Essay on Stephen King of Horror
Title: Storm of the Century by Stephen King
1) Horror Genre
The 20th century horror genre has occupied strong niche in fiction domain. Among others, Clive Barker, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz feature most of the current mainstream of this genre. Readers choose horror stories because of the genres inner intent to shake our nerves, horrify and scare, curve emotions, and keep in suspense until the very last scene. To this end, Webster's Collegiate Dictionary states that “horror is a painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay”. Interestingly, Douglas E. Winter once argued that “the problem is that horror is not a genre, it is an emotion.
Horror is not a kind of fiction. It's a progressive form of fiction that continually evolves to meet the fears and anxieties of its times”. In addition, horror fiction includes a variety of subgenres, specifically: dark fiction, dark fantasy, cutting edge, erotic, extreme, occult, vampire, gothic, psychological, supernatural, paranormal, and pulp (Agent Query, 2007).
The emotional and physical violence of horror literature acts as a safety valve for our repressed animalism. Horror stories are a convenient and harmless way of striking back, of giving in to those mysterious and feral forces, allowing them to take control and wrack havoc on the stultifying regularity of our lives.
There's real horror in loneliness and rage, in twisted love and jealously, in the rampant corporate greed that threatens to rot us from within. Much of today's horror is about these dark stains on our souls, the cancers of our minds.
As Stephen King observed, the reading of horror and supernatural tales is a form of preparation for our own deaths, a ‘danse macabre’ before the void, as well as a way to satisfy our curiosity about the most seminal event in our lives except birth. So perhaps the ultimate appeal of horror is the affirmation that it provides. The opposite of death is life. If supernatural evil exists in this world, as many horror stories posit, so must supernatural good. Black magic is balanced by white. In a starkly rational world that would banish such beings, horror literature gives them back to us: their magic, their power, the reality they once held in simpler times (Taylor, 2007).
Within subgenres, horror authors naturally follow various approaches. For instance, Ramsey Campbell and Thomas Ligotti are rejecting the portrayal of violent acts in favor of more psychological writing. Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, and Stephen King bring off the horror effect without the extreme violence that characterizes much of the current mainstream of this genre.
For example, in most of Koontz's work, horror is based on the inhumanity of one human being to another rather than on such stock supernatural devices as the cold, dismembered hand reaching out to touch someone, the door that mysteriously slams shut, the creature that scrabbles under the bed (Kotker, 1996).
In turn, Stephen King often begins a story with no idea how the story will end. For instance, in the introduction to Storm of the century (1999) King comments “sometimes, however, I just can't remember how I arrived at a particular novel or story. In these cases the seed of the story seems to be an image rather than an idea, a mental snapshot so powerful it eventually calls characters and incidents the way some ultrasonic whistles supposedly call every dog in the neighborhood” (King, 1999).
He is known for his great eye for detail, for continuity, and for inside references; many stories that may seem unrelated are often linked by secondary characters, fictional towns, or off-hand references to events in previous books. King's books are filled with references to American history and American culture, particularly the darker, more fearful side of these.
The miniseries has always been the best format for King to present his novel ideas, and Storm of the Century provides the subject matter he is so fond of: taking a normal setting and stripping away the layers until the evil is exposes (Huddleston, 2003). Further analysis of Stephen King’s works shows that the author likes to take a long time to get to the meat of a story.
2) Text extract
5. EXTERIOR: LINOGE, FROM BEHIND -- DAY.
Standing on the sidewalk, back to us and before the open CLARENDON gate, is a tall man dressed in jeans, boots, a pea jacket, and a black watch cap snugged down over his ears. And gloves - yellow leather as bright as a sneer. One hand grips the head of his cane, which is black walnut below the silver wolfs head. LINOGE'S own head is lowered between his bulking shoulders. It is a thinking posture. There is something brooding about it, as well. He raises the cane and taps one side of the gate with it. He pauses, then taps the other side of the gate. This has the feel of a ritual.
MIKE (voice-over) (continues)
He was the last person she ever saw.
LINOGE begins to walk slowly up the concrete path to the porch steps, idly swinging his cane as he goes. He whistles a tune: "I'm a little teapot."
6 INTERIOR: MARTHA CLARENDON'S LIVING ROOM.
It's neat in the cluttery way only fastidious folks who've lived their whole lives in one place can manage. The furniture is old and nice, not quite antique. The walls are crammed with pictures, most going back to the twenties. There's a piano with yellowing sheet music open on the stand. Seated in the room's most comfortable chair (perhaps its only comfortable chair) is MARTHA CLARENDON, a lady of perhaps eighty years.
