Stephen King Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Through his storytelling abilities and vivid imagination, as demonstrated in his novels, short stories, and films, Stephen King has done much to move the horror genre into the forefront of popular literature. He has modernized many gothic or horror themes and techniques.

Early Life

Stephen Edwin King was born on September 21, 1947, at Maine General Hospital in Portland, Maine, the second son of Donald Edwin and Nellie Ruth King. His brother David had been born two years earlier. When King was only two years old, his father, a captain in the merchant marines, deserted the family and never saw them again. This desertion placed hardships upon the young family, forcing them to move often in order for Nellie to provide for her two sons. In their search for a place to call home, the family lived in Maine, Massachusetts, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Finally, when King was six years old, the family settled in Stratford, Connecticut, where they lived for six years.

King became interested in the horror genre early in life. He listened to suspenseful radio dramas and eventually came under the spell of good storytelling such as in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and horror films such as The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). The real potential of other worlds came into young King’s life in 1957 with the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik I. King’s teachers reported that one of his greatest passions was writing stories of his own, an activity that began when he was six years old.

In 1958, when King was eleven years old, his family moved to Durham, Maine. It was here that the future writer discovered that he had something in common with his absent father when he discovered an old trunk in the attic of his aunt and uncle’s garage that contained a box of his father’s books, including some by New England horror writer H. P. Lovecraft and some of Donald’s own early attempts at writing short stories.

King continued his interest in writing throughout his public education and, after graduating from Lisbon Falls High School, entered the University of Maine in Orono in 1966. At the University of Maine he pursued a degree in English, wrote the “King’s Garbage Truck” column for the campus newspaper, The Daily Maine, and submitted short stories to whatever publications he thought might be interested. In 1967, King made his first sale as an author with the purchase of his short story “The Glass Floor” for thirty-five dollars by Startling Mystery Stories. Even with his first sale, King continued his college education and filled empty hours by working campus jobs, writing, protesting local situations, and courting his future wife, fellow University of Maine student and library worker Tabitha Spruce.

King graduated from the university in 1970 and accepted a position as an English teacher at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine, in 1971. In this same year, King married the recently graduated Tabitha, who would eventually become a novelist in her own right. The young couple lived in a small mobile home and held second jobs, King in an industrial laundry and Tabitha in a donut shop, to supplement King’s meager teaching salary of $6,400 per year. During this time they began their family.

Life’s Work

Although his early married life proved to be taxing, King did not forego his drive to write. Often the small amounts that his short stories brought were used to purchase medicine for his children or finance the repair of a major appliance. When he was not teaching or working in the laundry, King produced several manuscripts, often typed in the furnace room of the Kings’ mobile home. He would freely throw away pieces in which he saw no real potential. One such effort was saved from the garbage by Tabitha, who saw more than her husband did in the discarded germ of an idea. She argued that there was something of value to be found in the fragment that he had thrown away and that he should complete what he had begun. Following his wife’s encouragement, King finished the manuscript that was eventually published as Carrie (1974). With the sale of Carrie to Doubleday for a $2,500 advance (he later sold the paperback rights for $400,000 and saw the novel turned into an award-winning motion picture with Sissy Spacek), King knew that he could earn his way as a writer and gave up his teaching position to write full-time.

The books that followed Carrie were received with varying degrees of acceptance. After King published his modernized vampire tale Salem’s Lot (1975) and proposed that his third book, The Shining (1977), would be a ghost story, his agent feared that the young writer from Maine would be typecast, but King had no fear of failing at his craft or in his chosen genre. His later publication successes proved him correct.

In 1981, King published Danse Macabre to explore the horror film genre and to illuminate his fascination with both motion pictures and literature based upon investigations of humanity’s darker emotional and psychological sides. In producing his own works of horror, King soon found that the clearest way for him to approach a piece of fiction in progress would be to seek an answer to the question, “what if?” From his earlier works on, this question has been central to each of King’s works, and he answered it as it related to how individuals would act following almost total annihilation of humanity in The Stand (1978), to actions of obsessive fans in Misery (1987), the effect extraterrestrial visitors might have on a community in The Tommyknockers (1987), and to the reactions of various individuals to capital punishment in the six-part The Green Mile (1996).

