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Welcome horror fans! Most horror fans have their own opinion but there is one thing none of us can ever deny, our lives would be far, far different if not for Stephen King.
It was only 3 weeks ago that we lost horror maverick and icon Wes Craven and far too often we save our tributes for when tragedy strikes, not just for icons like Craven but far too often our own family and friends who we take for granted until they’re gone and it’s too late. With that in mind I saw (because every horror lover in the world is posting it) that today is Stephen King’s birthday. So rather than wait until this icon passes off this mortal coil I thought I’d pay a little tribute to him now while he is gladly still with us. I can only speak for myself but I’m sure most if not all of The Scribbler Crew would agree that there perhaps isn’t a more important figure to horror in the last 30-40 years than Stephen King. I can only speak from my personal experience so here goes, this is what Stephen King has meant to me.
I still remember the first book I ever read all by myself which sparked a love of the written word that still remains to this day though I don’t read for pleasure as much as I once did. Starting from one simple little children’s book I soon began a competition with an elementary school friend to see who could read the most Hardy Boys books. I lost that competition by a few books but the spark for reading was thoroughly lit. Now this was the early 80s and the era of the big action stars Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean Claude Van Damme and many others so I moved on from The Hardy Boys to books about mercenaries devouring books like the Mack Bolan series by Don Pendleton, the Nick Carter series by numerous authors, and one of my personal favorites Phoenix Force written by several different authors all under the pseudonym Gar Wilson. Then it was time to move on and challenge myself with something more epic. My mother had (and still has) a massive book collection with a wide variety of books from romances to westerns to horror and beyond. I remember my mother standing with me as I stood before one of her many bookshelves filled to overflowing with large and small tomes trying to decide what I should pick with her giving subtle little suggestions but letting me chose for myself. I wanted to read something massive that seemed like a mountainous task. I had never read anything longer than a few hundred pages and I was ready to dive into something epic. My eyes settled on a long row of my mother’s Stephen King books. I had seen Salem’s Lot and I think one or two others by that time then my eyes settled on the second largest book on the shelf and I almost didn’t even care what it was about, I wanted to feel that fat book in my hands. It just seemed far too massive (and I’m glad I saved it for later) so The Stand was the one for me. I was eleven years old and my life was about to change forever.
I dove into The Stand about a minute after plucking it off the shelf excited to see what such a massive book could possibly hold. That book obviously didn’t disappoint though I believe it took me a couple of weeks to finish it. At that age finishing a book like that felt like an accomplishment like crossing the finish line of a marathon and in some ways it is. The Stand forever changed my reading habits. I couldn’t go back to reading basically YA fiction after that so I plucked another Stephen King book off my mother’s shelf and another and another and another and well… you get the point. I read the massive collection of short stories in Skeleton Crew. I went back and read Thinner and others King had written under the pen name of Richard Bachman. Basically I devoured everything by King that I could get my little hands on and continued to do so for many years. I’ve lost count of how many of his works I’ve read over the years, I just quickly glanced at his bibliography and stopped counting after 40 of his books.
So why do we all love Stephen King so much? Are his ideas any better than anyone else writing in the horror vein? The honest answer is no, not that that is any knock on King. Maybe I can only speak for me, but the reason I fell in love with King’s work and the reason I believe he is so popular is not because his ideas are any better than any other writers’ it’s because his writing style is possibly the most accessible of any writer. King is the master of writing sometimes incredibly intricate stories in very laymen language. King forgoes the hundred dollar words not because they aren’t in his vocabulary but simply because he knows the truth that many writers forget, big words that most people don’t know are rarely necessary. Writing a compelling story isn’t about flaunting your “superior” intellect it’s about telling an interesting story the reader can understand. Using “big words” may make you feel good about yourself but let’s be honest, the average reader has to look up a word like “oneiric” but instead doesn’t it make more sense to just say “dream” or “dream-like?” Sometimes there is no real replacing a word that the reader may have to look up but if it happens once or twice in the course of an 800 page novel it’s no big deal but you and I both know writers who do it just to show that they are more intelligent than you. King was and still is the absolute master of using everyday common English to tell his tales no matter how complicated the story itself may be. That is why I was able to read a masterpiece at eleven years old and spark a love for reading not just of King’s work but so many, many others as well. I can’t even imagine how much different I would be today if The Stand had been written at a reading level too far over my head and unnecessarily so. I don’t think I would have stopped reading but I certainly wouldn’t have been put on the path that led me to what I do today.
King has given me far more than I could ever repay if given two lifetimes to do so. The hours I spent in my youth curled up on my bed reading his stories mean more to me than I can ever put into words. Then, of course, there are all the awesome horror movies that have been made from his works even if many don’t live up to the tales they are derived from most of the time. Some of my favorites though would be Children of the Corn, Pet Semetary and Misery. I hope someday someone can find a way to do justice to a couple of my personal favorites in Gerald’s Game and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon but I’m perfectly fine if those stay in my precious memories. It is in a virtual tie with Imajica by Clive Barker as my favorite book ever written so King is thoroughly a part of me and always will be. I have no lofty dreams of being the next Stephen King or anything so silly as that. I can only hope that what I do can do for someone else what King’s work did for me in sparking a lifelong love of reading and, of course, for all things grim and horrible. Happy Birthday Mr. King and thank you for all you have given me personally and to the horror world as a whole. You are one of a kind and we love you for it!
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