Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘It

Seven children and It

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Note: With the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s It out in theaters today, it seems like a good time to revisit my thoughts on one of my favorite novels. The material in this post originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on November 22, 2011 and October 2, 2013.

We read fiction for a lot of reasons, but its most fundamental attraction must be the chance to experience lives other than our own. At their best, novels can create men and women who seem as real as ourselves or our own friends, as well as places that feel as familiar as the landscape of the towns where we grew up. A lot of books have done this for me, but the one that haunts me the most is Stephen King’s It, which might seem like an unlikely candidate for America’s greatest popular novel. Yes, it’s about an evil clown who stalks the children of a small city in Maine, but that description doesn’t do justice to the richness of this book, into which King, one of our shrewdest storytellers, distills everything he knows about youth, storytelling, and the melancholy process by which we leave our childhood selves behind. The result is a monster of a novel that seems to have bewildered even its own creator. King has said that It was an attempt to put everything into one story, a sort of “final exam on horror,” and it shows: few novels of any genre have invented so much. A book so large and sprawling inevitably has its flaws, but in its scope, ambition, and emotional power, It represents the best of what genre fiction can do, and in the twenty-five years since I first encountered it, it continues to grip my imagination. For me, it remains the popular novel, the primal reading experience I’m always trying to recreate, and literally dream of discovering again.

And I was lucky to read it at just the right age—or rather, the wrong age, which is really the same thing. I’ve pointed out before that the best time to discover Stephen King is when you’re just a little too young for it to be appropriate. It is the ultimate example, because in an era when the “young adult” category has been diluted by works really written for grownups, this is legitimately the greatest young adult novel of all time, at least in the sense that reading it can turn children into adults. As the novel begins, its main characters, the Losers, are in the fifth grade, and I was only a year or so older when I first read it. (Even now, I can’t look at the cover without remembering the library in my hometown where I borrowed it for the first time, like Ben Hanscom.) With its sex, gore, and rock music, It was an education in itself, and also the most realistic depiction of my inner life I’d ever seen. And it’s only now, after I’ve gone through precisely the process of forgetting that King spends much of the novel warning us about, that I can appreciate the intensity and accuracy of his evocation of youth. This is really a book about childhood, and only incidentally about horror. King is the most intensely personal of bestselling novelists, and at his finest, he uses horror to get at issues revolving around death, loss, and survival that stand out more clearly when they’re cast into a fantastic form. This doesn’t deny his roots in the great pulp tradition that values scares for their own sake, but the qualities that first drew me to his work aren’t necessarily the ones that have kept me there.

As a result, It no longer scares me much, any more than Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining does on my twentieth viewing. Reading it again a few years ago, I was surprised to discover that while so much of it remained fresh—its humor, its sense of place, its immersion in the popular culture of two different eras, both of them now period pieces—the horror aspects felt a little tired. It might seem strange to say this about the most epic of horror novels, but the more I revisit It, which I’ve probably read in pieces at least a dozen times, the more its supernatural element seems like a fictional convenience, a clothesline on which to hang a series of episodes about memory and coming of age. King, in his prime, treated horror less as a subject than as a medium, and in this book’s central conceit, of a monster that takes a multitude of shapes and returns once a generation, he found a potent image for the ways in which we’re haunted by our youth but unable to fully recall it. A novel isn’t always about what we initially suspect it is, and when I think back to It now, the last thing that comes to mind is the killer clown in the sewers or the convoluted cosmology that assumes center stage in the book’s untidy conclusion. What I love, instead, are King’s descriptions of a clubhouse in the woods, of a first crush, and of how it feels to live in an inner world still peopled by creatures from comics, movies, and horror novels. And King’s inimitable voice, often copied but never equalled, has drawn me back again and again.

