# The thunder of his own guns filled him with stupid wonder.
April 18, 2008 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Stephen King has described The Dark Tower as his "Jupiter." The epic series, inspired in part by Robert Browning's poem, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came", has spanned 22 years, 7 books and nearly 4000 pages. The first book in the series, The Gunslinger, begins with a simple, memorable declaration, "The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

The Dark Tower tells the story of Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger in a world that has "moved on", and his ka-tet as they quest to find the Dark Tower - a tower of obsidian in a field of red roses - where all space and time is bound together by a powerful energy. This is a world where the forces of the Red battle the forces of the White across the plains of existence, where there are countless worlds beyond our own, and where things don't look so great for the good guys.

On April 15th, StephenKing.com launched a newly redesigned Dark Tower website, with all sorts of goodies.

When King calls the series "his life's work", he is not exaggerating. The Dark Tower, ka and ka-tet, gunslingers and Gilead - these things, and Roland's struggle to set things right - provide the overarching backdrop to dozens of King's other stories. And, like any great fantasy book, it's steeped in its own set of words and terminology. The series also features some great illustration by artists like Dave McKean, Michael Whelan, Darrel Anderson and Phil Hale (my personal favorite).

Although the last book of the series, The Dark Tower, was published in 2004, that has not marked the end of Roland's saga. Recently, The Dark Tower has found new life.

Robin Furth was a PhD student in English at the University of Maine in 2000 when she heard from her advisor, Burt Hatlen, that Stephen King was looking for someone to do some part-time work. That part-time work turned into something more when King asked Furth to create a concordance for the first four books of the Dark Tower. After all, a series which had spanned, at that point, 18 years and 4 books, could prove hard to keep straight for even the most seasoned writer. "Never ask a frustrated folklorist to map out your imaginary world," Furth said of the thick tome that was the result of her effort.

That effort (and another for the last 3 books) eventually turned into Stephen King's The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance, one of two major books that have been published about the Dark Tower (the other being Bev Vincent's The Road to the Dark Tower).

Stephen King and Marvel Comics have also recently come together to publish a 5 arc, 31 issue series of comic books set in The Dark Tower universe, plotted and written by now-Dark-Tower-guru Robin Furth and comic legend Peter David, and illustrated by Jae Lee. The first story arc, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born, was released last year. The second arc, The Dark Tower: The Long Road Home, launched last month.

And if that weren't enough, Stephen King recently sold the move rights to the Dark Tower saga to the creative team of J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof for the bargain price of $19. King and Abrams have long confessed mutual-admiration for one another. Those who have read the series (or much recent King at all), will recognize the number 19 as having an unusual power in the universe The Dark Tower.

And no wonder.
posted by kbanas (160 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
I should have stopped reading when King suggested it. Much like The Wheel of Time, the first books were wonderful, but the last few suffered.
posted by sciurus at 9:02 AM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


It was such a strange experience growing up with first half of the saga written and waiting to see when, if, how King would get around to finishing it up. I'd always liked his books, some more than others, but the Dark Tower stuff was so much more ambitious as a project.

And I wonder if there are other pop writers who have had a significant on-going work so conspicuously altered by events in their own life—King writing himself and his accident into the series is obviously about as direct as you can get, but the series itself felt like it shifted palpably at book five in general.
posted by cortex at 9:03 AM on April 18, 2008


I read the first couple Dark Tower books in high school. I loved them. Then they took a very long hiatus, and in the meantime I read all of Terry Pratchett. When King resumed writing them, I found that Pratchett had basically parodied everything King was doing to death, and they read as incredibly trite, outdated and irrelevant.

Sorry, Steve. I'm still a huge fan. But the Dark Tower is not what you'll be remembered for, if you're lucky.
posted by rusty at 9:04 AM on April 18, 2008


(In case it's not clear from the above, I count the first books -- the "good" ones -- as trite as well. I re-read them. If anyone has fond memories of them from younger years, I recommend you do not re-read them. Your memories are better.)
posted by rusty at 9:06 AM on April 18, 2008


I agree completely that the tone shifted after the fourth book. The Wastelands is still probably one of my favorite books ever. The stuff that came after.. I don't know. Something was just different after his accident.
posted by kbanas at 9:07 AM on April 18, 2008


I really enjoyed the first few DT books, but towards the end I thought it got a little too meta; while it's still worth reading just for the conclusion, I thought it was just too clever by half. What made the first books and the concept in general so good was its unapologetic epicness combined with solid characterization; in the latter volumes I just felt like the plot snowballed out of control, and not even King could figure out what to do with it. The fact that it has (needs, really) a concordance doesn't really surprise me.

But I wouldn't let any of that stop anyone from reading it; it's worth your time, especially if you need something that'll keep you occupied on the beach this summer.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:08 AM on April 18, 2008


I love Stephen King but have never been able to get past the first book of the series. I've tried two or three times and just can't get through it. I've been told it gets better, maybe I should try one more time.

I did get my son the Gunslinger Born comic and that was good. I'll have to get the second one.
posted by genefinder at 9:14 AM on April 18, 2008


He lost me when the Wizard of Oz references swarmed into the 4th book. Ruby slippers? Really? But thanks for this post, kbanas, it's a nice wander down memory lane.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:16 AM on April 18, 2008


I don't know what number it is, but the one where Roland scares away crows from a pumpkin patch (or whatever) was so very, very bad and boring that I never even checked out the later ones.

In fact, I haven't read anything by King since then, but not solely because of that one book. There's just so little meat among the unintentional self-parody anymore.
posted by DU at 9:17 AM on April 18, 2008


Thanks for the post. The Tower books aren't my favorite Kings but I do like the volume with the train and The Stand crossover.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:19 AM on April 18, 2008


It all went so far downhill starting partway through the 4th book. Like he just couldn't keep a head of steam up to move the massive edifice anymore. It's a shame. The first three books (and bits of the later ones, except the last, which I think pretty much sucked from page 1 to the end) were pretty darn awesome.
posted by chimaera at 9:26 AM on April 18, 2008


I like the fact that this post is really, really long in reverence to its topic. Nice touch.

I still haven't read The Tower books, though I've read most of King's other works. It's a bit daunting to pick up knowing that there is a long road ahead.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:27 AM on April 18, 2008


Stephen King's career can be parted like a knife at the novel It. I've always considered that his life's work; all of his preceding works were like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and It was what they made when you put them all together. Just about everything he's written since then has been overly long and self-derivative, including the later Dark Tower books. Lately he's been dropping unsubtle hints into all his new stuff as to how it dovetails with Dark Tower, and also drawing in as much of his older stuff as he can manage.

Go back and re-read one of his earlier novels, like 'Salem's Lot or Christine, and observe how much better paced they were, how unobsessed with ponderous descriptions and not trying to be 4,000 pages long. (Even It, though 1100 pages long, doesn't read like his later stuff and I read it all at once in a 26 hour jag the year I got it for Christmas.)

Then read Dreamcatcher or Rose Madder. I dare you.
posted by localroger at 9:29 AM on April 18, 2008 [6 favorites]


I don't know. I thought Duma Key was pretty great.
posted by kbanas at 9:30 AM on April 18, 2008



He lost me when the Wizard of Oz references swarmed into the 4th book. Ruby slippers? Really?


Yeah, that's when I started to back out of it too. I read book five, but only passingly. King's early work is still his best, in my opinion. I liked him before he entered his Prince phase of releasing huge bloated works just because he could. (Although I was very proud of being able to finish It in the 6th grade).

An interesting thing about King is that he may be the last of our wildly popular writers who was able to come out of the pulp tradition of writing short stories for income. His early shorts that were published in girly magazines are quite good (I just repurchased Night Shift), and those years of cranking out stories gave King a grasp of craft that is way beyond today's pop writers. That's my theory, anyway.

On preview, yes, what localroger said.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:33 AM on April 18, 2008


As someone who's favorite King book is "The Stand", I keep waffling on whether or not to start this series. While I think I would love the epic-ness of it (like the Stand), I think I like King better when he sticks to a pretty strict here-and-now reality (again, like The Stand) as opposed to some alternative universe.

Or maybe I should just stop comparing everything he writes to The Stand.
posted by willmize at 9:35 AM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Things that made me stop reading the Dark Tower series:

• That thing in one of the first few books (Drawing of the Three?) where the narrator tells us that Jake is actually ten (or whatever) but a lot of people mistake him for eight— as a way for King to gloss over his decision to change the character's age despite the narrator having told us that the kid was a certain age in the first book.

• King's apparent need to tie every single one of his books into the series. There's a scene in Wizard and Glass when someone (Eddie?) is driving through this little town and he thinks he sees something in a storm drain— perhaps a clown! HEY GET IT GUYS CUZ I WROTE IT

• King's refusal to stick to the elegant mystery and simplicity of the world set out in The Gunslinger: Making every subsequent book thicker and more chock-full of references to other fictions works (Wizard of Oz, Shardik), the loony hey-she's-two-people-one-of-whom-is-a-racial-caricature characters that keep pouring in. It's like Stephen King channeling George Lucas.

I never read anything after Wizard and Glass, and the last half of that was only because I hate to leave a book unfinished. I heard that later on, the series went meta and King himself becomes a character. Gag me.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:35 AM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, shakespeherian, I'm still not clear - did you you like The Dark Tower or not?
posted by kbanas at 9:38 AM on April 18, 2008


The world may never know.

/smarmy owl
posted by shakespeherian at 9:41 AM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I got lost when the Evil in the dark tower world (thus the evil of all his worlds) use harry potter balls.
posted by Staggering Jack at 9:42 AM on April 18, 2008


Nthing. It's been an EXTREMELY long time since I read them, but I remember liking the first three books (the first book in particular) a great deal. Then after about a six- or seven-year hiatus, King came back with Wizard and Glass, which spent approximately ten thousand and sixty-four pages advancing the plot in no discernible way. And the flashback that makes up the bulk of the book...oh, Jesus. Every ten pages: "Another night passed. Alain and Cuthbert were getting impatient; Roland could tell. When? came their silent question. Soon, came his unspoken reply. Another night passed." And ten pages later: "The moon was growing larger. It waxed. It did not wane. Waxing was what it did. Alain and Cuthbert were getting impatient..." Arrrrrrrrrrrggggggggghhhhhhhhh. Without the promise of a Dave McKean plate every other chapter or so, I don't think I could have gone on.

Of books five through seven...um...the less said, the better, I am afraid.

