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.