Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What I Watched This October, Part 2: Stephen King's Eight Favorite Movies

In mid-September, Stephen King wrote a short article for the British Film Institute in which he named (and briefly wrote about) his eight favorite favourite films.
There was some cool stuff in there, and of the eight I'd only seen three.  Not a terrific batting average, so I decided that as part of my Halloween-season viewing, I'd try to get caught up.
King listed them in no order, although he did specify which of the eight would comprise his top two.  We will save those for last, and talk about the rest in alphabetical order, beginning with:
This is one of the three films on King's list that I had previously seen.  I didn't get much out of it.  I certainly wouldn't say I thought it was a bad movie; I just thought it was kind of unmemorable.  But, then, I saw it under non-optimal conditions: a tiny television, in a house where an exceptionally disruptive child was in full-disrupt mode.  I was hanging out moreso than watching a movie.  Don't get me wrong; that's fine.  I like hanging out.  I also like watching movies.  The two don't always mix, and I suspected even at the time that mixing them was doing The Changeling no favors.

I'm sure it wasn't, but having watched the movie a second time free of such issues, I find that the movie still doesn't entirely work for me.  It's got some good moments, and is by no means a bad movie, but it doesn't get under my skin the way I wish it would.

Friday, October 27, 2017

What I Watched This October, Part 1

Every October -- "October" being defined in my apartment as September 21 (Kingmas!) through November 2 -- I do my best to go on a bit of a horror-movie binge.  Some years are more productive than others in that regard, and it remains to be seen how well I'll do at executing this year.
I thought, hey, why not blog about it?  And so I shall, more or less in the order I watched the movies.

We begin with a trip into Lovecraft country, where we shall witness...

This 1970 film was a product of American International Pictures, the company that made Roger Corman's series of Edgar Allan Poe films.  One of those Poe flicks -- 1963's The Haunted Palace -- had actually been based less on the Poe story of that title than on an H.P. Lovecraft novella titled "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward."  Good novella; and not a bad movie, either.

Perhaps AIP had that in mind when it made The Dunwich Horror, based on one of Lovecraft's most celebrated stories.

The movie that resulted is often panned by critics, by Lovecraft enthusiasts, by horror fans in general, and probably by Corman fans, too.  (Corman didn't direct this, though; he was only an executive producer.)

I dig it, though.  It's by no means a great film, but I do think it's a good one for the vast majority of its runtime, and even in the moments when it's bad, I think it's memorably bad.

Here are a few things it has going for it:

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Guided Tour of the Kingdom: A Chronological Walk Through the Career of Stephen King, Part 6 (1979-1982)

Last time, I teased that something would have changed when we resumed the Tour with part 6.  Truth is, it wouldn't change until this happened:


The Dead Zone
a Viking hardback, published August 14, 1979


Specifically, what changed with The Dead Zone was that King moved to a new publisher: Doubleday having let him down, he jumped ship and joined up with Viking.
Oh, and landed his first hardback #1 in the process.  It was his first of 39 hardback New York Times #1 bestsellers to date, if Kevin Quigley's list is accurate.  (It's inaccurate in that it hasn't added Sleeping Beauties yet; so it's actually 40 #1s.)

The novel remains one of King's best, for my money.  It's got one of his best protagonists, one of his best villains, one of his best love interests, one of his best resolutions, and some of his best prose.  It's a winner through and through.

Salem's Lot
(television miniseries)
  • a CBS miniseries, broadcast November 17 and 24, 1979
  • directed by Tobe Hooper from a teleplay by Paul Monash

Does Ben ever hold a gun in the miniseries?!?  Weird.

After the success of Carrie, there had been attempts to turn 'salem's Lot into a feature film, and at one point George Romero was being eyed for the directorial duties.  That ended up not happening, obviously.  Instead, we got a big-ticket two-night miniseries from CBS.
By no means is this adaptation universally loved.  Viewers who weren't around for this era of television seem to struggle to engage with it.  I understand why and empathize with them, but it remains one of my personal favorite King films.  I watch it nearly every year around Halloween, and always enjoy the tone and mood.  I like the music, I like the performances, I like the production design; I even like the cheesy seventies-isms that pop up in the production and editing from time to time (like the freeze-frames that occasionally mark where the commercial breaks would have been).
In my case, though, I grew up watching television during this era.  So even though I didn't see this until 1990 or so, it makes me hugely nostalgic.  If you don't feel similarly, you may have a hard time getting through it.
"How to Scare a Woman to Death" 
"Living with the Bogeyman"
(essays, the former by Stephen King and the latter by Tabitha King)
  • published in Murderess Ink (a Workman trade paperback, edited by Dilys Winn), November 1979
  • uncollected

Here's the first paragraph of "How to Scare a Woman to Death":
Who would want to scare a nice lady half to death, keep her up most of the night, make her race to shut doors, close windows, and then lie awake shivering, perspiring even in her lightest nightgown?  Well, me for one.  Just the thought raises a grin that, though I cannot see it since I have no mirror, feels wonderfully sadistic.  As the little street urchin in Oliver Twist says, I only wants to make yer flesh creep . . . and it's my experience that ladies like a good scare as well as anyone.  So if you're an apprentice flesh-creeper (or even if you aren't), let me offer some hints on throwing a jolt into what some of us still refer to as the fairer sex.
King goes on to list a series of hypothetical thoughts "the fairer sex" might have that would prompt a bit of terror.  Following each, he riffs on the ideas for a bit.  They are as follows:

  • Who's minding the kids?
  • Pretty dark out here, isn't it, Maude?
  • My, it's getting close in here.
  • Oh dear, I don't know what that is, but it's not chopped liver!
  • What happened to the lights, Jane?
King is having a lot of fun here, and while the essay (which runs three pages) is by no means essential reading, it's quite entertaining.
The real draw of the book for me, though (and I say that having not read any of its contents apart from these two selections), is Tabitha King's essay, "Living with the Bogeyman."  It is fantastic, so much so that I'm going to replicate the entire thing here.  Enjoy!
You write to ask if he’s an alcoholic, a child beater, a psychic.  You recognize the real thing, you confess, because you’ve been there yourself.
            You write to ask where he gets such ideas, meaning did his mum lock him in the closet until he was sorry, did something happen that warped him when he was a child or was he born with a bent mind?
            Much of your mail goes unanswered because otherwise he’d have to hire a secretary, then tell her what to say – a process that takes almost as much time as a personal response.  In any case, no, he is not now and never has been an alcoholic (just an occasional drunk), a child beater (the odd whack on the butt), or a psychic (every so often an intuitive flash).  As to whether he was warped as a child or just born that way, the answer is as obvious as it is ultimately insignificant.  Of course he was, and you better watch out.
            The same questions are asked by the media, but they come round to the house to see for themselves exactly what manner of man is frightening the unsuspecting readers of America and England and Japan and Brazil and… well, a lot of people, and perhaps they’re not so unsuspecting after all.  The media are frequently disappointed to discover an ordinary Yankee, size XL, drinking beer and watching baseball while his three children throw toys and his wife stews the checkbook.
            This, then, is Stephen King.
            He likes to say that he writes about ordinary people to whom extraordinary things happen.  This is also a capsule biography.  The extraordinary does erupt now and again in our lives, but so far as I know it does in everybody’s.
            A few years ago, we took our kids (then just a pair of them) to a lecture Steve was giving.  At the rear of the hall was a poster that advertised the talk, and our boy Joe Hill, just then learning to read, walked over to study it.

            “What’s it say, Joe?” I asked.
            His finger underlined the name.  “Steve-a King,” he said.
            He looked up at me, pleased with himself.  I smiled to let him know he was right.  His finger moved to the next line, the unfamiliar word “Author.”
            “Fa-ther?” he guessed.
            It was perfectly natural to him that Stephen King’s role in his life, father, would be announced in a poster, a matter of public record.
            Joe Hill doesn’t find it at all extraordinary that his father is a famous author, like the stuffy faces on the cards he plays with (he calls them “arfers”).  He did ask me later on during that lecture whether his father was going to be President.  That’s something many small children imagine as a serious possibility, before they discover that Dad, all-powerful to them, is a small-town dentist, or grocer, or schoolteacher.  Joe Hill now wonders if his father writes all the books there are, and all the television shows.  He is most impressed with the fact that Steve once met Stan Lee, the creator of Spiderman.
            The point is, extraordinary has more to do with the individual than with the rest of the world.
            But back to your fantasies.  What about Stephen King, Bogeyman?  Will you shrink if you look him in the eye?
            Well, he’s a large man, slightly stooped, as the very tall and very near-sighted often are.  His eyes, almost obscured by the thick lenses of his glasses, are a mild blue, almond in shape and slightly slanted, as Irish as the rest of his face.  A snapshot of the boy he was at eight or nine, very like Joe Hill, reveals a fey and dreamy quality in the eyes.  One stops and studies that photograph, caught by the expression.  This is one face of the Bogeyman, and it wouldn’t scare a soul.
            Another picture, taken by a college classmate, records those eyes ten years older, mad, gleeful, manic, infinitely more frightening than the mouth of the shotgun he points at the camera.  The gun’s double mouth has been enlarged in the darkroom to compete with the eyes.  There is a striking resemblance to Charles Manson, and the picture trades on it.  It is the very face that made my parents less than enthusiastic when I first brought him home.  It is the face that tells you those things you’d rather not hear about.  Yes, you might shrink from it.  Until you found out he was faking it, having you on.
            The man is a frustrated actor.  Peek in and listen to him read to his children.  It might be from Marvel comics, or The Lord of the Rings, or something he’s written just for them.  Even the baby stops to listen to Daddy “do the perlice in different voices.”  Or perhaps there’s an improvised puppet show, with a make-shift stage, and a cast of Sesame Street puppets, and our own repertory company of dragons, vampires, assorted Things.
            Whatever.  The lesson of these tales remains the same: Be afraid, my darlings, for we have much to fear.  Be not afraid to fear, do not deny your fears; that way lies the worst horror, the negation of reality, evil ignored and evil triumphant, danger unwatched for, danger that wins.  Do not, above all, blind yourself when you must walk in darkness.  Ignorance is not innocence, only stupidity and cowardice.  So we hold hands, and wait for our night vision, and tell ourselves stories in the dark.
            There is a children’s story about a boy who has monsters in his closet.  Eventually, he takes them all in bed with him, after he discovers they’re just as frightened of the dark as he is.  I love that story; it is my autobiography. 
That's great for any number of reasons, but as a fan of both Joe and Owen, I find it irresistible.  We'll hear more from Tabitha King over the course of these posts, though never again in so complete a form.

