Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Guided Tour of the Kingdom: A Chronological Walk Through the Career of Stephen King, Part 2 (1967-1971)

We resume our Guided Tour of the Kingdom today by strolling through King's college years, which ran from 1966-1970.  These were crucial formative years for King, who by the end of this period would have written at least two novels and would have published over half a dozen short stories.

"The Glass Floor"
(short story)
  • published in the Fall 1967 issue of Startling Mystery Stories
  • reprinted in the Fall 1990 issue of Weird Tales
  • reprinted in Cemetery Dance #68, December 2012
  • uncollected
The Truth Inside The Lie review of "The Glass Floor"
scanned from The Stephen King Illustrated Companion

"The Glass Floor" was King's first professional fiction sale, and as such, it holds an important place in King's career.  Sadly, it's not a particularly good story.  It's about a guy who visits a decrepit mansion where his sister died.  It's never been printed in one of King's story collections, and I suspect it never will be, at least during King's life.
That said, how glad are you that Startling Mystery Stories took a chance on young master King?  If you're anything like you tour guide, you're pretty fuckin' glad.

"Cain Rose Up" and "Here There Be Tygers"
(short stories)
  • published in the Spring 1968 issue of Ubris
  • collected in Skeleton Crew 

The Truth Inside the Lie review of "Cain Rose Up"
The Truth Inside the Lie review of "Here There Be Tygers"
stolen from

Toward the end of his sophomore year, King placed two stories in the same issue of Ubris.

"Cain Rose Up" is the disturbing story of Curt Garrish, a college student who finishes his final exams, goes to his dorm room, gets a rifle, and starting killing people from the window.  King had drawn inspiration from the Charles Whitman killings, and produced a story that packs a punch.
"Here There Be Tygers" is comparatively subdued, but it's not a bad story.  It's about a kid who has to go take a leak at school.  His teacher harasses him about it a little, and then she gets eaten by a tiger who is in the restroom.  It's a nonsensical tale, but I don't say that as a criticism; making sense is never mandatory.  King is in fantasy mode here, and it works just fine.
Both stories were eventually collected in 1985's Skeleton Crew, and this seems like a good time to bring up an issue related to some of these early stories: the idea of revision.  King frequently revises his short stories before including them in his story collections.  So, for example, if you were one of the people who bought the e-book versions of either "Ur" or "Mile 81" the day they were released, you read slightly different versions than those that appeared in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams several years later.  The differences were not hugely important, but they do exist, and the fact is that there was nothing preventing King from changing every word of the stories.  I mean, why not?  They're his stories, and Bazaar was the place where most of his readers will encounter them.
I say all that so as to say this: unless one is able to compare the Skeleton Crew versions of "Cain Rose Up" and "Here There Be Tygers" with the Ubris versions, it's best to assume that there were at least some changes made prior to their collection.  Does a thing like that matter to the average reader?  No, and it shouldn't.
To a guy like me, though (i.e., an amateur scholar), it makes a bit of difference.  Think of it this way.  When I read these two stories, I feel a demonstrable difference in King's ability as a writer of fiction compared to "The Glass Floor," which is ostensibly from a year earlier.  But since I'm reading the 1985 versions from Skeleton Crew, how much of this perceived leap in skill and maturity was added in revision by King circa 1985 (when he was a decade into a career as a bestselling novelist)?  If I had that copy of the Spring 1968 Ubris in front of me to use as a comparison, I could answer that question; but I don't, and I don't have access to scans of it, so it remains an unanswered question.
The best I can do is make an educated guess based on other stories from roughly the same period that I do have in both their original and revised forms.  By looking at those, I can extrapolate a rough idea of the degree to which King was revising stories from this era.  Based on that, I'd speculate that both "Cain Rose Up" and "Here There Be Tygers" are substantively the same in Skeleton Crew as in Ubris.  King likely cleaned up some of the language and ideas, but by and large, my guess is that what appeared in the Spring 1968 literary journal was something we'd recognize as "Stephen King."
That being the case, the argument could be persuasively made that that very issue of Ubris is where Stephen King's career truly began.  Sure, he'd been professionally published by Startling Mystery Stories, but so what?  That ("The Glass Floor") was a shabby piece of work, and if King had never leveled up from there, nobody today would have ever read his work.
From the evidence available to me, I conclude that he had, indeed, leveled up by Spring 1968.
Not for the last time, either...

