Stephen King. What is there left to say about Stephen King? From the first moment I read Carrie, I was a fan. I’d read a lot before I discovered him; and yet his writing was a revelation to me. What he was able to do with setting, with character, the way he made his stories–regardless of subject matter–relentlessly realistic opened my eyes to what one can accomplish with writing. Over the years, as I’ve continued to read King (I still am not completely caught up; I am several books behind–the days when I could buy the book on release day and devour it in one or two sittings are sadly, far in the past), I continue to marvel at his extraordinary expertise. And while some of his books seem to go off the rails a bit, I would be proud to claim any of what I consider his lesser books (and by that I mean ‘ones I am not as fond of as others’) as my own: The Tommyknockers, Rose Madder, Dreamcatcher. I used to reread his books, over and over again–I don’t even know how many times I’ve reread salem’s Lot and The Stand and The Dead Zone and Christine, for example; and I wish I had the time to sit down and reread them all, from Carrie on. His On Writing is the one text I would tell every beginning writer to read from beginning to end, commit to memory, go back to whenever needed.
But I decided I wanted to talk about a different Stephen King title today: Danse Macabre.
As I often point out, I am more of a fan of horror than anything else; I’ve not read as widely in the genre as I would like, nor do I even know enough about the genre to write about subgenres and subcategories expertly. There are any number of horror writers whose oeuvres I’ve stuck my toe into, and found the water just fine, but haven’t had the time to fully commit to reading: Christopher Golden, Gemma Files, Douglas Clegg, Brian Keene, Nick Cutter, and John Boyne, just off the top of my head, and there are many more. There is just so much time, after all, and there are just so damned many books; and as someone who is primarily defined professionally as a crime writer, I have to read so much within my own genre, not to mention true crime–and of course, I love my nonfiction, which I can just walk away from without too much worry of having to go back to the beginning to start over.
But I do feel that King’s Danse Macabre, published originally in 1981, is an excellent overview of the horror genre up until that date. King’s non-fiction writing is very similar to his fiction; it’s smart but also accessible. And it’s excellent; it is serious scholarship about the genre of horror, written by the grandest master of the grand masters, talking in an accessible way about the best books, the best writers, the best films, and the best television programs within the genre…how they influenced his own work, and why. It’s truly exceptional.
I’ve always had a copy of Danse Macabre–well, I’ve always had a copy of every Stephen King book in my house–and it’s been a long time since I’ve revisited it. I may, once I tire of rereading Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots, give it another whirl. Reading it the first time was what reminded me of Richard Matheson, introduced me to other writers like Robert Bloch and Harlan Ellison (my God, Harlan Ellison) and even, for the first time, made me truly aware of Shirley Jackson; reading this was what sent me to the used bookstores in search of books by these authors again, and I’ve never regretted those forays into their work–Ellison and Jackson are certainly up there on my list of absolute favorites, and many of the others I originally found through reading Danse Macabre are certainly favorites.
And that’s not even including the television shows and movies.
And now, back to the spice mines.