She has lovely white beauty-shop hair and is wearing a neat housedress. On the table beside her is a cup of tea and a plate of cookies. On her other side is a walker with bicycle-grip handholds jutting out of one side and a carry-tray jutting out from the other. The only modern items in the room are the large color TV and the cable box on… (Retrieved from Stephen King. Storm of the century, 1999)
3) Text analysis
Set in Maine's remote Little Tall Island, the tale is all about vivid small-town characters, feuds, infidelities, sordid secrets, kids in peril, and gory portents in scrambled letters. The calamitous snowstorm is nothing compared to the mysterious mind-reading stranger Linoge, who uses magic powers to turn people's guilt against them--when he's not simply braining them with his wolf-head-handled cane.
Don't even glance at that cane--it can bring out the devil in you. Just as The Shining was concerned with marriage and alcoholism as much as it was with bad weather and worse spirits, Storm of the Century is more than a horror story. It's creepy because it's realistic.
But it's also unusually visual. Linoge's eyes ominously change color, wind and sea wreak havoc, a basketball leaves blood circles with each bounce. The 100-year storm no doubt hits harder onscreen than on the page, but the snow is a symbol of the more disturbing emotional maelstrom that words evoke perfectly. And the murders of folks we've gotten to know is entirely terrifying in print.
The crisp discipline of the screenplay format makes this book better than lots of King's more sprawling novels--the end doesn't wander and the dialogue crackles. Here's the real test: It's impossible to read parts 1 and 2 and not read part 3 (Appelo, n.d.)
So, they're calling it the Storm of the Century, and it's coming hard. The residents of Little Tall Island have seen their share of nasty Maine Nor'easters, but this one is different. Not only is it packing hurricane-force winds and up to five feet of snow, it's bringing something worse. Something even the islanders have never seen before. Something no one wants to see. Just as the first flakes begin to fall, Martha Clarendon, one of Little Tall Island's oldest residents, suffers an unspeakably violent death. While her blood dries, Andre Linoge, the man responsible sits calmly in Martha's easy chair holding his cane topped with a silver wolf's head...waiting.
Linoge knows the townsfolk will come to arrest him. He will let them. For he has come to the island for one reason. And when he meets Constable Mike Anderson, his beautiful wife and child, and the rest of Little Tall's tight-knit community, this stranger will make one simple proposition to them all: "If you give me what I want, I'll go away."
3. Follow-up analysis: Horror text
On a dark wintry evening, I and my 10-year-old cousin were sledging down the road. The slippery road revealed vague remains of light. The gull of wind was noisy while neighborhood was enjoing the comfort of warm and cheerful atmosphere at their sweet homes. Pulling the sledge up the road we almost clashed in quarrel. Tears appeared on John’s eyes, and I couldn’t help stopping with all the rudness that was growing within. A moment or rwo, and tears appeared on his eyes full of abuse and regret. Of course, he would rather sit at home and watch his dummy curtoons instead. Though I insisted and forced him to get on the sledge. He was second, holding me tightly and revengfully. We launched crazy sledge downwards in splitted moods. The speed was up and at times sledge seemed uncontrollable. Somewhere, abandoned in the middle of snowy rush, I felt that inner senses were beyond me and lost control of reality. Returning to consciousness I found that John was not with me anymore. I halted in crazy drive and opened my eyes rightwards the road. “John, where are you?” - I screamed in despair, trying to free my self. There was not a hint of his presence, not a sound, not a breath. It was a moment I wished I shouted at him; I wished not telling him I was sorry.
4. Horror text analysis
Analyzing my own text, which I believe is more disturbing than dark, I should say that I tried to avoid clichés and adhere to one of the hoariest emotions. Subconsciously, I made reader involve in the scene and think of parental feelings expressed to the victim lostin snow. Providing John was dead, the feeling of despair would be the strongest. This was also the attempt to concentrate on trivial quarrel that indirectly led to the fatal ending. That way, I wrote what I knew, based on my own experience when brainstorming for ideas to fulfil. At that I wrote about things that excite and disturb me, the people, places and events that form the unique fabric of my existence, which made my life different than any other that’s ever been lived before.
The convention of rrhythm was essential in this horror story, which allowed the intensity to build to a higher peak than would a straight assault. It set up a pattern of action which drew the reader in. The uncertainty kept readers reading eagerly to find out what happens, as they have no way of knowing how the story ends until they get there. I have chosen potential disaster to form a sense of completion. Though, the disaster or release should have been found on the next page, of course.
