Mark Bemenderfer | Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Stephen King once wrote about human nature and why horror is appealing in his book “Danse Macabre.” He wrote that it satiates a primal part in everyone, a part that cannot be ignored. King fulfills his own primal urge by watching horror movies.
“I like to see the most aggressive of them … as lifting a trapdoor in the civilized forebrain and throwing a basket of raw meat to the hungry alligators swimming around in that subterranean river beneath,” King wrote.
But that doesn’t fully explain why King writes the books he does, books that have made him one of the wealthiest authors in existence. His influences are wide and varied and help to understand his writing.
One of King’s obvious influences is Hollywood. A self-professed lover of horror films, King’s connection to Hollywood has been strong. At the front of his latest book, “Cell,” King gives thanks to Richard Matheson and George Romero.
Several of King’s works have made their way into film, adding to the preexisting connection. Some, such as “Carrie” and “The Shining,” have received several treatments.
The Early Years
In 1967, King sold his first professional short story to the magazine “Startling Mystery Stories.” Titled “The Glass Floor,” it stars a man desperate to enter the room in which his sister died. Eventually he enters it, but to disastrous consequences.
While it was short, and King was reportedly only paid around $35 for the publication, the themes of family, dementia and death paved the way for future works. During the early years of his marriage, King sold many short stories to various magazines long before he published his first book.
In 1973, Doubleday & Co. agreed to publish King’s “Carrie.” This book was instrumental to King’s future career as an author. It was wildly successful, eventually spawning both movies and plays, and the profits allowed King to quit his job as a teacher and write full time.
“Carrie” starred a social outcast in an American high school with psychic abilities. As the book progressed, the tortures she had to endure, committed by her mother and by her schoolmates, worsened and eventually culminated in a disastrous school dance. By taking a standard setting and corrupting it into a nightmarish setting, King set a standard for the majority of his subsequent books.
Bachman is an oddity of King’s. A pseudonym King developed, stories published under Bachman’s name often go further and show more excess in vice. When King chose to write under this name, it gave him the chance to write about things he typically would not, pushing beyond the boundaries of decency that King typically skirted.
The results were mixed, however. Under Bachman’s name, King published six different stories. They were “Rage,” “The Long Walk,” “Roadwork,” “The Running Man,” “Thinner” and “The Regulators.” The last one tied in with a story that King wrote under his own name, “Desperation.”
King retired the pseudonym in 1985, only to resurrect it one last time when he released the aforementioned “Regulators.” King often playfully denies his connection with Bachman however, and has even attacked the Bachman works for their violence and depravity.
“A nasty man,” King once said in an interview. “I’m glad he’s dead.”
The Accident and The Dark Tower
June 19, 1999. It was on this date that King was hit by a van while out on a walk. Sustaining several serious injuries, King was immediately rushed to a hospital. His condition was eventually stabilized, but the memory of the accident remained.
This event left a great impression on him and was incorporated into the concluding chapter of King’s opus, “The Dark Tower.”
King is known for tying all of his works together through subtle hints and nods, but his overall arching storyline “The Dark Tower” manages to tie them all together. Featuring multiple worlds with different levels of existence, it starred Roland of Gilead.
Inspired by Robert Browning’s poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower was a central focus that all of King’s other works tied into in some form. The recurring villains, the Crimson King and Randall Flagg, also appear in many of King’s other novels.
Stephen King has been writing for nearly 40 years. His influence over American readers, and readers worldwide, is undeniable. His latest book, “Cell,” continues in the tradition of its predecessors and helps King feed the horror urge of readers everywhere.