24th September 2013 - Charlotte Pope
The wait is finally over for Stephen King fans with Doctor Sleep, the much-anticipated sequel to his classic from 1977, The Shining, published today. Amongst his devotees is Charlotte Pope, from our Bristol Cabot Circus branch, who explores what it is that gives King's books such a broad and enduring appeal.
Born in 1947, raised by a single mother, Stephen King wrote his first published novel in a trailer, a portable typewriter balanced on his knees. It had begun as a short story, but within three pages King decided it was 'garbage' and threw it away. It was his wife Tabitha who fished it out of the rubbish bin, who convinced him he could have a great novel in the works.
The novel was Carrie. The paperback rights for the book sold for $400,000 and Stephen King became a household name.
Within a year King had followed his success with Salem's Lot and the year after that with the classically chilling The Shining.
I remember my first time reading The Shining. I was pulled in with the very first line. King has an expert way of bringing his characters to life. Jack Torrance, the troubled alcoholic, terrified he was becoming his abusive father, leapt off of the page. The corridors and lofty rooms of the Overlook Hotel opened up before me; the industrial kitchen with the overstocked walk-in pantry, the luxurious Gold Room, Jack's writing room, the children's play area, the topiary animals in the grounds all became almost real enough to touch.
The story is heartfelt, realistic and at times filled with bone-chilling terror. The moment when little Danny Torrance finally ventures into Room 217 and the horror he discovers there, will stick in your mind forever (and perhaps make you think twice before booking room number 217 when
staying in a hotel).
King built up the story layer upon layer until you too were trapped in the Overlook Hotel, running from the shadowy man of Danny's dreams, racing down corridors unable to escape. King knows and understands his characters. He is able to venture into Jack's anxious, rage-filled mind one moment and then easily slip into the persona of a frightened little boy.
As soon as I heard King was writing a sequel to what I consider to be his best horror novel, I was ecstatic. I had always wondered what happened next to Danny. Though his abilities gave him powers and wisdom beyond his years, he was still a vulnerable, fragile child who at the end of the novel had lost his father and who was recovering from a massive trauma.
In the sequel, Doctor Sleep, little Danny has grown up to become Dan, who is lonely, depressed and who has inherited his father's alcoholism. Dan gets a job in a nursing home and uses his supernatural abilities to comfort the dying, where he is known as the 'Doctor Sleep' of the title. When he meets a twelve-year-old girl, Abra Stone who possesses the same mental abilities as he does, he sees that she has the brightest 'shining' he has ever come across.
But The True Knot wants Abra. A group of seemingly harmless pensioners, they are in reality immortal - and feed their immortality with 'the steam', something that is only given off when special children with 'the shining' are slowly and agonisingly tortured. As Dick Halloran once protected and guided him, Dan realises he must do the same for Abra.
I have read many books in my lifetime as a self-confessed book addict, the numbers I have read must be by now in the thousands. But out of all the novels I've come across, out of all the author's whose works I have read, Stephen King stands out as one of the finest writers I have ever had the privilege of reading. Not only is Stephen King an extraordinarily brilliant writer, he's also a brilliant man. A recovered alcohol and cocaine addict who has used his experiences of addiction many times in his books, King has proved that if you work hard and you never stop writing you can't go wrong.
I've been lucky enough to have the privilege of meeting Stephen's own son, fellow horror writer Joe Hill, at a signing for his latest novel. Joe's enthusiasm, joy and true excitement for his work is a real testament to King not only as a writer, but as a father.
King has had a life filled with ups and downs. In 1999, he was badly injured when he was hit by a car and for a while he considered retirement. Thank goodness he was convinced to return to writing - and thank goodness his wife fished the first pages of Carrie out of the bin all those years ago....