In addition to his many novels, King also wrote numerous successful short stories that eventually appeared in collections, including “The Body” (Different Seasons, 1982), “The Woman in the Room” (Night Shift, 1978), and “Word Processor of the Gods” (Skeleton Crew, 1985). In addition, he produced six novels under the name Richard Bachman in order to publish works that did not quite fit the Stephen King persona and to allow him to publish more than one book per year. The true identity of Bachman, under whose name King published Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981), The Running Man (1982), Thinner (1984), and The Regulators (1996), was eventually made public because of the curiosity and research of a bookstore clerk.

King’s audience grew even larger as film and television versions of his works and original screen- and teleplays by King caught the attention of viewing audiences. Many of these versions have been passed off as weak at best; however, some have received rave reviews as well as major awards. The motion pictures with King ties that are generally considered the best are Carrie (1976), The Dead Zone (1983), “The Body” spinoff Stand by Me (1986), The Shining (1980), and Misery (1990). Among the King television movies and miniseries were Salem’s Lot (1979), It (1990), The Tommyknockers (1993), The Stand (1994), and The Shining (1997).

The name of Stephen King became familiar even to those who had never read any of his works. King maintained a high public profile and at the same time tried to maintain some degree of privacy for himself and his family. King made television spots for a major credit card and for a national publicity drive for library usage. He also visited many of the top network talk shows and appeared as a contestant twice on Jeopardy. Perhaps he gained the most attention with his 1994 cross-country motorcycle trip during which he touted his novel Insomnia and independent bookstores over the big chain stores.

Summary

Because of his vast audience and his high public profile, Stephen King became more than merely one who wrote scary stories. His works entered legal proceedings when defendants contended that they were encouraged to carry out their crimes after having read a particular King work. King has been condemned because of the use of evil in his works even though the works argue that the evil must be confronted. His residence in Bangor, Maine, was even invaded by a distraught and mentally unbalanced man from Texas who threatened to destroy the house.

The greatest contentious confrontations came, however, when critics and reviewers debated the significance and quality of King’s fiction. Many thinkers willingly passed him off as just an author who met the prurient curiosity of the reading masses. In contrast, other writers have compared King to Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe and have considered him to be among the best of modern storytellers. Two entities who did not seem to be overly concerned with this ongoing critical battle were King himself and his fans.

Throughout his career, King approached his work with all seriousness, writing almost every day of the year. King also realized that he had led a charmed life and went out of his way to share his good fortune with others. He and his wife’s philanthropy was enjoyed by such diverse causes as the recreation program of their hometown of Bangor, Maine; various educational institutions, most noticeably the University of Maine; library rebuilding programs such as one in Old Town, Maine; and individual needy students whom they heard about from various sources.

In addition to their separate writing careers and their philanthropic gestures, King and his wife put most of their efforts into rearing their three children, Joseph, Naomi, and Owen. As in King’s fiction, one of his driving impulses was to ensure that his children had a normal, loving family life.

Bibliography

Beahm, George, ed. The Stephen King Companion. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1989. Beahm presents a comprehensive introduction to the works of King through analyses of the works, interviews with the authors, and comments by others.

Beahm, George, ed. The Stephen King Story. Williamsburg, Va.: GB Publishing, 1991. This is the most complete book-length story of King’s life.

Docherty, Brian, ed. American Horror Fiction: From Brockden Brown to Stephen King. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. This collection of essays places King’s works into context with other American horror writers.

Heller, Terry. The Delight of Horror: An Aesthetics of the Tale of Terror. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987. Heller provides an in-depth discussion of the artistic and psychological foundations of horror fiction. This discussion will lead the reader to a fuller understanding of the structures and themes appearing in King’s fiction.

Herron, Don, ed. Reign of Fear: Fiction and Film of Stephen King. Los Angeles: Underwood and Miller, 1988. The essays in this collection discuss the significance of film in the development of King’s reputation.

King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. 1981. New York: Berkeley, 1982. Although this work is a history of the horror film genre, it provides insight into King’s development as a student of all things horror.

Magistrale, Tony. The Moral Voyages of Stephen King. Mercer Island: Starmont, 1989. In this rather brief work, Magistrale attempts to clarify the underlying moral structures found in King’s fiction.

