Sunday, January 22, 2006

Stephen King

About 5 minutes ago, I finished reading It, by Stephen King. I first read this book in about January 1990, right after reading The Stand, also by Stephen King. Since that time, It has been my favorite book and The Stand a close second. They're both very large books (my hardcover copy of It runs to 1138 pages and The Stand a similar number), but I've read each of them perhaps six or eight times since then.

The miniseries for each was done well enough to convey an accurate tone of the work, but neither came close to including enough detail to be really good, and they combined totally separate events enough to change the meaning and general flow of the story. I hate that. If you liked the video version of these stories, read the books, I beg you. You won't be sorry.

My fascination with Stephen King absolutely confounds my mother, whose only brush with his work ('Salem's Lot) has her imagining vampires floating outside the second-story window of her bedroom in our old house to this day. She's not alone. Many people may understand why I might want to read horror novels, but few can comprehend why I might be so enthusiastic about what are "only" horror stories.

That's the point. They're not "only" horror stories...horror is just the medium that Steve works in. There are great artists with exquisite minds that "only" do cartoons when they could be world-renowned painters. There are world-class atheletes that "only" run a marathon once a year and otherwise just train on their own when they have the ability to be a star in one major sport or another and be millionaires. There are world-class computer programmers that work for insurance companies or banks when they could make high six figures or better inventing the next Microsoft Word.

It is about a monster masquerading as a clown. But it's about so much more than that. It's about friendship, especially those you have when you're in childhood. It's about the attachment people have to their hometown. There are elements in there about childhood crushes and how sometimes they're not just childhood crushes. Small-town politics and history. New England culture. The 50s. Rock and roll. Schoolyard social dynamics. Philosophical statements about the circle of life. Examinations of racism. Power relationships between people and cops, kids and their parents, girls and the guys who love them, guys and the girls who love them, and bullies and the bullied.

Over the years, my mother has twisted the English language to the point where she has her own unique dialect. She has made-up words in there as well as made-up ways to use actual words. I always loved the way she talks in her own unique little patois. Steve does the same thing in parts of It . Just don't tell Mom I compared her to Stephen King, or she might make Dad cut me out of the will.

I've always had an afinity for stories about close-knit groups of friends...there's a lot of that in The Stand, too. I had a very tight group of friends when I was about the age of the kids in It. I had another group just after that through junior high and high school, and I had the very best friends of my life when I was in college. I haven't had many close friends since then...but I still get together fairly regularly with those college friends, and I host a yearly get-together at the lake cabin (except this last year, when the move sort of blew our lives out of the water for awhile). The Wife happens to be one of those friends. I'd obviously die for her if I had to...but if I had to make a snap judgement on the spur of the moment, it wouldn't surprise me if I'd choose to die to save any one of those other friends, either. True friendship is such a rare thing that when you have it, you don't let go. You just don't, if you have a brain.

This last reading of It hit me especially hard because I've so recently had a personal "awakening" and changed my life around so completely. As recently as 1999, I didn't feel like I had a lot to live for. Things have been getting steadily better since then (especially in the last 2 years or so), to the point where now I have a huge Desire for life. That Desire is a point Steve rams home again and again and again in It. Desire, love, and wanting to "come out of the black and into the blue". That's what I've done and am doing.

That's why some of my posts have a tone of optimism that's almost silly. Starting in about 1990 I went out of the blue and down into the black--deeply at times--and then almost a decade later reversed it. After you've been through a lot of bad things and then manage to pull yourself out of it and into a good, deeply satisfying life, I think you're entitled to a little goofy optimism. Great things can and sometimes do happen.

The question isn't why I would like an author who examines these types of things, but rather how could I possibly not love his work?


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