Big Stephen King was on his way home. Last leg of a whirlwind book tour. Seven cities in six days. All for his latest 426-page blockbuster Dead Zone. Now it was back to his wife Tabitha and the kids. Big Stephen King. Six-foot-three. Blue-eyed. Gangly-limbed with his thick square glasses and that goofy smile that can leave you uncertain whether he’s gonna laugh or bite. King sitting in first class on a Delta airline’s plane, just a hop and skip back to his hometown of Bangor, Maine. The tour had been a blast. Signing books (“Hope you enjoy this book as much as I did writing it!”), palm-pressing (“I’m your number one fan”), and talking about where he got his ideas (“Everywhere”).
King was tired (disconnected) like he’d been bludgeoned with pillows filled with some kind of low-grade knockout gas. Flump! Headful of cotton. King buckled up. The stewardess mimed her safety routine, smiled, counted heads, checked seatbelts and made sure tray tables were upright and folded away. The plane was on the runway. Taxiing for take-off. And that’s were it started to go wrong. The plane slowed down. Came to rest. Instead of taking off this big metal behemoth nosed around and headed back to the apron.
(“Oh, geez, we’ve got some kind of motor problem; this is just what I need.”)
But it wasn’t the engines, it was just a late boarder. Must be someone mighty important if they’re going to all this trouble. It was Ronald McDonald.
Ronald McDonald with his ghost white face, blood red lips, big red nose, goofy orange hair, giant flapping boots, and those Day-Glo clothes with buttons down the front. Ronald-Mc-fucking-Donald. King knew exactly where this sonofabitch was gonna sit. (Beep, beep!) “Because I’m a weirdness magnet.”
Ronald slumped down into the aisle seat next to King. (“Knew it.”) Ronald looked shabby. Smelled like day-old sweat, cigarettes, and cheap aftershave. He called the stewardess over and ordered a gin-and-tonic. It’s ten o’clock in the morning. The drink arrives with its little paper coaster. Ronald knocked it back. Then turned to King and said:
“I hate these whistle-stop tours. I just hate this. I almost missed this plane.”
The plane takes off. King’s going “Uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah, right” to whatever the hell Ronald is saying. The no-smoking light blinks off and Ronald, swilling his G & T with its ice cubes chinking, popped opened a pack of cancer sticks. He lights up and started breathing in a Kent. King was getting antsy. “What the fuck do you say to a clown?” Eventually, he asked:
“So, where did you come from?”
Ronald looked the great writer up-and-down considering if this was a question worthy of a full sentence or just a one-word answer.
Artist Butcher Billy took iconic love and heartbreak songs and reimagined them as if they were Stephen King horror novels. They’re actually quite amusing and it works, in my opinion. The title of this series is called “Stephen King’s Stranger Love Songs.”
I may never listen to these sappy songs the same way again as I’ll have these horror-like visuals in my head from now on.
Prints and t-shirts of Butcher’s work are available through Redbubble.
The operatic version was composed by Paul Moravec with a libretto by Mark Campbell. Moravec won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2004 for his work Tempest Fantasy.
The opera is an adaptation not of Kubrick’s movie but of King’s book—although the movie, firmly embedded in the minds of virtually everyone in the audience, will surely have an effect. As an example, the famous words “Here’s Johnny!,” shouted by Nicholson’s Jack Torrance in a moment of frenzy, is not in the novel and thus does not appear in the opera either. King has never had any affection for Kubrick’s version of his novel, so it’s noteworthy that the prolific author “maintained libretto approval and gave Campbell the green light 24 hours after receiving the final version.”
The Shining capped off the Minnesota Opera’s 2015-2016 season, with the premiere taking place on May 7, 2016.
The reviews have been respectful to more than respectful. In the magazine Opera News, Joshua Rosenblum was effusive about the production, saying that “Moravec proves to be a masterful musical dramatist.” He added that “Brian Mulligan does the seemingly impossible—he actually makes you forget Jack Nicholson” and that “watching Vega’s Danny step slowly toward the bathtub with the drawn curtain in the forbidden room 217 was as riveting as anything I’ve ever seen in a theater. “
Fun fact: Rosenblum did not mistype Room 237, nor did the librettist commit a flub—in King’s novel the locus of dread is actually Room 217.
