AN AUDIENCE FOR THE KING

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that I had never read anything by Stephen King. That factoid didn’t fill me with pride. I have absolutely nothing against the man—who may be the most famous and prolific living American author, if statistics like numbers of titles, movie adaptations and book sales mean anything.

Different Seasons

 

 

 

I was watching the movie Stand By Me with my son when…

 

 

Let me gently slam on the brakes here. Why was I watching this film with my then-four-year-old? The simple answer is that I (and Benny, for that matter), was in a movie mood. I didn’t want to watch another kiddie DVD and I happened to find this in my sloppily-arranged movie drawer. It had been ages since I had watched it, and since Benny stays up real late, didn’t think it would be too inappropriate for him.

 

Yeah, the film, which was at least loosely based on King’s childhood, has four adolescent boys tossing around lots of f-bombs and the like, but there were no words that he hasn’t heard several times before—when (for instance) I’ve been lost without GPS at night, one of my teams just lost a crucial game or my laptop stopped working. Stand By Me also displays implicit violence and a scene of projectile vomiting, which may be the most memorable part of the movie. For Benny, anyway.

 

Truly, I’m almost virulently anti-gun violence, don’t love barfing and would prefer Benny (and me) not to use bad language, but this is an amazing coming-of-age film. Perhaps, the very best. Besides, I recall my wife Ruby and I watching Sideways with a two (or three)-year-old Benny still up and kind of watching. For a little while, he would call this buddy-wine-drinking-semi-romance flick his favorite movie. I think he just liked the name. One of my favorite early Benny-isms went something like this:

 

He was three, maybe four, and we were at our neighborhood playground. He was playing with a boy he had met there awhile back, and they were sitting on a little bench pretending to watch TV. I asked them what they were watching, and the other boy offered the name of a cartoon. Benny pretended to grab a remote out of his friend’s hand, aimed it ahead, and said, “I want to watch Sideways.”

 

So yes, if you ever enter our house, you won’t see toy guns, other than maybe a water pistol (or two) used only for its intended purpose. You may also witness us watching or listening to something meant more for people older than Benny, but c’est la vie. There’s no defined strategy or playbook for all this…

 

Stand By Me (a Rob Reiner film theatrically released in 1986) was just as compelling as I remembered. Interestingly, the young actors who portrayed the four adolescents have seemingly played out their lives in either striking similarity or extreme contrast to their characters.

 

Wil Wheaton (Gordie Lachance, who is apparently modeled on a young King) was arguably the most normal of the four, although his character suffered from the dual whammy of losing his older brother who he idolized, and the resulting lack of any signs of affection from his own Dad. Wheaton still acts, and appears to be refreshingly normal today.

 

River Phoenix (Chris Chambers, the leader of the gang—a sweet kid at heart who is trapped by his own bad reputation, including an older brother who is part of a gang of young hoods). In the movie’s epilogue, we find out that Chris dies quite young while trying to break up a scuffle. Of course, River Phoenix died of a drug overdose at the tender age of 23.

 

Corey Feldman (Teddy Duchamp, the craziest of the bunch, who apparently was abused by his dad) was, apparently, a mess as a young actor and never really snapped out of it 27 years later.

 

Jerry O’Connell (Vern Tessio, the fat kid from a troubled home, with a bad brother. He was mostly used for comic relief) is now tall, lean, good-looking and married to the beautiful Rebecca Romijn. Based at least on superficial evidence, not a bad life…

 

So, what’s my point?  I’m asking the same, as it’s not as if Stephen King orchestrated all of this. He isn’t that powerful, is he?  No, but…some of you reading this may well have read 10 or more of his novels. And I still hadn’t read anything by him. While not a bucket list item (confession: I don’t have one), I set out to change that, if in a very small way.

 

I searched for The Body, the short novel on which Stand By Me was based, It is one of four novellas that comprise Different Seasons (1982). The book opens with Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, which inspired the film, The Shawshank Redemption—a movie I greatly admire, even more so than Stand By Me.

 

It should be stated here that when it comes to Stephen King’s works, the only movies of his that I have seen in their entirety are those two wonderful films, along with Misery (macabre, and a fine work) and The Green Mile, which did not work for me. I know…

 

So, what did I discover upon this relatively miniscule portion of his writing. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is a fine read, but as I did so, the novella was subconsciously competing with a film that I have seen about a half-dozen times. When reading the story (told from Red’s point of view), I couldn’t help but hear Morgan Freeman’s elegant voice and also think about all of the differences between the two. In most cases, my heart was with the movie version. Unfair? Probably.

 

Naturally, I’ll next move on to The Body, and try to go along for the ride without comparing it to what is now allegedly one of Benny’s new favorite movies. Hopefully, it will still work and even surprise me in the process; I’ve read that there are some differences from the film. Presumably, I’ll then go on to read the other seasons, Apt Pupil and The Breathing Method.

 

I’m not proud or ashamed of never having read anything by Stephen King until now, and realize that I have now only consumed well under one percent of his amazing library of words. The man has clearly enjoyed, and is still enjoying, a remarkable career, and hopefully, there is no stopping his creative juices.

 

Indeed, King’s career is enough to give any writer a sense of hope, even if we shouldn’t harbor delusions of the unique fame, popularity and wealth that he has enjoyed. Or should we.

 

At the end of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Red is taking a long bus ride with the hope of reuniting with his longtime friend and former prison block-mate, Andy Dufresne. In the film, Tim Robbins, er, Andy, is the very embodiment of hope, despite the most wretched, miserable of realities. I’ll let Stephen King close the piece, while I continue to hope to write something this iconic one day:

 

I think I am excited, so excited that I can hardly hold the pencil in my trembling hand. I think that it is the excitement that only a free man can feel, a free man starting a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

I hope Andy is down there.

I hope I can make it across the border.

I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.

I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.

I hope.

 

 

Featured Image courtesy of amazon.com

 

I know you're not usually a follower, but please follow me on Twitter.

My Facebook Fan page is right here.

To order my new (co-authored) book, please click here.

 

Share

Comments are closed.