Reino, Joseph. Stephen King: The First Decade, “Carrie” to “Pet Sematary.” New York: Twayne, 1988. Reino introduces the works that began King’s writing career.

Reino, Joseph. Stephen King: The Second Decade, “Danse Macabre” to “The Dark Half.” New York: Twayne, 1992. Reino discusses the second twenty years of King’s writing career.

Underwood, Tim, and Chuck Miller, eds. Kingdom of Fear: The World of Stephen King. 1986. New York: New American Library, 1987. This is perhaps the single best collection of essays discussing King’s works. These essays are written by individuals who look at his works as perceptive critics and not as fans.

Stephen King Biography (Literary Newsmakers for Students)

Probably the best-known, bestselling, and most prolific writer of his time, Stephen King was born to working-class parents in Portland,...

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Stephen King Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Perhaps more than any other modern novelist, King has demonstrated it is possible to combine phenomenal commercial success with serious artistic purpose. He shares with other great authors the talent to produce works that can be read and enjoyed on more than one level. His frightening plots, believable characters, and rich descriptive details make his works outstanding as pure entertainment, while his perceptive analyses of the many natures of evil contain profound ideas worthy of serious consideration.

Stephen King Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Stephen Edwin King was born in 1947 in Maine, where he lived the majority of his life. His parents had adopted his elder brother, David, several years before King was born, since his mother was told that she would be unable to have children. King’s father abandoned the family when King was two years old. After his parents’ separation, King’s mother moved the family to Indiana, then Connecticut, and finally, in 1958, back to Maine to be near her aging parents. King’s mother was a strict Methodist with fundamentalist leanings, and David and Stephen attended church and Bible school several times a week.

King began to show an interest in writing at age seven or eight, partly to amuse himself during frequent periods of illness. His mother often read to her sons, including some of Classic Comics’ adaptations of famous novels; King was impressed by H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) and The War of the Worlds (1898). He was always an avid reader and loved adventure stories and science fiction; thus, even his juvenile work was influenced by fantasy and horror. At the age of twelve, he sent stories to the magazines Fantastic and Fantasy and Science Fiction; soon afterward, he discovered the stories of H. P. Lovecraft and began reading a range of horror fiction, including the works of Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, several gothic novelists, and Richard Matheson, whose horror novels, set in modern times, greatly influenced King.

King entered high school in 1962, and in 1965 his story “I Was a Teenage Grave Robber” appeared in Comics Review, a fan magazine. He wrote all through high school and printed several of his stories on his brother’s offset printing press. In 1966, he entered the University of Maine at Orono and made his first professional sale, of “The Glass Floor,” to Startling Mystery Stories. He also began work on two manuscripts that were eventually published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in the 1970’s. At the university, he received encouragement from several of his professors and was influenced by such naturalist writers as Thomas Hardy and Theodore Dreiser. He wrote a column, “King’s Garbage Truck,” for the university newspaper and was active in campus politics. In his senior year, while he was working at the college library, he met fellow student Tabitha Spruce, whom he married in 1971. King graduated from the University of Maine in 1970 with a degree in English and a teaching certificate; unable to find work as a teacher, however, he took a job in an industrial laundry, an experience on which he drew for several of his stories. In 1971, he was hired to teach high school English at Maine’s Hampden Academy, where he spent two years.

In 1973, King sold his first novel, Carrie: A Novel of a Girl with Frightening Power, to Doubleday. New American Library’s purchase of the paperback rights allowed King to quit teaching and write full time. In 1976, the film version of Carrie gave King’s popularity a boost, but he was already selling quite well and producing virtually a novel per year. In 1979, King wrote his first screenplay, Creepshow (1982), and in 1986, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists released Maximum Overdrive, which King had both scripted and directed. The reading world was shocked in June of 1999 when King was struck by a vehicle while he was taking a stroll near his summer home in Lewiston, Maine. He sustained multiple fractures to his right leg and hip, broken ribs, and a collapsed lung. Although grateful to be alive, King regretted most not being able to write during his long recuperation.

