Stephen King thinks people will remember his characters more than his name

The Washington Post has started a series where people they deem “notable” offer a tour of their personal libraries. Reporter John Williams (not to be confused with Composer John Williams) traveled up to Bangor, Maine where master-of-horror author Stephen King greeted Williams at the Stephen & Tabitha King Foundation. Located in an 1845 historical house the Kings used to live in, the home features a meticulously kept family library on the downstairs level. Needless to say, going through the space was a nostalgic exercise for King:

He is so sweetly in love with his wife: Several shelves are taken up with themed series of books, many of them gifts to King from his wife of more than 50 years, Tabitha, whose own collection lives here, too. More than once while we talked, King paused to say, “I wish Tabby was here.”

The most important thing to know about writing: Richard Matheson, author of “I Am Legend” and much else, gave King an even more specific piece of advice, after King sent him a copy of “Salem’s Lot.” “He used to type on these little notepapers, and he sent me a letter back on one of those,” King said. “He thanked me for the book, and then at the bottom he said, ‘I’m gonna tell you the most important thing that I know about writing.’ And I thought, Oh my god, I’m really gonna get something here. And I turned it over and it said: ‘Get a music stand.’ Then you don’t have to turn your head back and forth to the page, because it was in the days when you typed things.” Did he take the advice and get one? “No, I never did. And I never had neck problems either.”

The root of his love of horror? King pulled a set of “Tales From the Crypt” off the shelf, solemnly recited its title and let out a cartoonishly evil cackle. “These twisted me as a kid,” he said. “I was 10 or 11. My aunt was concerned; my mother was not.

Legacy: A few minutes later, I asked whether he considered his legacy himself. “I don’t think about legacy very much,” he said. “I don’t understand why there would possibly be one. When you’re a popular novelist — I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do the best job that I can, and I always try to find something to say. If you’re not saying something that you cared about, why bother? There are very few popular novelists who have a life after death… I think that a couple of the horror novels might last. They might be read 50 or a hundred years from now, ‘The Shining’ and ‘Salem’s Lot’ and ‘It.’ If you ask people, ‘What vampire do you know?,’ they’d say, ‘Dracula.’ ‘Well, who invented Dracula?’ ‘I don’t [expletive] know.’ So, 50 or a hundred years from now, people will say: ‘Oh, Pennywise, the clown. Yeah, sure.’ ‘Who is Stephen King?’ They won’t know.”

The Kings can’t part with a book after reading: Pointing at the shelves of fiction, King said: “That’s everything that I’ve read or that Tabby’s read. These are all read books and loved books. We can’t throw a book away, none of us can.”

Hardcovers are worthy indulgences: I remarked on the fact that all of the books on the fiction shelves — or very nearly all — were hardcovers. King said that was to make up for not having them growing up. “When I was a kid and I was poor,” King said, “the idea that you could buy a hardcover for the astronomical price of $6, when you could get a paperback for 35 cents? No.” The first hardcover he ever bought, when he was in college, was William Manchester’s “Death of a President,” about the Kennedy assassination, which he gave to his mother for her birthday.

[From The Washington Post]

This is such a lovely little jaunt with Stephen King! It’s endearing to follow along his trips down memory lane. I also love how the books he highlights are clearly old friends. (Books are friends and should not be banned!) And I’m in total agreement about hardcovers. If I had the money I would buy all hardcovers too. I always find myself holding them with reverence and extra care. Alas, I’m still working towards having Stephen King money. As for his legacy, he is leaving a long one. He’s so prolific — and still writing! — and yet seems to have a fairly casual, low-key opinion of his own work. I kind of think he’s right, though, that the characters will probably live on longer than his name will. But I put a lot of that down to film adaptations making the characters more visible. A lot of people will have only watched The Shining, not read it. If it’s any comfort to Stephen (and I hope it is), I for one will always remember him as the man who nearly drove his wife to divorce over endlessly blasting Mambo No. 5.

— Stephen King (@StephenKing) October 31, 2023

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