Stephen King

 

"The King of Terror"
 
Stephen Edwin King is one of today's most popular and best
selling writers. King combines the elements of
psychological thrillers, science fiction, the paranormal,
and detective themes into his stories. In addition to these
themes, King sticks to using great and vivid detail that is
set in a realistic everyday place. Stephen King who is
mainly known for his novels, has broadened his horizons to
different types of writings such as movie scripts,
nonfiction, autobiographies, children's books, and short
stories. While Stephen King might be best known for his
novels The Stand and It, some of his best work that has
been published are his short stories such as "The Body" and
"Quitters Inc". King's works are so powerful because he
uses his experience and observations from his everyday life
and places them into his unique stories.
 
Stephen Edwin King was born in Portland, Maine, on
September 21, 1947, at the Maine General Hospital. Stephen,
his mother Nellie, and his adopted brother David were left
to fend for themselves when Stephen's father Donald, a
Merchant Marine captain, left one day, to go the store to
buy a pack of cigarettes, and never returned. His fathers
leaving had a big indirect impact on King's 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." Stephen's first outlooks on life were
influenced by his older brother and what he figured out on
his own. While young Stephen 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 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 large
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 (Beaham 17).
King's fascination with horror early on continued and was
pushed along only a couple weeks after Bradbury's story.
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, Stephen was hooked. He immediately asked her
to read it again. 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. This is
important because Stephen says, " Since [the movie], I
still see things cinematically. I write down everything I
see. What I see, it seems like a movie to me"(Beaham 17).
During this year the biggest event that probably had the
biggest impact on Stephen King's writing style was the
discovery of the author H. P. 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"(Beaham 22). In many of Lovecraft's writings he
always used his present surroundings as the back drop of
his stories. King has followed in his footsteps with the
fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. Castle Rock is a
combination of several towns that King moved to and from
with his family in his childhood. The main town that it
resembles is that of Durham, Maine. It was after the
exposure to H. P. Lovecraft's stories that King first began
to write.
 
While growing up and moving around the way his family did,
Stephen had never been 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
Stephen King, Durham was the place where his imagination
began to shine. It was at this time that Stephen first
began to make friends. Along with his friends, Stephen
would go the movies a lot. Stephen would use the movies as
a inspiration. Although he enjoyed going out and having
fun, whenever he would come home, Stephen would immediately
write down his experiences and observations. Frequently
King would place his friends and family into childhood
fantasy tales. And one would always know how Stephen felt
about them because of how long they lived in the story.
 
It was not until college that Stephen King received any
kind of real recognition for his writings. In the Fall of
1967, King finished his first novel, The Long Walk, and
gave it to his sophomore American Literature professor for
review. After a couple of weeks and a couple of 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 the University of Maine at Orono in the Spring
of 1970, King concentrated on improving his writing
technique.
 
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 on a journey into
the woods to see a dead body. While on their journey they
learn about life, friendship, and are propelled from
innocence to maturity. On the surface, the story appears to
be a simple journey with its occasional mishaps, but the
true magnificence is that this story has a strong
autobiographical coincidence. The main character, Gordie
Lachance, is a boy growing up on his own with the memory of
his dead older brother. Growing up, Gordie, an avid story
teller, dreamt of becoming a writer. Before his brother's
accidental death, all his parents would ever care about,
was his brother. Since his death, Gordie's parents have
presumably shut themselves away from Gordie. This, to a
certain degree is true of King. Because of his father
leaving when Stephen was two, and his mother taking on
around the clock jobs, he never really had any parental
guidance.
 
The story itself is written with Gordie narrating in the
present time look back at the journey. At the time of his
flashback, Gordie is a best selling author who has returned
to his home town of Castle Rock to revisit his past. This
is ironic, because at the time Stephen wrote the story, he
himself had just moved from Bolder, Colorado, back "home"
to the town of Bangor. King's childhood home, town of
Durham is used in several different stories under the
fictional town name of Castle Rock. It is also noticeable
how in the story when Gordie "looks" back in time, his
brother is the only person who cares for him. He noticeably
goes out of his way to look out for Gordie, and is always
encouraging him and asking him about his writing, while all
his parents seem to do is ignore Gordie. This also can be
related to King's past because while growing up his
brother, while only two years older then he, always seemed
to be there for Stephen and look out for him. 

Probably the deepest imagery of the story is at the end of
the novel. Gordie is shown back at home and putting the
finishing touches on his latest work. While finishing up,
Gordie is interrupted by his son who is shown in a sense to
be a good-natured and caring boy. Gordie experiences a deep
love for his family at the time. This setup is presumably
placed in the story as an escape for King. In his
autobiography Danse Macabre, King tells of his fear of
providing for and caring for a family (Reino 112). This
shows King pushing away the fear, in a sense saying that he
is all right. That he has now embraced the idea.
 
One of King's best work is also one that does not fit into
any category of his usual writings. For an author who
usually writes horror, "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank
Redemption", is a story that is a refreshing sidestep. The
story tells of how Andy Dufresne, who is falsely tried,
convicted, and sentenced to back to back life sentences for
the double murder of his wife and her lover, deals with
being trapped within a dreadful situation that is out of
his hands. Throughout the nineteen years that he is in
Shawshank prison, Andy has to endure everything from a gang
called the "Sisters", who go around raping and beating
their prey to being forced to create and run a money
laundering scheme for the prison Warden. 

If this story were written without the author's name on it,
it would be unidentifiable. There is none of Stephen King's
characteristic style, except for maybe one place in the
story. The one possible place that even hints that it is
from the mind of King is at the end of the story where Red
is off to keep his promise to Andy. Andy asked Red, that
when he gets out of jail to travel to a southern Maine town
called Buxton and look for something he buried in a "hay
field under a large oak field." The suspense of what was
buried, and the description of the field in Buxton, is what
is typical of Stephen King. 

While the story is very uncharacteristic of King, it does
deep down relate to himself. The theme of hope and of how
Andy overcomes the situation is one that is tied closely to
King. It runs a direct parallel with life as a child and
how his life has turned out. Just as Andy was thrown into
predicament and later escapes and lives his life on his own
terms, Stephen, early on was forced to move from town to
town with mother and brother. In the end Stephen escapes
and now lives on his own terms.
 
Stephen King's works are very powerful because he uses his
experiences and observations from his life and places them
into his unique works. What seems to make Stephen King's
stories almost magical is that the settings of his stories
are placed into common every day places. Additionally,
Stephen's writings are true to life in peoples mind's
because he draws upon common fears. Just as King's writing
style and genre had been influenced by movies throughout
his life, he is now influencing the same industry with his
own vision and imagination. King's writings are so widely
appealing that over 42 of his works have been based upon or
turned into Hollywood movies which have included stars like
Jack Nicholson (The Shining), John Travolta (Carrie), and
Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption). 

Works Cited:
 
Beaham , George. The Stephen King Companion. Kansas City:
Universal Press Syndicate Company, 1995. 

Beaham , George. The Stephen King Story: A Literary
Profile. Kansas City: Universal Press Syndicate Company,
1992. 

King, Stephen. "The Body," in Different Seasons. New York:
Viking Penguin Inc., 1982.
 
King, Stephen. "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" in
 
Reino, Joseph. Stephen King: The First Decade, Carrie to
Pet Sematary. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.
 
Underwood, Tom. Conversations on Terror with S