Kingversation: An Introductory Conversation Between Two Stephen King Fans

kingversation-1-1-59120f590f271 Kingversation: An Introductory Conversation Between Two Stephen King Fans

Introduction

Kingversation will be a series of conversations between two Stephen King fans related to Stephen King and his family of authors. The conversation will be between Aaron Baker of The Stephen King Universe and Bryant Burnette of The Truth Inside the Lie.

This first conversation is introductory and comes days after the release of the trailer for The Dark Tower.

Aaron Baker (AB):

First, tell me about your earliest memories of Stephen King.

Bryant Burnette (BB):

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It depends on how you look at it.  The first thing I can remember for sure is running across the comic-book version of Creepshow in a grocery store, probably circa 1982.  I don’t know why on Earth I picked it up — I was mortified by anything with scary imagery — but I did, and was horrified by the panel that showed the human-head Father’s Day cake.

I can also remember seeing photos from The Shining in some magazine or other and being creeped out by Jack Nicholson’s face coming through the door.

Then, a few years later, I saw a copy of a paperback movie-tie-in edition of Carrie, and was absolutely horrified by the image of a blood-drenched Sissy Spacek.  (There’s more to that story, and it’s not exactly to my credit.  I wrote all about it in one of my better posts, which can be found here: http://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2011/08/media-violence-stephen-king-and-you-or_5198.html)

The first direct King experience was either reading The Running Man — which I did because I wanted to see the movie and wasn’t allowed to! — or seeing Stand By Me at a friend’s house.  I think the former, but it might be the latter.

I didn’t actually become a fan for a few more years after that, though.

What got you on the train?

AB:

I think we should date ourselves a bit – I’m now 38 and will be 39 this year (38 and a half!). My earliest memories of Stephen King are a bit foggy, but here they are:

The first time I ever saw anything King-related that I can remember was seeing the VHS box for Carrie at a rental store where I grew up in Wooster, Ohio. I recall seeing it next to the slasher movies I was into at the time. I don’t believe I watched Carrie until many years later though.
The next true introduction to King is far more memorable to me. I believe I was 14 years old at the time. My mom, now passed, came home from a garage sale or auction and she brought me a hardcover of Four Past Midnight. I read The Langoliers immediately, but I’m pretty sure I held off on the rest and moved onto other novels and short stories before eventually returning to the rest of the Four Past Midnight novellas.
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Up until that point, I didn’t know that there was such a thing as horror fiction – I only knew of horror movies. And I knew plenty about horror movies.
I’m surprised in hindsight that I read a whole lot of Stephen King before watching any of the movies or miniseries.
When did you really start to dig into the King catalog?

BB:

Well, it was an accident.

I was born in ’74, so I grew up — as you probably did — loving Steven Spielberg movies.  He’s been my favorite director pretty much my whole life.

On summer break in 1990, my family went to the beach, and while we were there, my Dad was telling me about a book review he’d read in the paper.  It was for a novel called The Stand, which was an epic fantasy novel about the end of the world and the fight between good and evil.  It was, he said, written by Steven Spielberg.

Classic Dad-got-it-wrong moment!  I didn’t know any better, all I knew was that it sounded awesome and had been written by my favorite director.  (That’s not AS illogical as it sounds, by the way — Spielberg’s name was on the novelization of Close Encounters as the author, and also on the now-mostly-forgotten sequel novel E.T. The Book of the Green Planet.  So him writing a huge fantasy novel seemed plausible at the time.)

When we got back from vacation, I went to a used bookstore that I visited frequently, and while there, it occurred to me to check and see if they had a copy of this Spielberg novel my Dad had told me about.  The clerk politely informed me that they did have a copy, but it was written by Stephen KING, not Spielberg.  I was very disappointed…

…but then I remembered that I’d read a book by King before: The Running Man.  I was all about books based on movies in those days, and I’d read it because I wasn’t allowed to see R-rated movies.  That’s how I “saw” Predator and Aliens and other similar things, too, by the way: via novelization.  I’d liked The Running Man a lot, so I figured, hey, why not give The Stand a shot?  It had a cool cover, too — the one with the bird face melding with Flagg’s — which didn’t hurt.

By the time I’d finished The Stand, I was hooked.  So I went back to that used bookstore — The Book Rack, it was (and is) called — and bought something else by King.  I don’t remember what; It seems possible.  All I know for sure is that I bought as many of his novels as I could find, and then when school let back in I began checking others out from the library until I could get my own copies.

And it’s never stopped from there!

Do you have any idea what it was about Four Past Midnight that led your mom — bless her heart — to buy it for you?

AB:

I don’t think there was a thought process behind buying that particular book, so much as there was a thought process behind prodding me to read for recreation.

She knew, and had mixed feelings about my love of horror movies. She was also culturally aware enough to know who Stephen King was without having read his books. I’m pretty sure she selected Four Past Midnight, because that was the Stephen King book that was there.
My recollection of the time frame is also likely accurate. The Viking first edition of Four Past Midnight came in 1990 when I was 12. Her buying it 2-3 years later secondhand would make sense.
When you read The Running Man, I’m guessing you read it in The Bachman Books?
Let’s turn back to what you originally brought up – The Dark Tower. When did you first start down that path?