I'm pretty sure this isn't what King will be remembered for, but was there ever really any doubt of that? The Shining, The Stand, Pet Sematary, Carrie...stuff like that will live in the popular imagination for a loooooong time. You don't even have to have read the books -- hell, you don't even have to have seen the movies.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:43 AM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Duma Key was very enjoyable. It is quite a departure from his other writing.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:44 AM on April 18, 2008


A while back I read the wikipedia plot summaries of the whole thing and that was enough for me. That and reading in the introduction to the first one by King that you were not a 'proper' writer (like him) if you planned ahead.

I kind of drifted away from Kings after read a lot of his stuff in my teens and early twenties. I'm not sure if I just grew out of it or he just grew bad (I suspect a bit of both...)

Though fairly recently I read On Writing and got a glimpse of the old magic and thought I might go back possibly one of the old ones I missed or may be one of the better critically received later ones (Bag of Bones?) But then I read a bit of the trunk novel Blaze he resurrected has probably put me off again... that should have stayed unpublished)

I'm convinced Kings real high point, at least in terms of literature, will be some of early short story collections.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:44 AM on April 18, 2008


Go back and re-read one of his earlier novels, like 'Salem's Lot or Christine

Christine I liked. It's a good solid read, the three-part structure with the varying voice works pretty well. It reads like a guy who has pretty much figured out what he's doing, and who is willing to experiment a little too structurally.

But Salem's Lot, I don't know. People seem to be pretty fond of it, but I really had a hard time with it; it's probably the least favorite of his older stuff that I've read. For all the things that it has on, say, Rose Madder (which is probably my least favorite of his newer stuff)—brisk pacing, a sort of youthful pulpish horror straightforwardness—Rose Madder has a bunch of things on it as far as nuance in characterization and a more mannered, less prone-to-corniness voice.

IT was a giant, but so was Misery (which I think is just about one of the best self-contained things he's ever written), and then on the flip side you had Tommyknockers the same year or so which was near as epic as IT without being nearly as good. And all those Bachman books in the early/mid 80s too, and all the while his alcoholism really settling in to roost. I'm not sure there's really anything like a clean knife-cut, so much as a shift out of the tail end of the eighties and into the nineties.
posted by cortex at 9:49 AM on April 18, 2008


I loved them. Then again I buy everything King puts out. Kept me entertained for years. Duma Key was a great read too. Lisey's Story not so much.

I loved Heart-Shaped Box by his son too.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 9:49 AM on April 18, 2008


I understand the feeling that sometimes a writer just needs to write a book (or serial) that encompasses everything - every work of fiction he's ever done, and everything that has to do with his own life. I think that reading the Dark Tower series is probably the closest any of us will ever come to actually being Stephen King; which, for an 12 year old discovering the Gunslinger 20 years ago, isn't such a bad thing.

I am looking forward to any JJ Abrams / David Lindelof incarnation of the series.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:53 AM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


And there's Insomnia, which was pretty weird for King because it read like one of his short story ideas but he went whole hog with it; and I think I remember reading that he didn't like how it came out, and that people just didn't like it in general, but I dug it.
posted by cortex at 9:54 AM on April 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


And I wonder if there are other pop writers who have had a significant on-going work so conspicuously altered by events in their own life

Dave Sim springs to mind.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:57 AM on April 18, 2008


Maybe at the end of the third movie, Abrams will just add a scene where Roland looks up and says "Hey, there's the tower!" Roll credits.
posted by goatdog at 9:57 AM on April 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


I agree completely about Insomnia. I remember being a 14 year old kid and just being glued to it. The whole thing with Patrick Danville - where he sketches a picture of Roland in a field of red roses with a crayon - it just.. it teased of something so epic and it just put its hooks in me.
posted by kbanas at 9:57 AM on April 18, 2008


I thought the series was pretty good for the most part. It did have some slow parts.

I should have stopped reading when King suggested it.

Me too.
posted by chugg at 10:02 AM on April 18, 2008


Does it suck as much as The Stand, 'cause I don't need to waste that kind of time again.
posted by kjs3 at 10:02 AM on April 18, 2008


> I should have stopped reading when King suggested it.

Me too.


Aw, but [vagueified to avoid spoilers] then it'd just be like, "okay, ambiguous conclusion. Go home, nothing to see here. The end." While the final coda of the series had a sort of flavor of anguish to it, it also had some explicit notes of hope and redemption that would not have been part of the the conclusion of the saga otherwise.

And I'm not just saying that to justify my compulsive need to read things I'm warned not to read; I think it's a fundamentally more hopeful (and more interesting) saga with that coda than without.
posted by cortex at 10:14 AM on April 18, 2008


I remember being 19, an active member of alt.books.stephen-king, excited beyond belief about the Dark Tower series, and corresponding with Bev Vincent and a bunch of other cool folks on a regular basis.

The actual books—the physical artifacts originally published by Donald M. Grant—kindled my interest in signed first editions and the like. The art for Wizard and Glass was done by Dave McKean, who also did the Sandman covers, so I picked up some of those and was introduced to Neil Gaiman. Gaiman in turn led me down the path to Warren Ellis, Harlan Ellison, Terry Pratchett, Chris Ware, George R.R. Martin... who each led me to other writers, artists and friends.

The first four books of The Dark Tower wiped the sleep out of my eyes and ushered me into a cavern of wonder and danger, one I hope to stay in for the rest of my life. Books 5-7 may have sucked disappointed, but books 1-4 are still on my shelf, unsullied by King's real-life hit-and-run, waiting to take me back to Mid-World.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:46 AM on April 18, 2008


This is an excellent post. Thank you for making it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:30 AM on April 18, 2008


I agree with localroger above that King's career can be divided into two parts, although I'd draw the line at Tommyknockers, simply because it's so structurally similar to It as to be of a kind. The Dark Tower was so, so hit-and-miss for me. I thought Wizard and Glass was awesome; Wolves of the Calla was very pulpy and enjoyable for what it was. But many of the others were just plain misses (hated most of Drawing of the Three).

King's personal history is fascinating for its effect on his career; I wonder at what level of his drug and alcohol addictions were happening during the It/Tommyknockers period. Clearly, the later Dark Tower books are from his recovery from both drugs and the car accident.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:40 AM on April 18, 2008


Out of all the King material I've read related to this series, you know what sticks with me? In the Talisman, when the werewolf is driving the kids across country in his car he plays and replays CCR's Run Through the Jungle. I can't hear that song without linking back to a bunch of sense memories relating to reading that book, and reading King in general.
posted by thanotopsis at 12:04 PM on April 18, 2008


I don't know, guys. This is a really surprising thread for me. I'm an English graduate. I enjoyed and can discuss Joyce, Woolf, Fitzgerald, Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Poe, Hawthorne, Lovecraft. I've read and loved Gaiman, Prachett, Ellison, Azimov, (Scott) Card. I don't really like the Wheel of Time. I do like Harry Potter. I'm trying to break into publishing as an editor, and I want to publish sci-fi and fantasy.

And I love the Dark Tower. Like, this is a really timely post for me, because I just finished rereading the Gunslinger for the first time and I'm starting on Drawing of the Three. They're one of my favorite series of books. The only part through all of them that I didn't like was the flashback of Wizard and Glass (which I might skip, because the comics tell it much more succinctly).

So what does this say? That I can't tell good literature from bad, despite extensive exposure? Or that most of the rest of you are jaded and bitter, and have lost the ability to take a piece of literature for what it is.

I've always wondered what it would be like to go through life hating most of the things I'm exposed to. I hope I never reach that point.
posted by Caduceus at 12:07 PM on April 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


*Hugs Caduceus*
posted by kbanas at 12:11 PM on April 18, 2008


So what does this say? That I can't tell good literature from bad, despite extensive exposure? Or that most of the rest of you are jaded and bitter, and have lost the ability to take a piece of literature for what it is.

You don't seem to be reading the same thread I'm reading. There's been almost universal acclaim for King in this thread. It's refreshingly clear of people bitching about King for not living up to the standards of "high literature" or whatever. Almost everyone here seems to be a genuine fan of the man. What's your beef?
posted by Bookhouse at 12:14 PM on April 18, 2008


So what does this say? That I can't tell good literature from bad, despite extensive exposure? Or that most of the rest of you are jaded and bitter, and have lost the ability to take a piece of literature for what it is.

I think it says you have a different reaction to Dark Tower than some other people who also have varyingly deep backgrounds re: English lit, is all. Writing off folks who have what are (and I say this as a big Dark Tower nerd and a big SK fan in general) pretty reasonable subjective issues with how he's handled some of his book as being jaded and bitter and being without any functional literary perception seems, you know, really weirdly hostile and divisive.

People disagree on art all the time. It doesn't mean there's some necessary partitioning of a given opinion into stark Good and Bad camps, and I doubt that if you polled a thousand reasonably well-read King fans in any real detail that you'd be able to find two who agreed completely on where his various works fall on a continuum of quality.
posted by cortex at 12:19 PM on April 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Don't get me started. The Tower is a frigg'n trap. I usually read King on airplanes. And twenty years ago when somebody bought me the first Tower book as a present, that's what I did. I didn't know it was going to be part of a trilogy...er... a septupegy. So you get to the end of the book and... what? Oh great. All this build up and nothing.

So when I get home I buy the next book as it was already out. And then I read that... and.... god damn it... more build up. So a couple years later the third book comes out and I get it for my birthday. I invest three weeks into reading that thing. And — mother fucker! He says there is going to be a fourth! So I wait a couple of years and while on a trip I buy the fourth. And now I'm not sure if I want to salute King for being an inscrutable marketing genius for getting me four books and countless weeks (ALL at hard back prices) into this nonsense or if I wanted to fly to Maine and kick him in the god damned stomach for having the temerity to draw this ridiculous story out for five books. So, I say, that's it. I've had enough.

And. SON OF A BITCH. My wife buys me the fifth book.

Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in.

I love The Stand. Quite possibly one of my favorite books. It's a little dated now — especially some of the character behavior... VERY 1970's. But reading it as a teenager of the 1970's it was current and one of the few books that had relevant experiences of pop-culture that didn't seem completely contrived. And the form was like a new post-Revelations Bible. An New American Gothic chapter of the bible being experienced by the reader as it was unfolding— you were one with the characters as they were just trying to grok all this supernatural religious shit they had been conditioned all their lives to be bullshit. I thought it was bold and original to submit your characters to a warped Apocalyptic Christian myth and have them retain reasonable cynicism and dignity like King did. And it was cool when an essentially old testament god tell everybody — no... you selfish greedy fuckers ALL got it wrong.

