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Joyland by Stephen King: A good read

Updated on June 10, 2015

Stephen King's Joyland. Creepiness in an amusement park

King had me as soon as I saw 'amusement park'. I've always thought these places were a little creepy and spooky.

I think it's something to do with the fakeness of it all; smiling clowns' faces hiding grumpy old men, sparkling leotards hiding goose-pimpled flesh and fantasy castles made of cardboard. (Maybe it's just me - maybe not?)

But a mildly creepy story set in a carnival atmosphere was bound to be a winner for me.

I prefer the less silly Stephen King

You know what I mean - books that I can almost believe, books such as 11.22.63 or The Shawshank Redemption - I can even almost believe a malevolent 1950s Plymouth Fury if necessary. But I lose patience with metallic meatballs trying to gobble up the passengers that didn't mysteriously disappear from the aircraft.

Joyland isn't a silly, fantasy book. Yes, it has the requisite suspicion of a ghost, a before-the-book gruesome murder and a hint of people who are mildly clairvoyant (of course, the amusement park does have a fortune teller) but in general, this is a believable story, set in the early 1970s.

Every year, the amusement park employs college students as temporary helpers. One of these is our narrator, Devin. You'll like Devin - he comes across as a nice guy. But so does everyone else. Certainly some of the permanent staff at Joyland can be a little gruff but they too seem to have hearts of gold underneath their hardworking exteriors.

So do Devin's landlady and his fellow student workers but it's true that some years previously there was a murder at Joyland and it's rumoured that the ghost lingers in, appropriately, the Horror House where her life had brutally ended.

Stephen King created his characters in Joyland with his usual skill and we also get to like the young boy Devin befriends; the boy who is confined to a wheelchair and not expected to live. It's positively delightful when Devin persuades the boy's over-protective mother to let him visit Joyland.

So where's the horror?

Just like some of King's other works that I mentioned above, there is no horror.

There are no monsters. No topiary animals coming mysteriously to life. No-one causes telekinetic, murderous mayhem.

But there's creepiness, nevertheless.

After all, everyone is so nice. But there was that gruesome murder, right there in the Horror House...

Hear Stephen KIng talking about this book

Stephen King is a remarkably jolly man, which is mildly surprising. In this video he explains that the location for The Shining was first going to be an amusement park. That's an interesting thought.

He also says that this book has been in the back of his mind for many years. It started when he had in his mind the image of a young boy in a wheelchair with a kite.

The spookiness of the entertainment world

I suppose that the Phantom of the Opera is the classic example. But I do find that the entertainment world lends itself to mysterious stories, probably because entertainment has the ability to transport us to another time or place but really, we know it's all one big piece of fakery.

We can watch, for example, magicians performing the most amazing feats but deep down, what we are really admiring is the way we are being fooled.

Masked balls, such as those at Mardi Gras, are crying out for creepy stories too.

Reading about the circus is also fascinating. Circus performers have numerous tricks to make their acts appear to be even more daring and skillful. Nik Wallenda, for example, in his book, speaks of fake stumbles and wobbles he does on the highwire to make more of a show.

Sometimes, the entertainment business brings us certain characters and stories where truth really is stranger than fiction. The life and background of Leitzel, once the most famous aerialist in the world, is a wonderful example of this.

One of my favourite true life characters was Bobby Gibbs, the 370 pound animal trainer who, in his early years had no compunction about painting stripes on mules and calling them rare Arctic zebras...

Just as a footnote, I am pleased to know that Stephen King writes books which have come from ideas that have been bubbling in his brain for years. I have only ever written a few pieces of fiction but the best - now long lost - took place in a 1940s amusement park and of course it was spooky.

Learn more about the books mentioned above

Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love and Tragedy at the Circus
Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love and Tragedy at the Circus

This is another true-life story, as mentioned above. It shows in detail the life in the circus in days gone by.As you can tell from the title, there is tragedy but it's a fascinating true story that adds to my feeling that the circus has a creepy element.

Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Line
Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Line

This is the first of the books I mentioned above.

It's a wonderful read and also a great insight into the entertainment world.

I think I'm right in saying that seven of Nik's family have died during circus performances, including his famous grandfather, Karl.


This too is highly recommended. Read about the harsh realities of the travelling circus.

Circus at the Edge of the Earth
Circus at the Edge of the Earth

Amazon only has used copies of this book so you might get a bargain.It's a true story from the 1990s about the author's travels with the Wallenda Circus.You'll love Bobby Gibbs, the trainer of the wonderful old elephant, Judy. All the people in this book have wonderful stories to tell but Bobby and Judy are the stars.


© 2014 Jackie Jackson


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    • Rhonda Lytle profile image

      Rhonda Lytle 

      4 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

      I've done a lot of King, but not this one. It will be next.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Merrci: I hope you do :) I enjoyed it a lot and it's a good quick read. Perfect for an afternoon on the beach or on a car or plane journey.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      4 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      I haven't read this one, but my list has gotten pretty long. The setting could be very creepy, I imagine! Enjoyed your review very much. Hopefully I will get to it soon.


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