Category Archives: King, Stephen

The Politics of Stephen King

In the last couple of posts I’ve been writing about an interview that Stephen King gave Rolling Stone recently.  It’s really informative for King fans and you can read it here.

Stephen King caricature by Garrett Morlan
Stephen King caricature by Garrett Morlan

In it he talks about whether he believes in God (covered in my last post), and how he views why he’s not taken seriously as a literary author (in the post before that).  He also points out that he is a pacifist, that he thinks Obama has does a pretty good job considering, and he goes a little deeper into his political beliefs and how they impact how people know him.  And about his politics:

“[Stephen King:]  I’m going to do a TV ad for the Democratic candidate Shenna Bellows this afternoon. She’s running against Susan Collins for Senate. And I don’t know how much goodwill I have in the state, but I think it’s a fair amount, so maybe the ad will make a difference.

[Rolling Stone:]  Do you worry that being too political will turn off some of your readers?

It happens all the time. I wrote an e-book after the thing in Newtown, Connecticut, when that guy shot all those kids. I got a lot of letters, somebody saying, “Asshole! I’ll never read another one of your goddamn books.” So what? If you’re to a point where you can’t separate the entertainment from the politics, who needs you? Jesus Christ.

I never really cared for Tom Clancy’s books, but it wasn’t because he was a Republican guy. It was because I didn’t think he could write. There’s another guy that I sense is probably a fairly right-wing writer. His name is Stephen Hunter. And I love his books. I don’t think he likes mine.”

The thing is, King’s politics aren’t overt in his books, like Robert Heinlein’s are.  With Heinlein (and John Barnes for that matter, of which I will post about in the future), I feel as if it’s been forced on me sometimes, like he took pains to detour the story so he could fit some political statement in, but I can’t think of a single instance when I thought King was trying to make a political statement.

A thing, be it a book or movie or whatever, is either political or it isn’t.  And if it isn’t, it shouldn’t be.  That’s sounds redundant but I guess I’m just saying that if given the choice I will choose the mainstream nonpolitical story over the political one most times.

I actually think a lot of people are like this.  They are understandably turned off by the ugly politics of our time.  Probably why they don’t vote, as evidenced by the record low turnout just a few days ago.

More from King and Rolling Stone on the political state of affairs in America:

“Why do you think the country is so divided?

It doesn’t have anything to do with Obama. There’s a fundamental discussion going on in America right now about whether or not we’re going to continue to protect individual freedoms or whether we’re going to give some of them up. And the discussion has become extremely acrimonious.

In the wake of 9/11, we’re searched invasively at airports. There are CCTV cameras everywhere. There’s a whole bunch of people who say that America is for the individual and that we’re all the gunslingers of our own house. Basically, there’s a whole side of the country that’s fearful. They’re fearful that if same-sex marriage becomes legal, then God knows what will happen – all at once, all of our kids will be gay and America’s way of life will die out. They’re afraid that immigrants are going to swamp the economy. And on the other side, there are all of those people who say, “Maybe there’s a way to embrace these things, and maybe we need to give up our right that anybody can buy a gun.” They’re basic arguments.”

And on to a new author and book in the next post…

Choosing to Believe (Stephen King)

I recently read an interview with Stephen King by Rolling Stone that answers a question I had:  whether he believes in God.

To begin with, he explains his take on religion in regards to his new book Revival:

Stephen King caricature found on tomrichmond.com
Stephen King caricature found on tomrichmond.com

“My view is that organized religion is a very dangerous tool that’s been misused by a lot of people. I grew up in a Methodist church, and we went to services every Sunday and to Bible school in the summer. We didn’t have a choice. We just did it. So all that stuff about childhood religion in Revival is basically autobiographical. But as a kid, I had doubts. When I went to Methodist youth fellowship, we were taught that the Catholics were all going to go to hell because they worship idols. So right there, I’m saying to myself, “Catholics are going to go to hell, but my aunt Molly married a Catholic and she converted and she’s got 11 kids and they’re all pretty nice and one of them’s my good friend – they’re all going to go to hell?” I’m thinking to myself, “This is bullshit.” And if that’s bullshit, how much of the rest of it is bullshit?”

