This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced one fantasy author.
by Stephen King
As mentioned earlier, I had discovered horror fiction and Stephen King in the early 1980s through the book PetSematary. As a budding young writer who was not quite a teen, Pet Sematary opened up new story telling possibilities for me.
And it drove me to hunt down as many Stephen King books as I could find and to read them. Back then, there weren’t nearly as meaning King books available as there are today, or even as there would be just a few years later. King had been publishing about a book a year, but he was just hitting one of the busiest points in his career, churning out huge volumes of work through the rest of the ’80s.
Still, there were a number of King novels available. Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, were all excellent books.
Then I stumbled upon The Stand. It was such a thick book that I put off reading it for a while. Which was a shame, because once I did read it, it has since been one of my all-time favorite reads.
The Stand is a sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy tale. Most of humanity has been wiped out by a disease known as Captain Tripps, and the handful of survivors must … well, first they have to survive. Then they begin to receive dreams and other mysterious messages which lead them on a quest of sorts. Only there are two different types of dreams, for different types of people.
Eventually the survivors of Captain Tripps form into two camps, one that’s basically the good guys and the other that isn’t. Sounds simple. It’s not. It’s great and heroic and dark and challenging. It takes the idea of the fantasy quest, mixes it with horror, then plants it right in the middle of America.
When I had first discovered King, I had been intrigued by his mixing of fantasy tropes with the new world, thus creating his own brand of horror. With The Stand, this was more blatant, and it worked quite well. It’s the first book I ever remember reading that made me actually jealous, that made me think, “Man, I wish I’d written something that cool.”
An eerie coincidence has happened with me and The Stand over the years. The Stand, when originally published in the 1970s, had dated chapters. Those dates were just a few years after the original publication date. Oddly enough, I first read the stand during the actual dates in the book. Then a dozen or so years later, a new version of The Stand was released. The dates within the book’s chapters had been updated, of course, and guess what? I re-read the book. During the exact time period of those new dates within the tale. Spooky.
Next up: Conan of Cimmeria, by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter