I have never met Stephen King, but my parents have. They used to be friends, in fact, my folks and Stephen and his wife Tabitha. Back in the 1970s in Maine, where I was born and raised, and before he hit the big time with Carrie, the Kings and the Turitzes spent some time together. Eventually, as these things do, the two couples grew apart, but their paths have crossed now and again over the years, and my dad has nothing but nice things to say about the author.
I say this because I have never really been a fan of his work, not because I don’t like his writing, but rather because I’ve never been much of a horror guy. I’ve read a few of his novels, like The Green Mile and 11/22/63 and, well, The Shining, and maybe a couple others, but I don’t really consume his work like so many others do.
That has nothing to do with my level of admiration for the man, though. I think that, regardless of whether or not you like the genres in which he works, you have to have a great and real admiration for his talent. To do what he has done for so long, and so successfully, is not luck. It’s not some hack churning out the same old thing for a gullible bunch of readers, it’s a kind of genius.
Dozens of novels, plus countless novellas, short stories, non-fiction pieces, essays, poems, on and on, all over a period of close to 50 years, with a consistent readership that puts each and every single one of his books on the top of the bestseller list. If that isn’t genius, and a real and genuine understanding of what his audience wants, then I’m not really sure if I know what is.
This isn’t news, of course, but even though his works have been translated to the big screen for almost as long as he’s been churning them out, there is something of a renaissance surrounding him and his writings of late. Whereas before, there was a fairly consistent string of adaptations appearing here and there — a Cujo one year, a Christine another year, a Dolores Claiborne not long after — suddenly there are so many things moving forward with his name on them, it could almost be possible to watch nothing but that for a whole year.
Warner Bros. Pictures
What’s interesting to me is how much faith is being put in the source material after so many years of it having been so badly mucked up. After all, the number of quality adaptations with his name on them is pretty small. You’ve got Carrie, sure, and The Shining has a lot of fans (though it is probably my least favorite Kubrick film, and King himself hates it), and Misery is awfully good, but for every one of those, or a Shawshank Redemption, you’ve got lots of clunkers like Firestarter and Thinner and Silver Bullet and Cat’s Eye and Children of the Corn, and the list goes on and on.
It’s mostly crap, which is maybe why so many filmmakers are returning to his work now. Just the other day, I wrote about the concept of remaking lousy movies, because doing so would seem to have a much higher chance of success than remaking good ones. The good ones, you see, are already beloved, already have a big fan base. The lousy ones? Those fan bases are significantly smaller.
But Stephen King fans? Well, they’re going to be thirsty for quality adaptations of his work, especially after so many misfires.
For years, you had Michael Crichton, and then Nicholas Sparks, and James Patterson, now there are newcomers like John Green and E.L. James and Matthew Quick, but as all have come and gone, King has been a constant.
And that has never been more true than it is now. It took decades to get off the ground, but we’re finally going to get a Dark Tower movie in August, starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. There’s also It, that horrifying clown thing, in September, and all you need to know about it is that the first trailer broke records for viewings in the first 24 hours.
If that were all, that would be impressive enough, but there are two TV shows based on his work coming this year — The Mist on Spike TV this summer, and Mr. Mercedes on the Audience Network some time soon — plus several others in development, such as Hulu’s Castle Rock, following the success of 11.22.63, from J.J. Abrams, intertwining characters and stories from the fictional town. There are also numerous movies in the works like the Netflix productions of 1922 and Gerald’s Game, writer-director Josh Boone’s The Stand, which is shooting now, the Shining prequel Overlook Hotel and sequel Doctor Sleep, and literally dozens more, all in some form of development and sure to be on your movie screens, TV sets, computers, phones, or tablets some time soon.
Why now? What is it about Stephen King’s work that has Hollywood in such a frenzy? It can’t be coincidence, because that’s not how this town works. I think it’s much more about everyone realizing at roughly the same time what a gold mine is at their fingertips, as they continue to search for the next big intellectual property they can exploit. I mean, talk about branded entertainment, does it get any bigger than King? Sporting a piece of filmed entertainment with his name on it automatically kicks the recognition factor into high gear and instantly lowers your marketing costs, because all you have to do is say, “From legendary author Stephen King,” and you’ve got a rapt and attentive audience, begging you to take their money.
Of course, it certainly helps if the adaptation is any good, though truth be told, I wonder how much that really matters anymore.
King is going to be 70 in the fall, and shows no sign of slowing down. He still writes 363 days each year (taking off July 4th and his birthday), has a novella coming out next month and a new novel set to hit the stands in September, which he co-wrote with his son, and who knows what else in 2018 and beyond. It’s odd to say the man’s having a resurgence, since he never actually went away, but Hollywood is an odd place, where people flock to the hot trend, no matter how long that “trend” has been around.
After almost 50 years of clacking away, Stephen King is the hottest name in Hollywood. Almost sounds like one of the stories he’d write, but then, maybe not, because even he’d think it’s too far-fetched.