The result is one of the few works of fiction that make me feel as if I’d be objectively poorer if I’d never read it. It’s a densely structured novel that moves back and forth between multiple time periods, with excursions into remote corners of the history of Derry, Maine, but it’s also one of the great natural reads of all time: I can open it to any page and get sucked in all over again. King is an intuitively strong teller of tales and also a fine craftsman, and the novel is crammed with sequences—my favorite is Ben Hanscom’s encounter with the clown by the frozen river—that read like master classes in the use of atmosphere, detail, and suspense. There’s also a relaxed, genial curiosity that permeates even the most frightening scenes: King is as intrigued by this town as we are, and he spends hundreds of pages exploring it, until we feel that we could find our way around it without a map. Derry is a haunted place, and King works mightily to remind us of this, but he also loves it. That tension between nostalgia and terror is never resolved, and It is like a dream that oscillates unbearably between a nightmare and a fantasy where you’re still the child you always meant to be. If its succession of boogeymen no longer has the power to frighten, it’s only because I’ve reached the age of its protagonists as adults, and I’ve started the process of forgetting my own childhood that King warned me would happen one day, as a child’s purity of terror gives way to more ordinary anxieties. The monster in It sleeps for a quarter of a century before it returns, which is perhaps a sign that everyone who read this book when it came out should revisit it now. Because the children who first read It are grownups at last. And they might be surprised by how much this novel still has to say.

Written by nevalalee

September 8, 2017 at 9:01 am

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My ten great books #9: It

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Stephen King's It

We read fiction for a lot of reasons, but its most fundamental attraction has to be the chance to experience lives other than our own. At their best, novels can create men and women who seem as real as ourselves or our own friends, and places that feel as familiar as the landscape of the towns where we grew up. A lot of books have done this for me, but the one that still haunts my dreams the most is Stephen King’s It, perhaps because it seems like such an unlikely candidate for one of America’s greatest popular novels. Yes, it’s about an evil clown who stalks the children of a small town in Maine, but that description doesn’t do justice to the richness of this book, in which King, one of our shrewdest storytellers, distills everything he knows about youth, imagination, and the melancholy process by which we all leave our childhood selves behind. King has always been the most intensely personal of bestselling novelists, and at his finest, he uses horror to get at issues revolving around death, loss, and survival that stand out more clearly when they’re cast into a fantastic form. This doesn’t deny King’s roots in the great pulp tradition that values scares for their own sake, but like many of the authors on my list, the qualities that drew me to his work on my first encounter aren’t necessarily the ones that have kept me there. As a horror novel, It no longer scares me much, any more than The Shining does on my twentieth viewing, but its characters and tone—delivered in King’s inimitable voice, often copied but never equalled—have drawn me back again and again.

The result is one of the few works of fiction that make me feel as if I’d be objectively poorer if I’d never read it, especially now that I’ve reached the age of its adult protagonists, and I’ve begun the process of forgetting my own childhood that King warned me would happen one day. I first read It when I was eleven or twelve, or just a little too young, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is the perfect time to discover King. Even now, I can’t look at the cover without remembering the library in my hometown where I borrowed it for the first time, and reading it over again, I’m even more impressed. It is a densely structured novel that moves back and forth between multiple time periods, with room for excursions into remote corners of the history of Derry, Maine, but it’s also one of the great natural reads of all time: I can open it to any page and get sucked in all over again. King is an intuitively strong teller of tales and also a fine craftsman, and the novel is crammed with sequences—my favorite is Ben Hanscom’s encounter with the clown by the frozen river—that read like master classes in the use of atmosphere, detail, and suspense. There’s also a relaxed, genial curiosity that permeates even the most frightening scenes: King is as intrigued by this town as we are, and he spends many pages exploring its neighborhoods, landmarks, and secrets, until we feel that we could find our own way around it without a map. Derry is a haunted place, and King works mightily to remind us of this, but he also loves it. That tension between nostalgia and terror is never resolved, and It is like a dream that oscillates unbearably between a nightmare and a place where you’re still the child you always meant to be.

Written by nevalalee

May 18, 2017 at 9:00 am

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“But the details remained unclear…”

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"But the details remained unclear..."

Note: This post is the seventeenth installment in my author’s commentary for Eternal Empire, covering Chapter 18. You can read the previous installments here.

Yesterday, I happened to pick up my paperback copy of Salem’s Lot, a novel I haven’t read in its entirety in close to twenty years. Leafing through the prologue, I was struck, first of all, by how great a natural stylist Stephen King was from the very beginning: the opening pages lure you into the story as gracefully and unobtrusively as any I know. But I was particularly taken by one early sentence: “It was September 5, 1975, and summer was enjoying her final grand fling.” What’s interesting about this statement, obviously, is its specificity. Salem’s Lot was published in October of 1975, and according to the note appended to its last page, it took close to three years to write. As best as I can imagine, then, the date we see here was a late addition, inserted once King had a sense of the timing of the book’s initial appearance. It’s clearly meant to suggest that the main action is taking place exactly when readers would have been encountering it for the first time, and if the book had happened to come out a few years earlier or later, I don’t doubt that it would have been amended accordingly. The date itself doesn’t matter; it’s here to create the impression that the story was happening just as the book went on sale.

