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King of the Literary World or King of Pop Culture?

Updated on December 13, 2012
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King to Poe

One thing may be stated as a truth and that is that he is more than likely the current King in the macabre genre. Who are we talking about? None other than Stephen King of course; king of the horror and the gruesome and king of ‘don’t invite a vampire in, look down the street sewers, or tick of a psycho girl at your high school’. However, you can find his books everywhere, multiples of them, and he has published roughly 160 works including the more heard about ones that I mentioned before; Salem’s Lot, It, and Carrie respectively. His story lines, endings, and macabre genre in general I find very comparable to Edgar Allan Poe, but, you don’t find him in many literary books and you sure won’t read about him in your 11th grade literature class, so where does King fit? After reading many of his works it seems as though he falls on a line between literary classic material and pop culture material.

“The Raven” by Poe in a way reminds me of the novel by King entitled Gerald’s Game. In the book Jessie Burlingame has just accidently killed her husband by kicking his genitals when he doesn’t stop with his sex game when she asks him to. However, now she is handcuffed to the bed at a secluded house that no one knows they are at. During her stay there she encounters all kinds of suffering and delusions, some fake….and some real. This reminds me of “The Raven” because of the idea of seclusion and suffering (and possibly imagining things and events that don’t really occur) happens to both Poe and King’s characters, though Jessie isn’t longing for a “Lenore” she is longing for some help and freedom.

Also I must note the fact that King plays with names in this story, for example “Burlingame” used as the Jessie’s last name. Burlin- to maybe sound like Berlin where people were not only stuck out but in as well due to the Berlin wall, and –game to stand for her husband’s game that she is trapped in. Also, the Burlingame treaty was established between United States and China as a beginning of a friendly relationship. Another name was used in the story as a recollection of a man Jessie almost slept with, this man’s last name was Delguidance, almost like misguidance. This technique is used in many classic literary works, so why isn’t it recognized in King’s works?

Another work that works well with “The Raven” is Pet Sematary. In the story once Louis Creed’s son has gotten smashed by a truck he decides to bury him in the Pet Sematary even though he knows of its powers. It brings back a killer toddler. The child kills his mother and even then Louis cannot take the loss and brings his wife back and the story ends with her returning and laying her hand on his back, leaving the reader to guess the rest. His mourning was so deep and the story itself taking on such a dramatic and dreary affect it reminds me of “The Raven” and the sounds Poe makes to bring out the dreary in his work, for example, “bleak December, And each separate dying ember” and “darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before”. You can just feel the character in Poe’s poem in a sad state of affairs, well Louis Creed was no different, for example King used these words to describe Creed’s feelings, “And the most terrifying question of all may be just how much horror the human mind can stand and still maintain a wakeful, staring, unrelenting sanity.” Here I can picture the man from Poe’s work just staring off and trying to remain sane through his loneliness and encounter with the “courtly” raven.

The comparability of what someone can lose and what they can imagine up when someone dear to them has been lost is strong between these two works. Again I must add Kings choice on name usage. Creed is the last name used and of course someone’s creed is their religious beliefs and also the cat who dies in the beginning and is first resurrected in the Pet Sematary by Creed is short named Church. I just don’t think anyone’s ‘church’ or most anyone’s ‘creed’ would approve of resurrecting your cat, dead toddler, or your wife. Ironic.

Finally another Poe and King comparison in the macabre genre is “The Cask of Amontillado” and Carrie. The theme for both is revenge. Montresor decides he is tired of hearing Fortunato run his mouth basically and leads him to his wine cellar; he keeps sick Fortunato in a room by bricking up the entrance. Carrie on the other hand is bullied relentlessly by girls at school but Carrie has realized she has telekinesis and uses it to her advantage when pig’s blood is dumped on her at prom. She runs off but locks the doors trapping those inside and she starts a fire and many of the students and chaperones die trapped, just as Fortunato was trapped.

King also uses many literary techniques that are commonly studied with literature out of textbooks. One technique is the double meanings behind names, another being foreshadowing. King is notorious for foreshadowing, for example in Pet Semetary we know of the boy’s death pages before just because King mentions during a scene that that was the last time Creed would see his boy alive. King also is good with symbolism, for example, the rose in the Dark Tower Series (which is a series of 7 books) is symbolic for growing despite the odds because the rose grows in a vacant lot with no other flowers or life around it but it is also the portal between worlds. Another thing that maybe isn’t so much a technique but rather something that doesn’t follow what pop culture reading material follows is the fact that his ending do not usually leave the reader satisfied or happy. For example, at the end of Cujo, the young boy dies. At the end of the short story “Breathing Method” the pregnant woman’s head is cut off, though her baby is fine, the short story “Apt Pupil” is just one grotesque horror after another, and The Dark Tower Series does not end the way expected and leaves the reader guessing.

So now we have plenty of reasons and ways to compare King to the literary classic style yet why then isn’t he in the books? Well one good reason is he’s just too popular. The idea that he has over 160 works puts him two feet in with the pop culture crowd. Does he just write for the money? I should hope not because he seems so passionate about his work, just take the Dark Tower Series for example again, King connects the idea of multiple interconnecting worlds so well I almost believe it’s true and at one point he actually puts himself in his story. But then again he’s a horror writer and when we want to read horror we turn to him rather than turning to Poe.

Do you know King or Poe...or both?


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    • bat115 profile image

      Tim 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Some good ideas here. I think it's just a case of great minds thinking alike!

    • ElizabethRidge profile image
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      Elizabeth Ridge 4 years ago from Iowa

      I agree, though they have their major differences too, they both capture the macabre idea perfectly to me. Poe maybe a little more gothically so.

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