"On Becoming a Brand Name"
  • published in the February 1980 issue of Adelina
  • reprinted in Fear Itself: The Horror Fiction of Stephen King (edited by Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller), 1982
  • collected in Secret Windows, 2000
Adelina was the American edition of an Italian nudie mag called Playmen.  I have no idea how King's association with them began, but it would last for much of 1980.  Not only did the February issue publish "On Becoming a Brand Name," but the June through November issues apparently hosted him as the in-house book reviewer.
As for "On Becoming a Brand Name" itself, it is essential reading for King fans.   It's most easily found in one of the two places it has been reprinted: the 2000 nonfiction collection Secret Windows or the 1982 King-tribute tome Fear Itself, where it has been disingenuously labeled as the foreword.
Clocking in at 28 pages in Fear Itself, this is handily one of the most informative essays of King's career.  Let's take a look at some excerpted sentences from a stretch of it in which he gives some info about the writing of his first several books.
  • "I wrote my first novel when I was a freshman in college and submitted it to a first novel competition -- I believe it was the Bennett Cerf competition."  We know from other sources that this was The Long Walk, so here, King is planting a flag for that novel as his first.
  • "Book #2 was a 500-page novel about a race riot in a major (but fictional) American city."  This, obviously, was Sword in the Darkness.  King states he was twenty when it wrote it, which places it in his sophomore year.  "A college creative writing teacher found me an agent for this book, Patricia Schartle Myrer of McIntosh and Otis.  She informed me that she had read the manuscript and liked it a great deal."  She "shopped the book around to ane ven dozen publishers, including Doubleday, who later published my first five books.  Then she sent it back to me.  We lost touch, but I have always thought of her kindly for her efforts."
  • "The race riot novel really isn't that good.  Book #1 is one I can still take out, read and mourn over when I am drunk.  Book #2 is only a badly busted flush."
  • "A year later, when I was a junior in college, I wrote Book #3.  And through it, although it was not published, I met William G. Thompson, who edited all five of the books I did with Doubleday."  This was Getting It On, or Rage, as it eventually became known.
  • "During the winter of my first year of teaching I wrote Book #4.  Writing it was a fantastic, white-hot experience; the book was written in one month, the bulk of it in the one week of winter vacation.  The book, unfortunately, was not fantastic."  This was The Running Man, which King has often said was written in a week.
It's worth pointing out that this was likely the first time King wrote publicly of his first four novels, which, as far as anyone knew at that time, were all still unpublished.  
One more nugget before we move on:
"Up until that point, in the late fall and early winter of 1972," King writes, "it had never crossed my mind to write a horror novel.  It's odd because I had never actually sold anything but horror stories."  King doesn't come right out and say it, but the implication is clear: he was still focused on being a "serious" writer, and since serious writers didn't write horror, that's why the thought never occurred to him.
There is plenty more worth digging into here; I've barely scratched the surface.  One of these days, we'll go through it fully.  For now, though, I'd simply assert that this essay is good enough that it bears at least as much scrutiny as many of King's short stories.
"The Way Station"
  • published in the April 1980 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
  • collected in The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, 1982
The second F&SF Dark Tower novelet begins with a synopsis, which I shall generously transcribe for you all:
SYNOPSIS:  The dark days have come; the last of the lights are guttering, flickering out -- in the minds of men as well as in their dwellings.  The world has moved on.  Something has, perhaps, happened to the continuum itself.  Dark things haunt the dark; communities stand alone and isolated.  Some houses, shunned, have become the dens of demons.
     Against this dying, twilit landscape, the gunslinger -- last of his kind, and wearing the sandalwood-inlaid pistols of his father -- pursues the man in black into the desert, leaving the last, tattered vestiges of life and civilization behind.  In the town of Tull, now miles and days at his back, the man in black set him a snare; reanimated a corpse and set the town against him.  The gunslinger has left them all dead, victims of the man in black's mordant prank and the deadly, mindless speed of his own hands.
     Following the ashes of days-old fires, the gunslinger pursues the man in black.
     He may be gaining, and it may be that the man in black knows the secret of The Dark Tower, which stands at the root of time.  For it is not ultimately the man in black which the gunslinger seek; it is the Tower.
          The dark days have come.
          The world has moved on.
"The Way Station" is notable as the moment in the story where Roland meets Jake.  We also hear the story of Roland, Cuthbert, and Hax the cook.
Good stuff.
The Shining
(feature film)
  • a Warner Bros film, released May 23, 1980
  • directed by Stanley Kubrick from a screenplay by Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson
image stolen from https://www.filmposter.net/en/the-shining-original-release-us-onesheet-movie-poster-6666/
Stanley Kubrick is a polarizing filmmaker, and I should confess that I very much gravitate toward the pro-Kubrick pole.  I have done for quite some time now, and am unlikely ever to go back.
I found his movies to be difficult to contend with when I was a child.  I say "movies," but the only one I watched prior to high school was 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I approached as a science fiction fan at age ten (or thereabouts), watching it late one night on television while the rest of the house slumbered.  The movie befuddled me, to say the least, but it held enough allure that the next time it came on television, I watched it again.  And was befuddled again.
Something in it pulled me in, though, and that's a hallmark of Kubrick's work.  When I finally saw my next Kubrick film, it was The Shining, at some point in my early days of King fandom.  I was terrified of it, and also quite put off by it ... but, as with 2001, it pulled at me.
It did not pull at Stephen King himself, except perhaps in the negative sense.  He's been vocal about his disdain for Kubrick's approach ever since, frequently citing the fact that in his novel, Jack Torrance descends into madness slowly and unwillingly, whereas in the film the character (as played by Jack Nicholson) seemingly begins the story more than halfway nuts.  I think there's room for debate on that subject, but let's grant the point.  What I'd say in response to that is that when you examine the long list of botched adaptations of King novels, it seems downright perverse to continually harp on Kubrick's perceived sins when farragoes of adaptation such as Under the Dome and The Dark Tower exist.
King frequently cites a conversation he had with Kubrick in which the filmmaker called King out of the blue to question him on his feelings regarding tales of the supernatural being fundamentally optimistic (vis a vis their implied positing of an afterlife).  King's telling of the story always makes Kubrick sound deranged and pretentious, and it is clear that he had a personal disliking for the director.  I suspect that he felt aggrieved at being kept at arm's-length by Kubrick, whereas a comparatively incompetent production like Dreamcatcher was made by people who courted his approval.
I say this not to cast aspersions on King's taste or character but to suggest that he is such an inherently nice person that if you take pains to befriend him, he ends up seeing that friendship on screen, and accepts whatever the result is.  Enthusiastically, in some cases.  Kubrick was not necessarily built that way (although there is plenty of evidence that the people he worked closely with often ended up being extremely fond of him).
Similarly, The Shining is not necessarily built that way.  Do not expect it to run up to you with its tongue lolling out and its tail wagging, wanting you to throw a ball that it can then happily bring right back to you.  Expect to have to work at your relationship with it.  This is a film that sits on the edge of the yard, licking its paws while steadfastly not looking at you.  You may call it; it will likely not come.  But if you go to the other side of the house, you turn and find that it has followed you, maintaining its distance and its aloofness, but also maintaining its proximity.  It may not run up to you and greet you, but it will stick with you ... on its terms.
I wouldn't want every movie to be a Stanley Kubrick film.  But I damn sure wouldn't want a Stanley Kubrick film to be anything other than what it is.
"Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game"
(short story)
  • published in the Pan paperback New Terrors 2, edited by Ramsey Campbell, released July 11, 1980
  • collected in Skeleton Crew as "Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (Milkman #2)," 1985

Editor Ramsey Campbell put out a two volume anthology of paperback horror tales called New Terrors in England in 1980, and among the represented authors was Stephen King.  "Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game" was an excerpt from an unfinished novel called The Milkman.  
The story mostly doesn't seem like an excerpt from a longer work, though.  It's about two blue-collar types who are driving around drunk one night.  the owner of the vehicle needs to get it inspected and tagged so it can continue to be street-legal, and hey, wouldn't you know it?  He drives past a garage where an old high school buddy works and bribes him with beer to give him that "inspection" and sticker.

And then, eventually, things get weird.
I don't have the Pan original, but I do have the 1982 Pocket Books American version (more on which in a bit).  I assume Ramsey Campbell's introduction to the story appears in both versions, but it definitely appears in the Pocket edition, and now it's about to appear here, too, complete with a few factual inaccuracies I will allow you to spot for yourselves:
Stephen King was born in Maine in 1946, and seems made to be asked, "What's a nice guy like you doing writing stories like these?" though I imagine he's growing tired of such questions by now.  (One answer may be that a writer of horror fiction can be more honest about his subconscious than most people, and perhaps suffer from it less.)  He and Peter Straub are among the small number of writers who prove that best-selling horror fiction need not be junk.  His novels deal with the dark side of the familiar: of the Ugly Duckling romance (Carrie), the American small-town epic (Salem's Lot), the alcoholic's last chance (The Shining), the post-apocalyptic novel (The Stand).  His short stories are worthy of Richard Matheson, whom he admires but equals rather than imitates; they are collected in Night Shift, a collection so satisfying that I even forgive him for using the title I planned to use myself.  He lives in Maine with his wife Tabitha and his children Naomi, Joel, and Owen.
     This is his strangest story.
One suspects that King might not have shared with Campbell that "Big Wheels" was an excerpt from a longer (and unfinished) work; one suspects that Campbell was understandably confused, but shrugged and said the hell with it.
Do you blame him?
Anyways, let's have a gander at New Terrors 1 as well:
There are some differences in content between the English and American versions, and because I'm helpful like that, I'd like to make a list of each edition's stories.  The contents of the Pan edition of New Terrors 1 are as follows:
  • Introduction by Ramsey Campbell
  • "The Stains" by Robert Aickman
  • "City Fishing" by Steve Rasnic
  • "Sun City" by Lisa Tuttle
  • "Yare" by Manly Wade Wellman
  • "A Room with a Vie" by Tanith Lee (and no, that's not a typo)
  • "Diminishing Landscape with Indistinct Figures" by Daphne Castell
  • "Tissue" by Marc Laidlaw
  • "Without Rhyme or Reason" by Peter Valentine Timlett
  • "Love Me Tender" by Bob Shaw
  • "Kevin Malone" by Gene Wolfe
  • "Time to Laugh" by Joan Aiken
  • "Chicken Soup" by Kit Reed
  • "The Pursuer" by James Wade
  • "Bridal Suite" by Graham Masterson
  • "The Spot" by Dennis Etchison & Mark Johnson
  • "The Gingerbread House" by Cherry Wilder
  • "Watchers at the Strait Gate" by Russell Kirk
  • ".220 Swift" by Karl Edward Wagner
  • "The Fit" by Ramsey Campbell

