McAleer, Patrick and Michael A. Perry, eds.: Stephen King's Modern Macabre: Essays on the Later Works.
Patrick McAleer and Michael A. Perry's Stephen King's Modern Macabre: Essays on the Later Works is comprised of three sections of essays: "King in the World Around Us," "Spotlight on The Dark Tower," and "Writing into the Millennium." In focusing on these three areas, McAleer and Perry provide readers a brief glimpse at King's prolific writing over the last twenty years, keying in on King's trajectory away from horror novels and into more diverse areas. The first section's four essays discuss King in a broader cultural context. The second section features four essays on King's magnum opus, The Dark Tower series. The third section's five essays provide insights into the breadth of work that King has published in the last twenty years.
McAleer and Perry's introduction serves as a primer of sorts with regard to the criticism of King at large, but also acknowledges the previous academic difficulties in classifying King as a representative of high or low culture. In doing so, McAleer and Perry note that, in the past, King scholarship tended to fall into one of three major categories: "broad/generalized reviews of King's fiction, superb scholarship on ... the early selections of King's canon, or strong criticism of both King's early and more recent fiction" (3). The essays within McAleeer and Perry's volume comprise a fourth category in which each essay examines a different aspect in King's later works, thereby offering both new and experienced scholars a glimpse into the potential King's recent canon holds for future analyses. In touching on the fact that the majority of King scholarship focuses on the first fifteen (1974-1989) years of publication, McAleer and Perry highlight the dearth of scholarship surrounding King's later works, which is attributed to the fact that King's early canon is "more easily categorized into the genre of horror" (2). This collection of essays seeks not only to broaden the scope of scholarship surrounding King, but to challenge the preconceived notions of King and his writings.
The first section of the collection, "King in the World Around Us," examines King's position within the world at large by examining the myriad ways King interacts with the world. One of the more intriguing essays within the collection as a whole is Scott Ash's "A Taste for the Public: Uncle Stevie's Work for Entertainment Weekly." King wrote weekly columns for Entertainment Weekly from 2003-2012, and Ash's analysis of a small section of these columns provides clever insights into an aspect of King's corpus that isn't generally considered literary, yet is an aspect that critiques American culture as much as do King's novels. Ash shows that King, while sometimes engaging in the high/low cultural debate that has dogged his own career, ultimately used this column to encourage his fans to make intelligent critiques about popular culture on their own. Also noteworthy in this section is Jennifer Jenkins' "Fantasy in Fiction: The Double-Edged Sword," which presents the idea that fantasy, rather than being the sole focus of King's IT and 11/22/63, acts as a "a bridge that potentially connects reality (the experience) with history (the narrative)," encouraging the reader to think self-referentially about the actual experience of reading King's novels (11). Though the essay suffers at times from a little too much summarization of its primary texts, the concept of fantasy as a connection between the experience of the reader and the narrative itself is an intriguing approach that bears further examination in King's recent canon.
Within the second section, a pairing of articles on the gunslinger protagonist of The Dark Tower series, Roland Deschain, neatly juxtapose the generic aspects inherent within the character, while the other two essays in "Spotlight on the Dark Tower" explore The Dark Tower series as a whole. In "Roland the Gunslinger's Generic Transformation," Michele Braun's historical and textual analysis of three other incarnations of Roland (Charlemagne's knight Roland, Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando, and Robert Browning's Roland) illuminates the generic transformations that King's Roland goes through over the course of The Dark Tower series by connecting a common thread among the four Rolands: madness. T. Gilchrist White's Campbellian analysis of Roland provides a more traditional dissection of the gunslinger's heroism, likening Roland's quest to that of a literary epic entrenched in multiple genres. Jennifer D. Loman deftly speaks to one of these particular genres on which the Dark Tower series touches, the Anglo-Saxon riddling genre, and how intimate knowledge of this genre allows one to grasp the series' ending in "Riddles Wrapped in Mystery Inside Enigmas: Anglo-Saxon Literature as the Key to Unlocking the Ending of The Dark Tower series." This section's essays benefit from the thematic connections inherent in spotlighting The Dark Tower series, showcasing the depth of research yet to be done by focusing on four different, little-re se arched aspects (genre influences, heroism, Anglo-Saxon riddles, and intertextuality) of The Dark Tower series.
Whereas the second section's strength derives from its thematic cohesion, the third section may prove especially engaging for those unfamiliar with King post-1994, as the essays examine a spectrum of King's presence within various mediums, including television, film, short stories, and novels. Moreover, this section exemplifies the potential that the editors espoused in their introduction. Alexandra Rueber's essay on 1408 applies Linda Hutcheon's adaptation theory to show that Mikael Hafstrom's film adaptation of King's short story pulls from folkloric, literary, and supernatural aspects of ghosts in order to realize his own modern adaptation of a ghost story. Amid its peers, the essay stands out for its unique cinematographic analysis through the application of mathematical symbolism in 1408, opening the door to a future analysis of the significance of the numeral 19 in King's writing due to its heavy prominence within The Dark Tower series. Abigail L. Bowers and Lowell Mick White examine how the pastime of baseball informs the protagonist's narrative and provokes the reader's sense of nostalgia in their essay "Survival of the Sweetest: Little Miss Bosox and the Saving Grace of Baseball in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon." Bowers and White embrace, rather than gloss over, the nostalgic effect that King employs through the integration of baseball, bringing much-needed attention to King's unique blend of baseball and horror, though they miss the opportunity to connect this use of baseball as a framing device to King's baseball novella, Blockade Billy.
It is worth noting that there is no examination of King's The Dark Tower comic book series. Critical attention to these graphic iterations would have made the "Spotlight on The Dark Tower" section feel more complete, showing further the breadth of King's later works in relation to his magnum opus. Moreover, as the essays within the collection make clear, King's work spans almost every medium conceivable. While these essays examine his forays into film, television, short stories, novels, and weekly columns, there are no essays looking at his works in comics, video games, electronic texts, and, as of late, Broadway productions. However, these same criticisms of the collection are akin to the problem laid bare by McAleer and Perry themselves. Because King is so prolific, it is impossible to collect enough essays to address every aspect of King's writing.
Stephen King's Modern Macabre is an intriguing prospect for newer scholars as an introduction to the breadth of an authorial study, while experienced King scholars will find the discussions of King's later and less-studied works engaging. The collection as a whole does exactly what it sets out to accomplish: as one of the first forays into approaching King's recent work, McAleer and Perry have succeeded in paving the way for new scholarship on Stephen King's modern writing. The editors should be commended in particular for complicating the outdated notion that King is primarily a horror writer.