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Monday, August 19, 2013

"Special Thanks To Stephen King"

For many years now, I've freely admitted to enjoying reading books written by Stephen King. No, I am not one of those fanatical types who has purchased and read every single one of his books. I have read many, however, and even though my husband finds King to be "too wordy," I appreciate King's ability to delve into the minds of his characters. He creates a history and personality for them, and lets us know what it is that makes them tick, whether they be a hero or a villain. Many of his books are scary or disturbing or thought-provoking. I have believed for years that the reason he is so easily able to frighten people is that he can look at the commonplace and see that it has potential to be very frightening. 

I find it amusing that there are so many people who say they would never read anything so common or lowly as a book or story written by Stephen King. (These same folks probably have all kinds of trashy books at home, but if it makes them happy, who cares?) But I have to wonder...if nobody is reading his work, why have over 350 million copies of his books been sold? Are people simply afraid that if they admit to reading popular literature, they will seem less intelligent to others? "Oh, no, not me! I would never read books by Stephen King or Dean Koontz or any of that popular trash. I only read the classics. I read to improve my mind." Whatever! I think that reading all kinds of different things can stimulate a person's mind and expand their horizons. And I'd love to quote Mark Twain to all of these snooty, holier-than-thou readers. Twain famously said, "Classic. A book which people praise but don't read."

As I said earlier, I haven't read everything by Stephen King. For instance, I am not a big fan of the fantasy genre, so I haven't read any of the Dark Tower series of books. There have also been some that have just not clicked with me. Insomnia, for example, seemed to me to be the perfect cure for sleeplessness when it was published. (Sorry, Mr. King!) When my oldest sister told me what a great book it was, I soldiered through it. But I will tell you honestly that I really don't remember very much about it, sadly. Does that imply some fault on the part of the author or the reader? No! Do I think it is a bad book? Absolutely not! Every one of us is multifaceted. There are plenty of other books he has written that I absolutely adore. 

People sometimes ask me how I can read something as scary as a King book. I have two replies. One is, "Have you read any Dean Koontz lately? He's way too creepy for me." The other, a variation of a line from the movie Steel Magnolias which Trent says to me, is that my whole life has been an experiment in terror. Actually, a big part of it is something very simple, and a conclusion I came to many years ago. Monsters like Godzilla and various aliens, werewolves, and other mythical creatures that go bump in the night, or the daytime, aren't the scariest things around. The scariest things are other human beings. Alfred Hitchcock had it right when he decided to make a film based on the novel Psycho. Murderous people are all too possible and real. Hitch said that the scariest person around is the one you'd want to bring home to meet your mother. Think about it for a moment. Who's really more scary, the Freddy Krueger who appears in dreams, or the handsome Ted Bundy who so easily lured women to their deaths? Just saying...

What prompted me to write about this tonight is that we turned on the tv this evening and started watching The Shawshank Redemption, which is not a scary movie. I had read the story on which the movie was based, so I was more than pleased to go see the film when it was released. There I was, sitting by myself in a moderately full theater, with my greasy popcorn and icy-cold drink. I drank in the movie and all of the moments of sorrow, humor, hope, and beauty. I laughed at some moments and cried at others, and enjoyed it immensely. When the movie was over, I continued to sit through the credits. This is something I got from Gram, who always said that the credits were important. Every one of them was someone's child, and someone, somewhere, was proud to see their child's name on the screen. 

The couple who were directly in front of me, a very scary-and-tough-looking biker dude and his equally scary biker chick, were watching the first part of the credits as well. The words "Special thanks to Stephen King" came on the screen, and Ms. Scary said, in a voice dripping with disdain, "Thanks to Stephen King?! Why? What are they thanking him for?" See, even scary biker babes can consider themselves far above reading trash like Stephen King writes. And then, of course, my mouth ran away from me, as it occasionally does. I leaned forward and said, "Excuse me. I overheard you asking about the special thanks to Stephen King. Actually, this movie is based on a story he wrote called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption." Meanwhile, my brain was saying, "Nice move! enjoy getting your butt kicked." But the Scaries were surprised to learn the origins of the story, and thanked me for letting them know. They told me they would never have guessed it was a story by King. All was well that ended well, and I had something extra to talk about if anyone asked about the movie. To this day, every time I see it, I think about the people in the row in front of me. And wonder if they ever started reading anything by Stephen King!