Five fun Stephen King facts – including phobias, pseudonyms, and mistaken identities
1. Stephen King threw away early drafts of the manuscript of his first novel, Carrie. His wife retrieved it, encouraged him, and it was later published. King’s fiction has repeatedly centred on the loner, the figure who is bullied at school, who fails to ‘fit in’. His first novel, Carrie (1974) – about a girl who has telekinetic powers which she uses to exact revenge on her school bullies – perfectly exemplifies this. But King had doubts about the first few pages of the novel’s draft, and abandoned it; it was only down to his wife’s faith in the idea that he persevered with it. Indeed, Tabitha, King’s wife and a novelist in her own right, has come to the rescue in King’s career a number of times. For instance, the original title for King’s second novel ’Salem’s Lot (1975) was ‘Second Coming’, but Tabitha remarked that the title sounded like a ‘bad sex story’, so a new title was found.
2. In 1988, the Royal Shakespeare Company staged a musical adaptation of Carrie. But of course the most successful adaptations of King’s work are to be found in the cinema. King has to be one of the most successful contemporary novelists in terms of movie adaptations, with dozens of his works being turned into movies: to name but a few, there have been Carrie, The Shining, The Running Man, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, Stand by Me, and (rather less successfully) The Lawnmower Man. Carrie has been adapted for film three times: the most recent adaptation is from 2013.
3. In 2007, Stephen King was mistaken for a vandal when he started signing books during an unannounced visit to a bookshop in Australia. In Alice Springs in the remote Australian Outback, King turned up to sign several copies of his books. King’s representative in Australia was unaware that the author was in the country; apparently King was travelling with a friend. Was he on holiday, and couldn’t resist signing a few of his books when he passed the local bookshop? It appears to be something of a mystery.
4. King suffers from triskaidekaphobia. When he’s writing, he will never stop work if the page number is 13 or a multiple of 13. Given that so much of his work plays on mankind’s deepest and darkest fears and superstitions, it’s quite apt that the bestselling horror author is himself superstitious when it comes to this dreaded number.
5. Stephen King’s 1977 novel Rage is now out of print at King’s own request. Rage was, like Carrie before it, about the school loner who seeks revenge on his bullies and tormentors. After the book was associated with several high school shootings, notably the Heath High School shooting in Kentucky in 1997, King withdrew the book from publication, later saying that it was ‘a good thing’ that the book was no longer in print. These days a copy will set you back a fair bit of money on second-hand book websites.
King had invented the pseudonym of Richard Bachman because his publisher was worried about King’s output: the novelist was writing too much too quickly. In the first ten years of his career as a published writer, he produced eighteen novels and four short-story collections. In order to avoid glutting the market with too many new King novels at once, the alter ego of Bachman was dreamt up. When it came out that Richard Bachman was King himself, King retired the alias claiming that Bachman had died of ‘cancer of the pseudonym’. King wrote a novel, The Dark Half (1989), about the press’s outing of him as Richard Bachman.
Image: Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store (author: Michael Femia), 2005, Wikimedia Commons.