I may have mentioned this elsewhere at some point, but it bears repeating: I am a big fan of the book Stephen King: The Art of Darkness. I bought that biography/compendium/critical analysis (written by Douglas E. Winter) in paperback in, oh, 1990 or so, when my then-newfound Kingmania had reached its apex. And I tore through that sucker just as greedily as I had torn through most of the books written by King himself.
There are a lot of captivating ideas in that book, but here are two sentences that really captivated me:
"During his sophomore year" [of college] "he completed another novel, Sword in the Darkness. Heavily indebted to the 'Harrison High' novels of sometime horror novelist John Farris" [...] "this lengthy tale of a race riot at an urban high school was rejected an even dozen times on Publishers' Row."
You mean (I thought incredulously) there is a Stephen King novel that NEVER EVEN GOT PUBLISHED?!? HOW CAN THAT BE?!?
Then, a few pages later, Winter drops the bombshell that there was a second such unpublished novel, Blaze. It didn't take a whole hell of a lot to blow my sixteen-year-old mind, and this double-barrel blast of info certainly did the trick.
Not too much longer after that, I read George Beahm's excellent book The Stephen King Companion, and holy fuckin' shit, THAT book had plot summaries for both Blaze and Sword in the Darkness. PLUS info about yet another unpublished novel, The Aftermath!
Well, ever since those long-gone days of yesteryear, I have been greatly intrigued by the idea that somewhere out there, in boxes in a library, there existed whole novels by Stephen King that practically nobody had ever read. I have always felt a curious mixture of elation and frustration over that fact: frustration for the obvious reason that I would probably never get to read those books, and elation because ... well, it's hard to put the reason for the elation into words. The closest I can come to it is to compare it to the idea that there will be certain birthday presents we will almost certainly never get to unwrap; yeah, it sucks because we'll never know what's inside, but on the other hand, it means there will always be birthday presents with our name on them.
Most of you probably think that's a crazy way of thinking, but I'd bet at least a few of you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Anyways, let's fast forward to 1998, when Stephen J. Spignesi released an entire book devoted to the subject of obscure King works. Titled The Lost Work of Stephen King, this tome detailed all sort of King works that many fans had never heard of, including not merely those famously unpublished novels, but also published works that were not widely available, but which could be tracked down, if one were inclined to devote the resources to do so. It was a great resource for King fans who wanted to dig a little bit deeper than the bibliography listed inside the front jackets of some of the books.
Then, in 2005, along came Rocky Wood's Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished. It immediately became the definitive work on the subject, and has remained so ever since.
You may be wondering why I felt it necessary to deliver such a lengthy lead-in. I'll tell you why: because, as someone who has now been a Stephen King fan -- and a devoted one, at that -- for over half of his life, a book like this one is an absolute treasure trove. I feel sometimes as though blogging about my love for King's work (and for some of the side-roads it has taken me down) is a way of time-traveling and having conversations with myself: it's the next-best-thing to having 2012 Bryant and 1990 Bryant in a room together, chatting. The two of us are having that conversation right now; we have it every time I pick up a book like Uncollected, Unpublished, and let me tell you: 1990 Bryant thinks Rocky Wood's book is one of the best motherfucking things he has ever seen.
2012 Bryant thinks it's pretty fucking nifty, too. Let him tell you why.
Wood's introduction to the book summarizes the fact that Stephen King -- a notoriously prolific author -- has written a vast amount of fiction that many of his fans may be unaware of, and will probably never get the opportunity to read. King fans come in all shapes and sizes, in terms of their inclination to care about such a thing; many of them would be indifferent to the fact of this huge amount of inaccessible work, many others disappointed by the thought of never being able to read it, and many would almost certainly be glad for even the ability to know anything about those works.
Odds are, you know which of these descriptions best fits you. If it's the first, you are almost certainly not reading a blog about Stephen King's works written by an amateur like me; if the second, then Rocky Wood's book is something you should avoid at all costs.
However, if the third description fits you, then brother/sister, let me tell you: you need a copy of Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished. You don't merely want one; nope, you need it.
And, clearly, Rocky Wood needed to write it. Elsewhere in his introductory material, he writes simply of the idea of King's works bringing joy to his many fans. Ain't it the truth, too? You bet it is, but rarely has the idea come across as clearly as it does here, where it is evident that for Wood, even a fragment of a King story can -- and sometimes does -- bring a huge amount of enjoyment.
Wood also states his case in favor of King being viewed as an important literary figure. He states that case in a compelling fashion, and I always enjoy reading spirited defenses of King's work, but methinks Wood makes a case where no cases need be made: King simply IS an important literary figure, and will continue to be one for decades (possibly centuries) to come. Still, it's fun to read Wood's take on why King deserves serious consideration, and I have a hard time disagreeing with any of his conclusions.
