BY KATE FLAHERTY '19
October is a special time of the year, considered by many to be the heart of the fall season. It’s the month when everyone begins to drink pumpkin-flavored beverages, when the leaves begin to turn into papery pieces of gold and garnet and scary movies become the norm. However, it is impossible to experience the spookiest month of the year without acknowledging the author who snatched the horror genre by the reins and turned it over its head, creating some of the most well known horror stories of all time.
There is no question that Stephen King has made himself the king of horror as well as one of the greatest American writers of all time. Although he only turned 69 on Sept. 21, over the last five decades he has written more than 50 novels, nearly 200 short stories and a handful of non-fiction stories. From those works, King has earned nearly 80 awards, including the World Fantasy Award, the National Medal of the Arts and the British Fantasy Society Award.
King had a successful career starting in high school and college, publishing everywhere from the school newspaper to fanzines to magazines. His real success, though, came in 1971, when his wife Tabitha picked one of his manuscripts out of the trash and read it. Although King thought it was a bad idea, Tabitha persuaded him to continue writing it. The story of the tormented, psychic girl turned into “Carrie,” one of King’s best-known works and a best-selling novel. “Carrie” was shortly followed by “‘Salem’s Lot,” “The Shining,” and “The Stand,” beginning a legacy that has lasted for more than 40 years.
It cannot be denied that King has had major success in his time, but what is it about his writing that makes his stories so good? Much of his success comes from his unique writing style and his ability to incorporate strong themes in his tales. King is able to create strong, multidimensional characters that not only have depth, but, on many levels, are relatable to their readers. A classic example is Jack Torrance from “The Shining.” Unlike his film counterpart, the Jack Torrance of King’s novel is a man with a complex history stemming from an abusive past. As American philosopher Noël Carroll once said about King’s writing, “[King’s] horror story is always a contest between the normal and the abnormal.” In a way, Jack Torrance’s case is more terrifying, not because of his “abnormal” desire to kill his wife and son, but because the side effects of this desire stem from his very “normal” and real history of alcoholism, drug abuse and an extreme temper.
One of the most prominent themes in King’s stories is the idea that there is nothing more evil in this world than of the victimization of the weak by the strong. For example, in “Carrie,” Carrie White’s story is as much about her psychic powers as it is about the torment she experienced in high school: her classmates constantly humiliate her just because she was “different.” For many readers, Carrie’s high school experiences are not unfamiliar. Like Jack Torrance’s case, the real horror is not Carrie’s frightening ability to tear down schools and destroy towns, but that her vengeance is driven by the very real, very “normal” experience of being tormented and humiliated by her peers and teachers.
As we use the month of October to appreciate Stephen King’s impact on the literary community, we can also appreciate that talent and King-caliber ability isn’t what makes a successful writer. As Stephen King himself said, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”