Greetings, Salutations and All That Jazz,
I feel privileged that in my earliest reading years I understood what it meant to read a good book. I think in part, I have you to thank for that Mr Stephen King. As a young reader, I understood that to enter into worlds created by words requires payment- I was to surrender something of myself – perhaps my time, perhaps peaceful sleep. But in such a transaction, I would gain far more than I gave – or, at least I should gain far more than I gave. To be invited into a world shaped and built on words printed on tea coloured paper should be a memorable experience. If not life changing, certainly life shaping – it was for me.
“When you read a book as a child it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your life does” (Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail)
I know now of course, that not everyone has that experience with books. Nor do I enjoy the privilege of being so utterly swept into another realm that I forget to breathe with every book I read – disappointingly so. But your
stories, StephenKing, your stories do that for me. At least, some of them do. I won’t deny that some scare the shit out of me and I won’t profess to have read them all, but if I had to list my top ten favourite stories of all time, I’m guessing at least two of them would belong to you. That’s a pretty good batting average, wouldn’t you say?
I’m sure somewhere along the line I managed to squeeze in a few children’s stories – Enid Blyton’s Faraway Series comes to mind, but it was Travelling Jack, Speedy Parker and the Territories’ dying queen that captured my imagination most fiercely, my heart irrevocably. The seven best friends who fought Pennywise in a sewer were my friends and it was my blood that spilt, and my body that trembled in fear as they battled Evil in the dark. Their nightmares woke me up in a cold sweat, and their courage inspired me to turn the page, though heartache was guaranteed. I dreaded the final word on the last page and would sturbbornly refuse to acknowledge the looming presence of The End so fiercely, as if it were my own ending.
So, here I am. Your Reader. I want to tell you what your books mean to me, how they have impacted my reading life and love of the written word. I want to talk to you about some of the characters you’ve created, the plots you concoct, and your wonderful ability to take the English language, and use it to create such vivid, real worlds in my imagination. I want to talk to you about other books I read – and ask what you think of them. I need a space to blurt out the ever growing thoughts that are threatening to start spewing out of my ears if I don’t put them somewhere. So, here I am: Your Reader, with jumbles and mumbles of churned to the bone musings that I would like to share with you, Mr Stephen King.
So, perhaps, a good place to start – at the risk of being too clichéd, is at the beginning – the genesis of my relationship with the written word. Mr King, you were there. You were there at my beginning. Some of my earliest memories of being held captive by words on pages, worlds in print, friendships formed through Times New Roman, are from your books, Mr. StephenKing. My mum’s bookshelves were lined with your works and the first one she allowed me to share was “The Eyes of the Dragon”. I don’t remember much of the story to be honest, it was perhaps 20 years ago, but I do recall the feelings it evoked as I stepped into the world you created: Intrigue, curiosity, dread, but most importantly: thirst. A deep and ravaging thirst for What Comes Next. I should probably read that book again.
The next book I recall reading was your collaborative work with Peter Straub, The Talisman. To this day, when people ask what my favourite book is, I usually answer either “Stephen King’s, ‘The Talisman’”, (yes, I know there was another author, but that’s how I answer – sorry, Peter Straub), or Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (we’ll discuss that one later). I’ve actually just picked up The Talisman again – and I’m swept away. The state of this book is evidence alone of how well loved it is: it looks like it’s gone 3 rounds with a shredder and come out bloody. There is no front or back cover, and decade old sticky tape binds the first torn pages together. Fortunately, the spine is in tact – just. This book is something of an heirloom in my family. It belongs to my mum and is probably older than I am. As I said, it’s well loved. This time, my reading senses are attuned to different details, such as your ability to create familiar, believable, mutli-dimensional characters in less than 100 words! The example in particular that I recall is ‘the balding C.P.A, Larry’:
”A family passing in an old station-wagon stopped squabbling long enough to look at him curiously. The man driving the wagon, a balding C.P.A. who sometimes awoke in the middle of the night fancying that he could feel shooting pains in his chest and down his left arm, had a sudden and absurd series of thoughts: Adventure. Danger. A quest of some noble purpose. Dreams of fear and glory. He shook his head, as if to clear it, and glanced at the boy in the wagon’s rear-view mirror just as the kid leaned over to look at something. Christ, the balding C.P.A thought. Get it out of your head, Larry, you sound like a fucking boys’ adventure book.
Larry shot into traffic, quickly getting the wagon up to seventy, forgetting about the kid in the dirty jeans by the side of the road. If he could get home by three, he’d be in good time to watch the middleweight title fight on ESPN.” (p.260)
OK, so less than 200 words, and here is a fully fledged, believable character – never to be heard of again, but we don’t doubt his existence for a second. I love that! It inspires me – in fact, homework for the oncoming week:
in no more than 200 words, create an utterly believable character. I wonder why this Larry fella struck me so? What was it that you (or P.S) actually did there, Mr StephenKing? Why is he so believable? I have a few
thoughts on this,
- it helps to have insight into Balding C.P.A Larry’s moments of vulnerability – such as his paranoia about having a heartattack. We can infer that he’s probably not the healthiest horse in the stable.
- His immediate and very adult reaction to the absurdity of adventure, danger and noble quests – it’s all too depressingly familiar.
- Aiming to get home by 3 to watch the middleweight title fight. Not only is this so believable in its
boring-cynical-dad-ness, but it highlights the contrast between 12 year old Jack flipping between alternate realities on the quest of a lifetime while his mother’s life hangs in the balance; and ‘Balding C.P.A Larry’, with his lost hope that heroes are real, adventure is out there and there’s more to life than 3 o’clock title fight. The contrast really serves to highlight that the protagonist, Jack, is alone.
- Ultimately, I think C.P.A Larry is believable, and brilliant, because he serves as a mirror – a quick glimpse of life in TheRealWorld and how the stuff of Boys Adventure books belongs on pages between covers, not in dirty jeans on the side of the road – or so we think 😉
And now, Mr StephenKing, I’m going to snuggle up in bed with a cuppa, and finish the book.