If there’s another living author as powerful as Stephen King, we can’t name them (and don’t say James Patterson—we’re pretty sure he’s actually some sort of advanced artificial intelligence). King has been more or less the unquestioned lord and master of freaky fiction for four decades and counting, and also seems to be the source material (or blatant inspiration) for at least 19 percent of all film and television being produced today. What’s more, he apparently has the power to shifts reality around himself using just the power of his words.
What’s that? You didn’t realize Stephen King could manipulate his own reality? Well, consider his recent announcement that he’s going to provide a new ending for the latest adaptation of The Stand—we’re talking about altering literary canon, and that’s no joke. And it’s not the first time he’s done something similar. Consider:
The Time He Created a Whole Other Person.
Stephen King in the 1970s was almost as much of a juggernaut as he is today, sales-wise. But he was also younger and on a lot more drugs, which means he was often casually writing novels in his sleep. His publisher was worried about saturating the market, and King himself was worried that his success was more about marketing than talent, so he invented an alias, Richard Bachman, that would allow him to publish more than one book a year and to see if he could write his way to success without the King brand. Thanks to the efforts of an unusually observant bookseller, the charade didn’t last long enough to answer King’s question, but it did establish Bachman as a defined persona—whom the author abruptly “killed off.” King played further with the idea that Bachman was a real person by introducing the concept in his novel The Dark Half and crediting his 1996 novel The Regulators (marketed as a “mirror” novel to Desperation) as a lost Bachman work.
The Time He Rewrote The Stand.
The Stand is a big book. The manuscript that King originally delivered to his publisher would have been almost 1,200 pages long, and his publisher blanched at the idea of selling a pricey book that would require a hand truck to carry home (remember, this was way before digital books were a thing), even from an author as successful as King was in 1978. They convinced King of the limitations of the market, and he dutifully—if a bit unhappily—edited the book down to the relatively trim 823 pages that comprised the first edition. A few years later he also updated the time period of the novel from 1980 to 1985 to keep it fresh. Tellingly, a lot of the material he cut from the book was skillfully and surgically removed, and no one noticed anything amiss in the original version.
The Other Time He Rewrote The Stand.
By the time the 1990s rolled around, it was clear King was no mere flash-in-the-pan, but a genuine literary phenomenon—meaning he finally had the clout to get all that material he cut from The Stand reinstated—or most of it; he did make a slew of new revisions and trimmed some of the excised material down to a (slightly) more manageable length. Some of the other changes he made involved updating the time period again to the 1990s, sprinkling in references to pop culture that hadn’t existed in the late 1970s. The mammoth 1,152-page “director’s cut” does improve a few aspects of the novel, offering a deeper exploration of the character of Frannie that delivers an emotional payoff, and revising a few head-scratching choices (like changing Larry Underwood’s inexplicable disco career to a more timeless blues-rock style), but ultimately, the extra material doesn’t fundamentally change the novel. One thing it did allow King to do was make the connections to his emerging shared universe more explicit—including a coda featuring Randall Flagg (as Russell Faraday) waking up after the disaster in Las Vegas.
The Time He Made a Book Disappear.
Not every author has the ability to erase mistakes. Stephen King originally wrote Rage, a story about a student who holds his classroom hostage, in 1965 when he was 18 years old. He published it in 1977 under the Bachman pseudonym because he could literally publish anything at that point. King grew to view the book as juvenilia over the years, and was happy to see it slide out of print, but it remained as part of the Bachman Books omnibus collection. But after a series of school shootings in the 1980s and 1990s, however, King realized that the world of 1965 was much different from the world he was then living in. He contacted his publisher, and Rage literally disappeared from the world—it was taken out of print and it isn’t coming back. Good luck finding a copy!
The Time He Rewrote The Gunslinger.
The Stand isn’t the only book that King has substantially revised. He began writing the original version of The Gunslinger in 1970, and published it in five parts in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction between 1978 and 1981. The novel was finally published in full in 1982, but that version is very different from the one you’ll likely find on the shelves today. In 2003—after the publication of sequels The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, and Wizard and Glass—King revised the book, changing the language and tone to match the later volumes, to retcon in explicit links to his shared universe (including combining all of Roland’s antagonists into one person), and to set the stage for what was to come in the final three volumes of what had come to be known as The Dark Tower saga, which were published in rapid succession. Where the revision of The Stand was mainly about the addition of material, the revision of The Gunslinger makes it into a very different book.