I've wanted to do a play that is the word 100 years after The Stand. Damn that would be fun.
posted by tkchrist at 12:22 PM on April 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


I've wanted to do a play that is the word 100 years after The Stand. Damn that would be fun.

I read an interview with King while putting this post together where he said he doesn't "do" sequels, but has always thought about going back to revisit Stu and Frannie some years on. It does sound damn fun.
posted by kbanas at 12:26 PM on April 18, 2008


As someone who's favorite King book is "The Stand", I keep waffling on whether or not to start this series. While I think I would love the epic-ness of it (like the Stand), I think I like King better when he sticks to a pretty strict here-and-now reality (again, like The Stand) as opposed to some alternative universe.

Or maybe I should just stop comparing everything he writes to The Stand.


On one hand, the Dark Tower books have some neat tie-ins to The Stand that you might enjoy. On the other hand, they're nowhere near as good as The Stand. I'd say The Stand is his real masterpiece, not the Dark Tower series.

I look at King's books like horror movies. They're really enjoyable, some of them are even highly influential, but none of them are Citizen Kane or The Godfather Part II, and they're not really trying to be. So just enjoy them for what they are, already.

As for the Dark Tower, it really jumped the shark when King put himself into the story as a character. That was just goofy.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:29 PM on April 18, 2008


I think that King's body of work is diverse enough that just about everybody who's read all or most of his work will come up with a different set of likes, dislikes, if/when he jumped the shark, etc., etc. (This includes King himself.) My favorite of his novels, for example, is still The Dead Zone, but there isn't any point at which he's lost me as a reader. Some books I've never liked, some really needed to be cut down (but not The Stand), I liked Christine the movie much better than Christine the book, &c., &c., ad nauseum.

As for the Dark Tower saga: well, by about midway through the last book, I felt that the series, like the world, had moved on. But, given that he's not really done with the series, maybe things will work out differently next time (and readers who stuck with the series to the bitter end will know what I mean by that).
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:31 PM on April 18, 2008


I liked it a lot. I was sad that Frank Muller -("...who hears the voices in my head."-Stephen King) didn't get to be the reader for the last three.
posted by MtDewd at 12:40 PM on April 18, 2008


Cool Papa Bell, in On Writing King reveals that he was crashing hard and very close to the Great Big Messy Intervention when he wrote The Tommyknockers. I suppose it's ironic that for all its flaws Tommyknockers is close to my favorite King book. It's a beautiful metaphor for what technology in general has done to the human race, and I like its goofy-manic style. Unlike It, however, Tommyknockers seriously needed some editing it didn't get.
posted by localroger at 12:42 PM on April 18, 2008


I read an interview with King while putting this post together where he said he doesn't "do" sequels, but has always thought about going back to revisit Stu and Frannie some years on. It does sound damn fun.

I never understood the ending. OK, so they expend all this effort to build Boulder back into a functioning human community with electricity and government and everything, Stu nearly dies trying to defend it against Flagg, then after all that Stu and Fran just fuck off back to Pig's Knuckle, Maine because Fran "felt homesick"? They even cut this from the miniseries (which is probably the best adaptation of one of King's books ever), probably because they also felt it made no sense. It's like, yeah, I'm sure a lot of people feel homesick, but THEIR HOMES WERE DESTROYED BY THE PLAGUE, which is why everyone is in Boulder!
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:43 PM on April 18, 2008


@caduceus: I don't think that having an English degree necessarily points you toward or away from King or anyone else for that matter. I have one of those degrees too, have enjoyed and can also discuss those authors you mentioned, and publish my own mystery novels.

Coincidentally, I wrote a post today in my blog about 5 novels that I cannot live without:
- A Prayer for Owen Meany
- A Confederacy of Dunces
- The Grapes of Wrath
- Dune
and of course, Stephen King's The Stand.

In short, the heart likes what the heart likes, irregardless of degrees.
Deep breaths, my brother. Deep breaths.
posted by willmize at 12:44 PM on April 18, 2008


Willmize. Good list. I totally agree.

I'd add

- The Stars My Destination

- Bluebeard *by Vonnegut

- Moby Dick
posted by tkchrist at 12:52 PM on April 18, 2008


It? A masterpiece? I dunno...King's writing was already getting pretty bloated by that point.

That said, the *SPOILER* "group sex with your childhood gal pal to save the universe" *END SPOILER* ending held a certain...attraction for me when I was 14. Even thought it was completely fucking stupid.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:56 PM on April 18, 2008


I have to throw in another dissenting voice and say that I really loved the series. I read the first book and hated it, but a few years later I picked up the second because of the Dark Tower references in Insomnia. After that I was hooked. Granted, I read almost entirely for escapism, but I'm trying to think a little more critically about the entertainment I take in.

I love the way that most of Kings' catalog ties into the Dark Tower in some way. To me, it's less "HEY LOOK WHAT ELSE I WROTE" and more "*wink, nudge* Did you notice these little details here and there?" In a way, it's a reward for being familiar with more of his work. Sure, many of the references are obvious, but there are many more that are less so. It's the intricacy that really appeals to me.

Also, another vote for "Duma Key was a heck of a read."
posted by owtytrof at 12:57 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


which is why everyone is in Boulder!


**SPOILER**
I thought everyone was in Boulder because Mother Abigail told them to go there and also becuase of it's strategic defensible location to the passes of the Rockies - and Flagg was on the other side in Nevada. Once the threat of Flagg had "been relocated" and Mother Abigail passed there was no real reason they had to stay.
posted by tkchrist at 12:57 PM on April 18, 2008


You don't seem to be reading the same thread I'm reading. There's been almost universal acclaim for King in this thread. It's refreshingly clear of people bitching about King for not living up to the standards of "high literature" or whatever. Almost everyone here seems to be a genuine fan of the man. What's your beef?

Well, to be honest, with a couple of exceptions, it mostly came off as a DarkTowerSux thread, but you're right, my comment was excessively hostile, and I apologize. I really need to remember to try and rewrite comments like that before actually posting.
posted by Caduceus at 12:58 PM on April 18, 2008


I never understood the ending. OK, so they expend all this effort to build Boulder back into a functioning human community with electricity and government and everything,

Government and everything was the reason. Maybe it was only in the "uncut" version, but there was a scene where the returning hero is met by an armed sentry while coming into Boulder. He's a good guy, but it makes the point that the problems that led to the virus and the battle with Flagg are still present in society/humanity. So they're sort of sick of people.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:43 PM on April 18, 2008


i'm reading duma key right now and quite enjoying it. it's very different from most of his recent books, which i didn't like much (except cell, that was pretty awesome. zombies).

i never picked up the dark tower series because it seemed more fantasy than thriller/horror, and i'm not into fantasy. is it fantasy-y?

you know what though? unlike everyone else here, i like the intertextuality that king throws in to his books. this is gonna sound dumb: but it's like he threw in a shout out to readers who read his other books. i really don't know how to describe it.

my absolute favorite part of king books though are the introductions/forewards that he does for the mass market reissues of his older books. i quite miss them in his new books (because i read his old books 10-15 years after they were written, so they'd had time to get the intros, and i just thought that was one of the things he did).
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:03 PM on April 18, 2008


I thought everyone was in Boulder because Mother Abigail told them to go there and also becuase of it's strategic defensible location to the passes of the Rockies - and Flagg was on the other side in Nevada.

Well yeah, that, but they mostly picked it because an early rumor that the plague originated near Boulder caused a mass exodus, so there were hardly any corpses there compared to any other city, which made it an optimal spot to try to rebuild humanity.

Government and everything was the reason. Maybe it was only in the "uncut" version, but there was a scene where the returning hero is met by an armed sentry while coming into Boulder. He's a good guy, but it makes the point that the problems that led to the virus and the battle with Flagg are still present in society/humanity. So they're sort of sick of people.

OK, that makes sense. I remember the armed sentry part (King himself played him in the miniseries), but I didn't really connect it to the idea that they're repeating all the same mistakes. Maybe I should reread it, I haven't read it since I was 15 or so.

As far as I know, the only differences in the uncut version are updating it from the 70s to 1990, and the completely superfluous and gross adventures of Trashcan Man and The Kid, culminating in The Kid sodomizing Trash with a pistol. The Kid is only referred to in flashbacks in the original.

That said, the *SPOILER* "group sex with your childhood gal pal to save the universe" *END SPOILER* ending held a certain...attraction for me when I was 14. Even thought it was completely fucking stupid.

Wow, thanks for reminding me of that, jerk. That whole thing was completely disgusting and wrong, although I will admit I thought it was arousing at 12 too, until I got a little older and realized how creepy it was that a grown man wrote it. I think King had totally run out of ideas by the end, so he threw in all the weird pedo-group-sex and the crap about the universe resting on the back of a giant turtle or whatever that was. There was also something about two boys jerking each other off in a junkyard or something like that that really grossed me out, I don't really remember it that well. Between that and the entire text of Gerald's Game, I think King might have some, er, issues.
posted by DecemberBoy at 2:10 PM on April 18, 2008


(except cell, that was pretty awesome. zombies)

Man, I hate to disagree when there's zombies involved, but I didn't like what he did with Cell very much at all. Too much Stephen King Does Human Drama, not enough exploration of the zombies themselves. We get bits and pieces and some of the central ideas hint at being pretty cool, but I came away from it being disappointed that the book wasn't any of the four or five better books and movies that it seemed to owe those ideas to.

He has a way in his books of just dropping some people together to find their way through the strange props of his narrative, and I think that works pretty well sometimes when those strange props are just really surrealistically unhinged (as in The Regulators, say, which along with its cousin was kind of a weird and flawed book but still had a lot of genuine King zap to it, or again in Insomnia), but in Cell it felt more like he was going through the group-dynamic motions a bit. Like, oh, ah. There's the part where party member x loses their shit; there's the in-theory-unexpected death of party member y.

And the ending was very Handmaidens Tale, very drop-off, which is a legitimate artistic decision and maybe in a sense an interesting change from the all-is-resolved wrapup epilogues of e.g. IT—but I think being a little dissatisfied with what the book had done up till the ending, I was hoping for something a little more grand and meaty to chew on than a Schroedinger's Cat cliffhanger.
posted by cortex at 2:17 PM on April 18, 2008


and the crap about the universe resting on the back of a giant turtle or whatever that was

The turtle is one of the 12 guardians of the Tower!

