Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Guided Tour of the Kingdom: A Chronological Walk Through the Career of Stephen King, Part 5 (1977-1979)

A good amount of heat came rolling off of King's name in the wake of the Oscar-nominated success of Carrie's film adaptation.
The impact was immediate.

The Shining

a Doubleday hardcover, published January 1977

The Shining is unquestionably among the most iconic of King's works, and it is likely that the bump given to his name by the film version of Carrie helped it get there.  It was a bestseller in hardback, and it is all but certain that many copies were purchased by people who'd seen Carrie and were curious to read something new from the mind that thunk up those pig-blood-covered teenagers who could move ashtrays with their heads.
It's a fun mental exercise to wonder whether King would have turned into the writer we know him to be without the influence of the Carrie film.  The obvious answer -- and, in my opinion, the correct one -- is that without the film, he probably would not have become the household name he soon thereafter became.  That said, I think there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he would still have become quite successful.  He was simply too talented not to; whatever De Palma's film might have contributed to his career in terms of book sales, the simple fact that rises above that is that he's written both 'salem's Lot and The Shining before the impact of the movie was felt.  His trajectory was upward, and while it is likely that The Shining sold much better due to the film than it would have otherwise, this third published novel was/is so fundamentally strong that it's easy to imagine it selling quite well even without a Sissy Spacek movie sending people to bookstores looking for the feller what wrote the book version.

It's speculation, of course, either way; fun speculation, but nothing more.

Bottom line: The Shining DID become a bestseller, and in hardback.  From here, there was no looking back.  King's popularity has never waned since, an astonishing streak that few artists in any medium have ever managed to match.

While we're here, let's mention that The Shining was (A) originally titled The Shine and (B) originally had both a prologue and an epilogue appended to it.  Regarding the former, the title was changed so as to avoid potentially racially-charged connotations ("shine" being a descriptive noun in much the same way "coon" can be).

Regarding the latter, it was felt the epilogue and lengthy prologue could be cut to make the novel less expensive, and would not damage the main thrust of the story.  The prologue was called "Before the Play," and told a good bit about the history of the Overlook.  Some material about young Jack and his father was also included.  The prologue was later published on its own in a 1982 issue of Whispers and, in condensed form, in a 1997 issue of TV Guide (to coincide with the airing of the television miniseries).

The epilogue, commonly known as "After the Play" despite not actually being titled that, is an even more interesting case.  Some of it survived into the final chapter of the published novel, but much of it was cut out, and for years it was believed to be totally lost.  Even King himself did not possess a copy of it.  This is the sort of thing that will make a guy like me lose sleep.  Amazingly, the epilogue turned up a few years back, and was included in a 2017 limited edition of the novel published by Cemetery Dance.  Good luck finding an affordable copy of that sucker; rarely have I been more happy to have pre-ordered a book (a fact that holds true despite the fact that limited editions, as a rule, make me very grumpy).

"Children of the Corn"
(short story)

  • published in the March 1977 issue of Penthouse
  • collected in Night Shift, 1978


If we're going purely on name recognition, it seems likely that "Children of the Corn" is King's best-known short story.  I think the only ones that could challenge it are "The Lawnmower Man" and "1408," but I don't think either of them is actually much of a challenge in that regard.

The story itself remains unsettling and effective.  It's undoubtedly been cheapened due to the recognition the eventual series of movies afforded it, but if you can transport yourself back to a time before those abominations existed -- March 1977, let's say -- then I think you will find that the original tale itself is blameless.
Need to get me a copy of that original magazine appearance one of these days.  It's a long list of similar not-quite-necessary necessities.
"One for the Road"
(short story)

  • published in the March/April 1977 issue of Maine
  • collected in Night Shift, 1978
  • reprinted in the Illustrated Edition of 'salem's Lot, 2005

"One for the Road" is a quasi-sequel to 'salem's Lot that illustrates what happens when an out-of-their-element family is driving near there during a snowstorm one night.
It's a good story, although it feels to me as if some of the vampire transformations happen a bit too fast. 
"The Cat From Hell"
(short story)

  • published in the March and June issues of Cavalier
  • reprinted in various anthologies, including Magicats! (1984)
  • collected in Just After Sunset, 2008

images courtesy of Rich Krauss

The March 1977 issue of Cavalier contained the announcement of a story contest: complete the story "The Cat From Hell," the beginning of which was provided by up-and-coming horror novelist Stephen King (whose name would have been familiar to regular readers of the magazine).
Let's have a look:

King's completed story appeared in the June 1977 issue.  
Initial plans had been for the winning entrant's version to also appear, but in lieu of that, there was this:
So what happened to the winning entrant's version?  None of my books about King indicated anything other than that it had appeared in the June '77 issue.  I wrote the initial version of this post with that in mind.
Weeks later, a commenter named Rich Krauss contacted me and informed me that the June issue did not, in fact, contain the non-King version.  He was kind enough to send me the above scans.
After doing a bit of research, I found a post from King collector John Hanic at that clarifies things a bit.  I'm going to borrow the relevant text for our purposes here, and if Mr. Hanic objects, he need only ask and I will remove it:

I've been lucky enough to collect all four issues of the men's magazines that ran Stephen King's story The Cat From Hell and the associated contest winners: The original 500 words of the story, written by King (in the March 1977 Cavalier), the entire King story (Cavalier June 1977), and the two contest winners, Phil Bowie (Cavalier September 1977) and Mark Rains Gent (Gent December 1977).

I was asked to give synopses of the latter two stories in another forum, but I think this would be the more appropriate spot.

The following is from the September 1977 Cavalier that reviews the contest submissions and is the synopsis of the Rains story. I'll be following with the Bowie story synopsis soon.

The envelope Drogan is holding contains photos of nude people dancing around a symbol, a young woman on a sofa and Drogan in a black hood—as a warlock. He tells Halston that he had thrown acid on his mistress Victoria’s face and had then turned her into a cat, which is trying to destroy him. The cat then slashes Drogan to death and the hit man, Halston, decides not to kill the cat…the old man deserved to die.

