When I was eleven years old, my parents bought me a hardback copy of The Eyes of the Dragon for Christmas. I set the book aside initially, because I had no particular interest in medieval fantasy. Dungeons and dragons just weren’t my thing. But after a few days, I got curious and started reading—and I was instantly captivated.
What really got me was the author’s voice. Stephen King conveyed a sense of awe about his fictional world, constantly dropping hints that there were countless stories within his story. It was as if the world of his imagination was comprised of fictional fractals. Even more importantly, he expressed a contagious curiosity about his characters. I felt like he knew them all as real, flesh-and-blood people and cared about every move and every decision they made. As a result I cared about them too, and I quickly realized that this myth was not really about dungeons and dragons, but about human relationships—particularly the relationships between two fathers and two sons.
King Roland, the biological father of Peter and Thomas, is essentially a good man—but weak. Prince Peter is a good man like his father, but strong like his mother. Prince Thomas is weak like his father, and thus susceptible to the manipulation of a surrogate father-figure named Flagg, who is strong but evil. King assures us, however, that Thomas is NOT evil like Flagg…. And it was this assurance that resonated with me as an eleven-year-old boy. » Read more
THAT WAS THEN…
Well, this should be an easy one.
When I began this journey many months ago, I admitted that there were two Stephen King books I had never read before. I purposely kept both titles a secret, promising to only let the cat outta the bag once I had reached each of the two books on my Stephen King Revisited list.
Roadwork was the first of the pair, and despite its overwhelmingly dark nature and (at times) rough prose, I greatly enjoyed that initial reading and regretted not doing so earlier.
And so now, ladies and gents, we come to the final Stephen King book I’ve somehow managed to never crack open: The Eyes of the Dragon.
My reasoning these past nearly thirty years was simple (and clearly misguided; but more on that later): Eyes of the Dragon, huh? It sounds a little too fantasy-oriented for my tastes. Castles. Dragons. Kings and Queens. Heck, there are probably a dozen characters with names I can’t even pronounce. And elves, I bet you anything there are elves running around a dark forest. And fairies living up in the treetops. And…
…and no thanks. I’ll pass for now and get around to it one day. When I have nothing else tempting to read.
But I never did.
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By the age of thirteen, King’s daughter, Naomi, was an avid reader but hadn’t read any of his books, even though her younger brother, Joe, had already read two. Her mother pushed her to read some horror with the idea that it would be another way for her to know her father. However, she made it clear to him that she had “very little interest in my vampires, Ghoulies and slushy crawling things.” So, as he wrote in a letter for Viking Press, “I decided that if the mountain would not go to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain.”
He asked her what she did like and she told him she liked dragons. He told Jo Fletcher, “I knew that she liked fantasy, she had read some of the Conan comic books and Piers Anthony and stuff like that and in the end I really got into it.” 
He started working on the story, originally called The Napkins, in their house in western Maine. He wrote on a yellow legal pad in front of a woodstove while a screaming northeaster blew snow across the frozen lake outside. King had recently been working on The Talisman with Peter Straub, so the fantasy land of the Territories was fresh in his mind. He wrote The Eyes of the Dragon at the same time as he was writing Misery, working on one in the morning and the other at night, completing the first draft in 1983.
Naomi, he admits, took hold of the manuscript with a marked lack of enthusiasm, but he was rewarded. The story kidnapped her and the only thing wrong with it, she told him later, was that she didn’t want it to end. » Read more
Of all Stephen King’s early novels, Pet Sematary is the simplest and direst. A sustained riff on W.W. Jacobs’ classic “The Monkey’s Paw,” it cleaves to its twisted source. From the very beginning the reader knows the story: someone is going to die, and someone who can’t bear to let that loved one go will make a desperate bargain to raise him from the dead. What happens then—the awful complications—is what the reader wants to see.
