King, Stephen (Vol. 55)
Stephen King 1947-
(Full name Stephen Edwin King; has also written under the pseudonyms Richard Bachman and John Swithen) American short story writer, novelist, screenwriter, essayist, autobiographer, and children's author.
The following entry presents criticism of King's short fiction works from 1988 to 2000. See also Stephen King Criticism (Volume 17), and Volumes 26, 113.
King is a prolific and immensely popular author of horror fiction. In his works, King blends elements of the traditional gothic tale with those of the modern psychological thriller, detective, and science fiction genres. His short fiction features colloquial language, clinical attention to physical detail and emotional states, realistic settings, and an emphasis on contemporary problems. His wide popularity attests to his ability to tap into his reader's fear of and inability to come to terms with evil confronted in the everyday world.
King was born in Portland, Maine, on September 21, 1947. When his father abandoned the family when King was only two years old, his mother moved around with King and his brother until they settled down with relatives in Durham, Maine in 1958. King published his first short story, “I Was a Teenage Grave Robber,” in Comics Review in 1965. He also wrote his first full-length manuscript while still in high school. King received a scholarship to the University of Main at Orono, where he was very active in student politics and the antiwar movement. After his graduation in 1970, King was unable to get a teaching job; instead he got jobs pumping gas and then working in a laundry. King spent a short time teaching at the Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine, until the success of his first novel, Carrie (1974) enabled him to focus on writing full time. In 1978 he was writer-in-residence and an instructor at the University of Maine at Orono. Several of his novels, novellas, and short stories have been adapted for the screen and television, and King has made cameo appearances in many of them. He has been given numerous awards for his fiction, and has contributed short stories, essays, and reviews to several periodicals.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Like his novels, the majority of King's horror tales are characterized by something supernatural or unnatural invading the lives of regular people. In “Night Surf,” a group of six young people in Anson Beach, Maine, gather after surviving the deadly flu virus A6. They spend their time listening to the radio and coming to terms with almost certain death. In “The Raft,” four college kids on a raft are systematically grabbed and devoured by a mysterious blob in the water. Critics note that the majority of King's horror stories explore the lives and concerns of people who are traditionally marginalized by society—the young, the old, and women—a factor that is thought to contribute to his immense popularity. Several of King's novellas and short fiction touch on the confusion, anxieties, and insecurity of childhood. For instance, The Body chronicles the story of four twelve-year-old boys who set out to find the body of a man struck by a train. On the journey, the protagonist, Gordie, begins a process of maturation and self-discovery and realizes the importance of friendship. The novella was made into a popular film, Stand by Me. Another novella, Apt Pupil, focuses on a thirteen-year-old boy's discovery of a Nazi war criminal living next door. In the process, the teenager uncovers his own dark, violent side. “The Monkey,” collected in Skeleton Crew, explores the long-repressed anxiety of Hal, represented by a toy monkey that he believes is evil and responsible for the death of his childhood friend, Johnny. As a child, a terrified Hal threw the toy into a well. Now an adult, Hal returns to his hometown for his aunt's funeral, rediscovers the toy monkey, and is forced to deal with the grief and insecurities from his childhood.
Commentators note that King's short fiction is often overshadowed by the widespread popularity of his novels. Moreover, some critics believe that his narrative style and thematic concerns are best suited to the longer form of the novel or novella, and not that of the short story. Since many of King's short stories deal with the anxieties and challenges of adolescence, critics perceive such themes as memory, innocence, child abuse, friendship, and security as central to his work. Furthermore, the representation of women and the role of sexuality in King's fiction has garnered critical attention. Stylistically, his use of repetition and flashback has also been a topic of analysis. Some reviewers contend that King's short fiction is overly sentimental, sometimes derivative, inconsistent in quality, and obsessed with violence and morbidity. Despite critical opinion on his short fiction, King's profound influence on modern horror literature cannot be denied. Reviewers regard his work as an insightful reflection of the fears, anxieties, and obsessions of the late twentieth century.