I'll be ever so slightly less generous toward a section in which Wood devotes twenty pages or so to an examination into the interconnections -- both literal (in terms of plot connections, character overlaps, and such) and thematic -- that serve as ties binding so many of King's works together. This, too, is fun to read, but the amateur editor in me read it with mental red pen in hand, wondering if this section might have been eliminated, held over for greater consideration in another book altogether. Apart from allowing Wood to have a way of placing certain obscure works within a familiar context, I'm not sure this section has any real bearing on the actual subject of the book itself. That is really just a quibble, though. Like I said, it's a fun section to read, and it can serve as a useful reference tool, as well.
In a section titled "The Lost and Hidden Works," Wood devotes some space to alphabetically discussing known works that are either lost altogether or are otherwise completely inaccessible in every way. Peppered throughout are quotes from King himself, which serve as commentary of some of the specific works. Among those discussed are "Hatchet Head" (an abandoned novel); an untitled and unfinished porno (!) novel King attempted while in college; "The House on Benefit Street" (a story King hopes to write at some point that will serve as a sort of conclusion to Hearts In Atlantis); and others. This section is absolutely terrific.
"Variations and Versions in King's Fiction" is an awesome (and illuminating) examination of textual differences between variant appearances/publications of King's work. Here's an example of what I'm talking about:
A vampire tale, The Night Flier was originally published in an anthology, Prime Evil: New Stories by the Masters of Modern Horror, in a Donald M Grant Limited Edition (April 1988) and a mass market hardback issued by NAL (June 1988). King significantly revised the story for Nightmares and Dreamscapes (1993) and they are clearly separate versions. For instance, in the earlier version King mentions himself, Johnny Smith and Jerusalem's Lot but deleted these very important references from the collected version.
That's one paragraph out of eighteen pages worth of similar material. That sort of thing probably isn't for everybody, but it is DEFINITELY for ME. It makes me use my caps lock when describing it, in fact. Which seems to be happening a lot in this review; and you KNOW I'm serious when I use the CAPS lock.
The bulk of the book, of course, is devoted to the section titled "The Uncollected, and the Unpublished," and while each of the sections that precede it are entertaining and informative, they are soup and salad; this section is steak and a loaded baked potato. There is a TON -- caps lock! -- of great info here, much of which will, if you're prone to it, prompt that vertiginous mixture of elation and consternation I was trying to describe earlier. Here are some of my personal favorite sections:
- an extensive four-page summary of The Aftermath, a 1963 work King considers to be his first completed novel
- a nine-page examination of both "Molly" (a teleplay King wrote as an episode for The X-Files) and "Chinga" (the episode as produced, after it was substantially rewritten by series creator Chris Carter); the two versions are vastly different, and as both a King fan and an X-Files fan, I ate this section up
- a six-page summary of George D.X. McArdle, an abandoned Western novel King once tried to write
- a reprint of the two-page poem "Dino"
- a five-page summary of "Slade," a Western parody short story that was published in serialized fashion in King's college newspaper
- a ten-page summary of Sword in the Darkness
- AND, possibly best of all: the inclusion of the entirety of Chapter 71 from Sword in the Darkness; this seventeen-page excerpt basically amounts to a King short story, which is available nowhere else but in Wood's book
Wood also discusses numerous King works which have been published, but are simply not widely available; these include older short stories ("The Crate," "Man With A Belly," "The Night of the Tiger," etc.) and newer ones ("Herman Wouk Is Still Alive," "Premium Harmony," etc.). He also writes extensively about screenplays (produced and unproduced), story fragments, poems, and oddities that are not easily classifiable.
This main section of the book runs nearly 300 pages, so trust me when I tell you that what I've listed above scarcely scratches the surface of the contents of this book.
If you are a devoted enough fan of King to have found your way to this blog, then I think the odds are quite good that you are exactly the type of King fan Uncollected, Unpublished was written for, so do yourself a favor: buy a copy. You get buy the unsigned copy here, or the signed copy here. (Incidentally, if you happen to own one of the older editions of the book, follow one of those links for a lengthy description of what's new in this revised edition. I own the 2005 edition, and I did not feel at all as though I'd wasted any money on the revised edition; there is quite a lot of new material in it.)
It's also worth mentioning that Wood has written several other King-centric books, including Stephen King: The Non-Fiction, an absolutely stupendously awesome guide to King's extensive nonfiction writing; and Stephen King: A Literary Companion, which I have not actually read, nor purchased.
But it's my birthday soon, and by golly, writing this review has made me want to put that book way up toward the top of my list of birthday-money uses. Yep; think that's gonna be happening.
I also hope to offer up a review of Stephen King: The Non-Fiction at some point, but since that one is out of print, it'd only make you jealous that you don't have a copy; so that particular review is on my back-burner. Someday, though; someday. (By the way, the print edition may be out of print, but you can still snap up a digital copy from Cemetery Dance. Here's what that can happen. Now, trust me, you are totally correct to be jealous of the fact that I've got a lovely physical copy sitting on my shelf, but don't let that stop you from snagging one made one ones and zeroes; it's an AWESOME book no matter what format it's in. Go getcha one!)
So, in summation, go get yourself a copy of Stephen King: Unpublished, Uncollected, because it makes me want to type words entirely in capital letters, and you KNOW what THAT means.