The Phil Bowie version is:

Drogan is the father of one of Halston's victims. The envelope has a picture of his son. His son, and all 23 other of Halston's victims, have come back as identical black and white cats. Although Halston keeps trying to kill the cats, there are enough left to finish him.

I'm not sure that I care about these non-King versions of the story to ever bother purchasing copies of their magazine appearances, but I'd definitely like to read them, if only to be able to say I had done so.
If You Could See Me Now
(novel by Peter Straub)

a Coward, McCann & Geoghegan hardback, published June 1977

The Truth Inside the Lie review of If You Could See Me Now

Straub's second novel of the supernatural is an improvement over the already-excellent first one (Julia), and I suspect that many King fans who don't enjoy Straub's later novels might be considerably more entertained by this one.
The story is about a man who is haunted -- perhaps literally -- by the memory of a dead cousin.  He returns twenty years after her death to keep a promise they made to each other, and things begin to go sideways.  I say "begin," but they may have been pretty damn sideways all along. 
"The Man Who Loved Flowers"
(short story)

  • published in the August 1977 issue of Gallery
  • collected in Night Shift, 1978



This story is about a young man in love during the springtime.  Or something like that.  Depends on how you feel about the role of hammers in a love affair.

"The King Family and the Wicked Witch"
(short story)

  • also known as "The King Family and the Farting Cookie"
  • published in the Manhattan, Kansas Flint on August 25, 1977
  • uncollected

Lest I forget it, let me mention something: the drawing that I've used to represent this story might or might not actually come from this story.  I found it via Google on a number of websites -- none of them in the English language, oddly -- that all seem to feel that it does.  But that's no proof, and I'm reluctant to treat it as such.

For more information on this story, let's turn to Rocky Wood and Stephen King: Unpublished, Uncollected:

It was published in Flint, an obscure Kansas newspaper, no longer operating.  It is effectively impossible to secure an original copy of the newspaper but photocopies of the story circulate within the King community.
Beahm stated the newspaper was based in Flint, Michigan in The Stephen King Story, (page 301) but Stephen Spignesi disputed the certainty of this, stating only that it is assumed Flint was a Michigan based publication.  In 2004 researcher Justin Brooks was able to confirm that the newspaper was based in Manhattan, Kansas and that the publication date was 25 August 1977.
Wood goes on to quote the entirety of editor Roy D. Krantz's introduction to the story.  Krantz says that he and King went to college together, and worked for the Maine Campus concurrently.  He'd had occasion to visit with King at some point in the (then) not-too-distant past, and at some point in their conversation King had given him a story he'd written for his children (along, apparently, with the permission to publish it).  The story's original title, "The King Family and the Farting Cookie," was altered for publication so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of Flint readers.  The word itself appears frequently in the story, however, and Krantz warns easily offended readers to not read it (but to not stop their kids, who will love it).
The basic story is about a witch who envies the King family -- Daddy, Mommy, Naomi, and Joe (Owen had not yet been born) -- for being the happiest family in town.  The witch gives the family four magic cookies, which have unusual effects: it renders Daddy unable to write any word except "banana" and turns Mommy's hands into milk bottles so she can't cook or type.  Naomi and Joe cry all the time as the result of eating their cookies.
Things happen, and eventually Mommy manages to accidentally rescue an enchanted prince who has also been victimized by the witch.  Returned to normal, the Kings conspire to make a cookie out of 300-year old baked beans.  They sucker the witch into eating it, and from that point on, the story is an orgy of farts and associated gastrointestinal processes.
Now, call me crazy, but I think farts are pretty damn funny.  So when I tell you that the following lines from King's story make me laugh, you'll be unsurprised.
She felt a big fart coming on.  She squeezed her butt to keep it in . . . but it was too late.  WHONK! Went the fart.  It blew all the fur off her cat.
I'm a simple man, and I'm highly amused by the idea of a witch squeezing her butt closed to keep a fart in.  Look down upon me if you must, but it's the truth.
Let's turn back to Rocky Wood once more:
The article carried three line drawings 'by Naomi' (almost certainly Naomi King), which are childish in the extreme but suit the tone of the article.  One is presumably the witch, another appears to be two of the King children, and the last is of the with with the 'windy' effects of the cookie spiraling from her rear end!
So if that image I pasted in above is from this story, it represents a sort of collaboration between Stephen King and his daughter.  Cool!

  • written as Richard Bachman
  • a Signet paperback, published September 13, 1977
  • collected in The Bachman Books, 1985


As mentioned in a previous post, King began writing Rage -- under its original title, Getting It On -- in late high school, and finished it soon after graduating from college.
Several years later, as his career was beginning to take off, he arranged to also begin publishing paperback originals under the pen name Richard Bachman, ostensibly as a means of finding out if he could succeed without the name "Stephen King."
I'm skeptical of that; after all, by September of 1977, "Stephen King" 's career was only beginning to take flight.  So was there a need to find out if that name was what was carrying all the weight?
I'd speculate that King might have been interested in finding out what the result might have been if Getting It On had indeed been his first published novel (you may recall that this almost happened).  The novel must have sold relatively well, since Signet would published a second novel by "Bachman" a couple of years later.  So in King's mind, was "Richard Bachman" a peek into an alternate universe?  A what-might-have-been playing out in real time?  A fascinating concept, if so.
Rage is now most famous for being the only novel of his career that King has pulled from print.  This Bev Vincent article will tell you more about that, but the short version of the story is this: the novel is about a high school student who kills a teacher during class and then holds the students hostage.  Several real-life incidents seemed to have used the novel -- via its appearance in The Bachman Books, presumably -- as inspiration, and after one such incident, King decided to pull The Bachman Books out of circulation and remove Rage from the public eye to the extent it was possible for him to do so.
As I write this, it's only a few days after an incident in which a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring many.  This is not dissimilar to an incident at the beginning of King's novel Mr. Mercedes, which has been adapted into a television series that aired its first episode -- beginning with the same scene that opened the novel -- only three days prior to the vehicular-murder incident in Charlottesville.  As if that weren't bad enough, terrorists in other countries have used vehicles as weapons against crowds of innocent people.  (Not to mention the similarity between a scene that culminates Mr. Mercedes and the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.)