BB:

Regarding The Running Man — no sir, I had this edition:

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Which I no longer have and need to re-obtain.  (I’ve got that problem with a LOT of the paperback editions that were my first copies.  I got rid of most of them when I began upgrading to hardbacks.  What a fool!  They’re cheap and easy to get, though, I just haven’t made it a priority.)

I can’t say for sure when I first read The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three, but it was early in my fandom.  I bought The Waste Lands upon its initial release, and had been anticipating it, so I feel certain I probably read the first two during that initial summer blast of 1990.  The Book Rack had used copies of the trade paperbacks of both — they didn’t carry many of those (they were pretty much entirely paperback, and overwhelmingly mass-market), and they must have really caught my eye, because they were more expensive than mass-markets, but I got ’em anyways.  THOSE copies I never got rid of, because hardbacks of them were impossible to come by for years afterward.  Very pleased with myself that I still have those (as well as the original King-read cassettes of the first three audiobooks).

AB:

Ah, yes. I forgot The Running Man had a movie tie-in cover.

I’ve been very stupid with my book collecting over the years also, but I’m pulling that back together.
Based upon our ages, we have similar overlap with The Dark Tower series. I read The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Waste Lands, pretty much back to back. It took me a long time to get into The Gunslinger. I had several false starts reading it and eventually plowed through it with the promise of the rest of the series to come. Now I have a far greater appreciation of The Gunslinger.
I read Wizard and Glass not long after it came out. With the rest of the books in the series, it took me a while to catch up. I think I originally read The Dark Tower VII around one year after it came out. The Wind Through the Keyhole I read similarly probably about a year after publication.
What do you think about this series being made into material for the screen at all?

BB:

I think it is like a lot of things: it could work, or it could fall flat on its face.  Pretty much every one of the books is filled to the brim with scenes that could work wonderfully in cinematic language.  Even The Gunslinger, which people write off sometimes.  Between the massacre in Tull, the speaking-demon scene, the flashbacks, the slow mutants, and Jake’s death, I think there is plenty there that could have made for a terrific visual feast.  The problem with it is that it might not exactly be the most commercial movie ever made, so while I wish I could see a straight-up adaptation, I get why I’m not.  If I were producing it personally, I’d probably have made the same decision.

AB:

My thinking is very similar. The Gunslinger was a bit of a trying read the first time through. However, with the benefit of hindsight as to where King was going with it, I now love it.

The problem becomes what you said, which is that it would not be a particularly electrifying cinematic experience. Therefore, I see why they are going the way they are going with the adaptation. Major studio culture right now is cautious. It’s all about budget and profit. Films are being greenlighted and then sometimes squashed the minute the studio gets antsy (see the recent on again/off again Friday The 13th film as a reference for this). The studio and everybody involved in the actual creation of the film are invested in this series being economically viable. Adding in the television element to come at some point makes this even trickier.
That said, the direction they are going in is, I believe, the first time this has been done with regard to any adaptation. The story is over and the novels are allowed to stand as is, and now we are starting down a different path as a sort of continuance to the novels. I’ve never known film to continue the story told by a book or books.
I also believe that the lack of critical thinking on the part of King fans with regard to Idris Elba playing Roland started as predictable, and for me, later became startling. The drum beat of criticism started after they announced that Elba was taking the role. I understood the criticism upon announcement, but still respected the decision. I expected that drum beat to let up once it became clear that this is a different path they’re on, but it didn’t.
I’m with King on this – who cares what the color of his skin is? Fans are correct to the extent that certain elements of the series make it clear that Roland is a white man, but once it is clear that those elements will no longer exist, what argument is there at that point? Play devil’s advocate for me if you can.

BB:

I want to be clear in terms of what I’m saying about The Gunslinger: I do think the novel as-is could make for an electrifying cinematic experience … just not one of the sort that tends to sell well at the box office.  But a director like David Fincher or Paul Thomas Anderson or Nicholas Winding Refn could take that and turn into a GREAT movie that would make only a modest amount of money.

There probably is an example of a movie continuing a series of books, but none comes to mind.  I personally refuse to think of it as a sequel to the books.  That’s just (in my opinion) a silly thing somebody said so as to put some spin on the fact that they weren’t doing a straight adaptation of the books.  Roland isn’t Doctor Who.  He’s not regenerating between cycles.  He’s not fundamentally changing, not as I see it.  It’s the sameness — and the promise of sameness that largely continues on and on and on as the wheel spins, perhaps with small incremental “progress,” but not necessarily — that provides the end of the series with its punch.  So, to say the least, I am NOT onboard with this notion of the movies being a continuation.

“Fans are correct to the extent that certain elements of the series make it clear that Roland is a white man, but once it is clear that those elements will no longer exist, what argument is there at that point?”  None.  None, nada, zero, zip, zilch.  Bupkes.  Some people just can;t let go of their shit, is what it amounts to.  Like you, I kind of get it.  It’s a very complicated topic, and there are arguments for why it’s important that the Roland of the books needed to be a specific color.

