I didn't start reading King until around five or so years ago. I never hated King, I'd simply never picked up his stuff before. The criticisms of King seem to come more so from the fact that he's popular rather than any of his actual "problems" as a writer. Let's stop pretending that's not the case with some people. It is. If King had been an author that only sold 30 million novels instead of 300 million novels then the same critics of King would be bitching no one ever read him. In short, you can't please the critics.
Or maybe it's possible that you can.
While I was a senior in high school, I wrote a short story which a friend of mine said reminded her of Stephen King's writing (that's quite a compliment but really, it was just an assignment for a creative writing class, for heaven's sake). "Have you ever read him?" she asked. To which I replied I had not. "You might like him," she suggested. Perhaps I would, but I wouldn't know at the time. At the time I'd been reading books like The Lovely Bones and The Secret Life of Bees as well as mystery/thrillers by the likes of people like Mary Higgins Clark (Good) and James Patterson (Bad). King was never on my radar. She assumed my ignorance of King came from the fact that he wrote horror. Nothing turns people away from Stephen King faster than the label of him being a horror writer. The genre in and of itself is fairly niche (but not nearly as niche as you might think). So she first said to me, "He writes more than just horror you know." I nodded and said I bet he did. After all, most authors that become as prolific as Stephen King tend to write quite a bit outside of their genre. The first thing she urged was for me to read "Different Seasons." I told her I would read Different Seasons but in the back of my mind I was thinking I would just tell her I'd read it but maybe get away with actually ignoring it (she was, uh, mad when she found out I was trying to lie to her... and she knows... because I suck at lying and she picked THAT lie out within the first five minutes).
"What's one of your favorite movies?" she asked. She knew the answer to that for heaven's sake. So I told her it was The Shawshank Redemption. She knew this. We both shared a love for that particular film. "Well, Stephen King wrote that!" she informed me with a smile on her face. "And you can find the story in Different Seasons."
Suddenly I did want to read it. God only knows why. Maybe because I wanted her to be wrong about Stephen King actually writing The Shawshank Redemption. Since that time I now pay attention to the opening credits in a film. Sure enough in the opening credits of The Shawshank Redemption it says in big--HUGE--letters:
"BASED ON THE NOVELLA 'RITA HAYWORTH AND SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION' BY STEPHEN KING"
So I told her to bring it in and let me read it. Different Seasons didn't start me toward being a Stephen King fan, but it was among the first works I truly appreciated from the man. In all honesty, with as much stuff as Stephen King puts out there, it's pretty easy to find something that isn't all that great. Yet, for one thing, I have always admired King's craft. So much so that even his bad books are usually well crafted and well presented. Different Seasons, on the other hand, is better than A LOT of stuff he's written. It is among the best of King's work in part because he steps away from horror, but also because his own mission here was to really explore being human and growing in some ways.
It should be known that it took time for the book to be published. In 1982 King was able to start writing whatever he wanted fairly early on. Most times when an author writes something that sells, the publisher forces them to do that. If your horror stories are selling then the publisher wants horror stories and won't even bother to publish some of your other stuff because they're not sure it'll sell. King had already proven a success, but even then publishing Different Seasons was hard if only because the publisher wanted horror. By then King had been "typed" as a horror writer. As a result he presented four stories to his editor and wanted them put into a collection. "We can call it Different Seasons," he said, "to let the reader know they're getting something... different." It worked out. Even by just looking at the title and cover you wouldn't assume you're getting horror.
Hope Springs Eternal: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption Different Seasons consists of four novellas. Each novella corresponds to a different season and it's own theme. The first theme "Hope Springs in Eternal" introduces us to "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption." A story in which a man is imprisoned for a murder he didn't commit but through hope is able to survive and ultimately escape his tormentors. The title of the novella itself is very clunky ("Rita Hayworth" refers to the poster Andy uses to conceal is secret). But perhaps what makes the story so unqiue is actually the complex nature with which it's written. Andy Dufresne is the main character (I'm assuming many of you have seen the movie but not read the book) but the entire narrative is told through the eyes of Red, a man who is guilty of his crime. While Andy never really gives up hope, it is clear that those around him have. Some even become institutionalized. The narravtive jumps around a lot as we're hearing the story mostly from Red's memory than anything else. And how he knows what he does is explained as well (for those moments where he didn't witness these events).
It's the shortest story in the collection, but it's the most complex. Upon reading the novella a second or third time (I suppose it could've been the fourth or fifth time) I began to appreciate Frank Darabont's adaptation much more. It's a complex novella. The changes Darabont made to the film he had to make for the sake of making a good film. As King has often said, books and films are apples and oranges. Both are delicious but very different. Nothing shows this better than the adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption. If the movie had been exactly like the book in its narrative structure and all... it would've been terrible. The structure works for the novella... very well, but it can be confusing. The pacing might also throw some people. It's a pretty slow story. It may be short but you're going to feel the time passing by as you read. You will. It doesn't even pick up until about halfway through.
