It’s the tail end of Banned Books Week and I’ve done some stuff at tumblr but not much here (Deadline approacheth!). In past years I’ve talked about my love for Judy Blume (one of the most challenged authors – her books are on the list every year) and for Steinbeck, whose Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath make the list every year as well. So I thought I’d talk about Stephen King today. Stephen King’s books also hit the challenge lists every year for those people who’d rather spend time censoring what other people read than actually parenting.
In case that’s too unclear I’ll say it straight out – Banning books is the refuge of the lazy parent and the intellectually weak. There are plenty of books I decide my kids need to wait to read until they’re a little older. ‘Cause that’s my job as a parent and all. But you see, that choice involves MY household. It doesn’t touch yours or anyone else’s. But of course, there are people (quite often those who haven’t even read the book, or who lack any actual understanding of it) who would rather censor what everyone else reads instead of taking care of their own family. I don’t appreciate that. I certainly don’t cede my place as a mother to some hysterical moron who claims The Stand causes satanism or Carrie promotes violence and then doesn’t just say, “this isn’t what we read in our house” but rather, “I’m going to get this book removed from shelves so no one can read it.”
Anyhoo, I’m wandering – I started a re-read of Stephen King’s The Shining. The first time I read the book I was in high school. Salem’s Lot was my first King book and still remains one of my very favorites – so I’d done what anyone else does when they find an author they really love, I glommed.
I checked out every Stephen King book I could find in my local library and the library at the high school and when I had a job I bought them (I still have my original copies of Christine, Tommyknockers, The Stand and Carrie). Reading King is quite often like a master class on dialog and characterization. He’s nearly unparalleled in this, IMO. If you take a book like Needful Things and really read the dialog, really see how he’s taken all these characters and connected them in such clever ways, it’s pretty impressive. But I didn’t really see that when I was a teen. I just saw a story that scared me a little, that thrilled me a little and that entertained me a hell of a lot.
So back to The Shining – I read while I ride the exercise bike. It’s that time every day when I can be totally selfish and read (the bike is old and loud so it’s impossible to watch television anyway, plus I’m much more aware of the time when I watch tv and I’m not one of those people who exercises because I love it). What a great book this is. Truly. I missed a lot of subtext back in high school but holy cow is Jack Torrance a brilliantly constructed character. The way he breaks, so slowly, so surely, with such precision, it’s freaking masterful.
So the reader falls down the rabbit hole along with Jack. Inch by inch, bit by bit and you’re not sure what is real and what isn’t as Jack’s ghosts begin to manifest. I love the Kubrick vision of this story, but it’s King’s original vision that is far scarier. It is Jack’s fraying edges, his descent into madness that is so very frightening here. It is the way he knows he’s falling, that tension that is relentless that makes this book truly stand out as one of my very favorite King books.
I’m generally not a fan of children in horror novels. But in King’s hands, a child provides the reader with the only solace in the insanity of King’s world. Wendy is not a character I like very much, though she grows into someone stronger by the end, I still don’t find her exceptionally fleshed out. And I suppose that could be intentional. Because really it’s Danny who is the heart of the book, Danny who is threatened so deeply. Danny who has been failed and harmed by his father and his mother as well. King’s ability to write a child protagonist who isn’t sticky sweet, dumb or thinks like a thirty year old novelist is one I admire deeply.
So at the end of Banned Books Week – I wanted to write this post, my love letter to Stephen King. The man who also wrote The Stand (my very favorite King horror novel) and The Dark Tower (my very favorite fantasy novel). Thank you for all the chills and thrills and the amazing characters.