Stephen King (1947 -)
(Full name Stephen Edwin King; has written as Steve King, and under pseudonyms Richard Bachman, John Swithen, and Eleanor Druse) American novelist, short story writer, novella writer, scriptwriter, nonfiction writer, autobiographer, and author of children's books.
Stephen 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 fiction features colloquial language, clinical attention to physical detail and emotional states, realistic settings, and an emphasis on contemporary problems. His exploration of such issues as marital infidelity and peer group acceptance lend credibility to the supernatural elements in his fiction. King's 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, to Donald Edwin King, a U.S. merchant marine, and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. His father abandoned the family when King was two years old. King, his brother, and his mother went to live with relatives in Durham, Maine, and then to various other cities. They returned to Durham to stay in 1958. King was very close to his mother, who supported the family with a series of low-paying jobs and read to him often as a child. She later encouraged King to send his work to publishers. She died of cancer in 1973 without seeing the enormous success her son achieved as a writer. 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 Maine at Orono, where he majored in English and minored in speech. King has a deep political awareness, and was active in student politics and the anti-war movement; with the exception of his short story "The Children of the Corn," he has avoided setting his stories in the 1960s and 1970s because of the painful and difficult issues associated with the time period. After his graduation in 1970, King was unable to secure a teaching position, and worked as a gas station attendant and in a laundry. On January 2, 1971, King married novelist Tabitha Jane Spruce; the couple has three children. 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 instructor at the University of Maine at Orono; this experience informed his Danse Macabre (1981), a series of essays about the horror genre. King suffered a serious health challenge on June 19, 1999, when he was struck by a van while walking alongside a road near his home. He sustained injuries to his spine, hip, ribs, and right leg. One of his broken ribs punctured a lung, and he nearly died. He began a slow progress towards recovery, cheered by countless cards and letters from his fans. King had also begun work on a writer's manual before his accident, and the result, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000), sold more copies in its first printing than any previous book about writing. In addition to King's advice on crafting fiction, however, the book includes a great deal of autobiographical material. The author chronicles his childhood, his rise to fame, his struggles with addiction, and the 1999 accident that almost ended his life. While King has played with the idea of giving up publishing his writings, his legion of fans continues to be delighted that the idea has not yet become a reality. In 2004, under the pseudonym of Eleanor Druse, King published The Journals of Eleanor Druse: My Investigation of the Kingdom Hospital Incident. He has also continued with his "Dark Tower" series with the publication of The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla in 2003. King completed the final two installments of the series—The Dark Tower VI: The Songs of Susannah and The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower—in 2004.
King's fiction has extended into a variety of categories within the horror genre, including vampire and zombie stories, tales of possession, and incidents involving a character's discovery of supernatural powers. He has also successfully branched out into science fiction, fantasy, and westerns. Most of his adult protagonists are ordinary, middle-class people who find themselves involved in some otherworldly nightmare from which they cannot escape. Many of his stories have elements of Gothic fiction. Most notable among these are 'Salem's Lot (1975), The Shining (1977) and Pet Sematary (1983). 'Salem's Lot centers on a series of mysterious deaths in a once-idyllic New England village. The Shining tells the tale of Jack Torrance, an alcoholic writer who brings his family to live in an empty mountain hotel for the winter. Demonized by the spirits that haunt the hotel, he tries to kill his wife and child but ultimately kills himself instead. In Pet Sematary, a college professor resurrects his young son, who is killed when he ventures onto a nearby highway, by burying him in his neighbor's pet cemetery. The child, like the family's cat before him, returns, but with sinister results. Other King novels cited for containing elements of the Gothic include The Dead Zone (1979), Christine (1983), Cycle of the Werewolf (1983), The Talisman (1984), Bag of Bones (1997), and Black House (2001).
Reviewers who have analyzed King's novels often praise the rhythm and pacing of his narratives. Others praise the author for his ability to make the unreal seem entirely plausible. Critics who dismiss King's work usually accuse him of being a formula writer, but his supporters assert that this is part of King's talent, and praise his ability to adapt the Gothic and melodrama in popular literature for contemporary audiences. Heidi Strengell recounts King's repeated use of the Gothic double in his oeuvre, and highlights the numerous forms that double assumes. Critics have also pointed to the influence of literary classics, especially Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and Herman Melville's Moby Dick on King's use of the Gothic. Jesse W. Nash, on the other hand, argues that King's Gothic is particularly rooted in popular culture and his own life experiences and therefore represents a singular, postmodern interpretation of the genre.