Stephen King | Critical Essay by Edwin F. Casebeer

This literature criticism consists of approximately 18 pages of analysis & critique of Stephen King.
This section contains 5,379 words
(approx. 18 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by Edwin F. Casebeer

Critical Essay by Edwin F. Casebeer

SOURCE: "Stephen King's Canon: The Art of Balance," in A Dark Night's Dreaming: Contemporary American Horror Fiction, edited by Tony Magistrale and Michael A. Morrison, University of South Carolina Press, 1996, pp. 42-54.

In the following essay, Casebeer traces influences from King's life that have affected his writing and delineates different stages and common elements in his fiction.

Stephen King is the most popular horror novelist today (and also the most popular novelist). He is the only writer ever to have made the Forbes 500; his annual income exceeds that of some third-world countries. His works are a significant percentage of the book industry's annual inventory. The average American recognizes his name and face. Yet, paradoxically, his novels also top the lists of censored authors. Perhaps that is because he creates fiction and cinema about that which we would rather avoid: modern meaninglessness, physical corruptibility, and death. Do the fictional situations he presents argue for a decline in our culture's energy for life, a descending depression and despair that lends enchantment to the graveyard, the kind of apocalyptic view that often ends centuries and heralds new human hells? Or is his appeal understandable in a way that affirms our culture and its willingness to deal with its dilemmas?

If we begin with Stephen King's status among his immediate peers—the horror novelists—the reasons for his broad appeal are clear. He has taken command of the field by writing representative masterworks: the vampire novel ('Salem's Lot), the monster novel (The Dark Half), wild talent fiction (Carrie), zombie fiction (Pet Sematary), diabolic possession fiction (Christine), and realistic horror fiction (Misery). His presence in the field extends to its very boundaries.

But King is actually a genre novelist; that is, he writes in all of the major popular genres now marketed to the country's largest reading population: horror, fantasy, science fiction, the western, the mystery, and the romance. While he works in pure forms ('Salem's Lot as a vampire novel, Cycle of the Werewolf as a werewolf novel, The Talisman as a quest fantasy, and The Running Man as science fiction), he often mixes genres. An early example is The Stand, particularly its first published edition, which begins as one form of the science fiction novel (the apocalyptic), evolves into a second form (the utopian), and concludes as a fantasy which blends elements of the quest like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy with Christian apocalyptic fantasy like The Omen trilogy. Similarly, his Dark Tower trilogy combines apocalyptic science fiction with Arthurian quest fantasy, itself subordinated to the western, and then introduces science fiction's alternate worlds concept. The standard detective mystery does much to shape The Dark Half, Needful Things, and Dolores Claiborne, while the Gothic romance and the feminist novel are essential features of Misery, Gerald's Game, and Dolores Claiborne. The resulting breadth gives his fiction a much wider appeal than might come to a "pure" horror writer.

But King's appeal is even broader than that of a genre writer. From the beginning of his career, he was responsive to those horror writers of his decade, like Ira Levin, who moved from the traditional confines of the fantastique to establish analogies between the world that we all occupy and the horror novel's traditional settings, situations, plots, and characters. King, too, grounds fantasy in realism. In fact, his earliest published work, Rage (published under the Richard Bachman pseudonym), is a capable realistic novel. Motivated by his own boyhood and his involvement with his children, King's early novels demonstrate strong characterizations of preadolescent boys and small children. In the ensuing years, he has added to his palette, and now is taking up the challenge of realistic female protagonists.

King's appeal thus broadens even further: this realism opens up a subtext that addresses urgent contemporary concerns. From his youth, he has been a man of his generation; a man with deep political awareness and involvement. As has been elaborated critically by such works as Tony Magistrale's Landscape of Fear and Douglas Winter's The Art of Darkness, King has created many novels which allegorically address current social dilemmas: the corruption of school and church (Rage, Carrie, Christine), the government (The Long Walk, Firestarter, The Running Man, The Stand, The Dead Zone), the small town ('Salem's Lot, It, Needful Things, Tommyknockers), the family (The Shining, Cujo, It, Christine), and heterosexual relationships (Gerald's Game, Dolores Claiborne). Thus, King's work offers more than mere escape fiction or "adrenaline" fiction; it urges readers to confront squarely and disturbingly the horror in their own lives. The resulting depth connects him to an audience drawn to literature more "serious" than horror or genre fiction. His model has inspired enough followers to cause horror fiction to move to the front of bookstores and the top of the New York Times' bestseller list. It is not so much that the reading public has developed a perverse taste for horror as it is that, emulating King, horror writers have broadened and deepened their art enough to address us all on issues of consequence.

