Authors: Stephen King

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

Author

September 21, 1947

Portland, Maine

Biography

Stephen Edwin King is one of the most influential American writers of horror fiction of the latter half of the twentieth century; he is certainly the most popular. He was born in Portland, Maine, on September 21, 1947, to Donald and Ruth King. He graduated from the University of Maine in 1970 and married Tabitha Spruce in 1971; King and his family settled in Maine. Before achieving his position as the dean of American horror fiction, King supported his family by working as a janitor, in a laundry, and in a knitting mill. He later taught high school English and was writer-in-residence at the University of Maine at Orono from 1978 to 1979.

King’s first novel, Carrie, was an immediate hit and was made into a 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek. From this first novel King established himself as a master of horror, but with the blood and terror operating on a controlled level during most of the story. This repressed mayhem and terror actually adds to, rather than diffuses, the general sense of dread experienced by readers. In Carrie King also takes up a theme that will recur in most of his later fiction: horror on the home front. Rather than sending his readers to exotic, unreal lands to meet demons and monsters, King prefers to let the terrors out of the kitchen cupboard; his horrors spring from the everyday lives of common people. This matter-of-factness and almost mundane quality enhance the shock value of the horrors once they begin to occur. For example, in Carrie, the psychokinetic vengeance that the unhappy Carrie unleashes on her tormentors at her high school’s spring ball is released because she has been the butt of their ridicule for a long time. When she reaches her breaking point, all hell literally breaks loose.

Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store.

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Stephen King, American author best known for his enormously popular horror novels. King was the 2003 recipient of The National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Taken at the 2007 New York Comicon.

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In another early novel, The Shining, King sets his demons loose in an isolated mountain retreat where a blocked writer has gone with his wife and small son to find the solitude he needs to get on with his writing. King again takes an ordinary group of people and puts them in an impossible situation, one in which the psychological pressures of the father’s writer’s block almost press the ghosts, demons, and other terrors from the inn’s woodwork. As in most of his fiction, once the father’s personal demons begin to tear free of their shackles, King indulges his taste for the horrifyingly graphic description of the blood, gore, and violence that shakes the family.

Besides being a gifted writer of popular horror in the tradition of H. P. Lovecraft (a writer whom King admires) and Edgar Allan Poe, King is an adept weaver of stories of childhood, but a childhood full of the terrors that most children experience only in their worst nightmares. In King’s novels the bogeyman does not vanish when the light comes on; he stays and terrifies child and adult alike. King seems to be saying that the horror waits for everyone just beneath the phony surface sophistication that people prefer to believe they can maintain, even in the face of the nameless terror waiting in the closets of childhood bedrooms. That is certainly the case in such King novels as It, in which a terrifying reptilian bogeyman lurks in a small town’s sewers, slithering out at dusk to capture children by enticing them to follow the shapes out of which their daydreams are made. Once snared by this demon the balloonman’s face disappears, and the monster beneath reaches out to drag the child screaming into the bowels of the sewer. How many adults gave sewer grates a wide berth as children, fearing the worst? In It King shows his readers that they had good reason to fear those dark, dank holes.

Similarly, in Pet Sematary, King takes a childhood preoccupation with death and explores what happens when the children of another small town bury their dead pets in a section of the fields best left to the ancient ghost-demons that inhabit them. King is at his best when writing either about an adult’s personal demons—as in Misery, which tells the story of every writer’s worst nightmare (an author is taken prisoner by a demented fan)—or about children and adolescents, as in Firestarter or his short novel The Body. Besides such domestic horror tales, King has written a gripping account of a postapocalyptic world in his book The Stand, in which 95 percent of the world’s population has been destroyed by a virulent strain of influenza. The Dead Zone, on the other hand, is a tale in which a young man awakens from a long coma to discover that he can see the futures of certain people—most important, a politician whom the young man sees rising to power and starting a nuclear war. In both these novels King takes on Armageddon with startling reality and clarity of vision; unlike his other horror stories, these books each project a horror that could conceivably become a reality—which may be why both stories strike many readers as particularly unsettling.

