The lovely Phil Rickman (on left). In his day job as BBC Radio Wales' "Phil The Shelf". Won't bother with a picture of Stephen King because you all know what he looks like.
Monday, 1 December 2008
Feelgood horror fiction
Yes, there is such a thing. Although I'm using the word "horror" as a kind of general catch-all to include supernatural shenanigans of any kind. I've recently read a number of books whose authors breathlessly cite Stephen King as their muse, their inspiration, and their spiritual father. Sadly, not one of them had what it took. And that's not to say that they were badly written, just that they seemed to have totally missed the point about Stephen King, which is that he doesn't really write horror. I know, I know, he is the mainstay of every Horror section in every bookshop in the world, and arguably made the genre the mainstream moneyspinner it has become for so many publishers. However. Horror, to me, is what James Herbert writes - bleak, nasty, and full of rats, with everybody dead or mutilated at the end. While Stephen King has a limitlessly gruesome imagination, what he also has is a phenomenal sense of decency. You can tell that Stephen King was the fat speccy boy who was mercilessly bullied at school, and as a result has become the champion of the underdog. Almost every one of his heroes is a weak character - a battered wife, a small child, an old woman, a kid with a stammer/glasses/weight problem. And by the end of the book, natural justice has (usually) prevailed in their favour. It's the satisfying and very black-and-white morality of fairy tales. In the same bracket I'd put Muriel Grey (yes, the weeny Scottish Annie Lennox-clone from The Tube), John Connolly and the truly wonderful Phil Rickman. I was having huge difficulties getting off to sleep last night (Sunday night syndrome) and realised that it was because I had three chapters left of To Dream Of The Dead by Phil Rickman - and I had to put the light on and finish it, reassuring myself that embattled female vicar (and Deliverance minister) Merrily Watkins and her grumpy New Age daughter Jane would be OK. Of course they were, because Phil Rickman is (and I say this with the utmost respect for both of them) another Stephen King. Albeit an uncompromisingly British one.