Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Horror is often based on unintended consequences for well-intentioned people. How does this bear out in Stephen King’s work?
Explore connections in the King “universe” and how it influences the reading of a novel. Does knowing how different books relate to one another change the reading of a work?
Horror often posits an unfair or unjust world, a belief that King reinforces in some works and at other times denies. Is there a discernible pattern to when King seeks justice in his fiction and to when he does not?
Explore King’s use of pop culture in his writing— how he approaches it stylistically and the ways in which it enriches his work thematically.
In King’s novels, human frailty often plays a role in the furtherance of evil. Find specific examples and trace their development in the course of a story.
What do readers learn about the life of writers in King’s work? How is creativity both a gift and a bane to King’s characters?
Consider how horror unfolds in a specific King work. How does foreshadowing help lay the groundwork? What surprises occur suddenly? What twists upend expectations? In terms of technique, how successful is King when he tries to create fear?
Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Stephen King is best known for his horror novels, which he is known for publishing at the rate of approximately one per year, several under the name Richard Bachman. Many of his novels have been made into films, and he has written several screenplays himself, including original works specifically for the screen, such as Cat’s Eye (1984) and Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers (1992). His teleplay Storm of the Century (1999) was also published in novel form the same year. A few of his poems have been included in his short-story collections, and he has written an analysis of horror fiction entitled Danse Macabre (1981).
Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Stephen King became, in a relatively short time, one of the most popular writers in the United States. Nearly every book he has published has reached the best-seller lists, whether in hardback or paperback, and has often remained there for months. He is respected in the field of horror fiction, and several of his books have received World Fantasy Award nominations. He has received the World Fantasy Award for his short story “Do the Dead Sing?” (1981), a British Fantasy Award for Cujo (1981), and a Hugo Award for his nonfiction work Danse Macabre. He has won special recognition for his contributions to horror fiction by both the British Fantasy Awards and the World Fantasy Awards. In 1986 Skeleton Crew won the Locus Award for best collection. The short story “The Man in the Black Suit” won a World Fantasy Award in 1995.
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
In addition to his novels, Stephen King has published many short stories, including the collections Night Shift (1978), Nightmares and Dreamscapes (1993), and Everything’s Eventual: Fourteen Dark Tales (2002). The collections Different Seasons (1982) and Four Past Midnight (1990) contain novellas, two of which are of central importance to King’s body of work. In The Body, a boy’s confrontation with mortality shapes his developing identity as a writer. In The Mist, King in his satirical and apocalyptic mode brings Armageddon to the Federal Foods Supermarket as an assortment of grade-B film monsters that inhabit a dense fog.
The relations of King’s fiction with the electronic media are many and complex. Much of his fiction has been adapted to both the large and small screens, although it usually plays best in the mind’s eye. Several of King’s screenplays have been produced, including Maximum Overdrive (1986), a film he also directed. A relatively successful mixed-media venture was his collaboration with George Romero on Creepshow (1982), a film anthology inspired by the D.C. Comics’ blend of camp and gore and based on King’s own book version. Creepshow II, written by Romero and based on King’s stories, appeared in 1987. King’s teleplays include The Stand (1994), which is based on his novel, and Storm of the Century (1999), which was written expressly for television broadcast. In 2002, he wrote the script for the television miniseries Rose Red. In addition to his works of fiction, King has published numerous articles as well as a critical book, Danse Macabre (1981). In 2000, he published On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and in 2003, he began to publish occasional columns on popular culture in Entertainment Weekly magazine.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Stephen King is perhaps the most widely known American writer of his generation, yet his distinctions include publishing as two authors at once: Beginning in 1966, he wrote novels that were published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. He won many British Fantasy and World Fantasy Awards, including the latter for overall contributions to the genre in 1980. King was at first ignored and then scorned by mainstream critics, but by the late 1980’s his novels were reviewed regularly in The New York Times Book Review with increasing favor. Beginning in 1987, most of his novels were main selections of the Book-of-the-Month Club, which in 1989 created the Stephen King Library, committed to keeping King’s novels “in print in hardcover.”
King was People magazine’s Writer of the Year in 1980. One of his most appropriate distinctions was the October 9, 1986, cover of Time magazine, which depicted a reader, hair on end, transfixed by “A Novel by Stephen King.” The cover story on the “King of Horror” correctly suggested that his achievement and the “horror boom” of the 1970’s and 1980’s are inseparable. Like Edgar Allan Poe, King turned a degenerated genre—a matter of comic-book monsters and drive-in films—into a medium embodying the primary anxieties of his age. His revitalization of the horror genre and his increasingly good reviews from mainstream newspapers and journals culminated in his receiving his most...
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Contribution (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
In the traditional mystery story, a crime (usually a murder) has been committed, and the guilty party must be caught by a detective or the crime must be explained by characters in a logical fashion. Mystery stories often depend on suspense, which is generated by the detective’s pursuit of the criminal, or by events that raise doubts about whether the murderer will be found out. In the end, however, a rational view of the world is triumphant; that is, clues to the crime lead to the apprehension of the criminal. Stephen King’s mystery stories introduce elements of the supernatural and the irrational that cannot be resolved by the deductive method employed in a classic of detective and mystery fiction. The world is less stable than adults are usually willing to admit, King suggests. He often takes a child’s point of view, harking back to the fears that most adults have felt to demonstrate that their anxieties have not been overcome but have been merely repressed. Horror, King implies, is the subtext of human life—the frightening unknowability of things that human beings dare not face. There are malevolent powers out there that cannot be accounted for in a modern, secular world.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Beahm, George W., ed. Stephen King from A to Z: An Encyclopedia of His Life and Work. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews McMeel, 1998. Encyclopedic compendium of entries on every aspect of the author’s fiction and biography.
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...
(The entire section is 1267 words.)