I mentioned in a recent post that I was reading Stephen King’s Needful Things. I also mentioned that this was my second time reading King. Well, I’m not even halfway through the book… not even a quarter through it, as it’s quite a monster of a book at over 700 pages long, yet I am already feeling the effects. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve hated scary things and never found any reason to scare oneself on purpose for pleasure, but here I am reading the epitome of horror with substance.
Now, what I want to talk about here is not just Needful Things, or Stephen King, or the concept of horror for pleasure. It’s a question I’ve been asking myself since I started feeling jumpy; of feeling the effects of horror on me. Nothing truly scary has happened in the book yet, but I feel creeped out, nonetheless.
Why is that?
Is it because of Leland Gaunt, the charming mysterious stranger who owns the mysterious shop, which the title of the book refers to? Or is it the Stephen King name on the cover? Or is it the genre that this book falls under?
So far, Leland Gaunt is a guy who hangs out in his shop and people go to him. He doesn’t go stalking people, nor has he done anything but introduce himself to the town of Castle Rock just yet. The fact that his smile is described as predatory, that his hands are described as cold and hard as stone, that his nails are yellow and long—all of these things are creepy, but they’re hardly grounds for me to feel jumpy when I’m in a room by myself.
I suppose I’m being a little (or maybe overly) philosophical, but really, this is interesting, because as good a writer as he is, would Stephen King have the same effect on a reader if his name wasn’t synonymous with the horror genre? Does describing someone’s creepy physical attributes have the same effect on a reader as the image of that character stalking someone with an axe in hand if you had no preconceived notion of just how scary the story could get? My answer to those two questions is no. I feel that the power of King’s name is one of, but the biggest of the factors that make his books as successful and exemplary for the genre as they are and have been for 25 years.
I still don’t care for the horror genre, but a good story is a good story. Now, if I can just avoid the jumpiness, I think I’d enjoy Needful Things a lot more than I already am.