Paramount among these issues is death. As James Hillman pointed out in Revisioning Psychology, contemporary Western culture is the first extensive culture which has had to consider death as an ending, rather than as a transformation. Instead of believing in a transformation into an angel or devil, animal, or star, today's rationalists regard being as matter and unanimated being as refuse. Founded upon such materialism, the contemporary state and school have reinterpreted reality so as to provide for the here and now, and have maintained a polite skepticism about other realities. King repeatedly dramatizes, from an evolving perspective, the dilemma in which we find ourselves: we are without resources before the imminence of our own deaths and the catastrophe of the deaths of those we love. Adopting (such as in Carrie) a contemporary existentialist attitude (where the only constants are isolation, decay, and death), King explores such values (acts, creations, children) as may survive death or those entertained by other cultures (as in The Stand). In other novels (such as The Talisman and The Dark Tower series) King will entertain the possibilities suggested by post-Einsteinian physicists (the multiverse, the reality of process and the nonexistence of time, space, and matter). As in It, King looks at possibilities suggested by the psychoanalytic architects of reality, particularly the Jungian theory of an archetypal dimension underlying matter—a dimension that can be apprehended and molded by the artistic imagination. Although King sometimes ends his novels in nausea (Pet Sematary) or nothingness (Carrie), normally he views the human condition in terms of possibilities and affirmations. Again representative of his generation—and his American community (small-town New England)—those affirmations are based upon what is possible for the individual, particularly the individual not blinded by rationalism. He displays deep distrust for any human configuration larger than the family.

Although King's thematic reach is wide and deep, ascertaining his position on any given issue is not simple. This ambiguity also underlies his broad appeal, for vastly different readers may arrive at vastly different conclusions about his agenda. King seems, in a novel like The Stand, to be able to appreciate the validity of the opposed positions of a small-town Christian, Republican American with a high school education and a sophisticated, liberal, and urban existentialist. In a way, like Shakespeare, he does not conclusively resolve a plot or commit irrevocably to the agenda of a specific character or group of characters involved in the conflict. But his noncommitment is so submerged that readers normally assume (as they have with Shakespeare for centuries) that he agrees with them; he economically gestures toward the possibility of gestalt, not a specific gestalt. On the contrary, his chief artistic talent—the talent that has kept all of his work in print throughout his career and is likely to keep it in print—is his ability to balance opposing realities. The reader must resolve the issues. If we supinely regard King as simply a popular artist and expect a canned resolution, we often will find his resolutions unsatisfying. If we invest the energy in tipping his balance toward ourselves, we will behold in the artistic experience an affirming and illuminating mirror of our problems and our solutions.

Such a mirror develops not only from King's choice of situations of great concern to us, but by his technique of characterization. Here again, he achieves balance, gains breadth and depth of appeal. In one sense, King is a highly accomplished realist with a keen eye for the nuances of image and voice; but, in another, his characters are archetypal with origins in myth and folktale. Characters fall into two large groups—the sketch and the multidimensional. One of his true talents is the sketch: he is able to populate novels like 'Salem's Lot, The Stand, and The Tommyknockers with hundreds of briefly executed, vivid characters—each efficiently caught in a telling and representative moment that is often grotesque and generally memorable. King can make credible, as in The Stand, a plot that quite literally involves a whole country. He sketches characters from the South, New York, New England, the West, from the rural and urban blue-collar class, the middle class, the criminal and indigent, the police, the army, the entertainment world, and the clerks and functionaries of cities and small towns from all over America. These characters, placed in highly detailed topographies, create for us the realistic element of his fantasies so central in enabling us to accept their supernatural premises. As King said in an interview with Magistrale: "The work underlines again and again that I am not merely dealing with the surreal and the fantastic but, more important, using the surreal and the fantastic to examine the motivations of people and the society and the institutions they create."

King's realistic techniques for creating the primary multidimensional characters significantly differs from those producing the sketch. Generally speaking, he avoids the customary expository visual portrait of a primary character; he prefers to develop the character internally. Thus, by beginning in the character's sensorium, we can project more quickly and directly into it than we might if the objectification of a physical description was between us and it: existing as the bound Jessie Burlingame in Gerald's Game, we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell her experience of her world; and from these physical experiences we enter into and share her psychological presence. Generally, we find that psychological presence to be archetypal—the anima. Like any popular artist working with the stereotypical, King is always on the border of creating Jungian personae and plots emanating from the cultural unconscious. Therefore, however individually a multidimensional character may be textured, it feels very familiar as we settle into it.