Stephen King Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The second son of Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King, Stephen Edwin King has lived most of his life in Maine, the setting for most of his fiction. Two childhood traumas, neither of which he remembers, may have been formative. In 1949, when he was two years old, his parents separated and his father disappeared. In 1951, he apparently saw a train dismember a neighborhood friend.

King’s conservative Methodist upbringing was supplemented early with a diet of comic books and Weird Tales. When twelve, he began submitting stories for sale. In 1970, he graduated from the University of Maine, Orono, with a B.S. in English and a minor in dramatics. He encountered two lasting influences: the naturalist writers and contemporary American mythology. He also met Tabitha Jane Spruce, whom he married in 1971.

After graduation, he worked in an industrial laundry until 1971, when he became an English instructor at a preparatory school in Hampden, Maine. He wrote at night in the trailer he shared with his wife and two children. In the early 1970’s, he sold stories to men’s magazines. Then, in 1974, he published Carrie, which was followed by several best sellers and sales of motion-picture rights.

King settled in Maine with his wife Tabitha King, a novelist and the writer of Small World (1981), Caretakers (1983), and others. They had three children, Naomi, Joe, and Owen. In addition to writing daily (except Christmas and his birthday), King became active in opposing censorship, composing essays and lecturing on the topic and supporting controversial publications. He also indulged his love of rock and roll, having purchased a local radio station (renamed WZON) and occasionally performing, with writers Dave Barry, Amy Tan, and others, in a group named the Rock-Bottom Remainders.

In 1999, King was struck by an automobile while walking along a road near his home. His injuries were quite severe, yet the famous author remained upbeat and philosophical during his lengthy recovery. He incorporated this painful accident into much of his subsequent long fiction, including Song of Susanna, the Dark Tower series, Lisey’s Story, and Duma Key.

Stephen King Biography (Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine, on September 12, 1947. Most of his life has been spent in Maine, and a significant portion of his fiction has been set in the state. He and his brother grew up without any contact with their father, who abandoned their mother. His mother worked very hard to support the family and to keep it together.

King began writing as an undergraduate at the University of Maine at Orono. He majored in English and earned a teaching certificate. He sold short stories to magazines and wrote several full-length novels that were not accepted for publication. He turned to teaching as a way to support himself and his wife and children. As rejection slips from publishers mounted, he began to wonder whether he would ever be a success. He has admitted that in his despair he turned to drinking and drugs. He persisted with his writing, however, and finally Carrie (1974) was not only accepted for publication but became, in paperback, a huge best seller as well.

King does not like to think of himself as a celebrity. He has settled in Maine with his family, although he has become involved with some of the film adaptations of his work and has traveled across the country to promote his books. He is known primarily as a writer of horror fiction. His works written under the name Richard Bachman have also been successful. King received the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award in 2007.

Stephen King Biography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Author Profile

King began writing in high school and sold two short stories before finishing college. In 1974 he published his first novel, Carrie, about an outcast teenager with telekinetic powers, her religious fanatic mother, and her humiliation at the hands of fellow teens. Over the next twenty years, King published twenty- five novels under his own name, eight collections of short stories, five novels under the pen name Richard Bachman, and three works of nonfiction. Almost all of King’s books involve supernatural forces and violent action; many have been best-sellers.

King’s books have been challenged since 1975, when Carrie was criticized by officials at Clark High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. By 1988 the report Attacks on Freedom to Learn listed King as the third-most censored author in the United States (after Judy Blume and John Steinbeck). According to the American Library Association, in 1994 King and V. C. Andrews were challenged more often than any other authors. The most common charges against King’s books are his use of profanity, violent subject matter, ridicule of religion, and celebration of the occult. King’s novels have often been taken from public school libraries or placed on restricted shelves.

Bibliography

Beahm, George W. The Stephen King Story. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews and McMeel, 1992. A good, updated biography of King. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Stephen King: Modern Critical Views. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1998. This is the best single collection of essays about King, many collected from other sources listed here, but including previously unreprinted pieces from journals or non-King-specific books. High-quality pieces cover a range of themes and King’s works through Needful Things. Good chronology, bibliography, and index.

Collings, Michael R. Scaring Us to Death: The Impact of Stephen King on Popular Culture. 2d rev. ed. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1997. Examines King’s influence on the rise of horror fiction in the United States.

