Interview by Thomas Smith
Conversation recorded on October 22, 1989 and originally aired on the Public Radio Book Show. It comes to us courtesy of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and the New York State Writers Institute.
The Animated Transcript
I was taking a walk one day and I happened to spot a little girl on the corner of my street, she was about five years old. She was sitting in the dirt at the edge of the road talking to herself or to invisible friends and drawing in the dirt with a stick and I thought you know if I did that, somebody would come along and say there’s a grown man sitting in the dirt, talking to himself to people who aren’t there and drawing with a stick. which is very close to what I do for a living. what people pay me to do.
So the two things that I’ve discovered and the two things that interest me about childhood, the first thing is that it’s a secret world that exists by its own rules and lives in its own culture. And the second thing is that we forget what it is to be a child and we forget that life which is kind of exotic and strange and that’s what really interests me.
Did you have a highly developed sense of evil yourself as a child or were you obsessed by the nature of evil?
I’m always more interested in the question itself than I am in any answer. Why do people ask me about my childhood? Hey, this is what I do for a living but I don’t remember having a particularly unusual childhood. It seems to me that the focus of that question is always something terrible must have happened to you when you were a kid, Steve, or you wouldn’t be writing this awful stuff that you’re writing.
But I think that question grows out of a basic misconception about why we remember so little. I think a lot of people make the assumption that we block memories that are terrible. When I think what really happens is this: that we think in a different way as children. we tend to think around corners instead of in straight lines. sometimes for a kid, the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line and that’s the way that we think and dream. I think that as children we tend to live in this kind of dream state and we’ve forgotten it in the same way, and because I equate that sort of dream state with a heightened sort of mental state. I make this easy cross-connection between childhood and strange powers, paranormal powers or whatever, and it has been successfully as a fictional device.
Could you talk about, your sense of the origin of fear?
I think that a lot of what we think of as horror fiction or fiction of the macabre comes out of this sense of futurity that we have, as we grow older we become aware of the fact that we are going to die and most of us are going to die in ways that are that are unpleasant. For most of us, it’s there, it’s waiting for us. We understand that on an intellectual level. But I don’t think on an emotional level or a spiritual level we ever quite come to terms with it. Mentally we grasp it, emotionally we can’t quite grasp it.
When we deal stories of the supernatural whatever the supernatural element is, the mind sort of bifurcates and the story begins to talk to us on two levels. On the intellectual level you grasp the fact that it is make believe, that it is a dream, that these things don’t happen. But the subconscious grabs the story in a symbolic way, whether we like to or not.
I’m not much when it comes to actual literal symbolism in stories, but I do realize that you’re dealing here with things that substitute for other things the way that in dreams, that’s the only part of this whole Freuduian schtick that I really subscribe to – the idea that in dreams if you’re dreaming about riding in a car and you’re out of control, you’re really dreaming about something else that has to do with your waking life and the sensor changes it just enough for it to be acceptable to the front of the brain. And I think that in a lot of supernatural stories we’re dealing with fears that exist on a very practical level. And in between those two levels, the shout on top where the make believe is going on and the whisper underneath where the subconscious mind is saying, yes but this could really happen if you just could change a few things.
That’s where the story can succeed. When we deal with the Grand Guigniol, the things that really scare us are the things that are going on just outside the spotlight that you can’t quite see.
Listen, we’ve run out of time. Thank you, Stephen King. May your muse visit you often up in Maine and may you continue to frighten and wow us and entertain us and s inspire us. Frighten us to life, not to death.
Thank you, Tom. May your muse continue to visit you, as well.
OK. This is Thomas Smith saying so long until the next time on the Public Radio Book Show.
King By The Numbers
88: Total number of books released by King since his debut novel Carrie (1972)
56: Number of full-length novels written by King
42: Feature-film adaptations of King’s work
14: Made-for-TV movies and miniseries adaptations
7: Books written under the pen name “Richard Bachman”
5: Works of non-fiction
3: Television series based on King’s work
2: Primetime Emmy Nominations (Outstanding Miniseries, The Stand (1994) and The Shining (1997))
Movie Recs For The Non-Horror Fan
Not into the scary stuff? Don’t forget about these modern classics that are all based on King’s non-horror fiction.
“You scare the hell out of me, can I have a hug?”
Stephen King receives the National Medal of Arts from President Obama, then goes on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
It’s not surprising that the wordsmith is a prolific Twitter user, posting about everything from politics to his beloved Boston Red Sox. Here’s just a few reasons why we love @StephenKing:
1. He has the best #tbts
2. He’s adorably nerdy
3. He posts about his equally cool friends
4. His dog Molly, aka The Thing of Evil
“Opening Credits” Johnny Ripper
“Sunset” Kai Engle
“Frozen Emotion” Gresby Race Nash
“Still Life” Vyvyan James Hope-Scott