But King goes a step further, particularly in his more epic novels, by exemplifying the theories of such neo-Jungian thinkers as Hillman: (1) the human psyche is basically a location for a cast of personae in dynamic relationship with one another; (2) the one-persona psyche—humanity's current and dominant commitment to unity, integration, and control—is pathological (the excesses of the rationalistic materialist); and (3) the universe and its inhabitants can only be seen clearly through multiple and dynamic perspectives. Thus, except in novellas and short stories, King generally prefers multiple points of view. Here he is influenced by modernists (such as Faulkner) and by cinema: perspective follows setting—and if the setting contains different characters, he still develops multiple points of view. In the larger novels, typically King pits a group of comrades against a common threat, a dynamic for which he found precedent in both Tolkien's The Ring trilogy and Stoker's Dracula. Though the details produced by setting and sensorium conceal the fact, each comrade is a persona—a specialized and archetypal figure such as the child, the old man, the lover, the teacher, the healer, etc. As the plot progresses and each persona contributes its vision, the remaining personae subsume these perspectives and evolve into a single (hero or heroine) or dyadic (lovers or parent/child) protagonist with the capacity to defeat or stalemate the antagonist, which itself is often a persona embodying death, decay, or meaninglessness.

Just as often, however, the antagonist is the monstrous. King has a particularly complex attitude toward such a persona. Like Clive Barker, King is able to see the positive side of the monstrous—its incredible energy and commitment, its individuality, and its ability to function in the unknown. Unlike Barker, he is not ready to embrace the monstrous and let it transform him. Again, balance prevails. In Danse Macabre, King analyzes the function of author and antagonist in novels. For him, the authorial is not the autobiographical; the "King" is another persona—the folksy, small-town Maine citizen of the commercials, of the prefaces, and of the authorial asides. The persona of the author agrees with the norms of the community. But the antagonist (as monster) is that shadow aspect of us which finds its reality in the individual, the bizarre, and the grotesque. This antagonist seeks to tyrannically control or to destroy rather than to belong, which is dynamic rather than centered and driven rather than ordered. We contain both and we come to the novel to experience both. Their conflict will never be settled, for it is the essence of what they are: opposites that define one another. Although Thad Beaumont, the protagonist of The Dark Half, wins his conflict with George Stark (the monster within him) we learn in Needful Things that he has lost his love, his art, and his family—he has settled back into alcoholism. In summary, the traditional horror novel, such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, excises or conquers the antagonist; the postmodernist horror novel, such as Clive Barker's works, transforms the protagonist into the antagonist, or vice versa; and King's novels balance these processes.

The end result of such a dynamic perception of character and structure is that the novel becomes psyche: that is, it is the location of archetypal personae and their dynamics. It is the interface between the psyches of writer and reader, a template of the soul, a mirror in which we see ourselves most clearly in terrain we least care to explore, the nightworld of death and monstrosity. Seen from the above perspectives, King becomes a modern shaman employing magic (the fantasy image, childhood imagination) to lead his culture into self-discovery where it most needs to look while maintaining commitment to love, family, and community—for King is also a husband, father, and highly visible "social" presence. Again he balances: he is of the tribe and he directs the tribe. No wonder we read him; no wonder we approach him with caution.

Because of his inclination to balance consecutive novels by opposing them to one another, these propositions apply more to the broad characteristics and processes of the canon rather than to individual novels. But his novels also fall into categories in which the same striving toward the balancing of opposing forces is evident: the community, the child, the writer, the woman, and the quest. These categories not only provide a more useful way of approaching King's fiction specifically than would a chronological or genre discussion, but they also focus the preceding theoretical discussion. Each category is a broad, shared foundation with the reader upon which and through which King can consistently design and redesign his social allegories and the psyche's archetypal templates that so consistently and profoundly link him with his audience.

