Fear Itself: The Horror Fiction of Stephen King edited by Tim Underwood & Chuck Miller. (Nonfiction Anthology, 1982/1984).

An interesting collection of insights into the horror master’s early career. There’s a warm yet probing introduction by novelist (and soon-to-be King collaborator) Peter Straub and a Foreword where King himself describes (in amusing and rather bemused fashion) how he became a “Brand Name” author. Then you get a dozen essays on various aspects of his work from a mixed bag of noted writers, lit critics/historians and filmmakers.

Most of the book was written before or during 1982 (the book’s 1st publication date). Accordingly, the book limits itself to study of the novels Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Stand, The Dead Zone, Firestarter and The Shining, as well as shorter works from that period.

But the last piece, a bibliography of the man’s work, was updated for the edition I read (hence the two dates) to include publications up to 1984. There may very well be still later editions with further info, but let’s go with the copy I have in hand.

As we all know, Mr. King has continued writing all the years since this book was assembled and is still immensely popular (deservedly so, I must add). But it’s interesting to me that critical interest (or even fascination) with King had already reached such a fever pitch that this book happened when he’d “only” had this comparative handful of books out. Obviously, it was apparent very early on that Stevie King was something special.

After Straub’s intro and King’s extremely readable autobiographic piece, Burton Hatlen (a writer and former lit professor of King’s) offers an essay on how/why unique aspects of King’s native state of Maine has shaped the author’s distinctive style and subject matter.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s article follows with evidence of the fairy tale and mythic elements in King’s work. Don Herron looks into why King is the only recent horror writer who CONSISTENTLY produces Best Sellers (as he has continued to do ever since). Fantasy Grandmaster Fritz Leiber describes his own reactions to King in “Horror Hits A New High” and Bill Warren focuses on the films from Mr. King’s work. Deborah L Notkin analyzes the humanistic tendencies in his books and stories, while Charles L Grant thoughtfully notes that King is seldom a writer of easy black/while (good or evil) fiction–but creates real characters with aspects of both (the ‘gray area,’ as he calls it).

Ben P. Indick finds King’s treatment of traditional supernatural themes somewhat lacking in originality, while admitting to his skill in other areas. Alan Ryan focuses on the Marsten House (a key element of ‘Salem’s Lot) in an examination of his use of atmosphere and setting. Douglas E. Winter’s “The Night Journeys of Stephen King” explores similar aspects of a number of his short stories and novels in detail. Filmmaker George Romero’s “Afterword” is a chatty. goodnatured and affectionate appreciation of his friend, as opposed to a critical piece. Then, as mentioned above, the detailed bibliography brings the book to completion.

It’s overall a quite interesting, occasionally provocative book.



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