During the weeks coming up to Halloween, I got to thinking about Stephen King. I had recently seen IT, Gerald’s Game and finished watching The Mist and Mr. Mercedes. I realised that recently there had been many more of his stories made into films and tv shows. (10 since 2016) I knew that he had written an unfathomable number of books and short stories, but I was curious about exactly how many of these stories had been adapted to screen.
When I began looking into the topic, a funny thing happened. I typed ‘Stephen King revival’ into Google. The results all related to a novel he had written called ‘Revival’. I thought to myself, OK, that’s not going to work… I know, I’ll try ‘Stephen King comeback’. The results were all directing me to information on King’s novel ‘Sometimes They Come Back’. I had to laugh to myself as I was reminded of just how many stories he had written. Just in case this is sparking your curiosity regarding exactly how many stories he has published; the answer is around 56 novels and another 200 short stories. Even crazier is the fact that about 66 of these novels have been adapted for cinema while another 30 or so have been made into television series.
King published Carrie in 1974. Just two years later, it was made into one of the most iconic horrors ever produced. The success of Carrie was followed by The Shining which thanks to Stanley Kubrick became one of the most prolific horror films to date. While King certainly started off on the right foot, he must have been doing something right seeing as almost every year since Carrie’s release, one of his stories has been made into a film. Now, almost 50 years on, IT (2017) broke a record for horror cinema grossing $179m on its opening weekend.
I suppose the thing I was most interested in was what it is exactly about Stephen king’s stories that make them so easily adaptable to screen? Well, I’ve narrowed it down to a few factors; versatility in terms of narrative, quality characters, constantly publishing new works and his ability to incorporate the bizarre into even his most “normal” stories. King is a diverse novelist. I mean, it’s hard to believe that the same man who wrote novels like Cujo and IT also wrote The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. Stephen King may be better known for scaring the life out of us, but he undoubtedly has the ability to write heart-wrenching tales where we see characters triumph in the face of adversity, form warm-hearted relationships and go on whimsical adventures.
Even Stephen King’s ‘normal’ novels still contain aspects of the paranormal or superhuman abilities. (Think John Coffee’s healing abilities in The Green Mile.) Even Shawshank and Stand by Me have their own utterly disturbing, melancholic and peculiar moments. As a storyteller, King is great at provoking emotion. Many of his fans are probably familiar with the quote “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings”. The man certainly has no qualms about pulling at his reader’s heartstrings. I feel as though this is one of the factors that leaves us wanting more from King. People are addicted to misery (no pun intended). We like watching a movie or reading a book where anything can happen, you never know when your favourite character might be killed off or paralysed or develop telekinetic powers.
While King may not be regarded as one of the most valuable novelists in terms of artistic merit, the man sure knows how to write a gripping story. Stephen Kings stories can pull us in and play off our most human fears. His characters are extremely well developed and many of his protagonists (and sometimes his villains) are relatable. His ability to write compelling plots and characters means that his name attached to any on-screen project means profitability. Which of course is another reason why so many production companies have picked up his work. Even with many of these productions resulting in financial failure, his brand remains untarnished.
Well, all in all, this is probably good news for Stephen King fans, seeing as it doesn’t seem likely that Hollywood moguls will stop adapting his works anytime soon. In fact, IT director, Andrés Muschietti , has announced his plans to take on the classic Pet Semetary. There is no doubt in my mind that even long after Stephen king has stopped writing, his books will continue to be a source of inspiration for film-makers everywhere. His gift for giving the people what they want (fucked up subject matter in a digestible and entertaining format) has solidified his iconic status.