King's writings about the community establish him as one of the country's major regionalist writers whose influences can be traced to the New England Gothic writers, Thornton Wilder's Our Town, and the novels of William Faulkner. The community which King most often chooses to present is one inspired by the town of his childhood—Durham, Maine. Sometimes the town is Jerusalem's Lot of the 'Salem's Lot stories, Haven of The Tommyknockers, or Castle Rock—the setting of such works as The Body, Cujo, The Dead Zone, The Dark Half, and Needful Things. A citizen of his region, King believes that the most politically viable unit is one small enough to hear and respond to individual opinion; as in The Stand, cities like New York regularly appear in an advanced state of disruption and the federal government responds only to the reality of its paper and its power.

Although community is more feasible in a small town than in a large city, in King's small towns it is rare. More frequently, their citizens (as in 'Salem's Lot, The Tommyknockers, and Needful Things) are caught up in materialistic pursuits that lead them into conflict with their neighbors. This conflict results in a community held together by conformity rather than cooperation, with narcissism and the closed door, fealty to no code but self-gratification, and apocalypse simmering beneath the surface. Yet—to stress King's seeking of balance in this category—there appears the option of a better way of life. The Boulder Free Zone of The Stand comes closest to such a utopia: it is small, it accords a place to each according to need and talent, and it attends to the individual. But King is ambivalent about such a grassroots democracy; the true reason for the survival of the Free Zone is the emergence of an elite presiding coterie composed of exceptional individuals with exceptional social conscience. When events demand the sacrifice of most of these people and the Free Zone becomes too large for rule by their dialogue, Stu Redman and Fran Goldsmith (the surviving hero and heroine) conclude that their community now is simply recycling the former decadent and materialist world. They opt for a more viable social unit: the family. And they leave the Free Zone for the locale of King's own family, Maine.

To understand King's strong focus on the family and the child requires recognition that during his career he has been a husband and father of two boys and a girl. During their childhood, he generally worked at home, but brought his family with him on the rare occasions when he left Maine. Thus, his family is often major material; he need only look up from the word processor to find grist. And as his own children have aged, so has the presence of the child diminished in his novels. The category of the child arises for a second reason: in his own development, King has had to reencounter himself as child and boy in order to remove the blocks to his becoming a man: "The idea is to go back and confront your childhood, in a sense relive it if you can, so that you can be whole." Also in this category are early novels such as Rage (begun while he was in high school), The Long Walk, and Carrie (written by a young man dealing with problems posed by family and organized adult society).

Among King's most endearing characters are small children such as Danny Torrance of The Shining and Charlie McGee of Firestarter. In their characterization, he avoids the potential sentimentality that often sinks such efforts by manipulating sentences that seamlessly weave together the diction and phrasing of both child and adult, thus conveying the being of the one and the perspective of the other. The second paragraph introducing Danny provides an example: "Now it was five o'clock, and although he didn't have a watch and couldn't tell time too well yet anyway, he was aware of passing time by the lengthening of the shadows, and by the golden cast that now tinged the afternoon light." The first subordinate clause is childishly run-on in structure and uses Danny's diction, while the second main clause is complex-compound within itself—its subordinate elements are parallel and its diction is the polysyllabic format typical of the narrator in King's lyric mode. Such a combination of styles and perspectives works so well because King adheres to the romantic belief that the child is the father of the man. It may be that children are superior in wisdom and psychological talents to adults simply because the latter are corrupted by psyches shrunken by materialism and rationalism—but they are superior. Thus, Danny is one with time and space, almost godlike in his perception of those dimensions in the haunted Hotel Overlook, while Charlie's power over the material world establishes her as an angel of apocalypse when she incinerates the Shop (King's version of the CIA).

King's adolescents can also be superior to his adults. In fact, the major reason for grouping the adolescent with the child is that, normally, King's adolescents are prepubescent: they have no explicit sexual identity and are still more child than adult. It is in such adolescents that we see his attempt to achieve yet another kind of balance—between the two stages of life. While the child has intimations of immortality, the adult has knowledge of death. Thus, the Castle Rock novella The Body (made into the excellent film by Rob Reiner entitled Stand By Me) initiates its four boys by leading them not into a sexual encounter, but into another rite of passage: their first encounter with death as the corpse of a fifth boy. Similarly, in It, a group of boys encounters and prevails over the protean incarnation of every human's deepest fear; and in The Talisman, co-written with Peter Straub, a trio of boys (an archetypal id, ego, and superego) transcend the force of this reality to enter a reality in which death is unempowered. Sometimes, as in Carrie, The Stand, and Christine, death and sexuality are negatively related: as Carrie becomes sexual, she becomes monstrous and an angel of the apocalypse. The sexual foreplay of Nadine and Harold in The Stand is a clear symptom of their degenerate state. As Arnie becomes sexual, Christine corrupts him—even Arnie's benevolent alter ego, Dennis, discovers that his first love turns to ashes. In his most recent novels, King demonstrates a mature and central sexuality; but in the novels of this earlier period, in which he is reencountering his boyhood, sexuality leads to adulthood which leads to diminished psychological resources and death.

