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When Stephen King Was King

JOE HILL'S DAD IN 1980 (continued)

STephen King in 1980 (c) J. Dennis Robinson /

I blame it mostly on success. The richer and more famous my favorite author became, the less he seemed to care. The ideas went stale. The endings disappeared entirely. It was as if the millionaire author was on drugs, which apparently he was. New England’s best storyteller was just cranking it out, and worse, his readers were sucking it up. In retrospect, we should have done something. Like that woman played by Kathy Bates in the film version of Misery, we should have locked our hero up and let him catch his breath, regroup, start over, find his chi. Maybe if we had stopped buying millions of books or stayed away from all the bad movies, maybe we could have saved him, and he could have saved us, in return, from Dean Koontz and all the wannabee horror writers who followed.

This whole sordid affair came back to me the other day like a body that won’t stay buried. I was reading about Stephen King’s son who was "outed" recently in the New York Sunday Times. Joe Hill, aka Joe King, as you certainly know by now, lives right here in Seacoast, New Hampshire, along with Dan Brown and the rest of us great writers. I knew that secret years ago when one of his neighbors whispered it. He’s supposed to be a nice guy and nice guys have the right to live in peace and quiet. Now Joe Hill is a horror writer too, or at least he’s finally getting a book published after years of failed attempts.

I wish Joe Hill luck with his novel Heart Shaped Box. He is today about the age his father was in 1980. I would not want to be in his shoes. His dad is a tough ax to follow. But my own horror novel days are over. All I can find on TV now are hi-def rotting corpses, forensic exams, murdered children, bug-devoured bones. We can’t blame Stephen King for this any more than we can blame Poe, Shakespeare or whoever wrote Beowulf. Violence and gore have always been part of great literature – and part of the worst. One recent TV episode of Bones featured the very realistic decapitated head of a murdered woman that the detectives kept chopping up and cutting into throughout the show. I’m glad I don’t have little kids who are watching this junk. I was traumatized when Bambi’s mother died.

Funny thing is, back in 1980, it was Stephen King himself who condemned horror flicks like Friday the 13th as "immoral". "My feeling about horror," King told a group of us English teachers back then, "is that you ought to care about the people who are involved in whatever’s horrible, and they should have a fighting chance to get out."

Wise words from a great man. And I did get out. But sometimes, when the moon is full and the coyotes howl, I miss those great King novels and blood-stained days.

Copyright © 2007 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved.

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