I started reading Stephen King because of my dad.
Let’s back up a bit. My folks split when I was a young lad (not sure of the exact time or anything but it was before I was even aware that they had ever been together. Make sense?), and through the arrangements of the courts, I got to visit my dad every other weekend. And whenever one of these weekends came round, deep within a faded, blue, canvas duffel bag, I packed a novel or two, right next to my Nintendo, later Sega Genesis.
The books were whatever I had picked up at school: Indian in the Cupboard, Stuart Little, Matt Christopher sports books (FYI, The Hockey Machine is the shit), Maniac Magee, Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, and so on and so forth. Naturally, from time to time, I’d finish a book mid-weekend and be left without a literary companion, and eventually this brought me to my dad’s library.
He has every book Stephen King has ever written. Went so far as to join the Stephen King fan club to ensure that he received a hard copy of each of King’s works. I remember the first book I picked up: Misery. The cover blew my young mind. The title in big, bloody splash letters at the top. A man in a wheelchair, dejected, head in hands. Snowy landscape outside the window. A huge menacing Annie Wilkes shadow, looming large over wheelchair man. I cracked the book open to a random page, and read about Annie Wilkes taking out a state trooper with a make-shift cross and riding mower, then blaming Paul for allowing it to happen. I was hooked.
I continued to bring books to my dad’s house, but more often than not I drifted into the King library, working my way through these “horror” classics. I recall being bold enough one weekend to try to bring a book home. I had started reading the King and Peter Straub collaboration, The Talisman, and gotten hooked on Travelin’ Jack Sawyer. My dad told me to take it and keep reading. When I got it back to my mom’s place, she wouldn’t let me read it,claiming that it was a “devil book” (I’m not angry here, just stating facts, she didn’t know any better at the time, and in all honesty the book like most of King’s novels was probably a bit mature for my age). This just made me want to read it all the more. Forbidden fruit, ya know?
Over the years as I worked my way through a good portion of the books, I always found myself dancing around The Stand. I’d see it sitting there on the shelf, mammoth and intimidating. I think I was partially turned off as well, because I had seen the beginning to the made-for-TV miniseries starring Gary Sinise and it didn’t grab me. “Oh no! A superflu and the government’s freaking out!” I could not have been more wrong.
I finally started reading The Stand about two weeks ago and I am almost finished. I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic when I call it a masterpiece. It’s not just good for a commercial piece of fiction. It’s damn good. Period. (How’s that for redundant? I punctuated with a “.” then wrote “Period,” then ended with another “.”).
This novels tells the story of two separate groups of survivors after everything in the world goes to shit thanks in part to government-created superflu virus. Human error allows the virus to get out and wreak havoc. The devastation is immense, and after the destruction, King begins to explore what it is that humans will do when everything they’ve ever depended upon goes away. Life, or the attempt at restarting life is difficult enough, but King also throws in the Walkin’ Dude, Randall Flagg, a reincarnating demon as the ultimate adversary. He makes other appearances in King’s Dark Tower saga.
I’m excited to see how King builds toward the ending, and I am excited because this book makes me want to write more and write better. I recognize that cramming this much King into my brain can be a dangerous thing, but I think it’s worth the risk. I want to be a good storyteller, and I suppose it’s only natural that I learn from one of the best. So here’s to Stephen King. Thanks for the stories and the inspiration.