And the Pan edition of New Terrors 2:

  • Introduction by Ramsey Campbell
  • "The Miraculous Cairn" by Christopher Priest 
  • "The Man Whose Eyes Beheld the Glory" by John Brunner
  • "The Rubber Room" by Robert Bloch
  • "Drama In Five Acts" by Giles Gordon
  • "The Initiation" by Jack Sullivan
  • "Lucille Would Have Known" by John Burke
  • "Teething Troubles" by Rosalind Ashe
  • "The Funny Face Murders" by R.A. Lafferty
  • "Femme Fatale" by Marianne Leconte
  • "Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game" by Stephen King
  • "Richie by the Sea" by Greg Bear
  • "Can You Still See Me?" by Margaret Dickson
  • "A Song at the Party" by Dorothy K. Haynes
  • "One Way Out" by Felice Picano
  • "The Ice Monkey" by M. John Harrison
  • "Symbiote" by Andrew J. Offutt
  • "Across the Water to Skye" by Charles L. Grant
  • "The Dark" by Kathleen Resch

American editions of these did not appear until 1982 (under the title New Terrors) and 1984 (as New Terrors II):

The table of contents:

  • "The Stains" by Robert Aickman
  • "City Fishing" by Steve Rasnic
  • "Yare" by Manly Wade Wellman
  • "A Room with a Vie" by Tanith Lee
  • "Tissue" by Marc Laidlaw
  • "Without Rhyme or Reason" by Peter ValentineTimlett
  • "Love Me Tender" by Bob Shaw
  • "Kevin Malone" by Gene Wolfe
  • "Chicken Soup" by Kit Reed
  • "The Pursuer" by James Wade
  • "The Spot" by Dennis Etchison & Mark Johnson
  • "The Gingerbread House" by Cherry Wilder
  • ".220 Swift" by Karl Edward Wagner
  • "The Fit" by Ramsey Campbell
  • "Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game" by Stephen King

The table of contents:
  • "Sun City" by Lisa Tuttle
  • "Time to Laugh" by Joan Aiken
  • "Bridal Suite" by Graham Masterson
  • "The Miraculous Cairn" by Christopher Priest
  • "The Rubber Room" by Robert Bloch
  • "Drama in Five Acts" by Giles Gordon
  • "The Initiation" by Jack Sullivan
  • "Lucille Would Have Known" by John Burke
  • "The Funny Face Murders" by R.A. Lafferty
  • "Femme Fatale" by Marianne Leconte
  • "Can You Still See Me?" by Margaret Dickson
  • "One Way Out" by Felice Picano
  • "The Ice Monkey" by M. John Harrison
  • "Symbiote" by Andrew J. Offutt
  • "Across the Water to Skye" by Charles L. Grant

Keen-eyed observers may have noticed that a few titles from the Pan editions failed to make it into the Pocket editions.  I leave it to you to figure out which; my work here is done!

"The Mist"
  • published in Dark Forces (edited by Kirby McCauley), published in hardback by Viking on August 29, 1980
  • collected in Skeleton Crew, 1985
  • published as a standalone novel in 2007

front cover

rear cover

Dark Forces was an anthology edited by Kirby McCauley, who was King's agent at the time.  Lest you feel as if McCauley traded on King's name to get an anthology published, it should be noted that Dark Forces was his second anthology as an editor.  The first, Frights, won the World Fantasy Award for the best collection of 1976.  Dark Forces would win the same award for 1980.

I've never read Dark Forces, sadly.  I've got a copy, though, and will one of these days.  Its list of contributors is intimidatingly strong, and if the others' contributions are even half as good as King's, then it's entirely possible that Dark Forces is one of the great anthologies ever to be published in the fantasy/horror field.  Clive Barker has cited the book as a primary inspiration for his own work in the Books of Blood, and that ain't nothin'.

"The Mist" is the final tale in the book, and it's a heck of a one to go out on.  It's arguably one of King's most iconic stories of any length; but, of course, you already knew that, didn't you?  You don't need a lunkhead like me to tell you things like that.

The novella would not be published in one of King's books until almost five years later, in Skeleton Crew.  Let's consider that fact for a moment or two through the prism of the early eighties, during which the flow of fandom-related information was considerably slower.  It would have been possible to be a gigantic Stephen King fan in 1985 and have no clue -- until Skeleton Crew was released -- that "The Mist" even existed.  Granted, Dark Forces was from a major publisher, and would likely have been available from any reputable bookstore.  It likely received a strong marketing push, too.  Remember, though, that it would have been very possible for a fan to manage to be unaware of all these things.
So it would have been not merely possible but likely that even Constant Readers would have gone from August of 1980 to the summer of 1985 with a short King novel as great as "The Mist" in the world without having any idea it was there.  Does that not make you antsy?  It does me.

Anyways, we all know about it now.  It's one of my favorite King stories, in all its weird glory.

a Viking hardback, published September 29, 1980

I've heard from more than one King fan that this novel doesn't work all that well.  I like it just fine, though.  It's not on par with his previous novel (The Dead Zone), but few books are.

The story, if you didn't know, is about a government experiment gone wrong.  The result is a pyrokinetic girl whose father has to take her on the run lest she fall into the wrong hands, which, of course, she eventually does.

The paperback edition from Signet that appeared in August of 1981 contained an Afterword that ran about a page and a quarter.  It's got some paranoid-type stuff that will likely make fans of The Stand and The Tommyknockers nod in sage and grim agreement.  Most interesting to me is that King ends with a paragraph of acknowledgments, saving the final one for his daughter, Naomi, "who," he writes, "brightens up everything and who helped me to understand -- as much as any man can, I guess -- what it is to be a young, intelligent girl approaching the age of ten.  She's not Charlie, but she helped me to help Charlie be herself."

Of the King children, Naomi is the one about whom we fans know the least.  I'm always a little hesitant to even bring the subject up; it seems logical to assume that her relative public-eye absence is as Naomi herself wishes it to be.  She has had some degree of social-media presence in her capacity as a Unitarian minister, which is obviously a very different career path than either Joe or Owen took.  And yet, she is a writer: not a published one in the sense of her brothers, perhaps, but there's no telling how many sermons she has penned in her day.

I would think this would go without saying, but Naomi has clearly had a massive influence on her father's life, and as such, she can't help but be of interest to a guy like me, especially given the prominent placement of King's acknowledgement to her in the Afterword to Firestarter. But it also feels creepy and weird to spend much time wondering about things like that, so -- mostly -- I don't.

"Crouch End"
(short story)

  • published in New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (edited by Ramsey Campbell), published by Arkham House in October 1980
  • collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, 1993

Being as I'm a Lovecraft fan, too, I ought to get a copy of this Ramsey Campbell anthology; it's probably pretty good.  "Crouch End" is certainly terrific, and the anthology's other contributors include Campbell himself, Brian Lumley, T.E.D. Klein, and Frank Belknap Long.

You might recall from elsewhere on this Tour that "Crouch End" was inspired by King and his family visiting Peter Straub and his family in London.  It's a simple story about travelers getting lost along the way, but when you add a Lovecraftian element to simple stories, they tend to go to memorable places.

[2019 update: Having just concluded a reread of Nightmares & Dreamscapes, I have to confess that "Crouch End" did not hold up for me especially well.  It's not a bad story, but it amounts to little in the end, and the Lovecraftian elements are perhaps a bit overly restrained.]

The Shapes of Midnight
(story collection by Joseph Payne Brennan) 
  • a Berkley paperback, published October 1980 
  • King provided an introduction

I think this was a paperback original.  The ISBN page doesn't mention any previous editions, and the Internet is just shrugging at me when I Google the issue.  So we'll assume it was and go from there.

Let's check out the beginning of King's introduction:

Hey, I want to tell you something funny . . . and you better listen.
     The reason you better listen is that you are holding Joseph Payne Brennan's new collection of short stories in your hands, and pretty soon you're going to start to read them, and soon after that night is going to fall (or maybe, worse luck for you, it has already fallen), and believe me, dear friend, believe your old Uncle Stevie: When night comes and you are in the middle of Joe Brennan's latest -- and long overdue -- collection of ghastly family snapshots, you may find you need something funny to hold onto.  Like a lifeline.
     So here is the something funny: They paid me to do this introduction.

The introduction runs for about eight pages, and it's fun, conversational stuff.  He mentions a few of the stories contained within by name, and one of them is apparently set in a fictional town called Juniper Hill.  King fans might be aware that his own work features an asylum of the same name; an homage to Brennan, in all likelihood.  Very cool!

I have not read the book itself.  This brings shame to my clan, I know.  I'll fix it one of these days.

(novel by Peter Straub)

a Coward, McCann and Geoghegan hardback, published October 1980

I didn't have a publication date for this one in my records (I would have if I'd bothered to consult the paperback edition), so I hied me to Google to see if I could locate one.  I typed in "peter straub" "shadowland," and here's what I found on the first page:

That's right: my review of the novel was the third result.  Holy shit!!!  #3 out of 81,600!!!  I assume this means Google knows I've visited the link or something and is offering it due to its proximity; if that is indeed the third most used link for Googling that novel, then more people need to be writing about Shadowland.

But that's true anyway.  It's a terrific piece of work; it won't be to everyone's tastes, but it is absolutely to MY tastes.  It's about a couple of kids who spend some time with a magician in a not-particularly-Hogwartsian place.  That's a woefully inadequate logline, but it'll serve our purposes well enough.

