Sunday, January 11, 2009

N.


This weekend I've been reading Stephen King's new short story collection, Just After Sunset. I had planned to space them out, maybe read one a night for a while, but I once again got caught up in King's particular brand of Twilight Zone sort of fiction and now I've read 8 of the 13 stories. Going to try and stop there for a bit, but no promises.
It's been a nice mix so far. Of the eight stories I've read, four have no supernatural occurrences at all. King can still make me uneasy even without things that go bump in the night. In fact the harrowing little tale of The Gingerbread Girl actually made me kind of jumpy. Go Steve.
Of the other four, Stationary Bike and N. are probably the ones that most people would consider "Stephan King" kind of stories and N is one of the best contemporary horror stories I've read in some time. It has a very H.P. Lovecraft sort of feel to it, though King says that the story's primary influence was Arthur Machen's tale The Great God Pan. I can definitely see what he means though it still seems more Lovecraftian to me. Of course Machen was a major influence on Lovecraft so there ya go. He was also a favorite of Robert E. Howard's. Been quite a few years since I read Pan. I'll have to dig that one out.
Anyway, N. is one of those slow building stories, a tale within a tale within a tale, where the horrors are gradually revealed and for a while you aren't sure if the terrible things that the protagonists are seeing are real of just a shared delusion. Maybe you're never sure.
I was so taken with N. that it made me want to go back and read King's Cthulhu mythos short, Crouch End, which is in the collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes. And so I did, and it's still a darn unsettling little tale. King is one of those writers who can make you feel the same unease that Lovecraft did without aping old H.P's style. Too many would be Lovecraft pastichers merely pick up the surface aspects of the Cthulhu tales. The names of the books and the gods and such. I've been guilty of that myself. Not King. He can see into the same scary places that Lovecraft (or Machen) could and come back to tell us about it.

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