Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Review of George Beahm's "The Stephen King Story"

Hard not to love a King scholar named "beam."
This book was published in 1991, and 1991 just so happened to be smack-dab in the early years of my Stephen King fandom.  I'd become a huge King fan in 1990, and had promptly purchased and read every book of King's that I could get my hands on.
I've said version of this elsewhere, and I apologize if you've heard it from me before, but it bears repeating: in 1991, there was no such thing as the Internet.  Not for people like me, at least.  Those of you who weren't around back then might have a hard time wrapping your mind around this idea, but take it from who knows: you couldn't just Google things; you couldn't fall down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia, or a Wiki devoted to your favorite subject; there were no fan blogs designed to put information about (insert obsession here) into the world.
That shit didn't exist, y'all.  That lack meant that one could be a major fan of some author or band or film director or whatever/whoever, and not know all that there was to know about that topic.  Information was sometimes very hard to come by; maybe magazines like Starlog or Fangoria would fill in some of your gaps, or maybe you'd go to a con and learn some things from panelists.  Or maybe not.  Maybe -- maybe -- you were stuck with whatever you were stuck with.
In my case, as it pertains to Stephen King fandom, I was mostly stuck with what I was stuck with: namely, King's books.  Not a bad thing to be stuck with!  But I wanted to know more, and a few books about King came along to help fill in those blanks.  Douglas E. Winter's Stephen King: The Art of Darkness was (I think) the first, but I found a copy of George Beahm's book The Stephen King Companion not long after.  I read that sucker probably half a dozen times.
At some point in 1991, I stumbled across Beahm's then-new book, The Stephen King Story, and I bought it and devoured it.  I reread it recently, and while it no longer contains the thrill of discovery that it possessed for me in 1991, it still entertained me and provided me with a satisfying narrative of the progression of the first couple of decades of King's career.

The book serves as a sort of cursory biography, and the first fifty or so pages detail what was then known about King's childhood and college years.  That stuff still fascinates me, in a way not dissimilar to the way a superhero's origin story does.  That's another thing you young whippersnappers (with your selfies and your glow sticks and your mashups) might not quite get, by the way; in my era, you might be a big fan of some superhero but not necessarily have any idea how he or she got their start.  But every once in a while there might be a reprint that would clue you in to how, for example, Matt Murdock got to be Daredevil, or how Carole Danvers became Ms. Marvel, or whatever.
Fascinating!  In 2015, the devoted fan need only spend an evening surfing the web to find all that stuff out; in 1991, you needed somebody like George Beahm to do the legwork and write it up and sell it to you for $16.95 that you were thrilled to pay.

Beahm goes on to relate the tale of the writing and sale of Carrie, King's not-that-slow rise to superstardom, various origin stories for specific novels (such as how the busted novel the House on Value Street morphed into the Stand), disputes with publishers, the decisions to publish some books (The Gunslinger, Cycle of the Werewolf, The Eyes of the Dragon) only as limited editions for a time; and so forth.
I'm sure I'd already read about some of it in Winter's book, or in Beahm's earlier book; but having it all in one place, arranged into a chronological narrative . . . well, in a way, that seemed to 1991 Bryant like a story nearly as epic as one I'd have found in a novel by King himself.
Revisiting it this year, 2015 Bryant -- who has been reading books about King almost as long as he's been reading books by King -- knows much of this information by heart.  But it still reads as a fairly satisfying story, and if for whatever reason you are reading this brief review and thinking, "Hey, I don't know any of that stuff!" then brother/sister, let me tell you: you could do a lot worse than find a copy of this book and give it a read.
The book is littered with quotations from various interviews with (and articles about) King, which means that the reader does end up getting quite a bit of material from the master himself.  Secondhand, technically (or thirdhand, in some cases); but no less entertaining for that slight remove.
There are also a few good illustrations by Kenny Ray Linkous, who had previously illustrated the limited edition of The Eyes of the Dragon.  I'll show you one of them:

I'm sure modern readers would find it to be somewhat limited, and maybe even a touch sycophantic; but as a time capsule, it perfectly captures what it was like to be a King fan in the early nineties.  Or at least it does for me; your mileage may vary.


