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By Kathy Pillatzki
Assistant Director
Henry County Library System

  When I was in fifth grade, a boy in my class came to school one day with a paperback book stashed among his school things. When the teacher was busy he would pull it out and quickly show it to a few other boys, resulting in much smirking and whispering.

  Eventually he got caught and sent to the principal’s office. His mother was called and I thought she would die of embarrassment. Of course she had no idea where he got such a thing. He very nearly got suspended for bringing that book to school. It was too shocking, too graphic, too inappropriate.

  What was this title that so scandalized my little community? It was a debut novel by a practically unheard-of author: Carrie by Stephen King. While I wouldn’t recommend it to a fifth-grader, there’s no doubt it has become a modern horror classic (or that standards for shocking content are much different than they were in 1974).

  This month marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Carrie, and today Stephen King is one of America’s most prolific authors and shows no signs of slowing down. He has sold over 350 million copies of more than 70 novels. They have been adapted for television, movies, Broadway musicals and even comic books.

  So what’s the appeal of King’s writing? Horror isn’t a genre I read much, but I can tell you this: his writing style is captivating. He has a way of turning a phrase in such a creepy way that it sticks in your mind. Even when you want to stop reading, the text just pulls you along so that you find yourself reading one more chapter at midnight when you were definitely going to be asleep by eleven. He lays bare the weaknesses of his characters in such a way that you either hate them or sympathize with them.

  Though known mainly as a horror writer, King’s work defies genre boundaries. In the late 1970s he published under a pen name, Richard Bachman.  Following the success of Carrie, King wasn’t sure if his newer books were selling because they were good, or because people just assumed anything by Stephen King would be a success. He wanted to be judged on the merits of his current writing and not his fame for his earlier work.

  Another reason was simply that King is a prolific writer, and his publishers worried that if they released everything he wrote under his own name it would flood the market and people would lose interest. In any case, the Bachman books were moderately successful and eventually King was outed as the real author.

Another departure for King was The Eyes of the Dragon, published in 1984. King reportedly wrote this for his daughter, who had tried reading Carrie and couldn’t finish it. The Eyes of the Dragon is high fantasy, complete with a wizard, dragon, and prince held captive in a tower. It borrows some elements from King’s other fantasies, the Dark Tower series.

  Love him or hate him, King’s influence on American pop culture is undeniable. Who else could take an outlandish idea like a possessed car (Christine), a sad but unremarkable case of rabies (Cujo), or a tale of isolation and mental breakdown (The Shining) and turn them into cultural icons? So, congratulations to Stephen King on 40 years of publishing. Long may you write.



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