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Stephen King – Why so many Readers and Viewers? by Rocky Wood - 2° part

Creato il 11 febbraio 2013 da Alessandro Manzetti @amanzetti
  Stephen King – Why so many Readers and Viewers? by Rocky Wood - 2° part  Second part of the Rocky Wood's article "Why so many readers and viewers?". The first part is available here. This article is published in Italian on the La Tela Nera portal.  Stephen King – Why so many Readers and Viewers?by Rocky Wood  - 2° part It takes a lot of skill, dedication and not a little respect for both the geographies King creates and his readers for him to deliver on the promise of creating a full-blown town or world.  In many ways it would have been easier to set each story in a new town or anonymous locations without having to concern himself with relevant back story.  It is telling, perhaps, that the key locations (in our world, at least) that recur are in his home State of Maine.  The same feeling of connection between author and place only really seems to occur in the case of Roland’s All-World or for Colorado.  While other locations are generally well described the depth and instant familiarity seem, in retrospect, to be missing. 
That is not to say that some other memorable towns have not been created – Desperation, Nevada; Rock and Roll Heaven, Oregon; many of the devastated small towns of ‘The Stand’; and Gatlin, Nebraska come to mind.  But few seem to reach the level of ‘reality’ that marks King’s Maine creations. King himself often despairs of the lack of interest in the skills and art of fiction writing today.  The media is but interested in surface matters (where do you get your ideas?) and rarely is this prominent exponent of his art asked how his skills developed and how he views the practice of creative writing.  Fortunately, he has provided a number of dissertations on the matter in articles, interviews and in his non-fiction books, ‘On Writing’ and ‘Danse Macabre’.  I recommend those interested take the time to discover these contributions, which go a long way to explaining why King is so successful.  Apart from brilliant story ideas and the ability to create characters and backgrounds to suit them, King is a craftsman, dedicated, as are all good craftsmen, to delivering the best product he can.  Stephen King – Why so many Readers and Viewers? by Rocky Wood - 2° partStephen King and Rocky Wood So. let’s look  at King’s skills inside the two major delivery methods – the written word and the world of film and television. Unlike many writers King seems at home in virtually all forms of the written art.  While he has indulged in relatively little poetry, that which exists is judged well by those who understand the form.  His short stories range from the bizarre (‘Battleground’) to the sublime (‘That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French’).  The relatively unusual form of the novella is well represented in King’s credits, think ‘The Mist’ or ‘The Body’.  Of course, King certainly knows how to write a novel, some of truly epic length.  He has also created a highly satisfying fantasy series (The Dark Tower Cycle)  as well as the most successful serialised novel of modern times (‘The Green Mile’)! He has been equally successful with screenplays.  Although many would argue these are of mixed quality the motivation and timing of each should be taken into account.  Balance for instance the schlock of ‘Maximum Overdrive’ (which appears to me to have achieved pretty much exactly what King intended) with ‘Storm of the Century’, a very powerful and disturbing tale. As the years have passed King has progressed in literary opinion and has begun to receive acknowledgement for the high quality of his writing as well as the sheer power of his stories.  The august magazine, ‘The New Yorker’ has regularly published his work. However, until recently, Awards have come from within the Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy literary communities.  And recognition from one’s own peers is likely to have brought King a certain degree of satisfaction, considering his early roots as a hard-core fan and consumer of those genres.  Stephen King – Why so many Readers and Viewers? by Rocky Wood - 2° part  King has received numerous Bram Stokers, World Fantasy Awards, a Hugo (for ‘Danse Macabre’) and Awards from the British Fantasy Society and the International Horror Guild. Stepping outside genre to the mainstream King has been given the prestigious O. Henry Award.  These Awards are an annual collection of the year's best stories published in American and Canadian magazines and written by American or Canadian authors.  King won first prize (in other words judged to have been the best story written by a North American and published in a North American magazine) in 1996 for ‘The Man in the Black Suit’.  In doing so he joined William Faulkner, Irwin Shaw, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Bernard Malamud and Alice Walker.  Stephen King – Why so many Readers and Viewers? by Rocky Wood - 2° part Even greater recognition was accorded King in 2003, when, as I noted earlier, the National Book Foundation awarded him the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.  Previous recipients of the Medal include Studs Terkel, John Updike, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Miller and Philip Roth. In giving the award the Foundation said, “Stephen King's writing is securely rooted in the great American tradition that glorifies spirit-of-place and the abiding power of narrative. He crafts stylish, mind-bending page-turners that contain profound moral truths - some beautiful, some harrowing - about our inner lives. This Award commemorates Mr. King's well-earned place of distinction in the wide world of readers and booklovers of all ages.”  King responded, “This is probably the most exciting thing to happen to me in my career as a writer since the sale of my first book in 1973.”  