Horror terrifies me. I try to avoid it at almost any cost, yet time after time I find myself returning to my bookshelf to sneak another Stephen King novel. The concepts within the books freak me out, but the writing itself is so enthralling that I cannot stop reading.
King creates an alternate reality in his stories, bending real life just slightly to make it believable but utterly horrific. He draws readers into each of these nonexistent worlds and introduces the reality twists slowly so that one cannot help but believe it is real. I cannot begin to imagine how he has achieved this level of perfection in his works.
This fall, I have focused on a collection of King’s short stories; my favorite is The Long Walk. The plot follows the protagonist, Raymond Davis Garraty, through an annual tortuous event: a marathon starting in Maine that ends once only one boy is left standing. One hundred teenage boys begin at the starting line, forced to keep up a constant pace of four miles an hour. If they slow down or stop at any given point, they are given a strike, and a fourth strike means death.
The creepiest part of the story is that each boy is a volunteer. They filled out tests applying to participate in the “Long Walk”. Most United States citizens seem to revere the race as well, gathering from across New England to watch the teenagers trek half-alive through the days and nights until all but one is dead.
King uses the chilling storyline, as well as personalities of certain characters, to toy with readers’ perceptions of life and death. He begins hinting at character traits, as if encouraging readers to psychoanalyze them, carefully tricking you into feeling as though you, too, are on the long walk.
Only a few chapters in, I felt as if I had walked dozens of miles, despite having not moved from my bed in hours. King never directly speaks to readers, but he uses a variety of other techniques—many of which I cannot recognize—to create this entrapment. King’s imagery is vivid yet not overly verbose, so his writing reads like a conversation with pictures rather than a few words on a page or an overly flowery poem. Even the most insignificant of his characters have hidden motives and intricate backstories, although they may never be pertinent to the story itself. Every piece of his writing is so carefully constructed that as soon as you open a page, you cannot help but fall headfirst into the writing.
This characteristic is not unique to The Long Walk. In every other Stephen King publication I have read, he has entrapped me in the pages. In Rage, a short story about a school shooter, King twists readers’ minds to empathize with the shooter. In Dream Catcher, the aliens are not fictional, but rather something you, too, should fear. The horrifying epidemic in The Stand feels more real than any other sickness known to man.
The alternate reality found within King’s stories compares to a few other books I have read. Despite often being turned off from the ideas within the books themselves, the compulsive nature of his writing is a constant force that draws me in to open another one of his books, and I would encourage anyone to read at least one of his novels.