All of this makes me wonder if King will consider pulling Mr. Mercedes from print.  Thus far, there's been no indication that any of these real-life incidents' perpetrators were inspired -- directly or indirectly -- by King's book or by the television adaptation.  But one has to wonder about it.
I say all of that to bring up my mild discomfort with King's decision to make Rage unavailable.  I fully support his right to do so, and would likely do so myself if I were in his shoes.  I just wonder where that process ends.  There are horrific acts of non-supernatural violence in many King books, and if a man in a hotel were to beat several people to death with a roque mallet and then tell the authorities that he'd been a big fan of The Shining, would that novel then be on the chopping block?  Probably not, but what if a half dozen more people did the same over the span of a decade?  (For the record, I know of at least one case in which a murderer wrote "REDRUM" on something after killing his victim.)
Where is that line?
That line can only be defined by each individual, of course, and the best thing in my mind is to hope nobody else perpetrates any of these acts, and that if they DO they don't end up being big fans of Mr. Mercedes.  If such a thing should happen, I'd be unable to find fault with King for it.
But I wonder if he'd be unable to find fault with himself; and that worries me on his behalf.

(unpublished and/or unfinished novel)


Now, here's a curiosity.
As per Rocky Wood, Wimsey is a short-story-length fragment of a novel King began writing during the three-month period he and his family lived in England during late 1977.  King had apparently moved overseas to work on a novel with an English setting.  Whether Wimsey is the novel he intended to write is unknown, and it is also unclear whether he wrote more of the novel than what exists (which is the first chapter plus a single page of the second) within the trading-posts of the King fan community.
What IS clear is that the book would have been a continuation novel featuring the Dorothy L. Sayers character Lord Peter Wimsey, a gentleman detective introduced by Sayers in her 1923 novel Whose Body?  Wimsey would star in ten additional novels for Sayers, and there have apparently been continuation novels by other authors.
It is significant that King apparently intended to place himself on that list.  If, like me, you entertain notions of the sort of King novels you could read if only you had access to that pink Ur-Kindle, this fact about his (seemingly) abandoned Wimsey novel tantalizes you mercilessly.  On some level of the Tower there are James Bond novels by King, or Tarzan novels, or Star Trek novels.  Can you imagine?!?
For my part, I know nothing about the character of Lord Peter Wimsey.  One of these days, though, I might extend my King researches far enough to obtain the Sayers series and attempt to determine what might have drawn King to the detective.
Let's let Wood talk for a moment:
Once in England King did not find the inspiration required for an English novel, perhaps explaining the fragmentary nature of Wimsey, but he did begin one of his most famous novels, Cujo during the three months the family remained in the country.  One story based in England did result from the trip, however.  In mid-October 1977 the King family had dinner with Peter Straub and his wife in the London suburb of Crouch End.  This resulted in King's Lovecraftian story, Crouch End, originally published in the 1980 collection New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and in a heavily revised version in 1993's Nightmares & Dreamscapes.
Wood then points out that "the best result of the England trip may have been the beginning of King's long and fruitful relationship with fellow author Straub."
Later, he offers an assessment of the writing style King employs in the fragment:
King adopted a style for Wimsey that is indeed very English in tone, including a rather dry tone of exchange between Bunter and the title character.  It is clear that King was quite capable of delivering in this style, as one might expect from a premier novelist.
Wood also points out that Wimsey, the character, is mentioned in both Apt Pupil and Bag of Bones.
While we're here, let's also see what Stephen J. Spignesi has to say about the fragment in The Lost Work of Stephen King:
It is a shame that Stephen King did not publish this work.  (Notice that I did not say complete this work.  King may very well have his entire Wimsey novel sitting in a drawer somewhere.)  King deftly sets the stage for what will clearly be a thrilling tale of mystery, and he is very skilled at evoking the feel of a rain-soaked British countryside as well as the narrative sensibility of the best British mysteries.
I suppose this is the point at which I ought to reveal that myself have been lucky enough to read the fragment.  A fellow collector sent it to me in the mid-00s.  Maybe one of these days I'll set off on that Sayers/Wimsey readthrough, and conclude it by providing a deep analysis of King's chapter-and-a-page contribution.  I certainly enjoyed reading it; it's clearly a pastiche, but it's a seemingly-effortless one.
For my part, I think King probably never produced any more of it than those sixteen or so pages.  And while I'd greedily love to be able to read the rest, I'm also quite happy that he ended up -- if this was indeed the outcome -- turning his attentions to Cujo instead.

"The Night of the Tiger"
(short story)

  • published in the February 1978 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
  • reprinted in several anthologies, including The Year's Best Horror, Series VII, 1979
  • uncollected

Stephen J.Spignesi reports (in The Lost Stephen King) that:
King wrote this atmospheric tale when he was in his late teens, around the same time he wrote "The Glass Floor," the story which was his first professional sale.
"The Night of the Tiger" was rejected due to its length by the editor of Startling Mystery Stories (where "The Glass Floor" had appeared), and it would not be published for more than another decade, when it finally appeared in 1978 in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
King has written that he believes "Night of the Tiger" is the better of the two stories, and I agree with him.
I agree with them both.  I quite enjoy this story, in fact, and wish King would include it in one of his collections.  It's about a circus-worker kid who gets embroiled in a battle of wills between the tiger handler and a mysterious "detective" who follows the troupe around.  It's not exactly a horror story, and while I wouldn't describe it as Bradburian in style, it might be said to be that in content.
I have no trouble believing that the story hails from circa 1967, but I will say that I also believe King must have revised it heavily prior to its F&SF appearance.  (Of which I have a copy, by the way; that above-pictured scan is my own!)  The writing style is vastly more confident than that evinced by "The Glass Floor," and indeed, Rocky Wood's book quotes King as saying (in On Writing) that he rewrote it before submitting it.
Wood's own take on the story?  "The lack of inclusion of The Night of the Tiger in a King collection is passing strange," he says, although he later refers to the end of the tale as "unsatisfying and inconclusive."
Night Shift

a Doubleday hardback, published February 1978


King released his first collection of short stories in early 1978, and here is a list of the previously-published tales it contained:
  • Graveyard Shift
  • Night Surf
  • I Am the Doorway
  • The Mangler
  • The Boogeyman
  • Gray Matter
  • Battleground
  • Trucks
  • Sometimes They Come Back
  • Strawberry Spring
  • the Ledge
  • I Know What You Need
  • Children of the Corn
  • The Man Who Loved Flowers
  • One for the Road

There were also four previously-unpublished stories that made the cut.  Let's look at them individually.

