Stories without method: Stephen King and the source of the stories

Stories without method: Stephen King and the source of the stories

Stories without method

Stephen King was born in Portland, Oregon on September 21, 1947 and is one of the most famous writers in the world. He has been for decades. He is also one of the most looted writers of the last century and, most likely, of the entire history of literature. I should check, to be sure, but I think only Shakespeare has inspired more movies, TV series, shows, cartoons or radio plays than him. And, if you get beaten by Shakespeare, you certainly can't complain.

Stephen King, though, often dubbed - perhaps too often - the Thrill King, or just the King, is also one of the writers he weighs heavily on. the prejudice is relentless. Indeed, prejudices: that of being just a horror writer, and there would be nothing wrong, considering that the Western novel was definitively codified between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century thanks to the horror genre; to be a serial producer of worse and worse stories, and I struggle to agree, considering the greatness of books like Revival, Joyland, Dark Night, No Stars, Duma Key or 11/22/63 and I don't add any other titles not to dwell on it; that of being an altogether mediocre writer; but, above all, to be a successful writer.

The source of the stories

King is a hugely successful writer. A success that has fueled suspicion - as often happens to writers who sell millions and millions of copies, such as J.K. Rowling - who, if he can talk to everyone, is talking too easy.

But Stephen King is the King, he really is, for a number of reasons: he is the most formidable storyteller around, capable like no other of doing what storytellers have been doing for centuries, that is to lay a hand on our shoulder, look us straight in the eye and say 'Hey, I have a good story to tell you. Do you want to listen to it? 'And to begin to tell in a calm, patient, relentless voice, making us forget the world around us, to the point of making it even more true. But there's another reason why I think King is unmatched: he goes fishing where stories have their source. And he knows where that spring is.

How do I know? Because, over the years, with patience, without ever losing heart, with a generosity that decrees its further greatness, he has taken the trouble to point it out to us, to tell us about it, to share his secret, to explain to us what flowed from that kind of crack in the rock of our humanity. In other words, Stephen King is also a great literary critic.

To explain it, and to explain why it is a methodless story maker itself - is the title of this column, in case you have forgotten it, and, if so, I couldn't blame you - I decided to take as examples three texts written over a long period of time that is between 1976 and 2000.

The first is the masterful and much celebrated preface to Sometimes Return, his first collection of short stories from 1976 . In that preface, in addition to explaining why he decided to write horror - for the simple fact that he likes it, but no one ever asks a lawyer why he chose to be a lawyer, not with the same disgusting restlessness, at least -, at a certain point a specific question is asked, one of those questions that, as soon as it is uttered, attracts everyone's attention: what is fear? And why do people read such scary stuff? As Jonhathan Gottschall wrote in a beautiful essay published by Bollati Boringheri, entitled The instinct to narrate and subtitled How stories made us human, if stories serve to make us process pain, they do it in a very strange way, that is by projecting us into a hell of further pain, death and suffering. That's right, it's not hard to understand, just think of a movie, novel, comic or series we love: pain and suffering in bundles.

But the secret is right there, as King says in that preface : no one, when he passes by a road accident and sees a corpse covered by a white sheet on the asphalt, is able to look away. Because we are that corpse, it will be us, and the comfort of not being under that sheet never completely takes away the restlessness that one day we will be. Life is full of horrors big and small, and in stories we look for those, even when they make us laugh. Uncle King spits it in our face and adds:

“We are often, in everyday life, like the masks of Comedy and Tragedy, we smile from the outside, we make a grimace from the inside. There is a central exchange point within us, a transformer, where the wires that start from the two masks are connected. And that's where the horror story so often hits the mark ".

And what the horror story really does, what's inside those stories of monsters and archetypal figures, King himself took the trouble to explain it in a long and fundamental essay on the horror genre - and not only - from 1981, entitled Danse Macabre.

The origin of horror

Let's take a step back. In 1912, the British neurologist and psychoanalyst Ernest Jones published a work entitled Psychoanalysis of the nightmare. It is a pioneering study on the psychoanalytic meaning of nightmares and their link with some medieval beliefs. Jones examines in particular the psychological origin and the oneiric character of some figures that populated the imagination of the citizen of medieval and probably also modern times.

The figures in question are the Vampire, the Werewolf, the Witches and the Devil. According to the author, the Devil represents the wickedness of man and that of Satan - another name to define the same phenomenon - is the story of a constant fear, that is, of the terror of something capable of paralyzing those who witness its appearance.

Curiously, the figures indicated by Jones are very similar to those identified by Stephen King in Danse Macabre. King argues that three Tarot figures have in fact laid the foundation for the development of the horror imagery in which we are immersed: the Vampire, the Werewolf and the Nameless Thing.

