The Many Sides of Stephen King
By Molly Miller
“I’m a Belieber,” said Stephen King, the author of more than 50 novels, as he spoke to NPR host Colin McEnroe at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts during a fundraiser for The Mark Twain House Thursday night.
King was riffing off the nearby Justin Bieber concert a few blocks over at the XL Center, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a tiny bit of truth in his claim.
When he first arrived on stage, he put his hands on his face in mock embarrassment as the crowd stood up and cheered for the prolific writer, smiling as if he were a shy little kid – a contrast to the deep, brooding man one might expect from the master of the horror genre.
It was clear before the dialogue began that King had a sense of humor similar to Twain’s. As it happens, King has known Twain almost his entire life. When King was six, his mom read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” to him and his brother.
“We laughed our asses off,” said King. He admired Tom’s craftiness in tricking other kids into giving him toys in exchange for the privilege of whitewashing his fence. He thought to himself, “I would like to be a writer, because that’s the kind of work that is.”
Often, King’s work isn’t taken as seriously as the work of other writers, and King said that this was because critics are too fussy in their definitions of “literature.”
“We make this kind of artificial distinction between popular fiction and literature,” he said, comparing that type of critic to a child who refuses to eat his mashed potatoes because they touched something else on his plate.
Some critics condemn the inclusion of brand names in his writing, King said, but he thinks brand names add a dimension of realism. “Those are the specifics poets write about, and I love it.”
Although King believes in God, he doesn’t like organized religion.
“I choose to believe in God, because what’s the downside?” he asked, laughing. “If you die and there’s nothing, you’re not gonna … know.” However, in large blocks, he thinks religious groups can do more harm than good.
King has been through a number of traumatic events. He described being hit by a van and spending four days knocked out in a hospital. He then spent about four years hooked on the painkiller Oxycontin.
He was good natured when he spoke about the horrific event.
“If you didn’t laugh at life,” King said, “you would cry.”
English teachers and philosophers might try to piece together different occurrences in King’s life and extract some deep meaning, but King would not approve.
“‘Did this happen for a reason?’ Why ask that question?” said King. “You’re never gonna know.”
In many of King’s books, kids play a central role.
“I’m interested in kids because they haven’t narrowed their perceptions yet,” said King.
Is he working out some of his own childhood and teenage demons as well? Maybe, maybe not. King thinks that high school is a universally frightening experience for everyone.
“Anyone who looks back at high school as the greatest time in their lives,” said King, “is someone who has mental problems.”
King doesn’t want his life or his writing style to be analyzed in search of a common thread, but if one theme could capture the man, author and legend, it’s the authenticity that shows in his organic plots and characters.