Of course, Salem’s Lot hasn’t been out of bookstores for the four decades since, so that sentence, which stamped the story with immediacy on its first printing, ultimately turns it into a period piece. Another writer might have reasonably avoided giving the year at all, hoping to keep it in the reader’s emotional present tense—which, in theory, is exactly when a horror story should be most powerful. Really, though, it comes off as a surprisingly canny choice. Time turns all novels into period pieces anyway, and by stating the year explicitly in the text, Salem’s Lot feels somehow less dated: it isn’t trying to pretend that it’s taking place at any other time. Originally, the date served to set the story emphatically in the present, presumably to provide a contrast to a core narrative as old as Dracula; in some ways, though, setting it in the recent past is even more effective, since it forces us to revisit a period that we thought had been safely defined in our memories. And it’s a trick that King has repeated several times since: much of It expressly takes place on May 31, 1985. (If the Cary Fukunaga movie adaptation goes ahead as scheduled, and they update it for the present day, the flashbacks to the protagonists’ childhoods would presumably take place at the time when the novel first appeared, which is a fascinating development in itself.)

"Maddy had paid little attention to the news..."

My own novels have taken a similar tack, and although the reasons were somewhat different, I’d like to think that the overall effect is the same. Each book in the series is set in a clearly defined time period: The Icon Thief, which was published in March 2012, takes place between June 19 and July 6, 2008, aside from the prologue and epilogue. As I’ve said before, this was a makeshift solution to a problem that presented itself as the novel was being written. I’d conceived the plot before the financial crisis, and when the bottom fell out, I was concerned that the impact on the economy would make much of the story—which revolves around a bullish environment for art investing—obsolete or worse. The answer, I decided, was to set the whole thing in the recent past, not to a distracting degree, but enough so that an attentive reader would pick up on the timeframe. In the end, I needn’t have worried: by the time the novel came out, the art market had recovered. But I still liked the idea of tailoring events to the calendar. It provided a useful structure for plotting out the action; it allowed for a measure of historical irony; and, as King knew, it adds a touch of verisimilitude, a sense that this isn’t a story that could occur at any time, but only here. And even if the majority of readers didn’t notice, I’d prefer to believe that it contributed something to the finished result.

I followed that basic template for the next two novels, and while City of Exiles only incidentally nods to its timeframe, mostly in the scene set at a particular London Chess Classic, it became crucial to Eternal Empire. The entire novel is timed to lead up to the protests that erupted against the Putin regime in late 2011, and while these turned out to be something of a damp squib in historical terms, they functioned nicely as an internal climax within the plot. More significantly, much of the action unfolds against the backdrop of the riots that consumed London that summer. Our first real hint of what might be coming—aside from the section header that reads “July 27-August 8, 2011,” which most readers could be forgiven for overlooking—appears in Chapter 18, when Maddy skims a story about the death of Mark Duggan. The next few chapters closely track the events of that week, sometimes hour by hour. And while I tried to be as accurate here as possible, perhaps with an eye to a hypothetical reader who would analyze the chronology as carefully as the fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories, I’m well aware that everything I did was mostly for my own sake. Shaping the plot around actual events, like any constraint, was a rich source of ideas, and even if the effect is a subtle one, it grounds the story in ways that wouldn’t have been there if I’d left the dates unspecified. As King understood, sometimes the best way to keep a story in the moment is to set it the day before yesterday…

Written by nevalalee

April 30, 2015 at 9:05 am

“On top of everything else, she was lost…”

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"On top of everything else, she was lost..."

Note: This post is the fourteenth installment in my author’s commentary for City of Exiles, covering Chapter 13. You can read the earlier installments here.)

