Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Fantasy Class: Stephen King
Why does he rock so hard in those purple Converse, elastic-cinched-waist jacket and creeper-stache? This is just a sketch of a course that I've always thought would be one of my life's work as a teacher of literature. He's always been there for me as Constant Writer and this would be my preferred way of giving back as Constant Teacher.
Our staple texts would be On Writing, Duma Key, Lisey's Story, Misery, The Shining, Night Shift, and Carrie. I would be tempted to include the complete Dark Tower Series on the syllabus, but I think it would discourage interesting people from taking the class while encouraging maybe the wrong kind of people (i.e. those who think they already know everything there is to know) to sign up. As a compromise I would make constant references to the books with the hope of intriguing (if not shaming) those who have not read them to do so.
We'd have to start with On Writing to establish the man's story, and in part his aesthetic, though I think his works speak to that better than anything he says in On Writing.
Next, we'd move on to Night Shift, speficially the following stories, which I think all have the earmarks of the blue collar society in which King was raised:
"Graveyard Shift" Hall strikes me as a character close to Stephen King's heart: a "college boy" trying to make it in the world of blue-collar folks. Hall's latent obsession with the macabre is an obvious tribute to King's own dangerous aesthetic. In this story it leads to his death; in King's life, the terms were different, but the stakes were the same.
"The Mangler" is a fun piece colored by Ruth Pillsbury King's experience working a machine much like the one that becomes possessed by a demon in the story.
"The Boogeyman" boasts a narrator that is socially backward when it comes to the defining cultural themes of King's generation: namely the quest for greater civil rights for both women and blacks. I get the impression King got a lot of pleasure out of torturing this guy.
"Grey Matter" if only for the Maine dialect. This piece is a masterwork of voice. It also comments on alcoholism, a demon King himself was fighting.
"Sometimes They Come Back" is, I think, a comment on King's days behind a desk. More on this in Carrie .
"The Man who Loved Flowers" only because it proves you don't have to be gory to tell a horror story. In this case King describes the mania of a hammer-murderer without mentioning a single drop of blood. He also uses a pretty nifty bait and switch to get the effect of the surprise ending.
I'd probably stop with these stories, but would be tempted to include: "The Ledge" a brilliant suspense piece that seems to deal with class issues, "Strawberry Spring" for offering a brilliant take on the wicked Poe's unreliable narrator, and "Quitters, Inc." for just being really frigging fun.
We'd move on to Carrie in conjunction with the section in On Writing that corresponds with the writing of the piece. I find it fascinating that King's wife encouraged her husband to write a book based on the merits of a scene like the one found in the opening pages of this novel. The resulting conversations may be awkward, but I think this book was ahead of its time given the Columbine phenomenon and our heightened "bully" radar. Maybe we'd come to see it as a cautionary tale. Who knows?
The Shining and Misery would have to function as a kind of unconscious autobiography during King's darker days of substance abuse and his life-long fear that there may be something truly and inescapably damaged in his psyche.
I see Duma Key and Lisey's Story (and to a certain extent Insomnia) as autobiographical during the days after he kicked drugs and alcohol and after the near death experience of being hit by a van.