There are arguments just as persuasive for why he need not be for the movies, because they are indeed their own thing, call ’em adaptations or sequels or abominations or whatever.  It wasn’t initially clear that that was the route the movies would take, so I personally expected — and wanted — adaptations that hewed close to the source material.  I’d still like to see that, but if that’s not what I’m getting, then it opens up all sorts of possibilities, not all of them unpleasant or inherently negative.  If Roland isn’t a cowboy/gunslinger avatar who gets called a honk mahfah by a screaming black woman with a split personality, then he can be anything.  Any race at all, doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference at that point.  Like you, I marvel a bit at the inability of people to reckon with that simple fact.  I don’t blame them for wanting movies of the books as they exist; but I do blame them for not being able to let go of it once it’s clear they are out of luck in that regard.  They should move on, like the world before them.

So … yeah.  I don’t think that counts as playing devil’s advocate at all, does it?

I’ll do so to some extent with another Elba-related thing, though.  He’s occasionally mentioned as a contender to play James Bond.  I’m a huge 007 fan, too, and part of me would be 100% onboard with Elba in the role, because he’d be GREAT.  However, another part of me feels that Bond should always be a white man.  It’s not because a man of some other race couldn’t be great in the role, but instead because I feel Bond should always be rooted at least in spirit to the world of Ian Fleming, which was very much that of a heterosexual white man.  I feel that post-WWII spirit of yearning for the good old days of the true British Empire is something that needs to be somewhere in the subtext of Bond.  That’s a stance that maybe has a few -ist connotations, but guess what?  So did that era.  With that in mind, if the other option is to lie a bit about where Bond comes from, maybe it’d be preferable to just let the character fade away into obscurity over the course of the next centuries.  That seems more honest, in some way.

But I don’t actually want that to happen, of course, and the bottom line is that if Elba were to get the role I definitely would be excited to see him immediately become one of the best Bonds ever.

Sorry for the tangent, but I believe that’s the best I can do in a devil’s-advocacy role.

AB:

I agree that Fincher, PTA, or Refn would change everything (a Rated R Refn take on this in particular sounds outstanding). It’s unfortunate that they don’t have an A-list director. They have Nikolaj Arcel, who has only four prior feature length credits as director, none of which I’ve heard of, let alone seen (and I do watch a lot of movies). It’s disappointing that they didn’t attach somebody like Fincher. It now appears that this would have been right in his wheelhouse, given that he’s now doing the sequel to World War Z.

Here’s what I think the bottom line is on absolutely all controversy surrounding the movie among fans: if it’s great, everything else will be forgiven. Those who refuse to see that it’s great will be laughed out of the conversation as either racist or irrational. If it’s great, or even merely good, then we’ll be looking back five years from now saying, “remember when everybody hated this months before it was even released?” If it sucks, however, I think we’ll be talking about another reboot adaptation of The Dark Tower ten years from now.
It’s similar to the silly argument over nobody being able to top Tim Curry’s Pennywise, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.
The Dark Tower trailer looks potentially very good. I’m encouraged by the care with which they’re handling this. Being careful with a franchise like this is good. I like the casting they’ve done. I’m unsure of the professional minds they have working behind it, though. Akiva Goldsman, the author of the screenplay, has a back catalog as a writer that’s very mixed in terms of quality (I Am Legend, A Beautiful Mind, Batman & Robin, and many more).
I’m still very much on the fence until I see the actual film. Nice poster design, a good trailer, and seeming to treat the source material with a lot of respect in general, while obviously not sticking to the story, are all decent signs of a quality product. But I’m sure I can find examples where that’s happened before, yet the actual film was terrible. Man of Steel comes readily to mind.

BB:

I ran into a former co-worker the other night and we were just bullshitting about this, that, and the other.  I mentioned that my head is mostly empty of anything except Stephen King, James Bond, and Star Trek knowledge and she perked up and said, “The Dark Tower!”  She’s not a King reader, but she’d seen the trailer and thinks the movie looks great.

So I’m starting to be encouraged that it might yet be a hit.  If it can capture people who aren’t died-in-the-wool King fans, then the people griping about Roland are going to be ineffectual.

AB:

Let’s put it this way, with regard to the film series’ popularity standing alone: I’ve never read Tolkien – any of it. But I am a big fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’ve seen both the theatrical and uncut versions multiple times, and I love them all. I have no plans to ever read Tolkien, though I suppose I might. And I know there’s a whole lot of people like me.

Also remember King’s story about how people tell him they love his movies, ignoring the fact that he’s an author.
What do you want to see from this first film?
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BB:

Given that it’s not going to be following the novels with any particular fealty, I don’t have much of a wishlist for it.  I just want it to be a great movie in terms of it being able to do what the particular medium does well.  So I want great visuals with a strong command of cinematic language in the editing and shot selections; good performances; a good score.

And if it sneaks some of King’s actual story in there, I guess that’d be pretty cool, too.

AB:

That sounds nice to me, too.

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