If there’s one thing that dissatisfies me about my own work, it’s that its tonal range is so narrow. When you think of major literary writers like Bellow, Roth, or Updike, one element that stands out is the variety of tones and moods they’re able to evoke, moving over the length of a few pages from genuine pathos to social satire to broad comedy. The champion here, as in so much else, has to be Thomas Pynchon: Gravity’s Rainbow moves from the crudest of slapstick, with digressions into something startlingly close to pornography, into heights of angelic, impassioned prose, often in the course of the same paragraph. On a more mainstream level, the ability to execute these tonal shifts so expertly is one reason why the fiction of, say, Stephen King is so appealing. King’s primary mission is to scare us, but he’s also capable of being extremely funny, and much more—It may be the richest popular novel I know, simply because it proceeds so mysteriously from nostalgia to humor to depths of one’s childhood nightmares. And it’s no accident that these are all long books with an expansive canvas: if you’re going to talk about myriad aspects of human existence, you can’t settle for just one register. Life is too complicated to be easily categorized.

And certain genres are more accommodating to these shifts in tone than others. Fantasy, for instance, seems to encompass a wider emotional range than other types of popular fiction, perhaps because it takes many of its cues from epic or legendary narratives that can’t be conveniently pigeonholed. Suspense, by contrast, tends to be highly limited—or, to put it more generously, extremely focused—when it comes to mood. There’s a wider range of tones within the overall genre itself, from thinly disguised farce to the darkest of noir, but individual suspense writers tend to find and occupy a single register that works for them. I was lucky enough when I started writing thrillers to have a lot of great models to follow, beginning and ending with the work of Frederick Forsyth, and for the most part, I’ve remained within those constraints. This is partially because I’ve seen the consequences of straying out of your wheelhouse: Forsyth may be the most capable writer the genre has ever produced, but his excursions into comedy or romance are tedious at best, painful at worst. And I’ve generally been content to operate within a mode that sticks to the business at hand.

"Good afternoon..."

Still, it’s a limitation, and one of which I’m acutely conscious. There’s almost no humor in my books, for instance. I’m far from humorless in person, and I’d like to think that there’s wit on display in the way the situations in these novels combine, interweave, and build to surprising climaxes. There aren’t many real jokes, though, and whenever I stumble across a situation or moment that seems organically funny, I protect it to the death. (I’m much more likely to cut episodes that serve only to build suspense, because I know there’s plenty more where that came from.) Being funny in fiction is a skill set that demands a lifetime of work in its own right—it’s harder, in a lot of ways, than being serious or tragic—and I’ve spent most of my time developing other elements. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that the female characters in my fiction, for whatever reason, seem capable of a greater range of tone and emotion than the men. Ilya Severin is a pretty serious guy, and nudging him out of that zone one way or the other would quickly make an already tenuous character close to unmanageable. Maddy and Wolfe seem able to do more, perhaps because they’re entering the story from a more oblique angle.

That’s why I’m fond of a sequence like Chapter 10 of City of Exiles, which happens to encompass a slightly wider tonal range than most of the other things I’ve written. It starts with Wolfe on the phone with her mother, driving out to investigate a potential lead, and it zips through a few faintly absurd character beats—Wolfe gets lost on the way to her destination, pulls over, and blurts out to her mother for the first time that she’s questioning her faith—on its way to a moment of real reflection, as Wolfe admits to herself that her life hasn’t gone the way she wanted. A second later, we’re back to basics, with Wolfe snooping around an industrial site, a la Nancy Drew, to uncover an important lead. It also contains one of the few moments of organic comedy in any of these novels, as Wolfe eludes suspicion by posing as a Mormon missionary. As a chapter devoted to advancing the plot, it’s a modest one, but it’s still one of the only times that the clockwork machinery of the story breaks down to admit something looser and more spontaneous. Part of me wishes that there were more chapters like this. A page later, though, it all snaps back to attention, and maybe that’s the way it should be. We have a lot of ground to cover before we’re done…

Written by nevalalee

January 17, 2014 at 10:00 am

My ten great books #8: It

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Stephen King's It

(Note: For the rest of the month, I’m counting down the ten works of fiction that have had the greatest influence on my life as an author and reader, in order of their first publication. For earlier entries in the series, please see here.) 

