Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Guided Tour of the Kingdom: A Chronological Walk Through the Career of Stephen King, Part 1 (1956-1966)

Today, I've got the beginning of a rather large project: a complete guide to the career of Stephen King.
A caveat is immediately necessary: with a career like King's, a guy like me uses the word "complete" at his own peril.  Can I completely list all of King's books?  Yeah; maybe even from memory, although I'd probably forget a few.  Can I list all the movies?  You bet, provided we agree on excluding Dollar Babies.  Short stories?  Absolutely, although whether some of them count or not is a matter for some debate.  (This is the point at which you might make a tentative sound of confusion in the front of your throat, and then relax and see where I'm going with all of this.)  Comic books?  I think so, yes.  Audiobooks?  Possible, but not a certainty.  Nonfiction?  Not a chance.  Interviews?  Give me a break.  Homages to King's work in the works of others?  You're out of your mind.
And so forth.
What I'm getting at is this: it is a daunting task merely to define what "the career of Stephen King" means, either as an idea or as a practical thing.  So rather than shoot for doing that in an objective sense, I'll specify that what I'm aiming to do is to define "the career of Stephen King" as I see it.  I think that lets me off the hook in terms of how complete "complete" is.
Since my personal interest in King's career are broad, I'm going to be as inclusive as I can be without jumping from the diving board of obsessiveness into the pool of insanity; I'll leave it to you to determine whether I managed to stay above water.  That'll be a judgment call for each of you.  The bottom line is, I'll be following my own interests and concerns here, which is why I'm calling this a guided tour.  Every guide may wish to point out different things, but on this tour, you're stuck with me.  Hopefully, I won't lead us off the path and accidentally get us all eaten by lions.
This first post -- published (quite intentionally) on the day of, and celebrating, King's seventieth birthday -- is  going to focus on the years leading up to King's first professional fiction sale.
By definition, most of this material is inaccessible to the average King reader (myself included), but I thought it would be worthwhile to touch on the stories from this era that are known to exist.  And, again, there may be a few ephemeral pieces that won't be included; for example, a story titled "Charlie" is known to (partially) exist, and seems to be a science fiction story King write around the age of twelve.  It's never been published, though, and the extant manuscript is not even complete.  So while you might see it referred to in a few places, I'm not counting it here, because it just doesn't seem to merit inclusion.  Again, that's my own judgment call; and since true comprehensivity is off the table, I think judgment calls like that are not only okay but damn near mandatory.
It is my goal to eventually -- and when I say "eventually," know that I mean at some point before I die, so not necessarily anytime soon (although continual progress is the goal) -- write analyses of every single thing I include on these tours.  Well, the stuff that's obtainable, at least.  When I do, I'll include links here.  So what you're going to see for a while is a lot of non-links.  We'll get there, though; oh yes we will.  The idea is for this series of posts to serve almost as a Table of Contents for my blog, and also as a touchstone for my own personal use.  I expect it to grow and change regularly, although the extent to which that will be apparent to people who aren't me is likely to be minimal.

Ideas and suggestions are more than welcome, so if you've got 'em, fire away.
Everything we'll be looking at in Part 1 is best classified as juvenilia.  And here's the thing about that: as such, it both does and doesn't merit literary analysis.  King himself would likely disagree with an assertion that it does, but the way I see it, King's is one of the most influential prose voices of his era; that being the case, almost literally everything he has ever written is of interest to those studying his work.  I gather from his work (Lisey's Story in particular) that he is, at best, uncomfortable with that idea; but that's just how it is, Uncle Steve.  I ain't sayin' your words are scripture or nothin' like that, but I am saying that it's of interest.

The flip side of the coin is that just because it is of interest does not inherently mean it has merit.  The scholar who gives juvenilia the same level of attention that they give mature works is making a serious mistake.  I'm not actually a scholar, mind you; I'm an amateur enthusiast, an annoying breed of would-be scholar.  I do have standards, though, and try to stick to them.

Know, then, that all of the stories mentioned here are interesting for the peeks they afford the reader at King in a somewhat embryonic state; but know also that comparing them to, say, "Graveyard Shift" or "The Mangler" really isn't a good idea.  It's unfair to both sides of the comparison.

And you won't get that here.

Alright, now that the big preamble is out of the way, let's get this tour bus rolling.  We'll be making frequent stops, so please keep your arms and legs inside the windows and silence your mobile devices at this time.  Our first stop takes us back in time some sixty years, to the far-flung era of:

 "Jhonathan and the Witchs"
(short story, written circa 1956)
published in First Words (edited by Paul Mandelbaum), 1993

p. 116

      The earliest known extant King story (so far as I am aware) is the charmingly misspelled "Jhonathan and the Witchs," which he wrote at age 9.  It's about a guy named Jhonathan, and some witchs witches he meets.  I bet you already guessed that.