Coincidental with King's emphasis on the child and the boy is his emphasis on the family (often in a pathological phase). One of the earliest and most powerful of these novels is The Shining, which, long before systems theory, dramatized the point that the pathological individual is a symptom of the pathological family and that both must undergo treatment. Jack Torrance's obsessions and his wife's posture as victim are inheritances from their parents which bind them together and threaten Danny. In Christine, Arnie's pathological family environment leads to his destruction and theirs, while Dennis's family supports and creates him in its image. It provides the reader with a wide range of family dynamics, both successful and unsuccessful, and relates such to the girl and boys who are the protagonists. The most powerful of the numerous family novels is the tragic Pet Sematary, which develops for the reader a realistically ideal family which is demolished by its own estimable values when its child is senselessly killed. The question posed by the novel is whether the family can survive the death of a child. The answer is no. In this system, the death of a child kills the family.

A subject as close to King as the child and the family is that of the writer—a character who dominates as either protagonist or antagonist in a wide range of short stories, novellas, and novels (most significantly 'Salem's Lot, The Shining, It, Misery, The Tommyknockers, and The Dark Half). The novelist-protagonist who dominates 'Salem's Lot is more a product of King's youthful ideals than his experience. Like King, Ben Mears (a "mirror") undertakes a novel which will allow him to productively relive his childhood. But Ben's conflict with the vampire Barlow enlarges him to mythic proportions: as the personae about him converge and provide him understanding, faith, wisdom, and imagination, he develops a godlike perception and power. Metaphorically, when he encounters and conquers the vampire that is feeding on the town, he becomes the archetype of an elemental "good … whatever moved the greatest wheels of the universe." The following novel, The Shining, establishes balance by becoming an exact opposite to its predecessor: the alcoholic Torrance (a playwright this time) is the monster. King sees this particular writer as a failure because he stops writing—Torrance's writing block leads to psychosis. Among the complex communities of The Stand, a similar opposition is in the contrast between Larry (the successful musician) with Harold (the unsuccessful writer): although his success nearly destroys him, Larry literally enacts a second crucifixion that saves the world; abnegating art for dark vision, Harold still manages some dignity before succumbing to demonic forces. Both figures physically resemble King: Larry has King's height and current physique and Harold has the height and King's adolescent physique. Although the hero is blond and the villain dark-haired, both have hair the quality of King's. In It, where the child's imagination is the only weapon of the adult against the death and meaninglessness of the eponymous evil, the novelist Bill Denbrough (who this time resembles Peter Straub) regains this state most easily and thus is a vital element of the protagonistic band.

Balancing again, King writes two novels—Misery and The Tommyknockers—which countervail such optimistic authorial characterizations. In Misery the primary subject is the negative relationship of the reader and the writer: the reader is the writer's enemy. Readers regularly read the genre writer rather than the literary artist—in Misery, this is the Gothic novelist. Since the readers' choice enforces conventions and confines the writer's creative talent, in a sense the audience "writes" the genre novel. Apparently tiring of these limitations, King personifies his tyrannical audience in the archetypal figure of Annie, who literally limits the aspiring literary artist, Paul Sheldon, to genre fiction by drugs, bondage, and torture. Despite such a negative response to whether readers are the motivation for writing, King gives the issue a serious and detailed treatment: his writing of a Gothic romance novel within a realistic novel and his exploration of the psychological processes of writers and their relationship with those of readers is a fascinating and original effort. And, again, he negates his own negation by undercutting Paul's distaste for genre fiction by his admiration for this bloodily extracted romance, even though its creation mutilated him.

While Misery suggests that the literary artist's social influence is more negligible than that of a genre novelist by creating a character with a conflicting literary agenda, The Tommyknockers approaches the same issue by creating two authors: (1) the genre novelist, Bobbi Anderson, whose dark vision unleashes an alien presence which enslaves her community; and (2) the literary artist, poet Jim Gardener, whose self-sacrifice saves that community. Both are competent and dedicated writers who hold one another's work in esteem. But both are fatally flawed. Bobbi's kind of writing leaves her psychologically open to outside control (from audience and alien): she becomes the conduit which unearths and directs a cosmic darkness to the human community. Jim is armed against such possession, but isolated from the community by an art aspiring to the ideal. He has the vision to see through the darkness—he can and does die for the community, but it will never buy his books. As in Misery, King's final position on the writer's value is extremely pessimistic.