See the TURTLE of enormous girth!
On his shell he holds the earth.

posted by kbanas at 2:18 PM on April 18, 2008


I agree with a lot that's been said, here. I started reading these when The Drawing of the Three came out (and yes, I've re-read them since). I think the first three books are excellent, especially The Waste Lands -- the characters and strong sense of place-out-of-place are wonderful, even if there are a few stumbling blocks in King's writing. For example, at one point he has Eddie "taking the safety off" of Roland's revolver... sorry, but I just can't believe that revolver has a safety, not even (perhaps not especially!) in Magical Gun Knight World. You'd think that King would, I don't know, maybe go shoot a fucking revolver once or twice before writing a massive set of books about a guy who shoots revolvers, but boy, would you be wrong. That said, the sense of adventure, danger, and growth in the first three books makes up for it.

The last four books aren't nearly as good. They're too self-aware for my taste, and I'm not just talking about the blatant meta and the book-mixing. It's as if the books' value-as-part-of-the-Dark-Tower-saga have overshadowed their value as stories, which was never true of the earlier books. This goes especially for Wizard and Glass, for which there simply is no excuse. You've got a character with a history of being mental, and he also has an important past, so you stop the book and put in 400+ pages of backstory instead of working the vital bits in as flashbacks? Barf.

That said, there are some scenes that make everything worth it in each book, even the last one. The contest with Blaine, the standoff with the Wolves, the part with Roland and Susannah in the snowfield, Finli and Pimli, the robots... lots of classic King moments. In the end, I wasn't as happy with the last four books as I'd hoped I would be, but I was happier than I'd feared I would be. I thought the ending was exactly as it needed to be, also.

After all those years, King stood true and remembered the face of his father, and I'm glad I stuck around to see him do it.
posted by vorfeed at 2:18 PM on April 18, 2008


Oh, and all this talk about The Stand, which I agree was pretty fantastic - I really liked the connection with Topeka in Wizard & Glass, but what I liked even more

*SPOILER*

was when Flagg finds the Tick-Tock Man in Lud. I really liked that whole bit with My life for you! - a nod to the Trash-Can Man in The Stand.

Along those lines, I was pretty disappointed with the way R.F. went out. I mean, he seemed like this permanent fixture of awesome power that would pop up under these different pseudonyms in different King books and then.. yeah.
posted by kbanas at 2:23 PM on April 18, 2008


you know what though? unlike everyone else here, i like the intertextuality that king throws in to his books. this is gonna sound dumb: but it's like he threw in a shout out to readers who read his other books. i really don't know how to describe it.

Well, I don't know that everyone is universally saying they don't like any fo the intertextuality. I certainly like it anyway; I'm down with him tying things in explicitly and implicitly all he likes, because I think it's fun. But I think folks get varyingly shy of anything that reads too much as fan service, or of trying to hard to be cute or clever, so what reads to me (as it does to you) as a nice shout out to Constant Reader may read to someone else pretty legitimately as a sour note or something jarring to the narrative.

Mid-World is probably a very different place to different readers, which seems appropriate in itself.
posted by cortex at 2:26 PM on April 18, 2008


I read the first two, maybe three books and they were great, and then never returned. I don’t even know if it had begun to get bogged down by the time I stopped reading, but when I saw a new one I couldn’t be bothered.

I’ve read a couple of stories in anthologies that tie into the later Dark tower stuff and they were boring as hell, and that’s been one of the things keeping me from going back.

I still think Kings a great writer though – something you may have noticed since I basically throw a fit each time someone uses his name as a synonym for stupid dumbed down trash.
posted by Artw at 2:40 PM on April 18, 2008


'Salem's Lot was the first one i read. I read every novel he published as soon as it came out for a long time after that (except the Dark Tower series). I was a big fan, and still am to a large extent. But I think The Shining was the best thing he ever wrote. It scared the crap out of me when I was a teenager. The Stand was good, but too contaminated by his crappy anti-technology attitudes, which reached a demented climax in Tommyknockers. It runs a close second to The Shining. Of course, Carrie was very good, and I enjoyed The Dead Zone, Pet Sematary, Insomnia, The Green Mile, and Misery. The story collections are good too, especially Different Seasons, with the wonderful "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" and the creepy "Apt Pupil". And everyone should read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, whether or not you care about how to write—his autobiographical anecdotes are priceless.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:41 PM on April 18, 2008


I loved the first few, but I totally gave up when Wizard & Glass showed up and it wasn't the freaking end of the series. That's just so much bullshit. Hey guys, I don't have a freaking clue how to wrap up the story so I'm just going to keep writing and you keep buying them, k?
Haven't looked at any of the later ones, but if it's true that he ends up writing himself in as a character, sounds like I'm not missing much.
posted by juv3nal at 2:43 PM on April 18, 2008


Something about The Stand "talks" to me in a way that few of King's other books have done (with the possible exception of Insomnia). Guess that's part of the nature of art - inexplicable personal attachments to books, paintings, music that transcend the most vehement criticism. I have a similar "relationship" with Chris Squire's Fish Out Of Water album. Go figure.

I just couldn't get to grips with the Tower series - even the early books. Which is odd considering the apparent conceptual overlap with both The Stand and Insomnia.
posted by NeonSurge at 2:52 PM on April 18, 2008


I really liked the flashback from Wizard and Glass -- much more than the non-flashback parts, actually. I thought it successfully captured a lot of archetypes from fiction / literature without reading anything like a retread.
posted by Slothrup at 3:07 PM on April 18, 2008


SPOILER INSIDE... I spent a lot of years reading literature -- but also reading King at night for the sheer joy he takes in telling a story. I found DT uneven but a fascinating exercise in worldbuilding.

SPOILER: When King himself showed up in the novels, I put the book down and considered firing off a grumpy WTF this-is-crap email. But Oy's fate? I put down the book and said -- aloud, mind you -- "No! That's not fair!" I was shocked to find that I had such affection for that little scrap of fur -- King sucked me right in and I applaud him for that.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:54 PM on April 18, 2008


I've always found King's secondary characters more interesting and his human ones most frightening. Donald Merwin Elbert scares me because he's possible.
posted by Mblue at 3:57 PM on April 18, 2008


*** SPOILER ***

Know what bugged me about the last book in the series? Here they have magical artist dude, who can cure cancerous growths and erase characters with his steno pad.

Did no one think to have him draw Susannah's legs?

Great post and great conversation. I think King is at his very best writing short stories and novellas, though I enjoy nearly all of his oeuvre. "The Bachman Books" and "Night Shift" contain some pretty incredible stuff.
posted by maxwelton at 4:15 PM on April 18, 2008


I’d second that, I’m a huge fan of his short stuff, more so than his novels.
posted by Artw at 4:20 PM on April 18, 2008


I fell in love with the series when I first read the Gunslinger, and it increased through to Wizard and Glass. The books after that really fell apart and especially the last two became, as one person already put it, way too meta and self-indulgent.

The fact that he ends the series (at least in the edition I read) with an admonition to readers not to get in contact with him or his family no matter how much they liked the books, and no matter how much they think they knew him afterwards, was both jarring and incredibly insulting. It pretty much assured that I would never have any desire to revisit the series or recommend it to my friends.

I understand he probably has problems with harassment, both intentional and unintentional, but geez, there's nothing like ending an epic storyline with: "Ok, it's done, now will you freaks leave me the hell alone?"
posted by paradoxflow at 4:21 PM on April 18, 2008


You could always run him over in a truck.
posted by Artw at 4:22 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've always found King's secondary characters more interesting and his human ones most frightening. Donald Merwin Elbert scares me because he's possible.

Same with Annie Wilkes from Misery and Norman Daniels from Rose Madder. The supernatural stuff in his books can be scary, but the real people can be downright terrifying.
posted by SBMike at 4:29 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


*** SPOILER ***

Did no one think to have him draw Susannah's legs?


Or Roland's ruined hand, for that matter.

Then again, if you'd lived your entire adult life without legs, is this really the first thing you'd think of? I'm not sure. I think it's reasonable to suppose that Susannah got him to draw her exactly what she really wanted, legs or no.
posted by vorfeed at 4:47 PM on April 18, 2008


Just coming back to agree with all the Duma Key love -- although. Speaking of "that's not fair!" Oh, and you see it coming, but there's some cruelty in that book that just really got me. (And that's all I'll say about that, because SPOILER-IST. You're welcome.) That's not really a complaint, though; what kind of is a complaint is that I felt like the supernatural threat ultimately fizzled, and I halfway wished he'd kind of rolled with the sort of dark-"Northern-Exposure"-in-Florida vibe he established early on rather than move into full-on horror mode. I found the characters a lot more interesting than the booga-booga stuff, in all honesty, and that's not exactly the first time I've felt that way reading one of his late period books. I don't wanna say the horror stuff feels obligatory in Duma Key, because it's not quite tacked on, but...well, it almost feels obligatory. And I say this as a great admirer of horror stuff.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:48 PM on April 18, 2008


I don't think that having an English degree necessarily points you toward or away from King or anyone else for that matter. I have one of those degrees too

and then later:

irregardless

I guess in your English curriculum they missed covering a thing or two. Was it all just about literature? Did you test out of some courses?
posted by marble at 5:51 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think they tested out of "Historical Survey of Self-Righteous Griping About Usage Peeves".
posted by cortex at 5:54 PM on April 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


localroger writes "Cool Papa Bell, in On Writing King reveals that he was crashing hard and very close to the Great Big Messy Intervention when he wrote The Tommyknockers. I suppose it's ironic that for all its flaws Tommyknockers is close to my favorite King book"

That was the book that ended my reading streak of his books, and probably the last time I considered myself a fan. I found it very difficult to suspend my disbelief. It was like a bad X-Files episode. OTOH, at the time I really liked The Eyes of the Dragon but haven't gone back to reread it. I remember really liking most of It, but like most of his books, it gets messy and drags on a bit. If I were going to reread anything now it would probably be Misery, because he really nailed it with that one. All the horror was psychological and entirely plausible, like a good Hitchcock film - a bit more graphic, but very much like that. Many of his early short stories were pretty good and sometimes great, as others have mentioned, and when he wasn't so great you could tell he was experimenting, so it was interesting watching him grow as a writer. I don't know if I'll ever read any of Dark Tower, but it almost feels obligatory if I should start reading him again to at least give it a try.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:34 PM on April 18, 2008


The story collections are good too, especially Different Seasons, with the wonderful "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" and the creepy "Apt Pupil".

