Wednesday, February 4, 2009

On Faulkner and King

Yes, Stephen King. Now, before you get all fired up, let me give you some background. Anyone who knows me knows I read King; I’m no groupie but I buy all of his books when they are published. I have a few first editions, fewer than I’d like, but I don’t go to extraordinary measures to acquire them; it’s enough to have the tales. When he addresses his Constant Reader in his introductions, he’s talking to me. Personally. I’ve been reading him for over 30 years, so I guess that makes me pretty Constant.

A few years back, our local book discussion group read Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom.” I was not keen to read Faulkner; we had just finished reading Tess, and she is one of my least-favorite literary characters (don’t get me started). Anyhow, I talked to my Dad about it; he said he had spent a summer reading Faulkner in his youth, and told me that to understand any of Faulkner, you have to read all of Faulkner. I read three of his other works before beginning the assignment, and there is real merit to that argument: I certainly don’t qualify as a Faulkner scholar, but having read three of his works independently and reading “Absalom” with the guidance of an extraordinary literature professor certainly gave me a solid glimpse into his world.

Fast-forward to last week. I was talking to my daughter and I mentioned the Library Police; neither she nor her friend (who was visiting at the time) had heard the reference before. I was surprised, because I thought it was a given; don’t all kids have this image lurking in the backs of their brains somewhere? Apparently not anymore; they looked at me first like I was nuts, then proceeded to roll their preteen eyes, instantly classifying it as a Fogey Thing. Since the idea grabbed me I pulled “Four Past Midnight” off the shelf and re-read the stories, including “The Library Policeman.” In the introduction to one of the tales King says something like “I’m no Faulkner.”

Wellnow, that’s funny, because when “Duma Key” came out, the first thing I told my Dad about it was that it reminded me very much of Faulkner! Not the setting, though King has made his own little world that does grow with time; not the characters, though he has lots of individuals and even families that get introduced and rounded out across the body of his works. Come to think of it, he has created a rather Faulknerian world over the course of time. I meant his concepts, particularly the concept of Fate or Ka, and the idea of an actual embodiment of Evil; as I was reading “Duma Key” it occurred to me that someone who had not read King before would probably be a little befuddled by some of these references. King has toyed with the idea of Fortune or Fate for many years now, along with – obviously – Evil and its manifestations, and he presents these concepts as a given today; if you hadn’t read his earlier works – and I’m talking lots of them, not just a few – you might just stumble at that point in your reading. Not that you wouldn’t keep reading, because after all “it is the tale, not he who tells it,” but still: you would have to be familiar with several of his other works, some of them going back decades, to really “get” what he was saying.

Faulknerian? Yes.

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