King has also tried his hand at “sword and sorcery” tales and has produced some remarkably entertaining stories of knights, damsels in distress, and sinister sorcerers. The Gunslinger is the first book in an epic fantasy series about a mythic land grounded in Western legends, and The Eyes of the Dragon, which King wrote for his children, tells the story of a young man’s quest to outwit an evil magician and save a magical kingdom. On the other hand, King’s novels of the early to mid-1990s focus on more adult, realistic horrors, downplaying or even excluding supernatural elements. Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, and Rose Madder eschew imaginary monsters, dealing instead with the all-too-real horrors of incest and spouse abuse. Insomnia, though replete with fantastic situations, grounds its otherworldly horrors in the real-life controversy regarding abortion.

In June 1999, King was struck by a car as he walked along the side of the road near his house in Maine. His injuries were severe and for a while it was uncertain whether he would be able to continue writing. Although he recovered more completely than many expected, his work since the accident has been, in the opinion of some critics, of lesser quality, and King began to express a desire to retire; both King and his critics felt that he was beginning to repeat himself. Although his injuries have made it uncomfortable for him to sit down to write for long periods of time, King has continued to publish best-selling and well-received books throughout the 2000s and 2010s. His 2006 novel, Lisey’s Story, told from the point of view of the widow of a popular writer, was directly inspired by the 1999 accident.

King is a prolific writer, much to the satisfaction of his readers. The fiction that he produced in the 1970s (some of it written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman) is perhaps somewhat more graphic in its violence, while that of the 1980s tends more toward implied menace, the monsters lurking offstage, waiting in the wings to slash and grab the characters—and, by implication, the reader. This, in turn, gives way to his less traditionally horrific, more socially conscious fiction beginning in the 1990s. Examining the first three decades of King’s work provides a good idea of the scope of his interests and talents, his ability to provoke thought as well as chills. In 2015, King received a National Medial of Arts for his contributions to American literature.

