It’s been almost 50 years since Stephen King published “Carrie” and upended mainstream publishing. Never before had a “horror writer” achieved the kind of mammoth sales King has enjoyed, nor attained the wide-spread popularity enjoyed by the prolific author.

Just after King’s 75 birthday, long-time King scholar, friend and collaborator Bev Vincent has taken the opportunity to update his “Stephen King Companion” with “Stephen King: A Complete Exploration of His Work, Life, and Influences.” The subtitle promises a lot, and King’s loyal “Constant Readers” will be delighted with the results.

Similar books have been published before, but this one strikes a happy balance between the unwieldiness of an encyclopedia and the skimpiness of some semi-professional endeavors.

Vincent is the author of “The Dark Tower Companion,” “The Road to the Dark Tower,” the Bram Stoker Award-nominated companion to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and “The Stephen King Illustrated Companion,” which was nominated for a 2010 Edgar Award and a 2009 Bram Stoker Award. In 2018, Vincent and King co-edited the anthology “Flight or Fright.”

When it comes to expounding on King’s work, Vincent knows his stuff, through and through. Whether writing about King’s radio station or time with the Rock-Bottom Remainders, Vincent is curious in his approach and thorough in his results.

Many King fans will have read accounts of how his spouse Tabitha King rescued “Carrie” from the waste basket when her husband gave up on the idea of writing convincingly about adolescent young women. Some readers have the impression that she saved his career that night, but the reality is more nuanced.

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As Vincent recounts, King started writing – and submitting for publication – stories from an early age. His first professional sale, “The Glass Floor,” was published by Startling Mystery Stories for $30.

By the time he graduated from the University of Maine at Orono, King was working on the novel “Getting It On,” which would eventually become “Rage,” and on “The Long Walk,” which intrigued Doubleday editor Bill Thompson, just shy of the point of actually purchasing the book.

There’s a chapter on “The Poetry of Stephen King,” including “The Dark Man,” one of the first references to the mutable villain of “The Stand” and the “Dark Tower” sequence. King isn’t likely to be celebrated for his verse, but it’s interesting to note his early influences.

“Stephen King” features a generous helping of illustrations, from family snapshots to correspondence with Doubleday’s Thompson, who essentially “discovered” King, to a photo of him accepting a medal from President Obama.

Fans of the “Dark Tower” sequence will be glad to find information that links hundreds of characters, settings and concepts. Vincent writes, “A prevailing theme of King’s fiction is that reality is thin and there are countless, perhaps infinite, parallel universes adjacent to one another with only thin curtains separating parallel realities.”

Vincent’s clear, lively writing style suits the Companion. He’s scholarly without being pedantic and unearths some intriguing trivia.

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Interested in visiting King’s version of his home state? There’s a generous section on the geographic and historic attractions of Derry, designated in “IT” as an alternate version of Bangor, listing dozens of mysterious deaths. Other examples of prime Down East real estate in the Stephen King universe include Castle Rock, home of Cujo and the boys from “The Body,” and Haven, a coastal community with its share of weird events.

According to Vincent, tour operators offer a King-themed excursion in Bangor, taking care not to disturb the inhabitants who these days infrequently reside in the mansion behind wrought-iron, giant-spider-infested fence. The home is slated to be converted into an invitation-only scholarly library and writers’ retreat.

The book includes an especially interesting section about King’s many collaborators. It makes sense that the author would want to work with his pseudonymous son Joe Hill on a tribute to the legendary fantasist Richard Matheson. But whose idea was it to pair John Mellencamp with King for a musical project such as “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County”?

Vincent offers details on King’s sole non-fiction partner, Stewart O’Nan. The two of them followed the Boston Red Sox during the team’s unlikely 2004 championship season, resulting in “Faithful.” That relationship inspired another baseball-related project with O’Nan, the short story “A Face in the Crowd.”

“Stephen King” is as up to date as possible, with short entries about “Billy Summers” from last year, “Gwendy’s Final Task” from this spring and the recently released (and particularly well received) “Fairy Tale.” Fans of the Bill Hodges Trilogy will be glad to know that King is at work on another book featuring the idiosyncratic detective Holly Gibney.

Readers will find copious details about the auto accident that nearly killed King in 1999. Run over while on his daily walk, King was told he might never walk again and endured months of excruciating therapy and painkiller addiction. After all of that agony, King insisted on attending the presentation of the National Medal of Arts, resulting in a two-month bout of pneumonia that nearly killed him.

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Vincent includes a helpful set of appendices, which include lists of short stories, novels and adaptations.

It’s been a long time since anyone compared King’s literary output to a Big Mac. Vincent’s “Stephen King” convincingly shows just how experimental King has been, willing to tackle a serialized novel like “The Green Mile” or write from the perspective of a middle-aged woman. He wrote an e-book, “Ur,” exclusively for Amazon’s Kindle and still allows amateurs to secure the rights to some of his stories and film them as “Dollar Babies.”

King is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, but what might be his literary legacy? Vincent quotes him as saying, “I’ve never fooled myself that I’m going to have much popularity beyond my lifetime. . . . There may be one or two books that people read later on.” “The Stand” and “The Shining” are likely contenders.

King has threatened to retire many times, and despite hiatuses, near-tragedies and fallow periods, he maintains an impressive output for someone who has been around for three quarters of a century.

As Vincent demonstrates, King still occupies the Throne of Horror. Long may he reign!

Berkeley writer Michael Berry is a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, native who has contributed to Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, New Hampshire Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books and many other publications. He can be contacted at: [email protected]
Twitter: @mlberry


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