Stephen King – Short Stories Made Into Movies

by Rachel Baker on April 21, 2010

A week ago, I told you I was going on a Stephen King reading spree.  If you’ve never gone on a reading spree, I highly recommend it. I wanted to give you an update on what I’ve read this week and some thoughts while reading.

Stephen King Goes to the Movies: This is a mass market paper book I picked up sometime last year, probably at Walgreens or something.  Stephen King Goes to the Movies is a collection of five short stories that have been made into movies.  In this book, you’ll find:

1408
The Mangler
Hearts in Atlantis (“Low Men in Yellow Coats”)
The Shawshank Redemption (“Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”)
Children of the Corn

I read Children of the Corn first, because I’d never seen the movie or read the story. My reaction to it was sort of interesting – I feel like the moral to the story, if you will allow me to use that phrase, is children will not save a marriage….I know, I know, hear me out though.

The story starts out with a husband and wife on a trip to see their relatives; they are driving across country because maybe the time together on a REALLY long coast-to-coast trip will allow them to work through the problems in their marriage.  Except the problem with their marriage appears that they just can’t stand when the the other one open his/her mouth (no way to save it from there, folks).  They leave the highway in cornrow country, thinking back roads may be better driving – cutting time off the trip, etc. and hit a kid (the kid’s neck was slashed, so his death was not the result of being hit by a car).  The story continues with the husband and wife trying to figure out what to do, making it to the next town (which happens to be deserted…there’s a surprise).  Kids attack the wife, take her away, and the husband goes running (he is being chased)…into the corn rows.  He gets away (because kids’ attention spans can only last so long), and when he goes to look for his wife, he sees she’s been killed (sacrificed to the Corn God), and he’s next.

The first kid – the one they hit with the slit throat – represents their marriage.  Its already doomed and there’s really no way to save it. Even though they should have pulled together when the car hit the kid, they were still torn apart and arguing about it.  This couple truly hated each other.  The other kids, I think, represented the old idea that having kids would bring us closer together.  The children didn’t bring them closer together – in fact the husband and wife were immediately separated further and she was sacrificed.

Moral to the Story:  Don’t have kids to save your marriage – doing so will only result in both people sacrificing their former selves leaving them dead (or empty corn husks).

***********

Second was The Mangler, for the same reason I read Children of the Corn first.  The Mangler is the name used by industrial laundry workers for a piece of equipment.  The equipment becomes possessed, and wouldn’t you know it, when the detective (who’s not on the case) figures out it was possessed, didn’t realize that one of the ‘ingredients’ in the big time “all shit hits the fan” possessions was in the medication of one of the workers – she dropped some of it in the machine by accident.  The detective and his scholar friend decide they must do an exorcism, and well…it goes terribly wrong, i.e., the shit hit the fan.

The best part of this book is the explanation of how this story came about.  Stephen King Goes to the Movies has a one or two page explanation from Stephen King about the story as a movie and his thoughts on the result. Prior to The Mangler, King tells us where the story came from.

I am going to reserve judgement on whether I liked this story, until I read some of the other stories he wrote about inanimate objects going nuts…Christine comes to mind.

**********

1408 came next. I really liked this movie; I thought John Cusack did a great job with it; and I suspect this is one of the reasons why I bought this book (the other reasons were Hearts in Atlantis and Shawshank Redemption).

One of the things I like about Stephen King is his ability write about real people (or in the case of The Mangler, a machine with a “real” personality).  I liked 1408 more for the author who didn’t believe in what he was writing, than for the story about the room (1408).  The main character, author Mike Enslin, wrote a series of books about ‘haunted houses’ – hated writing them, but they paid the bills, and they were easy.  He comes upon a story about a haunted room at the Hotel Dolphin and refuses to take no for an answer when the hotel manager tries to dissuade him from spending the night.  Enslin doesn’t believe in ghosts or hauntings or anything of a supernatural nature; and the hotel manager, Mr. Olin, believes this is exactly why he’s going to have a tough night. The room is “responsible” for many suicides, 30 deaths that were deemed by natural causes, and terminal illnesses for people who went in.  As expected, the room goes ballistic, and what turns out to be only seventy minutes in the room affects Enslin for the rest of his life, starting with “twenty or even thirty” skin grafts from a fire in the room.  In the end, Enslin was done writing and had a multitude of health problems.

Let’s go back to my comment about Stephen King’s characters being “real”.  We ALL know someone who hates what s/he is doing for work.  They do it because it “pays the bills” and at some point, if they are lucky, they have some crazy moment when enough is enough.  According to King, he finished the story because the main character began to interest him:

“a cynical hack (who once coulda been a contender) churned out books debunking supposedly haunted locations, started to interest me.” What, I wondered, would happen if such a fellow had to face the real thing.”