"Strawberry Spring"
(short story)
  • published in the Fall 1968 issue of Ubris
  • reprinted in the November 1975 issue of Cavalier and the February 1977 issue of Gent
  • collected in Night Shift

The Truth Inside the Lie review of "Strawberry Spring"
image stolen from

I think it would be possible to argue that it was "Strawberry Spring" that kicked off King's career, at least in terms of his talent.  For my own part, I'd make the argument that it happened with "Cain Rose Up" and/or "Here There Be Tygers."  But I think I might lose that debate to a well-prepared person who argued for "Strawberry Spring."
It's the tale of serial killings on a college campus.  King would include it in his 1978 story collection Night Shift, for which it was presumably revised.  Again, I've not read the Ubris version, so it's impossible for me to say how much of the Night Shift version was added by an older and more experienced King. 
Doesn't really matter.  It's a humdinger of a story, regardless of when it was written.
The same issue of Ubris, by the way, included a King poem -- his first to be published, so far as I know -- titled "Harrison State Park '68."  We'll talk about it a bit more later; I'm going to kind of lump all the poems from this era into a single category at the end of the post.

"Night Surf"
(short story)
  • published in the Spring 1969 issue of Ubris
  • reprinted in the August 1974 issue of Cavalier
  • collected in Night Shift 

The Truth Inside the Lie review of "Night Surf"
scanned from The Stephen King Illustrated Companion
This marvelously cold story about people on a beach waiting to die from a plague is (arguably) set in the same universe as The Stand.  The story appeared in Night Shift the same year as that novel debuted, and had been reprinted in the August 1974 issue of Cavalier, as well.

"The Reaper's Image"
(short story)
  • published in the Spring 1969 issue of Startling Mystery Stories
  • collected in Skeleton Crew

The Truth Inside the Lie review of "The Reaper's Image"

    "The Reaper's Image" reads, to me, like a more advanced (but, ultimately, no more satisfactory) version of what King was going for in "The Glass Floor."  Guy skeptically shows up to see a thing he's not scared of, finds out he should have been scared of that thing.  King knows what effect he's going for, but he still hasn't quite figured out how to get it.
    His name made the cover of Startling Mystery Stories, though, so that's pretty cool!
    Also worth mentioning: King said in a 1979 interview (which can be found in Feast of Fear if this page is accurate) that at some point, he sold a third story to Startling Mystery Stories.  It was called "The Float," but it never appeared in the magazine because the magazine went under.  It published its eighteenth and final issue in 1971.  King has mentioned "The Float" on a few other occasions, too, and most commonly says that he sold it to a men's magazine called Adam.  Bottom line is threefold: King lost his original manuscript and never found it again; King was paid for publication but never received a contributor's copy; and King would, years later, rewrite the story from memory under the title "The Raft."
    I wanted to make sure to at least mention "The Float," which no King collector has ever managed to locate.  Odds are, be it in Adam or Startling Mystery Stories (or potentially even both), that it never actually got published in its original form.
    "Stud City" and "The Dark Man"
    (short story and poem, respectively)

    • published in the Fall 1969 issue of Ubris
    • "Stud City" revised for incorporation into The Body 
    • "The Dark Man" published in an illustrated edition by Cemetery Dance in 2013
    • both otherwise uncollected

    The Truth Inside the Lie review of "Stud City"
    The Truth Inside the Lie review of "The Dark Man"

    image stolen from

    "Stud City" is best known as one of Gordie LaChance's stories within The Body.  It began its life as a King story, though, appearing in the UMO's literary magazine during his senior year.  It is likely to strike readers as highly atypical for King, but if you've ever taken a college-level creative-writing course, you're likely to recognize its tone and intent.
    It's about a lamely rebellious young man who blames his father and stepmother for his brother's untimely death.  It's not a particularly good story, but it's got its moments.
    The Fall 1969 edition of Ubris also contained "The Dark Man," which has attained a measure of notoriety in the years since.  It represents the first-ever appearance of King's "dark man" character, later known as Randall Flagg (among other designations).
    It's not much of a poem, to be honest.  While it might have held -- and might still hold -- a special place in King's own mental recollection of Flagg's origins, the casual reader is unlikely to get much of interest out of this poem.  That's fine!  It's a poem King wrote in college; there being any interest in it at all places it above 99.9% of all poems written by all college students in the history of colleges.  So take my criticism for what it's worth.
    Speaking of poetry, let's talk about some more of it briefly.