  1. hey man, been a long time since i posted a comment on here. how you been?
    i had a question for you. Is it worth picking up the 10th anniversary edition of On Writing? Or is the content much the same as the original edition?
    thanks man.. Aaron

    1. I'm pretty good -- hope you're well, also.

      I do not have the 10th Anniversary edition of "On Writing," so I don't know for sure, but my understanding of it is that the only difference is that King made some changes to the reading list at the end. It hasn't been enough to lure me into buying a new copy, but maybe I will some day.

  2. I remember these pre-internet days of tracking-shit-down, for lack of a better word, with increasing fondness as the distance grows bigger between then and now. One of my recent class assignments forced me to go to the Cook County Law Library and track down some case law the old-fashioned way, by navigating the voluminous indexes. It was painstaking and labor-intensive and made me think of the Olden Times. (Not quite as fondly, of course, as I feel when thinking of Olden Times with regard to tracking down the full skinny on Trek and Spidey and King, etc.)

    As a fellow traveler on the Reading That Stephen King Companion Book Dozens of Times Back in the Day Express, I salute you.

    Whatever happened to George Beahm, any idea? Did he and Bev Vincent have a thunderdome moment where Bev impaled him on some barricades or something?

    1. "He's the ball-cracker...! Death on foot...! You know him...! You LOVE him...! He's Bev Vincent...!"

      I have no clue what Beahm has been up to, but an updated edition of "The Stephen King Companion" comes out at some point this year, and will absolutely be purchased by yours truly.

      I can see how tracking down old case laws might be less thrilling than tracking down Trek lore. I hope you mentally pretended to by a private eye or something.

  3. There really was a magic to pre-internet fandom: I don't know that I want it back, but I remember it fondly. There was, in particular, a serendipity to stumbling across books you didn't even know existed. I remember finding the Bare Bones collection of King interviews in a used bookstore, buying it for about five dollars, and feeling like I'd gotten something over on someone (ditto Secret Windows) and probably cheating them out of a fortune.

    Beahm's mini-biography of King is still the best out there, I think, aside from (obviously) On Writing--I tried that Haunted Heart book, but it was mostly a retread, and not an especially skillful one.

    1. I maintain that "Bare Bones" -- and its sequel, "Feast of Fear" -- are essential reading for King fans. In his early years, King was such a great interview subject that those books read almost as well as his novels.

      I've got a copy of "Haunted Heart," but have never read it. Some day I will, but I will lower my expectations!

      Yeah, that thrill of discovery was something that . . . well, I shouldn't say that it CAN'T be replicated in the Internet age, but it certainly seems it would be different. I'm a Bond fan, and I remember running across the novel "Colonel Sun" in a thrift store. I thought I had all the books, but had no idea that one even existed. For a collector, that sort of moment is pretty dang fabulous.

  4. Hey, nothing much to add, but thought I'd let you know that it's nice to see a couple of new posts. It had been at least a couple of weeks since I checked. I probably ought to subscribe to an email list or something so I know when it happens.

    On another note, do you have any intention of doing reviews of the new ones coming out? I haven't heard anything about Finders Keepers, but am first on the waiting list at the local library for Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

    1. "Finders Keepers" came out in June, and it bothers me on a daily basis that I didn't review it for the blog. But I plan to do so relatively soon -- I've (hopefully) got about four weeks of off time coming between now and the end of the year, and one of my top priorities is to do in-depth reviews of both that and "Revival." And, yeah, hopefully "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams," too.

      In the meantime, I'm hoping I can start tossing content of SOME sort up on a regular basis again. If it doesn't happen, I assure you it won't be for lack of desire!

  5. I found my copy of Beahm's "The Stephen King Story" on a shelf of a local Half-Price Books (for those current whippersnappers who don't know the used book chain I'm talking about, well, I really hope it goes national, cause everybody's missing out on something).

    I think it does a good job of covering most of King's history pre-2000. If there's one drawback, it's that Beahm's focus on the history means less of an in-depth exploration of individual books than I'd like. For that, you have to go back to his "Companion" (also on my to-get-list).

    On the whole, though, it does a decent job. As for pre-internet fandom...

    You know, it's interesting, while I wouldn't for a second dream of giving up the Internet, I do have to admit a nostalgia for those old days. I think Zoe is right when she notes a "Serendipity" to fandom back then, and that part of it stems from a sense of discovery that's missing now.

    Added to that are, I think, a few more facts of note. (1) Lack of internet connection made fan gatherings a catch as can affair, which made it a lot more special than it is now when various comic and film companies actively create conventions for the sole purpose of marketing their product. This leads to the second fact, (2) with the advent of the net, and increasing number...I don't know, but it seems that somewhere along the line, the fun got left out of it.

