Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Once and Future King

I've gone and done it again. I started reading a Stephen King book a few days ago and today I began reading a second Stephen King book.

It seems that every 5 years or so I go on a mini-Stephen King reading rampage. The thing is - I hate Stephen King. Well, not really, but, well, the guy frustrates the heck out of me.

He is one of the best-selling, most-accepted, mainstream authors of all-time. A fact which vexes me to the point of obsession. What is his secret? How'd he do it? Why him?

So in an attempt to figure it out, every few years I decide to read a Stephen King book. I'll admit I enjoy most of them. But really my motive for starting a new one is to pick it apart - to expose its inner workings and in doing so discover King's secret.

But then something happens. Usually about half-way into the book. I get hooked with a capital H. And in the days that follow I read about 5 more Stephen King books. By weeks end I am usually left highly entertained but no closer to unearthing King's magic.

And that annoys me. To the point where I don't even want to hear his name for a few years. I even keep my King books in the basement - out of sight - because really it makes me ill to look at them.

I feel like there is something wrong, something lesser, about Stephen King. It is literary snobbery - something I usually revile but for some reason practice in the case of Stephen King.

This time around I decided to read his much heralded "The Gunslinger" which has inevitably led me to pick-up "The Drawing of the Three".

A blurb on the back said that the Dark Tower series was the most compelling reading experience of modern times. I don't know about that, but the story is pretty darn fun.

As I am half-way through "The Drawing of the Three", I find myself admiring King more than I ever have allowed myself to before. Mainly because I just read a passage that may be the best King passage I've ever read. For those who know the series - the sequence where Roland first 'talks' to The Prisoner, Eddie Dean, is the passage I'm talking about. It was awesome - incredible, thrilling stuff and yet frustrating as ever.

And here's why. King is so damned simple! His writing is so damned straight-forward and simple that it just doesn't feel like it should be as good as it is!

After reading his simple passage describing an otherwise complex mind-inhabiting-telepathy-like experience - it hit me. I was thrilled by his simple description of this complicated idea and then suddenly I was hit with several insights into King's secret recipe at once.

I found myself reflecting back on the first book "The Gunslinger" which is good, but not great, but fun enough to make me pick up "Drawing of the Three". "Gunslinger" is amateurish King and comparing it to "Drawing..." is where the secret began to show itself.

1. King is a master at describing the complex and fantastic with Hemingway-like simplicity. This simplicity makes King accessible like no-other writer in his genres. In fact his style of simplicity in language is so straight-forward that it removes the stigma of genre (horror/fantasy) from his books so that normal folks don't feel like geeky, malcontents for reading them.

2. King always has a mystery subplot in every story. He always tosses out some hints at something deeper going on - or at the very least something weird that needs to be explained. This was never more obvious than in the Gunslinger epic.

Everybody is dying to know the answer and he expertly strings us along to find out. Even if we aren't enjoying the book, we will keep reading to get the answer. Or more importantly the connection. How does Roland in the Old West connect to the falcon training fantasy crap? Keep reading to find out - which you will because connection between the two worlds seems so impossible.

3. King makes the reader feel like they are part of the developing story. King writes in a way that makes you feel like he is making it up as you read along. This is the real source of his 'compelling reading'. In his afterwords and forewords in the Dark Tower series - he admits he has no clue where it is going. This added to the sense of mystery (explanations of weird connections) keeps readers reading because they feel like practically anything could happen from one page to the next.

Whether or not King actually makes things up as he goes is a mystery. As a writer I have to believe he doesn't and is just really good at faking it. Which is a form of genius in its own right.

There is no denying that Stephen King is a genius. Which is why I am obsessed with him and his writing. I will probably finish the Dark Tower series by the beginning of next week. Who knows what revelations into King's secret books 3-6 will reveal?

Originally posted on March 28, 2007 on Myspace.

No comments:

Post a Comment