The Time He Backwards-Engineered a Whole Shared Universe.
Speaking of that shared universe we’ve been mentioning, it has bloomed into one of the most complex and fascinating literary projects of all time, linking almost all of King’s various works into a single mythology. But it’s not like King knew he was doing this back in 1965 when he started writing; it evolved over time. But the laws of physics can’t contain Stephen King: he’s managed to cleverly fold even his older books into the King-o-verse by incorporating their characters and events into later novels—and in meaningful, thematically relevant ways at that. Take, for example, the character of Father Callahan, who flees ‛Salem’s Lot in disgrace at the end of that novel. When he pops up in The Wolves of Calla 25 years later, it’s not just a case of shared universe fanservice; it provides a memorable character with a wholly redemptive arc, enriching his appearance in the earlier novel. (See also the skillful way he turned The Talisman into a de facto spinoff of The Dark Tower, decades after the former was published.)
The Time He Threatened to Remove Himself from His Shared Universe.
King famously inserted himself into his imagined reality via the Dark Tower series—and not just as a character, but as a major linchpin of the plot, even incorporating his own true-life experience of being hit by a van and almost killed. This is usually a make-it-or-break-it moment for readers of the books; some folks find it thrillingly brilliant, some find it kind of self-indulgent (especially when King starts communicating with the characters through the words on the… well, spoilers). King has long talked about the extant Dark Tower novels as being “first drafts,” and in dire need of a revision. One thing he’s teased is removing himself from the books entirely. What this would mean for the story we can’t say, since he’s pretty integral to the endgame at this point—but we are dying to see who might portray King in the new streaming television adaptation, assuming it gets that far.
The Time He Tried to Replace a Stanley Kubrick Classic.
Some writers get bent out of shape when adaptations change aspects of their stories. King, in fact, got very bent out of shape when Stanley Kubrick adapted The Shining into the film starring Jack Nicholson. To be fair, King’s complaints aren’t nuts—Kubrick more or less reinvented the story, shedding almost all of King’s subtext and interpreting the character of Jack Torrance and the haunted hotel he inhabits in vastly different ways. Not entirely in agreement with the consensus that a work of cinematic genius had been crafted from his source material, the author worked hard to make people forget all about the Kubrick version, even agreeing in writing to never criticize the film in public again in exchange for getting the film rights back so he could produce his own version. he resultant 1997 television miniseries version was extremely faithful to the text, if inarguably not as artfully cinematic as Kubrick’s version. But how many authors would have even gotten the chance to try to make us forget about “Heerrrree’s Johnny!”?
The Times He Made Changes To His Stories Canonical.
While King’s reaction to Kubrick’s The Shining resulted in a rare fit of pique from the author, most of the time King is jazzed about smart changes to his material. When the film version of his novella The Mist ended with what may be the blackest, most soul-chilling denouement in cinematic history, he was quick to admit that it was a superior conclusion, one he wished he’d come up with. In fact, aside from the The Shining, King has a habit of endorsing the creative decisions of filmmakers who adapt his work, thereby making them just as legitimate as the original endings in the books. Maybe he learned his lesson?
The Times He Reinvented Himself as a Literary Novelist, and a Crime Writer, and…
Most authors fall into a genre slot early in their careers and stay there. Sometimes they make attempts to break out and write something out of character—but often they fail to redefine themselves, and go back to the well soon enough (King even sketched out a version of this trajectory in the career of Misery‘s fictional writer protagonist Paul Sheldon). King, however, apparently decided one afternoon he wasn’t just a horror writer: he was a literary writer. The result? Stuff like The Body and Lisey’s Story. Later on, King decided he was also a crime fiction writer, gifting us with great novels like The Colorado Kid and Joyland, not to mention crime-horror fusions like the Bill Hodges trilogy and The Outsider. King has also found success in fantasy (The Eyes of the Dragon) and non-fiction (On Writing, Danse Macabre). If, one day, he decides to kill it in epic poetry or space opera, we’ll will be lined up to read those books too.
Have we forgotten other times King changed his reality?