The Gunslinger by Stephen King (the most interesting line is in the foreword)

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Those of you who know me know that I rarely finish a Stephen King novel. I begin with the best intentions, hungry for a good story, but Stephen King knows far too much about the enemy (and the Bible) to be playing around. His novels can cross from being entertaining to being demonic because of this familiarity.

I’m enjoying The Gunslinger because it mimics The Lord of the Rings, a little bit, by King’s own admission. I, personally, would never equate him with Tolkien. But, there are the elements of a quest through interesting landscapes, foreboding events, evil and good characters.

I’m enjoying that part.

Yet the most interesting thing to me so far is this quote I read in the foreword written by the author:

Before I close, I should say a word about the younger man who dared to write this book. That young man has been exposed to far too many writing seminars’ promulgate: that one is writing for other people rather than one’s self; that language is more important than story; that ambiguity is to be preferred over clarity and simplicity, which are usually signs of a thick and literal mind.

Fascinating! I think that he has described the difference between the American novel and those in translation with that one quote. I found Japanese literature so frustrating when I first began to read it. “What?” I thought, “there’s no beginning, middle or end?” I had been trained, you see, from the teachers at Naperville Central High School in the 1970s, not to look outside the lines. Japanese literature is more typically a “slice of life” style of writing, jumping into the moment and leaving before everything is resolved.

So I’ve been caught on the horns of a dilemma: is writing to be clear and simple versus ambiguous? I know that I have been at turns frustrated and thrilled with the ambiguity found in some of my favorite novels: Kafka on the Shore, for example, or Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me. I know I prefer Haruki Murakami and Javier Marias to Stephen King. Maybe he’s justifying his straightforward storytelling with that comment, and I do appreciate his ability to entertain with a book that reads like a film unfolding in vivid technicolor.

But as to the quality of writing, give me an ambiguous novel full of gorgeous language any day.

My mind is neither thick or literal.

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3 thoughts on “The Gunslinger by Stephen King (the most interesting line is in the foreword)

  1. But all his books are slices of life stories! Slices from the same story.You don’t say how many, which or for how long you have been reading him, but if you have been reading him as long as I have, you would probably understand him better.

    I have read Stephen King since the beginning, which would be the 70’s. While I have missed a few, due to things like college, and other complications of life, I have read enough to be able to jump back into his world after a few chapters of any book.It’s all one big world, (think Balzac and his Comedie Humaine) and there’s nothing scarier out there than what goes on inside the heads of everyday people. People don’t think in polite language, as some people fail to remember.Many of his characters don’t or wouldn’t know any polite language anyway, so I rest my case.Reading one of his books is like a visit with an old friend.And he does confidential- old- pal storytelling very well.

    Along the way he occasionally finds time to take a poke at the writing establishment and what they consider the rules for success.That’s what that dedication is about. He has bent or ignored all the rules for literary success, while at the same time going with the flow of the publishing world. Ironically, his own book on writing: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is a highly regarded classic on the subject.

    There’s a short story in one of his collections,( I think it was Night Shift) about a successful writer who goes back and pins one of his stories on the classroom door of the high school English teacher who told him he would never succeed as writer.Considering that he now both influences and reflects American writing today, it would seem that one doesn’t need an advanced degree in Creative Writing, or any literary prizes to succeed, you just need to understand the human mind and be able to expound on it. Along with a sense of humour, of course, which he has in spades.

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    • I am thinking about your thought that all his books are slices from the same story…in terms of horror, yes, and his ability to name what is most frightening in life. Perhaps that is the context you mean? Because I don’t really see a connection betweenness The Shining, Misery, Carrie, Cujo, Under the Dome, or 11/22/63 all of which I finished. (It, The Stand, and a few others I’ve begun and abandoned in terror.)

      I like what you describe as his “confidential old-pal” writing style. It is indeed engaging, and personal, and hard to put down. As for telling a story, I can think of none better.

      I think he is far more well versed in Biblical studies than anyone gives him credit for. The way that he (mostly accurately) includes Biblical references and characters is nothing short of mind-blowing for a person who is so adept at writing horror. That is precisely what scares me; I love a mystery/thriller, but once we get into Satan himself, I am done.

      I really enjoyed your long, thoughtful comment. Thank you for the discussion.

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    • I mean that all the stories are interwoven, as they take place in the same world. He will make references in one book to places and characters that appear in other of his books. Salem’s Lot, Derry, Castle Rock and the Overlook Hotel are some of the ones I remember. Dolores Claiborne concerns the effects of a certain solar eclipse that takes place in some of the other novels too… it was and interesting eclipse.The books that take place in Castle Rock books are referred to as the Castle Rock Books. Every time he places the story in Derry, Castle Rock or the state of Maine, I am surprised there is anything left of any of those places! But apparently there is always one more house on the street….
      I think he does this to see if the reader , or as he calls us, Constant Reader is still alert.
      He is,as you noticed quite well read,and/ or else very aware of other books; the Bible included. As one character out in the middle of nowhere said, “God never says anything, He just listens”. So does Mr. King

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