And then they get down to the nitty gritty:

“Yeah. I choose to believe in God because it makes things better. You have a meditation point, a source of strength. I don’t ask myself, “Well, does God exist or does God not exist?” I choose to believe that God exists, and therefore I can say, “God, I can’t do this by myself. Help me not to take a drink today. Help me not to take a drug today.” And that works fine for me.”

Now, I would never attack someone’s religious beliefs and that’s not what I’m doing at all when I say, how can you choose to believe in something if you don’t already believe in it?  You either believe or you don’t believe.

This is a really big issue to me and I’ve given it a lot of thought over the last few years.  I do not have that ability to convince myself that something is or isn’t true, I either do believe or not.  Or I admit I don’t know which is the same as not knowing, or not believing, if you get my drift.  To believe you actually have to believe right!?!?

A friend of mine told me once that she simply changed the ending to a story (movie, book, etc) to a different ending in her mind and she chooses to remember that new ending instead of the real one.  She often will turn off a movie after the montage or during an upbeat moment, when things are still emotionally light and happy.  In her mind that is the ending, before the bad things can happen to the happy couple, or before a beloved character dies.  Even if that means missing crucial details of the story (yeah like the ending!).

So I have a problem with this.  Not necessarily that someone else does it (although that does erk me if I know they are otherwise reasonable people) but doing it myself is out of the question, basically impossible.  And I wouldn’t want to do it, even if I could.  You have to take the bad with the good in fiction and in life (granted, I have had it better than most in the world since I’m a spoiled American, and I’ve never been in a foxhole).

But I don’t want to live in a world I have created in my head, I want to live in reality, even if we can’t always agree what that reality consists of.

I recognize that King had to kick his habit and this kind of belief helped him out of the addictive nightmare he was in, so I’m glad for it.  And essentially, I just used his statement to spew about an issue that is important to me, so I am sorry for that. There is no problem with someone just choosing to believe and not wanting all the bullshit that goes with it.

But on choosing to believe, we’ll have to agree to disagree.  🙂

Ghost Brothers of Darkland County

As a huge Stephen King fan, I was thrilled when I recently found out that he developed a musical with John Mellencamp called “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County”.  If only I could have seen it when it ran in 2013.  In a recent interview with Rolling Stone he said that he was still working on it, so maybe I can still have hope.

Here is a YouTube video that explains the collaboration pretty well.

But even if you don’t watch that, you’ve got to listen to this awesome song by Elvis Costello, the best of the songs on the musical’s album.

 

 

Stephen King Snobbery

Stephen King Caricature by Esnesto Priego
Stephen King Caricature by Esnesto Priego

Stephen King is a phenomenal writer and storyteller.  But for some reason he is not held in high regard in the literary world.  Fellow avid book readers oftentime seem to discount him, to consider him to be a sort of pulp fiction writer.  I find this bothersome.  His works are certainly page-turners but many people who think he’s simply a pulp fiction writer are not very familiar with his books.  They may have read It when they were teenagers and saw Carrie and Christine, placed him in the category of popular fiction, and then done what we all are guilty of, closed their minds to the topic.

Rolling Stone published an interview with him recently in which he and Andy Greene discussed this issue:

“[Andy Greene:] By writing horror novels, you entered one of the least respected genres of fiction.

[Stephen King:] Yeah. It’s one of the genres that live across the tracks in the literary community, but what could I do? That’s where I was drawn. I love D.H. Lawrence. And James Dickey’s poetry, Émile Zola, Steinbeck . . . Fitzgerald, not so much. Hemingway, not at all. Hemingway sucks, basically. If people like that, terrific. But if I set out to write that way, what would’ve come out would’ve been hollow and lifeless because it wasn’t me. And I have to say this: To a degree, I have elevated the horror genre.

Few would argue with that.