Stephen King identifies the three figures on the base of very solid arguments:

“One of the most common themes of fantastic literature” he writes in Danse Macabre, “is that of immortality. 'The Thing That Doesn't Want to Die' has been a staple of the genre, from Beowulf to the stories The Truth About the Case of Mr. Valdemar and The Revealing Heart of Poe, to the works of Lovecraft (such as Cold Air), Blatty and even , God forbid, by John Saul ".

King then gets to the heart of the discourse, concentrating on three fundamental novels, which have in fact created a canon:

" All three live in a sort of limbo ”he writes,“ outside the shining circle of the recognized 'classics' of English literature, and perhaps with good reason. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written in three days by Robert Louis Stevenson. His wife was so horrified that Stevenson burned the manuscript in the fireplace… But then she rewrote it from scratch in just three more days. Dracula is a real throbbing melodrama nestled in the structure of the epistolary novel, a convention already dying twenty years earlier. […]. Frankenstein, the most famous of the three, was written by a nineteen-year-old girl, and although stylistically the best, it is also the least read; never again would the author have written so quickly and well, with such success ... And with such audacity.

In the light of the most severe criticism, all three books can be considered nothing more than popular novels of the time, with little that distinguishes them from other more or less similar novels. […] But these three novels are something special. They are the foundations of the gigantic skyscraper of twentieth-century Gothic books and films that are known as the 'modern horror story'. More importantly, at the center of each of these three novels stands (or trudges) a monster who has come to magnify what Burt Hatlen calls the 'pool of myths', that is, the set of imaginary literature in which we all , even those who do not read it or who do not go to the cinema, we are collectively immersed. As in an almost perfect Tarot hand in which our most fruitful ideas of evil are represented, the three novels can be fixed precisely on the figures of the Vampire, the Werewolf and the Nameless Thing ".

And after having identified those who defined tarot figures and talked about the pool of myths, decides to checkmate us, going to flush out the soft womb of our conscience, the place where we give in even without wanting to, the point where the legs give way and the brain begins to buzz. A place where our relationship with the body, with the world and with nature meet and conflict, that is, three forms of relationship that have marked and continue to mark any form of narration that relies on fear and terror.

But, more generally, any form of narration, to the point of shaping and reshaping the imaginary, going to touch naked - or very uncovered - nerves of us human beings and of the planet we live on. Enough to imagine that the Cosmos, the abyss, other galaxies or the sea depths guard monsters and entities capable of subverting our unconscious and our conscious life.

The horror genre, that is, has been capable in the last fifty or sixty years of working on what King calls 'phobic pressure points'. Here is how the King describes them and from which references he starts to do so:

"Is horror art? It reaches the status of art simply because it is in search of something that is beyond art, which makes art a prey; is looking for what I would call phobic pressure points. The good horror story will dance to the center of your life and find that door to the secret room that only you thought you knew existed: as both Albert Camus and Billy Joel pointed out, the Stranger makes us nervous ... but we like it wear his face, in secret.

Are spiders scaring you? Good. We have spiders, as in Tarantula, BX Radiation Destruction of Man and Kingdom of Spiders. And the mice? In James Herbert's novel of the same name, you can feel them climbing up on you ... And eating you alive. The snakes? Claustrophobia? The heights? Or… anything.

Since books and films are mass media, the horror field has often been able over the past thirty years to do even better than these personal fears. During this period (and to a lesser extent in the preceding seventy years), the horror genre has often managed to find national phobic pressure points, and the most successful books and films have almost always called into question and expressed fears that exist. across a diverse spectrum of people. These fears, often political, economic and psychological rather than supernatural, give the best horror works a satisfying allegorical sense, and it is the kind of allegory with which directors get married. Maybe because they know that if things start to get boring, they can always get the monster out of the dark. ”

How not to love him? How not to love a writer who tells you how he can flush out the darkness, the terror and make it so compelling, even when he tells a story of growth - as in The Body, from which Stand by me was taken, or It -, or talks about our relationship with death - as in Pet Sematary - or the sense of injustice that arises from the bloody land in the heart of the heart of his native country, the USA, as in The Green Mile and many other tales?

That generosity is the same that prompted him to share his toolbox in On Writing, his autobiography as a writer, published in the USA in 2000, and in which he says at least two fundamental things: that the plot does not matter - you understand why ' without method '? -, since a what if, that is a fairly powerful narrative trigger is able to generate a story as a whole; and that writing is in fact telepathy. If I want to get a caged rabbit with a blue eight on its back into your brain, it will. Especially that blue eight. Are you seeing it too? All thanks to Uncle King.

So, if one day they tell you that King is a cheap writer, don't mention the masterpieces he wrote, the films he inspired, the success he achieved. Just answer: yes, but at least you know that he is a formidable critic?

If you want to learn more about Stephen King's world, we recommend reading Danse Macabre

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