"The Monkey"
(short story)

  • published in the November 1980 issue of Gallery
  • collected in Skeleton Crew, 1985

Here's the cover of the issue of Gallery in which "The Monkey" first appeared:


Even in 1980, people thought Republican presidents would put the Earth in a grave, and were asking Charlie Daniels what he thought about it.

The story appeared in a very cool manner: as a chapbook that could, if one wished to do so, be pulled out from the middle of the magazine.  Having recently acquired a copy of this (in excellent condition and for less than I expected to pay), I can show you a scan of the cover and the first couple of pages:

Imagine!  In the latter half of 1980, Stephen King published, in successive months:

(1)  "The Mist," one of his most celebrated works of fiction (August)
(2)  Firestarter, an (arguably) iconic novel (September)
(3)  "Crouch End," a major short story (October)
(4)  "The Monkey," a major short story (November)

That's a heck of a four-month run there.

Anyways, "The Monkey" is a decent enough story; from it came the cover art for Skeleton Crew, which is where most people read it.  It's about a stuffed monkey that just won't stay gone, and I'm amazed nobody has made a movie out of it.

That said, it's not a personal favorite.  The story's ostensible protagonist, Hal, is almost entirely unlikable, which is fine, except for the fact that I'm not sure that's what King was going for.  There's also some mildly -- perhaps not "mildly" for some -- objectionable racial material.

Ultimately, though, the story's chief sin is that it's just not believable.  King drums up some good chills, but I am unable to satisfactorily answer a major question: why not burn this fucking toy monkey?  Rip it to shreds?  Melt its cymbals down in acid or whatever?  I know, I know; suspension of disbelief.  Normally I've got that tool in my kit, but this time, not so much.  And because of it, the entire story kind of falls apart for me.  There's enough there that works to keep me from actively disliking it; but there's too much that fails to keep me from feeling it's really a rather mediocre piece of work.

Cut to some dude hollering "YOU'RE  a mediocre piece of work!"  Fair enough, hypothetical fella; fair enough.
"The Wedding Gig"
(short story)

  • published in the December 1, 1980 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
  • collected in Skeleton Crew, 1985
By 1980, King's name was swinging a lot of weight, so it is notable that this issue of Ellery Queen bore Julian Symons' photo instead of King's.  Presumably this meant either than Symons was a bigger name in the mystery field than I am aware of or that the editors were somewhat reluctant to put a known horror writer on the cover as the main attraction.  Possibly it's both; possibly it's neither.  Sorry, y'all; this is a guided tour, but your guide's knowledge is limited.
As for "The Wedding Gig," it's another piece of evidence for use by the complainant wishing to assert that the author has a thing against fat people.  This story is about a big ole lass who gets insulted at her wedding and then tries to get even.  It's not exactly what you'd call a mystery story, so perhaps that explains the ascendancy of Symons' name on this cover.
Not a favorite King story, personally.


"The Oracle and the Mountains"

  • published in the February 1981 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
  • collected in the Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, 1982

Hey, let me know if you notice anything cool on the table of contents page:
We dive into 1981 with the third of the novelets that comprise The Gunslinger.  The other two would also appear during the year, so we'll get to them before much longer.
"The Oracle and the Mountains" is an intense section of this story, involving Roland submitting to a succubus for a while and wrestling with the notion that he might be planning to sacrifice Jake.
As with the previous installment, it opens with a synopsis of the foregoing action.  I'll continue to be a pal and transcribe these for you, although this one is a good bit longer.  The opening is similar to what appeared in the synopsis for the previous tale ("The Way Station"), but not by any means identical.  Let's have a look:
SYNOPSIS:  This is the third tale of Roland, the last gunslinger, and his quest for The Dark Tower which stands at the root of time.
     Time is the problem; the dark days have come and the world has moved on.  Demons haunt the dark and monsters walk in empty places.  The time of light and knowledge has passed, and only remnants -- and revenants -- remain.
     Against this twilight landscape, the gunslinger pursues the man in black into the desert, leaving behind the town of Tull, where the man he pursues -- if he is a man -- set him a snare.  The man in black reanimated the corpse of a weed-eater and set in motion a chain of events that ended with Roland gunning down every living soul in Tull.
     Following the ashes of days-old fires, the gunslinger pursues the man in black.  Three-quarters of the way across the desert he comes upon the husk of a way station that served the stage-lines years (or centuries, of milennia) [sic] ago.
     Yet there is life here; not the man in black but a puzzling young boy named Jake, who has no understanding of how he came to be there.  The gunslinger hypnotizes the boy and hears a puzzling, disquieting tale: Jake remembers a great city whose harbor is guarded by "a lady with a torch;"  He remembers going to a private school and wearing a tie; he remembers yellow vehicles that pedestrians could hire.
     And he remembers being killed.
     Pushed from behind in front of an oncoming vehicle (called a "Cadillac"), Jake was run over.  Who pushed him?
     It was the man in black, he says.
     There is water enough at the way station for two pilgrims to continue onward, across the rest of the desert to the foothills...and the mountains beyond.  And in the cellar of the way station, Roland discovers a Speaking Demon in the wall which tells him: "Go slow, gunslinger.  Go slow past the Drawers.  While you travel with the boy, the man in black travels with your soul in his pocket."
     According to the old ways, a Speaking Demon may only speak through the mouth of a corpse; reaching into the wall, Roland discovers a jawbone which he takes with him.
     As Jake and the gunslinger continue toward the mountains, the campfire remnants of the man in black grow fresher.  And as Jake sleeps, the gunslinger works laboriously over the figures in his own past: Gabrielle, his mother...Marten, the sorcerer-physician who may have been the half-brother of the man in black...Cort, his teacher...Cuthbert, his friend...and David, the falcon, "God's gunslinger."
     He remembers the death of a traitor, the cook Hax, by hanging...and how he and Cuthbert broke bread beneath the hanged man's feet as an offering to the rooks.  He remembers "the good man," in whose service Hax died, "the good man" who has ushered in this new dark age.  The good man.  Marten.  His mother's lover...and the man in black?
     As Jake ad the gunslinger reach the first hilly upswells marking the far edge of the desert, the boy points upward and, far above and miles beyond, the gunslinger sees the man in black, climbing up and up toward what the gunslinger feels may be another killing-ground.
     The man in black has set him snares before on this terrible progress toward the Tower.
     Roland fears the boy Jake may be another -- and Roland has come to love him.
There's some intriguing stuff there, to say the least.  King would revise these novelets for their collection in The Gunslinger, and would later change some of the details for subsequent books in the series, as well as wholly revise The Gunslinger itself for a 2003 edition.  But it's nevertheless thrilling to read that bit about " 'the good man' who has ushered in this new dark age."
This isn't the venue for me to explore these notions, but I can't resist mentioning that this unglimpsed version of "the good man" appears to be an amalgam of both John Farson and the Crimson King.  I'd deeply love for King to return to the Tower mythos long enough to really solidify some of the underlying mythology.
But left to my own devices, I tend toward wanting to honor the intent of these original magazine versions of the tale.  My mind starts racing trying to give "the good man" a role as the true catalyst for the world moving on.
Speaking of moving on, let's.

(novel, written as Richard Bachman)
  • a Signet paperback, published March 1981
  • collected in The Bachman Books, 1985

The third novel by "Richard Bachman" was Roadwork ("a novel of the First Energy Crisis"), which we already talked about briefly during Part 4 of this Guided Tour.  The novel was written after the writing of 'salem's Lot, during the wake of time after King's mother, Nellie Ruth King, passed away from cancer at the relatively early age of sixty.
circa 1970; can't remember where I found this photo, but it's obviously not mine
By all accounts, King was devastated by Nellie's passing.  A good deal of that grief seems to have been poured into Roadwork, an overwrought and sloppy but also deeply-felt and occasionally marvelous short novel.  In it, Barton Dawes, a manager of a laundry service, is semi-slowly tipping over the edge from sanity into madness as the result of a death within his own family.  This urge within him is brought to a crisis point when his house is marked for eminent-domain seizure as the result of a highway that is under construction.
As the cover of the novel indicates, he's not planning to go quietly.
It's not quite as dramatic as that makes it sound (or the cover makes it seem), and plenty of pundits have slammed this novel as being one of the weakest in King's bibliography.  It has its defenders, too, and the last time I read it -- which was circa 2008 -- I found it to be much better than my memory had it earmarked as being.
We'll see what the next read holds!

"The Shiner"
(comic-book parody)

  • published in the March 1981 issue of Mad Magazine
  • written and drawn by the usual gang of idiots (i.e., written by Larry Siegel and drawn by Angelo Torres)

That's the cover for the March 1981 issue of the American edition.

The German edition had the superior cover by far:

Be it American or German, somebody once said that you know you've made it when they're making fun of you in Mad Magazine.  And so it must have been received joyously in the King household when the movie version of The Shining got lampooned in the March 1981 issue.  No need to wonder, we've got a letter to the editor from King (printed in the June 1981 issue) to tell us for sure:

(Visit this link if you want to see more of "The Shiner," and have the experience be supplemented by a few of my thoughts on the matter.)
I've never gone whole-hog into research mode regarding King and Mad.  I know the magazine also ran parodies of both Stand By Me and The Green Mile, but are there others?  I'd be stunned if they had not parodied It at some point in 2017, but if they did word of it never crossed my desk.

A matter to look into another day! 

Small World
(novel by Tabitha King)

a Macmillan hardback, published April 1981

We've mentioned Tabitha King a few times along the way so far in our Guided Tour, but Small World marks the first time we are meeting her as an author of fiction.  Her first published novel, this is a weird and not entirely successful blend of science fiction and emotional realism that uses the former as a mere device to get to the latter.

I can kind of live with that.  I wouldn't say that I loved this novel; and I'm honestly not sure that I'd say it's a good novel.  I would say that I enjoyed this novel and found food for thought within it.  Follow that link above if you want to read more of my thoughts on the subject, and oh, hey, by the way:

Googling the novel brings up this blog as the #4 result; unless (as I felt the need to specify earlier regarding a similarly exciting discovery regarding me plus Google plus Shadowland) there's a proximity-bias feature in the search engine, in which case this is not as cool as I am taking it to be.