    early poems by King

    scanned from The Stephen King Illustrated Companion

    Constant Readers will have encountered King's poetry on a few occasions: both Skeleton Crew and The Bazaar of Bad Dreams contain a couple each, and there's one in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, as well.
    I have a memory of reading an interview in which King stated that he'd probably written several hundred poems over the years, only a scant handful of which have ever been seen.  I can't remember the provenance of that memory, though; let's not rely on it too much.  But if true, then that raises the possibility of there someday being a series of volumes of King verse.  I'd be okay with that; I don't love his early poems, but the ones in Skeleton Crew and The Bazaar of Bad Dreams are effective.
    Most of the know King poems, however, come from either his college years or the year/year-and-a-half or so following his graduation.  So, yes, I'm deviating slightly from my self-imposed timeline; but I think it makes sense to group all these poems together for our purposes here.
    Here, then, is a list of the King-penned poems from this era that are known to exist (quick note -- it is common practice to refer to an untitled poem by quoting the first line):
    • "Harrison State Park '68"  (published in Ubris, Fall 1968)
    • "The Dark Man"  (published in Ubris, Fall 1968; reprinted in Moth, 1970)
    • "Donovan's Brain"  (published in Moth, 1970)
    • "Silence"  (published in Moth, 1970)
    • untitled ("In the key-chords of dawn...")  (published in Onan, January 1971)
    • "Brooklyn August" (published in Io Magazine #10, 1971)
    • "Woman With Child" (published in Contraband #1, 1971)
    • untitled ("She has gone to sleep while...") (published in Contraband #1, 1971)
    • "The Hardcase Speaks" (published in Contraband #2, 1971)

    Of these, all except "Brooklyn August," "Woman With Child," and "She has gone to sleep while..." were reprinted in the long-out-of-print 2004 Cemetery Dance volume The Devil's Wine.
    I have yet to actually sit down and read that entire volume, but someday, I will.
    Of the King poems of the college years that do not appear in The Devil's Wine, two -- "Woman With Child" and "She has gone to sleep while..." -- have never been reprinted.  "Brooklyn August" appeared in Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

    King's Garbage Truck
    (weekly newspaper column)

    • published in The Maine Campus, 1969-1970 
    • uncollected

    During his senior year at college, King wrote a weekly opinion column for The Maine Campus, the school newspaper.  It ran for 46 installments beginning with the February 20, 1969 issue and concluding with the May 21, 1970 issue.
    One final installment also appeared post-graduation on November 5, 1970.
    These are difficult to find (and are effectively impossible for most fans); most of them have never been reprinted.  Four of them appear in Hearts In Suspension, the 2016 volume that looked at King's college years; if you want a decent idea of what the Garbage Truck was like, you can get it there.  Alternatively, you can find synopses of each column in either The Lost Work of Stephen King or Stephen King: The Nonfiction.
    Considerably better than nothing, in both cases; but take it from someone who has read it all, synopses are no substitute for the real thing(s).  I have no trouble believing that these columns mostly embarrass King, and that he will therefore never allow a complete collection of them to be reprinted.  However, they represent a clear evolution of King's writing style (and, indeed, his thinking style, or so it seems).  By 1969, he was already writing short stories like "Strawberry Spring" and "Night Surf," so it stands to reason that even though they may be rough around the edges and not entirely indicative of King as he would be half a decade later, these are still mostly well-written and engaging pieces of opinion-based journalism.
    While we're here, let's have a look at an infamous King contribution to his student newspaper, from the January 15, 1970 issue:
    scanned from The Stephen King Illustrated Companion
    The photographer, Frank Kadi, tells the story behind the making of this image in Hearts In Suspension, by the way.
    As regards King's Garbage Truck: it's unlikely ever to happen, but I personally believe that a collection of these articles would be of keen interest to King scholars, if not to fans of his fiction.  If such a volume were ever to appear, it would be nice for it also to include "A Possible Fairy Tale," an essay by King that was published in The Maine Campus during May of 1970.
    It might also be the best possible place for this next item to appear:

    (short story)
    • published serially in The Maine Campus, June-August 1970
    • uncollected

    The Truth Inside the Lie review of "Slade"

