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||Stephen King (b. 1947)|
American novelist and short-story writer, whose enormously popular books revived the interest in horror fiction from the 1970s. King's place in the modern horror fiction can be compared to that of J.R.R. Tolkien's who created the modern genre of fantasy. Like Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens or Balzac in his La Comédie humaine, King has expressed the fundamental concerns of his era, and used the horror genre as his own branch of artistic expression. King has underlined, that even in the world of cynicism, despair, and cruelties, it remains possible for individuals to find love and discover unexpected resources in themselves. His characters often conquer their own problems and malevolent powers that would suppress or destroy them.
"I wish I could get away from horror for a while, and I do – or I think I do, and then suddenly I discover that I'm like the guy in the poem by Auden who runs and runs and finally ends up in a cheap, one-night hotel. He goes down a hallway and opens a door, and there he meets himself sitting under a naked light bulb, writing." (Stephen King in Faces of Fear by Douglas E. Winter, 1990)
Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine. His father, a merchant seaman, deserted the family in 1950. The young Stephen and his brother David were raised in Durham, Maine, by their mother who worked in odd jobs to support her children. At the age of six, he had his eardrum punctured several times – a painful experience which he never forgot. King attended a grammar school in Durham and Lisbon Falls High school, where he started to write short stories and played in an amateur rock band. In 1960 he submitted his first story for publication – it was rejected. He edited the school newspaper, The Drum, and also wrote for the local newspaper, Lisbon Weekly Enterprise. His first story, entitled 'In a Half-World of Terror', came out in a horror fanzine.
In 1970 King graduated from the University of Maine. Next year he married Tabitha Spruce, who has also gained fame as a writer. "My wife is the person in my life who's most likely to say I'm working too hard, it's time to slow down, stay away from that damn PowerBook for a little while, Steve, give it a rest." (in On Writing, 2000) Most of his career King has lived in Bangor, Maine. Many of his books are set in the imaginary town of Castle Rock, Maine, which is totally destroyed by greed in Needful Things (1993). Since the late 2000s, King has spend with his wife winters in Florida, near Sarasota.
From 1971 to 1974 King was an instructor at the Hampden
Academy, earning $6,400 a year. His first novel, Carrie (1974),
was a tale of a girl with telekinetic powers. King had thrown the first
pages of the story in a garbage pail, but his wife rescued them and
urged him to finish the work. Carrie had first only a moderate
success and sold 13 000 copies in hardcover. However, Signet paid
$400,000 for its paperback rights. Carrie's film version was
launched in 1976 and after the breakthrough novel Salem's Lot
(1976), King established quickly his reputation as a major horror
In the late summer of 1974 King moved with his family to Colorado for an extended holiday. He visited the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, and set there his next novel, The Shining (1975). Though Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of the book to the screen was praised by reviewers, it did not satisfy the author, and he King himself turned his novel into a television miniseries in 1997.
In between The Shining and The Stand, King produced the first 75 pages for a new novel, but abandoned the manuscript. He wrote a second, unpublished version called The Cannibals in 1985 and started again in 2007. The finished work, Under the Dome (2009), told of the residents of a small town who are trapped beneath a giant dome. A sort of psychological laboratory, isolated from the rest of the world, the town becomes the scene of a struggle between the social bond and the unbound drives. Like in many of his other works, the story looks into the materialization of our own inner demons.
The Dead Zone (1979) and 11.22.63 (2011) tackled the subject of the possibility of altering the course of history. Highly popular and internationally acclaimed author, King's own work has definitely changed the genre of horror fiction. His first paperbacks King wrote under the name of Richard Bachman: he wanted to to create an alter-ego so that he could experiment with new styles and publish more than one book a year. The Talisman (1984) and its sequel, The Black House (2001), were written with Peter Staub. Christine (1983) was censored and banned in many schools for containing explicit sexual thought of teenage boys. Parents of students have also attacked Carrie, Firestarter, The Shining, and The Stand, complaining that they should be removed from the school library.