If there’s one show that’s generating a ton of buzz right now, it’s the Netflix original miniseries Stranger Things. A lovingly-crafted homage to the 70s/80’s “Golden Era” works of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter, this show is inspiring the kind of love we haven’t seen for a TV program in a long time. Having heard so much good stuff about Stranger Things, I went into watching it with high hopes indeed. On paper this show is so my kind of thing that it’s not even funny: John Carpenter is my all-time favorite director. Stephen King is the guy who inspired me to write, and I can trace my obsession with movies back to formative experiences watching Spielberg’s films obsessively as a child.
So what could possibly go wrong? Well I have a confession to make: Having watched the show now, for the most part I found it… well… kinda boring. I certainly didn’t hate Stranger Things or anything but I definitely didn’t find it anywhere near as “awesome” as everyone else did either. I think it’s basically just… okay. For most of the viewing experience I had a nagging sensation of “Is this it? THIS is the show people are losing their shit for?!” But in truth anything that gets this sort of across-the-board, almost scarily uniform praise—like this particular show—it should raise suspicions.
And before anyone jumps in to tell me that I “just don’t get it!!“my fanboy credentials are more than sound. The fiction I write is horror with teen protagonists! From 2004-2008 I was part of the synth/prog group The Evil Eye, taking influence from John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream and soundtracking various short films including the 80s/video nasties-inspired web serial TV Face. On top of working on these things I am also a child of this era, so I’m as surprised as anyone that I didn’t love the shit out of the show. And trust me, I don’t wanna be The Grinch Who Stole Your 80s Nostalgia Buzz, either. Stranger Things has some serious problems that people seem willing to overlook in the rush to hype it up. So in the interest of fair and balanced journalism, I have put together a guide to what I find to be eight of the major flaws with Stranger Things.
Dare you taste the Hatorade?
1. Winona Ryder
Don’t get my wrong, I love Winona. She’s the beating heart of some of my all-time favourite movies. I’m a Veronica. But BY GOD did her performance do my head in! To the point where I zoned out whenever she was on screen. Her role as “Joyce” (and I had to look that name up, that’s how unmemorable the character was) never strayed from the single, overbearing note of “despairing mother.” Which is not necessarily Ryder’s fault as she was given so little to work with. Still, color me disappointed. I lay the blame for this squarely at the feet of the writers/creators Shawn Levy and the Duffer Brothers. Stranger Things’ characters were paper thin despite some great performances from the child actors. But the adults? From Winona Ryder to Matthew Modine, not to mention the oddly clueless suburban parents and the totally clichéd sidekick deputies… sorry. In the end it seemed like only Steve and Will were genuinely changed by what they had experienced.
But I was willing to forgive all that until it got to:
The treatment of Barb neatly sums up everything wrong with this show. I knew “who” Barb was before I’d even seen a single frame of Stranger Things, which is why I was expecting a lot more from this “beloved” character’s role. But the way they handled her storyline left a bad taste. [SPOILER] After her abduction at the end of episode 2, Barb gets, what, maybe three more mentions over the course of the next six hours? And in the middle of one child disappearance investigation, the disappearance of another kid gets completely and utterly overlooked by the police? Please! I’ve seen mention that this is a comment on the general lack of urgency placed on missing-girl cases (which IS a thing) but that’s retroactively applying something to the show that just isn’t there. Once Barb has served her purpose to the plot she’s basically forgotten about. I get the feeling that the show’s creators expected the audience to feel a lot more empathy for Barb than they ever showed her. Simply put, it was cheap and lazy. And her predicament left dramatically unexplored.