We read fiction for a lot of reasons, but its most fundamental attraction has to be the chance to experience lives other than our own. At their best, novels can create men and women who seem as real as ourselves, or our own friends, and places that feel as familiar as the landscape of the towns where we grew up. A lot of books have done this for me, but the one that haunts my dreams the most is Stephen King’s It, perhaps because it seems like such an unlikely candidate for one of America’s greatest popular novels. Yes, it’s about an evil clown who stalks the children of a small town in Maine, but that description doesn’t do justice to the richness of this book, in which King, one of our shrewdest storytellers, distills everything he knows about youth, imagination, and the strange process by which we all leave our childhood selves behind. King has always been the most intensely personal of bestselling novelists, and at his best, he uses horror to get at issues revolving around death, loss, and survival that stand out all the more clearly when they’re cast into a fantastic form. This doesn’t deny King’s roots in the great pulp tradition that values scares for their own sake, but like many of the authors on my list, the qualities that drew us to his work on our first encounter aren’t always the ones that keep us there. As a horror novel, It no longer scares me much, any more than The Shining does on my fifteenth viewing, but its characters and tone—delivered in King’s inimitable voice, often copied but never equalled—have drawn me back again and again.

The result is one of the few works of fiction that make me feel as if I’d be objectively poorer if I’d never discovered it, especially now, when I’ve begun the process of forgetting my own childhood that King warned me would happen one day. I first read It when I was eleven or twelve, or just a little too young, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is the perfect time to discover King. I can’t look at the cover without remembering the library in my hometown where I borrowed it for the first time, and reading it over again now, I’m even more impressed. It is a highly structured novel that moves back and forth between multiple time periods, with room for excursions into remote corners of the history of Derry, Maine, but it’s also one of the great natural reads of all time: I can open it to any page and get sucked in all over again. King is an intuitively strong teller of tales and also a fine craftsman, and the novel is crammed with sequences—my favorite is Ben Hanscom’s encounter with the clown by the frozen river—that read like master classes in the use of atmosphere, detail, and suspense. There’s also a relaxed, genial curiosity that permeates even the most frightening scenes: King is as intrigued by this town as we are, and he spends many pages exploring its neighborhoods, landmarks, and secrets, until we feel that we could find our own way around it without a map. Derry is a haunted place, and King works mightily to remind us of this, but he also loves it. That tension between nostalgia and fear is never fully resolved, and It is like a dream that oscillates unbearably between a nightmare and a place where you’re still the child you always meant to be.

Written by nevalalee

October 2, 2013 at 9:00 am

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Twenty-five years later: Stephen King’s It

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For all the ongoing debate over Stephen King’s stature as a serious novelist, as far as I’m concerned, the issue was settled exactly twenty-five years ago this September, with the publication of what continues to be my favorite popular novel ever published in America. That’s a grandiose statement, to be sure, but it’s also exactly the kind of sentiment likely to be inspired by It, a thousand-page monster of a novel that seems to have bewildered even its own creator. King has repeatedly said, most recently in an interview with Time, that It was an attempt to put everything he cared about into one novel, a sort of “final exam on horror,” and it shows: few novels of any genre have invented so much. A book so large and sprawling inevitably has its flaws, some of which I’ll mention below. But in its scope, ambition, and emotional power, It represents the best of what genre fiction can do, and almost twenty years since I first encountered it, it continues to grip my imagination. For me, it remains the popular novel, the primal reading experience I’m always trying to recreate, and literally dream of discovering again.

And I was lucky to read it at just the right age—or rather, the wrong age, which is really the same thing. A while back, I pointed out that the best time to discover Stephen King is when you’re just a little too young for it to be appropriate. In some ways, It is the ultimate example, because in an era when the “young adult” category has been diluted by works really written for slumming grownups, this is legitimately the greatest young adult novel of all time, at least in the sense that reading it can turn children into adults. As the novel begins, its main characters, the Losers, are in the fifth grade, and I was only a year or so older when I first read it, which turned out to be exactly the right moment. With its sex, gore, and violence, It was an education, and also the most realistic depiction of my own inner life I’d ever seen. And it’s only now, after I’ve gone through precisely the process of forgetting that King spends much of the novel warning us about, that I can truly appreciate the intensity and accuracy of his evocation of childhood.

Because this is a book about childhood and imagination, and only incidentally about horror. Reading it again recently, I was surprised to discover that while much of the novel remained fresh—its humor, its sense of place, its immersion in the pop culture of two different eras, both of them now period pieces—the horror aspects felt a little tired. It might seem strange to say this about the most epic of horror novels, but the more I reread It, which I’ve probably read in pieces at least ten or fifteen times, the more the horror comes to seem like a fictional convenience, a clothesline on which to hang a series of episodes about memory and coming of age. King, in his prime, treated horror less as a subject than as a medium, and in this book’s central conceit—a monster that takes a multitude of shapes and returns once a generation—he found a potent image for the ways in which we are haunted by our youth but unable to recall it in its full beauty and mystery, something I was too young to recognize at the time.