King has also published non-fiction. In his collection of essays, Danse Macabre (1981), King described the writing process as a kind of "dance" in which the author searches out the private fears of each reader. In the textbook of macabre he goes through the horror genre, from film monsters to books, focusing mostly on the post-war era. "It's not a dance of death at all, not really. There is a third lever here, as well. It is, at bottom, a dance of dreams. It's a way of awakening the child inside, who never dies but only sleeps ever more deeply. If the horror story is rehearsal for death, then its strict moralities make it also a reaffirmation of life and good will and simple imagination – just one more pipeline to the infinite." (in Dance Macabre)
After writing The Pet Sematary King considered he don't need to publish "the most wretched, awful thing" he made, Bag of Bones (1998). The story dealt with the grief process in an uncompromising way. King added to the theme of loss of a family member the classical haunted house idea and familiar elements from his previous works: a small town where people know more than they tell, the collective guilty, and a hero who can't avoid confrontation with the evil powers. Old crimes, sins and secrets, hidden deep, are gradually revealed in an analysis of the conscious and unconscious like on a Freud's sofa. Playing with fire, King plunges into the mind of Mike Noonan, an author who suffers from the writer's block. Noonan's wife has died unexpectedly and he retreats to Sara Laughs, their happy home during summers. There he meets a young mother, Mattie, and her daughter, whom he helps in an custody struggle. Mattie is one of the liveliest characters in King's works. Her sudden death, a logical twist of the plot, comes like electric shock. In the last pages of the novel Noonan/King returns to it and states correctly that 'to think I might have written such a hellishly convenient death in a book, ever, sickens me.'
From the beginning of his career, King has examined the forces of unconsciousness that are hidden behind creative processes. In Misery a monstrous muse forces a writer into a slavery in front of typewriter. He is addicted to his work, but at the same time he is haunted by the demands of his fans. Although King is respected as a major force in popular fiction, his books blend the line between high art and pulp culture. Jack Torrance, a writer and former alcoholic, attacks his own family in The Shining, and in The Dark Half (1998) the protagonist must fight against the demon of his own imagination. This self-conscious way to approach the art of fiction is also seen in King's controlled use of images that are meant to scare the reader. In Hearts in Atlantis (1999) typical horror elements are reduced as a metaphor of lost innocence. King pointedly refers to William Golding's modern classic, Lord of the Flies.
King is not one those writers who claim that they don't have time to read, but Bag of Bones offered a delightful analysis of Herman Melville's story Bartleby, and comments about books and authors. Among them is Thomas Hardy, who abandoned the novel form at the peak of his career and changed into poetry. Hardy supposedly said, that the most brilliantly drawn character in a novel is but a bag of bones.
A number of King's stories have been adapted into screen, including Carrie (1976) by Brian De Palma, The Shining (1980) by Stanley Kubrick, Christine (1983) by John Carpenter, The Dead Zone (1983) by David Cronenberg, Stand by Me (1986) by Rob Reiner, Misery (1990) by Rob Reiner, The Dark Half (1993) by George A. Romero, Dolores Claiborne (1995) by Taylor Hackford, The Green Mile (1999) by Frank Darabont, and Dreamcatcher (2003) by Lawrence Kasdan. King's novels are richly textured with multitudinous references to films, television, rock music, literature, popular culture, and to the universe and characters of his own books. Several of early his novels explored the agonies of childhood, parental neglect and abuse (Carrie; Firestarter, 1980; Children of the Corn, 1984). In the 1980s his perspective shifted into the various pains of adulthood, the loneliness of older people (It, 1986; Insomnia, 1994; Hearts in Atlantis, 1999). He has also provided fully-realized women characters in such novels as Gerald's Game (1992), Dolores Claiborne (1993), and Rose Madder (1995).
