|LOU SYTSMA On the web: www.liljas-library.com/podcast.php|
For over four decades, Stephen King has been the choice of many a Constant Reader to be our Guide into our deepest fears. But we didn’t put our trust in King freely. He earned it.
With each new work, King spun another engaging tale of fiction. They are often tales of impossible events. But they are rooted in the lives of everyman characters living in everyday worlds we could relate to.
Like many other posters here, my first introduction to King was not via Carrie but Salem’s Lot. My recollection of earlier years is a fog shrouded landscape akin to what King described of his own memories in his On Writing book. Many cherished memories that stay with me today are stranded islands in a sea of fuzzy ones. One of the few true memory beams that run between them is that of being one of King’s Constant Readers. Just knowing that King knew we were out there made me feel part of a special group.
I read mostly Science Fiction back then with the occasional foray into Fantasy and Horror. Most Horror fiction I cannot relate to. There is either a lack of plausibility or believable characters. Or both. My belief is that Horror is the hardest genre to write for. I also believe the best horror is about the monsters inside each of us. King wrote about the type of horror I was interested in and in a manner that made his stories and characters seem almost real. He is one of the few writers that makes the pages disappear and swallows me whole into the story.
Carrie’s need to establish her own identity and to be acknowledged during a time of great personal change struck a chord with me and many others. It was also about how the forces of prejudice and bullying can forever thwart or extinguish such growth. Carrie is a book about universal themes that exist not only in the past, but today, and will continue to do so in the future.
When I got to Carrie, I don’t remember if it came after The Shining or not. I want to say before but it doesn’t really matter. Between those three early books, King established his amazing ability to create indelible characters and tell stories of fiction that carried a never spoken but always felt core of truth to them.
The Stand blew me away with the scope and the character juggling act King pulled off, but it was Dead Zone that cemented his ability, in my mind, to mix the fantastic with reality because it was so intimate. To create an everyman character with the ubercommon name of John Smith, take away his normal life path and replace it with one where he can stop a modern day Hitler from launching Armageddon; that blows my mind. The arc from the commonplace to the fantastical is brilliantly done as Johnny follows his tragic arc with the seams between the two masterfully blurred. Dead Zone is an amazing mix of the epic and the personal.
I mentioned Fear in the opening because that is what King is best known for. But it is the exploration of what Fear does to people that has made him the enduring writer he is. Fear cannot exist without Love. And those two feelings drive everything else that we feel and do. That is what King writes about. Plus he always adds a dash of fun and/or humor to his writing. Often overlooked but very important.
What does the forty year anniversary of Carrie mean to me? It marks the start of a forty year open invite from Stephen King. An invite to his Constant Readers to join him around his story telling campfire to spin us a new yarn. This year, like last year, King has put that invite out twice. Upcoming are Mr. Mercedes and Revival. These are great times for King fans as King rarely disappoints.
Thanks to Matthew Craig for giving me this opportunity to do some fan gushing – King Style!
Lou Sytsma has been a King Constant Reader for forty years. For more Stephen King thoughts check out his podcast – The Stephen King Podcast – jointly presented with Hans Lilja over at the Lilja’s Library Website. A website dedicated to Stephen King that has been running since 1996. You will not only find all the episodes of the podcast there but lots of Stephen King related material.