I’m a serious fan of Stephen King. I can’t really define the how or why of it, but ever since I first read my parents’ dirty old copy of Skeleton Crew in junior high, I was hooked and since then, there’s been no shortage of devotion toward King and his oeuvre. Maybe it was the fact my dad’s King paperbacks were the only books in our house I was forbidden to read growing up. Perhaps it my dark turn in junior high, when I took to writing stories about evil clowns, drive-by shootings and mad funhouses for Power of the Pen competitions. Or maybe it was the monkey pictured on Skeleton Crew‘s spine, holding a pair of tamborines that, at the sound of their tinny clink, would signify someone’s death.
Plus, Stephen King is not your common word hack. True, he may be (in his own words) a “money horse,” making millions for himself, his publishers and the bookstores that sell his brick-like novels. Who else can command a $35 list price? No, Stephen King is no Dan Brown. Dan Brown has no chance of ever coming close to King because King can actually write. Actually, he’s a damn fine writer–one of the best modern writers I’ve read. Yep, snob though I may be, Stephen King is undeniably my favorite writer of all time.
But enough waxing poetic about King’s brilliance. Let’s get onto Insominia, one of King’s mid-90’s novels about Ralph Roberts and a sleeping problem that opens his eyes to another reality. Ever since his wife died, Ralph (who is in his 70’s by the way…pretty old for a King protagonist) has been waking up earlier and earlier every night. If that wasn’t bad enough, he’s beginning to see colorful auras emanating from every living creature (men, women, children, trees, dogs) at odd moments during the day. Add to that sightings of mysterious little bald men in doctor’s smocks, and a formerly friendly neighbor who has taken to beating his wife with a crazed glint in his eye. Everything eventually culminates in a visit from a women’s right advocate, which violently divides the town over the issue of abortion.
I enjoyed Insomnia not only for the story (filled with more than enough supernatural twists and turns), but also for the allusion to King’s other works. Ralph lives in the merry little village of Derry, Maine, the infamous backdrop for It. There are a few references to what happened in It, but more than that, Insomnia delves even deeper into Derry’s twisted nature. Bad things happen there, and whatever the reason why, it leaves its sticky residue over the residents and their fate. Derry is sort of an epicenter of the Stephen King universe–the place where so much starts or ends, the place where coincidences are to be taken seriously, and everyone eventually returns. Ka is a wheel, and at least in this level of the SK universe, Derry is a hub.
Speaking of ka, Insomnia also had some crucial references to the Dark Tower series. At one point during the series, when Roland visits the headquarters of the Tet Corporation, they give him a copy of Insomnia, saying it’s key to his journey. Roland doesn’t read Insomnia, claiming it feels “tricksy” and too much like a thinny, but if he had he would have read of several references to the Tower, the Crimson King and his attempts to kill off a little boy named Patrick Danville, who at this point is still a Derry resident. For those who haven’t yet read the Tower series, I can’t say much more than that, other than READ THE DARK TOWER SERIES. Seriously. Even if you have only the slightest interest in science fiction, fantasy or horror, The Dark Tower series is one you can’t afford to pass up.
This leads me to my next read, The Gunslinger Born, which I found while sorting the graphic novel/manga shelf at work and couldn’t help but borrow. I returned it last week, and I’m not sure if I want to buy it yet, but we’ll see. This isn’t to say the Gunslinger Born wasn’t good; it was actually fantastic. The minds over at Marvel decided that the Dark Tower series merited its own graphic representation, and released a seven-part series on Roland’s early years as found in both The Gunslinger and Wizard and Glass (books one and four, respectively). Because of this, the story wasn’t new, which is probably the one thing holding me back from buying the book for my collection. The plot was basically a re-hash of Roland’s defeat of Cort, fleeing Gilead after discovering the adulterous relationship between his mother and Marten Broadcloak, discovering the evil infecting the residents of Hambry, and falling in love with Susan Delgado. It was nice to revisit this story, especially since it provides insight on how Roland grew into the anti-hero we all love.
What really sets the graphic novel apart, however, was the artwork. While not normally an avid reader of graphic novels or comics, I appreciate all that the medium can do for a story, especially one with settings as fantastic and surreal as King’s Mid-World. So much of the Dark Tower series takes place in a world that is eerily reminiscent of our own, but also so vastly different. The Dark Tower stresses the importance of levels of reality, how there are entire universes playing out simultaneously at any given moment, and how each is inextricably linked. Seeing this world in pictures is really an invaluable key to understanding it. Jay Lee and Richard Isanove did a great job illustrating King’s words, and made revisiting King’s story all that more enjoyable. I’d like to read more of the comics based on the Dark Tower series, but Gunslinger Born is the first of its kind I’ve yet seen at Half-Price (or, at least since I began running the graphic novel section). I’d particularly like to read the comic interpretation of the fall of Gilead, since that tale is largely left untold in the Dark Tower series.
All in all, there’s nothing better than retreating into our guilty pleasures. For many young women, guilty pleasures in the literary department usually include sappy romances, Nicholas Sparks novels or the finest chick-lit. I have never been that girl. While I enjoy the occasional romantic comedy on the big screen, chick-lit tends to depress me (especially when it overwhelms the REAL literary classics in the fiction section). Don’t get me started on Nicholas Sparks. No, when I’m looking for a guilty pleasure read, I turn to King. His tales of the supernatural, terrifying and fantastic never cease to surprise or entertain, and I can’t help but be completely taken in by his writing. Because I’ve read so many of his books, his tales aren’t entirely unpredictable (even the best writers have a rhythm constant readers are apt to pick up on). But for me, this makes returning to King like returning home, indulging in an old comfort food, talking to a best friend. I can’t wait to read more of them.