I was a teenager when I first read Stephen King. The book was Salem’s Lot and the damn thing scared me so badly I didn’t pick up King again for two decades.
Then came The Gunslinger and The Dark Tower series, pressed upon me by friends whose opinions I trusted. I fell in love.
See, I’m not a straight-out horror fan. I can’t bear slasher stories and maniacal clowns, but I do enjoy fantasies that grapple with the (to me, obvious) darkness in the world. Any world. So it was inevitable, I suppose, that I should give King’s latest, Fairy Tale, a go.
To be honest, this 608-page book is a bit of a slow-go, though I can’t say it was ever boring. But then I like long Dickensian doorstoppers, dripping with atmospheric detail and quirky characters. Still, there’s an awful lot of “real world” setup and much (too much?) backstory before King takes us to that Other place, and I very much suspect that if this book had been written by any other author, the publisher would have insisted it lose about thirty percent of its tonnage.
Be that as it may, I loved the theme of the book—the importance and “role,” if you will, of fairy tales in our imaginations. And I quickly forgave the slow pace when much of the setup was paid off during a climactic scene in which the book’s young hero saves more than one world by way of…well, that would be telling.
Anyway, no harm, no foul. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time all the way through.
A little Synchronicity
It so happens I’m writing this on November 22, 2022, the 59th anniversary of two important deaths in 1963.
The first is the assassination of President Kennedy, about which King wrote so feelingly in one of his (for me) best works, 11.11.63.
The other anniversary is the death, on the same day, of C.S. Lewis. Though it’s difficult to imagine two more different fantasists than Lewis and King, one of the pleasures of Fairy Tale (and one of the reasons to love Stephen King) is that, for all the eldritch horror he gives space and voice to in his work, King, like Lewis, understands that Dark Magic (the bending of the universe to one’s will with guile and force and the invocation of Cthulhu-like powers), can only lead to the destruction, out of envy, of all that is Good, True, and Beautiful. No glamorizer of evil, he, unlike some horror writers.
Moreover, the darkness cannot win. Even if it’s a very slow go and an arduous struggle, the Deep Magic, as Lewis called it, at the heart of the universe, will triumph.
With the help of a kid and his dog.
P.S. I just came across this notice that a film adaptation of the book is already in the works, to be directed by Paul Greengrass!
Such a delightful reflection on your journey with King–from “Salem’s Lot” to “Fairy Tale.”
So true about the impossible-to-miss darkness that pervades the human condition . . .and about the deeper magic that lies at the heart of things.
Great comparison beween Lewis and King! Unlikely companions, who interestingly share a basic world-view and our mysterious capacity for evil and for good.
Thanks much for this review!
Terrific review! King is both synonymous with and transcendent of “horror.”