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A Few Bones to Pick with Stephen King!

Truth can be a sneaky son of a bitch. It likes to get you when you're not looking.

The truth is, I owe a lot to Stephen King. I'm a huge fan, and more than that, King was one of the writers who made me want to write myself when I grew up. A friend gave me a copy of 'Salem's Lot' in 1976. As soon as I finished, I picked up 'Carrie' in a used book store, the only thing he'd written earlier. Since then I've read just about everything he's written as soon as it came out in paper. I mean, I like the guy, but I'm not a hardback fan. I think a bookcase full of King in hardback looks just a little bit dorky, like leaving your Advanced D&D monster manual out on the coffee table. I know a lot of people who do both, and nothing against them, or you for that matter. Different strokes for different folks. It's just some people's strokes are really dorky, that's all.

There are one or two things of his I haven't read. 'Cycle of the Werewolf' pissed me off enough to skip it by only coming out in expensive trade paper. I passed on some of the Richard Bachman stuff because having read absolutely everything written by Stephen King is kind of like having watched absolutely every episode of 'Star Trek: Voyager'. There's being a fan and then there's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

King feels to me like an old friend I've known my whole life. I bet he feels that way to a lot of his readers, and I bet that causes him a lot of problems security-wise. If you're reading this Steve-o, you don't need to worry about me. The folks who show up on your lawn own all your stuff in hardback and have read all the Richard Bachman books. I know we're not friends, you just write like we are. I think that's what makes you so popular, and if anything, you're critically underrated because the New York Review of Book et al does not care for the great unwashed.

But here's the thing about your old friends. You get to know what sucks about them real well. All the ticks and smells that, in small doses are charming, can become downright irritating when you've been friends for a very long time. That's what this article is about. Some of the things that piss me off about Stephen King.

LENGTH

There are lots of ways to measure a book's worth, but how good they'd be as a tool with which to stun beef prior to slaughter isn't one of them. I know, I know, when you really like a book you just wish it could go on forever, but that doesn't mean the author should oblige you. Honestly, It's not so much the word count I'm criticizing here as the often lengthy inclusion of events that maybe, just maybe, might have stayed in the first draft.

Here's an example from 'It', one of my favorite King novels. Near the end of the book, in what appears to be an attempt to create a sort of mystical solidarity, four pre-teen boys have sex with a pre-teen girl. In a sewer. And it's... spiritual.

Multiple pre-teen boys. One pre-teen girl. Sexual intercourse. In a sewer.

In one way, this scene is a real testament to King's artistic integrity, because surely SOMEBODY in the world of publishing MUST have said "STEVE, spiritual or not, even a huge best-selling author can NOT include a PRE-PUBESCENT SEWER ORGY IN HIS BOOK!" and yet there it is, in all it's sewagey glory. He could have cut a page or two off the heft of an already very long book and left me feeling a lot less icky. Several people I know who've read the book don't remember this scene at all, which I think shows just how just how wrong it is. It seems to create suppressed memory syndrome. I mean just how do you forget a scene where a little girl has sex with four little boys IN A SEWER?!

Another example of King's tendency to go on longer than absolutely necessary is the novel "Cujo". Not, you know, any particular part of it, so much as its existence at all.

THE LANGOLIERS

This entertaining novella can be found in King's anthology "Four Past Midnight". I liked it a lot. ABC made a TV movie of it in 1995 that was so bad, several people watching actually tore their own heads off, which turns out to be physically impossible. Adding insult to injury, a 'Langolier' turns out to be a big, black Pac-man with lots of teeth. Sort of like if the alien Venom symbiote from Spider-man said "Why attach myself to a cool superhero when if I slime my way into that Pac-man console over there I'll come out as a wicked bad... black... dot... with teeth... and shit."


You know how still photos of special effects often look way worse
than the actual effects? In this case they look considerably better.

REPETITION

Here's a cool game you can play with any Stephen King book. See if you can spot the phrase he's going to repeat over and over and over and over and over the very first time he uses it. WARNING: While tempting, DO NOT make this into any kind of drinking game. There's a thing called alcohol poisoning and the word on the street is it's a very unpleasant way to die. Take my word for it. Because the truth can be a sneaky son of a bitch. It likes to get you when you're not looking.

THE MOVIES

There is no getting around the fact that somebody will make a movie out of one of Stephen King's grocery lists if he can figure out a legal way to do it. When they finally do, chances are it will be better than 'The Langoliers'. To say 'The Langoliers' is a bad movie is an understatement on the level of saying "Remember that time a yellow-jacket flew up the leg of my shorts and stung me repeatedly in the sack? That was certainly unpleasant."