I attempted to make the short story dynamic, avoiding unnecessary descriptions or odd details. Two characters in a short time had overcome certain drama which then led to sudden disappearance of one of them and whole-hearted regret of another. The purpose was to get and play with inner sense (particular human emotion) of a reader. At least, main character was scared to death not founding his cousin at the end. Also, the development of human feelings is shown under given circumstances, i.e. when the quarrel was on the main character did not regretted shouting with rudeness, though when misfortune occurred, sweet words of repentance came to the conscious mind.
The initial presentation of a scene is supported by the stylistic devices: dark wintry evening, slippery road, vague remains of eight, the gull of wind. At that, I tried to avoid detailed descriptions of disembowelments and gushing bodily fluids. What I tried to achieve – was to affect the reader emotionally by presenting plausible characters that a reader cares about. There are two main streams in the story: first, I described the scene of sorrow between main characters: Pulling the sledge up the road we almost clashed in quarrel. Tears appeared on John’s eyes, and I couldn’t help stopping with all the rudeness that was growing within. A moment or rwo, and tears appeared on his eyes full of abuse and regret. Of course, he would rather sit at home and watch his dummy cartoons instead. Though I insisted and forced him to get on the sledge. He was second, holding me tightly and revengefully. This was to create suspense, though without defining the initial cause of the quarrel. The quarrel itself disturbed the characters, which caused both to get into sledge forcibly, especially John, who was regretting the whole idea to join his older cousin for sledging. At that, I wished to distance the reader from the initial scene and the fact that the characters were just sledging on the road. Sledging was just the tool to intensify the quarrel between cousins. Its literal sense has nothing in common with the climax. Thus, I tried to touch the emotional side and put reader in the pressure. That moment he/she would not be interested in how and why the characters sledged, but how the conflict would end. The suspense continued with the description of the ride itself: The speed was up and at times sledge seemed uncontrollable. Now, the reader is aware that cousins were prone to a danger ahead. Somewhere, abandoned in the middle of snowy rush, I felt that inner senses were beyond me and lost control of reality. Returning to consciousness I found that John was not with me anymore. Here was the danger, high speed turned in a momentum loss of consciousness. More than that, John was not with me anymore, which was the loss of one of the two characters. Losing control and consciousness was the state that made the climax of the ride. On top of that, John was lost somewhere in the snow 15-20 meters away.
What happened next was the climax, preceded by the logical sequence of events: I halted in crazy drive and opened my eyes rightwards the road. “John, where are you?” - I screamed in despair, trying to free my self. Here I give myself pressure in simultaneously trying to free myself and call John. Of course, subconscious mind was pointing at the prioriy of the second action, which again was emotional pressure rather than physical atrempt in sub-zero temperature.
At that, I left the reader without hint were had john disappeared: There was not a hint of his presence, not a sound, not a breath. It was a moment I wished I shouted at him; I wished not telling him I was sorry.
The last scene makes the reader recall the quarrel which began at the beginning. Though, this time, I have completely changed my attitude to John, I was not angry with him any more. At that very moment, I was more than ready to say sorry, ‘Please forgive me, John’. Though, if only I could. It was a state of helplessness, which underlined my inability to affect the fate. There was little chance remained to overcome the odds. At that, helplessness contrasted with aching, desperate need. The price of failure was the disappearance of a loved cousin. Thus, the very stress of the protagonist's struggle appeals to reader.
The end of the story is unknown, which again raises reader’s emotions and makes him invent further continuation: ‘Had forest died in the snow?’ ‘Was Ambulance on time?’, ‘What about parents that were ‘enjoying the comfort of warm and cheerful atmosphere at sweet home’.
Herein, the horror lied in emotion, the horror that surround further destiny and life of poor John. That is why, I believe, that the effect is achieved and a reader would stick to another page of this story.
Agent Query. 2007, ‘Fiction Genre Descriptions’ [Online] Available at: http://www.agentquery.com/genre_descriptions.aspx
Bennett, S. 2007, ‘Definition of the Horror Fiction genre’, [Online] Available at:
Horror Writers Association. 2006, ‘What is Horror Fiction?’ [Online] Available at: http://www.horror.org/horror-is.htm
Huddleston, K. 2003, ‘Stephen King's Storm of the Century’, http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue95/screen.html
King, S. 1999, Storm of the century, Pocket; TV Tie in Ed edition
Kotker, J. 1996, Dean Koontz Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers’, English Faculty, Bellevue Community College Published by Greenwood Publishing.
Robinson, W. 2006, ‘A Few Thoughts on the Horror Genre’, [Online] Available at: http://web.utk.edu/~wrobinso/590_lec_horror.html
Taylor, D. 2003, ‘No Bones About It: How to Write Today's Horror. Part III: What Today's Readers Don't Want’, [Online] Available at: http://www.writing-world.com/sf/taylor3.shtml