The Star Invaders [as Steve King] 1964
Night Shift 1978
Different Seasons 1982
Cycle of the Werewolf 1983
Skeleton Crew 1985
Four Past Midnight 1990
Nightmares and Dreamscapes (short stories, poem, and essay) 1993
Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales 2002
Carrie: A Novel of a Girl with a Frightening Power (novel) 1974
'Salem's Lot (novel) 1975
Rage [as Richard Bachman] (novel) 1977
The Shining (novel) 1977
The Stand (novel) 1978
Another Quarter Mile: Poetry (poetry) 1979
The Dead Zone (novel) 1979
The Long Walk [as Richard Bachman] (novel) 1979
Firestarter (novel) 1980
Cujo (novel) 1981
Roadwork: A Novel of the First Energy Crisis [as Richard Bachman] (novel) 1981
Stephen King's Danse Macabre (nonfiction) 1981
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (novel) 1982
The Running Man [as Richard Bachman] (novel) 1982
Christine (novel) 1983
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SOURCE: Reino, Joseph. “Fantasies of Summer and Fall: Full of Sound and Fury.” In Stephen King: The First Decade, Carrie to Pet Sematary, pp. 117-35. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.
[In the following essay, Reino provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of the novellas comprising Different Seasons.]
With brief seasonal subtitles, Different Seasons (1982) attempts to bind together four unusual novellas of varying lengths and moods. Taken from the optimistic “Essay on Man” of the eighteenth-century English poet Alexander Pope, “Hope Springs Eternal” is the subtitle of the vernal season, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption—a subtitle that is, at the tag-end of the violence-ridden twentieth century, little more than a pleasant, but not quite believable, cliché. The second and longest of the novellas, the sinister Apt Pupil, is a “Summer of Corruption”—an apparent variation on the “winter of our discontent” from the oft-quoted opening line of Shakespeare's Richard III. The third and autumnal season, The Body (widely acknowledged as the most nearly autobiographical of King's works), flirts with the attractive deceptions of an American Eden and is, consequently, a “Fall from Innocence.” The fourth, The Breathing Method, easily the most fantastic of the group, is appropriately subtitled with Shakespeare's late fantasy-romance,...
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SOURCE: Magistrale, Tony. “Ship of Ghouls: Skeleton Crew.” In Stephen King: The Second Decade, Danse Macabre to The Dark Half, pp. 86-99. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.
[In the following essay, Magistrale offers a mixed assessment of King's short fiction collection Skeleton Crew and asserts that the stories focus on the same themes as King's longer fiction.]
When rationality begins to break down, the circuits of the human brain can overload. Axons grow bright and feverish. Hallucinations turn real: the quicksilver puddle at the point where perspective makes parallel lines seem to intersect is really there; the dead walk and talk; a rose begins to sing.1
All artists have personalities and distinctions that give shape to their art; no one is equally skilled at everything. Artists who attempt to stretch beyond their innate powers command respect but frequently risk failure. The problem is compounded by the vagaries of audience expectation. Every artist who presents work for public consumption has an image, and for careerist reasons must change it only with extreme caution.
I suspect that King's greatest achievements, like those of his early mentor William Faulkner, will continue to be his novels. While loquaciousness and a tendency toward looseness in plot are major liabilities in some of his longer...
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SOURCE: Davis, Jonathan P. “Childhood and Rites of Passage.” In Stephen King's America, pp. 48-69. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Davis explores King's treatment of childhood in his short fiction and novels.]
The child in adult life is defenceless And if he is grown-up, knows it, And the grown-up looks at the childish part And despises it.
—Stevie Smith “To Carry the Child”
Anyone who has read Stephen King extensively will find that he spends a large amount of time exploring childhood. Childhood to King is a magical time, a time when the world seems magnificent in its literal beauty, a time when a human being is most splendid because of ignorance of worldly evil. King recollects with fondness an age when imaginative capacities are boundless because they are not yet bogged down by the spirit-corrupting concerns of adulthood. This preoccupation with youth in his fiction becomes both significant and inspirational when seen from the light that King is writing in an America that attempts to desensitize its young by exposing it continuously to violence and sex in both the entertainment and news media, forcing it to mature at too early an age. Children to King are like lumps of clay on a potter's wheel waiting to be sculpted into the individuals they will later become; they are the most impressionable...
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SOURCE: Cassuto, Leonard. “Repulsive Attractions: ‘The Raft,’ the Vagina Dentata, and the Slasher Formula.” In Imagining the Worst: Stephen King and the Representation of Women, edited by Kathleen Margaret Lant and Theresa Thompson, pp. 61-78. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.