Amusingly enough, King and John Grisham once purchased their own tickets to the annual National Book Awards presentation by the Foundation, King telling the ‘New York Times’ somewhat with his tongue-in-cheek, “…that was the only way we were going to get in the door.” It is known that King is somewhat uncomfortable about being compared with other writers but it is also true that, as the years have passed, more and more critics, academics and others have found themselves drawn to pass comment upon King’s position in the pantheon.  Stephen King – Why so many Readers and Viewers? by Rocky Wood - 2° part  It seems to me that King’s output will stand the test of time as both popular writer and the subject of academic study.  Already, courses teach King works across the high schools and colleges of America.  Teachers and professors have come to the understanding that they can offer stories that not only help teach the art of creative writing but actually engage their students. This being the case it seems that King is the Dickens of our times – Dickens was indeed highly popular with readers in his own time, but initially disdained in certain august circles.  As time passed many of Dickens’ works became the standard fare of entertainment.  Characters such as Scrooge, Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist and such stories as ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Great Expectations’ are now embedded in our culture.  Dickens, as does King, often spoke of the Everyman and the social injustice of his time. Fellow horror writer (and sometime collaborator) Peter Straub has something of real relevance to add at this point: ‘I think the Dickens allusion is always a double-edged sword.  Tremendous popularity inevitably evokes contempt.  (King’s) real merits, which are those of a hugely talented novelist born with an instinct for narrative, great intelligence, empathic insight into his fellow human beings and a visionary imagination, often go unremarked.  If he had been a crime writer, he would have been canonised long ago.’  Stephen King – Why so many Readers and Viewers? by Rocky Wood - 2° part  From another angle there is much of the Mark Twain about Stephen King.  Twain created masterful childhood characters and delivered new twists on old themes.  He helped bring a new ‘American’ style of writing to English literature.  His body of work is now standard study throughout the American education system.  King has all these attributes, being the most visible and popular of writers delivering the mainstream American culture of the last forty years. With his roots clearly in the American horror tradition, King stands well beside predecessors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson, H P Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe. Perhaps Dr Michael Collings, noted King critic and Professor of English at Pepperdine University in California put it the most succinctly: ‘William Shakespeare was the Stephen King of his generation.’ When King critics and observers offered similar views a quarter century ago they were not welcomed by the mainstream of literary critics or academia.  Today there are still those who resist but they are in the minority and, quite frankly, they lack credibility.  It will be interesting to see the assessment in another quarter century but it is not unreasonable to predict that King will become codified as one of the great American writers.  Stephen King – Why so many Readers and Viewers? by Rocky Wood - 2° part  King’s stories have been adapted to the big and small screen in near record numbers, with varying degrees of success.  For every ‘Carrie’ or ‘The Green Mile’ there has been an unfortunate ‘Sometimes They Come Back’ or ‘Dreamcatcher’.  However, film and television are arguably the key influencers of world culture and have been for a half-century and more.  This has exposed King’s work to every corner of the earth.  Along with the Americanisation of world culture one could argue a lesser but still influential Kingisation (I’m sure the man himself would be horrified by the very concept). Almost any Western adult will have heard of a girl named ‘Carrie’.  Anyone interested in movies will have seen or been exposed to opinion of Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’.  The name of one dog, ‘Cujo’, now needs no explanation.  ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is one of the most widely loved movies of all time.  ‘Stand by Me’ is regarded as one of the leading ‘coming of age’ stories ever made.  ‘The Green Mile’ brought audiences to tears wherever it was shown.  King television events such as ‘The Dead Zone’, ‘The Stand’ and ‘Storm of the Century’ were not just prime-time successes in the United States but wherever they were shown.  Stephen King – Why so many Readers and Viewers? by Rocky Wood - 2° part King adaptations have served for some powerful performances (think of Ian McKellen in ‘Apt Pupil’, Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’, Kathy Bates in ‘Misery’) and there is a rapidly evolving shortage of actors who have not appeared in a King movie, television production or read an audiobook. 
The third part of this article will be published soon on this site (in English and Italian).
Rocky Wood - Profile
Writer and President of the Horror Writers Association, he received Bram Stoker Award nominations for Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished (latest edition from, Stephen King: The Non-Fiction' (Cemetery Dance) and Stephen King: A Literary Companion (McFarland, 2011), the latter of which won the Award. His first graphic novel, Horrors! Great Tales of Fear and Their Creators (McFarland, 2010), received a Dark Quill Award nomination. His latest book is Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times (McFarland, 2012), co-written by Lisa Morton and illustrated by Greg Chapman. Rocky Wood Official Web Site
Stephen King – Why so many Readers and Viewers? by Rocky Wood - 2° part
Stephen King – Why so many Readers and Viewers? by Rocky Wood - 2° part

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