Writers. Where would Hollywood be without them? They give us the stories and the characters that we’ve come to love. As a writer myself, I know the burden of trying to create something people will enjoy. But the two men whom I will be looking at today don’t seem to share that problem. They’ve been creating stories and scaring the poop out of readers for a combined total of 70 years. Yes, you read that right. 70 years.
Today, I will be instigating a showdown between horror writers Clive Barker and Stephen King. Who will reign supreme and walk away with the title of Master Of Horror? Let’s begin with eldest of the two: Stephen King.
Stephen Edwin King was born in Portland, Maine on September 21st, 1947. After his parents separated, Stephen spent a bit of his childhood growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. When King was 11, his family, consisting of his mother and his adopted older brother, David, returned to Maine where King attended Lisbon Falls High School in Lisbon, Maine.
King displayed his love of horror at an early age by being an avid reader of EC’s horror comics including Tales From The Crypt which he would later pay tribute to in his screenplay for Creepshow. He began writing for fun while still in school, contributing articles to Dave’s Rag, the newspaper that his brother published with a mimeograph machine and later began selling stories to his friends which were based on movies he had seen (Fun Fact: When his teacher discovered that he was selling stories for profit, King was forced to pay back the money he had taken).
The first of his stories to be independently published was “I Was a Teenage Grave Robber”, serialized over three published and one unpublished issue of a fanzine, Comics Review, in 1965. That story was published the following year in a revised form as “In a Half-World of Terror” in another fanzine, Stories of Suspense.
In 1967, King made his first professional short story sale entitled The Glass Floor to Startling Mystery Stories. King married in 1971 and through the early years of his marriage he continued to sell short stories to men’s magazines in order to make some quick cash. Many of these stories were later gathered and made into the Night Shift collection
King then took a teaching post at Hampden Academy during the fall of 1971, teaching English in Hampden, Maine. He still continued to write finding time in the evenings and on the weekends. And that dedication paid off because in the spring of 1973 King was told that his novel Carrie was accepted for publication. He learned on Mother’s Day from his publisher that the major paperback sale would provide him with such means that he wouldn’t need to teach and could be a writer full time.
At the end of the summer of 1973, the Kings moved their growing family to southern Maine because of Stephen’s mother’s failing health. Renting a summer home on Sebago Lake in North Windham for the winter, Stephen wrote his next-published novel, originally titled Second Coming and then Jerusalem’s Lot, before it became ‘Salem’s Lot, in a small room in the garage. During this period, Stephen’s mother died of cancer, at the age of 59.
Carrie was published in the spring of 1974. That same fall, the Kings left Maine for Boulder, Colorado. They lived there for a little less than a year, during which Stephen wrote The Shining, set in Colorado. Returning to Maine in the summer of 1975, the Kings purchased a home in the Lakes Region of western Maine. At that house, Stephen finished writing The Stand, much of which also is set in Boulder.
At this point, I feel like I should also mention that in the late 1970′s and early ’80′s King wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The idea behind this was largely an experiment to measure for himself whether or not he could replicate his own success again, and allay at least part of the notion within his mind that popularity might all be just an accident of fate. Some of the titles that he released under Bachman are The Rage, The Running Man, Thinner and The Long Walk, all of which found success proving that King was no flash in the pan.
In 1999 King was involved in a serious car accident. He was walking along the shoulder of Route 5 in Lovell, Maine when he was hit from behind by a car. The driver, Bryan Smith, was distracted by a unrestrained dog in the back of his minivan. King was found in a depression in the ground, 14 feet from the road. He was conscious and managed to give police a phone number so they could contact his family. His injuries—a collapsed right lung, multiple fractures of his right leg, scalp laceration and a broken hip—kept him at CMMC until July 9. His leg bones were so shattered doctors initially considered amputating it, but stabilized the bones in the leg with an external fixator.
In 2001, two years after the accident, King was struck down with a case of severe pneumonia as a direct result of his lung being punctured in the accident. During this time, his wife decided to redesign his studio. While his books and belongings were packed, King visited the studio and was confronted with an image of what the space would look like if he died. This image planted the seed for his novel Lisey’s Story.
A year later King announced that he would retire from writing because of his injuries. Sitting still caused him great pain and he was getting frustrated by it. After a couple of years on the sidelines, King has since returned to writing, though admittedly he writes at a much slower pace now.
