I must have been about ten years old when I first became aware of Stephen King. One weekend, my family and I drove down to Sydney to visit my father’s adopted brother, Chris. When we arrived at Chris’s apartment, after what had been an exhausting ten-hour journey, we discovered that Chris was out at the time. Luckily, Chris’s immediate neighbor and good friend, a Navy employee named Peter, kindly invited us into his apartment to wait there until Chris got home.
Immediately upon stepping inside Peter’s apartment, my attention was drawn to a large wooden bookcase situated in the living room. The entire upper portion of the bookcase was stacked entirely with Stephen King novels, each one shiny and in perfect condition. Peter, an obsessive fan of the American novelist, explained with some pride that he owned every novel written by King up to that point. Little attention was required to notice that the novels before me belonged to the genres of horror, science-fiction, and fantasy. I was tempted to place my hand on the glowing “King shrine” but my father discouraged me from doing so.
Something about seeing that much loved collection of Stephen King novels made a very deep impression on my ten-year-old mind. I was amazed not only that a writer could produce so many books—so far King has written over 50 novels and nearly 200 short stories—but also possess such tremendous popularity.
During subsequent excursions to second-hand stores, I’d usually spot, on each occasion, at least three or four Stephen King novels; generally his most popular titles, such as Misery, The Shining, It, and Cujo. It seemed that, no matter where I went, so long as the place had books, there was a creepy Stephen King novel in the immediate vicinity. I accepted this as further proof of King’s incredible popularity.
Over the years I’ve watched and enjoyed almost every movie adapted from a Stephen King story, my two favorites being The Shining and The Shawshank Redemption, yet it wasn’t until late last year that I felt the urge to read one of his novels. Of the four King novels I’ve read so far, I’ve only truly enjoyed one: 11/22/63. In it, the protagonist finds a way to travel back in time, using the opportunity to try to put an end to the Kennedy assassination and thus change the course of history for the better. As is characteristic of a King novel, the writing’s sharp and clear and the story well-paced.
King, who’s credited with reviving the genre of horror fiction in the late 20th century, counts H. P. Lovecraft as one of his primary influences. According to King, it was after reading a collection of Lovecraft’s short stories as a child, a pulp paperback he found in the attic among his father’s possessions, that he recognized his calling in life.
It’s worth noting that King’s father abandoned the family when he was only two, forcing his mother to raise him and his older brother alone. The family struggled financially, and it’s fair to say that King had a less than easy upbringing. King worked as a laborer in an industrial laundry, then later as a high school English teacher, before gaining enormous success as a writer with his first published novel, Carrie. His books have reportedly sold more than 350 million copies, making him one of the world’s top earning authors.
For someone who writes such morbid tales, with themes that include murder, rape, domestic violence, possession, vampirism, bullying, and substance abuse, it should come as no surprise to learn that King has battled more than a few personal demons over the years. Throughout the 1980s, his addiction to drugs and alcohol reached epic proportions, such that today he can barely remember having penned some of the novels he produced during that period. (He eventually conquered his addictions and has remained clean ever since.)
In June of 1999, King suffered severe injuries after being struck by a van while out taking a walk near his home. On account of the struggles he experience following the accident, including severe pain and reduced stamina, King almost gave up writing altogether. Today he still writes, but at a much slower pace that he did prior to the accident.
Although I’d hardly consider myself a hardcore Stephen King fan, I remain in awe of the man and his work. As someone who subscribes to the notion that anything which is very popular is probably very bad, for many years I refused to read his books. However, I’m glad I finally did. He is, without a doubt, an incredible storyteller. Love him or hate him, his stories resonate powerfully with large numbers of people. As is true of all great literature, his work has a way of bringing to our attention those dark and unpleasant aspects of human nature, and the world in which we live, that we’re normally too afraid to face up to.