Collings, Michael R. The Work of Stephen King: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1996. Provides both a good chronology and useful descriptions of some of King’s hard-to-find works, as well as a copious annotated list of secondary sources.

Docherty, Brian, ed. American Horror Fiction: From Brockden Brown to Stephen King. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. This collection of essays places King’s works into context with other American horror writers.

Herron, Don, ed. Reign of Fear: Fiction and Film of Stephen King. Los Angeles: Underwood and Miller, 1988. The essays in this collection discuss the significance of film in the development of King’s reputation.

Hohne, Karen A. “The Power of the Spoken Word in the Works of Stephen King.” Journal of Popular Culture 28 (Fall, 1994): 93-103. Discusses the tension in King’s work between slang speech, which codifies a knowledge rejected by those in power, and monologic orality, which embodies that power; claims his works illustrate the tension between official and unofficial languages and ideologies that exists not only in literature but also throughout society.

Hoppenstand, Gary, and Ray B. Browne, eds. The Gothic World of Stephen King: Landscape of Nightmare. Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular Press, 1987. The collection of academic criticism of King includes an introduction by Hoppenstand and essays on themes (“Adolescent Revolt,” “Love and Death in the American Car”), characters (“Mad Dogs and Firestarters,” “The Vampire”), genres (King’s “Gothic Western,” techno-horror), technique (“Allegory”), and individual works.

King, Stephen. Bare Bones: Conversations on Terror with Stephen King. Edited by Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988. Though many of the interviews collected in this volume become somewhat repetitive, they provide a good sense, in King’s own words, of what he is trying to do in his fiction and why he does it. The interviews were held between 1979 and 1987; the opening transcript of a talk King gave at the Billerica Public Library is most useful.

King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Everest House, 1981. King researched and wrote this critical work on horror fiction and film at the instigation of his editor. He focuses on works since the 1940’s and discusses novels, B-films, and horror comics to support his thesis that monsters such as Godzilla are a way of making tangible the fear of such things as nuclear war.

Magistrale, Tony. Stephen King: The Second Decade, “Danse Macabre” to “The Dark Half.” New York: Twayne, 1992. Discusses King’s work in the 1980’s, including his nonfictional analysis of the horror genre in Danse Macabre, his Richard Bachman books, Misery, and the novellas of the Dark Tower saga. Also includes a 1989 interview in which King discusses fairy-tale references in his work, as well as his treatment of sexuality, masculinity, and race; discusses critical and popular reaction to his fiction.

Magistrale, Tony, ed. The Dark Descent: Essays Defining Stephen King’s Horrorscape. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. This academic collection of interpretive essays covers subjects such as homophobia, treatment of female characters, and dialogic narratives in King’s work; the sixteen pieces examine most of King’s novels and some short fiction. Individual essay bibliographies, book bibliography, and book index.

Magistrale, Tony, ed. Landscape of Fear: Stephen King’s American Gothic. Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular Press, 1988. Placing King in an American gothic tradition with Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and William Faulkner, this study treats sociopolitical themes such as “The Betrayal of Technology,” individual accountability, innocence betrayed, and survival in the novels through It. The text is supplemented by a bibliography of scholarship from 1980 to 1987.

Miller Power, Brenda, Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, and Kelly Chandler, eds. Reading Stephen King: Issues of Censorship, Student Choice, and Popular Literature. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1997. Examines issues at the heart of horror fiction. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Reino, Joseph. Stephen King: The First Decade. Boston: Twayne, 1988. This book-by-book analysis, from Carrie to Pet Sematary, attempts to show King’s literary merits, stressing subtle characterization and nuances of symbolism and allusion. The text is supplemented by a chronology, notes, and primary and secondary bibliographies.

Russell, Sharon. Revisiting Stephen King. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. Analyses of King’s later works, from The Green Mile through Dreamcatcher.

Spignesi, Stephen J. The Complete Stephen King Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to the Works of America’s Master of Horror. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1991. First published with the title The Shape Under the Sheet, this is an important guide for all students of King. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.

Spignesi, Stephen J. The Essential Stephen King: The Greatest Novels, Short Stories, Movies, and Other Creations of the World’s Most Popular Writer. New Page, 2001. A useful discussion of the horror writer’s works by a King enthusiast.