  • "Jerusalem's Lot" 
This exciting tale is a pure-bred pastiche of the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, specifically of "The Rats in the Walls," although it also pays homage to Robert Bloch via an appearance by Bloch's fictional tome De Vermis Mysteriis (which Lovecraft himself incorporated into his own works, and which King himself would use again decades later in Revival).
The story is a quasi-prequel to 'salem's Lot, and has appeared (alongside "One for the Road") in several editions of that novel.  Problem with that is that the town in the short story seems to be set on the ocean, whereas it is entirely landlocked in the novel.  That leads me to believe that King wrote the short story before he began the novel.  That's pure speculation on my part, though.

  • "Quitters, Inc." 
One of King's true classics, as far as I'm concerned.  It's the story of a man who wants to quit smoking, so he visits a service called "Quitters, Inc." that has gained a reputation as an outfit that can help a fella out with that.
And, of course, they can.  For a price.  An . . . unusual price.
  • "The Last Rung on the Ladder"
A non-supernatural story about a man whose sister has committed suicide.  As he is meditating upon this sad news, he reflects on an incident from their childhood in which he had occasion to save her.

  • "The Woman in the Room"
A deeply-felt non-supernatural tale about a man who has lost a woman he couldn't save.  In this case, it's a son who has lost his mother to cancer.  King had lost his own mother to that disease, between the time of Carrie's acceptance and its publication.
King had a number of other stories he could have included in Night Shift, and opted not to.  For the sake of doing so, let's take a look at a list of the ones we know about:
  • The Glass Floor
  • Cain Rose Up
  • Here There Be Tygers
  • The Reaper's Image
  • Stud City
  • Slade
  • The Blue Air Compressor
  • The Old Dude's Ticker
  • Suffer the Little Children
  • The Fifth Quarter
  • It Grows On You
  • The Revenge of Lardass Hogan
  • Weeds
  • The Cat From Hell
  • The King Family and the Wicked Witch
  • The Night of the Tiger

Obviously, some of these would make it into later collections; others would not, and are still awaiting inclusion.
I think we'll make this an ongoing pursuit when it comes to mentioning the story collections along our Tour: which ones do you think would have fit well into a longer version of Night Shift?  My picks are "Cain Rose Up," "Here There Be Tygers," "Suffer the Little Children," "It Grows On You," "Weeds," "The Cat From Hell," and "The Night of the Tiger."
Regardless of considerations such as that, I think you have to conclude that Night Shift is a heck of a collection.  If it were a career-spanning collection, it'd be strong; that it came in the first half of King's first decade as a published novelist -- and scarcely more than a decade after he published his first professionally-sold short story -- is remarkable.

And now, because it doesn't necessarily fit in anywhere else, let's talk about a King story that is known to exist but has never (yet) been published:

"Squad D"

Ever heard of this one?  If so, sister, you have ascended into a rare atmosphere among Constant Readers.  Welcome!  You are among friends.

Let's turn once again to the redoubtable Rocky Wood (from his Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished) for an explanation of what this story is:

Squad D was written in the late 1970s for a Harlan Ellison edited anthology, Last Dangerous Visions.  Ellison told George Beahm for The Stephen King Companion: 'Stephen sent me a story for Last Dangerous Visions that needs to be rewritten . . . I was sent this short story, and I think there's a lot more in it than Stephen had time to develop.  The story deserves better, the work deserves better, and Stephen's reputation deserves better.'
     As part of research for the latest edition of this book Stephen King was asked what had happened to this tale.  His response: 'What I remember most clearly about "Squad D" is the reaction of Kiby McCauley, my then agent, when I told him I'd given the story to Harlan.  We were in a Checker cab, and Kirby punched the roof hard enough to make his knuckles swell (the cabbie never said a word -- probably wasn't his personal cab).  It was the only time Kirby was ever angry with me.  "Why did you do that?" he shouted.  "Harlan will never publish that book, and that story will rot in his files!"  He was talking about The Last Dangerous Visions.  And while Kirby was wrong about many things, he was right about that book.  It never has been published.'

Based on that response from McCauley, you'd think that "Squad D" was some sort of masterpiece.  Having read it, I can say that it is not.  It's okay, but was it worth an agent wrecking his knuckles?  I don't think so.

Let's turn to Stephen J. Spignesi for a plot synopsis (from The Lost Work of Stephen King):

Dale Clewson is the father of Bilyl Clewson, a young solider killed in Vietnam while crossing a bridge that had been booby-trapped by the Vietcong.  Billy was a member of D Squad, which had ten members, nine of whom were killed that day on the bridge.
     The tenth member of the squad, Josh Bortman, of Castle Rock, Maine (a town certain to be familiar to King fans), was in the hospital that day with bleeding hemorrhoids and was thus spared a fiery death.
     From his hospital bed, Josh writes letters to each surviving family, and with the letter, he encloses a photograph -- enlarged and framed -- of the nine squad members killed.  Josh had not been with his squad when the picture was taken or when they all died.
     Eleven years and one day after Squad D was wiped out, Josh Bortman's image suddenly appears in the Squad D picture, finally completing the ten-man squad.  When Dale Clewson sees the tenth man suddenly appear in the picture, he questions his own senses: Wren't there always nine men in the picture?
     Dale decides to call Josh, his son's friend and the only survivor of Squad D, only to find out that Josh had finally found a way to catch up with his friends: He had hanged himself the day before in the garage.