For every 'Carrie' there are fourteen or fifteen made for TV 'Salem's Lot' mini series, an effort so bad David Soul is in it.


Nothing good ever started with this sentence.

Now there was time early in his career when Stephen King was neither fantastically wealthy nor incredibly powerful. If someone came to me and said "We'd like to make a movie of one of your crappy little comedy articles and we'll write you a big check, but after that we can do whatever we want with it" I'd say, "How quickly can you write that check?" But if people kept making movies of my crappy little comedy articles, one after another, several per year, and I started getting paid in the millions of dollars not only for each movie deal, but FOR THE ARTICLES THEMSELVES, at some point, I might say, "You know what, though? Is this movie you're making guaranteed to suck with the kind of force usually associated with a collapsed star? Because I'd sort of rather it didn't and at this point I can't even tell when I get richer, and also, the world doesn't need another screechingly bad movie, especially one that might feature over an hour of footage of Dee Wallace Stone trapped in a car by a big, drooly, possessed saint bernard, or worse yet, David Soul!"

THE SHINING

I bet that whole last paragraph you were saying to yourself, "Hell, I hate David Soul as much as the next guy, but what about 'The Shining'? THAT movie kicked ASS!"

Indeed it did. For my money, Stanley Kubrik's 'The Shining' is one of the best horror movies ever made. The "Heeeere's Johnny!" sequence has become a culturally iconic moment, for god's sake!

But Stephen King, without whom there would be no "All work and no play", doesn't care for Kubrik's version. In fact, he disliked it so much, 17 years later he authorized a made-for-TV version made years later over which he exercised considerable creative control. It's not a bad movie. It doesn't have David Soul in at all and it's more true to the novel than the Kubrik version, but that's partly the problem. The aspect of the novel that it's very, very faithful to is the subtext. The dad's a good guy, but he's an alcoholic, and the evil the booze brings out in him is stronger than his heart. Now that's fine as a subtext on which to hang an extremely cool haunted hotel. But, you shouldn't forget that 'The Shinning' is about AN EXTREMELY COOL HAUNTED HOTEL!

I think King's TV version is proof that being 'In Recovery' is almost as bad for artists work as being a massive drug addled drunk.


Step 1: Admit you have a problem.

On the other hand, six hundred some odd pages of 'Cujo' make a powerful counter argument. Truth can be a sneaky son of a bitch. It likes to get you when you're not looking.

FARTING

Any given character created by Stephen king passes more gas than the combined efforts of all the fictional characters created any other author over the course of their entire career. They also vomit, belch and pee themselves a little when laughing WAY more often than characters written by anybody else, but it's nothing compared to the constant flatulence. If King's character's actually existed, they'd be responsible for a measurable portion of green house gas emissions on this planet. And while it's true that all real people fart, it's just as true that in fiction you don't need to write it down every single time it would happen if the people were real. Truth can be a sneaky son of a bitch. It likes to get you when you're not looking. And we all have to stop looking sometime, don't we? We do. Oh how we do.

DEAN KOONTZ

It's a bit of a stretch, especially since technically Koontz started publishing earlier than King, but I have this theory that if Stephen King fans didn't need something to read in the handful of minutes between finishing King's latest novel and the next one being published, Koontz would still be relatively unknown.

THE LANGOLIERS

I forgot to tell you that it has Balki from 'Perfect Strangers' and that's the best thing about it. The great Dean Stockwell is in it, which means he either lost some sort of bar bet or has a drug habit the size of a bull moose. Kate Mayberly, a child actress who was amazing in the 1993 version of 'The Secret Garden', plays a blind child so woodenly one can only assume the director told her that blind people are made out of wood. It's the truth! And I think we ALL know what they say about the truth being on the sneaky side and getting you when you're not looking, right? And BLIND people NEVER look!


"Do these glasses make me look blind?"

THE LANGOLIERS

Okay, on a scale of one to ten, this movie is worse than getting hit in the nuts with an alligator that's eaten nothing but crack for a month. And that, my friend, is the god's own truth.

And you know what they say about truth.

With the sneaking and the getting you and all.

When, you know, you're not...

Like...

Looking.

-Max Burbank
 


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If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out:


A Critical Analysis Of "It's The
Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"

AND


Why We Like Horror!


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