And "The Body"! Different Seasons may turn out to be King's most important work, although you never hear anybody talk about "The Breathing Method."
posted by Bookhouse at 6:51 PM on April 18, 2008


although you never hear anybody talk about "The Breathing Method."

Indeed. The story itself is great, as-is the setup of the exclusive men's club, the horror stories they tell, and the butler that might be hundreds of years old. IIRC, there's another short-story with the same framing device.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:01 PM on April 18, 2008


There comes a point when you've read a few Stephen King books that you read a little bit into the new one and realize that something really bad is going to happen to a character that you like and so you put the book down.

That said, I can't believe no one has mentioned Desperation that book had a profound effect on me. Maybe it was just my experience with religion but reading that book and looking at the world I felt like King nailed the true nature of god. He simplified the same idea in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

As for the Dark Tower, man, it's all just too much and King trying so very hard to be Tolkien just didn't work for me.
posted by M Edward at 7:03 PM on April 18, 2008


I agree about The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and Desperation. I also really liked The Regulators, which is kind of a "twinner" of Desperation - I can't remember which of the two was written by Richard Bachman.

I also really liked From a Buick 8, which no one has mentioned. I think part of the thing, to my mind, is that after the accident Stephen King stopped writing, really, horror novels. His books now are kind of more introspective, more reflective and with a different kind of cadence. I think that's part of why the last 3 Dark Tower novels feel disjointed - it was almost like they were written by someone else.
posted by kbanas at 7:23 PM on April 18, 2008


krinklyfig: "like a bad X-files episode" LOL yes it was. But it had that sense of things falling apart, the center not holding, everything flying apart and nobody in charge that he's tried to catch in some other stories and never quite managed so well. Probably came closest in Apt Pupil. That feeling was, of course, central to the X-Files even in their bad episodes.

I think there have been two disjoints in King's career; the first around the time he wrote It, when he basically ran out of things to say. If you look at King's early stories they are informed by his life experiences -- working in the laundry, cleaning out the factory basement, and the usual preoccupations of hopeful proto-suburbanites like real estate, cars, and class aspirations.

After It it's like he was out of ideas. He kept going back to the well, sometimes redoing the old stuff better, sometimes failing it badly, but never really doing anything new. And it was all longer and a lot less animated.

Then came the accident, and of course for awhile he didn't write at all. I think it was Dark Tower that hauled him out of that, but yet again he's not quite the writer we knew before. I'm not sure whether SK-III is better or worse than SK-II; he's certainly different again. What I am certain of is that I liked SK-I better than both of them.
posted by localroger at 7:40 PM on April 18, 2008


People who take King seriously as an author fill me with the same kind of curiosity as those who discuss KISS as if it were a real rock band.
posted by signal at 8:05 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


People who take King seriously as an author fill me with the same kind of curiosity as those who discuss KISS as if it were a real rock band.

People who dismiss the pleasures of others so easily fill me with sadness, because they are so ignorant of history that they fail to understand that authors like Dickens were, like King, both massively popular in their own lifetimes and dismissed by the foolishly high-minded.

KISS not a real rock band? Dude, WTF? They weren't like the Monkees...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:30 PM on April 18, 2008 [5 favorites]


When I first encountered King, it was middle school and a girl I thought was cute read him all the time. Of course I read him. I liked him well enough, but to be honest I don't remember which books I read. A couple of books of short stories, I believe, and one where a woman with an abusive husband(?) goes through some sort of portal into a demon world(?). I didn't stick with him.

Later, in college I was looking for brain candy and read the first book of Dark Tower and loved it—but didn't continue immediately. A few years later I did, and still regret it.

I have this weird feeling that most of the people who really like DT aren't avid fantasy or science fiction readers. It's not that the story is bad, but it falls victim to some of the worst tendencies of the genre: Mary Sues (remember, Roland is basically Stephen King's ideal Stephen King, not just the blatant self-placement late in the series), terrible pacing, bizarre picaresques, disjointed worldbuilding, surrealism in the place of cohesive atmosphere, and completely unbelievable characters. These problems show up so often in fantasy and science fiction that I groan when I hit an example.

Allow me to offend some folks by giving examples: S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire has characters I simply cannot "buy;" Jack Vance's The Dying Earth has both unbelievable characters and misplaced surrealism; Terry Goodkind's mammoth series is a perfect example of disjointed worldbuilding and terrible pacing; Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara (et al.) have terrible pacing; and Jack Vance (once again) has really bad picaresques in the Cugel books.

The problem is that none of these are great books, and DT does all of these things. The closest thing to a classic here is The Dying Earth, and I'd argue that's more notable for helping to inspire Dungeons & Dragons and Gene Wolfe's abstruse Book of the New Sun than it is for any intrinsic quality. It's as if Stephen King—who is anything but a "genre writer"—drove over the border and promptly hit every pothole on Fantasy Route 1.

I also wish Mr. King would take some of his own advice from On Writing (a fantastic book, by the way) and use fewer words. Books don't need to be that long.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:36 PM on April 18, 2008


signal doesn't like Stephen King?

* Sits down *

No...oh, man. I thought we...ah, shit.

How do I call the radio station and have them un-dedicate Beth? Talk about a faux pax.
posted by maxwelton at 8:41 PM on April 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


People who take King seriously as an author fill me with the same kind of curiosity as those who discuss KISS as if it were a real rock band.

Yeah, yeah. You're an INTELLECTUAL, I get it. I bet you also don't have a TV and like to talk at length about how you don't have a TV.

Also, KISS was a real rock band. They wrote all their songs and played all the music themselves. Some of their songs were even great rock n' roll songs. But then, I guess the same kind of guy who looks down his nose at Stephen King also looks down his nose at KISS. Your loss, pal. KISS and Stephen King are both lots of fun.

Dude, WTF? They weren't like the Monkees...

For that matter, The Monkees were a real band as well, at least after the first two albums, after they fired Don Kirshner (who then got the idea that cartoons couldn't fight over creative control and created The Archies, and had a huge hit with "Sugar, Sugar", which The Monkees refused to record). Nesmith and Tork were legit musicians even before The Monkees (Jones and Dolenz were actors originally, but did learn to play), and post-Kirshner they wrote most of the songs and played almost all the music. They did heavily use session musicians, less so as time went on, but so did The Beach Boys, and no one calls them pre-fab. Pet Sounds was recorded in the exact same way as the early Monkees albums, with almost all the music played by session players and the band themselves (except for Brian Wilson) only doing vocal parts after everything was recorded. The anti-industry trend of The Monkees' career was pretty punk rock even before punk rock, and they really deserve to be rehabilitated.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:58 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some people seem a bit touchy about their low-brow tastes.
posted by signal at 9:29 PM on April 18, 2008


Some people seem a bit touchy about their low-brow tastes.

Some people seem a bit eager to show off how SMRT they are by sniping in a thread where others are daring to discuss something said people consider far too proletarian to enjoy. "HA! I LAUGH AT THE HOI POLLOI AND THEIR INFERIOR LITERATURE!" I'm not even that big of a fan of King, but nobody likes an elitist, guy.
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:40 PM on April 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Misery is great--one of the best books about being a working writer and depending on the creative process for your livelihood (or your life!) out there. And King's non-fiction survey of horror lit and movies, Danse Macabre, is fantastic. You can really tell how much he knows and loves his genre.
posted by lovecrafty at 10:22 PM on April 18, 2008


And King's non-fiction survey of horror lit and movies, Danse Macabre, is fantastic. You can really tell how much he knows and loves his genre.

A lot of it is dated, especially the long parts about 70s films that don't hold up (I'm thinking, I think, of The Stepford Wives). There's still some stuff of interest there, but I don't think it would be in print were it by any other author.

(Confidential to DecemberBoy: You're giving him just what he wants)
posted by Bookhouse at 10:30 PM on April 18, 2008


Some people seem a bit touchy about their low-brow tastes.

Dude, get the fuck off of my Iain Banks post, since you've pretty much announced you have no business liking any form of genre fiction.
posted by Artw at 10:32 PM on April 18, 2008


That was the book that ended my reading streak of his books, and probably the last time I considered myself a fan. I found it very difficult to suspend my disbelief.

(krinklyfig referring to a comment by localroger about The Tommyknockers).

Still the best science-fiction novel King wrote though. The one that had a genuinely new SF idea and ran with it:

SPOILER



There are no aliens - just an alien ship that makes whatever is available into material or crew. And being made over like this may be a good thing for you - just not for anyone who gets in the way.

I thought it worked well at the time I read it. I think it works for me even better, now that I've spent time and met people from the kind of small, decent towns in the US that he writes about. The places where people will stop and help you fix your car, give you a ride to a hotel if they can't help, while arranging to have the vehicle towed to their cousin who can fix it.

As with so much of what King writes, it's intensely American. It's about what happens when, as in The Tommyknockers, people take advantage of what many people in the US regard, rightly, as their major defining characteristic - their empathy.

The Tommyknockers is about helping out the stranger at the side of the road and getting screwed over.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 11:16 PM on April 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Caduceus:

... but you're right, my comment was excessively hostile, and I apologize. I really need to remember to try and rewrite comments like that before actually posting.

Your comment wasn't hostile at all, Caduceus. Don't sweat it.

I relate to your post because I am English major who has gone through life hating most of the things to which I have been exposed. Recently, I've mellowed. I still can't read [snipped for irrelevance] without feeling a bit sick in my mouth -- the writing is that awful -- but I'm getting better. I'm not getting less critical, I'm just getting more accepting. It feels good, and I'm enjoying a whole lot more of what I read.
posted by Chasuk at 11:51 PM on April 18, 2008


The self-referential bits in The Dark Tower reminded me of Heinlein after the brain tumor.
posted by and for no one at 11:54 PM on April 18, 2008


The self-referential bits in The Dark Tower reminded me of Heinlein after the brain tumor.

Hey, he didn't have a brain tumor. I know that many of his fans claim some form of Brain-Eater got to him after "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", but that is either dark humour or a slightly desperate attempt to justify what came after.

Heinlein wrote what he wanted to until the end, and refused the harsh but soothing services of editors at the same time.

