Then keep talking.... (an open letter to Mr. Stephen King)

>> Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dear Mr. King,

Word just came through on the RSS wires that you're thinking about writing a sequel to one of your best early works, The Shining. (The headline on the article--"Stephen King Writing 'The Shining' Sequel"--is, you'll see if you read the article, misleading.) You're thinking about doing it, you have a premise and maybe a plot, and even a working title, but you say, "Maybe if I keep talking about it I won’t have to write it."

Please, Steve, from one of your (somewhat) Constant Readers: please keep talking.

Look, first of all, The Shining really is an effective little horror novel on its own, and is arguably the strongest of your early novels (though I'm a bit partial to the original edition of The Stand, myself). Why revisit it after thirty-something years and risk vitiating that (yes, I'll say it) horror masterpiece?

Second, let's be honest, unfortunately honest: Black House was not good. No, wait, I'm sorry--I said "let's be honest": Black House was very bad. A lot of us (I think--I know myself and a few other people) were very, very excited when you and Mr. Straub decided to revisit The Talisman universe. The Talisman was quite possibly your best 1980s work, for one thing. And as somebody who's a fan of your work and possibly a bigger fan of Mr. Straub's, I'd say the pair of you collaborating is like vanilla ice cream collaborating with an apple pie, for another thing. Or I would have said that if I hadn't actually read Black House. While I'd like to praise the adventurous spirit that led the pair of you to write an entire novel in omniscient first-person plural present tense ("Moving toward the sun, we glide away from the river and over the shining tracks..."), it turns out there's a reason very few novels are written that way, namely that it's fucking annoying after around the second or third paragraph of it. And while I understand that it was apparently Mr. Straub's idea to tie the whole thing into your Gunslingerverse, which you've tied into a larger Kingverse interconnecting everything you've written, it really wasn't necessary, by which I really mean that it was a horribly unnecessary and irritating bad idea that makes a lot of your wonderfully-standing-alone stories seem like a bunch of poorly-connected sequels, and we all know that sequels are rarely as good as originals, which instinctively causes readers (by which I mean myself) to start trying to figure out which one of your novels that I might have liked by itself is in fact the less-than-stellar sequel to something I may not have liked at all. Plus, does anyone really want your entire career reduced down to decades of writing sequels to Carrie? (Not because Carrie isn't good, but because it would just be very, very strange, as in "What the fuck were you thinking?" strange, not "Weird Tales" strange.)

The point being (I may have run astray), I'm really afraid you'll fuck a sequel up. I want to trust you, but once bitten, twice shy, you know? Especially if suddenly Danny Torrance is some part of some kind of ka-tet that's trying to keep Cujo from resurrecting Randall Flagg with the farts of sleepless old people, because, you know... look, do we even have to go into how many kinds of wrong we could be talking about here? You're a smart guy, you have to know.

And let me point out one more reason this notion of yours is not good. One that you should be very, very, very aware of, because you've talked about it in your writing and various other places. The thing that makes The Shining such a scary, effective, sorrowful book is the thing that two film versions (okay, a film version and a TV miniseries) have managed to get wrong to varying degrees: the scariest, awfulest things that happen in The Shining don't happen to Danny Torrance, they happen to Jack, who then does bad things to Danny.

Here's what I mean (and I think you already know what I mean, or ought to): what really haunts the reader in The Shining is that this guy who really, really deeply loves his son more than anything else in the universe, and who could maybe even be a good parent if he could stay off the fucking sauce and come to grips with his demons, this guy becomes a monster. Blaming The Overlook is nearly comforting, but it's not The Overlook that breaks that little boy's arm early in the novel and it's not The Overlook that's running down the hotel corridors with a croquet mallet towards the end. Sure, the Overlook presses Jack Torrance's buttons, but having your buttons pushed by a demonic hotel isn't really horror, horror is what you do later. The tragedy in The Shining isn't wholly or solely Jack's--Jack and Wendy suffer physically and emotionally, and the last thing I want to do is have us all playing sad violins for domestic abusers in general--but the really brilliant thing you did there is you showed the human side of a good guy who's really a very bad guy. The scariest thing in The Shining is watching Jack Torrance disintegrate and wondering if we could ever be that ugly and lethal to the people we love.

And maybe you did such a brilliant job of that because, from what I understand, you were exorcising some of your own demons, and grappling with some personal issues that had you wondering whether you could be that awful, and figuring out which pressed buttons needed to be cleared, there but for the grace of God would go I. And from what you've said and written, it sounds like you managed to get a lot of those monsters put away, and I'm glad.

But it leaves me wondering what else you'd need to say with those characters. Jack is dead, and Danny, we hope, has lived mostly happily ever after, or as happily as you can when your Dad got raging drunk one night at the behest of demonic forces and tried to murder the Hell out of you and your mom. I guess he probably needed some therapy, actually. But you know, I always figured he'd be okay. Maybe he and that nice little girl whose story about illicit government medical experiments was featured in Rolling Stone hooked up, they're not that far apart in age--wait, did I just cross the universes? After I sort of yelled at you for doing that? Nevermind, then.

Let Danny rest. He earned it.


R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets


Unfocused Me Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 11:27:00 PM EST  

I mostly agree with you, but I'd rather read a sequel to The Shining than Going Rogue: An American Life.

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