Underwood, Tim, and Chuck Miller, eds. Fear Itself: The Horror Fiction of Stephen King, 1976-1982. San Francisco: Underwood-Miller, 1982. This is another collection of articles on King’s work. The articles vary in quality, with Ben Indick’s “King and the Literary Tradition of Horror” providing a good introduction to the history of the horror genre. Douglas Winter’s essay, “The Night Journeys of Stephen King,” discusses several of the short stories. Includes a bibliography.

Wiater, Stanley, Christopher Golden, and Hank Wagner. The Stephen King Universe: A Tale-by-Tale Examination of the Interconnected Elements in His Work. St. Martin’s Press, 2001. A critical feast of all things King. The authors explore the common themes, places, and characters that run through King’s novels. Resources include a biographical chronology, a bibliography, and an index.

Winter, Douglas E. The Art of Darkness: The Life and Fiction of the Master of the Macabre, Stephen King. 1984. Rev. ed. New York: New American Library, 1989. Winter’s work provides a perceptive critical overview of King’s work, with long articles on each novel up to The Talisman and a chapter on the short stories in Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. Winter also includes summaries of King’s short stories, a short biography of King, and extensive bibliographies both of King’s work and of books and articles written about him.

Stephen King Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Stephen Edwin King is one of the most influential American writers of horror fiction of the latter half of the twentieth century; he is certainly the most popular. He was born in Portland, Maine, on September 21, 1947, to Donald and Ruth King. He graduated from the University of Maine in 1970 and married Tabitha Spruce in 1971; King and his family settled in Maine. Before achieving his position as the dean of American horror fiction, King supported his family by working as a janitor, in a laundry, and in a knitting mill. He later taught high school English and was writer-in-residence at the University of Maine at Orono from 1978 to 1979.{$S[A]Bachman, Richard;King, Stephen}

King’s first novel, Carrie, was an immediate hit and was made into a 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek. From this first novel King established himself as a master of horror, but with the blood and terror operating on a controlled level during most of the story. This repressed mayhem and terror actually adds to, rather than diffuses, the general sense of dread experienced by readers. In Carrie King also takes up a theme that will recur in most of his later fiction: horror on the home front. Rather than sending his readers to exotic, unreal lands to meet demons and monsters, King prefers to let the terrors out of the kitchen cupboard; his horrors spring from the everyday lives of common people. This matter-of-factness and almost mundane quality enhance the shock value of the horrors once they begin to occur. For example, in Carrie, the psychokinetic vengeance that the unhappy Carrie unleashes on her tormentors at her high school’s spring ball is released because she has been the butt of their ridicule for a long time. When she reaches her breaking point, all hell literally breaks loose.

In another early novel, The Shining, King sets his demons loose in an isolated mountain retreat where a blocked writer has gone with his wife and small son to find the solitude he needs to get on with his writing. King again takes an ordinary group of people and puts them in an impossible situation, one in which the psychological pressures of the father’s writer’s block almost press the ghosts, demons, and other terrors from the inn’s woodwork. As in most of his fiction, once the father’s personal demons begin to tear free of their shackles, King indulges his taste for the horrifyingly graphic description of the blood, gore, and violence that shakes the family.

Besides being a gifted writer of popular horror in the tradition of H. P. Lovecraft (a writer whom King admires) and Edgar Allan Poe, King is an adept weaver of stories of childhood, but a childhood full of the terrors that most children experience only in their worst nightmares. In King’s novels the bogeyman does not vanish when the light comes on; he stays and terrifies child and adult alike. King seems to be saying that the horror waits for everyone just beneath the phony surface sophistication that people prefer to believe they can maintain, even in the face of the nameless terror waiting in the closets of childhood bedrooms. That is certainly the case in such King novels as It, in which a terrifying reptilian bogeyman lurks in a small town’s sewers, slithering out at dusk to capture children by enticing them to follow the shapes out of which their daydreams are made. Once snared by this demon the balloonman’s face disappears, and the monster beneath reaches out to drag the child screaming into the bowels of the sewer. How many adults gave sewer grates a wide berth as children, fearing the worst? In It King shows his readers that they had good reason to fear those dark, dank holes.