Summer of Corruption: Apt Pupil The second season, The Summer of Corruption is a story called Apt Pupil. Of all the stories in Different Seasons this one is perhaps the darkest of them all. King's trade is horror and while Apt Pupil isn't really a horror story, it does dig into the horror senses quite a bit. The story here centers on a thirteen year old kid named Todd who finds out that his neighboor, Arthur Denker, is really a man named Dussander... a war criminal who worked in a concentration camp during World War II. Todd becomes fascinated by the stories that Dussander is able to tell him. But Dussander has to tell him these stories... otherwise Todd will out him. On the other hand, Todd's grades begin slipping and Todd can't let his parents know that. So he begins to tweak his report cards. Now Dussander has a way to blackmail Todd. What ensues is a story about two guys who harbor secrets that no one should know... and how they both become so corrupt by what they know things start to get really nasty.
Unlike Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil is a lot more straightforward and almost hits the ground running in it's pacing. The style is incredibly different. The end result of the story isn't better per se (because it's far more depressing while Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is very uplifting). The narrative spans four years and while it's certainly much darker than Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (and isn't near as thematically ambitious) it still has a compelling narrative with these rather compelling characters. Certain things happen which may grate on the nerves of those expecting something entirely realistic (if you are expecting total realism from any author please seek medical assistance immediately) and a few amusing coincidences that put things into place... but it's easy to see why King chose to do something like that. Apt Pupil was also made into a movie directed by Bryan Singer. While the movie was no where NEAR the success of The Shawshank Redemption, those who enjoyed this novella might very well enjoy the movie as well.
Fall From Innocence: The Body The third season is entitled Fall from Innocence. The story is called The Body. Of all the stories in Different Seasons, The Body is the best of them all. It is, in fact, required reading for King fans. Not just because the story is good, but also because it is by far one of the best stories King ever wrote in his entire career. The Body is a story which focuses on four boys. Gordie LaChance, Chris Chambers, Teddy DuChamp and Vern Tessio. When Vern comes to their clubhouse talking about how he heard about a dead body somewhere down the train tracks, the other boys can't help but think of what finding the dead body of this missing child could mean. They'll be famous! They'll have their name in the papers and everything (the story takes place in the 50's guys). It's perfect. Each of the four boys tells their parents they're camping out at one another's home. That gives them an entire weekend to sneak off, find the body, and turn it in.
Each of the characters within the story are delightful. Gordie tells stories, Teddy has a fascination with World War II, Chris is the peacemaker and leader of the group while Vern is often the shy one. They all really come to life. Much like The Shawshank Redemption, the story is told in a very complex manner. It's straightforward, yes, but because Gordie is a writer there are moments where we get treated to his snippets of stories. Mostly just to show that he is a writer. Also like Shawshank, the main character of the story isn't the narrator. Gordie is the guy telling the story but it is definitely Chris's story through and through.
The biggest aspect of The Body is mostly how each of the characters change. This is a coming of age story. Where the boys go on a journey and come back as different people through their experience. The story itself was inspired by real events in King's life where he and a few of his friends... went off in search of a dead body. Like the previous two novellas The Body was made into a film called "Stand By Me." Of all of the adaptations of his works, King has often labeled Stand By Me as his favorite. It is also well known that during the screening King became emotional because he said the movie was a little too close to what actually happened to him in real life. It is clear that when it comes to The Body and the film Stand By Me, King has a lot of emotional investment. He has only revealed snippets about which parts of the story are true and which aren't. But he has never revealed so much that we can call the story an autobiographical account.
A Winter's Tale: The Breathing Method The last story in Different Seasons is perhaps the only story we can rightfully say is a horror story. It's the most surreal of all the stories and perhaps the craziest. The story here is about a man named Dr. McCarron who is telling the story of a woman. He delivered her child, and she was determined to deliver this baby. So much so that even when she is decapitated on the way to the hospital (thanks in part to an accident) she's still breathing and still pushing to deliver this child. It's easy to see why most come to The Breathing Method and are put off by it. It isn't really the bizarre premise of the story. It's not really a bad story at all, it just feels out of place in Different Seasons. The other three stories (especially The Shawshank Redemption and The Body) were all compelling tales about very human characters and even very human events (even Apt Pupil). Then we get to The Breathing Method which isn't really much of a compelling story. It's dark and bizarre and haunting. Again, it isn't a bad story it just feels out of place within the context of Different Seasons. The story is more off putting because it is a bit more bizarre. Where as the other three stories we could sit back and enjoy the ride, The Breathing Method is a bit too bizarre. Most of King's full length novels that are all horrific just happen to be presented better than The Breathing Method.
In the afterward King experessed that part of the reason The Breathing Method was included was to give his editors and publishers at least one horror story to put into the collection. This way, at least, the publisher would still be getting something they wanted from King.
Speaking of afterwards, Different Seasons has one of the best essays King has ever written. Within it he explains why Different Seasons was hard to bring to fruition. He explains when each novella was written and explains why his editor and publishers were so nervous about publishing it in the first place. Indeed, Different Seasons is probably one of King's least known works. And yet, strangely enough, two of the stories within it were turned into cult classic films. King still runs into people (almost thrity years later) who STILL don't know The Shawshank Redemption came from his mind (one fan even got into an argument with him telling him he couldn't have written it because it wasn't horror). Yet if you are a King fan, this is probably one of the best collections. Not just because King steps out of horror, but also because the stories just happen to be really good and compelling. Even though The Breathing Method isn't the best story here it's far from being a bad story.