Hey, speaking of Shadowland, its author, Peter Straub, delivered a blurb for the back cover of Small World:

I think he overstates things a bit there, but I don't find him to be entirely incorrect.  The reason I bring this up, though, is that I think what Small World reminds me of more than anything else is Straub's second novel, Under Venus.  In both, you get a sense that the author is straining for effect and working within a genre that is not entirely within their optimal set of skills.  With his next novel after that (Julia), Straub found his true voice.  And I would argue that King did the same with her next novel, Caretakers.  In his case, it was by delving into the fantastic; in hers, it was by stepping away from it.


(feature film)

  • a United Film Distribution picture, released April 10, 1981
  • written and directed by George A. Romero


Not much to be said here; Steve and Tabby have a brief cameo in this George Romero movie about ren-faire motorcyclists.  A strange concept; and, given that I've never seen the movie, I don't know much more than that.  But I'll check it out one of these days.


Specifically, I checked it out early in the pre-dawn morning of August 11, 2019.

This is a crazy movie.  I absolutely loved it, even though I'm not sure I should have.  I'll need to live with it for a while to find out how I really feel, but for now, I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up and beg you not to watch it lest you think less of me for doing so.

The setup goes like this: Ed Harris plays Billy, the "king" of a troupe of Arthurian-themed motorcyclists who travel the country putting on shows for the types of yahoos who attend such things.  The implication seems to be that this all evolved out of Summer Of Love type hippie concerns, but that's never made terribly clear.  It's also not clear how motorcycles got involved.  I'm not sure it's even intended to make sense; it feels to me a bit as if King Billy's idea and ideals are patently crazy, and that he's just somehow managed to gather a group of followers despite that which he has molded into a semi-going business concern which is on the verge of breaking through into the mainstream and probably would if he'd let it.

He won't, which produces tensions within the group among some of its flashier members, and that eventually emerges as the central conflict of the movie.  There are weird sojourns into spiritual fatalism, wish-fulfillment revenge subplots, Marlon Brando impersonations, the struggle to come out of the closet, the self-image issues of lady mechanics, the ethics of eating pizza while in the midst of fornication, beefcake photography (and who is/isn't allowed to take the photos), and other such craziness.  Some of this stuff managed to be absurdly moving; or at least I, an absurd person, was moved by some of them.  I'm damn near moved to write a full 10,000-word review of the whole thing complete with 150 screencaps; I'm not going to, at least for now ... but if I felt I could spare the time, I'd already have begun.

A few more notes:

  • This was Ed Harris's first starring role, and he's pretty damn good.  You can definitely see that he hasn't 100% become the guy who would star in The Abyss by the end of the decade, but he's persuasive despite some iffy moments.
  • Tom Savini plays a major role as Morgan, the "Black Knight," who is kinda/sorta Billy's enemy within the troupe.  Savini is fucking awesome in this movie.  There's a parallel universe -- and I it's right next door to this one -- in which Savini became a massive movie star.  He had the charisma, he had the looks, and he seemed to be developing the chops.
  • Patricia Tallman plays a sizeable role as a young girl who is in the crowd of the performance at the beginning of the movie.  She gets hooked up with Alan, the Lancelot figure of the group, and goes on the road with them in sort of a groupie capacity.  I love Tallman thanks to her role as Lyta Alexander on Babylon 5, and brother, she is a peach in this movie.  She also gives a rather good performance.  Tallman would become a stunt person later in her career, and her credits in that field include doubling Laura Dern in Jurassic Park.
  • Speaking of stunts, there are tons of motorcycle stunts in this movie.  Some of them seem like they were performed by suicidal madmen.  If you told me 186 stuntpeople died in the making of this film, I would be disgusted and only a little surprised.  That said, the action isn't always the film's forte; Romero didn't seem to have that clear a handle on how to stage and/or capture the riding.  Stray moments shine, though.
  • Warner Shook, who plays Richard Grantham (the bitchy nephew) in Creepshow, plays the troupe's announcer.  He's struggling with his sexuality, and while the subplot probably seems offensive to some in 2019, it's earnest and rather sweet for 1981.  Shook is really good in the part, and I'll see him in a new light the next time I watch Creepshow.
  • The score by Donald Rubinstein is a doozy.  Some of it is absolutely terrible; some of it is terrible but fun; and some of it works extremely well, including an original song that plays in a couple of key scenes.
  • Stephen King's official credit is as "Hoagie Man."  Tabitha King?  "Hoagie Man's Wife."  Would you like screencaps of them?  Of course you would.


All in all, what can I say?  I dug this weirdo movie.  It's ambitious, pretentious, campy, moving, subtle, and way too long, but when it was over I was damn near tempted to start it over and watch it again.

Danse Macabre 

an Everest House hardback, released April 20, 1981
Danse Macabre was King's first book-length work of nonfiction.  It grew out of a suggestion made by his former editor, Bill Thompson, that he write a book summarizing his viewpoints on the genre of horror.  This might have had something to do with the fact that Thompson had been fired from Doubleday after King left for Viking, and had ended up at the much smaller Everest House.  Everest would have benefited greatly from publishing a book -- ANY book -- by King.  Did Thompson know that Everest House had a shot at getting a nonfiction book by the newly-minted #1-bestselling author?  Maybe.
Or maybe King offered the book to Everest instead of Viking simply in acknowledgment of the idea originating with Thompson.  Your tour guide has no specific information on this front, I'm afraid.
Danse Macabre itself was drawn largely from the process of King having taught a class on supernatural literature.
Let's dwell on this for a bit.  King spent two semesters (fall 1978 and spring 1979) as a college instructor at his alma mater, and this cool fact isn't discussed all that often.
We turn to George Beahm's excellent book The Stephen King Story, from which we shall pull a series of quotes relevant to this topic:
  • "In September 1978 the King moved to Orrington, a small town southwest of Bangor.  Renting a house that flanked the main road that cut through the town -- a major truck route leading to Bangor -- King commuted to Orono to teach two creative writing courses at his alma mater."  (p. 82)
  • "For King -- who had taught at UMO as an undergraduate, and taught at the high school level -- this was an opportunity to teach again, with a different emphasis."  (p. 83)
  • "That fall semester King taught two literature courses and two creative writing seminars: one in fiction, the other in poetry.  After school King worked on the final draft of Firestarter."  (p. 83)
  • "In early November 1978 Bill Thompson telephoned King and suggested he write a nonfiction survey of the horror field."  "It was the right idea at the right time, for King was then working on a syllabus for a literature class, Themes in Horror and the Supernatural."  (p. 84)
  • "Putting Pet Sematary" [which he began writing at around the same time] "and teaching aside, King left with the family for a winter vacation at Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  foremost in his mind: the forthcoming spring semester and, perhaps, Danse Macabre -- the two being inextricably linked, as the classroom would provide an opportunity to discuss the substance of the book; afterward King could collected his final thoughts in the book."  (p. 85)
  • "In January 1979 the spring semester commenced, and King began teaching a literature class, course number EH-90, to 100 students.  Occasionally, guest lecturers came in -- Burton Hatlen, for instance, lectured on Dracula -- and films were used too."  (p. 85-6)
  • "Teaching by day and writing by night, King worked on Danse Macabre, finding the process to be completely unlike writing a novel, for which you simply make everything up as you go along."  "Unlike fiction, where the story is king, in Danse Macabre King was in a real sense the story -- his perceptions of the field, his opinions, and his conclusions would shape and inform the book."  (p. 86)
  • "In May 1979 the first draft of Pet Sematary was finished, but King had no intention of publishing it.  It's too gritty, too realistic, too frightening, thought King, and Pet Sematary was put side."  (p. 86)  Consider this.  King was teaching full-time, including a seminar class of a hundred students, and yet still found time to work on both Danse Macabre and Pet Sematary in his spare time.  This while being married with two children!  The degree to which this impresses me is off the charts.
  • [May 1979] "also marked the end of the semester and of his teaching stint at UMO as the writer-in-residence.  King declined the invitation to teach a second cosecutive year.  King, a working writer, probably felt that his time was best spent writing, not teaching."  (p. 86)

As for the end result (Danse Macabre), it's terrific.  Dated, to be sure; but that's not a bad thing, necessarily.  It's nice to have a weighty document that serves as a marker for where the genre -- and, to some degree, the culture as a whole -- was in 1981.  It's useful to have these sort of books; it's necessary to have them.  The fact that it doesn't serve the same purpose in 2017 that it served in 1981 is irrelevant.  Why would you even want it to?  The function it serves is to help 2017 understand what 1981 -- and the years discussed within the book (the '40s on, to varying degrees of depth) -- was like.
Plus, the book is very entertainingly written and serves as a partial autobiography, so I would think it would be essential for many King fans, and rewarding for most, provided the historical barrier should not prove to be insurmountable.

The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural

  • an Arbor House hardback, released May 1981
  • King wrote the introduction

King's introduction begins thus:

First of all (and this is fundamental), you have my cheerful permission to shoot me if I fall into a classic crouching posture and begin to defend the horror story, your right to read it or the right of any writer -- those represented in this volume, those not and those yet unborn -- to tell such tales.  I have been writing professionally since the age of eighteen and writing full-time since the age of twenty-five, and the bulk of what I've written has been classified as horror fiction (the story "The Crate," which the editors have kindly included in the present volume, is a pretty good case in point), so this defense posture comes naturally to me, as I think it comes to any writer who has been asked certain questions at cocktail parties over and over (and they are always asked by people who believe they are asking them for the first time).  These include such gems as: Where do you get your ideas? What kind of dreams do you have? Are you as weird as the stuff you write about?  There are others, but I won't bore you.  The question that really causes the writer of horror fiction (or tales of the supernatural) to fall into this automatic defense posture isn't really a question at all but a veiled editorial comment.  It is usually phrased like this: Gee, I loved your last book (or story), but when are you going to write something serious? 

There are about eight more pages in that vein, and if you enjoyed this first paragraph, you'll enjoy the rest, too.

If you don't have a copy of King's story "The Crate" -- and you may well not, as it's (unfathomably, to my mind) never been collected in one of his books -- then I highly suggest this volume.  I say that as though I've read it; sadly, I have not.  In fact, other than "The Crate" I have only read H.P. Lovecraft's excellent "Pickman's Model" among its contents.  I have zero doubt, though, that this is a murderer's-row of stories quality-wise, and one of these days I will read the entirety of it and review it for this blog.

