By the time this story was published, King was well on his way to becoming the best-selling horror fiction writer of all time. Horror, as a genre, has had a long history, and like other popular genres, it has often been considered inferior writing. Its roots are usually traced back to British author Horace Walpole’s 1764 Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto , which set in place many conventions that were to be associated with Gothic writing in the years to come, including castles with hidden chambers, ancestral curses, heroines in distress, and a not-always-faint hint of sexual cruelty. The British Gothic was brought to America in 1789 in Wieland or, The Transformation: An American , by Charles Brockden Brown. Brown’s novel, about a man driven to madness by a ventriloquist, started a strain of psychological realism that came to be associated with American horror writing. This tradition was carried on through Edgar Alan Poe in the early nineteenth century and by minor works of the American romantic writers, such as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, while the British romantics who dabbled in Gothicism—Keats, Shelley, Byron, and especially Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who published Frankenstein in 1818—generally focused on the external reality of the horror story.
In the twentieth century, literary Gothic writing continued in America, particularly in Southern literature, with writers such as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers using exaggerated settings, extreme character traits, and physical abnormalities to explore ideas about the human condition. Horror writing developed a separate strain of popular fiction. In the late nineteenth early twentieth centuries, there developed several popular genres, such as horror, science fiction, crime or detective writing, romance, and fantasy. These categories of genre fiction are marked by their distinctly nonliterary character. They were written and published because they sold well, and they sold well because their readers could dive into formulaic, unchallenging stories. Readers were familiar with the conventions that writers used and certain that they could be engrossed in gripping tales without being asked to question their own values. Pulp horror magazines of the 1920s and 1930s, such as the still existing and still influential Weird Tales , published content by hundreds of writers, many of them forgotten today. Some of these writers went on to establish names for themselves in other genres, as Robert Bloch did in the field of mystery or suspense and Ray Bradbury did in science fiction.
Horror Fiction in the Electronic Media Era
With the popularity of television in the 1950s, horror writing became more specialized and complex. The audience that had read works for simple amusement was satisfied with watching whatever was on, and some people lost interest in reading entirely. At the same time, though, television provided a training ground for writers such as Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, and Charles Beaumont, who earned their pay from writing scripts and then used the storytelling skills they developed in their own fiction. Serling’s The Twilight Zone and the similar The Outer Limits , as well as Alfred Hitchcock Presents , hosted by the legendary film director, were just a few of the anthology series that presented new teleplays each week, combining horror, science fiction, and suspense.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, horror fiction broke into the mainstream, with novels such as William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist The Other by Thomas Tyron, and Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levine rising to the tops of the best-seller list. It is in this climate that King rose to prominence when his first novel, Carrie , was adapted as a popular movie, establishing a link between King’s writing and theatrical adaptations that make his name familiar to nonreaders around the world.
As the twentieth century drew to a close, the popularity of mainstream horror novels dimmed. They were enjoyed by a much wider fan base than literary fiction, but other types of entertainment captured their audiences. Role-playing games became popular, and graphic novels, such as Will Eisner’s A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories and Art Spiegelman’s Maus gained mainstream acceptance as a literary art form. King has had great success crossing over to this genre, with a popular series released by Marvel publishers adapting his Dark Tower series, which he began writing in 1970, and his recent Cycle of the Werewolf series, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson.
In recent years, a newer movement toward horror and supernatural literature, targeted at young adults, has arisen in the wake of the phenomenal success of Stephanie Meyers’s Twilight saga, which has raised the profile of the entire ‘‘dark fantasy’’ genre.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Stephen King, Published by Gale Group, 2010