Today was an exciting day for Stephen King fans… The film adaptation of The Dark Tower was released. Now I haven’t read this particular Stephen King book yet, but I’ve heard so many good things about it I think I’m going to have to. I’ll be very interested to see how the screen version is received, but with such a strong cast, I’m sure it will do well.
So in honor of this momentous occasion, my Friday Favorites post on my Facebook Author Page was about favorite Stephen King works… books, short stories, film and TV adaptations, and it got me thinking… Why do we love his books so much? Well here’s my theory, and I think it may be the truth… We love his stories because they are REAL. No, I don’t mean they really happened, and certainly the supernatural is a powerful thread through all of King’s works so I’m not talking that kind of real… what I mean is they have strong roots in reality… it’s what makes them so easy to get into, and it’s what makes them so terrifying and suspenseful.
Take, for example, Cujo… This tale of a family trapped in their car by the insanely rabid dog-next-door tapped into very real fears that many people have… fear of large dogs, fear of being trapped, relentless pursuit… and put them together in one story. There was also the added element of consciousness to the dog, the implication that, in it’s rabid rage, it was deliberately terrorizing the mother and child. By taking very real world and natural occurrences and fears, turning up the volume to 11, Stephen King created this extremely terrifying and memorable story that affected readers and viewers for decades.
One of my favorite books and films was Dreamcatcher… Though it got some flack in the press, I found it entertaining and satisfying. Here, King once again took simple real life elements… the bonds of friendship, natural instincts… and created a story of four young boys who make the choice to do the right thing, to adopt the differently-abled “Dudditz” into their little group, a choice that sets them on a path to discovery and destiny, to realizing their own abilities. By using the plot element of parasitic disease, something that we as humans find very frightening, he was also able to bring in the real life terror that can occur when outbreaks happen and the government steps in.
All of King’s books reach out for those real life feelings and situations… from the death of a child in Pet Sematary to the psychological effects of loneliness and bullying in Christine and Carrie… Many other writers and creators have taken a page from King’s example, using real life situation, upping the ante, and communicating real truth. A couple examples that instantly come to mind… first, Michael Crichton. Using science and technology as his starting points, Crichton turned up that volume, asking the most important question of science that is reiterated by Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park:
And there in lies the horror of Michael Crichton’s stories… science pursued for science’s sake, and we reap the repercussions.
Another great example was the world created by Joss Whedon… the world of Sunnydale and a certain vampire slayer. Here, he took the same kind of angst we see in King’s Carrie and Christine, added some supernatural creatures and elements, and we got Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like all these others, Buffy was relatable because of its authentic roots in the ordinary.
It’s a formula I used myself in my Bloodline series, taking science, history and medicine and using them to “realize” werewolves. The plausibility of viruses and neo-Nazis and documented history allows you to suspend disbelief and, even if only for a moment, believe that werewolves really are running around in New York City.
Whew! This was a long one… and somewhat rambling… but kind of fun, too. Let me know what you think everyone!!! 🙂