After writing Misery and The Tommyknockers, King entered a hiatus. For him, writing had become an existential act. He had the money but he felt controlled and depleted by the audience that he did have and despaired of the existence of any other kind of audience. Why continue to write? Developmental theory, such as Gail Sheehy's Passages, suggests that other processes were affecting King. He was passing through a chronological period from the age of 38 to 42 in which a man or woman working in the public area generally experiences extreme conflict as life takes a new direction: he or she reaches the end of a horizontal direction in which new territory and material are claimed through a process of conflict (a masculine direction), and a vertical direction where depth rather than width is sought through the development of nurturance and personal relationships (a feminine direction).

King emerged from his hiatus with an ambitious contract for four books—he wrote five (the last two of which were novels solely about women). But before he undertook this feminine direction, he closed the canon to children, Castle Rock, and writers. Children had by this time become lesser characters. The people of Castle Rock, given a slight nudge by a minor demon, destroyed themselves in the apocalyptic cataclysm ending Needful Things. The resolution of the issue of the writer in The Dark Half was more complex. The opposition of popular writer and artist in Misery and The Tommyknockers is here internalized in The Dark Half: warring for the soul of a writer are his personae as literary artist (Thad Beaumont) and as genre novelist (George Stark). The artist wins, but the victory is pyrrhic. Closer examination reveals that Beaumont's friends, wife, and children are psychologically akin to his nemesis. We find out in the sequel, Needful Things, that not only has the artist lost friends and family, but also the will to write. He is an alcoholic and the circle is closed. King leaves the issue behind him unresolved: it is what it is.

In Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne, King picks up a gauntlet. Long criticized for unidimensional female characters in such articles as Mary Pharr's "Partners in the Danse: Women in Stephen King's Fiction," he apparently decided that a new direction for growth both as human and as artist would be appropriate in accepting the challenge to create convincing women. Written simultaneously, the novels are most productively regarded as two poles in a meta-narrative process. At the one pole is the heroine of Gerald, Jessie Burlingame—economically and socially privileged, childless, and in her own eyes significant only as her husband's sexual object. At the other pole is Dolores, a figure apparently based on King's mother (to whom he dedicates the novel)—economically and socially underprivileged, a mother, and in her own eyes significant in herself. Through their telepathic awareness of one another and through their experience of the same eclipse as a central incident in their lives, King establishes the commonality of these two very different women: it lies in the fact that they are whole only in those years before and after men entered their lives—the period of the eclipse. In Gerald, King dramatizes the entry of Jessie into an eclipse through the seduction and domination by her father; she exits the eclipse by killing her dominating husband, Gerald. The subsequent fragmenting of her victim persona into a community of sustaining female personae provides her with the resources to free herself from a literal bondage. In Dolores, the titular figure is a mother and wife who exits the eclipse by murdering a husband who also seeks to sexually exploit his daughter. In either case, the women experience one horror in common: the entry of men and sexuality into their lives. By erecting such contrasting poles as Jessie and Dolores, and yet maintaining both as sympathetic characters with a shared dilemma, King writes paired novels sympathetic to a wide spectrum of women and evades an easy condemnation of his women characters as unidimensional.

Overall, King's canon is a quest. But his battle cry is not "excelsior!" The direction is downwards and the path is a spiral. Many of King's characters experience life as a quest: Ben Mears of 'Salem's Lot questing for self and conquering the vampire; The Tommyknockers' Gardener questing for death and finding self; the comrades of The Stand marching against the Dark One and founding the New Jerusalem; the boys of It killing fear; and the boys of The Talisman killing death. The gunslinger of The Dark Tower series is, however, probably most typical of King: he seeks to understand what the quest itself is. His enemies become his friends, his guides his traitors, his victims those he has saved, and his now a then. Paradox; transformation; balancing the dualities, an emergent, tenuous, ever-fading, and ever-appearing balance—these are the duplicitous landmarks in the terrain of King's work and his life. Both are open enough and fluent enough to mirror us and ours as we seek to make our own accommodations with modern monsters, personal meaninglessness, social chaos, physical decay, and death.

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