I'll be honest: I'm on Team Harlan regarding this one.  I consider myself very lucky to have been able to read it, but it's decidedly non-essential King, so my advice to one and all is to not get yourself worked up over the fact that you can't pull Last Dangerous Visions down from your shelf and check it out.  (By the way, for those of you who don't know, Ellison edited two anthologies in that series.  Dangerous Visions appeared in 1967 and is considered by some to be one of the seminal science-fiction anthologies of original material.  A sequel, Again, Dangerous Visions, appeared in 1972, and the final volume would have theoretically shown up in 1979.  That never happened, and the book's Wikipedia page is unclear as to whether "Squad D" was ever officially a part of the project.)

Good news for King fans who want to read the story and make up their own minds: "Squad D" is finally seeing publication, via Cemetery Dance, in their Shivers VII anthology, which is tentatively scheduled for publication in late 2017.  So look for that in 2019 or so.  Place your pre-order here, and prepare to have to be patient.  (Fucking Cemetery Dance, man...)
The Stand

a Doubleday hardback, published September 1978


I don't know that there's a need here for me to do anything other than point you in Bev Vincent's direction.
But hey, while we're here...
This was the novel that hooked me on King.  I have fallen into very few novels the way I fell into that one, and I don't think I ever actually climbed back out.
Who'd want to?
I'll also say that if you look at the novel from the vantage point of the specific time in King's career when it appeared, it becomes even more impressive.  Put yourself in 1978.  You've read King's first three novels, one of which was very short, two of which were medium-sized, all of which were very good.  Then you'd read his story collection.
I don't know that any of that prepared you for the sheer scope of The Stand.  Even if you were already impressed by King's talents, I feel certain that this must have rocked you back on your heels a bit.  "Oh," you might say to yourself, "he can do this?!?"
He sure could.
(short story) 
  • published in Shadows, edited by Charles L. Grant and released in hardback by Doubleday Science Fiction, September 1978
  • collected in Skeleton Crew, 1985


I've got a confession to make: I can never remember much about this story.  The last time I read it was the last time I read Skeleton Crew, which would have been around the turn of the decade.  And I didn't remember anything about it then, either; but despite being kind of on-guard against that slipperiness, my memory has once again let it go flapping back into the river of forgetfulness.  I'll hook that sucker yet, one of these days!
What I do remember about that most recent reread is being highly impressed by the story.  Is it about a succubus?  A vampire?  Something like that?  I don't know, but my brain has a big, flashing neon sign that reads THIS IS GOOD SHIT hanging over the place where that story resides.
That being the case, it's not the worst thing in the world for me not to be able to remember it; gives me something to look forward to.
The story made its initial appearance in the Charles L. Grant-edited anthology Shadows.  It was the first volume in a series that would run for eleven volumes through 1991, and King would also have a story in the fourth book.
The other authors featured in this first volume: Avram Davidson, Ramsey Campbell (who has two stories included), William Jon Watkins, Tomas F. Monteleone, R.A. Lafferty, Robert Bloch, Dennis Etchison, Raylyn Moore, Bill Pronzini, Michael Bishop, and John Crowley.
"The Gunslinger"

  • published in the October 1978 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
  • collected in The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, 1982

1978 was a colossally important year for King's career, although it would not necessarily be evident that that was the case for some time to come.  Not only had The Stand -- a novel which would spend many years considered as King's magnum opus by a large percentage of his fans -- seen publication, but a tale that represented the beginnings of another potential magnum-opus-designate made its first appearance only about a month later.
Thus read the editor's note at the top of page 52:
Stephen King, author of Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Shining and "The Night of the Tiger" (F&SF, Feb. 1978), returns with a grim and gripping fantasy about the last gunslinger and his search for The Man in Black.
And then, King takes over:
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
Thus begins a series that would occupy King's career off and on until at least at least 2012.  The novelet -- so described by me because that is how it is designated in this magazine's table of contents -- ends with what seems to be a brief editorial interjection (presumably by King himself): "Thus ends what is written in the first Book of Roland, and his Quest for the Tower which stands at the root of time."
"Man With A Belly"
(short story)

  • published in the December 1978 issue of Cavalier
  • uncollected

King's final appearance in Cavalier was a somewhat ignominious one: "Man With A Belly," an icky -- though well-written -- story about a hitman who is hired by a mob boss to carry out an unusual hit.  No, he's not tasked with assassinating a cat (as was the unlucky fellow in "The Cat From Hell"); instead, he is hired to rape the boss's wife, who has become a bit of a problem for him due to her gambling issues.
If King were to issue a story such as this one in 2017, he'd probably get eaten alive for it, and that being the case, I'm fairly certain it will never appear in one of his collections.  I'm on the fence as to whether even I think it should; it's a gross story.  Not entirely without merit, granted; and if I tell you the story, though non-supernatural, carries a bit of an EC-style comeuppance for at least one of the characters, you can take that as at least a mild bit of solace.

It's never been reprinted, although a forthcoming anthology from Cemetery Dance is evidently going to change that.  I ordered that when it was announced but later canceled the order, because it occurred to me that I just don't want to be the kind of guy who spends a hundred bucks on a story he doesn't even like very much.  
That said, I'll probably try to find a copy of the original magazine one of these days.
UPDATE:  It has come to my attention that the story WAS reprinted at least once, in the December 1979 issue of Gent.
I shall now punish you by showing you the cover of that issue:
"Fat Girl Bonnie Lee, p. 16," it says.  Holy moly.
Anyways, when I found out about this, I found a copy for a bit less than $25 and bought it.  Because it kind of bothered me to not have a physical copy of this story, even though I don't think it's much of a story.
So ... yeah.
Frankenstein / Dracula / Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

  • a Signet Classic paperback, published December 1978
  • King supplied an introduction, portions of which were incorporated into Danse Macabre, 1981

It is telling that by 1978, when Signet was issuing an omnibus of three of the most notable horror novels in literature, they turned to Stephen King to supply an introduction.  It is equally telling that they made his name almost as large on the cover as the titles of the individual novels themselves.
Although, actually, this brings up a question.  My paperback -- the one pictured above -- is a 16th-printing edition.  So I wonder if the first paperback edition might have looked different?  I can't tell for sure (my research was inconclusive), but I think the first edition may have looked like this:
If so, that doesn't really change my thesis much, does it?
Regardless, this omnibus marked a notable moment in King's career: it was (to my knowledge) the first book for which he was asked to supply an introduction.  It certainly wouldn't be the last, and while we are unlikely to touch on each of them in this Guided Tour, we'll certainly see more.
As for this specific introduction, it is very good.  As noted above, portions of it were later worked into Danse Macabre.  I have not done a side-by-side comparison to find out how much of it was ported over and how much was excised.  Maybe someday.  Don't hold your breath, though.