It’s more respected now. I’ve spoken out my whole life against the idea of simply dismissing whole areas of fiction by saying its “genre” and therefore can’t be seen as literature. I’m not trying to be conceited or anything. Raymond Chandler elevated the detective genre. People who have done wonderful work really blur the line.

A lot of critics were pretty brutal to you when you were starting out.

Early in my career, The Village Voice did a caricature of me that hurts even today when I think about it. It was a picture of me eating money. I had this big, bloated face. It was this assumption that if fiction was selling a lot of copies, it was bad. If something is accessible to a lot of people, it’s got to be dumb because most people are dumb. And that’s elitist. I don’t buy it.

But that attitude continues to this day. Literary critic Harold Bloom viciously ripped into you when you won the National Book Award about 10 years ago.

Bloom never pissed me off because there are critics out there, and he’s one of them, who take their ignorance about popular culture as a badge of intellectual prowess. He might be able to say that Mark Twain is a great writer, but it’s impossible for him to say that there’s a direct line of descent from, say, Nathaniel Hawthorne to Jim Thompson because he doesn’t read guys like Thompson. He just thinks, “I never read him, but I know he’s terrible.”

Michiko Kakutani, who writes reviews for The New York Times, is the same way. She’ll review a book like David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, which is one of the best novels of the year. It’s as good as Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, has the same kind of deep literary resonance. But because it has elements of fantasy and science fiction, Kakutani doesn’t want to understand it. In that sense, Bloom and Kakutani and a number of gray eminences in literary criticism are like children who say, “I can’t possibly eat this meal because the different kinds of food are touching on the plate!”

Film critics can look at a popular movie like Jaws and heap praise upon it, then in another section of the paper, the critics will bash you for The Stand.

By its very nature, film is supposed to be an accessible medium to everybody. Let’s face it, you can take a fucking illiterate to Jaws and he can understand what’s going on. I don’t know who the Harold Bloom of the film world is, but if you found someone like that and said to him, “Compare Jaws with 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut,” he’d just laugh and say, “Well, Jaws is a piece of crappy, popular entertainment, but 400 Blows is cinema.” It’s the same elitism.”

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/stephen-king-the-rolling-stone-interview-20141031#ixzz3Hxq0qXQW

Stephen King & Spiderman

Stephen King Caricature by Steve Roberts
Stephen King Caricature by Steve Roberts

I’ve been reading Stephen King practically my whole life. One of the first was “It” when I was in high school in the 80s. That is probably now my least favorite of his books, not because it was badly written but almost the opposite, that is was so well written and so good at sucking you in that it’s creepy contents was just too much to handle.

I read most of the books that he had written up until I was about 25 or so (I’m in my early 40s now) but Bag of Bones really scared the bejesus out of me, and I guess I was entering a different phase of my life, so that horror was no longer my preferred genre.

Later I came back to him, finished The Dark Tower (which is not really horror, more fantasy), and I continue to read him now simply because he is such a phenomenal storyteller.  I am acclimated to and familiar with his writing style.

There is a quote I want to share with you if you are a Stephen King fan.

In an open letter in The Gunslinger Born, the first volume of the graphic novels based on The Dark Tower, he says:

“And if I could write any Marvel comic, about any character?  Spider-Man, of course.  Peter Parker, the original Sufferin’ Superhero.  I’m not sure what I’d do with him… except I see a nervous breakdown… and a tangle of OCD behavior that can’t be fixed with medication (screws up the powers, of course), and some tropical island rehab… an earthquake, of course… or maybe a volcano… a growing belief that if he doesn’t touch the door exactly twenty-three times before leaving his condo, the world will end… oh, and a sense that the costume is getting tighter… making it hard to breathe…”

This epitomizes why I love King and his writing.  As a person who has a psychology degree and loves the topic, I recognize his ability to communicate a personality disorder, it’s as if he has had every single one.

I am not currently a Spider-Man fan but if he writes this graphic novel I’m pretty sure I will be!

More detail for Dark Tower fans

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower

Graphic Novel: The Gunslinger Born (Marvel Comics)

(con’t from the last post)

The graphic novel makes some, mostly minor, changes to the story of The Dark Tower.