Similarly, in Pet Sematary, King takes a childhood preoccupation with death and explores what happens when the children of another small town bury their dead pets in a section of the fields best left to the ancient ghost-demons that inhabit them. King is at his best when writing either about an adult’s personal demons—as in Misery, which tells the story of every writer’s worst nightmare (an author is taken prisoner by a demented fan)—or about children and adolescents, as in Firestarter or his short novel The Body. Besides such domestic horror tales, King has written a gripping account of a postapocalyptic world in his book The Stand, in which 95 percent of the earth’s population has been destroyed by a virulent strain of influenza. The Dead Zone, on the other hand, is a tale in which a young man awakens from a long coma to discover that he can see the futures of certain people—most important, a politician whom the young man sees rising to power and starting a nuclear war. In both these novels King takes on Armageddon with startling reality and clarity of vision; unlike his other horror stories, these books each project a horror that could conceivably become a reality—which may be why both stories strike many readers as particularly unsettling.

King has also tried his hand at “sword and sorcery” tales and has produced some remarkably entertaining stories of knights, damsels in distress, and sinister sorcerers. The Dark Tower is the first book in an epic fantasy series about a mythic land grounded in Western European legends, and The Eyes of the Dragon, which King wrote for his children, tells the story of a young man’s quest to outwit an evil magician and save a magical kingdom. On the other hand, King’s novels of the early to mid-1990’s focus on more adult, realistic horrors, downplaying or even excluding supernatural elements. Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, and Rose Madder eschew imaginary monsters, dealing instead with the all-too-real horrors of incest and spouse abuse. Insomnia, though replete with fantastic situations, grounds its otherworldly horrors in the real-life controversy regarding abortion.

In June, 1999, King was struck by a car as he walked along the side of the road near his house in Maine. His injuries were severe and for a while it was uncertain whether he would be able to continue writing. Although he recovered more completely than many expected, his work since the accident has been, in the opinion of some critics, of lesser quality, and King began to express a desire to retire; both King and his critics felt that he was beginning to repeat himself. However, King continued to announce future projects on his Web site, so his retirement is not imminent.

King is a prolific writer, much to the satisfaction of his readers. The fiction that he produced in the 1970’s (some of it written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman) is perhaps somewhat more graphic in its violence, while that of the 1980’s tends more toward implied menace, the monsters lurking offstage, waiting in the wings to slash and grab the characters—and, by implication, the reader. This, in turn, gives way to his less traditionally horrific, more socially conscious fiction beginning in the 1990’s. Examining the first three decades of King’s work provides a good idea of the scope of his interests and talents, his ability to provoke thought as well as chills.

Stephen King Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111207896-King_S.jpgStephen King Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Stephen Edward King was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. He was the second son of a middle-aged couple, Donald and Nellie King. In 1949, Donald King disappeared and was never seen or heard from again by his family. Stephen and his elder brother, David, were brought up in straitened circumstances by their mother, who was forced to rely upon the charity of relatives. The family spent several years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Stratford, Connecticut, before settling down, in 1958, in Durham, Maine, where Nellie cared for her aging parents.

Stephen King was a rather sickly child, and illness once kept him out of school for an entire year. To entertain himself, he began writing at about the age of seven, first copying stories from children’s books and later creating his own fantasy tales. By age twelve, he was cranking out science-fiction stories on an old Underwood typewriter his mother had given him; he even sought, unsuccessfully, to have them published. In 1959, in a box of his father’s old books stored in an attic, he discovered collections from Weird Tales, a fantasy and horror magazine of the 1940’s, as well as a volume of stories by horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Horror tales soon became an obsession, and King eventually came upon those of Richard Matheson, another prominent writer of the genre. King has frequently acknowledged Matheson’s great influence on his own writing.

While in high school, King made copies of his stories on an old printing press his brother had acquired and sold them at school. Though these first efforts at professionalism were quickly aborted by the school principal, King became certain of his ultimate commercial success. After graduation in 1966, he entered the University of Maine at Orono, majoring in English. As a freshman, he wrote his first professionally published short story, “The Glass Floor,” which appeared in a collection titled Startling Mystery Stories, edited by Robert Lowndes. King also completed his first novel, a psychological thriller called Getting It On. By his junior year, he had completed another novel, a long story of a high school race riot, and several more short stories. Though he completed several creative writing courses, they seemed only to stifle him, and he finally asked the instructor of a poetry seminar he was taking, Burton Hatlen, to read one of his novels. Hatlen’s enthusiastic response bolstered King’s self-esteem and reinforced his ambition to become a professional writer.