3. The Pacing/Plotting
Let’s be honest here, the pacing was wildly uneven. Long stretches—entire episodes, in fact—passed where the plot barely advanced a single inch. Perhaps this is another homage as Stephen King has been guilty of this kind of uneven pacing and self-indulgent mood-setting in his fiction. But when he has to, he can knock that shit out of the park. Much of Stranger Things felt saggy and repetitive. It’s clear the Duffer Brothers and Shawn Levy haven’t got a grip on writing episodic television yet. Compare the plotting to the 2013 conspiracy-adventure drama Utopia (a masterpiece in my opinion, and a benchmark for mystery-thriller-TV, written by Dennis Kelly.) Utopia covers roughly similar ground: a world-threatening government conspiracy is uncovered through a pop-culture cypher by a ragtag gang of geeks along with a mysterious woman with major ass-kicking abilities. The twists and turns of Utopia‘s plot in the first three episodes alone took the viewer deeper into an unpredictable, exciting story while serving up some boundary-pushing scenes. By contrast, the plot of Stranger Things only really seemed to get going by the end of episode 3, and rather than shock us or surprise us, every plot twist had an almost mind-numbing familiarity. Like how is Will hiding in the electricity? Oh yeah: Because Spielberg.
4. The Relentless Pastiche-O-Rama
It got bloody tiring! While I did enjoy the show in places, at no point did Stranger Things ever transcend its influences to become something truly great with its own unique voice. And that is something the films it references managed to achieve, lest we forget. The show instead relies on a checklist of “spot-the-cliché” (well-produced clichés, but clichés nonetheless.) Despite a couple of entertaining peaks, after the end credits rolled I was STILL thinking about Spielberg, King, Carpenter, Lucas, Craven, Cronenberg, et al, and not the actual story I’d just watched. This seems to be true of almost everyone else talking about the show, too, which says a lot. That’s the fundamental problem with pastiche: not only does it have to be as good as the classics if it’s going to constantly remind us of them, it actually has to stand apart from them too if it wants to eek out its own place in that canon. Otherwise the referencing becomes distracting and makes a viewer wish they’d just watched the originals instead. “We have consumed more 80s pop culture than you!” is really not the best basis for telling a story. It certainly never answered the question as to why I should use eight hours of my life to watch it when I could watch a quadruple-bill of ET, Close Encounters, The Goonies and Poltergeist. With still time for a lil’ Freaks & Geeks thrown in.
5. Eleven’s Psychic Realm
And this was the moment when the relentless pastiching just became TOO much for me. When it spilled over from cute into ugly. When it went from being a constant, wearying nag of “now where have I seen that before?” to “I know exactly where I have seen this before, and GROAN.” The direct lift from Under The Skin (like Utopia, another modern masterpiece) felt incongruous. Not for Under The Skin‘s adult themes or modern setting, but because that film worked so damn hard to take us out of our comfort zones and show us something unique and genuinely alien. Seeing that reflective-black-empty-world (NSFW) again in the context of a cozy-nostalgia-80s-synth-kids-horror-adventure was both jarring and annoying. It was also a hugely missed opportunity: seeing inside the mysterious Eleven’s mind (literally) could have been a chance for the Duffers and Levy to show us something awesome and bizarre and new, but no, they cynically opted for more lazy pastiche. Instead of investing in genuine character insight or visual innovation, we got yet another “have you seen THIS film?” wink-and-nudge reference. Boring!
Which brings me to:
6. The Monster/The Threat
I think we can all agree that the monster in Super 8 was rubbish, right? Both its design and its role within that 80s throwback felt off. But having said that, you have to give JJ Abrams this: at least his monster had an endgame. It had a motivation. A back story. Even a primitive logic. But the Stranger Things monster (as yet un-named, even by the fans. How odd!) had no sense of having its own life beyond being a plot device. Not to mention that its feeding rituals (dead deer or fresh humans?!) and appearances in and out of our dimension were so loosely sketched as to lose any genuine sense of creepiness. Vagueness can be cool if the audience is confident that behind the twitching curtain lurks something truly terrifying (The X-Files coasted on this approach for years until it blew it with a farcically convoluted mythos: We saw behind the curtain and it was just some greasy-haired nerd typing in his Mom’s basement.) In horror for “The Threat” to work it has to be fully realized. This wishy-washy threat never gets satisfactorily explored or convincingly/consistently deployed and this was obviously going to be the case from the first episode. (See also: It Follows.)
To top it all off I just wasn’t a fan of the creature design. The five-second scene of the melting head from The Thing blew it out of the water.