When Michael Calls
(novel by John Farris)

  • a Pocket paperback edition, published circa May 2, 1981
  • King provided an introduction

I may have already mentioned this, so apologies if I'm repeating myself: while I am not making an effort to include every introduction like this that King has penned during his career, I am making an effort to include all the ones I own that seem worth mentioning.

And before you ask, no, I haven't read Farris's novel.  Shame on me, etc.

Here is the opening paragraph of King's introduction:

It's more difficult for me to write about the work of John Farris than it would be for me to write about the work of a number of other writers because, in the years of my late adolescence and early adulthood, I did more than just admire his work -- I adopted his career as both a goal to be reached and an example to be emulated.  This goes a bit beyond this authors whose styles you copy as a necessary part of coming to a style of your own (young writers absorb the distinctive styles of writers they admire in the same way milk is supposed to absorb the flavor of whatever you put next to it in the refrigerator; my own period of stylistic imitation was so intense and so comically complete that some of the stories I wrote as a teenager would begin sounding like Ray Bradbury and end sounding like H.P. Lovecraft, with a nice slice of Cornell Woolrich right in the middle) or the ones you envy because their ideas seem so fresh and new and wonderfully executed, or those whose language speaks directly to your heart (as the language of Don Robertson, the Ohio writer of such great novels as Paradise Falls and The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, speaks to mine).  The feelings I had about Farris's work were both more childish and yet more powerful: I wanted to be like him.

Pretty good recommendation, that.

"The Jaunt"
(short story)

  • published in the June 1981 issue of The Twilight Zone Magazine
  • collected in Skeleton Crew, 1985

The Twilight Zone -- the television series -- capably straddled the line between science fiction and horror, looming over both like a colossus.  I can only assume that the magazine which bore its name carried on that tradition, and if King's "The Jaunt" is any indication, I'd say it got the job done.

The story is about teleportation and what happens when you don't follow the rules.  The ending remains one of the most vividly horrifying in all of King's fiction.  It's not a Serling-esque twist ending, by the way; it's not in the vein of the series in that way.  No, it's straightforward and somewhat predictable and not even slightly diminished by possessing those qualities.  Great stuff.

"When Is TV Too Scary For Children?"

  • published in the July 13-19 issue of TV Guide
  • uncollected

If you click on the link above, you will find a review of this essay.  I wrote it back in 2013, and while I can't remember precisely what it was that made me devote time to the essay (had I just gotten a copy of the magazine?), I'm glad I did.  That's the sort of thing I'd eventually like to do for every item mentioned on this Guided Tour.

In any case, the essay itself is a thoughtful opinion piece on the subject expressed in the title, complete with examples from King's own kids' lives.  Well worth seeking out.

"The Slow Mutants"

  • published in the July 1981 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
  • collected in The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, 1982

The fourth of King's five initial Dark Tower novelets appeared smack-dab in the middle of summer 1981.  As we have done with the preceding installments, let's check out King's synopsis:

SYNOPSIS:  This is the fourth tale of Roland, the last gunslinger, and his quest for the Dark Tower which stands at the root of time.  Time is the problem: the dark days have come and the world has moved on.  Demons haunt the dark and monsters walk in empty places.  The time of light and knowledge have passed.
     Against this twilit landscape, the gunslinger pursues the man in black into the desert.  Three quarters of the way across its sterile emptiness he comes upon the husk of a way station.  Yet there is life here; a puzzling young boy named Jake, who has no understanding of how he came to be there.  Under hypnosis, Jake tells the gunslinger a puzzling, disquieting tale ... a tale which ends with Jake's own murder.  The boy remembers being pushed in front of an oncoming horseless carriage called a "Cadillac."
     Who pushed him?
     It was the man in black, Jake says.
     The two pilgrims leave the way station and continue on to the foothills ... and the mountains beyond.  With Roland goes a jawbone and the memory of the Speaking Demon he has found in the cellar of the way station -- a Speaking Demon that has left him this cryptic warning: "Go slow past the Drawers, gunslinger.  While you travel with the boy, the man in black travels with your soul in his pocket."
     The campfire remnants of the man in black grow fresher.  And as Jake sleeps, the gunslinger works laboriously over the figures in his own past: Gabrielle, his mother ... Marten, the sorcerer-physician who may have been the half-brother of the man in black ...Roland, his father ... Cort, his teacher ... Cuthbert, his friend ... and David, the falcon, "God's gunslinger."
     He remembers the execution of a traitor, the cook Hax, by hanging, and "the good man" who has ushered in this new dark age.  The good man.  Marten.  His mother's lover.  The half-brother of the man in black ... or is he the man in black himself?
     Roland and Jake follow the man in black into the mountains toward what the gunslinger feels may be a killing ground.  The man in black has set him snares before on this terrible progress toward the Tower.  Roland feels Jake may be another -- and Roland has come to love him.
     His fears for Jake are nearly justified on their first night in the foothills, when Jake is nearly caught in the toils of a sexual vampire that has been caught for eons in a cage of Druid-stones.  This unformed sexual creature is also an oracle, and after taking mescaline, the gunslinger approaches it.  In exchange for a sexual encounter that nearly kills him, the oracle provides disquieting information.
     "Three is the number of your fate," The [sic] oracle tells Roland.  "The first is young, dark-haired.  He stands on the brink of robbery and murder.  A demon has infested him.  The name of the demon is HEROIN.  The second comes on wheels; her mind is iron, but her heart and eyes are soft.  The third comes in chains."
     The oracle will tell Roland no more of these three, but speaks grimly of the boy Jake's future: "The boy is your gateway to the man in black.  The man in black is your gateway to the three.  The three are your way to the Tower ... some, gunslinger, live on blood.  Even, I understand, the blood of young boys."
     The gunslinger asks if there is no way Jake can be saved from the mysterious and terrible fate of being killed a second time.  The oracle responds that there is one: if Roland gives up his quest for the Tower, the boy may be saved -- and this the gunslinger cannot do.
     They climb into the mountains together, and the gunslinger finally confronts the man in black standing on a ledge where a mountain river gushes out of a dark fault in the stone.  The man in black, almost within reach, mockingly promises Roland the answers he has sought for twelve years.
     Answers, he says, on the other side.  Just the two of us.
     He disappears into the blackness under the mountains, leaving the gunslinger his final decision: give over, and save the boy he has come to love and his own soul, or push on in search of the man in black and the key to the Tower ... and be damned forever.
     The gunslinger begins to climb toward the dark opening from which the river spills, the opening which leads under the mountains ... and Jake, the boy, his sacrifice, follows.
     They go into the darkness together.

One thing that caught my eye in this third synopsis is that when "the gunslinger works laboriously over the figures in his own past," the list of figures now includes his father, who here is also named Roland.  This name would not carry over into the novels, where he would be named Steven.

The scenes from which "The Slow Mutants" derives its title are among the most ominously thrilling passages in King's fiction, but this novelet also contains the tale of Roland using David to best Cort and earn his manhood.  Pretty great; this is my favorite King novel, and this chapter of it might be my favorite chapter in that novel.

In other words, this is not merely top-shelf King, this is top-of-the-top-shelf King.

a Viking hardback, published September 8, 1981
Cujo is a novel that has a terrific concept: a woman and her son are trapped inside a car by a huge, rabid St. Bernard.  Some King fans will tell you that it's a slender concept which ought not to have ballooned into novel length, but my memory of my last reread is that I felt the character work leading up to the trapped-in-a-car scenes are well-executed enough that they enhance the central concept rather than bloat it.  Your mileage may vary, of course.
The novel is somewhat famous for being one that King claims not to remember writing, so heavily reliant was he upon cocaine at the time.

"The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands"
by Stephen King
"The Blue Chair"
by Tabitha King
(short stories)

  • published in Shadows 4 (edited by Charles L. Grant), a Doubleday hardback released October 1981
  • "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands" collected in Skeleton Crew, 1985
  • "The Blue Chair" uncollected

One King was not sufficient for editor Charles L. Grant in the fourth volume of his Shadows series of anthologies (which ran for eleven volumes through 1991), and so he got Steve and Tabby both on board.  Also participating are luminaries of the field such as Ramsey Campbell, Tanith Lee, Steve Rasnic Tem, Lisa Tuttle, Al Sarrantonio, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, so all in all this one seems like a winner.

"The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands" is an interesting case in that it is seemingly a sequel to a story that we have not yet encountered in our Guided Tour.  Specifically, it is a sequel to -- or, perhaps more appropriately, a spinoff of -- "The Breathing Method," a novella which would appear in 1982's Different Seasons.  In that novella, a gentleman's club where members tell each other stories of the bizarre and inexplicable is the primary setting.  The club -- and the mysterious "Stevens" who serves as its butler -- also feature in "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands," which arguably makes the novella a sequel to / spinoff of the story, and not the reverse.

In terms of the stories' chronological appearances, that is true.  However, I would be willing to be money that "The Breathing Method" came first.  Not much; I have little to gamble, and am not by any means a Kenny Rogers type.  But I'd wager you a twenty or so.

Here's why.  In the afterword to Different Seasons, King states plainly that "The Breathing Method" was written immediately following the completion of Firestarter.  And in his historical-context essay on Firestarter for Stephen King Revisited, King expert Bev Vincent states that the final draft of that novel was completed in the fall of 1978, during the author's first semester teaching at UMO.  We know from previous research (see the section on Danse Macabre earlier in this post) that King had begun Pet Sematary by the time winter break rolled around, so it seems likely that "The Breathing Method" was completed before 1978 ended.

That being the case, it seems likely to me that "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands" was one of two things: (1) a lengthy deleted scene that King cut from the novella while editing it for Different Seasons; or (2) a standalone short story that King wrote, inspired by his own novella, possibly while editing it for the collection.  These are pure guesses -- straight-from-my-butt guesses -- but they are semi-educated ones.

See?  It's for reasons like this that I enjoy trying to construct a composition chronology for King's work.  It mostly doesn't matter, but without it, you don't really know whether the chicken ("The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands") or the egg ("The Breathing Method") came first.

