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Dissecting Stephen King

From the Gothic to Literary Naturalism

Heidi Strengell

Publication Year: 2006

    In a thoughtful, well-informed study exploring fiction from throughout Stephen King's immense oeuvre, Heidi Strengell shows how this popular writer enriches his unique brand of horror by building on the traditions of his literary heritage. Tapping into the wellsprings of the gothic to reveal contemporary phobias, King invokes the abnormal and repressed sexuality of the vampire, the hubris of Frankenstein, the split identity of the werewolf, the domestic melodrama of the ghost tale. Drawing on myths and fairy tales, he creates characters who, like the heroic Roland the Gunslinger and the villainous Randall Flagg, may either reinforce or subvert the reader's childlike faith in society. And in the manner of the naturalist tradition, he reinforces a tension between the free will of the individual and the daunting hand of fate.
    Ultimately, Strengell shows how King shatters our illusions of safety and control: "King places his decent and basically good characters at the mercy of indifferent forces, survival depending on their moral strength and the responsibility they may take for their fellow men."

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii


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p. ix

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King, His World, and Its Characters,

Interpreter of the Postmodern Condition,

King's Brand of Horror

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pp. 3-27

During his literary career, Stephen King has published four dozen novels, about a dozen novellas, and over a hundred short stories. He has also written two nonfiction books, a number of screenplays and e-books, even a comic book. Stephen J. Spignesi maintains...

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1. The Gothis in King's Works

Abnormal and Repressed Sexuality (the Vampire),

Hubris and Death (Frankenstein's Monster),

The Gothic Double (the Werewolf),

The Gothis Melodrama (the Ghost)

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pp. 28-107

The term Gothic is used in a number of different fields: literary, historical, artistic, and architectural. As David Punter in The Literature of Terror (1:1) points out, in a literary context alone, it has several uses. First, Gothic is applied to a group of novels written...

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2. Myths and Fairy Tales in King's Work

The Hero as a Generic Hybrid (Roland the Gunslinger),

The Antihero as a Generic Hybrid (Randall Flagg),

Adapted and Revised Myths and Fairy Tales,

Mythical and Fairy-Tale Themes

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pp. 108-178

In the 1989 interview with Tony Magistrale, King argued: liTo my mind, the stories that I write are nothing more than fairy tales for grown ups" (Magistrale, Decade, 4)' From a functional angle this statement seems to hold true. King has in Danse Macabre given...

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3. Literary Naturlaism in King's Works

Free Will and Responsibility,

Genetic and Sociological Determinism,

Cosmological Determinism and Fate,

Metafictional Determinism

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pp. 179-253

In his fiction King reverts again and again to the duality between good and evil and the fact that human beings personify both. The very exercise of free will poses the major problems for the protagonists in most of his stories, and therefore it is the basis of...

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pp. 254-265

We have now wandered through King's fictional chamber of horrors, from the basement to the attic. It has become obvious that his fictional art consists of generic hybrids. In combining elements of the Gothic tale with other genres (such as myths, fairy...

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Appendix: A Note on Previous Criticism

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pp. 269-274

So much writing and research about Stephen King has been published since the 1980s that it is difficult to avoid turning a brief exposition into a bibliography. I will therefore confine myself to a few remarks on the references that have particular relevance to this work. Given the extent...


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pp. 275-292


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pp. 293-308

E-ISBN-13: 9780299209735
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299209742

Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 646808892
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dissecting Stephen King