I’ve had this sudden urge to dive into Stephen King novels of late, mostly because of two reasons: I’m shamelessly supportive of most populist works — be it pop music or pop literature — and secondly, I give into hype and recommendation blurbs easily (“He’s a national treasure” is my “You got me at hello” Jerry McGuire line).
I suspect that if I should ever get caught and manipulated by the good-cop-bad-cop routine, I’m likely to confess state secrets, childhood fantasies, and my inexplicable crush on Helen Hunt within five minutes.
To date, I’ve only read two entire Stephen King books — On Writing and Just After Sunset — and currently going through his latest one Full Dark, No Stars. It wasn’t until I read On Writing, a non-fiction autobiography that details King’s writing process, that I finally understood where his stories come from, and why Esquire justifiably names him “America’s Greatest Storyteller”.
It isn’t just that King prolifically writes 1,000 words a day. It isn’t just that his storytelling methods are simple, or that his similes are uncomplicated. King’s stories come from a place that merely extends reality into the furthest plausible place of human weakness, and our desire to wonder what the depths of our greed and jealousy before snapping out of the book and saying “pfft, that’ll never happen”.
But what if you stumbled across a box proving that your husband was a serial killer? What if your OCD behaviour was actually the only thing that kept the world from destruction? What would you do if you were broke, and was one day offered $200,000 to hit a child and film it for someone’s odd fetish?
If you’ve grown up watching “IT”, “The Shining”, or “Christine”, you’re probably like me in mistaking King for being a horror-genre writer who depends on supernatural hellish creatures to carry the stories. Really, however, what drives his stories further is a common fear and exhilaration of exploring what we could do when push came to shove, when given the option to either live or die, when given the gun that would kill the man who raped and tortured you.
And deeper than that is King’s sense of knowing where the ground is — there’s a constant mindfulness of the reader’s internal wresting between the implausible and plausible — such a tricky thing to pull off when the story’s based on a supernatural premise. “This isn’t some half-assed morality tale, I’m a businessman, not a character out of the Devil and Daniel Webster,” reassures George Elvid, a character who offers Dave Streeter a Faustian bargain in Fair Extension. “If you think I’m gonna show up two decades down the line to collect your soul, you’d better think again.” And sure enough, he doesn’t appear like Freddie Krueger in Streeter’s dream, and the bargain goes without a hitch.
Part sci-fi, part horror, part homespun morality tales, King’s stories are popular for the simple reason: They all celebrate human nature’s need to be good, while knowing that we all have our inner demons and vices.
WATCH: A mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s N. Brilliant story based on obsessive compulsive disorder.