Monday, December 16, 2013

Stephen King, Tolkien Fan

So, recently I did something uncharacteristic: I read a Stephen King novel. Just as this is atypical o me, so too was this particular book atypical of him, a new hardboiled murder mystery called JOYLAND, part of a new series by various authors that tries to mimic and recapture the look-and-feel of pulp crime novels of the forties and fifties, complete with lurid covers (Donald Westlake being the author whose work they most want to emulate).

This particular example is set in a fading amusement park in the summer of '73, and works hard to capture the time and place. The main character, a college student, works a summer job at a small amusement park with one genuine ghost, though for most of the novel the hero is focused more on mundane things, like being dumped piecemeal and long-distance by his girlfriend, meeting a dying kid with what in another novel King called 'the shining', discovering the person behind an old murder, and finding he has a true talent for working with people.

All of this wd go down for me as just an enjoyable enough light read, were it not for a number of Tolkien references King works into the book. A New England guy stuck in small-town North Carolina, with a broken heart and only co-workers to socialize with, our hero occasionally feels the need to get away and spend time on his own. One of the things he does is obsessively listen to albums by The Doors. And the other is to read (or re-read) THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

". . . That was my year to embrace loneliness. I sometimes went to the movies in Lumberton or Myrtle Beach . . . but I spent most evenings in my room, re-reading The Lord of the Rings and writing letters . . . I also wrote a fair amount of poetry, which I am now embarrassed even to think about . . . I added a new and satisfyingly grim record to my / small collection -- The Dark Side of the Moon" (p. 136 / 137)

". . . it was still warm and breezy when I set off down the beach. On many of those walks back to town I liked to watch my long shadow on the waves, but that evening I mostly watched my feet. I was tired out . . . I'd go back to my room, settle into my chair by the window, and read me some Tolkien as I ate. I was deep into The Two Towers.
   "What made me look up was the boy's voice . . . " (p. 148)

"I had the weekend free, and you know what happened. I guess the idea that it always rains on the weekends must be an illusion, but it sure doesn't seem like one; ask any working stiff who ever planned to go camping or fishing on his days off.
   "Well, there was always Tolkien. I was sitting in my chair by the window on Saturday afternoon, moving ever deeper into / the mountains of Mordor with Frodo and Sam, when Mrs. Shoplaw [his landlady] knocked on the door and asked if I'd like to come down to the parlor and play Scrabble" (p. 163 / 164)

[After the game] "I returned to my room, sat in my chair by the window, and tried to rejoin Frodo and Sam on the road to Mount Doom. I couldn't do it. I closed the book and stared out through the rain-wavery glass at the empty beach and the gray ocean beyond. IT was a lonely prospect . . . " (p. 169)

I knew that King was a Tolkien fan from reading THE SHINING years ago and having concluded that the father of the family's scenes down in the boiler room were King's affectionate parody of Gollum in the Cracks of Doom. But it's nice to see some confirmation, and to see Tolkien used as a bit of local color, so to speak, for re-creating that era.

current reading: Amarna book (Kemp) [slowly pressing forward; now about a third of the way through]
THE FIFTH BEATLE (graphic novel, the life of Brian Epstein) [just finished]
A LITTLE GOLD BOOK OF GHASTLY STUFF by Neil Gaiman [2011] -- my prize from the book exchange at yesterday's year's end gathering for our local fantasy reading group (Mithlond).


grodog said...

Thanks for the pointer on the Little Gold Ghastly book, John: that one had slipped through my wants list until now ;)

Happy Holidays! :D


grodog said...

Oh, and PS in case you didn't see this, and want to chime in:


nikwin said...

Sounds like you might enjoy this:

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Grodog.

I think a good case can be made for B. Potter's having influenced Tolkien -- we know he was fond of her work. But I think a stronger influence comes from K. Grahame: Bag-End combines the best elements of Mole End, Badger's House, Ratty's place, and Toad Hall all in one.

Thanks for the link: not only do I particularly like the description of Potter as "she was the Dr. Seuss of the pre-war era" but it looks like an interesting site in its own right.


P.S.: Thanks for the link, nikwin. A bit long, but amusing.

Slipjoint said...

I'm not sure how big of a Tolkien fan Stephen King is, but he's referenced LotR or the Hobbit several times before. So at the very least, he's familiar with the material.

While King is primarily a horror writer, he dips into fantasy territory often enough that he'd probably be familiar with the major works of the genre.