Horror Literature – Life After Stephen King

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It's common knowledge that Stephen King took a literary subgenre in the early eighties and turned it into a mainstream literary genre, entitled even to have special courses at American and British Universities. Bestsellers like Shinning, Carrie, Blood and Smoke and even Bag of Bones (which was the first book in the genre to be given in depth analysis by literary critics worldwide) propelled horror literature to a class of its own, away from the scorned subgenre that it used to be.


In the trail of those masterpieces, a lot of young and talented writers found a new market to their work and a new acceptance by the public. Writers like Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, Bentley Little, Douglas Clegg, among many others, all of them excellent storytellers in their own right, were able to expand and thrive in a field first braved by Stephen King. None of them are or were imitations. They brought their unique style and themes to the genre, making it richer and creating an even greater reader base. Every bookshop, either it's online or not, has its own (and very well stocked) horror section and it sells.

But for all practical purposes, Stephen King called it quits a few years ago. Not that he stopped writing completely. He just stopped writing at his regular "two books a year" rhythm. Since then he has published an average of a book a year and even that seems to be coming to an end.

His next book is titled "Just After Sunset" and it's a collection of short stories, most of them already published in magazines or horror stories compilations (in which he was one of many contributing authors). The title, considering that has no relation to any of the stories in the book, seems to indicate that sunset is almost over and twilight is falling for Stephen King's writing days. Sure, there will be movies, graphic novels and maybe one or two books (probably already written; a habit that King has confessed to on several occasions).

It's a very good guess that in three or four years, Stephen King will have stopped completely. And how will that affect the genre that he propelled to the spotlight of mainstream literature. Every newcomer in horror fiction tries to be the "next Stephen King", even going to great lengths to get that written in the back of their books. But is really what this genre needs? Another Stephen King lookalike? Or a "new Stephen King", in the sense that will imitate no one, compromises nothing and revolutionizes the genre once again?

My bet is on the later but not many writers seem inclined to take that risk, especially not the established writers who have already created a solid reader base and have developed their own unique style over the years. Furthermore, the career of those established writers has already been a long one and, given their age, won't last much more than Stephen King's.

So is the Horror Genre doomed to go through a period of literary stability in which books will continue to be published, stories will continue to be written and new writers will continue to arrive, but with no particular author not making the impact nor projecting the genre to new heights as it once had? Maybe. And maybe that is a good thing.

Now that Horror Literature is an established genre, perhaps it's time to spread through a great number of writers and readers but not going through another revolution nor having such an indisputable figurehead. Tolkien paved the way for the Fantasy Genre as Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke paved the way for the Science Fiction Genre. Now there is no figurehead and no ongoing revolution in those genres and they remain strong both in regular readers and writers.

In the end maybe "life after Stephen King" means exactly that. That he took a subgenre and brought it to life in the spotlight of mainstream literature and now that it's an established genre, no more figureheads are needed and no more revolutions are called for.

That is not to say that new writers will not reinvent the genre, bring in new readers or cause dramatic changes to what it is today. But those changes will happen to an established genre, in order to reshape and revitalize it, just like any other genre and not to maintain it as an accepted mainstream literary genre. That is quite possibly a road that will never need to be travelled again.

Ricardo Rebelo

Portugal

mailto:ricardo.rebelo@gmail.com

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