The Stephen King Companion: Four Decades of Fear from the Master of Horror by George Beahm
St. Martin’s Griffin (October 6, 2015)
624 pages, e-book $11.99, paperback $18.05
Reviewed by Kevin Quigley
Discovering George Beahm’s first Stephen King Companion in 1989 was a revelation. Even then, there had been plenty of books written on the subject, starting off with Douglas Winter’s prescient The Art of Darkness; since, most books on King had tended toward the academic or the hyperbolic, with little in the way of a middle ground for readers who wanted to know more but didn’t necessarily want to take an American Lit class. The Stephen King Companion filled that gap, offering plenty of background information on King and the books, transcripts of important talks King had given, statistics on limited editions and insights into the books and stories that made up the bulk of interest on King. The grab-bag approach was instantly accessible and absorbing, a result only enhanced in Beahm’s second version of the book. More streamlined, The Stephen King Companion, Version 2, was significantly enhanced. While retaining a lot of the fascinating material on King, he also included a book-by-book study on King’s entire oeuvre, provided by Stephen King expert Dr. Michael Collings. The reviews were in-depth without being distancing, putting each successive Stephen King book into proper context in terms of literature, King’s career, and the interlocking nature of the novels themselves.
The “problem” is that Stephen King keeps writing more books, and books like The Stephen King Companion are dated the moment they are released. Version 2 stops in 1994, at the publication of Insomnia. It’s been over twenty years, and we’ve been long since due for a new version.
Thankfully, King expert George Beahm agrees. His new Stephen King Companion, subtitled Four Decades of Fear from the Master of Horror, takes the best of both his previous versions and expands heavily, making this the most thorough and in-depth Beahm book on King yet. Reaching deeper into King’s past than ever before, Beahm uncovers compelling early biographical information, all serving to support the writer and man King became. From there, Beahm offers us a rough path through King’s career, lighting on the history of the books, often assisted ably by Michael Collings, whose earlier reviews are used to buffet Beahm’s text. It’s exciting to see a book on King exploring King’s newest titles, and this one goes right up to now: the last book covered is 2015’s The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.
Along the way, we are treated to information both vital and ephemeral to the world of Stephen King. New readers will be stunned to know that for a time in the ’80s, a full newsletter dedicated to King, Castle Rock, was published monthly. We get the whole history of the Richard Bachman pseudonym – why King used it, how it went public, and why Bachman refuses to stay dead. Then we go beyond the books: there are whole sections devoted to screenplays, King criticism, and King in the digital age. And Beahm doesn’t skimp on the art, either: the book is decorated throughout by frequent King illustrator Glenn Chadbourne, and there’s a special full-color section by Dark Tower artist Michael Whelan.
There’s so much to this sumptuous new book on King, and though it’s over double the size of the previous Stephen King Companion, it’s just as fun to read. King fans looking for a deeper glimpse into the books and the man who wrote them couldn’t do better than Four Decades of Fear from the Master of Horror, now the definitive first stop on the journey into Stephen King criticism.