Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel: A Tribute to Stephen King Part 1
“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them -- words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it?"
"The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a tellar but for want of an understanding ear.”
This is one of my favorite quotes. It's from the introduction to "The Body", the Stephen King short story that would go on to be the marvelous film Stand By Me. The quote is so truthful and powerful and so incredibly meaningful for anyone who's ever had anything important to say, and it's with that quote that we introduce you to this Tip of the Scalpel to Stephen King, Part 1.
Earlier this week we ran an article featuring a short video clip of King reading from his upcoming book Doctor Sleep, the long awaited sequel to The Shining. It was upon watching that video and appreciating how amazing it would have been to be sitting in that audience and listening to King read that excerpt live that it was obvious who would be getting this week's Tip of the Scalpel. Previously we paid tribute to George A. Romero for his creation of the modern zombie and remarked on all the filmmakers he'd influenced and the scores of zombie films that can be traced back to his influence. This week we begin to look at the work of Stephen King, who's produced scores of works of horror on his own.
Although it's hard to wrap your mind around these numbers, this is what Stephen King has produced thus far: He has sold 350 million copies of his books. To put that in perspective, in 2012 it's estimated that the population of the United States is just over 313 million. That's more than one King book per person. Of those 350 million, there are currently 49 novels. That's 49 horrific stories, created from scratch and drawn from the muse that resides within King's mind. On top of that there are five non-fiction volumes and nine short story collections. And as impressive as these numbers are, what's even more amazing is the quality of the stories. It's not like King is pumping out one crappy, hollow story after another. King's books become legendary.
And although they don't always translate perfectly to film, King's books have been adapted into some of the most memorable horror films of the modern era. King came out of the gate strong with Carrie, which has been adapted to film and live stage multiple times. Salem's Lot is one of the most memorable vampire tales ever. And although he hated Stanley Kubrick's vision of his book, The Shining is another monumental horror film based on a story from the mind of Stephen King. Carrie, Salem's Lot and The Shining... that's not a bad three stories to start your career.
King followed up his first three legendary books with his first collection of short stories, entitled Night Shift. This one small book of stories spawned the films The Graveyard Shift, The Mangler, Maximum Overdrive, Sometimes They Come Back, The Lawnmower Man, Children of the Corn and Cat's Eye.
Now King had published three novels and a short story collection (not to mention Rage under the Richard Bachman pseudonym) which would become some of the most memorable horror to come out of the '70s era. So how do you follow that up? With three books and a compilation of short stories, he'd set the world on fire. How could you possibly follow that act? It's quite simple, actually. All you have to do is publish one of the most incredible works of fiction of all time. King would follow Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Shining and Night Shift with the book that many feel is his masterpiece, an incredible saga of horror that simply engulfs the reader. His next book would be The Stand.
Anyone who has stepped up and conquered the 1,000+ pages of The Stand has undoubted sat back, stared at their copy of the book and thought, "How could one man create such an incredibly huge epic of a story?" The Stand is horrific, gruesome and really scary. The sheer size of the volume, the travels of Larry Underwood and Tom Cullen and all the rest of the characters are simply amazing. The Stand is the greatest horror novel I've ever read, and I really don't see anything challenging it any time soon.
King would round out the '70s with The Long Walk (as Richard Bachman) and The Dead Zone, another book that would go on to become a memorable film (and then remade again recently). Obviously, the work of Stephen King is far too vast to cover in one column so we will return to King on another day, but it is with many thanks that Doctor Gash gives a grateful Tip of the Scalpel to the true master of horror, Stephen King.
...to be continued.
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