Monday, 26 August 2013

For The Love Of Stephen King

It isn't cool to like Stephen King. Even he has a bit of sense of humour about his reputation, saying in the foreword to Bag of Bones:

"I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries"
But I have always loved his work. When I say always, I'm talking about from my very early teens. I started reading "grown-up" books when I was about 9 or 10. I remember devouring Jurassic Park in the weeks before its release. I must have been no older than 12 when I read my first Stephen King.

I always want to say that the first Stephen King book I read was "It" but I know that is just my traitorous mind desperate to create a narrative with "It" (my favourite book) at the centre. If truth be told it was probably Salem's Lot or Pet Sematary that I read first (the thought of either always brings to mind the smell of a musty old book, mainly because I mainly read second-hand, quite unloved books when I was a kid).

As neither of those books are in my very own "Best of Stephen King" countdown I'm not sure what made me continue to read his stuff. Perhaps it was just a childish glee at reading "forbidden" books that kept me going.

When I was about 14 I had a few days off school with the flu. With Alanis on in the background I devoured "The Tommyknockers" and I think that was when I fell in love with King. My other half has said in the past that he can't read King because King can spend 12 pages just describing a chair in a room, with a detailed history of everyone who has ever sat on it. This is, of course, somewhat of an exaggeration but the truth is that King does give life to characters, buildings and objects that might not seem all that important. He makes them real. He gives them a history.

In "It", for example, Dorsey and Eddie Corcoran's lives (character's who really only needed to die) are fleshed out to point where you feel like you understand Eddie and feel genuine sadness when he is murdered.

Of all the authors I've read (and I did get over my obsession eventually and read authors other than King, starting slowly with Dean R. Koontz and then heading out in ever increasing circles until I found myself miles away from the safety of the horror section in Waterstone's) King seems to "get" the "inner voice" of his characters. Their motives, their obsessions, their quirks and their inner darkness (and inner light) are spot on for how I see people act out here in the real world. His exploration of the things people do but never talk about (sexual exploration, spiteful little acts of revenge or hate etc) ring so true. His grasp of human nature is second to none.

His heroes are always flawed. And sometimes things get complicated. The way the people of Haven react to Ruth Merrill's inability to fully convert into a Tommyknocker and her reaction in turn to them is heartbreaking. She sacrifices herself to warn the world of the horror that awaits, but it is so much more complex than that.

His writing is better when it is constrained, I'll admit. His short stories (for instance the recent excellent e-book Mile 81) are sometimes so good that I actually start to ache as I near the end.

But what I really love, and identify with, in his books is the yearning for things that are gone. He truly captures both the pain of having a loved one die and the longing for a past that can never be relived. This sense of yearning that prevades many of his books is what really dovetails with my own feelings (given I live half in the past).

Stephen King's work might be considered populist guff worthy only of the proles. But Hell, I'm happy to be a prole if I get to spend some time with the sort of people who populate the works of King. Good but flawed people, with histories and prejudices. Dolores Claiborne, Jake Epping and Ben Hanscom are the sort of people I wouldn't have minded having a drink with.

Friday, 2 August 2013

THE 50th Anniversary Of The Year Draws Near

Doctor Who? Hell no. That is in November! I'm referring to an equally momentous Golden Jubilee marking 50 years since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby published the first issue of The X-Men.

I got into the X-Men around the time I got into Doctor Who. All my friends at school were collecting the Fleet X-Men card sets and, being easily lead, I soon joined them. I'd seen the X-Men cartoons, of course, but it was really those card sets that started the real love affair. The sheer diversity of characters appealed to me and it wasn't long before I'd discovered Whatever Comics in Canterbury.

And thus an on again, off again relationship began. I went through periods of devouring X-Men comics, old and new.

There is no point in pretending that the "mutant coming out" stories and the "oppressed minority" subtexts didn't appeal to me greatly. And the characters were interesting and easy to fall in love with. The Beast and his sarcasm but underlying deep and powerful love of science and mankind. Storm and her thoughtful nature and powerful anger. How could you not love them?

Right now, in its 50th year, X-Men is having one of its best runs yet. Wolverine and the X-Men, though slightly knocked off course by the AvX summer event last year, has refound its feet and is back to being hilarious and quirky. All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men have taken off brilliantly and I can't wait for the next issue of each. Bring the original 5 X-Men forward in time to see what they've become was an excellent way of exploring the original characters in a new and interesting way. Plus next year we have Days of Future Past coming out in the cinema which will be something to behold.

As we prepare for the 50th Anniversary spectacular story "Battle of the Atom" (though I'm slightly disappointed the future X-Men featured arent't the X-Men 2099, missed opportunity [especially as Spider-man 2099 is back in continuity]) I'd just like to say THANK YOU to everyone who has made the X-Men such a fantastic franchise, full of rich characters, interesting stories and excellent analogies for modern day issues.