Monday, August 4, 2014

Steven King's Convenient Dilemma

Steven King has taken a brave step in publishing Doctor Sleep and I applaud him for it. He could have written a very different, very disappointing manuscript that just sucks off the aged-teat of a masterpiece for nourishment. 

Imagine you are one of the world's greatest living writers. You are still very productive and popular. Part of that popularity stems from a novel you wrote nearly thirty years ago, titled Book30+. Book30+ was so great that it was turned into a movie that even more people saw than read the book, making you even more popular. Both the book and movie had satisfying endings, but your fans, to this day, occasionally ask what happened to such and such character (in this case, a sweet little boy from Book30+), despite the novel's age and the strange logic—or lack thereof—of the question.

You know in your own logical mind, it was a book. The characters stopped there, on the last page. But in your heart, you know that's not true. Your characters were, in a strange way, writers know all too well—quite real. One day you catch your mind doing its involuntary writer tricks, imagining just this scenario—the ultimate fate of the little boy. You realize you know the answer! Do you write a sequel? Is it possible to satisfy those untold millions who intimately know the character? Is there a satisfying answer? Isn't it likely that a huge contingent of your most loyal fans will be disappointed?

If you are Steven King and the book in question is The Shining, the answer is yes, you write it. Published in 2013, Doctor Sleep, tells the story of the now adult, Danny, the little boy from the first novel with “the shine.

I just finished reading Doctor Sleep and came away quite content. While not as satisfied with Danny's character as I might have liked—he's not the sweet little boy from The Shining any longer but now a grown man, an alcoholic drug-user with a guilty conscious, who is less than careful with whom he sleeps. The story works well though and references back to many aspects of the original story in the old hotel on top of a mountain in Colorado. Readers will welcome hearing back from Tony, the invisible character who gave Danny advice when he wiggled his finger. Tony has a new friend, who you may like equally, though I must say she reminded me a bit of other protagonists from other King books. Besides Danny, other characters return too, including Dick Holloran and Jack, Danny's crazy father. On the disappointing side, I was sorry Jack didn't play more of a role in the new novel, but I don't imagine King wanted to overshadow his new novel with that old story.

Whatever the case, Steven King has taken a brave step in publishing Doctor Sleep and I applaud him for it. He could have written a very different, very disappointing manuscript that just sucks off the aged-teat of a masterpiece for nourishment. Instead he's presented readers with a whole new story that piggy-backs off the old but is fresh and new. May all writers have the fortune of facing a convenient dilemma like this one day.