King's Dark Tower series, which started in 1982 with The Gunslinger, has combined Tolkien's sense of wonder with a horror and Sergio-Leone influenced Western. The story, set in a place called Mid-World, was partly based on Robert Browning's narrative poem, 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came'. This world, which might be the future of a world much like out own, has many intertextual relationships with King's other books and maps the boundaries of his imagination or universe. Occasionally characters cross over from one genre to another, from fantasy to realism. The cental characters, Roland, a gunslinger, and his friends, are helped by the Old Fella, Father Callahan from Salem's Lot in their chase of the Man in Black.
King confesses in On Writing that he had problems with alcohol as early as in 1975, when he wrote The Shining, and he also developed in the 1980s a drung addiction. However, it did not interfere with either the quality of quantity of his output; he still poured out thousands of words nearly every day. In June 1999 King was struck by a van and seriously injured. Soon after the accident, in July, King began publishing a serial novel, entitled The Plant, at his website, stephenking.com. In the story a supernatural vine starts to grow in a paperback publishing house. It brings success and riches and all it wants in return is a little drop of blood, a little flesh. King also announced that he will not continue with the story if payments for downloading the work fall off. "What made The Plant such a hilarious Internet natural (at least to my admittedly twisted mind) was that publishers and media people seem to see exactly this sort of monster whenever they contemplate the Net in general and e-lit in particular: a troublesome strangler fig that just might have a bit o' the old profit in it. If, that is, it's handled with gloves." (King in Time, January 8, 2001)
While convalescing from the accident, King took a look at his struggling early career in On Writing (2000). Most of all, the book gives down-to-earth advises for aspiring writers. "Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex and work. Especially work. People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do." In February 2002 King revealed to the Los Angeles Times that he has decided to stop publishing at year's end after finishing the last three novels in his "Dark Tower" series, and some other works. In 2003 King received the National Book Award. Its previous recipients include John Updike, Arthur Miller, Philip Roth and Toni Morrison. From the mid 2000s onwards, King's stories seems to have taken a new turn, in which the horror is not only a genre manifestation but the feelings of angst and fear are a definition of the whole human existence. Duma Key (2008), his first novel set in Florida, follows Lisey's Story (2006), about a writer's widow. In 2011 King joined a liberal protest rally against Florida's Republican governor. Though King himself in an unapologetic gun-owner, he had criticized gun-rights advocates, and said in an essay entitled 'Guns' (Kindle Single, January 25, 2013), that "Plenty of gun advocates cling to their semi-automatics the way Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson clung to the shit that was killing them."
For further reading: Stephen King: The Fist Decade by Jospeh Reino (1988); The Stephen King Companion, ed. George W. Beahm (1989); Stephen King: Man and Artits by Carroll F. Terrell (1990); The Shape Under the Sheet: The Complete Stephen King Encyclopedia (1991); Stephen King: The Second Decade by Tony Magistrale (1992); The Films of Stephen King by Ann Lloyd (1993); Stephen King's America by Jonathan P. Davis (1994); The Work of Stephen King: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide by Michael R. Collings (1996); Stephen King: A Critical Companion by Sharon A. Russell (1996); Speaking of Murder, ed. Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg (1998); The Complete Stephen King Universe: A Guide to the Worlds of Stephen King by Stanley Wiater, Christopher Golden and Hank Wagner (2006); Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King by Lisa Rogak (2009); Stephen King: A Literary Companion by Rocky Wood (2011). What is horror: "The main criterion is that it should be both frightening and repulsive, with elements of horror, fantasy and the supernatural" (in Now Read On... by Mandy Hicken and Ray Prytherch, 1994). See also: Clive Barker's A-Z of Horror (1997); The Penquin Encyclopædie of Horror and the Supernatural (1986). Suomennoksia: Kingiltä on käännetty säännönmukaisesti uudet romaanit, samoin kuin novelleja. Vuonna 1996 ilmestyi Päätalo-instituutin kustantamana nuorten kirjoittajien novellikokoelma Vanhoja luita ja muita epätodellisia tarinoita (toim. Petri Liukkonen ja Tanja Keskisimonen), joka oli omistettu Stephen Kingille.