And speaking of John Carpenter…
7. The Score
Everyone’s going on about how fantastic the soundtrack—by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin-based synth quartet S U R V I V E—is. And I’m not saying that it’s bad. It’s certainly authentic sounding, which is good. But just one question—how does it go again? I can’t remember, can you whistle the theme tune for me please? The beauty of John Carpenter’s original synth-based scores was not just in the signature sound palette he managed to conjure up, but in the memorable melodies he lodged in our brains, melodies that came back to haunt us long after the credits had rolled. He’s also the master at using minimal music cues to build genuine tension. In contrast, some of the Stranger Things music cues were way too much. The pounding drums during the sheriff’s breaking in at the research facility didn’t make the scene more tense, it just became grating. One of the things that tripped the score up in my mind, was the inclusion on the soundtrack of some genuinely atmospheric synth masterpieces that put the original score in the shade. I’m thinking in particular of this, one of my favourite pieces by Tangerine Dream (that was used to accompany a fist fight scene?!?):
Which brings me to…
8. The Hype
Ah, the hype. The Stranger Things hype is the thing that is really pissing me off, more than anything actually featured in the show itself. To the point where I felt compelled to write this piece so at least there could be ONE dissenting voice out there to balance the (suspiciously universal) adoration for the show.
Authors hate it when filmmakers fuck around with their work. They see the word as paramount and everything else subservient to it. Take Stephen King. He hated it when Stanley Kubrick fucked around with his book The Shining. Which is surprising as Kubrick’s movie greatly adds to King’s novel.
King sweated a lot blood writing The Shining. The story was as much about the his own personal addictions as it was about some haunted hotel. I like King. I like King a lot, and think he’s due a lot more respect as a writer than he gets. And though I generally prefer King’s books to the films, in the case of The Shining I will always opt for Kubrick’s movie rather than for King’s book.
The reason is simple: Where King filled pages with backstory and character motivation—making everything neat and tidy and very, very explainable—Kubrick left his adaptation of The Shining open—allowing the horror to seep in.
Where King has a genius for storytelling and plot, Kubrick had a genius for making deeply intelligent, visually stunning, multi-layered films that only reveal the director’s full mastery of his art after successive viewings. If ever.
Barkeep, I’ll have a Jack and Coke.
The Shining is probably the most discussed and obsessed over movie Kubrick made—though maybe it’s run pretty by 2001: A Space Odyssey. Theories about the film range from coded confessions about the Moon landings to the “narrative of a murder” embedded in the film, to Kubrick’s interest in the Jungian duality of human nature—as seen through the set designs, motifs and parallel characters to a critique of history—the failure to learn from past experience—as the caretaker Hallorann explains to Danny in the film:
A lot of things have happened in this particular hotel, over the years, and not all of ‘em good.
Kubrick was fastidious in making The Shining. Originally scheduled as a seventeen-week shoot, the production went on for fourteen months. That’s around 200 filming days. According to the film studio, Kubrick shot 1.3 million feet of film—roughly a shooting ratio of 120:1. Most movies have a 5:1 or 12:1 shooting ratio—so you get an idea of justhow picky Mr. K was when filming.
Kubrick shot and reshot scenes time and again. There was genius at work in this seeming profligate madness. Jack Nicholson always gave a brilliant first take. Then Kubrick would ask for another, then another—anything up to one hundred takes before he was satisfied. This meant, Nicholson’s performance varied the longer the filming process went on. In the edit, Kubrick often chose the more over the top performances, which he then countered with one where Nicholson underplayed. The juxtaposition of two differing styles highlighted the growing split in Nicholson’s character—revealing the internal battle between good and evil. But let’s be clear—this was Jack Nicholson who supplied the performances, the raw material—not the director.
Kubrick used different psychological techniques to obtain the performances he wanted from his cast. He was particularly hard on Shelley Duvall, who he berated and criticized during filming—though Duvall delivered one of her most memorable performances. Much of Kubrick’s techniques was captured by his daughter Vivian Kubrick, in her documentary film The Making of ‘The Shining’—which followed Stanley Kubrick, Nicholson, Duvall, the other cast and crew members during the long interminable weeks of filming at Pinewood and Elstree Studios.
Shout Factory TV has given us an early Halloween treat by posting a twenty-five-year-old roundtable discussion from The Dick Cavett Show with Stephen King, George Romero, Ira Levin, and Peter Straub.
