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Reading Stephen King in a Castle

Posted by hlinfield on August 30, 2013 at 4:50 PM

I have always loved Literary Fiction. If it's been nominated for the Man-Booker or the Giller Prize, chances are I'll be interested in reading it. The authors I love the most, those I turn to again and again, are the Brontës, Jane Austen, D.H. Lawrence, and George Eliot.


Then there are the must-reads: Truman Capote, Kurt Vonnegut, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell, not to mention the great Canadian ladies: Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, and Alice Munro.


With all these on my reading plate I've never had much time for commercial authors like Stephen King. I'm even embarrassed to admit that I've looked upon his ilk with a small, very undeserved dose of snobbery.


While I was on a writer's workshop in Ireland however, I happened to walk into a little Dublin bookshop. I had just finished reading Mansfield Park (for the fourth time) and I wasn't particularly drawn to any of the indie-published works waiting for me on my kindle. When I saw a Stephen King book and a title I didn't recognize, I was intrigued. The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon looked more like a novella than a novel, and since it wasn't It or Misery or Carrie or The Stand or any other book that I'd already heard tons about, I picked it up and purchased it.

My B&B in Ireland happened to be an actual castle, with blackened stone walls and turrets. Portraits of past residents lined the hallways, darkened ominously with time and smoke from the fireplaces. Hallways zigzagged about the castle in a maze; nooks and crannies abounded. The heads of several deer and other hunted animals were mounted near the ceiling of the grand entranceway.

It wasn't exactly creepy, but it wasn't exactly the ideal setting for one's first experience with Stephen King either.


"What the heck am I doing?" I said to myself as I read in bed, growing more and more nervous for the young, lost protagonist as the thing in the woods grew closer and closer to her. I turned off the light and listened to the creaks and moans of the castle, a soft rain against my windowpane. Or was it rain? Were those creaks really just the ancient stone of the thick walls settling, or was it something else, something more sinister? Something more Stephen-King-like?


I turned on the light and the television. An Irish beauty pageant was on, one where young women of Irish descent from all over the world competed for the honour of being named the Rose of Tralee. Ten minutes of its silly insipidity was enough for me to shift my mind away from the thing lurking in the woods. I slept fairly well.


The next night I took out The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon once again, knowing full well it was a horrible book to read right before bed, but I began devouring it. As un-literary as his novels supposedly are, he evoked a feeling in me that no other author has ever done. True, the feeling was fear (and nervousness and anxiety and horror) but it was still powerful.


Later, as my eyes darted about in the dark searching for signs of a horrible monster with razor-like claws that might have been my own evil subconscious ready at every moment to leap out of my body and finish me off, I wondered why we, as a society, seem to give great story-tellers like Stephen King less credit than the 'literary' greats whose brilliant tomes most people can't get through the first five pages of.


I can't judge all of King's books (I've read just the one so far) but I presume that they don't really make any great statements about life and its significance, nor do they abound with symbolism and hidden meanings. But they ARE books that people want to read and now that I've read one, I can see why.


I'm looking forward to reading more Stephen King. (My book club is doing The Stand in a few months.) But when I do read his works I'll make sure that it's not too late at night, that I'm not alone, that it's not storming or raining, and that I'm not in a five hundred-year-old castle with creaky walls and stuffed deer heads in the foyer.

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