      Tuesday, September 12, 2017

      It Wants to Divide Us: A Review of "It" (2017)

      I rarely -- if ever -- mention my job on my blogs.  It's just not a good idea to mix business and pleasure in that way, because if I were to be noticed talking about my job online, then all of a sudden I'd be obliged to conduct myself in a manner 100% befitting my professional requirements.  And, like, fuck that.  I'm at work, that's work time; I'm away from work, that's ME time.
      However, the odds of anybody noticing are rather minimal, and even if they did, I'm not likely to then also be recognized by a customer.  I got better odds of getting struck by lightning than I do of being recognized for my blogs.  What a silly thought!
      Anyways, I figure it makes sense to err on the side of caution, so I just don't bring it up.  This is not difficult to do; I have virtually no interest in talking about work when I'm not there.
      This week, though, I'm going to break my rule and divulge to you that I am a manager of a movie theatre.  Not the general manager, mind you; if my boss is Picard, I'm Riker, except with a lamer beard and even fatter.  So, yeah, I'm the Riker of a movie theatre.  
      I bring that up because I simply can't restrain myself from talking about how utterly cool it has been to be a massive Stephen King fan and to go to work all weekend and see people lining up by the hundreds to see a movie based on a Stephen King novel.  At my particular theatre, it did stronger business than most superhero movies; it did stronger business than Rogue One; it did stronger business than Pixar movies.  Shows were selling out hours in advance, and by the end of the night on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday (the latter unprecedented during September) people were still showing up by the dozens at the very end of the night, once there were literally no seats left to be sold for that movie on any of its several screens.
      I've seen that happen with Twilights and with Hunger Gameses and with Fifty Shades of Greys and with American Sniper and so forth, and until this weekend I never realized that in the back of my mind, the King fan in me was jealous of those other movies' successes.  Don't misunderstand; given that this is my profession, I'm always hopeful that EVERY movie will be that big a hit.  Few are, but trust me, I never mind when they are even if they are movies I personally would like to ignore.
      This weekend, though, I realized that It was scratching an itch I'd not even realized I had: an urge to see my Stephen King fandom validated in my own workplace.  No King film had been a hit during my management tenure since 1408, and that one was only a mild hit; people went to see it, but nobody cared about it, so far as I could tell.  With It, you could sense immediately -- show began on Thursday night and were busy from jump -- that this was a movie people were excited to see.  They weren't coming to the theatre out of a sense of obligation, or because it was the weekend and they had to go see something (those days appear to be over for 95% of the public, if not more).  They were acting like ... like ...
      Well, they were acting a bit like people in line for a roller coaster.  This was an experience, not a mere movie.  They came by the hundreds per hour, and they were of all colors, ages, sizes; they were evenly split in gender.  There were an untold number of kids not old enough to vault over the R rating, and some of them got older people to buy 'em tickets, and some of them -- most of them (possibly numbering in the thousands, and no, I'm not exaggerating that) -- failed.  They looked brokenhearted to be missing out on it; no, I'm not exaggerating that, either.
      I have seen a weekend's worth of audiences that was both larger and more excited; but not many.  This will rank as one of the most enthusiastic audiences I've personally ever been around in the movie business; they were laughing and excited on the way in, and they were laughing and excited on the way out.
      It was really, really cool.  It always is.  
      Add on top of that that they were there to see a movie based on one of my five favorite novels (one written by my absolute favorite author), and it translated to me having a much better weekend personally than I might otherwise have had.  A weekend's business like that can sometimes be sort of oppressive, like a grim march to a too-distant finish line.  Get me to Monday, get me to Monday, get me to Monday..., like that.  This can especially be true if a movie is a smash hit and you weren't expecting it to be.  Luckily, we were, so the effects we felt were minimal.  I would all but guarantee you that many of the nation's theatres got caught flat-footed by it, especially after the past few weeks have been so dreadful at the box office.
      But yeah, we saw it coming, and we were more or less prepared.  Even so, it was a show of It basically ever 45 minutes, so the lines were nonstop, from Thursday at 7pm to Sunday at 11pm, with respites while we closed and for maybe the first half-dozen shows of the day.  Otherwise?  Non-fuckin'-stop.
      Despite this, I was in a thoroughly cheerful mood.  I was wearing this:
      Nobody recognized it except one of my fellow managers, who just shook his head at me as if to indicate he was disappointed in what a nerd I was.  I am guilty as charged, and the fact that I was in a good mood while all around me swirled a sea of people who wanted tickets and/or popcorn without further delay indicates to me that it was a pretty good weekend to be the type of nerd I am.
      So yeah, that's where this review will be coming from.  From the guy who was happy to be swamped at work not merely because it was good for business, but because the hordes of customers were there to see something I really cared about.