Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 8 | Words: 2202
Reading Time: 10 Minutes

Stephen King’s simple definition for talent in writing is “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.†(Stephen King)

King is known to use writers and authors often as characters and the main protagonist is usually depicted to be practical and intelligent. But the main features of Stephen King’s works are that you will always find the stories to be explained so vividly that the reader can practically “see†the plot progress in his mind. Apart from the lucid imagination and vivid explanation, King often combines his own personal experiences to the stories making them highly realistic and readily believable though it has a supernatural element in it. Usually the location or the backdrop of his stories is regular, average everyday places adding to the realistic nature and detail to the story.  For instance we take a look at an excerpt from one of his works, The Green Mile:

              On the left side of the storage shed – again – there was life. Tools (all locked down in

             frames criss-crossed with  chains, as if they were carbine rifles instead of spades and    

             pickaxes), dry goods, sacks of seeds for spring  planting in the prison gardens, boxes of

             toilet paper, pallets cross-loaded with blanks for the prison plate-shop…

             even bags of lime for marking out the baseball diamond and the football gridiron – the  

             cons played in what was known as The Pasture, and fall afternoons were greatly looked

             forward to at Cold Mountain. 

            On the right – once again – death. Old Sparky his ownself, sitting up on a plank platform

            at the southeast corner of the store room, stout oak legs, broad oak arms that had

            absorbed the terrorized sweat of scores of men in the  last few minutes of their lives, and

            the metal cap, usually hung jauntily on the back of the chair, like some robot kid’s beanie

            in a Buck Rogers comic-strip. A cord ran from it and through a gasket-circled hole in the

            cinderblock wall behind the chair. Off to one side was a galvanized tin bucket. If you

            looked inside it, you would see a circle of sponge, cut just right to fit the metal cap.

           Before executions, it was soaked in brine to better conduct the charge of direct-current

           electricity that ran through the wire, through the sponge, and into the condemned man’s


The passage above is the description of a prison house in the novel, The Green Mile (pg 5).

Very often comparisons are made between Stephen King and many other writers writing suspense and thriller novels like Alfred Hitchcock. Its visible that, there are similarities in their works, for instance, Stephen King’s works, like that of Alfred Hitchcock’s are suspenseful, and gripping, often containing sexual tensions and detail to the characters in the stories. Both their stories often show a realistic ordinary background to the plot such as a prison house or a simple office or a courtroom and very often most of the stories have characters running into extraordinary circumstances. But just as there are similarities there also differences between their writing styles, for example, Hitchcock’s stories usually relies entirely on suspense and tension is build up in the plot as it progresses. Stephen King on the other hand, shocks us with depictions of violence and carnage and the story is usually driven by human emotions, like fear and hope. For instance, Carrie, provides a scene where the protagonist is mocked by her peers:

        It was becoming a chant, an incantation. Someone in the back-ground (perhaps Hargensen

        again, Sue couldn’t tell in the jungle of echoes) was yelling ‘Plug it up!’ with hoarse,

        uninhibited abandon.

      ‘PER-iod, PER-iod, PER-iod!’

       Carrie stood dumbly in the centre of a forming circle, water rolling from her skin in beads.

       She stood like a patient ox, aware that the joke was on her (as always), dumbly embarrassed

       but unsurprised. Sue felt welling disgust as the first dark drops of menstrual blood struck the

       tile in dime-sized drops. ‘For God’s sake Carrie, you got your period!’ Sue cried. ‘Clean

       yourself up!’


      She looked around bovinely. Her hair stuck to her cheeks in a curving helmet shape. There

      was a cluster of acne on one shoulder. At sixteen, the elusive stamp of hurt was already  

     marked clearly in her eyes.

    ‘She thinks they’re for lipstick!’ Ruth Grogan suddenly shouted with cryptic glee, and then

     burst into a shriek of laughter. Sue remembered the comment later and fitted it

    Into a general picture, but now it was only another senseless sound in the confusion. Sixteen?

    She was thinking. She must know what’s happening, she…

   More droplets of blood. Carrie still blinked around at her classmates in slow bewilderment.

   Helen Shyres turned around and made mock throwingup gestures.

   ‘You’re bleeding!’ Sue yelled suddenly, furiously. ‘You’re bleeding, you big dumb pudding!’

    Carrie looked down at herself.

    She shrieked.

    The sound was very loud in the humid locker room.

The above excerpt was taken from Stephen King’s novel, Carrie (2)

Stephen King’s stories all have a supernatural element in them, from paranormal psychic abilities to extraordinary powers of healing and his stories often leave its readers frightened, scared and shocked.

Usually, King’s protagonist in his story is shown to be a social misfit and this factor usually plays a big role in the protagonist being introduced to supernatural circumstances and the main plot of the story or in some cases, the character already has some extraordinary abilities which in turn make him/her an outcast among his/her peers when they come to know of his/her unique abilities.

Stephen King is said to have been greatly influenced by writers like Richard Matheson, H.P. Lovecraft, Bram stoker and John D Mac Donald.

King once related that he started writing horror fiction novels after reading the stories written by H.P. Lovecraft.

If we take a look at the psychological point of view in his stories, we find that most of the stories King writes is horror fiction, which uses fear. Fear is the basis for horror fiction and King brings out the dormant fear lying deeply buried in his readers’ minds. He uses his own fears to do so in his works. Horror is “one of the ways we walk our imagination” (King 218). “King has a talent for raising fear from dormancy. He knows how to activate our primal fears” (Nolan 222).