The Gunslinger BornWhen Roland is brought into his mother’s chambers by Marten in the graphic novel, she is naked and has that “freshly fucked” look. Then Marten beats her as Roland is still within earshot.

In the novels she is not naked, but is still humiliated and later beaten by Marten.

The storyline is the same though: Marten did that specifically to provoke Roland into challenging Cort early, in order to get his gunslinger title and obtain the guns (at left) so he could kill Marten, thinking he might fail.

It’s simply adding more detail to the story we already know if we have read The Dark Tower series. The Gunslinger Born

But the beauty of the illustrations gives more than just story details, it gives a sense of wonder and romanticism to the land of Gilead (at right).  King did an amazing job on the books, but there is no way to match graphic novels when it comes to literary visualization. 

I will review the later chapters of The Gunslinger Born as the scenes come up in later Dark Tower books.

The Gunslinger Born, Roland comes to life

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower

Graphic Novel: The Gunslinger Born (Marvel Comics)

(con’t from the last post)

As I pointed out in the last post, the graphic novels based on The Dark Tower go in a more linear fashion than the books. At the beginning we very briefly see the gunslinger chasing the man in black across the desert, but then go directly to the beginning of Roland’s tale. Specifically, how he becomes a gunslinger, and his story thereafter.

The graphic novel gives striking, beautiful, dark illustration to The Dark Tower and fans of the series should absolutely read them. Check them out at the library if you don’t want to pay for them. I look forward to owning them all though (not the individual comics but the hardback graphic novels).

We are introduced to Roland with the same sentence that starts the books:

The Gunslinger Born (Marvel Comics)“The Man in Black fled across the desert. And the gunslinger followed.”

“If the gunslinger looks familiar to you, well, that’s as may be.”

“Echoes of him have been seen in tales spun across many other places, in many other ways.

Just as stories of a great flood, for instance, cut across the consciousness of all mankind, so too does the gunslinger.

He is iconic and legend and your best friend, praise the man Jesus, and your worst enemy.

Your damnation or your salvation, and sometimes not even “or” but “and”, do ya kennit?

The Gunslinger Born (Marvel Comics)The only thing he shares with his quarry is that he is known by many names, if one such as he can be said to be “known” at all.”

Besides Clint Eastwood’s character in the spaghetti Westerns (with a twist of Dirty Harry), the names and images I think of are perhaps John Wayne’s cowboy character, or even going back further, maybe Homer’s Odysseus or Sir Galahad and his quest for the Holy Grail.

It then goes on to describe the smells of his world and you see him and his fellow gunslingers in all their youthful glory.

“There is no more powerful summary of memories than smell.The Gunslinger Born (Marvel Comics)

See the gunslinger now, in his youth, with the shades of young men who have little concept of their mortality. See him…see these…very well.

Smell the heady aroma of the tall grass, and the clean air unbefouled by pollution, and say thankee, sai, for being given a view of the extinct realm of Gilead…”

A beautiful, beautiful book. More to come in the next post.

 

Cort, Roland’s teacher (Dark Tower)

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower

Book One: The Gunslinger & The Gunslinger Born (graphic novel by Marvel Comics)

(con’t from the last post)

It’s hard to imagine a world in which someone would choose the character “Cort” from this book to be a teacher of young men. It says something about the world they live in and the challenges Cort’s young students will face.

The Gunslinger BornCort (at left, with a young Roland towering over him) is brought to an even more disturbing light in The Gunslinger Born, a graphic novel based on The Dark Tower. The old teacher Cort is a huge bald villainous-looking (and acting) pig of a man, but he is fighting on Roland’s side and he makes significant contributions to any success they may have against John Farson, the man who wants to use old machines (tanks) to destroy Gilead.

The graphic novel series follows a more linear path than the books. Except for a very brief scene at the beginning (Roland beating it across the desert after the man in black), the book starts with the story of how Roland becomes a gunslinger and continues thereafter to tell his tale.