Don't blame the crap that he published on a disease - blame it on the man. He'd want it that way.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 1:35 AM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, thatwhichfalls, I had a completely different take on the Tommyknockers, that it was a classic "Apollonian world invaded by a Dionysian influence" story, with the twist being that the Dionysian influence isn't evil, per se, but more along the lines of a wild, untamed, mismanaged "great idea machine" that intoxicates the town (both literally and figuratively) and eventually corrupts and alienates (hah hah) everybody from their Apollonian world.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:45 AM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


... "great idea machine" that intoxicates the town

OK, I never saw that at all. Now you point it out though I'll have to pick up a copy of the book again and re-read it.

I suppose what I was thinking was more a twisted version of the Good Samaritan - one where helping requires becoming.

I still think it's a fairly unique take on the old SF alien invasion plot though. It would have been even better if King had dropped the horror-of-change stuff and allowed the possibility that these people might have been able to live with becoming the ship's crew.

Shame the TV version of the book dropped that whole idea.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 2:10 AM on April 19, 2008


The self-referential bits in The Dark Tower reminded me of Heinlein after the brain tumor

Well, D'rall bits, a'int they?
posted by Mblue at 2:32 AM on April 19, 2008


During the summer between 7th and 8th grades I read almost everything Stephen King had written to that point. I used to think Tommyknockers was actually pretty decent, but having read Lovecraft now I really think it's mostly a rip of The Colour Out Of Space. Like a lot of people here I liked the DT series til the 4th book at which point I thought it derailed itself.
posted by supercrayon at 3:28 AM on April 19, 2008


As a youngster, I was a big, big fan. Salem's Lot, The Shining, Dead Zone, the short story The Mist; these were real favourites of mine. (I kind of felt that killing off the boy in Cujo wasn't cricket, but nevertheless..)
But when I was reading Different Seasons a switch went off in my head. The story with the former nazi with the stuff in his basement made me think King wasn't trying to scare me -- he was trying to nauseate me.

He's super skillful, and he's written good stuff since (Misery) but really, it's not been the same.

Plus, I've always found it pretty spooky that he wrote From a Buick 8 BEFORE his accident.
posted by Trochanter at 4:27 AM on April 19, 2008


For those who like King's short stuff, definitely check out his sons collection 20th Century Ghosts. I thought it was great.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 5:21 AM on April 19, 2008


Dude, get the fuck off of my Iain Banks post, since you've pretty much announced you have no business liking any form of genre fiction.

Actually, if you read what I posted, I didn't say I don't have low brow tastes (I most certainly do), just that others in this thread seem to be fairly touchy about theirs.
posted by signal at 5:23 AM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Was Jimmy Smitts in the TV adaptation of Tommyknockers?

Oh, and I haven't heard much talk of Needful Things. It's the same kind of thing - a small town where we're the monsters.
posted by kbanas at 5:23 AM on April 19, 2008


I read The Stand a long time ago, and it likely turned me on to the post-apocalyptic sub-genre. Since it's been a while, maybe I should re-read it? I also just finished the first triology by S.M.Stirling that starts with Dies the Fire, and I agree with Sonic meat machine that the characters really let the series down.

For some reason The Dark Tower didn't catch my interest. I've got the three first books on my shelf somewhere, but I gave up halfway into the first, and I don't give up on books easily (though I had to throw in the towel on Ulysses...)
posted by Harald74 at 5:33 AM on April 19, 2008


For me, implication is far more potent than revelation. I remember Stephen King talking about this in Danse Macabre, I think with an absurd sex metaphor, to defend his own practice of "going all the way" as it were. Similarly, I enjoy cliffhanger, ambiguous and "open" endings, so much that I often find I appreciate the "first" part of a book or series more than what follows. I also appreciate imagination and verve in my fiction.

I think King's imagination and verve is terrific. I think King is good at implication, and of his work I've read, the stuff that sticks with me is what depends on implications, on promise rather than fulfillment. But, I have to say, King is not so good with revelation or fulfillment. To make another absurd metaphor, King writes great checks, but don't try to cash them. And, for the most part, that's fine with me. I give King a lot of credit for helping me develop my personal tastes. It's nice to be able to look back and point to different scenes he's written in different books and say, "There is a good example," or "There is a bad example."

So anyway, around 1988, when I was a freshman in high school, I started voraciously reading Stephen King. One of the things I read was a first edition of The Gunslinger. I really liked the fantasy western conceit and the implications of past and future in the shadows of the stories. I liked the way the story sequence ended, with Roland's vision of the Dark Tower, and with a shuddering, desolate chill of a quest that will demand more sacrifice than one can humanly give. About a year or so afterwards I became aware of the sequel so I read The Gunslinger again to prepare for the The Drawing of the Three and this time had the startling thought that The Dark Tower might be the origin story of R.F. (I don't think Roland's last name was given, or if it was, I forgot it). However, after The Drawing of the Three I knew that this wouldn't happen.

For some reason, that was not fine with me.

I had a study hall my senior year which I spent in the library. I found the The Waste Lands there and ignored it for a while. Later in life, I developed a principle by which I would try not to judge a work by what it does do, rather than what it doesn't, but I perhaps had some intimation of this back then. I gave The Waste Lands a try to see where the series was going. I read it every day for a week and because I liked the ending, I figured that here where I got off the train.
posted by wobh at 5:51 AM on April 19, 2008


This is interesting. thatwhichfalls sees The Tommyknockers as the Good Samaritan getting shivved; Cool Papa Bell sees the Appolonian-Dionysian thing. I always saw the ship itself as a very perfect metaphor for technology itself. All of the things that happen to the townspeople are exaggerated versions of the things that happen to animal species we domesticate, and which are happening to us too in civilization.

Of course, it is the mark of a really good book that you can see it in different ways like that. It's too bad King himself seems to have a bad relationship with it, probably because he wrote it at the nadir of his coke-and-booze fest; the TV adaptation was horrifyingly awful and it was clear he had (and wanted) nothing to do with it.

I also find it amusing that some people think King is a lowbrow author; despite all those interviews he gave saying "shucks I just write stories" he was a college English prof before his other career took off with Carrie. He has always liked to drop in "experimental" writing techniques, some of which have gone mainstream thanks to him (and Carrie itself was a very different kind of novel, even from his later early writings). He wasn't pretentiously trying to write the Great American Novel, he was just using his considerable skill to write what he himself might like to read -- and in doing so, I suspect one day he'll be acknowledged as having written the Great American Novel. Several times, even.
posted by localroger at 6:18 AM on April 19, 2008


...I suspect one day he'll be acknowledged as having written the Great American Novel. Several times, even.

I thought that was possible even before I moved to the US - I had the feeling that beyond the really great plotting and the increasingly good characterisation that King was telling stories to the USA about the USA.

Some of his work is essentially incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't lived here for a while - those small towns; the people who help because they know that one day they'll need help; the huge distances that are useless for escape; the sense of being powerless in a place of vast power.

It's all there. I honestly think that in a century or so he'll be regarded as the late twentieth century Dickens of the US.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:51 AM on April 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Having said that - never got past the fourth Dark Tower book.
I'd had enough at that point.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:52 AM on April 19, 2008


along the lines of a wild, untamed, mismanaged "great idea machine" that intoxicates the town

In essence, Kubrick & Clarke's monolith on autopilot: the unchecked word of an idiot savant god.
posted by cortex at 6:55 AM on April 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


the unchecked word of an idiot savant god.

I liked their first few albums when they were deathcore, but their recent stuff has been too proggy.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:24 AM on April 19, 2008


localroger, I'm not sure that being an English professor makes you any more likely to be a "highbrow" author. King tells Americans story about America, but... so does, say, Cormac McCarthy (ever read Blood Meridian or All the Pretty Horses?). Along with John Steinbeck and William Faulkner, I think McCarthy will be one of the authors remembered as the great American novelists of the 20th Century. I'd also say that John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom novels are probably closer to the "great American novel" than anything King's written.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:01 AM on April 19, 2008


Stephen King is not a good writer. He's an imaginative writer, he sometimes comes up with great premises. He puts a lot of work into characters, but not so much into plot, and things always just seem to fall apart at the end. I don't know if I've ever come away from a Stephen King book with something; whether it be insight into the way the world works, an adrenaline rush, or just feeling good (which one can get from a horror book; I Am Legend did so for me, just to name one). The only thing I've ever come away from a Stephen King book with is an interesting story idea and the feeling that it could have been done so much better (I used to think I could do it better, but I am also not a good writer). And yet, I continued to devour book after book of his trying to find the appeal. The fact that she was a SK fan should have telegraphed to me the end of a bad relationship. My favorite King book was the medieval children's novel, and even that seemed terribly cliched and hackneyed.

I hate hate hate not finishing books, but slogging through the end of Tommyknockers almost made me physically ill. It was just so bad, and flimsy. I realize now that it was King struggling through his own alcoholism, but there was just nothing in it for me. Nothing for me to identify with, and just enough sci-fi to trick me into thinking there might be some sort of gee-whiz goings-on. The whole "tommyknocker" thing was so forced, too. What, you've never heard of a "tommyknocker" before? Well, let me explain it to you fifty times because really you should have heard of this obscure thing that I am trying to twist in some way into a cure for my crippling alcholism. Too much of King sounds forced and affected to me. I've never actually heard anyone call someone "hoss" and I grew up in parts of the midwest and south. But if King wants to tell you a character is "country", there it'll be, probably in the first line of dialogue where they're addressing someone.

Plus, he played a part in that Imaginos retcon thing by the guy who wrote the lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult.

The Imaginos thing aside, I don't mean to tear down King or hate on his fame. He just doesn't do it for me for more than the first 50-100 pages of most of his books. Maybe that's why the Gunslinger worked for me; it was short. I just wish he would give some of his cooler premises to me or at least let me tell him when he is getting too self-indulgent.

This does not diminish the work that went into this very excellent post. I have only read the first book of DT, but I already own the next four (yes, bought used, cheaply), so it's likely I'll finish it someday. If nothing else, this thread makes me want to dig into the King books in my collection that I haven't read yet (like It, according to you folks) to bang my head against that wall again, trying to figure out what the deal is.
posted by Eideteker at 9:05 AM on April 19, 2008


Eideteker, as a Southern fellow, I can tell you that "hoss" is used only in a derogatory fashion. For example, if someone says they're going to do something stupid, people will often say "Slow down there, hoss," sarcastically. Obviously it's playing on the word "horse," but that's not how anyone here actually pronounces "horse" (which seems to be a common misunderstanding) and "hoss" is never a real nickname, in my experience. It's just part of a particular idiom that people outside the South misunderstand.