King has said in the past that his formula for learning to write well is: “Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.” He sets out each day with a quota of 2000 words and will not stop writing until it is met. He also has a simple definition for talent in writing: “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”
But it isn’t just the writing world which sees King triumph. Most of his works have been made feature films. Some of these titles include Christine (directed by John Carpenter), It, Cujo, Salem’s Lot, Carrie, and probably one of the most famous, The Shining, which saw Jack Nicholson take to the role of the disturbed writer that turns into a psycho axe murderer in an attempt to kill his family. It’s also because of King that horror fans walk around saying ‘Redrum.’
The latest King adaptation was in 2007 which saw The Mist come to life. The Mist is about a freak storm unleashes a species of blood-thirsty creatures on a small town, where a small band of citizens hole-up in a supermarket and fight for their lives. It’s also probably one of the best adaptations of King’s work.
Stephen King’s determination, warped sense of reality and creativity is what makes him a horror writer. His ability to follow up each book with more successful works is what will have him forever linked into the history books as one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, horror writer of all time.
Clive Barker was born on October 5th, 1952 in Liverpool, England. Not only is his an English author, but he is also a film director and visual artist best known for his works in horror fiction and fantasy. (Fun Fact: Barker grew up on Penny Lane, which is the same street that The Beatles sing about in their song ‘Penny Lane’)
Barker came to prominence in the mid-1980s with a series of short stories which soon established him as a leading young horror writer. Pretty soon the short stories became novels and eventually his fiction has become adapted to motion picture. Most famously, Hellraiser and Candyman.
Barker has said in the past that he is Christian and that he draws a lot of inspiration from the Bible. It influences his work, and anyone who’s read a Clive Barker short story will know how graphic they are. He also draws inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Ray Bradbury, William S. Burroughs and Jean Cocteau, among others.
But what sets Barker apart from the wannabe horror writers is his attention to detail. Barker’s distinctive style is characterized by the notion of hidden fantastical worlds coexisting with our own, the role of sexuality in the supernatural and the construction of coherent, complex and detailed universes. Barker has referred to this style as ‘dark fantasy’ or ‘fantastique’. (Fun Fact: His stories are notable for a deliberate blurring of the distinction between binary opposites such as hell and heaven, or pleasure and pain – the latter being most predominate in The Hellbound Heart released in 1986)
What’s even more impressive is that when The Books Of Blood (1984-1985) were first released in the United States, Stephen King was listed on the back saying “I have seen the future of horror, his name is Clive Barker.” That is the biggest compliment any horror writer could receive.
Barker begin his novel career in 1985 with The Damnation Game. He would soon follow this up with The Hellbound Heart and Weaveworld (1987) before more recently releasing Mister B. Gone in 2007 and Mr. Maximllian Bacchus And His Travelling Circus, which was released in 2009 as a limited run by Bad Moon Books. This year, Barker is back with Absolute Midnight which is the third book in the Abarat series. (The first Abarat book was released in 2002 and was simply titled Abarat while the second book was released in 2004 and was titled Abarat: Days Of Magic, Nights Of War)
But what surprises me the most with Barker is that he didn’t care for the movie adaptations of his books Transmutations (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986). This dislike was what caused him to step into the director’s shoes to create Hellraiser, which was an adaptation of The Hellbound Heart and is now considered a cult classic horror film.
Not only is Barker’s writing style unique, but his voice is too. Contrary to some reports, Barker never had throat cancer, but rather polyps which caused his voice to become rather coarse and gravelly. Barker said in an online interview in 2008 that the growth was so severe that doctors told him he was only taking in about 10% of the air he was suppose to be getting. He had surgery to remove them and all seemed fine. He underwent surgery again in August of 2010 to remove more growths. According to his website, everything went well and without complications.
Clive Barker had said, “I want to be remembered as an imaginer, someone who used his imagination as a way to journey beyond the limits of self, beyond the limits of flesh and blood, beyond the limits of even perhaps life itself, in order to discover some sense of order in what appears to be a disordered universe. I’m using my imagination to find meaning, both for myself and, I hope, for my readers.” It is quotes like this that land Clive Barker a place in this showdown. His imagination is second to none and his stories truly terrifying. He has caused many to consider the possibilities of alternate realms of pleasure and pain, heaven and hell.
So, who is the Master Of Horror? A man whose career has spanned forty plus years, or his young prodigy? Clive Barker’s stories have us both terrified and questioning what is real and what is fiction in a disordered universe. But it is King who reigns supreme, as forty years later he is still scaring audiences the world over. His works are masterpieces, and while the movie versions are often deemed ‘unworthy’ in comparison to his books, they have entertained thousands across the globe. Not too mention that King’s work is more widely received where as Barker has a tendency to have a target audience.
So next time when boredom strikes with a vengeance, pick up a novel by either Stephen King or Clive Barker and weigh in on who you think is the ultimate writer.