I can recall, very clearly, my first encounter with the macabre and ghastly mind of Stephen King.
With a ten-dollar bill in my pocket, my thirteen-year old self had once again been dropped off at the local used bookstore, free to roam while Mother dearest stood in line at the nearby butcher shop. Pacing the isles, already clutching two Agatha Christie classics, I was on the hunt; at the price of two bucks per paperback, that left me with at least six more dollars to spend. I jumped when I felt my cell phone vibrate in my pocket—I guess the line at the butcher’s shop wasn’t as long as I had hoped. Desperate to find at least one more homeless book to adopt, I ran doubtfully to the final section of the store, the Horror Shelf. There, I saw It.
No, not “it.” Literally, “It”, with a capital “I.” The chilling eyes of a seemingly childlike clown (who I would unfortunately know to be the infamous Pennywise himself) stared back at me, pleading me. At the price tag of four dollars, how could I resist?
How I wish I resisted that faithful day in the bookstore.
That summer, I read. In the morning, in the evening, outside, on my doorstep, at my grandmother’s house, on vacation, and even at sleep-overs (only when everyone else was in bed, of course), I read Stephen King’s “It”, all 1,000-plus pages. I was horrified, shocked, embarrassed, and by the time I reached the most offensive, distressing, and sickening conclusion to any story under my belt (those who have read the book will understand and whole-heatedly sympathize), I had lost my childhood innocence.
So why is it that I continue to pick up Stephen King novels?
As every library employee, fiction-lover, and stereotypical book nerd knows (all of which I am, by the way), the long-awaited sequel to “The Shining” made its debut upon commercial bookshelves last Wednesday. Stephen King’s “Dr. Sleep” promises to revisit old characters and explore new plot lines. Today, a week after its release, news of “Dr. Sleep” is still showing up on my Twitter feed. Obviously, people are excited about Stephen King’s new book, and I can probably tell you why.
It’s not that King is one of those rare, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors that inspire the theses of English majors. While his novels indeed have depth, they may not necessarily carry the same literary merit as “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “The Great Gatsby.” It’s true that his stories are compelling, that his character development is solid, and that his writing style is fluid. However, these elements alone don’t cause individuals to pick up one of his books.
Simply put, Stephen King has the rare ability to remind us that we’re human.
In a day and age overtaken by busy schedules, stressful jobs, piles of schoolwork, and mental pressure from modern society, sometimes we forget how to simply be human. We easily forget to laugh at stupid jokes, or to be proud of even minimal accomplishments. We forget to cry for the sake of others—with the mentality, “if one isn’t affected, why bother?” And perhaps most of all, we forget how to genuinely be afraid: we stress about being late to work, missing a paper deadline, spilling coffee on our blouses, or even missing an important call. We simply don’t have time to worry about demonic clowns or antisocial classmates who may be secretly telepathic (see “Carrie”). We, as intellectual beings, have forgotten the context of the word “fear.” Stephen King’s novels help us remember how to hold on to that crucial aspect of ourselves, an aspect that makes us human.
Granted, I would never, EVER recommend anyone to read “It.” However, after exploring more of King’s novels, I can honestly say that I have a better understanding of what “horror” really is—and how it’s a far cry from the challenges I deal with daily. I tell myself, “Why be scared? It’s only a meeting with my professor; it’s not like my soul is currently being corrupted by invisible evil forces, and that I am doomed for eternity (see “The Tommyknockers”).” I go about my day with confidence, telling myself, “This isn’t a horror story, it can always be worse; make the best of the situation while it’s still tangible.” I have become a better person because of the Terrible Stephen King; I, as a young college woman who is preparing to enter the whirlwind of modern society, remember how to distinguish fear from life.
So, love him or hate him, let’s take this moment to celebrate the release of “Dr. Sleep,” and celebrate the gift of being mortal, the gift to be able to feel—the gift of being human.
Mr. King, while I highly doubt that I will ever understand you as a person, I have one thing to say:
Thank you for always reminding me that I am a genuine human being.