    After graduating on June 5, 1970, King ran an eight-part short story called "Slade" in the spot formerly occupied by King's Garbage Truck in The Maine Campus.  It ran from June 11 through August 6, and is a Western parody about a gunslinging hero named Slade who is on a quest to save his one true love, Miss Polly Peachtree of Paducah, Kentucky.
    It's achieved a level of mystique in some circles over the years, not dissimilar to that held by "The Dark Man."  In the case of "Slade," you occasionally see it referred to as a sort of pre-Dark Tower working-out of the sorts of Western tropes King would later put to use in the stories that comprise the first novel in that series.  Fair enough, and indeed, King is said to have already been at work on The Gunslinger by the point of "Slade" emerging into the world.
    In my opinion, it doesn't go much farther than that.  It's just not a very interesting story, and the sort of political satire that pops up during it shows it -- to my mind, at least -- to be more in line with King's Garbage Truck-era journalism than with his fiction.  It is fiction, no doubt about it; but it's of a playful type akin to "The 43rd Dream" and later concoctions such as "The King Family and the Witch" and "The Rock and Roll Dead Zone."  I'd recommend treating it as such, personally.
    Speaking of treating things within their proper context, let's conclude our look at this era with two stories that, in chronological terms, dip into the next section of our tour.  For me, though, they belong in this part of the discussion, and so here they will be.

    "The Blue Air Compressor"
    (short story)

    • published in Onan, 1971
    • reprinted in the July 1981 issue of Heavy Metal
    • uncollected 

    The Truth Inside the Lie review of "The Blue Air Compressor"
    image stolen from

    As far as my limited research on the matter has indicated, both Moth and Onan were literary publications of the University of Maine (or, in the case of Moth, an off-campus student publication).  Don't hold me to that; I don't really know for 100% sure in either case.  But I do believe that it's more or less true in both cases, and I think "The Blue Air Compressor" feels like the type of thing King might have written in a fiction class to show off his skills as a writer of eclectica.
    It's a fourth-wall-breaking bit of metafiction about a guy who goes to live with an enormously fat woman so that he can write about her.  She discovers what he's doing, and then he inflates her to death with the titular air compressor.
    It's handily one of the worst stories King has ever published, in my opinion.  This is not to say it's devoid of interest, though; it's got its moments.  But anyone who goes to this looking for a lost gem that might have played well as a b-side to Night Shift is in for a disappointment.  This is writing-class dicking about, at best.
    "The Old Dude's Ticker"
    (short story, written circa 1971/1972)

    • unpublished until 2000
    • published in the Necon XX souvenir program
    • reprinted in the Dark Screams Six e-book
    • uncollected

    Edgar Allan Poe

    In July 2000, the twentieth Necon (Northeastern Writers' Conference) took place, and the commemorative program had a treat inside it: the premiere appearance of "The Old Dude's Ticker" complete with an introduction by its author, Stephen King.
    In that introduction, King -- and I'm getting this from Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished, in case you were wondering -- states that he'd submitted "The Old Dude's Ticker" to Cavalier circa 1971-72, only for it to be rejected for publication.  the story itself is a pastiche of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," following the same general story but replacing its narrator with a then-contemporary one who slings a bunch of slang at us.
    It's not a great story, as is often the case with pastiches.  King seemingly had a bit of a thing for pastiches at the time, though; he also mentions in the introduction that Cavelier rejected another one (probably titled "The Spear"), a pastiche of Nikolai Gogol's story "The Ring."
    I'd speculate that perhaps "Jerusalem's Lot" -- which is itself a Lovecraft pastiche, of "The Rats in the Walls" specifically, although it is also a much freer (and more successful) tale than is "The Old Dude's Ticker" -- hails from roughly this same era; but that is sheer speculation on my part.
    In any case, to my mind, "The Old Dude's Ticker" reads a lot like "The Blue Air Compressor" does: as the work of a writer who was struggling to shed the self-conscious "literary" mindset he'd developed during college.  These two stories read as a conscious rebellion against that mindset that, in rebelling, keeps King mired within that world even as he attempts to escape it.  Those two stories are the literary equivalent of quicksand.  They simply don't fit within the next section of our tour, and so I elected to lump them in here, at the end of this section.
    Those who wish to read "The Old Dude's Ticker" for themselves can best do so in the e-book Dark Screams Volume Six, which was published by Cemetery Dance in April 2017.
    The college era ended, we will next turn our attention to the in-between era that marked the road to the publication of King's first novel.


