Monday 25 March 2013

Coming Down the Horror Pike: Doctor Sleep

For fans of Stephen King's The Shining, the countdown is on for the September 24th release of its sequel, Doctor Sleep, featuring a 25-year-old Dan Torrance. The protagonist is still battling his memories from the Overlook Hotel and his father's legacy of alcoholism and violence. Torrance must take on a new challenge in saving the young Abra Stone, who has “the brightest shining ever seen,” from a wandering band of murderous paranormals.

It sounds like vintage King with all the action and excellent story-telling we have come to expect from his novels. The sequel also appears to have a good dose of King's sardonic humor thrown in, and we may never look at those seemingly innocuous RVs in the same light again!

I'm looking forward to reading the sequel but, regardless, The Shining will remain one of my favorite King novels where everything works together: excellent characterization, an extremely good story, and a setting that enhances the psychological horror of the novel.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Master of Horror, Mary Shelley

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster
 This is the second in a series of posts discussing masters of horror. In this post, I'll discuss Mary Shelley, the writer of Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Amazingly, Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus when she was nineteen years old, and it was published anonymously when she was twenty-one. The novel was influenced by the themes of the day, including experiments in galvanization: the use of electricity to re-animate the dead. John Milton's poem “Paradise Lost”, quoted by Shelley in the epigraph, also provides an important context in terms of the religious overtones of the novel and man's struggle to come to terms with his Creator. The sub-title “The Modern Prometheus” is also significant in terms of the Greek myth of Prometheus, whose attempt to enlighten mankind through the introduction of fire, often associated with scientific enlightenment, results in his punishment by the gods and his perpetual agony. In fact, the depth of background knowledge and reading that the original novel implies is quite astounding for someone so young.

We commonly associate Frankenstein's creation—who has no name in the novel—with repugnancy and horror. In the original novel, however, there are many other themes at play, including over-reaching ambition, moral ambiguity, guilt, responsibility, and abandonment. One is struck by the sorrow and regret in its tone as the narration unfolds. Victor Frankenstein is ambitious beyond reason, striving to be God-like in recreating life. It is the central irony of the novel that his monster destroys everyone Frankenstein loves, leaving him as empty, lifeless, and abandoned as his creation.

The Legacy of Frankenstein

Stephen King in his examination of horror fiction entitled Danse Macabre talks of the pervasive influence of the novel on the horror genre. There have been countless derivatives in various forms. An early stage version was produced as early as 1826, and theatric productions continue to this day. There have been innumerable film versions, perhaps the most memorable of monsters being portrayed by Boris Karloff, whose performance captured the creature's sorrow and alienation. The modern horror novelist Dean Koontz has written a series of novels based on the Frankenstein theme.

There have also been numerous comic tributes from Mel Brooks' classic, Young Frankenstein, to Tim Burton's Frankenweenie.   

Internet Resources

The novel is now in the public domain and is offered as a free download on many Internet sites for new generations of readers to discover. For a list of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein sites, please see

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Sharing a Six-Pack

Joe Hill at a Book-Signing
I recently purchased a copy of the Joe Hill/Stephen King novella entitled “In the Tall Grass” for my e-reader, so I decided to do some background research on Joe Hill. In an article in The New York Times Magazine, at, Hill talks about growing up as the son of Stephen King. He recounts the story of how he answered the door one day as a child to see a man standing there with a six-pack. The man told the young boy that he had just been released from prison and that King's novels were the only thing that kept him from committing murder while he was incarcerated. Hill went on to say that his dad went outside and had a beer with the guy.

This anecdote struck a chord with me not only because it reaffirmed one of the things I like most about King: he's a writer who is not ashamed to be a populist, but also because it touched upon a central tenet of writing. At the heart of the creative process is the need to connect with other human beings by telling a story : the urge to make them laugh, smile, shudder, cry, or forget their problems momentarily as they empathize with the characters we have created. An independent writer sends his or her novels out into the vast, electronic, and depersonalized universe that is e-publishing, hoping to touch someone's life, if only for a short while.

Here's to sharing a six-pack with you!