Friends, until this year I had never read a book by Stephen King, nor seen any of the movies based on his work. I love vampires and werewolves and spooky-scary things, but I’ve never been that into horror as such. His memoir/writer’s advice book On Writing is almost universally lauded as one of the best writing books ever, though, so I figured I should give it a try. And I LOVED it. It’s much more of a memoir than a writing book, yet it’s genuinely helpful. I figured if a guy can get me invested in his actual life, he ought to get a shot with his actual books, and I wanted to at least give him a try since he’s kind of a big deal. I polled my Facebook people on what one King book I should read, and eventually expanded to two: The Gunslinger and ‘Salem’s Lot. One fantasy and one horror, just to be fair, because it turns out he’s not just a horror writer.
The Gunslinger started off a bit boring, but got better and better. I knew it was sort of a western-meets-epic-fantasy thing tying King’s work together, so my main concerns were that the first book would be too much of a western or that I wouldn’t get the epic fantasy because I hadn’t read the rest of his stuff. I needn’t have worried, it’s an excellent first book that introduces a world but leaves almost everything open for later development. (Also it definitely helped that I was imagining Idris Elba’s gravitas, even without having seen the movie). And although it was intense, it wasn’t scary, so I was ready to launch into some classic vampire stuff with ‘Salem’s Lot. HAHA it was SO SCARY and it took me several months to read it because I kept stopping, but it was still really good. It reminded me of Dracula, not in the sense of a retelling, but of somehow doing the same things and delivering the same scares in an updated way.
So, I can see now why Stephen King is so popular. He has some kind of magical way of getting you engrossed in the story, whatever the topic. I think it has something to do with his directness. It’s not without pretense, but in a way it’s a deserved pretense, if such a thing exists. Something like The Gunslinger, full of its own import and the mythic significance of every event, is pretentious. But it’s true. I DO get everything that happens as if it’s a myth I already know. It touches something we, at least we fantasy fans, get. It means something to us. The same holds true for his horror fiction. I’m no expert, but I don’t think I need to be to say that his horror works because he knows how to scare us. It may be obvious, but it’s true. At no point did I actually think vampires were comin’ to get me, but I was still physically terrified in all the scary parts.
There’s something direct about his prose, too. He doesn’t hide. As an aspiring author, I know how often we try to obfuscate our own meaning, even to ourselves, because we’re afraid we’re being silly or that people will laugh. I don’t know where King gets his balls, whether it’s bravado or courage or not caring or just knowing that he’s good, but it doesn’t matter, because he is good at what he does.
Based on all that, I’ve decided to continue through the expanded Dark Tower series, which includes some more horror novels that tie in with the main numbered books. Yikes. But I’m also super down for trying more new stuff and doing more First Impressions, so, who else is a must-read? Or better yet, is there anyone out there whose influence compares to Stephen King’s, or who represents a genre to the same extent? Suggestions welcome.