Ghost Story
(novel by Peter Straub)

a Coward, McCann & Geoghegan hardback, published April 1979

The Truth Inside the Lie review of Ghost Story

We begin our 1979 not with King himself but with what is likely Peter Straub's most celebrated novel: Ghost Story, which arguably represents the moment he came into his own.
Personally, I think that happened with If You Could See Me Now, if not with Julia.  But hey, why quibble?  All three are great.
Ghost Story is a challenging read, at least compared to Straub's previous novels, or to King's novels.  It's no Absalom, Absalom, but it's definitely a more challenging read than many bestsellers; King readers are by no means guaranteed to enjoy it.  But for my money, no King reader can fully appreciate The Talisman and Black House without knowing Straub's work.  (Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing will vary from reader to reader.  I'm not a huge fan of either novel, and feel that while both writers are eminently worthy of attention, they are two great tastes that do not necessarily taste great together.  They aren't quite chocolate-covered tilapia, but they're something that makes my mouth pucker a bit.)
The Long Walk

  • written as Richard Bachman
  • a Signet paperback, published July 1979
  • collected in The Bachman Books, 1985

Richard Bachman saw the arrival of his second published book in the summer of 1979 with The Long Walk, a crackerjack novel that King had written in college.  Presumably, he made significant revisions prior to its publication -- the writing is too confident and assured for me to think otherwise -- but who can say for sure?
End of the day, what matters here is that this is a freakin' classic.  And depending on how you count things, it may have been his first-completed novel.  Home run in his first at-bat, if so (with an asterisk in the record book indicating the possibility of later revision having enhanced the performance).
"The Crate"

  • published in the July 1979 issue of Gallery
  • reprinted in various anthologies, including The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural, 1981
  • uncollected

For my money, this is far and away the best of King's uncollected stories.  He's managed now to evade including it in Skeleton Crew, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, Everything's Eventual, Just After Sunset, AND The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.  Same's true of several other stories, but you get why "The Glass Floor" and "Man with a Belly" never make the cut, you know?  It's a lot less understandable in the case of "The Crate," which is a stone-cold classic.
Maybe he's waiting to include it as the centerpiece of some future collection, once his short-story skills have diminished?  That's about all that makes sense to me.
In any case, odds are good that you know the story from its appearance in the movie Creepshow, where it is arguably the standout segment.  It's about a college professor whose aide finds a Tasmanian devil locked up in an old crate.  He freaks out, and then things get weird.
If you've never read this, you really owe it to yourself to track it down.  That Arbor House anthology is fairly easy to find, last time I checked.
With that, we bring this fifth leg of the Tour to a close.  We will pick back up right back here in 1979, where we left off.
But we'll find that something has changed.


  1. Thanks Bryant, I'm quite enjoying this tour and learning lots of new King trivia as well! I too was blown away by The Stand when I first read it and is still the novel that usually tops my list of favorite King books (though sometimes It comes in first, depending on how I feel that particular day).

    I found one tidbit amusing on the cover of that Gallery magazine "Has science gone too far? The spreading horror of DNA"... WTF? :)

    1. WTF indeed. And yet, I have to ask: HASN'T it gone too far? I think we all know it absolutely has.

      "It" and "The Stand" were my two favorite King novels for a long, long time. And I could rarely pick between them. That's a good problem to have.

    2. By the way, given the cover of that magazine, I feel we've all earned bonus point for not making any jokes about spreading DNA. Give us a round of applause, us!

  2. You are kicking ass with this series, sir. Good stuff.

    1. Many thanks! It's been a lot of fun to write so far.

  3. Loving this series of posts! Life has been busy, so I haven't had time to comment on the others, but I get excited when I see you've posted a new one!

    My couple of cents on two short stories from these years:

    1. Don't sleep on "Nona." For my money it's one of King's most underrated and frightening short stories. It has an eerie, dreamlike quality that gives it a macabre beauty-- for such dark subject matter, that is (sort of like "Strawberry Spring"). If I were curating a Best of Stephen King short works collection, "Nona" gets included for sure.

    2. Also included in that Best Of collection would be "The Last Rung on the Ladder." This is the short story I give people to prove that King is so much more than a horror writer. If you think that King can only either scare you or gross you out, this will definitely prove that he can also break your heart.
    (It's probably only fair to point out here that others might find this story overly sentimental. I have no rebuttal to that; I can only admit that I'm a sucker for the type of hazy, nostalgic, melancholic sentimentality that this story is swimming in. Always have been, always will be, and I'm finally old enough and comfortable enough in my literary opinions that I don't even feel the need to hide it anymore. Regardless, "The Last Rung on the Ladder" remains a personal favorite of mine.)

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      Your comment makes me want to pull "Skeleton Crew" down from the shelf and give "Nona" a read. I might follow through on that before the month is out.

      As for "The Last Rung on the Ladder," yeah, that's a winner. I kind of remember being thrown by it the first time I read it (same goes for "The Woman in the Room"), because I was a teenager who didn't quite understand that a story by King could be ... THAT. And I couldn't even process what THAT was. Curiously, though, I think it actually made more more receptive to non-genre fiction. I have a vague memory of accepting some reading assignment in my junior year a bit more easily because I figured that if King wrote stories like that every so often, maybe I could/should pay attention to other writers' work that was ... THAT.

      Might be my memory inventing something that didn't actually happen, but it seems possible enough.