The opening is TV-movie stuff. Dr. Louis Creed and his young family move to Maine for his new job as medical director at a university infirmary and buy a house in the country by a busy two-lane highway. “You just want to watch em around the road, Missus Creed,” wise old neighbor Jud Crandall warns. “Lots of big trucks on that road.”
Was there ever a balder promise? And by 1983, King’s constant readers didn’t have to wonder if he’d balk at killing a child. Just two years before, the author who’d spared Mark Petrie in ‘Salem’s Lot and Danny Torrance in The Shining had already crossed that line in Cujo.
Set-up, build-up, payoff. Basic storytelling. In this case, we think we know the set-up and build-up. The author can throw variations at us, and delay, which he does, introducing a dying student who warns Louis to steer clear of the Pet Sematary, later using the family cat, Church, as a test case for its powers, but ultimately a child must die. Early on it feels as if King is running a subtle shell game, making us guess which one it will be, with both Gage, the adorable toddler, and Ellie, the needy kindergartener, slipping away unnoticed from their distracted parents. When the accident inevitably happens, it’s a shock, mainly because of how it’s presented. » Read more
THAT WAS THEN…
I can’t remember when I first read Pet Sematary or where I was when I first read it (unusual for me). All I really remember is the story, and my intense reaction to it.
I was a freshman in college when Pet Sematary was published in November 1983. My best guess is that I read it within a year of publication. I do recall devouring a hardcover edition that I believe my sister, Mary, gave to me as a gift (she blessed me with several of King’s books during those early years).
So…I was young. That much I know. Brand shiny new to the perils of adulthood. Wide-eyed, unmarried, and childless.
And still Pet Sematary destroyed me.
‘Salem’s Lot and Carrie and The Shining had thrilled me and scared me – but Pet Sematary was different. Once things went bad (and this happened quickly by King standards; only about a third of the way into the book), they not only stayed bad, they kept getting worse. Much worse. The rest of the book was a dark spiral and there were no reprieves to be found anywhere. The story was grim and unrelenting and profoundly unpleasant…yet I couldn’t stop reading.
King spends the first third of Pet Sematary introducing and establishing a fairly small (for him) cast of characters and a wonderful sense of place. Ludlow, Maine is the kind of small, picturesque New England town so many of us wish we had grown up in, and the Creeds and the Crandalls are the kind of folks we wish we had grown up across the street from: kind, big-hearted, interesting, companionable folks with a real sense of friendship and loyalty. » Read more
In 1978, Stephen King was invited to be writer in residence at the English department of his alma mater, the University of Maine at Orono. He moved his family into a rented house on a major highway in Orrington. The heavy traffic included transports heading to and from a nearby chemical plant. A new neighbor warned the Kings to keep their pets and children away from this road, which had “used up a lot of animals.” In support of this claim, the Kings discovered a burial ground not far from the house, with “Pets Sematary” written on a sign in a childish hand. Among its residents: dogs, cats, birds, and a goat.
Shortly after they moved in, daughter Naomi’s cat, Smucky, was found dead on the side of the road when they returned from a trip to town. King’s first impulse was to tell her that the cat had wandered away. Tabitha, however, believed this was an opportunity to teach a life lesson. They broke the news to their daughter and conducted a feline funeral, committing Smucky’s mortal remains to the pet cemetery. A few nights later, King discovered Naomi in the garage, jumping up and down on sheets of bubble wrap, indignant over the loss of her pet. “Let God have His own cat. I want my cat. I want my cat,” she was repeating.
The road almost “used up” the Kings’ youngest son, too. Owen was about eighteen months old when he wandered dangerously close to the highway. To this day, King isn’t sure whether he knocked Owen down before he reached the highway as a tanker approached or if the boy tripped over his own feet. Owen had been born with an unusually large head, and the Kings had already agonized over the possibility of losing him to hydrocephalus. This near miss was an unwelcome reminder of the fragility of their children. » Read more
THAT WAS THEN…
Cycle of the Werewolf was yet another Carol’s Used Bookstore find for me. I had somehow completely missed the spring 1985 release, so when I stumbled upon a used copy of the Signet trade paperback on the crowded shelves at Carol’s it was a total surprise to me – and what a wonderful surprise it turned out to be!