The discussion, in two parts, was originally broadcast on October 16 and 17 in 1980, shortly before Stephen King and George Romero began collaborative work on the film Creepshow.
King at that point was “the best-selling author in the world.” Romero’s greatest successes to that date were with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Peter Straub’s major accomplishment up to that point was Ghost Story, which would be adapted into a motion picture the following year. Ira Levin represented the old guard on the panel, having written Rosemary’s Baby in 1967 and The Stepford Wives in 1972.
The fascinating discussion takes place over two separate 30-minute programs. Personally, I could have watched another two hours of these guys talking about their work and inspirations. If you are a fan of any of these individuals, or the horror genre in general, the conversation is crucial.
The panel analyzes the appeal of horror, which Stephen King describes as a healthy way of exorcising the dark emotions of fear, aggressiveness, anger, and sadism in a harmless way. He calls it a way of “blowing off anxieties and bad feelings.” According to King, “You seek out the things that [as a child] scared you the most and you try to get rid of them.” Romero states that the success of horror is based on the ability to induce involuntary responses in the audience.
I find it reassuring to know that Stephen King has sold over 350 million books—not because it’s a sales target young hopeful writers might choose to aspire to or because the earnings probably keep Mr. King in a lifestyle the vast majority of us can only ever dream of, but because this incredible number means that most of us have probably read at least one Stephen King novel or story—or at worst have seen one of the numerous films based on his work.
350 million in book sales make Stephen King an ice-breaker, a conversation starter, a shared interest that connects people with whom we may have thought there was no common bond. Unlike the pitfalls of talking about politics or religion or whether your team is going to win the league (of course they will!), talking about Stephen King, or rather talking about books, brings us together through a shared pleasure of reading.
I was late to Stephen King but quickly made up for the lost time and have now read everything he has ever published. And like the other 350 million I have remained one of his “Constant Readers” through all his seasons whether good or fair or poor.
I’ve often posited the suggestion that Stephen King should win the Nobel Prize for Literature, which may cause some to be aghast, but why not? He has created a gallery of memorable characters; has written some of the more imaginative stories of the past five decades; and perhaps most radically King’s tales of terror have encouraged people to read, which in turn has nudged his readers towards other authors, other books, other ideas. Who knows—maybe one day it will happen—and wouldn’t that be a positive endorsement of those 350 million + readers?
For a man who has terrorized many an imagination it may be comforting to hear that Mr. King himself sleeps with the lights on to keep monsters away, as he explains in this his first “up close and personal” TV interview with Henry Nevison for UMO (University of Maine Orono) in 1982.
There are some amazing cinematic adaptations of Stephen King’s writing. There are also some… less impressive examples. This 1986 animated short, “Battle,” is not only a fine example of the former, it has the distinction of being the only Stephen King adaptation produced in the famously dark genre of Soviet animation. Based on King’s short story, “Battleground” (first published in a magazine in 1972, then compiled in his 1978 Night Shift anthology), the story is a classic revenge tale with a supernatural twist. A hitman is hired to kill a toymaker, and toy soldiers come to life in the murderer’s home to avenge their father’s death. Their artillery is tiny, but their warfare is relentless, and the hitman meets a brutal end.
“Battle” touches on the fear of the small, and “golem terror”—a sort of childlike anxiety around anthropomorphic objects and the irrational fear that they will become both animate and malevolent. You can see thematic similarities in both the third installment of King’s 1985 trilogy, Cat’s Eye, (where the titular cat protects a young Drew Barrymore from a tiny troll), and the brilliant “Amelia” tale from the 1975 TV movie Trilogy of Terror, where Karen Black is terrorized in her home by a Zuni fetish doll come to life. (A 2006 adaptation of “Battleground,” (starring William Hurt, and also quite good/intense), actually shows the Zuni fetish doll in the background of Hurt’s apartment multiple times as a sort of Hidden Mickey.)
The cartoon itself is a beautiful horror-noir, much of it done via rotoscoping, which gives it the fast-action fear it needs without sacrificing great animation. At any rate, you could definitely use it to scare children into putting their toys away, right?
After getting his ass whupped by the Losers’ Club in Derry, it would appear that Pennywise the Dancing Clown (“We all float down here…”) has made a sinister reappearance on the streets of Northampton, England.
