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Book Review: Stephen King: A Literary Companion by Rocky Wood

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Few authors have achieved Stephen King’s level of fame and popularity. His books are guaranteed bestsellers, despite many of them being literal door stoppers, weighing in at 800 or more pages. He has a legion of fans that King affectionately calls his “constant readers.” I freely admit to being one of them. I have read everything King has ever written and am always first in line for his newest book. Stephen King: A Literary Companion by Rocky Wood seemed like the perfect companion for a fan like me.

The slim volume is divided into two parts. The first section is a series of short essays and some essays about King’s literary legacy. The second section, the “literary companion” part, is an encyclopedic list of all characters, settings, and works by King. King is still writing, so this book will fall out of date with the release of his next novel, but it does cover everything through his latest door stopper, Under the Dome.

The introductory material seemed a little thin to me. I think Wood could have done more with this material. The essays read a bit like blog posts and could use some filling out and polishing. There are several lists that, while interesting, probably deserve more justification. For example, a list of King’s top characters is just a roster of character names, without giving the reasons why they are so memorable.

One of the heftiest essays divides King’s works into five “worlds” where those stories are set. I have to quibble with Wood’s distinctions between worlds, though. Any King fan knows that King inserts many links between his stories and often refers to characters or events that took place in other novels. I am fascinated by these cross references, and I love looking for them as I read, like a scavenger hunt.

I believe all of King’s worlds (or settings) are interlinked, with his magnum opus, The Dark Tower series, at the center of these worlds, much as the Dark Tower itself is the nexus of all worlds. If you teased out all the references, you could map the connections (too big a project for me!), which I think would reveal a network crisscrossing among all of King’s books, rather than five distinct, but overlapping worlds. Wood does list many of these cross-references in the literary companion portion of his book, but I think his division of the stories into five worlds is too simplistic to describe the complex universe King has created.

The literary companion section of this book is much more detailed and interesting than the introductory essays, and it’s clear how much work Wood has put into his research. Every King work, no matter how minor, is summarized, along with fascinating details about the origins of story ideas, publication histories, and locations of rare manuscripts. This book is a boon for the serious King collector trying to suss out the truly rare and valuable in King’s prolific oeuvre. There is even a bibliography of all King’s works with original publication dates, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen gathered into one index before. Wood also notes all films, TV shows, websites, video games, music, and e-books derived from King’s stories or original material. I don’t think you’d find a more complete index of all things Stephen King.

In addition to the story summaries, each major character and setting has a place in the encyclopedia. (I fail to understand why characters aren’t alphabetized by last name, but that’s a minor quibble.) Wood traces characters through all works in which they appear and provides detailed descriptions of King’s most important settings. He even notes who played a particular character in the TV or film version, if there was one. There is so much fascinating trivia to pore over in these entries. The listings reveal all of the interesting connections between the stories, a reference I’ve been wanting for a while. It was obviously an immense project, and I’m glad Wood undertook it.

Stephen King: A Literary Companion will be of interest to any serious King fan or collector. Clearly, Wood is a great fan himself and has made a respectful homage to his favorite author, and mine, in this well-researched work.

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