The recent release of the movie IT has been such a stunning success that it has set a new box office record for horror films. While I don’t have the guts to go see it in a cinema—the amped up, terrifying sounds and huge graphic images on screen are more than I want to expose myself to (life is stressful enough!)—one of my sons went, along with a couple of friends, and gave it a big thumbs-up, saying that it was very faithful to the novel.
It seems to me that for years, decades even, the name Stephen King divided the literary world much like Karl Ove Knausgaard’s does now, though for very different reasons. While the Norwegian writer’s work was always taken seriously (if not necessarily appreciated), King’s certainly wasn’t, at least among the literati. But it was loved by millions of readers from day one.
Today, happily, this feels like a whole lot of water under the bridge. The debate about what Stephen King is or isn’t—I think he was born to write—has spun off into a series of parallel discussions among people who respect his work and the millions more who love it, including: those who seek out the horror and/or the fantasy; those who set his short stories and novellas apart from the rest; or those who are drawn to his more intimate, less expansive narratives.
What we tend to underestimate, however, is how much of King’s writing has been adapted for the screen, including those screens we watch when we’re on the go (surely King could have never envisioned Carrie being viewed on a tablet or smart phone).
I’m grateful for the smaller screen option. It’s the only way that I can manage to sit—and squirm—through movies like Christine, Cujo, Thinner, Pet Sematary, Misery or Needful Things. That’s why I feel confident that I’ll eventually watch It (2017) at home, where I can escape to the kitchen for tea when things become unbearable for me (I have vague memories of backing out of the living room repeatedly during the broadcasts of the original made-for-television IT miniseries). This has also shaped my reading of Stephen King’s work. It, the novel, weighs in at over eleven-hundred pages, which makes it the author’s second longest novel (he’s extraordinarily prolific).
The Stand: 1,153 pages
It: 1,138 pages
Under the Dome: 1,072 pages
Insomnia: 787 pages
Desperation: 690 pages
Needful Things: 690 pages
Dreamcatcher: 620 pages
Duma Key: 607 pages
The Tommyknockers: 558 pages
Bag of Bones: 529 pages
I don’t think I can bear to immerse myself in such a cruel, intense, dark and fearful world for that long—especially because King has never shied away from tackling the suffering of children—and that’s what keeps me from many of King’s most successful works.
But that hasn’t left me high and dry. I’m a devoted Stephen King fan, who’s found hours of joy discovering Hearts in Atlantis, almost all of the Dark Tower series; On Writing—one of the very best books on the subject and a window through which to learn more about Stephen King, the mind and the man—and finally, Joyland, which has the very sweet honour of being the first book I wrote about for the Online Book Club.
On September 21st, while looking for a quote for my Facebook page to honour the arrival of autumn, I came across this one:
“But when fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.”
It was just right, so I posted it.
It was from King’s novel Salem’s Lot.
And September 21st just happened to be the author’s birthday.
Then, that same morning, as if this wasn’t already strange enough, in the Guardian email update I receive every day, there was this wonderful article titled “The It factor: Exploring Stephen King’s Maine”, in which the writer, James Mullinger, proposes a tour of: […] the brooding locations in and around his home town that inspired ‘the king of fright’ ” , that includes maps and photos of Bangor (which is of course the inspiration for the town of Derry, in the novel IT), and all kinds of references to the places that are so integral to the King universe.
Such and eerie coincidence would probably make King chuckle.