“If the horror story is our rehearsal for death, then its strict moralities make it also a reaffirmation of life and good will and simple imagination – just one more pipeline to the infinite.” – Stephen King, Danse Macabre
Wisdom can be found in the most unlikely of places, and it is often within the greatest darkness that we find the greatest light.
Alright, alright. I’ll admit they’re clichés – but like most clichés, they also happen to be true. Anyone with a modicum of introspection and a rear view mirror will tell you that it’s the tough times in life we seem to learn and grow from the most. It is the darkness that makes us reach for the light and propels us to examine the human spirit and reevaluate our place and priorities in the world.
If there is anything I learned from Stephen King’s first foray into non-fiction, Danse Macabre, it is that those of us who love a good fright flick or scary read are attracted to the darkness for a wide variety of reasons – many of which leave us with a greater awareness of our inner fears, a questioning of our own mortality, and an increased appreciation that all of our limbs are still intact – or at the very least that our ankles aren’t being hobbled today.
With this in mind, I would like to say hello, introduce this monthly doo-dad I’ve been asked to pen, and make an arguable statement.
Hello, I’m Jason Sechrest. I’ve been reading Stephen King since I was 10 years old, and I am a Stephen King addict.
For 25 years I have been a proud reader of King’s novels (he refers to folks like me as ‘Constant Readers’) and as I have grown with them, I’ve noticed something: For all the scares King packs with a punch into his stories, there are equal parts wisdom, spirituality and life lessons if you care to look for them.
I do, and I’m going to share with you what I’ve found. What I’ve learned from Stephen King.
It has been noted in several interviews that Stephen King doesn’t think of himself as a horror writer. He tells stories. Sometimes they’re scary. Sometimes they’re not. What they are, always, is about people, the human condition, what makes us tick and what makes the ticking stop.
Between the lines, you’ll find that Carrie speaks of the dangers in giving absolute power over to our religious convictions, while Firestarter softly whispers warnings of handing that same power over to our government. There are hard truths about the formation of societies found evident in The Stand, which serves as a battle ground between two camps for good versus evil. That same war is waged internally instead of externally, within one man in fact, in The Shining.
If Stephen King is the master of horror (and I believe he is), it is not just his monsters that have made him so, but the reflections of ourselves that we see within his many works.
As King himself writes, “We need ghost stories because we, in fact, are the ghosts.”
It is not my intention to fill these installments with psychology, philosophy, academic thesis or even bumper sticker inspiration – though I do hope you’ll forgive all these things and more occasionally. I’m just going to share some stories. Stories about those moments that Stephen King’s books have, for lack of a better word, “awakened” things inside. Sometimes those things inside are ghosts, haunted memories not quite through with us. Sometimes they are monsters, pieces of us that are better left sleeping. More often than not, however, they are something like angels. Not the fragile ones with their halos and harpsichords, but the strong winged servants of creation that grab you by the shoulders and lift you high enough to see a clearer picture of yourself and the whole darn planet in all its intricate interconnectedness. It’s these awakenings that make us stop to think about the way we see ourselves and those around us.
I would also very much like to hear from you. That’s what the comments section is for, and you will find it below. I hope you will share with me your own stories of how Stephen King’s books have affected you, and feel free to sound off in criticism, be it constructive or otherwise. Or just leave a nice note if you have enjoyed, so that I have a better idea of what you’d like to read more of in the future.
And so, fellow Constant Reader(s), I invite you to join me on a journey into that dark tunnel of self-discovery. I promise I will try to keep our trek a fun one. There will be several laughs, and plenty of scares. Please leave your flashlights, torches and candelabras. You will not need them here.
You can learn a lot in the dark.
“What I Learned from Stephen King” is a Cemetery Dance Online exclusive series of articles about the wisdom, spirituality and life lessons found within the works of Stephen King. Jason Sechrest began his career at 15 years old as a full-time staff writer for Femme Fatales magazine. His writing credits include LA Weekly, Frontiers, Entertainment Weekly and more. He tweets as @JasonSechrest and posts often on Facebook at Facebook.com/JasonSechrest.