I still read through Different Seasons often. I'll leave you all with a little story to think about. When I first went off to college I majored in English. The idea of going to college to major in English occured to me when I was still in elementary school, long before I ever discovered Stephen King. When you get into college as an English major the first thing most English teachers will teach you is to be snobby (ick). My first English professor specifically told me that if you are going to be an English major you should NEVER carry around "popular" fiction. This means you don't carry around ANY New York Times Besteslling authors. But the rule holds much greater significance when you carry around Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. Because for some reason their success makes them hacks. It's ironic because you are to carry around Charles Dickens and Shakespeare (which is odd because they were hated in their day... and if you really want a writer who wrote specifically for the money... that was William Shakespeare... I'm not kidding the whole point of Shakespeare's writing was for him to pay the bills... not to achieve immortality). I've often been fond of saying that the goal of reading and loving what you read isn't souly for intellectual stimulation. If you want intellectual stimulation you can get it. But that's not why I read, and it's certainly not why I pick up and read Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Irving, Nicholas Sparks, Mary Higgins Clark, Chuck Palahniuk, Jodi Picoult etc. I read because I like to read. So when I majored in English and the golden rule was that I was NOT to read certain authors it seemed absurd and assbackwards.
I had a friend who decided she was going to dedicate her entire college career to making sure she followed the rules of her assbackwards professors whose only rule was, "Now that you've majored in English... DON'T read anything except what we dictate." I challenged one of my English Professors when we had to do a project that entailed us looking at a specific author and researching them for an entire semester. Whether I did it to piss off my professor or not is something I'll let you decide. But I chose Stephen King because my idea was that as an English major I should be able to read what I want and damn the English Professor who thought I shouldn't. It's reading damn it! Be happy I'm picking up a book!
My friend--we'll just call her Snooty--was insulted. Apalled. "You're such a smart guy, why would you choose to research King for the semester," as if only dumbasses and illiterate oafs would ever choose to read anything by King. I simply said it was because I liked him. "But he's a hack!" There goes that word. Anyone who uses the word "hack" to criticize isn't much of a critic. So I finally asked the big question that always traps people. "Have you ever read him?" She hadn't. "So how can you judge an author you've never read?" I asked. I gave myself a gold star for making sense.
"He just doesn't write stuff that I like," she continued, "if he wrote something like that movie Stand By Me, I think I might have more respect." I could've punched her but I didn't. So I leaned in real close and said, "King DID write Stand By Me. It's based off a novella called 'The Body'. That WAS King."
"No it wasn't," she argued (in the similar manner I wanted to be right about King not writing The Shawshank Redemption). I eventually made her a deal. I would quit researching King if she read a book by him and didn't like it. I would change to a more "acceptable" writer to research if--and ONLY if--she read a King book and completely hated it. What book did I decide to give her? Different Seasons, of course.
If there is anyway to silence a King critic it is often handing them Different Seasons. It isn't that the book is that good, it is often that people need a wake up call to realize that when the so-called "Literary Greats" write it is rarely--if ever--for the sake of immortality. Charles Dickens just wanted to tell stories. If he saw how people were studying his books now he'd probably be confused. He never wrote for literary signifance anymore than Shakespeare did. Different Seasons stands as a means to show that King isn't a literary genius... but he most definitely understands the craft of writing in and of itself. The stories are good, well crafted, well written and most of all... enjoyable. If you are a Stephen King fan, it's worth reading Different Seasons because you'll understand a different side of the writer.
That and perhaps you'll come to see that King doesn't have to be the best writer in the world to be enjoyable.
I was very captivated by the story plots and how the man can make you feel like you right there with these people. When i read the first spring it brought me back to the Movie" Shawshank Redemption" ,which i really loved with Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.You begin to relate to Andy and the problems he encounters in prison . I feel he played his game well while he was in there . He always had and an ace in the hole and drove warden Norton crazy. … more
Until I started reading King myself, I had always thought of him as a horror writer. The first book I read by King was IT. After reading that, I realized that he wasn't just a horror writer, but was a good writer who happened to write supernatural tales. Then I read DIFFERENT SEASONS and I realized that King wasn't just a good writer, but is one of America's greatest living authors. King doesn't write to impress the acadmia of America. Instead he writes to tell a story. However, … more
Stephen King's novella collection "Different Seasons" features four tales that are themed on the four seasons of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Three of the four stories have been adapted into theatrical films. The stories are not your typical Stephen King fare. Themes of the collection deal with prison, childhood, adolescence and child birth. The overall theme deals with the four stages of life (birth, youth, adult and death). A few tie-ins to other … more
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Different Seasons (1982) is a collection of four Stephen Kingnovellas with a more serious bent than the horror fiction for which King is famous. At the ending of the book, there is also a brief afterword, which King wrote on January 4th, 1982. In it, he explains when he wrote the four novellas, as well as how his agents expressed concern he would be "written off" as someone who only wrote horror.