But back to Cort, the teacher. Roland has nearly killed him in the final gunslinger test and minutes later encounters Marten, his true enemy. His friend Cuthbert, after The Gunslinger Bornseeing the interaction, surmises the reason that led Roland to attempt the gunslinger test early: to attain the weapons that would enable him to kill Marten, the man who is doing terrible evil to his mother and father and their world.

Cuthbert is at right, middle of the page, with Roland and his hawk on top, as he plans his victory over Cort.  (Marvel Comics)

Roland, when asked by Cuthbert why he didn’t just kill Marten right then, quotes his old teacher Cort:

“As Cort always said, run without consideration and fall in a hole.”

Roland continually quotes Cort throughout the series, this hateful character who taught Roland to kill. He taught Roland how to live and succeed in this harsh dark world. In a sense, we owe Roland, and who he is, to Cort, the evil teacher, and King doesn’t want to let us forget it.

In The Gunslinger, Cort physically beats his students, but he falls just short of that in the graphic novels. Regardless, the apocalyptic present of Roland’s childhood comes across loud and clear in both books. The end of the world is coming and Roland will be the only one left.

More on The Gunslinger in the next post.

More about Roland’s “ka” (Dark Tower)

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower

Book One: The Gunslinger

(con’t from the last post)

About half way through this book, Roland is feeling sad about leading Jake to his death.

The Gunslinger“It ends this way, he thought. Again and again it ends this way. There are quests and roads that lead ever onward, and all of them end in the same place – upon the killing ground.

Except, perhaps, the road to the Tower.”

The above excerpt is in the original version of the book (1982) but the new version adds:

“There, ka might show him its true face.”

What’s interesting here is that when King was writing the original words his “again and again it ends this way” is a somewhat prophetic statement to make seeing as he didn’t know how he was going to end the series.

To quote the graphic novel The Gunslinger Born:

“The gunslinger is a creature of what we would call destiny and he calls “ka’”. Ka is a wheel, its one purpose to turn, and in the end it always came back to the place where it had started. The gunslinger’s ka turns toward an inevitable goal… a Dark Tower.”

More about The Gunslinger Born in the next post.

The Gunslinger’s “Ka” (Dark Tower)

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower

Book One: The Gunslinger

(con’t from the last post)

In the last post I described how the man in black made it clear to Jake that he was going to die by telling the gunslinger (in the presence of the boy) that only them two would hold council together on the other side of the mountain. Jake pleads with Roland not to continue but Roland steels himself against anything that will prevent him from continuing his quest to reach the man in black and the Dark Tower. He even steels himself against the boy he has come to love, Jake.

“In the end there was only ka” Roland thinks, and then:

“The price of any betrayal always comes due in flesh… something happened in his mind, an uncoupling. That was the moment in which the small figure before him ceased to be Jake, and became only the boy, an impersonality to be moved and used.”

It’s as if he can turn his “sociopath” switch on in order to get through the day. (Maybe some of us in this world do that from time to time too.)

But it’s not the first time that he uses “ka” as an excuse. In fact he constantly refers to the feeling of ka and the workings of ka.

The GunslingerTo quote the graphic novel The Gunslinger Born:

“The gunslinger is a creature of what we would call destiny and he calls “ka’”. Ka is a wheel, its one purpose to turn, and in the end it always came back to the place where it had started. The gunslinger’s ka turns toward an inevitable goal… a Dark Tower.”

As he and the boy find that the climbing is not hard going up the mountain, neither of them are surprised by this. It’s as if ka has chosen this path and there is no wavering from it, and the boy will play his part in the story because there is no other choice. No other destiny possible.

Roland “felt ka at work on the surface of things and no longer even considered it odd” even when the going was surprisingly easy for a boy of 10.

Everything backs up ka, justifies ka, or upholds ka. Not to sound anti-religious, but it reminds me of people who always come back to God whenever faced with a dilemma or question, or something fascinating or notable. Yes, yes, God did that. Right right. And that’s how Roland is about ka. It answers every question and that’s enough for him.

(Ka is also a Cirque du Soleil production that I’ve seen twice and I highly recommend it. 🙂 )