Last Updated May 1, 2017
Stephen King’s first professionally published short story is 1967’s The Glass Floor. Any exhaustive review of Stephen King’s short fiction should begin with it. Startling Mystery Stories purchased it for inclusion in their Fall, 1967 edition. King recently turned 20 years old at publication, and he wrote it the summer before his 20th birthday. Impressive as it is to be professionally published at 20, The Glass Floor‘s publication history seems to indicate that King himself does not think highly of the story.
Following the original 1967 publication, Weird Tales published The Glass Floor in its Fall 1990 edition. King wrote in his introduction at the time that he made only a few small edits to the story, but that it was otherwise intact. He also wrote that it was not as bad as he remembered. This is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the story. Then again, why should it be? King was only 19 when he wrote it.
The Glass Floor would be published again in the December 2012 edition of Cemetery Dance. This time, the publication added new artwork by Glenn Chadbourne.
This review will not be spoiler free. I am not going to dance around plot points of a 50-year-old story. The plot is simple. Charles Wharton’s sister, Janine, dies while living in a creepy old house with her husband, Anthony Reynard. Wharton goes to visit Reynard afterward and is arriving at the house when the story begins.
Wharton learns from Reynard that Janine died falling off a ladder in a room that is now sealed off with plaster. Wharton demands that the room be opened, and Reynard does so. Once inside, Wharton sees that the room has a mirrored glass floor. Immediately disoriented while inside, he gets the sense that he is both on the floor and hanging from the ceiling at the same time. He then falls from the ceiling to the floor, resulting in his death, his body being dragged from the room with a stick, and the room being sealed off with plaster once again.
Asking the question of why The Glass Floor was published in the first place is overthinking the subject. First consider that King was only paid $35 for the piece, which, even in 1967 was not a lot of money (as King put it in 1990, “someone had finally paid me some real money for something I had found in my head!”). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, $35 in 1967 is the same as $252 today. That’s not going to get you very far. Second, it’s right there on the cover of Startling Mystery Stories: “Unusual Eerie Strange.” This is not meant to be a publication filled with deep, introspective literature. It is meant to be a bit of a freak show, which is about what this story equates to.
The Glass Floor is just an oddity. It is the classic “what if?” scenario that King has played out his entire career. In this instance, King was still finding his legs, and thus, turned out a very flawed, but workmanlike story. It’s just straightforward storytelling without a lot of makeup. This happened, then this happened, then this happened, is how this story plays out without a lot of development between the events.
King has said that all of his writings begin with an idea, and then he just tells the story of what happened. He rarely plots his stories. In a way, the genesis of the idea is the plot, because King is over and over again developing characters, making things happen to them, and having things naturally play out as they would.
In this case, the idea is a disorienting room with a glass floor that isn’t really a floor at all but is also the ceiling, which is also the floor, which is also the ceiling… (you get the idea). King throws people into the scenario and it plays out. It’s just that The Glass Floor isn’t a very big idea. It is not even a sliver of the world creation King would engage in later.
Where the origin idea is lacking, so is King’s character development. We don’t know much of anything about any of these characters. Strangely, the most thoroughly developed character is the housekeeper that opens the door for Wharton on his way into the home. Despite the little bit of character development King engages in with regard to the housekeeper, she is otherwise inconsequential to the story.
The conclusion I am forced to reach is that this work isn’t very good. But does it matter that this isn’t good? The Glass Floor is the first of over 150 pieces of professionally published short fiction. It doesn’t really seem like it matters in the scope of that lifetime of work, especially given that King was only 20 years old at publication. King is now nearly 70 and not showing any signs of slowing down.
None of this is to say that King doesn’t get some great lines in. It would be strange if he didn’t. In describing the house, King writes, “It seemed to grow out of the top of the hill like an outsized, perverted toadstool…” This is a good description, and King improved on it years later in ‘Salem’s Lot when he described the Marsten house.
King manages to close the story with his strongest images: “He stopped at the door’s threshold, staring in at the Siamese twins staring at each other in the middle of the two-roofed, no-floored room.” The closing line is the story’s best, “In the room, a small pool of blood showed on the floor and ceiling, seeming to meet in the center, blood which hung there quietly and one could wait forever for it to drip.”
Now imagine that King gave this story a complete re-write today. It doesn’t seem like it would be a worthwhile venture. Even if The Glass Floor got the full, modern King treatment with thorough character development, the idea and framework of the story do not provide much room to roam, and the result would likely not be remarkable.
I would classify The Glass Floor as “not a bad start.” King seems to think the same. As he put it, “If that little spark is there, someone will probably see it sooner or later, gleaming faintly in the dark. And, if you tend the spark nestled in the kindling, it really can grow into a large, blazing fire. It happened to me, and it started here.”
I want to close with a nod of the head to Bryant Burnette who delved far deeper into The Glass Floor than I have. You can read his review here. It does not appear that anybody else has written anything significant about The Glass Floor.
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