    1. (1) I love King's early Twilight Zone/ EC sort of vibe. It never really went away, just got more refined or adapted to other things along the way. I wish I had a bookcase full of "Startling Mystery Stories," as well as so many others. Ideal man-palace of the future would have a library of nothing but the 20th century's coolest periodicals and anthologies. A friend's Dad had every issue of SIGHT & SOUND from the 60s on, or so - that was one amazing-looking wall. Ever since, I've always wanted the same but for THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE-FICTION. Or both. (Definitely both - and many more. It'd be a bottomless-well sort of project, had I the means, space, and opportunity!)

      (2) It's odd that NO copy of "The Float" has ever turned up, isn't it? You'd figure someone would've tracked one down by now. Like some of the 1920s' most popular films at the box office, it's amazing to think these things can just disappear.

      (3) I'm not really a poetry fan, and I've never really enjoyed any of the King poems I've seen. That said, I hope this project materializes, as it'd be a cool addition to his work/ my shelves.

      (4) As someone who has also read all of the King's Garbage Trucks (at least all the ones I know about) I second the call to publish them. Probably after he's, ahem, no longer around to object. Or after a period of time lapses where it will no doubt be treasured for the time-travel-snapshot these things are. Ditto for his Pop of King. Someone needs to collect this stuff for real. Anyway, the King's Garbage Trucks are invaluable not just for the (totally accurate) reasons you suggest but because they're such wonderful as-they-happened snapshots of the 60s, which were so turbulent that any glimpse from a writer with a fine eye for detail/ comedy/ nuance like King is appreciated. His "Cops" column from Nov 1969 is particularly interesting, especially in light of recent events. (The older I get, the more convinced I am that "in light of recent events" will and can be applied to just about any set of events, in any era. For some reason, we always find things "particularly relevant to now," even though "now" is an illusion.

      (5) Great post! Look forward to the next installment.

      1. (1) He absolutely does give oodles of evidence of his influences and inspirations during these early years. I think that's appropriate and rewarding; it's how most writers' careers develop, but most of them are more reticent to discuss it.

        Man, that wall full o' SIGHT & SOUND must have been a wonder to behold. Things like that are immensely appealing to me, obviously. Even with things I don't even care about much; I'd love to have a complete collection of National Geographics, just because it'd look cool.

        (2) It really is odd. I believe King is probably correct that the issue never actually got published; if it did, the print run must have been minuscule, or something like that. Otherwise, it'd be bound to have turned up by now. But you never know!

        (3) My only fear is that it'd be published by Cemetery Dance, who'd charge $150 for it and would prompt a collector frenzy among people who would mostly never read a word of it.

        (4) I think you're right to think that now is a slippery concept. Some might even say it's purely a construct, one which has no more inherent truth than what we assign to it. If so, then you'd probably have to say the same is true about concepts like "back then" and "someday." All of which is a less-interesting way of saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same." It really is kind of true, though, I think. Regardless, I think those Garbage Truck columns need to be available someday in some way. Maybe as part of an official biography or something.

        (5) Thankee-sai!

    2. Bryant, I just have to say---having discovered this blog about a year ago---how wonderful it has been to have something else to click over to, rather than bouncing back and forth between Facebook and Twitter and just continuing to disappear down the black hole of whatever fracas-of-the-moment is occurring.

      This particular series is a great, deep dive, and couldn't have come at a more welcome time. Very glad this blog exists. Long days, pleasant nights, etc.!

      1. Thanks! Yeah, the more I can avoid the news today, the better off I am. That might be irresponsible, and if so, I think I kinda don't give a damn.

        Part 3 should be up tomorrow, by the way.

    3. Personally I think you're being too hard on The Glass Floor, which is nowhere near his best work, but also nowhere near his worst. It intrigued me, made me want to know more. The Reaper's Image was just boring, and the payoff nothing even close to satisfying.

      I cannot take Here There Be Tygers seriously. It just feels like something he dashed off in seconds, and yes, I too wonder what the fuck was up with that metaphor. However, the idea that after a while everyone knows what "going to the basement" is, and therefore would stop using it doesn't ring true. Plenty of people still say things like "I've got to powder my nose" or "I need to freshen up" or something like that, and we all know what that is, but they still say it.

      Slade was just dumb, but I did laugh twice. I detailed that in my own blog. I can't agree more about The Blue Air Compressor...I mean, what the fuck? Dicking around doesn't begin to describe it.

      1. I hear what you're saying on "The Glass Floor," but it's so poorly written (in comparison to the average King story) that I barely even see it as being of professional quality.

        But you're right, it does nevertheless draw you in. Signs of greatness to come, for sure!