seem so insurmountable as a kid. Sometimes though I had to put the book down for a bit due a case of the heebie jeebies.
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Originally Posted by Schwartz
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Also, the importance of outlining. The man is like one big cautionary tale about how even the most talented of writers can't overcome the start-typing-and-see-where-it-goes style, because it ends up going everywhere and ending somewhere that feels arbitrary. I think it was years of mounting frustration with King let-down endings (after adoring oh so many 3/4 of his books) that led me to think that starting with an ending and reverse-engineering the story was a better route.

I subscribe to that as well. It's really hard to inform the journey's text (especially thematically) if you don't know the destination inside and out (or have a strong one in mind).
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