I guess I’ve always had an affinity for the abnormal. While other kids favored fairy tales, superheroes and cartoons growing up, I couldn’t get enough of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone and George A. Romero’s Tales from the Darkside. I even subscribed to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and my first junior high essay featured the master of macabre himself, Edgar Allan Poe. It was clearly just a matter of time before horror icon Stephen King made his way into my life. Why though did I feel such a connection to HIS world of darkness? I contemplated this question for a long while.
People are often surprised to hear that I was bullied relentlessly in my youth. I was overweight, poor, shy, uncoordinated, nerdy and never wore the right clothes. In short, the perfect target for ridicule. Hurtful words and actions stuck in my head and still haunt me to this day. I was embarrassed to admit being a victim though and spoke to no one; reading was my only escape. Imagine my surprise when I learned I was actually not alone, there existed another girl, who like me, lived life in fear of rejection. Her name? Carrie White. This misfit outcast teenager from a tiny town in Maine was my introduction to the legendary Stephen King universe. While I have no telekinetic powers like Carrie, it seemed we had much in common… even our last name.
Stephen King expertly tapped into Carrie’s inner turmoil, forcing us to feel her frustration. The naive, introverted bloodied prom queen was pushed to her breaking point and I could not help but weep for the girl as she destroyed everything in her path. I knew her pain, I understood her limits. Her release became my own. I understood it was only a story, but to a young lady battling her own sense of inadequacy, it was a like finding a friend. I wanted more, I needed more, I got more.
I believe at the time I read Carrie, Stephen King had already published approximately 15 novels, including the granddaddy of them all, It. Not following any kind of order though, I next read apocalyptic classic, The Stand. Always a contender for my favorite King novel, The Stand took me on an epic journey reminiscent of another classic, Lord of Rings. Stephen King himself has admitted J.R.R.Tolkien’s influence on his writing.
Following The Stand, I allowed Christine to take me for a ride, then it was Cujo that sank his teeth into my nightmares. Clearly, I was hooked. While I have read the works of several authors, I feel most at home with Stephen King. Not only did he welcome his readers with open arms, he gave us permission to embrace our fears; to be ourselves.
My collection of Stephen King’s work began to grow, as did his writing, as did my appreciation for great storytelling. I remember feeling skeptical as I opened the pages to Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption contained in King’s 1982 collection Different Seasons. Then I remember feeling like an idiot for assuming Mr. King’s skills would be limited to horror. The Shawshank Redemption is a perfect example of his diversity; that little novella is now considered a classic. Didn’t we all hold our breath as Andy Dufresne made his way through endless amounts of filth to gain his freedom? And, who hasn’t at least once thought of leaving it all behind and heading for a simple life in Xihanatenejo? The Green Mile, The Body (Stand By Me), 11/22/63 all made me realize that while I will always be fond of fright, I can admire any writing that has the capacity to touch my soul.
Needless to say, no matter what hardships I have endured in my life, Stephen King has been my one reliable source of comfort. I have been his constant reader, he has been my constant companion and the only man I have ever completely trusted. What started as an escape for a young girl that needed to know she was not alone has developed into a lifetime of inspiration for a woman battling to find her authentic self.
Thankee-sai, Mr. Stephen King, your writing was one of my Needful Things, a diversion from life’s Misery. Perhaps it was Desperation that led me to you but It was also something that caused me to take The Stand. May you have many, many, many long days and pleasant nights.
“Go then, there are other worlds than these.” – Jake Chambers, The Dark Tower