Words are his power

by M.J. Hearle

My parents, (mum especially), are big readers. When I was growing up the bookshelves in my house groaned beneath the weight of hundreds of books. There was no particular trend tying the novels lining the shelves – thrillers like Gorky Park shared space with Spike Milligan stories which might have been pushed up against Steinbeck’s East of Eden. It was a smorgasbord of literary delights. At some point (I may have been seven or eight), I began to grow curious about my parents books, having grown bored with my own limited collection comprised mainly of Enid Blyton’s work (I loved me some Blyton when I was a kid and must have read and re-read The Faraway Tree a couple of dozen times). One book in particular drew my attention:

Stephen King’s The Shining.

I can’t remember when I first heard about Stephen King but it was probably in my much cherished A-Z Book of Movie Monsters. This weighty tome was purchased by my dad, after I glimpsed it in a bookstore and lost my mind at the potential coolness hidden within. I can honestly say no other book has ever brought me greater joy than that encyclopaedia of horror. Stephen King’s ‘Carrie’ was represented under ‘C’, the details of the movie accompanies by a large photograph of Carrie White drenched in pig’s blood, about to wreck telekinetic mayhem on her jeering classmates.

Even If I hadn’t learned about Mr King in these hallowed pages, I would have invariably caught a television commercial for a movie based on his work, or seen somebody wearing a ‘Stephen King Rules’ t-shirt (popularised in The Monster Squad) or read an interview in Fangoria magazine (almost as hard to get hold of when I was growing up as Playboy). To say Stephen King was culturally pervasive in the mid nineteen-eighties is an understatement.

When I asked my mother what The Shining was about she gave me a very brief summary of the plot, something about a haunted hotel, but then told me quite firmly that the book was too scary and I wasn’t allowed to read it until I was much older. Of course this was probably the worst thing she could have said, because it bestowed upon The Shining the lure of the forbidden. Before, I might have been mildly interested in the book but now I had to read it. Not because I was naturally disobedient, but because the niggling curiosity of what darkly adult material might lie between those pages would eat me alive if I didn’t. Besides, it wasn’t like I was planning on stealing my dad’s car keys so I could go tearing around the neighbourhood. We’re talking about a book here. Black ink on white paper. What harm could it possibly do me?

A couple of weekends later, my parents left the house to visit my grandparents down the street, giving me the chance to finally glimpse Mr King’s forbidden words. Using a chair so I could reach the top shelf of the bookcase (where my mother, perhaps suspecting my intentions, had tried to hide it), I grabbed The Shining, feeling a little like Indiana Jones removing a golden idol from a booby-trapped temple, and rushed to my bedroom to gloat over my ill-gotten gain.

I knew I didn’t have time to read much of the novel so decided to start from the middle. I figured if there was juicy stuff inside it would probably start around then. I began reading just before young Danny Torrance walked into Room 237 and only made it through a few pages before putting the book aside. Anybody who’s read the book or seen Kubrick’s movie can probably guess why. It was a balmy, Saturday afternoon. Golden sunlight was cascading in through my bedroom window, but I suddenly felt cold, like somebody had poured icy water down the back of my shirt. Cold and afraid.

In just a few paragraphs King had managed transport me from the safe, warm confines of my bedroom to the Overlook Hotel high up in the snowy Colorado mountains, a place of madness and unquiet spirits. I’d never read anything before that had grabbed me so quickly and frightened me so badly. I was actually wary to turn the page and keep reading, but I couldn’t help myself. Like millions of other fans I’d been hooked by his efficient, clear prose and was compelled to see what other horrors poor little Danny had to face. Taking a deep breath I turned the page, and kept turning until I heard the front door open.

Though I desperately wanted to keep reading I was also deeply relieved to hear my parents voices. In the space of an hour I’d worked myself up into quite the state. Hiding the book under my bed, I felt woozy and a little sick but also exhilarated, as though I’d just come off a roller-coaster. It’s a feeling I’ve been chasing ever since in my reading and my writing. I have to thank Mr King for a lifetime of nightmares and chills. You can take all your critical darlings, your Jonathan Franzens, your David Eggers and shove them in a sack because nobody has ever showed me the raw of power of storytelling like King has.

If I have a literary goal it’s one day to create something on par with The Shining. A novel maybe another young child might sneak from their parents bookshelf, only to find themselves transported, terrified, excited and spellbound, unable to stop turning the pages.

M. J.