Local police are investigating various sightings of clowns seen acting suspiciously on the local streets. Photographs of these Pennywise look-a-likes have been posted on a Facbeook page, Spot Northampton’s Clown.
Police are also trying to track two teenagers, who were similarly dressed as clowns, offering their services as painters and decorators.
Last Thursday, a woman contacted the police after the pair of clowns knocked on her door and offered to paint her window sills. The woman became suspicious after she noted they did not have any painting equipment with them.
The youths are described as having their faces covered with large amounts of white paint, and dressed like the evil clown from Stephen King‘s It!
More photos of Northampton’s sinister clown, after the jump…
Years ago a friend wrote me a story about how we all started talking but in doing so, stopped listening to each other. It was a short and simple story, adapted I believe from its Aboriginal origins, that also explained how our ears developed their peculiar, conch-like shape.
Like all the best tales, it began: Once upon a time, in a land not-so-very-far-away, we were all connected to each other by a long umbilical loop that went ear-to-ear-to-ear-to-ear. This connection meant we could hear what each of us was thinking, and we could share our secrets, hopes and fears together at once
Then one day and for a whole lot of different reasons, these connections were broken, and the long umbilical loops dropped away, withered back, and creased into the folds of our ears. That’s how our ears got their shape. They are the one reminder of how we were once all connected to each other.
It was the idea of connection - only connect, said playwright Dennis Potter, by way of E. M. Forster, when explaining the function of all good television. A difficult enough thing, but we try. It’s what the best art does - tells a story, says something.
It’s what Rod Serling did. He made TV shows that have lived and grown with generations of viewers. Few can not have been moved to a sense of thrilling by the tinkling opening notes of The Twilight Zone. The music still fills me with that excitement I felt as a child, hopeful for thrills, entertainment and something a little stronger to mull upon, long after the credits rolled.
Serling was exceptional, and his writing brought a whole new approach to telling tales on television that connected the audience one-to-the-other. This documentary on Serling, starts like an episode of The Twilight Zone, and goes on to examine Serling’s life through the many series and dramas he wrote for TV and radio, revealing how much of his subject matter came from his own personal experience, views and politics. As Serling once remarked he was able to discuss controversial issues through science-fiction:
“I found that it was all right to have Martians saying things Democrats and Republicans could never say.”
His work influenced other shows (notably Star Trek), and although there were problems, due to the demands of advertisers, Serling kept faith with TV in the hope it could connect with its audience - educate, entertain and help improve the quality of life, through a shared ideals.
As writer Serling slowly “succumbed” to his art:
‘Writing is a demanding profession and a selfish one. And because it is selfish and demanding, because it is compulsive and exacting, I didn’t embrace it, I succumbed to it. In the beginning, there was a period of about 8 months when nothing happened. My diet consisted chiefly of black coffee and fingernails. I collected forty rejection slips in a row. On a writer’s way up, he meets a lot of people and in some rare cases there’s a person along the way, who happens to be around just when they’re needed. Perhaps just a moment of professional advice, or a boost to the ego when it’s been bent, cracked and pushed into the ground. Blanche Gaines was that person for me. I signed with her agency in 1950. Blanche kept me on a year, before I made my first sale. The sale came with trumpets and cheers. I don’t think that feeling will ever come again. The first sale - that’s the one that comes with magic.’
Like Richard Matheson, Philip K Dick, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Serling is a hero who offered up the possible, for our consideration.
Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles, died yesterday, June 5th, at the age of 91. Bradbury was a colossus of modern fiction, writing everything form fantasy, science-, and speculative-fiction to comedy, crime and mystery. He wrote twenty-seven novels, several screenplays, most notably for John Huston’s film version of Moby Dick, as well as plays, and hundreds of classic short stories.
Bradbury was an immense talent, yet in the early part of his career, his success as a mass market “pulp” author often led critics to overlook the quality of his writing, and its seismic influence on others - his fiction formed the template for future speculative science-fiction and fantasy writers to follow. Bradbury had a beautiful, poetic and lyrical style of writing, most notable in Dandelion Wine, which made his authorial voice unmistakable.
