The Magic of the King: Stephen King’s Masterful Storytelling

April 10, 2012 § 2 Comments

Over the course of his long and prolific writing career, Stephen King has caused a surprising amount of controversy.  Some call him an egotistical, wind-baggy hack who sells formulaic bosh on name value alone.

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Others revere him as an enlightened demigod among mortals, wielding a legendary sword-like pen capable of slaying readers with terrifying, insightful stories.  Subjective opinions aside, King’s credentials are pretty impressive: five British Fantasy Society Awards, an O. Henry Award, four World Fantasy Awards, and numerous other honors decorate the secretive Mr. King.  But who is the man behind the typewriter?

After extensive browsing of his bibliography, I’ve found him remarkably self-aware, observant and brilliant at his craft.  Not only does he tapdance on your heartstrings with heartbreakingly relatable human experiences translated into confident, delicate prose, but his stories are damned terrifying.  Say what you want about Stephen King — he writes page-turners.

So, I am obviously a huge Stephen King fan, and you may have guessed that fact will color this essay.  In fact, I will try not to be too effusive in my praise as I explain how the work of King has influenced my life and development both as a reader and writer.  In other words, what’s so great about a Stephen King story?

I will never forget reading The Shining for the first time.  I had recently become obsessively interested in mystery and horror stories, and upped the ante from Joan Lowry Nixon in ninth grade.  King was the obvious choice.  I gobbled up Carrie and a few short stories.  Then, unknowingly following the publication chronology, I picked up the tale of the Overlook hotel.  The Shining in its form as Stanley Kubrick masterpiece had terrified me in middle school, and I looked forward to the original story.  It couldn’t possibly be better than the film, though, I figured.  Or scarier.  Books rarely frightened me more than movies.  But I could not have been wrong.

The novel was the scariest thing I had ever read.  The scene which horrified me most was the description of the dead woman in the bathtub of room 217 – her rotting flesh, horribly animate eyes and breasts like “cracked punching bags” if I remember correctly.  I was lying on my bed reading, twilight spilling in through the window and my door mostly shut.  The hallway beyond was empty, but I felt chilled to the bone and surrounded by invisible malevolence.  Any author with that kind of power over a reader’s spine must be a master.  And that was only King’s third book.

King has published over forty-nine books since Carrie in 1973.  In the midst of this huge amount of work, he produced what many believe to be his magnum opus: the Dark Tower series.  As a young man, King was heavily influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien and Western movies.  He resolved to create a universe that combined elements of both – a fantastical quest set in a vast wasteland, a seemingly insurmountable task with larger than life heroes.  It took him over twenty years to complete, and is by far the most complex example of his work.  The Dark Tower books contain the story of Roland, a gunslinger who quests to find the Dark Tower against a backdrop of crumbling reality.  In Mid-World, the very beams of existence are under siege by malevolent forces that wish to destroy the Tower, which contains all things.  Roland and his unlikely companions are the last hope for the universe, basically.

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The series was, at least for me, impossible to put down.  I have read George R. R. Martin and Tolkien and various other dorky fantasy series, but none compare to the dark magical sway of the Tower.  The Dark Tower series did for me what Lord of the Rings did for Stephen King – it captured my imagination, lit the desperate fire to create my own magical world and dictate its epic tale.  Stephen King did not feel ready to create this world at age 18, when he first got the idea to write a fantasy epic.  He wanted to wait until he’d honed his writing skill enough that his world would shine through clearly.  When I read that in his prelude to the 2000s re-release of the series as a box set (you’d better believe I bought that shit), it gave me hope for my own writing future.  I believe I have a world inside me, just as young Stephen King did.  Just as many people do, some who are never able to find the proper channel of releasing it.  In his memoir, On Writing, King compared writing to excavation – finding a grand, perhaps brilliant idea buried deep in your mind, and working carefully and diligently to extract it.  I think I am slowly excavating my eventual story as I hone my writing skill.  And hopefully by the time I have dusted away more of the mind-grime, I will have become a skilled enough writer to do my story justice.

Copyright Katherine Luketich, 2010.  All rights reserved.

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