This Saturday, September 21 Stephen King turns seventy-two (yes, I know that’s a lot of the letter “s” right there, and also yes, Stephen King will be seventy-two), so while this article would pay tribute to some of King’s classics, I will mainly talk about his latest novel The Institute and its alleged influence on our cultural climate.
Over the forty-five years that King had dedicated to his writing, he gave us many goodies, such as his debut novel Carrie, Christine, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Firestarter, The Green Mile, It, Misery, Pet Semetary, and The Shining (the lattermost of which spawned a sequel called Doctor Sleep, which is about to get the film adaptation treatment later this year on November 8). Now we all know that by the end of the day, these stories, though bone-chilling enough to get movies that still keep us up at night at times (that might just be me), are not real (as much as we often want our favorite fictional things to be real) and are merely invitations for readers to contemplate and discuss with other fellow fans of King’s works.
Image via Oprah Magazine
However, what if I told you that some of his ideas are actually a thing not of the past, but the present?
Granted, we supposedly haven’t seen any hotel ghosts, killer cars, telekinetic (or pyrokinetic) girls out there amongst us wreaking havoc, though rabid dogs and killer clowns are definitely things to always watch out for, so always beware if they have cold noses or red noses.
(And as for killer fangirls, well… let’s just say that it’s not too far of a stretch.)
His recently published book The Institute (a.k.a. his 61st novel) tells the story of a group of children with supernatural powers, such as mind-reading and telekinesis, that gets taken against their will by a private organization whose main goal is to use up their powers and then later discard them.
Image via Facebook
Now, backing up a bit (and by that, I mean a lot), the main thing that distinguishes King’s newer and older works is that, by comparison, his older works have been much bleaker than his newer ones, with the latter having some inkling of hope or resolve for those that have been inflicted by the main predicament at hand. While usually, King tends to distance himself away from adaptations of his works, there have been times when, long after writing certain dark moments in his stories, especially with endings, he suggested working in better, more optimistic alternatives to those scenes, but to no avail.
Yes, while there are moments in The Institute that would give you similarly dark vibes, this work serves as another example of a strong point that his new works have been striving towards making: not just to instill fear in the reader, but also to provide the tools to help combat it, like empathy, that help the reader feel for the characters (and for others IRL by extension), and build a stronger sense of community to resolve common issues.
But anyway, back to real-life events…
While we thankfully don’t have any evidence of any supernaturally gifted kids being kept, exploited, and drained of their abilities for a larger group’s personal gain (at least, to our knowledge), we have seen normal kids around the same age-group of those in the work (around ten to teenaged years of age) being forcibly taken away due to the Trump administration family separation policy. Signs of these actions had started popping up literally weeks to a month before the book’s publication!
So, from the looks of it, life has imitated Stephen King’s art before his art has even been brought out to the general public!
Interesting how in all the forty-five years of storytelling he has under his belt, for the “Horror King” (pun very intended), his wildest fear is watching his art actually come to life during Trump’s presidency. Now, that is scary.
With this very real situation in mind, it is now more important than ever that we have King’s much more hopeful works to guide us through this dark and scary time by the now seventy-two-year-old “dark and scary” storyteller himself.
Happy birthday, Stephen King, king of horror, literature, and empathy.
Featured Image via The Guardian