Throughout his college career, King published many stories in college literary magazines as well as writing a weekly opinion column in the school newspaper, but he had to support himself by working part time in the university library. While there, he met another less-than-affluent student, Tabitha Jane Spruce. After a somewhat halting courtship, they were married in January, 1971, seven months after King graduated with a teaching certification in English. Tabitha King, like her husband, would eventually become a novelist.

Unable to find a teaching position immediately, King worked in an industrial laundry, while his wife was a waitress. Writing at night, he sold several stories to men’s magazines such as Cavalier and refined his novel Getting It On, which he submitted to Doubleday. Though Doubleday did not publish the book, King did manage to find a teaching job at Hampden Academy, near Hermon, Maine, in the fall of 1971.

His teaching duties and financial worries prevented King from being very creative, and, bereft of new ideas, he expanded an old short story he had written, “Carrie,” into his first horror novel. He did not think much of it and only reluctantly sent the manuscript off to Doubleday. He was much surprised when, in the spring of 1973, he received a check for $2,500 as an advance against royalties on its hardcover publication. Several months later, the paperback rights were sold for a sum large enough to allow King to leave teaching and become a full-time writer.

Carrie appeared in bookstores in the spring of 1974 and was modestly successful. King soon finished and published another novel, ’Salem’s Lot (1975), which was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. It was not until the following year, however, that his career really took off. That spring, a motion-picture version of Carrie was released, its spectacular success suddenly making King the most popular horror writer in the country. He has retained this position ever since, and it has been consistently reinforced through a string of best-selling novels and short stories as well as several successful screenplays. In 1999, King was struck by a car and nearly killed, undergoing years of surgery and physical therapy to recover. He was in the middle of his memoir On Writing (2000) and included this life-changing incident when he finally completed that work.

King has experimented with different publication models: His novel The Green Mile (1996) was originally a serial, the story “Riding the Bullet” was originally offered as an e-book exclusive, and he even tried to publish his novel The Plant on the Internet through voluntary donations. King’s long-standing popularity remains controversial among some sectors of the literary elite: When he won the National Book Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003, a minor furor was raised. That same year, he began writing a monthly column for Entertainment Weekly. In 2004, King completed his decades-long fantasy epic the Dark Tower, a series indirectly connected to many other books in his oeuvre. Claiming in 2002 that he would retire after completing several projects, King apparently spoke prematurely: He continues to write and to plan new projects.

Stephen King Biography

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Introduction

What can happen when a literary-minded boy develops a keen interest in comic books and H. P. Lovecraft stories? He might grow up to become Stephen King, the most prominent and prolific horror author of the modern era. King lived in a poor, single-parent household where he often turned to reading wild fiction and writing his own stories for entertainment. By the time he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English, King had already penned numerous articles for his high school and university newspapers, so it’s no wonder that he has gone on to publish so many stories. What is surprising, though, is that this once-timid English teacher who typed out his novels in a laundry room makes his living by scaring the wits out of the rest of world.

Essential Facts

  1. King’s first novel, Carrie, almost never made it to print. King’s wife, Tabitha, rescued it from the garbage and encouraged King to complete the work.
  2. An avid Boston Red Sox fan, King coordinates many aspects of his life around baseball. He frequently travels to Red Sox spring training sites, he trims his facial hair based on the beginning and end of the season, and he even appeared in the movie Fever Pitch...about an obsessed Red Sox fan, of course!
  3. King has written several works under the name Richard Bachman, a pseudonym created to enable him to publish and sell more than one book a year, which was once widely thought to be the maximum production for an author.
  4. Though he says he has no real musical talent, King plays guitar in the band Rock Bottom Remainders. Other band members include the writers Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, and Dave Berry.
  5. In 1999, King was hit by a car and almost killed while out on his daily walk. This accident occurred less than a year after he wrote about one of his characters being struck by a car while out on a daily walk.