The lesson of It, then, is that a novel isn’t always about what we initially think it is. When I remember It, the last thing that comes to mind is that killer clown in the sewers—unless I happen across this picture late at night—or the convoluted cosmology that takes center stage in the novel’s untidy conclusion. What I recall, instead, are King’s descriptions of a clubhouse in the woods, of a first crush, and of how it feels to live in an inner world still peopled by creatures from comics, movies, and horror novels. If the book’s succession of boogeymen no longer has the power to frighten, it’s only because I’ve entered that stage in my life that King darkly told me would come, when a child’s purity of terror has given way to more ordinary anxieties. The monster in It sleeps for a quarter of a century, then returns, which is perhaps a sign that everyone who read this book when it came out—and it was the bestselling novel of 1986—should revisit it again now. Because the children who first read It are grownups at last. And they might be surprised by how much this novel still has to say.

Written by nevalalee

November 22, 2011 at 10:00 am

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The uncanny influence of Stephen King

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Over the past year, I’ve sold two novelettes to Analog that have strong overtones of horror, a genre in which I’d previously displayed limited interest as a writer. “Kawataro” is my homage to Japanese horror movies, while the upcoming “The Boneless One” is sort of a haunted house story and murder mystery set aboard a research yacht in the Atlantic Ocean. I didn’t set out to write stories this creepy, but seem to have arrived at them by accident. The more I think about it, though, the more I suspect that they reflect the influence of a writer whose impact on my work is invisible but pervasive. He’s a novelist of massive fluency and technical proficiency, enormously inventive and imaginative, with a real gift for character and setting. He seems capable of doing just about anything within the conventions of the popular novel—although he rarely knows how to end a story. And through sheer cultural dominance alone, he’s had a subterranean influence on a whole generation of writers. He’s Stephen King.

King’s lasting mark on writers my age reflects one of the fundamental truths of fiction: if you want to change your readers’ lives forever, get them while they’re young. I don’t remember the first King novel I read, but it was probably The Talisman, picked up when I was a fifth grader as a tattered paperback at the much mourned Roskie & Wallace (later known as Gray Wolf Books) in San Leandro, California. Over the next two years, I worked my way through most of King’s oeuvre, the high points of which were, and remain, It, The Shining, Pet Sematary, and The Stand. Was I too young to be reading King? Sure. But that’s the best time to be reading his novels—when you’re just a little too young for the violence and sex and ideas they contain, so they seem to promise all of the primal power that fiction affords. The comments on this AV Club article imply that my experience was shared by millions of young men (and women) who came of age in the last thirty years. As a result, I think that King will influence, and has influenced, the writing of this generation in ways that will become increasingly clear as time goes on.

Stephen King

King, although far from a faultless writer, is certainly the most powerful popular novelist alive. His medium is horror, but very rarely has this seemed like a commercial calculation. Rather, it feels like an inner compulsion, a sense that horror and the supernatural provide him with the best way of exploring the themes to which he repeatedly returns—childhood, family, the inevitability and unfairness of death, the power of imagination, the memory of place. That willingness to follow character and theme wherever they lead, all the way into the darkness, makes King utterly unlike most other mainstream novelists. Reading It again two years ago, I was simultaneously impressed by how convincing and rich these thematic elements remained, and how dated the horror had become. It no longer has the power to scare me—though the thought of Tim Curry in clown makeup might—but it still has the power to move me. It might be my favorite popular novel in any genre.

Not all of King’s books have aged as well. The Talisman, on rereading, remains hugely inventive and textured, but structurally all over the map; the uncut version of The Stand is one of the most ambitious of all popular novels, but its mythic confrontation of good versus evil hasn’t dated well, and it’s also clear that King had no idea how to end it (a shortcoming that affects nearly all of his books). Pet Sematary, though, is almost flawlessly imagined and controlled, up to its grand guignol conclusion, which strikes me now as a failure of nerve, while still undeniably effective. And King’s best short stories are particularly fine—they may end up being his most lasting work. But his real legacy is impossible to measure. For thirty years and counting, through sheer skill, scale, and luck, he wound up shaping the inner lives of almost every young person who saw a future for himself, or herself, in imaginative literature. No other living author can claim nearly as much.

Written by nevalalee

May 20, 2011 at 10:17 am

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