  4. Man, those covers are awesome. And not just the va-va-voom ones. Definitely those but equally if not more definitely those Magazine of Fantasy and Science-Fiction ones.

    What I wouldn't give for a multi-decade run of that book...!

    I really do wonder what the hell Harlan is going to do with all that Last Dangerous Visions stuff. Nothing, probably, but I hope they put out a hardcover that's consistent in design with the first printings of the originals. Just for shelf-continuity - I mean, it'll be cool to read "Squad D" and all the rest.

    What a key couple of years for King. I love when artists rise to the occasion of their breakthrough. Like you say, few have done it better and longer than King. The only other thing from 1977 to have that unbroken a run of consistent, bankable popularity would be Star Wars, probably.

    Whenever Macauley comes up, I renew my wish for someone in King, Inc. to spill the damn beans!

    1. "I really do wonder what the hell Harlan is going to do with all that Last Dangerous Visions stuff. Nothing, probably[.]"

      When I'm feeling particularly cynical, I find myself wondering if we'll see THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS before George R.R. Martin finishes A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE.

    2. There really ARE some humdinger covers in this post. That's been a lot of the fun in this project for me, so far; I have been surprised by how few of these magazine and anthology appearances I had images for on-hand. Hunting them up has been kind of delightful.

      McMolo, you're onto something regarding that streak since '77. The only other thing that comes to mind for me is the Bond films, which arguably had one miss in popularity -- "Licence to Kill" -- but even that was really just in America. Beyond that? Some soap opera or game show, maybe.

      I second your call for bean spillage.

    3. Will, that is a VERY cynical viewpoint. And probably an accurate one. I'm even more cynical than you; I don't think Martin will finish the books. He'll die, and some hack will get hired to write them last however-many books based on his notes.

      I am basing that on very little, though. I know little about him and his work. Mainly, I just know the HBO series.

  5. 1. Heh. I just remembered King saying, in his A&E bio that he always had to take a pair of scissors to the magazines his stories appeared in before he could ever show them to his Mother. I wonder what she made of that…Did I just say the wrong thing?

    2. There’s an interesting aspect to “The King Family and the Witches”. In “Danse Macabre, King spends a moment on a recurring nightmare. “In another dream-this is one which has recurred at times of stress over the last ten years-I am writing a novel in an old house where a homicidal madwoman is reputed to be on the prowl. I’m working on the third-floor room that’s very hot. A door on the far side of the room communicates with the attic, and I know-I know- she’s in there, and that sooner or later the sound of my typewriter will cause her to come after me (perhaps she’s a critic for the Times Book Review). At any rate, she finally comes through the door like a horrid jack from a child’s box, all gray hair and crazed eyes, raving and wielding a meat-ax. And when I run, I discover that somehow the house has exploded outward-it’s gotten ever so much bigger-and I’m totally lost (88)”.

    Years later, in “On Writing”, King talks about the genesis of “Misery”. “In the early 1980s, my wife and I went to London on a combined business/pleasure trip. I fell asleep on the plane and had a dream about a popular writer (it may or may not have been me, but it sure to God wasn’t James Caan) who fell into the clutches of a psychotic fan (161)”.

    I can’t help wondering if the Ax-lady, the Witch, and Annie Wilkes really aren’t all just the same imaginative symbol. It is interesting to note that King has written three times about an evil female figure, and that all three times, the figure is associated with his ability to write.

    Just some interesting food for thought, if nothing else.

    To be concluded.


    1. Concluded from above.

      3. Believe it not, I do recall one famous author who has tried the same tactic as King with Bachman, and you’d never believe who it is. It turns out crime novelist Robert Galbraith is a nothing man invented by a woman named Joanne Kathleen Rowling. Maybe you’ve heard of her? If I’m being honest, though. I have to say the stories revolving around her fictional detective, Cormoron Strike, are quite bit more impressive to me than any of the “Potter” books. In fact, I remember thinking, “Oh, so you can write!” Take that for whatever it’s worth (which probably turns out to be not much, one way or the other).


    2. Just thought of one more thing.

      4. The one book by Ellison that I'm still curious about is a novel titled "Blood's a Rover". It's supposed to be a completed text that ties together a series of novellas, one of which is called "A Boy and his Dog", about this scrounger in a post-apocalypse earth, with a genetically engineered talking dog for his companion.

      It's one of those projects he keeps mentioning, and never delivering. Only Harlan knows how keep his fan-emies waiting all these years.


    3. 1. Well, nobody's mom ought to have to be subjected to beaver shots in order to be proud of her son. I'd have just told her I was still a teacher.

      2. They might be connected in that fashion. King has written plenty more evil women than that, though: Margaret White, Sylvia Pittston, Mrs. Carmody, the titular "Gramma," and (arguably) the woman in "The Blue Air Compressor" all come to mind.

      3. I wonder if Rowling/Galbraith was inspired by King/Bachman. I would not be the least bit surprised. and good call -- that's a perfect example!

      4. I've heard of that; I didn't know it was unfinished/unreleased. I've never read "A Boy and His Dog" (nor seen the movie), but would like to eventually.

      "Fan-emies"! That's an excellent portmanteau.

  6. I will also never understand why The Crate has never been collected. It's really good. His best? Not really, but a good deal better than a number of others that HAVE been collected.

    I keep thinking that one day, someone is going to get the rights to King's unpublished or unavailable stuff and release it under a title like "Before He was King" or "The Uncrowned King" or something like that. I'd pay good money for that one.

    1. I think there are ways to do that that would be cool. Optimally, it'd be with commentary from King. Do it as a limited edition for charity or something, so as to offset any semblance of trying to make money off of semi-inferior work; supplement it with "this is what I was like when I wrote this" type observations.

      He'd likely have no interest in such a thing, though.

      But I agree: such a collection is inevitable, even if it doesn't happen until after not only King but all of us, as well, are in the ground.

      As for "The Crate," man ... that's a real head-scratcher. I don't think it's his best, either, but I'd have it in the top 20% or so, I bet.

  7. First: Am I the only one who wasn't crazy about The Cat from Hell? It just seems like something any idiot could write.

