King of High & Low

Black House

by Stephen King and Peter Straub
Random House, 625 pp., $28.95

Dreamcatcher

by Stephen King
Scribner, 620 pp., $28.00; $7.00 (paper)

Stephen King’s Rose Red

by Stephen King
a miniseries on ABC, January 27, 28, and 31, 2002

Dreamcatcher isn’t the first time that aliens have landed in Stephen King’s Maine woods to mess with the heads of the natives. The first time was The Tommyknockers (1987). And the first head they messed with was attached to Roberta “Bobbi” Anderson, a best-selling writer of westerns. Almost immediately, Bobbi’s typewriter could not only read her subconscious mind but also transcribe what it found there, clicketyclack, while she catnapped.

In the TV miniseries version of The Tommyknockers, Marg Helgenberger played the part of Bobbi, and you should have seen the look on her face when she realized how easy book-writing had all of a sudden turned out to be. This gift more than made up for any number of killer dolls, green throbs, and grungy geckos running around asking each other, “Are you ready to complete The Becoming?” Of course, by the time her ex-lover, an alcoholic poet, was ready to rapture up from an Aztec altar to an erotic crucifixion, Bobbi’s opinion was less favorable. By then she knew that “The Becoming” had unfortunate side effects, like radiation poisoning.

You have to admire a man who finds gleeful terror in the tools of his own trade. It’s not just that in Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Misery, The Dark Half, and Bag of Bones King returns over and over again to stories about blocked, crazy, addicted, and otherwise unhappy writers. Or about fans who hold these writers hostage. Or about pseudonyms who turn into stalkers. Or about characters shocked to discover that their story is being written against their will, who refuse to let themselves get killed off just so their creator has someplace safe to hide from his real-world troubles. It’s more that there’s something homemade about all of King’s best sellers, something wonderfully intimate and microbrewed, as though scaring the bejesus out of us were a domestic art, like sewing and cooking in fairy tales.

Thus, while his loyal readers can always count on being menaced by the usual syzygy of zombies, werewolves, and vampires, the usual consortium of government agents, serial killers, and Internet pedophiles, and the usual zoo of spiders, toads, slugs, rats, eye-eating bats, “Giant Lobsters,” and “Slow Mutants”—to which Dreamcatcher will add “shit-weasels”—we must also beware of a surprise ambush by heretofore not-unfriendly artifacts around the house or in the neighborhood, like toilet stalls and garbage disposals, sparkplugs and topiary hedges, moving vans and snowmobiles, librarians and pets; even a baseball autographed by Sandy Koufax and a snapshot of the long-dead Elvis. Out of their sewers, kennels, and parking lots, his clowns, Cujos, and Christines are rabidly hostile. So, in his forthcoming ABC television miniseries Rose Red, are dolls, crayons, hammers, mirrors, cell phones, wind chimes, honeybees, dominoes, and the music of Glenn Miller. In a June 1993 interview, King told Playboy:

The genre exists on three basic levels, separate but interdependent and each one a little bit cruder than the one before …

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