My Long Walk with the King

An Introduction

Here we are. Me sitting in my warn out, hand-me-down recliner, with a clunky piece of shit laptop warming my crotch, and you, wherever you are. Whether it be a coffee shop or couch cushion, please, allow me to introduce myself and tell you what this “Long Walk” project is all about.

My name is Karl. I am writing this introductory piece from the comforts of the apartment I share with my fiance, and teenage son in Traverse City, Michigan. This project will be a fathoms-deep dive into the works of Stephen King. This series will focus mostly on his novels and short stories, but like any nerd worth his salt, I will be side questing into films, television series, and other media when appropriate. Each book, movie, and story will be read, watched, listened to, and otherwise discovered here in the same chronological order they were first introduced to the world.

Why? Why read every book in the order they were published and blog about them? The short answer is because I want to. The long answer requires a brief peek into my long ago past when I was a young boy of eleven.

There he is. Eleven year old me sitting with Dad watching a virgin VHS copy of the hot new Dan Aykroyd comedy freshly rented from the video store. My Stepmother is an Alien was a mostly forgettable flick. Kind of funny, but mostly stupid, even by eleven year old standards. However, there was one scene in particular at about the half way mark that I will never forget. In this scene the alien, played by Kim Basinger, is looking through several books on a shelf, reading them in their entirety just by touching the pages. She makes her way through a few mundane titles with little to no reaction. Maybe a snicker here, or a frown there, with each matching the general feel of book she is holding. And then. Oh and then. THEN she comes across a very special book. This book makes her reel in horror and throw it violently on the ground. What book would make an adult act like that? She looked as though she was going to barf alien goo all over Dan Aykroyd’s bookshelf! I jumped off the couch, ran across the living room, paused the tape, and asked my dad a question that would change my life forever.

“Dad. What was that book!?”

My dad’s response came with a chuckle and an all too familiar Hartley smirk, “Oh that’s a Stephen King book called The Shining.”

“Who is Stephen King and what’s a Shining?” A fair follow up question.

My dad stood up and started to make his way over to the VCR, unable to tolerate the straining tracking lines on the television. “The Shining is not for you and Stephen King is a writer.” Then, as he passed, he bent down and whispered in my ear as if making some sort of secret confession, “And he scares everyone.”

Well that was it! All of my curiosity gauges were cranked to maximum and I was now obsessed with Stephen King. As curious as I was and eager to get reading, my parents would not allow me to read anything written by King for several more years. But that didn’t stop me from trying.

Growing up in Big Rapids, we were fortunate to have what I remembered being a wonderful public library. Their children’s section was cram packed with every classic you could imagine, complete with matching murals of The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Winnie the Pooh painted on the walls. I would take several trips a week to the library with my mother, and for the most part would sit like a good boy in the children section with a copy of Stories of Adventure parked in my lap. But occasionally my mom would have to attend meetings in one of the private rooms that would allow me the freedom to go exploring in the “adult section”. This was the section where the shelves were three times as tall. This was the section where forbidden stories whispered to each other. This was the section where Stephen King lived and where Winnie wasn’t. I would quickly find the shelf with all the bent and half torn copies of Cujo, Firestarter, and Christine. Grabbing a few at a time I would run and hide in the stairwell between the first and second floor. Here I would gather enough courage to flip through pages reading only a few sentences at a time until someone would inevitably slam open one of the doors to use the stairs. Both the door below me and the one above were equally loud and would never fail to scare the shit out of me. Back on the K shelf these treasures would go until my next visit.

Several years later my Uncle Mike would gift me my very first, brand spanking new copy of Christine for my birthday. I think I may have also received a bicycle that year, but I can’t remember for certain. If I did, I would ride the bike for the next few summers while Christine would be fully read before sundown.

Book after book would be devoured that year. Finally allowed to check out those old beat up copies of Salem’s Lot, Carrie, and Skeleton Crew I wasted no time getting through all of them. Except for The Shining. That one didn’t get read until I was in my late twenties. Several times I would begin to read The Shining and would feel the overwhelming desire to save it. As if my heart was saying, “No. Not yet. That one is special.” And that it was. It is the book that truly jump started my imagination. I feared if I were to finally read it the mystery would somehow disappear. Like the curiosity gauges would be stepped down a few notches if I finally read the book that started it all. In truth, I feel it may have done just that. My thirties would bring about a massive slow down in my consumption of books. I would go through spurts of reading like I used to, but these sessions would last a few weeks and then months would go by with no pages turned.

Looking back now so many years later I miss that feeling of excitement and discovery I had when first hearing the name Stephen King. In a way that is what this blog series is all about. It’s about going back and visiting old friends. It is also about stepping into new and unexplored stories. While I may have stopped reading, Mr. King has not stopped writing.

This long walk with the King will take as long as it needs to. I will post regular check-ins as I make my way through each book and then publish the companion article once the book is finished and I have had time to get my thoughts together.

My Long Walk with the King begins. How about a pleasant evening stroll through a small town with a young woman in red?

-Karl Hartley

2 thoughts on “My Long Walk with the King

  1. Jan Dalton

    Karl,
    Great stuff. Thank you Micah for leading me here. Always loved Stephen King. Whether it was Carrie’s hand from the grave, Jack getting up after being clobbered by Wendy, or Children of the Corn late at night when someone loudly knocked on the door, fuck, I was scared. Honorable mention: Dan Simmons Summer of Night and Robert McCammon Swan Song and Stinger.
    Keep up the good work!
    Jan

    Like

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