Books: King of Horror

The Master of Pop Dread writes on . . . and on . . . and on . . . and on

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Well, maybe not at the well-wrought sentence or the lapidary essay. But that has never been his aim or his claim. Random House Editor Sam Vaughan accurately notes that "King is one of those rare writers with both a cult and a mass audience." And Barnes & Noble Buyer Ronda Wanderman ungrammatically observes, "King goes beyond horror like Danielle Steel goes beyond romantic fiction." Columbia English Professor George Stade probes further. The King novels, he maintains, "are not so different from the Sherlock Holmes stories, Dracula or Tarzan. We need these guys around, and we tend to read them more than we read James Joyce." The author cherishes few illusions. He likes to be compared with "Jack London, who said, in effect, 'I'm not much of a writer but I'm one hell of an elaborator.' That's me." King barely gives himself a passing grade in freshness: "I've had about three original ideas in my life. The rest of them were bounces. I sense the limitations of where my talents are." Some of this sudden vote of no confidence may come from the realization that a new talent is howling at the door. The British horror writer Clive Barker (The Inhuman Condition) has been gaining in reputation and sales, and King has become something of a cheerleader: "You read him with a book in one hand and an airsick bag in the other. That man is not fooling around. He's got a sense of humor, and he's not a dullard. He's better than I am now. He's a lot more energetic." So King is not merely posing at poolside when he promises that It will be his last horror novel: "For now, as far as the Stephen King Book-of-the-Month Club goes, this is the clearance-sale time. Everything must go."

And so it went -- into It. Before he began the book, Stephen thought about a favorite image: the entire cast of the Bugs Bunny Show coming on at the beginning, Yosemite Sam, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the gang. In a surge of adolescent enthusiasm, King burbled, "Wouldn't it be great to bring on all the monsters one last time? Bring them all on -- Dracula, Frankenstein, Jaws, The Werewolf, The Crawling Eye, Rodan, It Came from Outer Space, and call it It." But how could he combine them all in one book? Simple. Use a Tulpa -- the Tibetan word for a creature created by the mind.

Now that It is out, can King change himself? In the next 14 months he will make three attempts by publishing novels outside the Pop Dread belfry. The Eyes of the Dragon, just completed, is an Arthurian sword-and-sorcery epic written for Naomi, who read Carrie and has since refused to venture into any of her father's other books. Tommyknockers, still being revised, is a sci-fi epic set in the post-Chernobyl era. "It's about how our ability to make gadgets outraces the moral ability" is all King is willing to disclose. Misery, just about completed, is a psychological novel "about a crazy nurse who captures her pet writer and hooks him on drugs after a car crash. He writes bodice-ripper novels about a character called Misery Chastain. She wants him to write a book about Misery just for her, not knowing -- because she waits for the paperback -- that in the latest hard-cover he's killed Misery."

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