As if that's unusual.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:14 AM on April 19, 2008


"That was the book that ended my reading streak of his books, and probably the last time I considered myself a fan. I found it very difficult to suspend my disbelief. It was like a bad X-Files episode."

Yes, yes, and yes again. Magic vapors that make people build stuff and act drunk? I felt like I'd stumbled into the wrong book.

"I have this weird feeling that most of the people who really like DT aren't avid fantasy or science fiction readers."

I think you could substitute SK for DT in this sentence. I get the sense that King is not a great author of either, but he's as sci-fi/horror as a marketing manager from Omaha who flies a lot is going to get. "Yeah, I really liked _____." Well, why don't you try some of the better science/speculative fiction out there? "Oh no, I don't read SF. But I like King." For someone who likes a genre, it can be maddening to see folks hold up a bad example of that genre while simultaneously condemning its better works.

For me (and yes, I'm in the minority here as well), it's like the Beatles. I can't stand them. I can't sit through their music. Rock is so much better than that. They're pop. But they were safe, and marketable, and they're remembered because they were first. And yes, like King, they had a huge emotional impact on a lot of people because of their reach and so they're remembered fondly. But for someone who was raised in a somehow Beatles-free household, their music is just horrid. Likewise, I was in my very late teens before I finally decided to check out the Big Deal with King, and so the emotional investment just isn't there for me.

His work is clearly inspired by Lovecraft, because both writers are experts at firing my imagination and then minutes later dashing my hopes. Dream Quest of Kadath doesn't feature any use of lucid dreaming or dream logic! Wah, wah! I want my money back.

"I have to say, King is not so good with revelation or fulfillment. To make another absurd metaphor, King writes great checks, but don't try to cash them."
posted by Eideteker at 9:34 AM on April 19, 2008


The self-referential bits in The Dark Tower reminded me of Heinlein after the brain tumor.
...
Hey, he didn't have a brain tumor.

You're right, I'm mistaken. However, he did have a brain injury just before he wrote Number of the Beast, the first of the "Ouroboros" books, and the first Heinlein book that was a disappointment for me. It probably wasn't the brain injury but maybe his sense of mortality that changed things.
posted by and for no one at 11:19 AM on April 19, 2008


localroger wrote:

I also find it amusing that some people think King is a lowbrow author; despite all those interviews he gave saying "shucks I just write stories" he was a college English prof before his other career took off with Carrie.

There are many "lowbrow" authors who are former or current English profs (David Eddings being a notorious example).
posted by Chasuk at 11:49 AM on April 19, 2008


sonic meat machine wrote:

I have this weird feeling that most of the people who really like DT aren't avid fantasy or science fiction readers.

And:

Allow me to offend some folks by giving examples: S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire has characters I simply cannot "buy;" Jack Vance's The Dying Earth has both unbelievable characters and misplaced surrealism; Terry Goodkind's mammoth series is a perfect example of disjointed worldbuilding and terrible pacing; Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara (et al.) have terrible pacing; and Jack Vance (once again) has really bad picaresques in the Cugel books.

I have a feeling that you are an avid fantasy and/or science fiction fan. I agree with most of your criticisms, Brooks especially. As our dislikes seem to be similar, who do you like (within the context of fantasy/science fiction authors, of course)?
posted by Chasuk at 12:36 PM on April 19, 2008


George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, beginning with A Game of Thrones, is incredible—filled with characters in every shade of gray doing interesting things in an interesting world. Unfortunately, the pace of his writing is glacial, such that I have a real fear he will pull a Robert Jordan and die before he finishes. Still, his books are what Brooks, Goodkind, and Jordan could have been... with a little more talent.

I mentioned Gene Wolfe earlier. He is a heavy author. Reading and appreciating him requires a breadth of knowledge that most genre authors don't rely upon, and so he is heavily polarizing within the SF community. His magnum opus is The Book of the New Sun, comprising four volumes (The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor, and The Citadel of the Autarch) as well as a coda (The Urth of the New Sun) and two sequel series, The Book of the Long Sun and The Book of the Short Sun. All are excellent, but for a starting point I recommend a book of short stories: The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories.

Guy Gavriel Kay is not the master of allusion and symbolism that Wolfe is, but he is an incredible stylist. I recommend The Lions of Al-Rassan and Tigana. Avoid The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy; it was a journeyman work, and isn't very good.

You might also pick up something by Iain M. Banks. I've only read two of his books so far—both novels set in his SFnal society, "The Culture"—but both were great. The Player of Games was the better of the two, but Consider Phlebas is not bad and will enhance your enjoyment of The Player of Games.

On the fluffier side of the genre, I really enjoy Lois McMaster Bujold. The Curse of Chalion is probably the peak of her fantasy output (although the sequels aren't bad), and the Miles Vorkosigan series is wonderful, comic space opera. I'd skip Cordelia's Honor, the first omnibus volume, and go directly to Young Miles.

Haruki Murakami is difficult to place. He's plainly writing something "fantastic" most of the time, but it's hard to say which particular genre niche it falls into. Most of the time he's just shelved mainstream, of course. Kafka on the Shore is probably the best book he's written (that I've read). Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was also excellent. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is generally regarded as one of his great books, as well, although I didn't particularly care for it.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:25 PM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love Martin's earlier work, but "A Song of Ice and Fire" seemed overly testosterone-fueled for my tastes, at least from my brief perusal. Maybe the series deserves another look.

I will look at Kay again, having given up on him after attempting to read the abominable Fionavar Tapestry trilogy.

Banks is one of my favorites. His recent Matter is awesome.

Many have recommended Bujold to me, including my girlfriend, so I guess the time has come to give her a serious try.

Murakami is my youngest daughter's favorite author. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is her favorite book in any genre. I've read it, but it didn't move me, despite it generally being the type of book that I adore. I'll try Kafka on the Shore.

My recommendation for you is Shadowland by Peter Straub, and perhaps also his Ghost Story. Don't be put off by the execrable movie adaptation.

On the fluffier side, I adored Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind, and everything that Brandon Sanderson has written so far that I have read (Elantris, The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension). Likewise Stephen R. Donaldson's Mordant's Need duology.
posted by Chasuk at 2:35 PM on April 19, 2008


never understood the ending. OK, so they expend all this effort to build Boulder back into a functioning human community with electricity and government and everything, Stu nearly dies trying to defend it against Flagg, then after all that Stu and Fran just fuck off back to Pig's Knuckle, Maine because Fran "felt homesick"? They even cut this from the miniseries (which is probably the best adaptation of one of King's books ever),

hmmmm.... there was also a book called The Shining, and a little movie of the same name by some guy called Kubrick .... wonder why both of these have been forgotten in this thread.

But then, I'm one of the weird ones who not only loved the D.T. series, but also thought Wizard & Glass was the best part. Not quite sure why - might be that the series as a whole felt like a parabola a la D.F.W.'s Infinite Jest, and the right in the middle you get a slow point and there King generously hands out an escapist, almost stand-alone novel to be enjoyed ...
posted by mannequito at 2:39 PM on April 19, 2008


I've had Straub recommended, but never picked him up. I will look into him. Now, as for Donaldson, is Mordant's Need as depressing as the Thomas Covenant series?
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:41 PM on April 19, 2008


there was also a book called The Shining, and a little movie of the same name by some guy called Kubrick ....

Heh. King is of the slightly nutty opinion that Kubrick butchered his work, and that the miniseries of The Shining is the true adaptation.
posted by Artw at 2:42 PM on April 19, 2008


I have to add that I think sonic meat machine is waaaay too quick to dismiss Jack Vance's books along with the others he mentions. To lump Vance in with Brooks, Goodkind, and Stirling is astonishing to me. Vance may have his flaws, but compared to those guys, Vance's least work is made of purest awesome. To anyone who liked King's Bachmann books, I recommend The Eyes of the Overworld.

SMM I'm glad to see you appreciate Gene Wolfe so much, as Wolfe obviously admired Vance's work (and also, plainly thought he could do one or two better). I feel I may understand though, as I enjoyed Lethem and Lem long before I could enjoy PKD.
posted by wobh at 2:49 PM on April 19, 2008


Eideteker -- I've never heard anyone say ayuh either, at least in RL, but that's because I grew up in Louisiana, not Maine. I have heard hoss. That is exactly the kind of thing King tends to get right, but mainly with respect to his own microclimate.

And you're right, his weak point is plotting. I'd hold up 'Salem's Lot, The Shining, and Pet Sematary as examples where he got that right.
posted by localroger at 3:03 PM on April 19, 2008


For me (and yes, I'm in the minority here as well), it's like the Beatles. I can't stand them. I can't sit through their music. Rock is so much better than that. They're pop. But they were safe, and marketable, and they're remembered because they were first. [...] Likewise, I was in my very late teens before I finally decided to check out the Big Deal with King, and so the emotional investment just isn't there for me.

Heh, not really. I mean, the Beatles were pop but they were rock too; Sgt. Pepper's was undeniably rock and groundbreaking (and mainstream to boot). Nowadays they may not sound experimental or edgy, partly because they've been mimicked to death, but the music still stands on its merits. It's cool if you don't like it of course.

Personally, I read Stephen King for the interspersed short patches of description that manage to evoke an image with just the needed amount of detail. His best book I've finished thus far was Misery. *Jots down It, The Stand, the shorts and Tommyknockers to check out later.
posted by ersatz at 3:49 PM on April 19, 2008


I'm a total nerd for George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" books, but saying that does put me in mind of what someone said upthread about King, and how he's enjoyed by all kinds of people who would never normally read horror...who look down on horror, even. And how, make no mistake, that says more about the snobbery of the reader than it does about King's ability to "transcend the genre." Point being -- while I've read LOTR and have an abiding weakness for Conan stories -- I don't really read a lot of sword n' sorcery, and in fact my teeth are set on edge by most anything that smacks of D&Disms (okay, leaving King Arthur stuff aside, too). So perhaps Martin would be less of a revelation to people who read a lot of this genre than he is to me. Which isn't to take anything away from the books, which I will unreservedly state for the record are fucking awesome; just that maybe they're not as awesome to people who've read widely in the field, and to whom (maybe) it doesn't all seem so fresh. I really can't say, obviously.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:51 PM on April 19, 2008


My biggest problem with the Shining was the part where the roof turns into a bat and flies off. Why bother putting a physical form to the evil? Isn't it better when it's possibly all in the mind of Jack? "Oh, by the way, he wasn't crazy, the place was really evil." Why not leave it open, for the reader to judge?

