Today is Stephen King’s birthday. It’s hard to overstate his influence on publishing and popular culture; if you grew up in the ’80s, his work was all around you. A new book was an event. Seemed like there was a movie or TV adaptation every few months.
I read his work for the first time when I was in 2nd grade – a few short stories from NIGHT SHIFT. The Bogeyman” really left a mark, and “The Mangler,” and “The Lawnmower Man,” which was a great title and absolutely nothing like the garbage movie that took its name.
Every now and then this subject comes up, and I’ll tell somebody I was that young when I got introduced to the writing of Stephen King, and they’ll look at me like I just told them I used to murder dogs and cats for fun. I think that’s such a weird reaction. It’s just bizarre to me that people think any work of fiction could be “too scary” for kids. I mean, it’s fiction.
After that, I read PET SEMATARY. I was surely too young to grasp a lot of what the book was really about, but on a purely primal level, it scared the absolute shit out of me, in particular the part about Timmy Baterman, killed in WWII then resurrected by his father in the pet cemetery, and also poor Zelda, the ill sister of the protagonist’s wife who wasted away in her bedroom. Those two sections stick with me to this day. They still send a chill up the back of my neck, just thinking about them.
From there I went on to THE STAND, and CHRISTINE, and FIRESTARTER. By the time EYES OF THE DRAGON came out in my 6th grade year, I had caught up on all the novels to that point and I stayed caught up for a few years (except for THE TOMMYKNOCKERS, which I haven’t read to this day, though not for any particular reason). After NEEDFUL THINGS came out, I just kind of stopped. Again, not for any particular reason. But I just stopped, and I didn’t really pick back up until 2008, by which time I was behind a ton. The man is prolific to an amazing degree.
His books scared me, but they didn’t scar me. I don’t think he’s the best writer of our time but I do think he’s the most significant and I know he’s the reason I got started. There’s a whole hell of a lot of writers that would tell you the same if they were being honest – that he’s the reason they got started.
I started reading Stephen King when I was 7 or 8 years old. I didn’t go crazy. I didn’t grow up to be a serial killer. I didn’t turn out anything other than just fine. And that, probably more than anything, is why I think kids ought to read whatever they want, ask questions, and figure it all out from there. A little intellectual curiosity never hurt anybody and it’s a damn shame too many people don’t encourage more of it.