Cross-posting with the Write in the Shadows blog this morning, where we’ll be talking all week about our favorite horror novels as Halloween month continues.
I started this post as an actual letter but it sounded so stupid I got rid of the “Dear Steve” part.
But if we’re going to talk about about horror novels, Stephen King is the one and only for me. I grew up reading Salem’s Lot and Carrie and The Shining late into the night when I was probably too young to be reading them. I didn’t think of him as a horror writer–-I still don’t, in fact. His books aren’t made of cheap thrills and quick scares. They’re peopled with deep characters and deceptively simple plots and beautiful language that also just happen to leave you with a type of unease that hangs around long, long after the book has ended.
That having been said, there are two books that have stuck with me beyond all others.
The Stand. God, I love this book. I loved it when I first read it as a teenager, I loved it when it was re-released in its restored, glorious long form. Even now I am staring at it on my Stephen King shelf and thinking about moving it to my TBR shelves. Yes, Stephen King has his own shelf. He and Susan Howatch are the only ones who have shelves of their very own, and what that combination says about my warped character I don’t even want to think. (Okay, Jim Butcher will have his own by the time the Dresden series wraps at 20.)
Now, as a writer, I can appreciate how well all the individual stories are woven together in an apocalyptic, mystical tale that is as complex and as simple as good versus evil. I can wonder at how he managed to create a cast of thousands (well, lots) and give them all such distinct voices and personalities. I can admire the sturdy prose that seems so easy and that I now know had to take a lot of work to get that way.
But I came to The Stand as a reader, where the real magic of it was that it made me think a long time after I finished it. I fretted when Nick got killed and thought about ultimate sacrifices. I pondered Mother Abigail and Randall Flag and God and Satan and choosing sides and making stands. I still occasionally say “M-O-O-N. That spells (fill in word of choice).” I talked about the book with friends. Years later, I hid my face when the miniseries came out because, really, has a decent Stephen King film ever been made?
The other favorite, coming in second, is It. And not because I have a clown phobia, although if I were going to develop one, this book surely would have done the trick. What stuck with me was the horror in this novel, which was at such a deep psychological level that it changed for each character depending on what would scare that character most. Because what scares the pants off me might not make you blink. It made me think of evil as fluid and tangible, something that if I brushed against it as these characters had, it would be able to burrow into my brain and pull out the very thing–whatever it might be–that would scare the living crap out of me.
It was the first book I remember reading where the scary thing wasn’t something tangible–a crazy man or monster or disease or rabid animal–but was pervasive and fluid. Of course, I’ll go along with the arguments that the ending with the big spider thing wasn’t my favorite, which is why this book didn’t make it to my No. 1 spot, but It had creeped me out so much by the time the giant hairy spiders showed up that I didn’t care.
If I had a third, it would be Needful Things, for much the same reasons.
So…Dear Steve: Thank you for writing. I haven’t gotten to Under the Dome yet, but I’ll catch up…after I re-read The Stand. Signed, a Fangirl.
What’s your favorite Stephen King book?