I don't have a copy handy, but that was what I got from it.
posted by Eideteker at 4:24 PM on April 19, 2008


sonic meat machine wrote:

I've had Straub recommended, but never picked him up. I will look into him. Now, as for Donaldson, is Mordant's Need as depressing as the Thomas Covenant series?

No. I am not a fan of the Thomas Covenant series, excepting The Wounded Land, and that only because I liked the character of Linden Avery. The heroine of Mordant's Need can be a bit whiny and self-absorbed, but not unbearably so. It is actually one of my favorite books. It was too big to appear in one volume, so the publishers split it into The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through.
posted by Chasuk at 4:28 PM on April 19, 2008


wobh, I can't comment too much on Vance. All I've read is The Dying Earth omnibus. It seemed too simple. All of the characters are flat, which isn't so bad in a book of short stories—but Cugel (for example) begins as an unlikeable, murdering rogue and ends as an unlikeable, murdering rogue. The events seem barely connected and the overall plot structure is a disaster. Novel One: Cugel is banished to the ends of the earth by a wizard, must find his way back. Novel Two: Cugel is banished to the ends of the earth by his own stupidity, though he blames the same wizard, and must find his way back. Along the way, he takes every opportunity to be a total ass.

Maybe Lyonesse is better, but I can't say that I have much urge to find out.

Wolfe is influenced by The Dying Earth, yes, and it feels to me as though he had a similar reaction to mine. The Book of the New Sun reads as if Wolfe read Vance and said "This would be a great premise if only Vance had actually connected the stories, made the unlikeable narrator have a purpose (and even some redeeming qualities?), used the setting as an environment rather than a backdrop, and provided something of interest beyond bare plot."

Vance is still clearly better than the other bad examples I used, but Cugel's stories were the first example of a disjointed picaresque and terrible characters that came to mind.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:29 PM on April 19, 2008


So, somebody give me the definitive list of three King books worth reading.

I liked him before he entered his Prince phase of releasing huge bloated works just because he could.

I fear that Neal Stephenson has chosen this dark road.
posted by mecran01 at 4:46 PM on April 19, 2008


So, somebody give me the definitive list of three King books worth reading.

Define "definitive." The ones that put him on the map?

Carrie
'Salem's Lot
The Shining


The "fan favorites?"

The Stand
It
Pet Sematary


The more "literary" favorites?

Misery
Bag of Bones
Different Seasons

(includes The Body which was turned into the film Stand By Me, and The Shawshank Redemption)
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:53 PM on April 19, 2008


I would tweak the "definitive" list to replace The Shining with Pet Sematary. But if I could only re-read three, I would certainly choose:

'Salem's Lot
The Stand
The Talisman
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:58 PM on April 19, 2008


The first time I read The Stand it was May of 1985 and I had a cold. I read the updated version in June of 1990, and oddly enough, had a cold then as well.

The Talisman is also one of my favorites, but picking a third is harder. Maybe something shorter, like The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon or even On Writing.

It always struck me that his works that have been most successful as movies are the ones with little or no supernatural elements - Misery, Dolores Claiborne, Stand By Me (The Body), (Rita Hayworth and) The Shawshank Redemption.
posted by and for no one at 5:18 PM on April 19, 2008


I would say:

Night Shift (collection of first shorts)
Salem's Lot
Misery

would be a good overview.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:31 PM on April 19, 2008


Night Shift
Salem's Lot
The Talisman

Two of his most popular works, Pet Semetary and The Mist, I actively detest, but they do end up on many people's lists.

Salem's Lot made a pathetic movie (unless you so it when you were twelve, then it was still potentially scary), but it is actually very well written, parts of it reminiscent of Spoon River Anthology.
posted by Chasuk at 7:10 PM on April 19, 2008


signal - heh. Well, I did say i was touchy on the subject.
posted by Artw at 8:05 PM on April 19, 2008


Christine is somewhere close to the top of my list, just because it is so evocative of what it's like to be a teenager and get your first car and start to try and be your own person and not your parent's pet.
posted by maxwelton at 8:12 PM on April 19, 2008


Totally forgot The Dead Zone. That should go on the "definitive list" somewhere (and one of the best book-to-movie conversions, too, thanks to Christopher Walken).
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:34 PM on April 20, 2008


I hated The Dead Zone, the book, but enjoyed it as a movie, probably due to Martin Sheen and Christopher Walken starring, and the directorial skills of David Cronenberg. Prior to this, I'd never seen a movie that I preferred to the book.
posted by Chasuk at 2:14 PM on April 20, 2008


King is of the slightly nutty opinion that Kubrick butchered his work, and that the miniseries of The Shining is the true adaptation.

King's opinion isn't that nutty. The Kubrick film is fantastic, but it's not really an adaptation so much as it's a new story that borrowed the settings and characters to tell a very different story with different themes and an opposite conclusion. It's true that a lot of King novels fall apart at the end, but he's a wonderful storyteller with an incredible imagination and a distinctive voice, and no matter how wild the supernatural circumstances, the people in his books always ring true to me. The three "definitive" King books are, I'd say, "The Shining", "The Stand" and "It". His best works are probably "The Shining", "The Stand" and "Different Seasons". Another set I'd recommend are "Gerald's Game", "Dolores Claiborne", "Insomnia" and "Rose Madder".... King was one of those writers who couldn't write women at all, but unlike most men you'd make that observation about, Stephen King felt bad about it. So the early 90s brought these four loosely related novels about women and "women's issues" like sexual abuse and rape and domestic violence and abortion. I don't know if they're great - I happen to think that "Dolores" is - but this sincere attempt to engage with the lives of female protagonists and to "correct" for the casual sexism of the work he'd done before when he had no earthly reason to make the effort is one of the many reasons I love him.

Also, this is the scariest short story I have ever read. And I have read a lot of short stories.

(That said, I've never read The Dark Tower books. I love King so much but they just look so boring. So thanks for this post - I'll give it another shot.)
posted by moxiedoll at 5:41 PM on April 20, 2008


My favorite King story is either "The Mangler" or "Graveyard Shift" from Night Shift. Probably those two are my favorite King stories, short or long. Looking back, the one's I'm curious to see if they still hold up are The Long Walk, Rage, and Firestarter.
posted by wobh at 8:01 PM on April 20, 2008


Man, I don't think Stephen King ever wrote a purer love letter to Shirley Jackson than he did with The Long Walk. That thing gutted me as a kid when I read it.

The plain uncompromising bleakness of his Bachman stuff is probably my favorite thing about that whole set of works.
posted by cortex at 8:49 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I haven't heard much talk of Needful Things. It's the same kind of thing - a small town where we're the monsters.

I'd rate "Needful Things" as one of my favourite Stephen King novels. I was hoping someone else would mention it. I thought it was extremely well done. I went through a big Stephen King phase when I was in my 20's but got to "Gerald's Game", didn't like it, and then stopped buying them.
posted by h00py at 8:55 PM on April 20, 2008


It's been bugging me a bit, so what the hell. The Jaunt is a frightening story which exhibits some of the best and worst of King. Had he left out the stuff he isn't very good at, which is to say detailed explanations of how the phenomenon he describes works (as opposed to what he is best at, exploring how humans interact with the phenomena and what the unintended consequences might be) the story would be improved a great deal.

King doesn't really grasp the best use of what I believe Ebert calls McGuffins, items introduced into a tale to further the plot but are incidental to the story itself. The jaunting device is just such a creature, and needs no technical explanation of its inner workings.
posted by maxwelton at 4:24 PM on April 21, 2008


Ahem, I think you'll find that's Alfred Hitchcocks term.
posted by Artw at 4:30 PM on April 21, 2008


So I read the The Jaunt and I can't think of how many bad sci-fi stories I've read with the exact same structure. And the gimmick has been pretty thoroughly explored already by Larry Niven. However, it is kind of funny to see King take that format and the idea do what he can with it, but I didn't think it was good, original, or even scary. There's a much better and scarier story suggested in the middle with the guy who "kills" his wife with the jaunt. I think I'd like to read a story about the prosecutor or the police detective or the wife's family and their attempt to try to get her back or just get revenge ...
posted by wobh at 7:03 PM on April 21, 2008


Ah, teleportation research. If theres one thing that videogames have taught me is that it never goes well.
posted by Artw at 7:47 PM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


I would really, really like to see a movie made from The Running Man.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:20 PM on April 21, 2008


They actually made a movie. It starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, wearing spandex. It was really fucking awful, almost literally a parody of the book it was based on.

I'd love to see a decent movie made of it some time, though, yeah.
posted by cortex at 8:27 PM on April 21, 2008


the one's I'm curious to see if they still hold up are The Long Walk, Rage,

I recently ponied up for an old copy of the first four Bachman books bound together, starting with Rage, and it is awful. Really, really poorly written. It really brought home the fact that these weren't just trunk novels, they were early trunk novels. I hope the rest of the book holds up better. I've thought recently that a more faithful adaptation of The Running Man would be timely.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:47 PM on April 21, 2008


I saw the film named The Running Man, cortex, and now I'd like to see a movie based upon the book of the same name.

Actually, come to think of it, Series 7: The Contenders is pretty close.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:35 PM on April 21, 2008


It's actually really weird that there hasn't been a film of The Long Walk. Somebody should get on that...
posted by moxiedoll at 9:56 PM on April 21, 2008


I kind of liked the crappy movie.
posted by Artw at 10:28 PM on April 21, 2008


I kind of liked the crappy movie.

Well, obviously, as Schwarzenegger could do nothing wrong during the 80s. And it's got that big bald bloke from The Wanderers in it.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:02 AM on April 22, 2008


I pretty much can't separate the film from my disappointmnet that that's the film they made. Objectively speaking, it sounds like an awesome stupid 80s film, and in a parallel universe my King-eschewing counterpart probably loves the fucking thing.
posted by cortex at 8:33 AM on April 22, 2008


Ah, glory days

“Here's your Subzero, now plain zero.”

“What happened to Buzzsaw?”
“He had to split.”
posted by Artw at 8:46 AM on April 22, 2008


actually, i thought rage was pretty good. but then again, i was an angry angsty teen when i first read it.

random fact: king won't let rage be printed anymore because of the whole school shootings thing nowadays. i know there are roughly a jillion copies of the story out there, but i'm keeping my copy just in case. (i don't usually keep king books after the first read. except for the stand and cell and on writing.)
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:34 AM on April 28, 2008


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