Two reasons this interested me.  The first reason is stated above the quote.  The second reason is I’ve always wondered what authors who push out one or two books a year actually think about the vehicle they use for their stories – the likes of Nora Roberts comes to mind.  At what point do they get tired of writing the same story with the same plot, with the same characters whose names are the only difference from the previous year’s book?  At what point do they have a strange “crisis of faith” (?) that allows them to move on from where they’ve been pigeon-holed?

**********

Shawshank Redemption is a great story about hope.  My favorite line in both the book and the story is when Red, played by Morgan Freeman in the movie, says:

“Its always comes down to two choices.  Get busy living or get busy dying.”

On the surface this story is about a man (Andy) wrongly accused of murdering his wife, and the subsequent years he spent in Shawshank prison…and his subsequent jailbreak twenty-seven years after being sent to the prison.  That’s the basis of the story.  The underlying story is about survival.  There are parts that are brutal (Andy’s encounters with “the Sisters”) and horrifying, however, these parts are described in a way that puts images in your mind without actually using too many words. Frankly, these sections are more left up to the imagination, and are only possibly because of the narration of what prison life is like. The development of love and respect between Red and Andy is written differently – subtle recognition of the relationship developing between these two men.

The story is Red’s perception of Andy and the life he led in Shawshank prison, and his conjecture of how Andy escaped.  As you read the story, you begin to develop the sense that Red respects Andy for his quiet nature.  By the time the reader gets to Red’s idea of what really happened in Andy’s escape and exactly how it happened (including a possible time-line), you understand Red knows Andy (and Andy’s life) better than anyone and that he thinks the world of Andy.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what I find so intriguing about King. The subtlety.  More often than not, there are layers upon layers of plot and character development which lead the reader to very subtle contemplation about an aspect of the human condition.

*********

Last, not least, is Hearts in Atlantis (“Low Men in Yellow Coats“).  This is another of those “I loved the movie and couldn’t wait to read the story” moments.  Of course I said this even though the story has been sitting in my Stephen King section of my book stack.  I read this in a completely different light than I watched the movie.  It wasn’t until the movie was over that there were ties to the Dark Tower series.  I suspect if I saw the movie again after reading the story, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much, because of the parts of the story that are missing.

Two things happened while reading this story.  The first I got a better understanding of how it related to the Dark Tower series; and I immediately ordered The Regulators (by Richard Bachman, King’s pseudonym) and Desperation – which by the way, just arrived from Amazon about five minutes ago.

Besides being a must for Dark Tower readers, “Low Men in Yellow Coats” seems to be, on the surface, a “coming of age” story; much like Stand By Me, It, and various others.  However, deeper below the surface, once again, we have a love story, on a bunch of different levels.  This story is about the friendship between a twelve year old, fatherless child (Bobby) and the old creepy guy (Ted) who just moved upstairs from the boy and his mom.  Its also about the development of pre-adolescence love between the boy and his girl friend; and strangely, a love story between a boy and his mom.  I wish there was more about Bobby’s life after he moved; and I think Carol may have been a fascinating character in a later book.  There is, according to King, an unfinished story about Carol.  If it ever got published, I’d love to read it.

Mom is angry and bitter and blames Bobby’s father for her crappy life, even though he’s been dead for many years. There are fabulous contradictions between Bobby and his mother through out the story which become the catalyst for understanding Bobby is growing up past that “I’m a child and I rely (and believe) everything my mom tells me” stage.  This aspect of the story is tumultuous and nasty, but ultimately resolves itself.  Bobby still loves his mother more than anything and in her strange broken way, loves and learns to respect him as someone who isn’t her dead husband.

Having read From a Buick 8 recently, I loved the description of the Low Men’s cars, and immediately realized that the car in From a Buick 8 is probably a Low Man’s car. This correlation led me to wonder if the ‘Man in Black’ from The Gunslinger was a Low Man.  I loved the conversation with Ted and the Low Men about the fact that there’s a gunslinger, and he and his friends have made it to the borderlands; and the explanations about Ted being a Breaker and the references to the Beam.  I was giddy with excitement when I got to this part.  For the first time, I think, I understood the magnitude of what Stephen King was writing in so many of his books and stories.

*********************

I didn’t set out to write this much when I began this morning.  I thank you for taking the time to read this.  Other books I’ve read over the last week or two are: From a Buick 8, The Drawing of the Three (Book II of the Dark Tower series); I’ve started Wastelands (Book III of the Dark Tower series) and I read a interesting Stephen King interview in the Paris Review issue 178, Fall 2006.  ps.  if you’ve never picked up the Paris Review – you should. Its got great interviews with authors, short stories, and poetry.  I’ll be sharing some thoughts on the above three books in the coming days/weeks.

but right now, I’ve got three new books to go read…

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Amazon Wish ListEvernoteFlipboardInstapaperNewsVineSpringpadWordPressTypePad PostStumbleUponLiveJournalPocketRedditShare

Previous post:

Next post: