What can you say about Stephen King that hasn’t been said a million times before? Bev Vincent’s ‘complete exploration’ recycles a lot of his 2013 work, Stephen King: An Illustrated Companion, but the little touches are what make this coffee table book worth picking up: sleek and glossy production, and a sheer enthusiasm for King that peppers the pages throughout.
Written with a wide-open style and a chipper slant, Vincent has crafted a readable, accessible chronicle of King and his works. He weaves quotes with prose to place you gently in the centre of King’s thought process and influences, while ‘interludes’ deal with the Bachman years, early poetry, his recent Hard Case Crime novels, and the interconnectedness of his universes.
Vincent sets the scene nicely, starting at the absolute beginning: we get a brief tour of King’s early life as a young fan forced to snatch snippets of horror where he could, his childhood yarns to amuse friends and family, and his short stories submitted to the likes of Famous Monsters of Filmland magnate, Forrest J. Ackerman. We’re also treated to more insight into King’s relationship with his wife and “ideal reader”, Tabitha, and her input on his writing. Not only did she save several pages of Carrie from the trash but she also forced King to change the name of ’Salem’s Lot because the original title, Second Coming, sounded too raunchy for her tastes. King’s youthful vigour shines through in these sections, buoyed by Vincent’s genial voice, and continues well beyond those early years. This is what has kept King’s name in the mouths of readers around the world: he’s managed to hold on to the joy and zeal for scaring people with the written word.
As you might expect, his earlier hits get the most airtime, particularly The Shining and It, while more recent efforts are lucky to get a few paragraphs. It’s disappointing to not get more in-depth on these. Only a select few of the later entries in the King canon get any real ink: 11/22/63, Lisey’s Story, Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome are the few that penetrate in the downhill stretch. There are no shocking revelations here, but just enough to perhaps make some people feel better about that disappointing ending.
It’s nice to see his entire oeuvre given some shine alongside his classics, which makes the book feel exhaustive — even if it’s about a tenth the size of your favourite King novel. There may be little new meat in Vincent’s tour through King’s work, but it’s an absolute pleasure to dip into, particularly in those early sections. Stephen King: A Complete Exploration of His Work, Life, and Influences is perfect for a keen reader or even for fans of the movies based on his works, and an excellent companion to King’s own words on the craft, On Writing.
18 October 2022