As I mentioned a few days ago, I’m not buying any more shit. I don’t mean ever, and I don’t mean that I’m starting some weird hippie project where I don’t purchase anything at all on principle. I’m just not buying anything I don’t need until we can move to a new place this summer, and in case you were wondering, yes, that is exactly as limiting and dull as it sounds.
One of my last purchases (ahem, it came before Wednesday night’s cab, nightcap and dessert for mine and Graham’s 7-year anniversary, as well as before tonight’s already-planned shithouse drunkery and before the newly-added French Letters show at Chop Suey on Monday) was Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep,” which is a sequel to “The Shining” and if you find that weird then you clearly haven’t been paying attention.
It must be nice to be Stephen King, and I mean in addition to being able to come up as a writer in of one publishing’s golden ages, becoming crazy super fucking rich, and still being revered as a huge talent and someone immensely respected in his field. You know, plus that.
What I mean is that it must be nice to have reached the place in your profession where you’re allowed to fuck around with your formula. I was listening to the Literary Disco episode on “Doctor Sleep” the other day and it mentioned this, too. Stephen King is so prolific and looms so large that he can do pretty much whatever he wants. He can write monsters, he can write psychological thrillers, he can write taut human villainy and sprawling alternate universe fantasy and he can even write country-fried noir if he wants, and at any time, he can return to his wheelhouse and crank out something like a sequel to “The Shining” or (as with Peter Straub again on “Black House”) “The Talisman” decades after the originals were published.
And they’re his characters, the stories came out of his head, so even though some people might argue that returning to a story so long after was originally published is hack, I say that he’s perfectly within his rights to do so, and really, if he’s any sort of writer in the first place (and he very much is), it makes perfect sense that the characters he created will continue to arc, and that he should be concerned about how that happens.
But this isn’t really about why Stephen King should be able to pull his ace out of its hole whenever he wants. It’s really about the Neverending Story. Kind of. Rather, it’s about how I loved the Neverending Story as a kid, and how even as an adult, I’m finding ways to relate it to my reading life.
I really loved the Neverending Story as a kid. In addition to Robin Hood and the Goonies, the Neverending Story was my most-requested movie at the video store, and once when I accompanied my mom to the Children’s Palace toy store so she could figure out what to buy my sister for her birthday, I successfully suggested the Neverending Story VHS, and only a little bit because I wanted to be able to watch it whenever I wanted.
I didn’t love Bastian (at least, not then). I didn’t love Falkor (at least not as much as the hipsters who are currently giving that name to their dogs). I certainly didn’t love Bastian’s dad, who still takes the prize for the most disgusting breakfast shake in the history of existence.
What I loved was the concept of the story, and the way that we can get wrapped up in them, and maybe even affect them in some way, which the normal, logical part of my brain knows is impossible (Bastian: “But that’s impossible! He couldn’t have heard me.”), but the part of me that loves stories thinks so, so hard could be true because I’ve spent a lifetime investing my heart into them.
In “Doctor Sleep,” a grown-up Dan Torrance shines with a young girl named Abra, and though you know something big and bad is coming for them both (mostly for her, but I’m only part of the way into the book), every instinct in your body is trying to protect her. Well, it is if you’re a reader. Like me. Everything in me is willing the True Knot to lose interest or break down on its way to Abra, and when Abra screams for them to get out of her head and for Dan (only right now she doesn’t really know Dan, she only knows him as Tony’s –that Tony’s — dad) to come protect her, I’m so stressed out that I can barely keep reading. But I do, because part of me wants to jump inside the book and make sure she’s all right, and the only way I can do that is to continue the story.
And then I thought about when Dan was Danny in the Overlook, and how what if he and Wendy got out because of the legions of readers who willed them to do so? Like, what if everything is actually fucking insane and could be real and every story is capable of changing its ending depending upon the emotional investment and wherewithal of the reader?
Wouldn’t that be completely nuts and terrifying but also wonderful? And don’t you think I probably should get shithouse drunk tonight after grappling with this sort of idea?