In his book, Thinner, Stephen King warns us not to underestimate anyone as we will never know what they are capable of:

                  But the figure stepped out between the two cars. Halleck was trying to get his foot off the gas  

                  pedal and put it on the brake, but it

                  seemed to be stuck right where it was, held down with a dreadful, irrevocable firmness. The

                   Krazy Glue of inevitability, he thought

                  wildly, trying to turn the wheel, but the wheel wouldn’t turn, either. The wheel was locked and

                  blocked. So he tried to brace himself

                  for the crash and then the Gypsy’s head turned and it wasn’t the old woman, oh no, huh-uh, it

                  was the Gypsy man with the rotted nose.

                   Only now his eyes were gone. In the instant before the Olds struck him and bore him under,

                   Halleck saw the empty, staring sockets.

                   The old Gypsy man’s lips spread in an obscene grin – an ancient crescent below the rotted

                    horror of his nose.

                   Then: Thud/thud.

                   One hand flailing limply above the Olds’s hood, heavily wrinkled, dressed in pagan rings of

                   beaten metal. Three drops of blood 

                   splattered the windshield. Halleck was vaguely aware that Heidi’s hand had clenched

                   agonizingly on his erection, retaining the orgasm

                    that shock had brought on, creating a sudden dreadful pleasure-pain … And he heard the

                   Gypsy’s whisper from somewhere underneath

                    him, drifting up through the carpeted floor of the expensive car, muffled but clear enough:


                 (Page 8 of 136 Thinner)

King’s work has been described as “the chronicle of contemporary America’s dreams, desires, and fears” (Ewing 222). “Though an inelegant writer, King impresses, finally, by virtue of his enthusiasm and self-confidence, and his faith in his own imaginative powers” (Lit. Criticism 237)

The novel, Cujo,by Stephen King, is more psychological than supernatural about a dog being his master’s worst nightmare. King usually begins his story introducing us to a middle or lower class American family in a small town, and then begins the journey into one of the character’s lives where he must defeat the irrational and restore his world to normalcy. King skillfully brings out the reality of his characters and is shrewd in dealing with the psychology of his characters. Gerald’s Game is one of the best examples of King’s ability to burrow into a person’s mind the book is based on women’s fears of rape, helplessness, and being alone.

The psychological changes in human behavior is best portrayed in Stephen King’s The Mist. The psychological changes of his fictional characters in the book are highly realistic and similar to that of real life human beings. In this book, we get to know how fear and misguided speech can make people do unspeakable things to each other and it mirrors with the human acts of suicide bombers, holy wars, Jews in concentrated camps, witch-hunts. It tells us of the dangers of faith and why the society should never base their values on prehistoric writings and the misguiding speeches of power hungry, attention seeking people. The following is an extract from the novel, The Mist (pg.69)

                     “Expiation!” shouted good old Myron LaFleur.

                     “Expiation … expiation …” They whispered it uncertainly.

                     “Let me hear you say it like you mean it!” Mrs. Carmody shouted.

                     The veins stood out on her neck in bulging cords. Her voice was

                     cracking and hoarse now, but still full of power. And it occurred to me that it was

                     the mist that had given her that power-the power to cloud men’s minds, to make a

                      particularly apt pun-just as it had taken away the sun’s power from the rest of us.  

                     Before, she had been nothing but a mildly eccentric old woman with an antiques

                     store in a town that was lousy with antiques stores. Nothing but an old woman with

                   a few stuffed animals in the back room and a reputation for

                  (that witch … that cunt)

                  Folk medicine. it was said she could find water with an applewood stick, that she

                       could charm warts, and sell you a cream that wouldfade freckles to shadows of

                    their former selves. I had even heard-was it from old Bill Giosti? – that

                   Mrs. Carmody could be seen (in total confidence) about your love life; that if you

                      were having the bedroom miseries, she could give you a drink that would put the 

               ram back in your rod.

              “EXPIATION!” they all cried together.

             “Expiation, that’s right!” she shouted deliriously. “It’s expiation gonna clear away this

               fog! Expiation gonna clear off these monsters and abominations! Expiation gonna drop

               the scales of mist from our eyes and let us see!” Her voice dropped a notch. “And what  

               does     the Bible say expiation is? What is the only cleanser for sin in the Eye and Mind

               of God?”

              “Blood. “

             This time the chill shuddered up through my entire body, cresting at the nape of my neck  

            and  making the hairs there stiffen. Mr. McVey had spoken that word, Mr. McVey the


             who had been cutting meat in Bridgton ever since I was a kid holding my    

             father’s talented.

            hand. Mr. McVey taking orders and cutting meat in his stained whites. Mr. McVey,


            acquaintanceship with the   knife was long-yes, and with the saw and cleaver as well.

            Mr. McVey who would understand better than anyone else that the cleanser of the soul


            from the wounds of the body

            “Blood … ” they whispered.

Mrs. Carmody  is a character here who mirrors the real life dictators and people who amass followers with their misguided speech usually based on the fear. The people isolated in the grocery store are driven to their limits and cannot explain the supernatural monsters they face, which changes them into the superstitious morally backward masses clinging onto Mrs.Carmody’s every word, except for a few people who still hold on to their rational thinking.

Stephen King succeeded in turning horror fiction which was a literary subgenre in the early eighties and turned it into a mainstream literary genre, entitled to have special course at American and British Universities. His contributions helped establish horror fiction into a class of its own from the subgenre it was.

What Stephen King did was he paved way for horror fiction genre just like Asimov paved way for science fiction genre and Tolkien made way for fantasy genre. Now new horror writers try to be “the next Stephen King†and that reflects on how much Stephen King has affected the modern society with his contributions to writing. Some people walk the well trodden paths and others make their own paths for the rest to travel and that is exactly what Stephen King did in world of Horror fiction.

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