Now, regarding Tabitha King's story, "The Blue Chair" -- I haven't read it.  Let's now play a game in which you, the kind soul taking this tour with me, fill in the blank on the next sentence.  I'll begin again fresh, like this:

Now, regarding Tabitha King's story "The Blue Chair" -- I haven't read it.  I feel __________ about that and I will definitely read the story __________.

Your choices are as follows:

(A)  "bad" and "very soon"
(B)  "just fine" and "when Hell freezes over"
(C)  "miserable" and "before I go to bed tonight"
(D)  "nothing" and "when the existential quandary of life permits me to do so"

Hint: it's definitely not B, C, or D.  Well, it's a little bit D.  One of my next big projects for this blog is to get caught up on the novels of both Tabitha King and Kelly Braffet (wife of Owen King) and do a write-up about it.  So I'm deferring King's shorter works until then.

Speaking of Charles L. Grant...

Tales from the Nightside
(story collection by Charles L. Grant)

  • an Arkham House hardback, published October 1981
  • King provided an introduction

I know very little about Charles L. Grant.  In fact, I'm not 100% sure I'd ever heard of him apart from the King connection of this book (and his Shadows anthologies).  Wikipedia informs me that he won a Nebula in 1978 for a novella collection, and that by the late nineties he was writing X-Files tie-in novels.  I assume this means he is somebody whose work is well worth checking out, but perhaps only up to a certain point.

Here is what King has to say in the first paragraph of his introduction:

There is something mildly surreal about writing this introduction for Charles Grant's Tales from the Nightside, or so it has seemed to me in the last few days as I thought about what I might say and how I might say it.  I think I finally pinned down the cause of that surreal feeling about ten minutes ago, as I changed the ribbon on the typewriter I am using to write this, the hands doing their own work, the mind tracking free.  The oldest cliché in the book suddenly popped into my head as an opening line (give me credit, folks: I didn't use it).  That line was: "Here is a man who needs no introduction."

You guessed it, by the way: I haven't read this book.

"The Bird and the Album"
(except from It)

published in A Fantasy Reader (the souvenir program for the World Fantasy Convention for 1981) circa October 30

That's a damn swank souvenir program: a hardback book including fiction by Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell, Fritz Leiber, and Dennis Etchison, among others.

"The Bird and the Album" was an excerpt from the novel It, which means, yes, King was already hard at work on that book, which would not actually appear for another five years.  The program introduced the excerpt thus:

It seems incredible that anyone could have deliberately frightened as many people as Stephen King has.  Best-selling novels such as The Shining, the Stand and Firestarter have given millions of Americans their first taste of quality horror fiction.  Three of his books have been made into films, and it is certain that more adaptations will follow.  His triumphant, idiosyncratic survey of horror in literature and film, Danse Macabre, was published earlier this year by Everest House.  Cujo, his latest novel, has just been published by Viking.
     "The Bird and the Album" is from the opening of chapter 13 of a work in progress, a novel the author calls IT.

Note, if you will, that both letters of the title are capitalized.  My personal preference is to only capitalize the "i" and I will continue to do it that way until I read, hear, or see direct orders from King that the "t" receive similar treatment.

As for "The Bird and the Album," I have not conducted a side-by-side comparison with the novel itself to determine what differences there might be.  A cursory scan of the except leads me to believe that most people picking it up and reading it in 1981 would have been confused by it.  It's not a section of the novel that lends itself to excerpting; it really doesn't work in that capacity at all.

Anyways, attendees of the con got a copy, and currently ask about eighty books for it on eBay.

Speaking of the 1981 World Fantasy Awards, King was nominated in the Best Novel category for The Mist.  Odd, since that's a novella.  His competition included Peter Straub (for Shadowland); they both lost to Gene Wolfe (for The Shadow of the Torturer).  Dark Forces, the anthology in which "The Mist" appeared, won editor Kirby McCauley an award for Best Collection/Anthology.

We won't be focusing on awards much during this Guided Tour, but I figured hey, while we were in the neighborhood...

Speaking of excerpts, one from Cujo entitled "The Monster in the Closet" appeared in the October 1981 issue of Ladies Home Journal.  I didn't feel it merited its own section, but a mention seemed in order.

"Do the Dead Sing?"
(short story)

  • published in the November 1981 issue of Yankee
  • collected (under the title "The Reach") in Skeleton Crew, 1985

This story is about an elderly woman who decides to take a walk in weather conditions that make a walk rather ill-advised.  It's one of the stories anyone who wishes to prove King can write more than horror should be most quick to point toward.

"The Gunslinger and the Dark Man"
(short story)

  • published in the November 1981 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
  • collected in The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, 1982
  • retitled "The Gunslinger and the Man in Black" for the 2003 revised edition

I removed the address label; most of it, anyways.

I've listed this chapter of The Gunslinger as a short story rather than as a novelet because that's how the issue of F&SF lists it.  Makes sense; it is a good bit shorter than the rest.

At the top of the first page is an editorial note listing the four preceding tales of "Roland, the last gunslinger" and listing the issues of F&SF in which they appeared.  The note then drops the following info bomb: "The series will be published in a limited hard-cover edition by Donald M. Grant in the Spring of 1982."

We'll have more to say about that soon.

Let's have a look at the synopsis that King penned for the issue, shall we?

SYNOPSIS: This is the fifth tale of Roland, the last gunslinger, and his quest for the Dark Tower which stands at the root of time.
     Against the twilit landscape of a dying world, the gunslinger pursues the man in black, first through the town of Tull at the edge of the desert, and then into the desert itself.  In the husk of a way station he comes upon a young boy named Jake from our world, and Jake, who was somehow "killed" by the man in black (the man in black pushed him under the wheels of a Cadillac at a New York City intersection), becomes the gunslinger's companion.  The gunslinger has been warned by a Speaking Demon that "While you travel with the boy, the man in black travels with your soul in his pocket."
     As they pursue the man in black, Roland the gunslinger recalls his strange, marked past: his mother Gabrielle, Marten, the court sorcerer who may have somehow been transformed into the man in black he now pursues (and who, as the charismatic Good Man, pulled down the last kingdom of light), Cort, his teacher, Cuthbert, his friend, and David, the falcon, "God's gunslinger."
     Roland and the boy follow the man in black into the mountains, Roland becoming surer that he may be called upon to sacrifice Jake if his progress toward the Tower is to continue.
     In the foothills, the gunslinger saves Jake from the toils of a sexual vampire who has been caught for eons in a cage of Druid-stones.  This creature is also an Oracle, and offers this prophecy: Three is the number of your fate.  The first is young ... he stands on the brink of robbery and murder.  A demon has infested him.  The name of the demon is HEROIN.  The second comes on wheels; her mind is iron, but her heart and her eyes are soft.  The third comes in chains.
     The gunslinger asks if Jake cannot be saved from the mysterious and terrible fate of being killed a second time.  Yes, the Oracle responds; if you give up your quest for the Tower.  This Roland cannot do.
     They climb into the mountains, and there is a brief confrontation with the dark man at  the mouth of a passageway leading beneath them.  The man in black mockingly promises Roland the answers he has been seeking ... but, he says, there will only be the two of us.
     In spire of his own fears and Jake's growing premonition of doom, the two of them plunge into the passageway after the dark man.  In that darkness the gunslinger recalls the great lighted balls and fetes of his childhood ... and his mother's growing enchantment with Marten, the sorcerer.  They follow a river in the dark, and this leads them to an old rail-line ... and a handcar.
     Flying through the dark, the gunslinger tells Jake of his coming of age, a combat-rite of manhood which he attempted early -- horrifyingly early, due more than anything else to his growing realization that Marten and his mother have become lovers.  He wished to challenge Marten, he tells Jake obliquely, but he could only do that as a man ... even if the combat-rite ended in his premature exile from the kingdom he had always known.
     In the horrifying combat which follows, Roland bested Cort, his teacher, by using David, his falcon, as his weapon.
     Jake is unimpressed by the story; It was a game, wasn't it? he says.  Do grown men always have to play games?
     On their sixth day/night under the mountains, they encounter the Slow Mutants, horrible, starving subhuman creatures who subsist on whatever they may find ... including human flesh.  They fight their way through them, thanks to Jake's courage and Roland's sandalwood-inlaid guns.
     Perhaps a week's travel further on (in the darkness, both Jake and the gunslinger find time nearly incalculable), they come to a trestle which bridges a wide chasm through which the river has cut its path.  The trestle is old and rotted but they can see daylight on the far side.  They begin to walk across, leaving the handcar behind.
     They have nearly negotiated all of the harrowing passage when the man in black appears at the exit-point.  Almost simultaneously, the rotted metal ties Jake has been standing on give way.  He falls ... and dangles by one hand.  And, from a mere thirty yards ahead, the man in black issues his challenge to Roland, the last gunslinger: "Come now .. or catch me never."
     After a moment of agonizing choice, the gunslinger leaves Jake to fall into the abyss, electing to follow the man in black; even at the price of his soul, he is unable to give up his quest for the Tower.
     "Go then," Jake calls to him as he falls.  "There are others worlds than these."
     The gunslinger emerges.  The man in black is there.  And the gunslinger follows him in broken boots to the place of counseling.

A few things to note here.

First (and this is overdue), I've presented these synopses as though they were written by Stephen King.  And they may well have been, but I don't actually know that for a fact.  While transcribing this final one, I found myself wondering; the style and tone don't entirely match the "arguments" that King would provide as synopses in front of some of the novels.  I think it is likely that King DID write them, though; based on the style/layout of editorial interjections in F&SF, it seems as if they always include those at the top of the page, prior to the title and authorial attribution.  That wouldn't have been possible with a lengthy synopsis, but still, it seems likely to me.

Second, boy, I sure do hope that I didn't make any errors of transcription.  I caught myself repeatedly making the typo "main in black," and I believe I successfully corrected them all.  In a few cases, there are typos with the text (such as the one above where a ".." is used instead of a "..."), and I retained all of those.

Third, the list of figures from Roland's past does not, this time, include his father.  It also does not include semicolons, which would have been helpful.

Fourth, hot damn do I love The Gunslinger.  Stay tuned; more on that soon.