    "Ever heard of this one? If so, sister, you have ascended into a rare atmosphere among Constant Readers. Welcome! You are among friends."

    Why yes, I have, thanks to a guy I know ;).

    I also agree that The Long Walk is well-written, but I had a hard time buying the premise. As I noted on my own blog, The Running Man took a similar premise but put it in circumstances where it made sense. The Long Walk expects us to believe a great number of healthy young men would sign up for a competition where the only way out is to win or die. The Running Man makes this idea less "sporting event" and more "reality show", plus it gives the protagonist more reason to enter than just wondering what it would be like to compete.

    1. "The Cat From Hell" isn't one of my favorites, but it's okay.

      I don't have TOO too much problem with the premise of "The Long Walk." I mean, I can accept shapeshifting clowns and possessed Plymouths, so why not that? It works for me, I think, because King gives you very little info on what the rest of the world is like. The implication in my mind is that the outside world sucks so badly that it created an environment in which people would plausibly sign up for something like this.

    2. Speaking of "The Cat From Hell," I have just updated that section to include some additional information I learned recently.

    3. I guess I sorta understand the idea that the world has kinda gone to hell, but I still think the Walk should be something people take because the only other choices are worse, not something people sign up for just to try it out. Even in the worst, most nihilistic parts of the world, people still have the will to live. If anything, it just gets stronger. If Garrity was on the Walk because completing it meant his mother doesn't get Squaded, okay. But had absolutely no reason to enter it, and every reason not to, plus I think the public's reaction to walkers would be more like watching a recorded trial, not watching a sporting event. The Walkers wouldn't be celebrated but pitied.

    4. Maybe by some. Maybe others WOULD celebrate them.

      The idea is that if you win the Walk, you get almost literally anything you ask for. I don't think it's that farfetched, certainly not within a fictional setting.

  8. Looking through Gunslinger-related stuff this evening - do you have a copy of that October 78 issue of TMFSF? It's conspicuously missing from all my google / ebay searches so far. I wasn't looking to grab it - I'm on a post-Christmas/as-long-as-I-can-hold-out buying moratorium - but just to see what it was going for. But I don't even see it for sale anywhere.

    1. I *do* have a copy! And it still amazes me that that is the case.

      Here's what happened. I'd long had the five F&SFs which contain the components of the first "Dark Tower" novel on my mental King-collecting wishlist. Not because I'm inherently cuckoo about having first appearances (although I am to some extent -- I can't deny that), but more because I'd always wanted to be able to inspect the differences between those initial versions and the first collected edition (i.e., the pre-revision version of the novel). Not that the differences are supposed to be all that massive; but this is a favorite enough book of mine that ANY differences are fascinating to me.

      Anyhow, pursuant to that being basically near the top of my wishlist, I'd occasionally look for the October 1978 issue just to see if I could find one which was relatively within my price range. Once I had that, I'd focus on the next, and so forth. My price range being about $100 per issue. Steep, and arguably irresponsible, but hey, what am I, NOT going to be me?

      So a few years ago, I went looking, and expected to find what I usually found: nothing within my price range. What I *actually* found, though, was something that makes me dizzy with glee to this day: a guy on eBay who clearly had no idea what he was selling. What he was selling was a lot of "Stephen King F&SF magazines," or something like that. So it included the February '78 one, as well as the October '78, AND the other four issues with Dark Tower material.

      I got ALL of those for about $100. I can't remember for sure, but I think there was only one other guy who bid on it, and I basically just head-shotted him at the last second. We were going back and forth in the waning moments of the auction, and it got past $50 or so, and I said to myself, fuck this, there is no way I'm missing out on this. So at the last second, I put in a maximum bid of something outrageous (I'm going to say it was $400 but don't hold me to that) under the assumption that he didn't think I'd go anywhere near as high.

      He'd clearly only put in $99 or so as his max bid, so I won it at the last moment for $100 or whatever it ended up being. I felt a *little* bad because the seller probably could/should have gotten way more for it. But his loss was my gain, and I've been jazzed about it ever since.

      Apologies for the long-winded answer, but I got excited and had to do it.

    2. Nice - and that's great! I don't know if eBay sellers like that exist anymore, but it seems there was a 10 year window where people were on eBay getting rid of stuff they had no idea the value of. I miss those days!

      ARE the cuts/ differences not that substantial? I've been googling teh topic and it sure seems like an awful lot (35 pages by his own admission, as well as practically every recognizable-subsequent-DT-reference) was added to the original. The change of "Maerlyn" to nameless Ageless Stranger, too, is significant in the ending palaver.

      I was hoping there was a TTITL side by side comparison - I could've sworn I read one, once, here in these pages - but googling that / searching your blog failed me. it could be, though, that my search-skills simply failed ME, so if you have such a thing definitely send my way, eh?

      Regardless: awesome pick-up and I'm glad to hear you ahve them! That's so cool you got ALL of them. (I bet King himself bought up all the extra copies and burned them all.)

      I'd love to own a huge set of TMFSF (as I mention up there way back in oct 2017) but like you say those things weren't built to be preserved over decades and decades, I guess, which is too bad.

      Magazines take up too much damn space, but I appreciate a good digital bundle. I should look for one. I imagine it's tough, too, because of rights and all.

    3. One thing I forgot to include in my anecdote -- one of the issues was in really rough shape due to water damage. So that may have kept some people from bidding who might have otherwise. But I was able to find a quality copy of that for $25 at around the same time. So I guess all in all, the collection set me back $125 plus whatever shipping was.

      A steal!

      "I was hoping there was a TTITL side by side comparison - I could've sworn I read one, once, here in these pages" -- You may be thinking about me discussing such a project with someone in the comments someplace. It's a thing that will definitely happen eventually. But it's going to be a huge amount of work, so whenever I can carve out several months to work on it...

      "Magazines take up too much damn space, but I appreciate a good digital bundle. I should look for one. I imagine it's tough, too, because of rights and all." -- If such a thing doesn't exist (and it probably doesn't), that's a shame. Maybe in the future, once everyone has figured out how to deal with rights issues like that.