Today, I’m going to do a small departure from our normal movie reviews. I occasionally do this, for several reasons:
Last Sunday, my father and I attended an event at Lindenwood University (my alma mater). Stephen King and his son, Owen, were doing a book tour to promote their collaboration on their recently released book Sleeping Beauties. As you know, because I’ve stated it again and again, I’m a huge fan of Stephen King. What I’m not sure if I’ve shared or not is that I inherited that from my father. The large collection of King books that sat upon his shelf looked extraordinarily menacing next to my collection of Goosebumps and Animorphs. But it wasn’t long before I had outgrown the teenage antics of R.L. Stine or J.A. Applegate (what is with the multiple lettered names I read as a kid – must have been aping T.S. Eliot). My first book I vulture from his collection at the ripe age of eleven was The Stand – which, looking back, was dumb and overly ambitious. But what I remember most from that first read was the intensely full world that King had painted for himself. There was none of the shrinking I had seen from many other authors – instead, King welcomed the size of the story and allowed his pen (most likely, his typewriter) to go where it may.
All of this led to a love affair with King that never stopped, and that also took what was a fire for books and turned it into a love and a fever for literature in general. King led me to Poe, not the other way around, which in turn led me down the road of great science fiction like H.G. Wells, and it continued on and on. This also was followed by an increased interest in writing, particularly horror – you are what you read, and don’t ever let someone tell you differently.
My father, a book lover himself, welcomed and encouraged me in this fervent time period, and still does today, frequently loaning/giving me books and introducing me to new authors and new worlds. He is probably the person who has read the most of my writing, and I trust his opinion, even if it hurts sometimes – he knows when a story sucks, even if I don’t want to hear that it sucks. So there would have been no other person I would rather have seen the man that truly lit my world on fire for reading with, then the man who taught me not just my love of reading, but my love of storytelling as well.
The evening started after an introduction with a book reading. They read a part of the book where they introduce two outlaws, and the reading was full of the colorful language you would expect from two Kings. Afterwards, we were quickly treated to a back and forth and a deconstruction of how the idea for the book came about, and how they planned to work it together. What originally was meant to be a television show became a novel because Owen, like Uncle Stevie himself, loves his characters too damn much to belittle their moments.
It was a real treat to listen to Owen, who I think has lived somewhat in the huge shadow that is cast by his father, and the smaller shadow cast by older brother Joe. Yet he has slowly carved a niche for himself in this literary family, and his fingerprints are all over Sleeping Beauties. But what really impressed me was his open adoration for his father, and in turn, Stephen’s open admiration for his son. The two play well off each other, like a practiced comedic act. Owen is always ready to bring it back to the story, and bring the story back to his father. Stephen, to his credit, frequently attempts to step out of the limelight the crowd is bestowing on him in order to bring that same light to his son.
After an amusing game of Stephen King trivia on the novel The Eyes of the Dragon (which may be a book I need to re-read, after how dismally I was able to answer), we moved into a question and answer session with the crowd. It was at times amusing – times of fun interactions of fans, and at times downright hilarious, like when Owen was dismayed that his father hadn’t dressed up for Halloween in years. Stephen asked when Owen had dressed up himself – Owen replied that is was last Halloween, and as a Candy Corn to boot. The joy and laughter that came from that moment, even from both Kings, was palpable throughout the room, and illustrated one of the best thoughts I had the entire night.
You see, my father may also smile when I tell him of my antics of running around a Walmart dressed in full Superman spandex in order to get another bag of Halloween candy, but that’s what fatherhood is – you’re proud of your sons and daughters, regardless of how big of a fool they make of themselves – as long as they are enjoying it, you’re enjoying it too.
Mr. King, (the elder) is like most authors in that at least a few of his works parallel directly with parenthood and its many themes. There's the obvious father-son relationship of Roland and Jake in the Dark Tower novels, and then there is what I think is King's most striking story about parenthood: Pet Semetary. Reading it as a young teenager, I didn't really understand what most of the fuss was about. But when I read it as a young man, with two little boys at home... I cried. Extremely hard. The book is dark, and the fatherhood theme of doing whatever you need to for your son is all over it.
I’ll never forget Stephen King’s last several interactions with the crowd, pleading them to ask a question that both he and his son could partake in. Despite his suggestions, people continued to ask the Master of Horror whatever question they had prepared in advance. To Owen’s credit, he seemed neither dismayed nor surprised, but I could feel the earnestness from the elder King – he wanted his son to not just be on stage, but to share the spotlight. Isn’t that a beautiful picture of fatherhood?
One of the greatest nights of my life I got to spend in the presence of my literary father and his son – one who has taught me so much about writing and stories, characters and plots, scares and thrills. But I also got to spend the night with my actual father, a man who has taught me so much more than I could ever find in a book. Thank you Dad. I love you.
David will get back to movies tomorrow with his favorite Universal Movie Monster. See you then!
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"