UPDATE:  I've found a bit of proof that the F&SF synopses were indeed written by King himself.  In his two-part 1985 Castle Rock essay "The Politics of Limited Editions," King has the following observations about the genesis of The Gunslinger:

One night in March of 1970, I found myself sitting at my old office-model Underwood with the chipped 'm' and the flying 'o' and writing this sentence: The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.  About twelve years later, some millions of dollars richer and much more tired, I found myself writing this sentence on a Wang Systems 5 word processor: The gunslinger waited for the time of the drawing and dreamed his long dreams of the Dark Tower, to which he would someday come at dusk and approach, winding his horn, to do some final unimaginable battle.  You will see that, although I may have lost a good deal of my wind and much of my ability to rock and roll all night long in those twelve year [sic],  my ability to write outrageously purple prose has remained completely unimpaired.

During those twelve tears, I worked on The Dark Tower at widely spaced intervals.  Epileptics, I have heard, either see or sense an aura of some sort before a seizure.  In much the same way I would, from time to time, find myself thinking of Roland and his queer, spare, sad world . . .and then there would be a brief writing seizure.

By 1982 I had actually finished the first major cycle of the novel -- this cycle was called The Gunslinger.  In a novel proper, The Gunslinger would be titled Book I, I suppose, but in reading it over I saw that each of the five long chapters formed a story of its own, and that the five chapters together actually fulfilled the basic requirements of a novel: it had a beginning, a middle, and a resolution of sorts.  Of course there is another requirement the novel imposes on the novelist -- that the protagonist should in some way grow or change in the course of his or her adventures.  Roland, my gunslinger, changed little . . . but there were, at least, indications of impending change.

Curious about reader reaction, I offered these five stories to Ed Ferman, at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  He agreed to publish them in loose serial fashion, if I would write the appropriate synopses.  This I did.

So there you have it.  That question has been solidly answered, I'd say!

The Cannibals
(unfinished novel)

  • written sometimes between July and December of 1981
  • two segments (of 61 and 63 pages in length, respectively) were scanned and published as PDFs at StephenKing.com on September 15 and October 5, 2009; otherwise unpublished

Oh, The Cannibals.  This is one of the most tantalizing "unpublished" works in King's canon, for my money.  Let's let King himself tell the story:

This introduction appeared on King's site (addressing members of the Stephen King Message Board, of whom Marsha "Ms. Mod" DeFellippo was/is the moderator) when the first segment was put online. 

Let's bottom-line it: there are about five hundred pages' worth of an unpublished Stephen King novel from 1981 in the world.  About it a quarter of it has been released (and, by the way, can still be downloaded for any who are interested); this means there is a novel-length amount of it that remains unreleased.  It was never finished, so it's an incomplete work; and yeah, sure, some of the themes were later used for Under the Dome.

But still, man ... that's 300-plus pages of prime early-eighties King sitting there, taunting us all.  I first read about the existence of this unfinished work in Douglas E. Winter Art of Darkness book, and I was enthralled by the idea of it back then.  It's never let go of me, either; I'd dearly love to be able to read that manuscript.  (So if you're reading and want to do a fat guy a favor, Uncle Steve, hook my big ass up!)

The two excerpts are terrific, so if you've never read them, click that link, scroll down a bit, and then let the right-hand side of your mouse do what it does best.

"The Lawnmower Man"
(comic by Stephen King and Walter Simonson)

  • published in issue #29 of Bizarre Adventures, December 1981
  • uncollected

"The Lawnmower Man" was an odd choice to serve as King's entrypoint into the world of comic books, but hey, whatever.  It's a terrific adaptation of the story, running 21 pages in length; Simonson's art is weird and wonderful, which is as it should be.  It's also black and white, which might conceivably disappoint some people; but the story is quite effective in that format, trust me.

For a bit more information on the subject, including some quotes from Simonson about King's level of involvement (spoiler alert: it was significant), check out a thing I wrote in 2014 when a portfolio of the art was released.

Mr. Monster's Movie Gold
(coffee-table book)

  • a Donning Company paperback, published circa December 1981
  • King provided an introduction, "The Importance of Being Forry"

I had to do a little bit of e-digging to find a release date for this book.  What I found was January 1, 1981; April 1, 1981; and December 1, 1981.  Of those, the latter seems far and away the most plausible, given that King's introduction is dated "Halloween 1981."  So we'll go with December!

This book is delightful, top to bottom.  It's basically just a couple hundred pages of photos of poster and stills and other memorabilia from the private collection of Forrest J. Ackerman, the editor of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland.  If you're the type of guy/gal who enjoys looking at evidence of the existence of old monster movies (or possibly even if you aren't), then you'd enjoy flipping through this sucker.  Inside the front cover, the book is subtitled "a treasure trove of imagi-movies," and the subtitle is not lying to you.

King's introduction begins thus:

Let me try to get at the importance of being Forry -- to me, at least -- by telling you a simplistic little parable.  Back there in the European middle ages (picture Lon Chaney ringing the bells in The Hunchback of Notre Dame to get in the mood, if you want), nobody ate tomatoes.  The reason they didn't was because the tomato was thought to be a deadly poisonous fruit -- about two bites and you were supposed to drop down with your nostril linings falling out, your hands clutching your swelling neck, your skin turning purple.  "Graaag!  Choke!," as the folks in the old E.C. comics used to say.
     Now suppose you were some more or less typical middle ages dude...except that you had discovered that tomatoes were not only not poisonous, they were delicious!  No problem with that, you say; that's great, in fact.  And so it is...except that being the only person in the village who knows the truth would have to be both lonely and frustrating.  No one is going to come over to your hut for spaghetti unless you go back to the traditional butter-and-garlic sauce (which not only wouldn't poison you, it would keep the vampires away).  No one is going to join you in a bowl of tomato soup, and you would extol the virtues of ketchup in vain.
     Now imagine that, after years of putting up with this attitude, a new guy shows up in town...and he's selling tomatoes!!!
     If you can imagine your feelings at such a point, you can imagine what I mean by the importance of being Forry, at least as his life has impinged on mine.

King goes on from here to describe the impact of Ackerman magazines such as Spacemen and (especially) Famous Monsters of Filmland on his juvenile life.  That he does so with effortless charm by using tomatoes as an analogical tool is no surprise; what's surprising is that I, as a reader, went along with it.  See, I hate tomatoes.  HATE them.  Not AS much as I hate spiders, but close; the closest a food item can get, in fact.  Tomatoes are item A#1 on my list of foods I try to avoid.  Friends invite me over to their house and cook spaghetti for me, I spend five minutes de-tomatoing my portion(s), always with a heartfelt apology.  But if it came right down to it, I'd sit there and not eat a damn bite of that spaghetti; ain't no tomatoes getting into my mouth unless violence is the cause.  And violence is likely to be the result of such an action, too.

So the fact that I felt myself growing sympathic toward this hypothetical lone-wolf tomato-eater of the middle ages is a terrific testament to King's writing ability.

"The Importance of Being Forry" runs about five pages, and if you're the type of Constant Reader who enjoys King's essays, then this one needs to be in your collection.

"Between Rock and a Soft Space" and "Visit with an Endangered Species"

  • published in the January 1982 issue of Playboy
  • uncollected

King's occasional association with Playboy began with "Between Rock and a Soft Place," a lengthy essay/article in which he writes of his disappointment with the current state of AM radio.  He spends a great deal of the essay just talking about music, which is fine by me.  If it sounds like you'd be into this kind of thing, you'd be into this thing.
"Visit with an Endangered Species" was a shorter sidebar piece in which King profiles "Mighty John Marshall, who may well be the last great AM rock jock in America."  It's a terrific read.
Taken together, these two essays prove -- if only to me -- that King probably had the talent within him to be a really good essay/opinion-style journalist.  On some level of the Tower, that's what happened, and this issue of Playboy -- which, again, I did indeed buy for the articles -- gives us a peek into that other universe. 
The Running Man
(novel, published as Richard Bachman)
  • a Signet paperback, published May 1982
  • collected in The Bachman Books, 1985  
I've written about this elsewhere (probably so frequently that anyone actually paying attention to my blog is sick of it), but The Running Man was the first King novel I ever read.  If you're interested in the circumstances behind that, here ya go.
Anyways, The Running Man.  It was the fourth and final of the original Bachman paperbacks, and while I've never seen anything indicating that it was a bestseller or anything like that, but here are a couple of facts about old Dicky B. that indicate to me that his sales must have been on the upswing thanks to this book:
  • It was optioned for a motion picture adaptation before King was outed as being Bachman.
  • Bachman's next novel was a hardback.
We'll never know what would have happened with Bachman's career if King hadn't been found out, but my personal suspicion is that he would eventually have turned into a bestseller in his own right.  Not a King-sized one, perhaps; but I wouldn't rule it out.
In any case, The Running Man is a solid dystopic sci-fi novel in which a man is forced to compete in a game for which the novel is titled.  It's a game of life or death, mostly the latter.  I wouldn't say it's one of King's strongest novels, but it's definitely got its virtues, and if you recall, it was actually written before Carrie; so it's a valuable peek at a pre-fame King, whose style was still evolving.
A few moments ago, I wrote about how on some other level of the Tower, there's a King who became a great essayist and/or journalist.  Well, on some other level still, there's a King who kept writing novels in the vein of The Long Walk and The Running Man and made a career of it.  Wouldn't it be cool to read some of the novels THAT King wrote ten years or so later?  I wouldn't want to give up the ones we have for the ones we don't, of course; all I'm askin' for is everything, on this world and others.
Is that too much?
"Survivor Type"
(short story)
  • published in Terrors (a Berkley paperback edited by Charles L. Grant), June 1982
  • collected in Skeleton Crew, 1985

Hoo boy, "Survivor Type."  I'm reluctant to say what this story is about, just in case anyone reading these words have not yet read the words that collectively form that story.  It really ought to be discovered with a minimum of foreknowledge.  Either that, or not discovered at all.  But if you're into King sufficiently to be at this blog, then it's DEFINITELY for you.
Word of advice: don't have a big meal ahead of time.  Just sayin'.
And with that, we bring another day of our Guided Tour to a close.  The tour bus has arrived back at the La Quinta, and if you want to walk next door to the Denny's, we can get some moderately satisfying grub.  Gonna be some bacon on mine!
Otherwise, see you tomorrow morning ("tomorrow morning" in this case meaning one week from now); I'll have the bus running when you get to it!