an open letter to Stephen King

aka Uncle Stevie.

Dear Mr. King,

One cold, dark night in my twelfth year, I had nothing left to read. I’d read through all of my own books, all of my assigned reading for school, and all of my father’s back issues of Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Desperate for a story, I began rummaging through my mother’s bookcase and came across an enormous book in a slip-case, bound in red. It was your novel The Eyes of the Dragon.

I took the book out of its case and saw that one corner had been chewed by something with sharp teeth. (That night I thought that it was part of the book’s design; it wasn’t until years later that I asked my mother about it and she told me our dog, Blackie, had chewed on the package left by the UPS man–shades of Cujo–when it had been delivered.) The illustration I remember most was the one of the mouse hollowed out by the burning poison. The stark, eerily beautiful black and white ink drawings were the perfect complement to that story I found there, and I read early into the morning, loathe to close my eyes and go to sleep.

That was the right book at the right time for me. I didn’t have the best of childhoods–farm life was hard, money was tight, and my parents were both struggling with personal demons–but when I was reading, none of that mattered. And when I was reading that book, that large, heavy book, so full of magic, I felt protected—like it was a shield that would keep me safe from my own life and take me to another world entirely.

I identified most strongly with Thomas. Poor, unloved, fat, manipulated Thomas, who loved the bitter taste of his own heart; Thomas, who tried so hard to do good but was so easily led astray. These lines about Thomas resonated with me deeply when I was young:

Thomas was not exactly a good boy, but you must not think that made him a bad boy. He was sometimes a sad boy, often a confused boy […], and often a jealous boy, but he wasn’t a bad boy.

I felt like Thomas most days. Sad, confused, jealous of my classmates who had normal households and normal parents who were able to hug them and tell them they were loved and take care of them. I watched them as cravenly as Thomas watched his father in his secret moments, wanting what they had, wondering what they had done to deserve such happy, pleasant lives, while I suffered in quiet misery. It was all too easy for me to understand how Thomas could do the things he did…it was all too easy for me to see myself doing such things, if the opportunity presented itself. That book showed me that my feelings didn’t make me a bad person, just a person whose feelings had been badly used.

I eventually read all of your books that my mother had, Mr. King, but that book–and the Dark Tower books*–always remained the most special in my heart, because it was there when I needed it most, and it had been something special belonging to my mother.

After she died in 2007, I often thought of that grand, beautiful copy of The Eyes of the Dragon that I no longer had; it had been lost when our house burned down the year I was fourteen. Instead I re-read my battered paperback copy, and cried for Peter’s and Thomas’ losses as well as my own.

I am writing this letter to thank you, Mr. King. Thank you for writing a story that saved my life. Thank you for all of your many other books that are an unbreakable connection to my past and my mother. Thank you, most of all, for teaching me that people who PEEK at the END of books are not to be trusted.


Miss Julie

*I waited so patiently for Thomas and Dennis to re-appear in a grand fashion; I will not be one of those beggars who makes demands of Uncle Stevie, but, oh, I am still so very fond of poor, sad Thomas, and fain would know how he fares these days.

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