I read an article the other day bashing the work of Stephen King. I disagreed with it. Not that one can’t dislike King and have legitimate reasons for doing so. One of my favorite readers and horror friends actively dislikes King’s work, but he has well-articulated reasons for his stance. Granted, I totally disagree with him, but I respect his right to avoid my favorite author and acknowledge that his opinion is as valid as mine.
But I’m entitled to my opinion too.
Calling King my favorite author isn’t going far enough. He’s the person who singlehandedly made me a reader. He’s the writer who determined my career path.
He’s the man who restored my adolescent self-esteem by convincing me that I wasn’t stupid. With his words, he showed me what was inside of me. He resurrected my imagination. He reawakened the innocent magic in my heart that had been buried under a landslide of self-doubt and self-consciousness.
Stephen King taught me to dream again.
Let me share a theory with you: There is no such thing as a non-reader. There are only people who haven’t yet found the right books.
The right books, of course, vary from person to person, but I truly believe that everyone could be a reader if only he or she could hit on that one story that speaks to them on a personal level.
King was that writer for me.
Prior to the summer before my freshman year in high school, I was convinced I was an idiot. I had never read a book from cover to cover and considered this a symptom of an inferior intellect. What I know now is I was simply trying the wrong books.
The right book for me, it turned out, was The Tommyknockers. I’ve talked at length about this transformative experience elsewhere, but suffice to say that reading King’s weird tale transported me like no book ever had. I proceeded to read everything by King I could get my hands on, and over the next four years, he made me love reading. He also kindled in me a desire to write stories of my own, but let’s set that aside for now, as this post isn’t about my writing.
It’s about the gift of Stephen King.
That’s right, I called him a gift. The problem with a gift is that it’s only new for so long, and once the thrill of its newness is gone, we tend to take for granted how wonderful it is, whether it’s a year old, a decade old, or in this case, nearly forty-two years old.
Do you realize that Carrie turns forty-two this April? Do you realize that Stephen King wrote ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Dead Zone, Night Shift, and The Stand over the first five years of his career? Or that over the next ten years he wrote It, Cujo, Different Seasons, Misery, Pet Sematary, Skeleton Crew, and the first two Dark Tower novels? Or that he followed that amazing decade by producing two more Dark Tower books, The Green Mile, Desperation, Four Past Midnight, Needful Things, and the spellbinding tale I’m reading now, Bag of Bones? More on that one later…
Did I mention that King nearly died in 1999?
Which would have meant he never would have written Black House, the next four Dark Tower books (I’m including The Wind through the Keyhole, which I absolutely loved), Under the Dome, Everything’s Eventual, 11/22/63, Full Dark, No Stars, Mr. Mercedes, Joyland, and…
…and the list of books I haven’t mentioned is longer than the list of ones I have, and you could throw a dart at that other list and hit a book that would make nearly every other author in the world seethe with jealousy. How many authors, for instance, write a story as gripping as Firestarter? As creepy as N.? As intense as Christine?
Most authors go their entire careers without sniffing a novel as engrossing as The Dark Half, yet it hardly rates a mention. How can it when it’s vying with so many freaking classics?
And I say all this to you, and you nod your heads and answer, “Yeah, he’s great. I mean, he’s the man, right? There’s no one like King,” and we go on with our lives and don’t really stop to appreciate the magnitude of what he has accomplished, what he’s still accomplishing, nor do we sing his praises frequently enough or take the time to marvel at his abilities.
About those abilities…
If you look hard at his early work and his current work, you’ll find something remarkable:
He’s still improving.
Oh, that’s not to say his early work is wanting in any way–it’s not. ‘Salem’s Lot and The Stand are two of my top five horror novels of all time; I’m as devout an admirer of early King as anyone.
Yet studying his later work, reveling in Joyland and Mr. Mercedes and basking in the wonders of Under the Dome and Full Dark, No Stars, I can say with no hesitation that King’s recent writing possesses a deeper emotional resonance than it ever has, that his mastery of language is stronger than it has ever been, that his unparalleled talent for inhabiting his characters on a soul-deep level has never been stronger.
There. I said it. Impossibly, King is still getting better, and he was already the best horror author of all time by a sizable margin. Hell, I consider him the best writer of all time, regardless of genre.
We say we admire King’s work. We say he’s a great writer. We know his accomplishments are unparalleled.
But we need to say more, and we need to say it with greater frequency. Because King is with us now. He’s writing classic stories right now. And I believe we should appreciate him.
So I’ll close by saying this: The world has never seen a writer like Stephen King. I doubt the world will ever see one like him again. On a personal level, he showed me that reading can be even more immersive than a movie can be. More importantly, he showed me that I wasn’t stupid after all–I was just picking the wrong books. King made me feel smart, and prior to that epiphany, I had been convinced of the opposite.
So thank you, Stephen King, for helping me to like myself.
Thank you for helping me to believe in myself.
Thank you for entertaining me.
Thank you for stirring my emotions.
Thank you for making me love words. By kindling that passion, you made me love reading, which in turn made me want to become a teacher (incidentally, I currently teach English, Creative Writing, and Film Literature).
Mr. King, you’re the reason I’m a writer.
So thank you. Though I can never say it enough, I appreciate all you’ve done for me.
Now, if you’ll all excuse me, I have a Stephen King novel awaiting me.
As a proud Constant Reader, I’m going to keep my appointment.