Indeed the quality of Bradbury’s writing helped science-fiction out of the pulp ghetto into the hallowed groves of literature. Though most associated with that genre, Bradbury denied he was a science-fiction writer, instead claimed he was a fantasy writer whose work owed much to the traditions of classical literature:
“First of all, I don’t write science fiction. I’ve only done one science fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. It was named so to represent the temperature at which paper ignites. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see? That’s the reason it’s going to be around a long time—because it’s a Greek myth, and myths have staying power.”
Born in Waukegan, Illinois on August 22, 1920, Bradbury grew up in small town America - a world of dusty roads, with few cars, and tarmac avenues with old trolley buses ploughing the metal rails along main street. He also once claimed, in a BBC documentary, that his memory and experience was the source for much of his writing, and said his memory stretched back to his earliest experiences as a baby, being breast-fed in his mother’s arms.
He grew up reading books and watching Flash Gordon serials at the local cinema, and monster movies with Boris Karloff, while following the adventures of heroes in the early garish comics that later went on to deliver Batman, Superman and Tales from the Crypt.
“Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
Reading inspired his writing and Bradbury started his own fictions, eventually submitting short stories to pulp magazines in his teens - his first published story was “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma”, which appeared in the fanzine Imagination! in January, 1938. He received his first check of $15 for his story “Pendulum” (co-written with Henry Hasse) in 1941, when it was published in Super Science Stories. By 1942, he was able to have a career as a writer, writing stories for the various pulp magazines that were then available.
He progressed from stories to novels, with first big success being The Martian Chronicles, which was aided by a chance meeting with author Christopher Isherwood, who admired Bradbury’s work, and passed the book onto a critic who gave it a glowing review. From there, Bradbury had a career befitting the talents of such a great and marvelous man.
Bradbury’s influence has infused much of our cultural world - from films to comics, science to the imagined landscape of small town America, which is still very much as he described it in his fictions. Indeed, Bradbury’s vision of small town America was a precursor to Stephen King’s Castle Rock.
I greatly admire Bradbury’s work, and like everyone else grew-up reading his books, and regularly returned to them in my adult years. It seems as we grow older that all we reap is death, and this year has been a harsh harvest. Still, we should perhaps recall Bradbury’s line from Fahrenheit 451:
“Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made up or paid for in factories.”
Millionaire author Stephen King (who came from humble beginnings) on the Tea party, union-busting Republican weenies and why rich people like him should pay at least half of their income in taxes. Taped on March 8th at the “Awake the State” rally in Sarasota, Florida.
“And remember, when these people talk to you about it, if you like your weekend, thank a union guy. If you like a 40-hour week, thank a union guy. If you like a day’s honest pay for a day’s honest work, thank a union guy!”
Good on Stephen King. He’s a stand-up guy and a good American.
As a kid I spent roughly two hours a day getting bussed back and forth to middle school and when I wasn’t dodging apples, I had plenty of time to immerse myself in the then still-slim oeuvre of Stephen King. Carrie, Salem’s Lot and The Shining all made somewhat more tolerable the stupidity of my fellow riders, and gave my own outsider-ish existence if not heroic contours, then something just as good: the potential for them.
I mean, I knew I wouldn’t be bumping into migrating vampires or telekinetic prom queens. But say I did, and needed to save not just my ass, but the asses of everyone I loved, and even, what the hell, the asses of those apple-chuckers. In terms of how to make that happen, King’s books offered up a pretty persuasive set of blueprints.
Maybe more than King’s novels themselves, though, I remember being absolutely mesmerized by their covers, and spending many long moments at the local library (a frequent King setting) simply gazing at them. The artwork of those early hardcovers did a fantastic job of whittling core themes down into imagery that was as simple as it was evocative (see above).
If you’d already read the book, with just a glance at its cover, you could relive it all over again. And say you hadn’t read the book, the covers made you want to, like, immediately.
Well, fans of that early artwork can now skip the library and gaze at the more than 2,000 King covers gathered over at StephenKingShop. They’re arranged by title, and I find it particularly interesting (and saddening) that, with the advancement of years—and books—the elegance of the cover art grows less and less striking. And that’s especially true for the paperbacks. Don’t get me started on those “Signet” ‘90s!