[In the following essay, Cassuto finds parallels between “The Raft” and the slasher-film genre, and views the mysterious monster in the story as an embodiment of the vagina dentata.]
“Twice-told tales” occupy a time-honored place in American literature, but Stephen King's “The Raft” deserves attention as a twice-written one. King himself was so haunted by his own creation that he rewrote the story from memory in 1981, thirteen years after first devising it. (He had published it in an obscure skin magazine in 1968 as “The Float,” but he never located a copy and later discovered that he had lost the original typescript.) From his brief account of the story's composition, it's clear that King rewrote it because he wanted to read it himself, presumably because—to use his own phrase—it pushed his “horror-button” as hard as it does those of his readers (Danse Macabre, 273).1
I want to consider the lingering power of “The Raft” in terms of its genre conventions and central symbol. The story is a simple one: Four reckless college students (two men and two...
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SOURCE: DeCuir, André L. “The Power of the Feminine and the Gendered Construction of Horror in Stephen King's ‘The Reach’.” In Imagining the Worst: Stephen King and the Representation of Women, edited by Kathleen Margaret Lant and Theresa Thompson, pp. 79-89. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.
[In the following essay, DeCuir examines the themes of childbirth and horror in King's “The Reach.”]
In “A Dream of New Life: Stephen King's Pet Sematary as a Variant of Frankenstein,” Mary Ferguson Pharr attempts to draw parallels between Mary Shelley's great work and Stephen King's reworking of “the dream of new life … a dream both seductive and malefic, the stuff finally of nightmares made flesh” (116). Pharr seeks to show that “what King has done in Pet Sematary is not to copy Mary Shelley, but rather to amplify the cultural echo she set in motion so that its resonance is clearer to the somewhat jaded, not always intellectual reader of Gothic fantasy today” (118).
Needless to say, gallons upon gallons of scholarly ink have been spilled over Shelley's multi-layered text, but all critics of the novel seem to be indebted to Ellen Moers's discussion of Frankenstein as a “woman's mythmaking on the subject of birth” (93), “a hideous thing” (95). According to Moers, when Victor “runs away and abandons the newborn monster,”...
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SOURCE: Sanders, Joe. “‘Monsters from the Id!’ in Stephen King's ‘The Monkey.’” Extrapolation 41, no. 3 (fall 2000): 257-65.
[In the following essay, Sanders relates King's story “The Monkey” to the film Forbidden Planet, in its psychic personification of the human id or subconscious.]
Considering how much more effective Stephen King's horrific images are on the page than on the screen, it probably is just as well that no movie has been made of “The Monkey,” in which a scruffy child's toy seems to be the source of all supernatural menace. What could be frightening about a broken clockwork monkey that can't even bang its little cymbals together when someone turns its wind-up key? Yet King somehow does involve readers in a distraught father's memories of a series of violent deaths during his youth that seem to portend the destruction of his present family. The toy monkey is featured on the cover of King's second collection, Skeleton Crew, and the story somehow is genuinely disturbing.
Critics have recognized the effectiveness of “The Monkey” but have had trouble identifying the source of its power. The major critical issue appears to be whether the little doll embodies a threat from outside, something that intrudes into the small circle of ordinary human experience from the surrounding darkness, or whether the toy monkey reflects something...
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Bosky, Bernadette Lynn Bosky. “The Mind's a Monkey: Character and Psychology in Stephen King's Recent Fiction.” In Kingdom of Fear: The World of Stephen King, edited by Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller, pp. 209-40. San Francisco: Underwood-Miller, 1986.
Discusses King's more recent fiction.
Collings, Michael R. and David Engebretson. The Shorter Works of Stephen King. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, Inc., 1985, p.
Comprehensive appraisal of King's short fiction from early uncollected tales, through Skeleton Crew, and including later uncollected stories.
Davis, Jonathan P. Stephen King's America. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994, 183 p.
Surveys the major thematic concerns in King's short fiction and novels and includes several interviews with King.
Elliott, Stuart. “Stephen King's New Collection of Short Stories is On the Beam, Literally, to Would-Be Buyers.” New York Times (19 March 2002): C6.
Addresses the unique marketing strategies of the collection Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales.
Review of Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales, by Stephen King. Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 5 (1 March 2002): 281.
Claims “King remains strong in...
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