I had recently wrapped up my sophomore year in college and was heading to the beach the next day to decompress. I’d just been named to the All-America team for lacrosse and was looking forward to a much-needed week of rest and celebration. I stopped at Carol’s the evening before my departure for some beach reading, and there was Cycle of the Werewolf, crammed high on a dusty shelf, just waiting for me.
Clocking in at a mere 127 pages, Cycle was a slender volume, especially compared to my earlier Stephen King reads. That was my first impression, and I remember feeling mild disappointment because it was so short. But then I opened the glossy, black cover and flipped a couple pages, and that feeling went away pretty darn fast.
There was artwork inside – both color and black-and-white illustrations – and so much of it! In fact, I couldn’t turn more than a page or two without being confronted with yet another magnificent, visual feast. Full-page paintings, two-page spreads, even spot art! I flipped back to the cover and saw that the illustrator was a guy named Bernie Wrightson. I made a mental note to remember his name (not realizing at the time that I already knew his amazing work from many previous comic book excursions).
And then there was the story…boy, what a fun, old-fashioned story. I couldn’t even remember the last werewolf novel I had read, much less one presented in such a unique manner. » Read more
Stephen King freely admits that one of the reasons he agreed to the project that became Cycle of the Werewolf was because he was drunk when a young Michigan publisher named Christopher Zavisa approached him at the World Fantasy Convention in Providence, Rhode Island in 1979.
King also believes Silver Bullet is the only motion picture developed from something that started out as a calendar concept.
Zavisa’s pitch intrigued King. The publisher, who had established Land of Enchantment Press initially to promote Wrightson’s works, wanted King to come up with a set of twelve vignettes that would each be accompanied by a Berni Wrightson painting and a calendar grid. There would be some kind of continuity among the segments, as if it were all a larger story.
The concept of a story calendar appealed to King, as did the idea of working with a small press. At that point in his career, King was feeling a little guilty about his immense success compared to many other writers, especially those he had idolized as a kid. He mentions as an example the fact that Frank Belknap Long had come to the World Fantasy Convention on a bus because he couldn’t afford to travel by train, let alone by airplane. He fully expected to be snubbed as a young whippersnapper at the con, although he was in fact treated generously and kindly by people he was astonished to think of as his colleagues. » Read more
Just a heads-up, Richard has been busy writing his own stories these past couple of months, but Stephen King Revisited will be busier than ever in 2016 with more great essays and memories — and at least one more contest with a SIGNED Stephen King book as the grand prize!!
In the meantime, please check out Richard’s forthcoming collection, A Long December, due out this year from Subterranean Press. Here’s what Stephen King had to say about it:
“Powerful…I love it…Richard Chizmar writes clean, no-nonsense prose…sets his tales in no-nonsense, middle class neighborhoods I can relate to…and writes terrific stories served with a very large slice of Disquiet Pie.”
— Stephen King
Remember, you can follow Richard on Twitter for his personal updates and other posts of interest to readers and collectors and Stephen King fans!
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“Come on, big guy. Let’s go for a ride. Let’s cruise . . . . ”
I’d be preaching to the choir if I said one of the most enduring traits of Stephen King’s fiction is the realism of his characters, and how we can all relate to them. Sure, most of us have never been trapped inside a broken-down Pinto while a rabid St. Bernard tries to get in and swallow us whole. We’ve never tried to assassinate a politician because a precognitive vision showed us his true nature. It’s probably safe to say that very few of us have crossed paths with a lonely widow who carries not only a dangerous obsession with a fictional character but also an ax and a blowtorch that she’s been itching to use for some time.
It’s the real world problems of King’s characters that ring true. It’s their crumbling marriages and their struggles to pay the bills on time. Their desires, their dreams and aspirations. We’ve met people like them. We are them. » Read more