Author Works Long Fiction Carrie, 1974 ’Salem’s Lot, 1975 Rage, 1977 (as Richard Bachman) The Shining, 1977 The Stand, 1978, unabridged version 1990 The Dead Zone, 1979 The Long Walk, 1979 (as Bachman) Firestarter, 1980 Cujo, 1981 Roadwork, 1981 (as Bachman) The Running Man, 1982 (as Bachman) The Gunslinger, 1982 (illustrated by Michael Whelan), revised 2003 Pet Sematary, 1983 Christine, 1983 The Eyes of the Dragon, 1983, 1985 The Talisman, 1984 (with Peter Straub) Thinner, 1984 (as Bachman) Cycle of the Werewolf, 1985 (illustrated by Berni Wrightson) The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King, 1985 (includes Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, and The Running Man) It, 1986 The Drawing of the Three, 1987 Misery, 1987 The Tommyknockers, 1987 The Dark Half, 1989 Needful Things, 1991 The Waste Lands, 1991 (illustrated by Ned Dameron) Gerald’s Game, 1992 Dolores Claiborne, 1993 Insomnia, 1994 Rose Madder, 1995 Desperation, 1996 The Green Mile, 1996 (six-part serialized novel) The Regulators, 1996 (as Bachman) Wizard and Glass, 1997 (illustrated by Dave McKean) Bag of Bones, 1998 The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, 1999 Dreamcatcher, 2001 Black House, 2001 (with Straub) From a Buick Eight, 2002 Wolves of the Calla, 2003 Song of Susannah, 2004 The Dark Tower, 2004 The Colorado Kid, 2005 Cell, 2006 Lisey's Story, 2006 Blaze, 2007 (as Bachman) Duma Key, 2008 Under the Dome, 2009 11/22/63, 2011 The Wind through the Keyhole, 2012 Doctor Sleep, 2013 Joyland, 2013 Mr. Mercedes, 2014 Revival, 2014 Finders Keepers, 2015 End of Watch, 2016 Sleeping Beauties, 2017 Short Fiction Night Shift, 1978 Different Seasons, 1982 Skeleton Crew, 1985 Four Past Midnight, 1990 Nightmares and Dreamscapes, 1993 Hearts in Atlantis, 1999 Everything’s Eventual: Fourteen Dark Tales, 2002 Just after Sunset, 2008 Stephen King Goes to the Movies, 2009 Full Dark, No Stars, 2010 The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, 2015 Screenplays Creepshow, 1982 (with George Romero adaptation of his book) Cat’s Eye, 1984 Silver Bullet, 1985 (adaptation of Cycle of the Werewolf) Maximum Overdrive, 1986 (adaptation of his short story “Trucks”) Pet Sematary, 1989 Sleepwalkers, 1992 A Good Marriage, 2014 Cell, 2016 Teleplays “Sorry, Right Number,” 1987 (episode of Tales from the Darkside) Golden Years, 1991 The Stand, 1994 (based on his novel) “Chinga,” 1998 (episode of The X-Files) Storm of the Century, 1999 Rose Red, 2002 Kingdom Hospital, 2004 Desperation, 2006 “Heads Will Roll,” 2014 (episode of Under the Dome) Nonfiction Danse Macabre, 1981 Black Magic and Music: A Novelist’s Perspective on Bangor, 1983 Bare Bones: Conversations on Terror with Stephen King, 1988 (Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller, editors) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000 Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season, 2005 (with Stewart O’Nan) GUNS, 2013 (Amazon Kindle Single ebook) Poetry The Devil’s Wine, 2004 (edited by Tom Piccirilli) Miscellaneous Creepshow, 1982 (adaptation of the DC Comics) Nightmares in the Sky: Gargoyles and Grotesques, 1988 Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, 2000 Bibliography Beahm, George W., ed. Stephen King from A to Z: An Encyclopedia of His Life and Work. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews McMeel, 1998. Encyclopedic compendium of entries on every aspect of the author’s fiction and biography. Beahm, George W. The Stephen King Story. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews and McMeel, 1992. A good, updated biography of King. Includes bibliographical references and an index. Bloom, Harold, ed. Stephen King: Modern Critical Views. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1998. This is the best single collection of essays about King, many collected from other sources listed here, but including previously unreprinted pieces from journals or non-King-specific books. High-quality pieces cover a range of themes and King’s works through Needful Things. Good chronology, bibliography, and index. Collings, Michael R. Scaring Us to Death: The Impact of Stephen King on Popular Culture. 2d rev. ed. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1997. Examines King’s influence on the rise of horror fiction in the United States. Collings, Michael R. The Work of Stephen King: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1996. Provides both a good chronology and useful descriptions of some of King’s hard-to-find works, as well as a copious annotated list of secondary sources. Docherty, Brian, ed. American Horror Fiction: From Brockden Brown to Stephen King. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. This collection of essays places King’s works into context with other American horror writers. Herron, Don, ed. Reign of Fear: Fiction and Film of Stephen King. Los Angeles: Underwood and Miller, 1988. The essays in this collection discuss the significance of film in the development of King’s reputation. Hohne, Karen A. “The Power of the Spoken Word in the Works of Stephen King.” Journal of Popular Culture 28 (Fall, 1994): 93-103. Discusses the tension in King’s work between slang speech, which codifies a knowledge rejected by those in power, and monologic orality, which embodies that power; claims his works illustrate the tension between official and unofficial languages and ideologies that exists not only in literature but also throughout society. Hoppenstand, Gary, and Ray B. Browne, eds. The Gothic World of Stephen King: Landscape of Nightmare. Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular Press, 1987. The collection of academic criticism of King includes an introduction by Hoppenstand and essays on themes (“Adolescent Revolt,” “Love and Death in the American Car”), characters (“Mad Dogs and Firestarters,” “The Vampire”), genres (King’s “Gothic Western,” techno-horror), technique (“Allegory”), and individual works. King, Stephen. Bare Bones: Conversations on Terror with Stephen King. Edited by Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988. Though many of the interviews collected in this volume become somewhat repetitive, they provide a good sense, in King’s own words, of what he is trying to do in his fiction and why he does it. The interviews were held between 1979 and 1987; the opening transcript of a talk King gave at the Billerica Public Library is most useful. King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Everest House, 1981. King researched and wrote this critical work on horror fiction and film at the instigation of his editor. He focuses on works since the 1940’s and discusses novels, B-films, and horror comics to support his thesis that monsters such as Godzilla are a way of making tangible the fear of such things as nuclear war. Magistrale, Tony. Stephen King: The Second Decade, “Danse Macabre” to “The Dark Half.” New York: Twayne, 1992. Discusses King’s work in the 1980’s, including his nonfictional analysis of the horror genre in Danse Macabre, his Richard Bachman books, Misery, and the novellas of the Dark Tower saga. Also includes a 1989 interview in which King discusses fairy-tale references in his work, as well as his treatment of sexuality, masculinity, and race; discusses critical and popular reaction to his fiction. Magistrale, Tony, ed. The Dark Descent: Essays Defining Stephen King’s Horrorscape. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. This academic collection of interpretive essays covers subjects such as homophobia, treatment of female characters, and dialogic narratives in King’s work; the sixteen pieces examine most of King’s novels and some short fiction. Individual essay bibliographies, book bibliography, and book index. Magistrale, Tony, ed. Landscape of Fear: Stephen King’s American Gothic. Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular Press, 1988. Placing King in an American gothic tradition with Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and William Faulkner, this study treats sociopolitical themes such as “The Betrayal of Technology,” individual accountability, innocence betrayed, and survival in the novels through It. The text is supplemented by a bibliography of scholarship from 1980 to 1987. Miller Power, Brenda, Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, and Kelly Chandler, eds. Reading Stephen King: Issues of Censorship, Student Choice, and Popular Literature. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1997. Examines issues at the heart of horror fiction. Includes bibliographical references and an index. Reino, Joseph. Stephen King: The First Decade. Boston: Twayne, 1988. This book-by-book analysis, from Carrie to Pet Sematary, attempts to show King’s literary merits, stressing subtle characterization and nuances of symbolism and allusion. The text is supplemented by a chronology, notes, and primary and secondary bibliographies. Rogak, Lisa. Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King. New York: St. Martin’s. 2009. This easy-to-read biography examines King’s life chronologically by focusing on his books and their film adaptations. It also covers his childhood, his determination as a writer, his struggles with alcohol and drugs, and his near-fatal 1999 accident. Contains eight pages of black and white photos. Russell, Sharon. Revisiting Stephen King. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. Analyses of King’s later works, from The Green Mile through Dreamcatcher. Spignesi, Stephen J. The Complete Stephen King Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to the Works of America’s Master of Horror. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1991. First published with the title The Shape Under the Sheet, this is an important guide for all students of King. Includes bibliographical references and indexes. Spignesi, Stephen J. The Essential Stephen King: The Greatest Novels, Short Stories, Movies, and Other Creations of the World’s Most Popular Writer. Franklin Lakes, N.J.: New Page, 2001. A useful discussion of the horror writer’s works by a King enthusiast. Underwood, Tim, and Chuck Miller, eds. Fear Itself: The Horror Fiction of Stephen King, 1976-1982. San Francisco: Underwood-Miller, 1982. This is another collection of articles on King’s work. The articles vary in quality, with Ben Indick’s “King and the Literary Tradition of Horror” providing a good introduction to the history of the horror genre. Douglas Winter’s essay, “The Night Journeys of Stephen King,” discusses several of the short stories. Includes a bibliography. Vincent, Ben. The Road to “Dark Tower”: Exploring Stephen King’s Magnum Opus. New York: NAL Trade, 2004. In-depth study of King’s seven-volume masterwork, which revolves around the mystery of the tower from which the series takes its name. Wiater, Stanley, Christopher Golden, and Hank Wagner. The Stephen King Universe: A Tale-by-Tale Examination of the Interconnected Elements in His Work. Los Angeles: Renaissance Press, 2001. A critical feast of all things King. The authors explore the common themes, places, and characters that run through King’s novels. Resources include a biographical chronology, a bibliography, and an index. Winter, Douglas E. The Art of Darkness: The Life and Fiction of the Master of the Macabre, Stephen King. 1984. Rev. ed. New York: New American Library, 1989. Winter’s work provides a perceptive critical overview of King’s work, with long articles on each novel up to The Talisman and a chapter on the short stories in Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. Winter also includes summaries of King’s short stories, a short biography of King, and extensive bibliographies both of King’s work and of books and articles written about him.

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