    I think that with the ongoing growth, fandom became less and less of a fun pastime among a select few, and more something like a business/daycare center. I'. not trying to bash fans here or anything, I'm just noting how it's nature has shifted from being something fun and almost hyper-literate (for lack of a better word) to something that's expressed more in terms of what one professional critic has called "Geek Entitlement". These are the so called "fans" who are less about sharing a fun experience and are more about deconstructing and lambasting either a book or film just for the hell of it with no constructive feedback. I'm not the only one who's noticed this recent phenomenon. Critic Adam Hofbaur has noted this same phenomena:


    The best I can compare all this to is something that happened to Haight-Ashbury during the 60s. At first, the strip was a Hippie Haven. Then, news got out about it and it started attracting all kinds of people there who weren't really "On The Bus", dropouts for the most part, the kind of people who didn't care about protesting Vietnam and all that kind of thing. I don't know how that must sound, and I'm pretty sure what happened way back when I more important than bunch of old geeks mourning the good old days, but that's what it seems like to me.

    ...I'll go take my meds now.


    1. I think your comparison to hangers-on finding their way to Haight-Ashbury is probably very apt. This topic interest me greatly (the geek stuff, not the hippie stuff), and I had a conversation with a friend a few months back that fell into this category.

      My pet hypothesis is that over the course of the Internet era, as social media -- not just Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and whatever, but also messageboards and comments sections and any place people can make their voices heard -- has risen in prominence, a great many people have become obsessed with just that: making their voices be heard. (I am keenly aware that I am typing this comment on my own blog, which exists only because I decided my voice needed to be heard, too. Double whammy! I mention this lest any claims of hypocrisy be flung my way; know that I am taking this into account.)

      What happened next was, everyone who fits this description has been spending however many years doing this sort of thing, and the end result is that they are now so invested in those communities that all other considerations have become secondary. They've developed a herd mentality as a result, so that when whoever happens to be the kind or queen of their particular realm issues a proclamation, they follow right along so that they don't have to be seen as boat-rockers.

      The single best example of this of which I'm aware came early this summer, when vast sections of the Internet geek community flipped right the fuck of their minds over Black Widow referring to herself as a monster in "Age of Ultron." Because they aren't actually very good at paying attention to things, a few influential people decided that this was offensive, and that Black Widow's rights -- and possibly the rights of all women everywhere -- were being trampled because it was being suggested that women are only useful if they can bear children.

      Thing is, that's not what Black Widow was saying. She wasn't saying she was a monster because she was sterile; she was saying she was a monster because she had been a murderer. All it takes to realize this is possession of the ability to pay attention to a movie. That's it!

      A lot of people can no longer do this, so they assumed the people making this claim were correct and then, so as to feel like they were being good members of their online social community, they began repeating this nonsense everywhere they could. Now, that's the accepted narrative about that scene; and it's contrary to all in-text evidence.

      All of this is to illustrate a point: I think for a lot of people, the joy is no longer in watching movies. Instead, it's in TALKING about those movies. The cart is officially leading the horse, and it's a motherfucking shame.

    2. As for the difference between info-finding (a la "The Stephen King Story") back in the day as opposed to now...

      I think that anyone who is wired up like we are -- meaning wired up so as to to want to devote a bit more than the average amount of time to their hobbies and similar pursuits -- is also wired up to feel nostalgic about the things they love. With that in mind, I don't think it's at all odd to feel nostalgic about the pleasures offered by a book like "The Stephen King Story," because part of what you're really feeling nostalgic about is the sense of discovery it gave you. And that's really just nostalgia for that series of moments in which the you of yesterday became the you of today.

      I was 17/18ish when I got my copy of this book. When people who are 17/18ish today reach 41 (my age now), I suspect they will be just as nostalgic for _____________ as I am for video stores, cassette tapes, magazines like Starlog and Cinefantastqiue, etc. Whatever each of them fills in that blank with, much of it will have disappeared by the year 2038 or whatever; and they will feel just as nostalgic for that, in more or less the same way, as I do for the things I miss from my youth. It's an innate quality in people like us, and I don't think the specifics of it matter as much as the generalities.

      The good news is that if we all keep things like this in mind, we can use it as a great tool to connect with one another and learn from one another.