Monday, November 14, 2011

The Gratuitous Excess of Stephen King.

I've probably read more about Stephen King and more about his books than I've read of his fiction. And I’ve probably read more biographies about Stephen King than I’ve read about any other individual.

He is one of the most successful authors ever, so it’s not surprising that I was interested in the man and his work. I saw I could learn something, or at least be inspired by his example.

My interest in King started around the same time I started a creative writing course at University in the early 1990s. One of my first stories written for the course had horror elements and immediately someone made a Stephen King comparison. I don’t know whether that comment influenced me in any way, but it seemed that most of my story writing from that point took on elements of “dark fantasy”.

For one Uni assignment I wrote a review of one of King’s books – Cycle of the Werewolf, a short novel illustrated by comic book artist Bernie Wrightson. The one thing I recall about my review is that I saw Wrighton’s artwork as a metaphor for King’s work in general. Wrightson had provided both coloured, graphically bloody illustrations and more subtle black and white sketches. I found the subtler drawings much more effective. Likewise with King’s writing, there was a mixture of “gross-out” and more nuanced incidents –again I found the subtler approach more interesting, more imaginative and overall much more effective in capturing my attention.

It had been over decade since I last read anything by King, but reading Lisa Rogak's Haunted Heart, a recent biography, made me curious enough to read another of King’s books. I chose Duma Key because its main character takes up art near the beginning of the book – as I have done this year.
I’m now approaching page 90 out of almost 700 pages. It is still a long way to go, but enough to give me an idea of what I like and don’t like about King’s writing. At this stage there is one major issue that in my opinion mars what he writes, and that is his occasional habit of resorting to extreme crudity. In the context of Duma Key it has seemed entirely gratuitous.

I admit that my opinion on this is strongly influenced by my Christian commitment, but that is not the whole of the matter. I understand that the use of expletives can effectively create realistic dialogue and give colour to character. Used in the appropriate context it doesn’t bother me so much.

In Duma Key so far, there have been two instances of excessive crudity. Both were unnecessary and neither added to the story, or the characters. Were they used to serve the story (in my opinion no) or to serve the reputation of King’s ability to shock?

I get the sense that it is the author himself rather than his characters that are the focus of the extreme use of language. As if King is trying to show that he’s still able to shock his reader rather than adding a realistic edge.