Doctor Gash’s Tip of the Scalpel: A Tribute to Stephen King Part 1

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“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.”

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel: A Tribute to Stephen King Part 1

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.

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel: A Tribute to Stephen King Part 1

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.

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel: A Tribute to Stephen King Part 1

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.

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel: A Tribute to Stephen King Part 1

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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Scott Hallam

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  • jespe

    The Shining, which lays claim to being the very first truly “adult” novel I had ever successfully finished (As you can imagine, I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of Doctor Sleep).

    google first page guaranteed

  • Cinemascribe

    Great tribute this week ,Doc. I agree he absolutely deserves it.

    Stephen King is a bit more than a great author for me. The continued interest in horror and ability as a writer that would eventually develop as I reached maturity both owe their origins to the first time I read his work.

    It began (as such things often do) innocently enough on a lazy Saturday afternoon in late 1981, when I was ten years old. I happened to be hanging around the house and, by this point, I was already an avid reader. However, I had not crossed the dividing line into more mature material yet, with the majority of the books I had consumed consisting primarily of the Great Brain and Pippi Longstocking series, The Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, The original Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy (Guide, Restaurant and Life the Universe and Everything) and a young adult version of The Phantom of the Opera.

    On this particular afternoon my mom was busying herself taking care of some laundry. I was bored to tears and I happened to wander into her room, where she was standing by folding clothes. I just sort of hung out in the background, watching her, figuring out what to do next. That’s when I noticed a paperback laying on her bed, front cover facing the ceiling.

    The cover image was intriguing in its simplicity- a silver flap, with the outline of what appeared to be a young boy’s head- with no features, just an blank space under a crop of dark hair. Beneath it were two words: “The Shining”.

    I asked Mom what the book was about. She explained that it was a scary story that had so unnerved her she was subsequently unable to finish reading it. I asked if I could give it a try (as I had read all of the other books in the house at least twice by now) and she allowed me to, with the proviso that if I found myself getting too scared, I would stop before I gave myself nightmares.

    Man, I read that book cover to cover in under three days. I was hooked. Then,after finishing that bit of macabre magnificence, I immediately ventured forth to the local branch of the county library. I was a young man on a voyage of discovery. Using as my reference point the titles I had seen listed in the front of the paperback under that wonderful sentence “Also by Stephen King”, I set about tracking down and consuming his previous novels as well. Thus my life long love affair with King’s work had begun.

    An interesting ancillary development was that my grade school teachers -noticing the substantial difference between my book reports and those of the other students in my class- would test me not long after and discover that I was reading on a college level. It was also around that time when I began to practice creative writing, which is something I have pursued on the side to this day, with the occasional short story being published.

    So needless to say, my favorite King novel remains The Shining, which lays claim to being the very first truly “adult” novel I had ever successfully finished (As you can imagine, I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of Doctor Sleep). I can honestly thank Stephen King for helping me realize my love for horror literature early on in life by supplying my ten year old counterpart a wonderful,scary story (which-as well as being the “Terminator” of haunted house stories, also doubles as a remarkably astute allegory for alcoholism) to begin this life long journey into imagination with.

    Interesting post script: My eventual love of King’s work seems almost to have be predestined. Apparently, (I don’t specifically recall this, but it’s been confirmed by several people in my family) I was in the back seat of the family car when my mom and older brother saw Brian De Palma’s film “Carrie” at a drive-in the year it bowed. I was very young (five, I think) and must have been otherwise occupied, because my memory of this is hazy at best. I find it fascinating- given my love for his prose- that I inadvertently was exposed to some version of King’s work very early on.

    A tip of the scalpel to the King of modern Horror indeed.

    • Doctor Gash

      Awesome story Cinemascribe, thanks for posting it. I’ll bet there are a lot of Dread Central readers out there who stumbled upon King in a similar fashion. Although I can’t trace the exact story I began with, I’ve always been a huge fan and once it dawned on me to venture into the literary realm of horror for the Scalpel column, of course King was the obvious choice to start with. And originally I had no intention of making this a two, or potentially three, part series (honestly I could do a separate series of columns on either The Stand or The Dark Tower series on their own) but as I banged away on the keyboard I realized one column was not going to be nearly enough to cover Stephen King’s work. So keep an eye out for the next installment of Doctor Gash’s Tip of the Scalpel to Stephen King. And if anybody else feels like posting some love for the man from Maine, please do so, we’d love to hear it!

      • Cinemascribe

        Thanks! One slight correction- I erroneously wrote that I had read Life, the Universe and Everything. It occurs to me (after the fact, naturally)that L,TU&E didn’t even get released to US bookstores as a novel until 1983, so I had only read the first two books in the series at that point.

        Love this column by the way. Even if I don’t leave a comment, I can assure you I read it every time you post a new one.

        • Doctor Gash

          Thanks very much! Comments like that mean the world to me!