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The Popularity Problem:
    Stephen King's Cultural Context

Writers and Metafiction
    in Three Stephen King Texts

Other Elements
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Critical Insights: Jane king
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Critical Insights: Stephen King
Writers and Metafiction
in Three Stephen King Texts

By Dominick Grace

Few things fascinate Stephen King more than the process of writing itself. He has written two books on the process of composition: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, both published in 2000. The title of the second of these echoes that of his novella Secret Window, Secret Garden, to be discussed below. He has also written his own idiosyncratic study of and commentary on horror as a genre, Danse Macabre (1981). Furthermore, he has also repeatedly used writers as major characters in his work. While at times their writerly craft is relatively unimportant (the fact that Ben Mears, the protagonist of King's second novel, 'Salem's Lot [1975], is a writer, for instance, is not a central plot element, and the writer character of Lisey's Story [2006], Scott Landon, is dead before the novel begins), the status of the writer as writer is often central. One of the best-known examples, perhaps, is Jack Torrance, protagonist of The Shining, whose descent into insanity is directly linked to his writer's block--an idea King revisited years later in Bag of Bones (1998), though with a happier result for that novel's protagonist, Mike Noonan.

However, three of King's works stand out as especially concerned with the writing process and its dangers. These are Misery, The Dark Half, and the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden, published in Four Past Midnight. King himself links these works as a kind of unofficial trilogy in his prefatory note to Secret Window, Secret Garden:

A few years ago [1987], I published a novel called Misery which tried, at least in part, to illustrate the powerful hold fiction can achieve over the reader. Last year [1989] I published The Dark Half, where I tried to explore the converse: the powerful hold fiction can have over the writer. While that book was between drafts, I started to think that there might be a way to tell both stories at the same time by approaching some of the plot elements of The Dark Half from a different angle. Writing, it seems to me, is a secret act--as secret as dreaming--and that was one aspect of this strange and dangerous craft I had never thought about much. ("Two Past Midnight" 238)

The result was Secret Window, Secret Garden, which King thought at the time would be his "last story about writers and writing and the strange noman's land which exists between what's real and what's make-believe" (237-38). Though this proved not to be true, King clearly sees these three works in particular as thematically linked. In them, King engages in a self-conscious exploration of fiction through the medium of fiction. That is, he writes metafiction.

"Metafiction," writes Patricia Waugh, "is a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. In providing a critique of their own methods of construction, such writings not only examine the fundamental structures of narrative fiction, they also explore the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text" (2). Misery, The Dark Half, and Secret Window, Secret Garden, all focus on a writer as a protagonist; all comment self-consciously on their status as fictional artifacts, especially in relation to generic form; all include embedded fragments of narratives within narratives; all therefore lay bare "the construction of a fictional illusion" (6); and all express ambivalence about the creative process, including the mental balance of those who engage in it, notably through the invocation of the motif of the doppelgänger. In short, these stories are as much about fiction making as they are about anything else, and they function as horror texts primarily by rendering writing itself problematic, if not monstrous.

Misery is arguably the most complex of the three works but also the one ultimately most complacent about the problematic nature of writing. All three works deal with writing as a compulsion, but Misery distances this aspect of writing by fully externalizing the compulsive force in the person of Annie Wilkes. By contrast, George Stark in The Dark Half and John Shooter in Secret Window, Secret Garden are literal manifestations of the psyches, or aspects of the psyches, of Thad Beaumont and Mort Rainey. Neither offers a particularly comforting image of writerly sanity. Indeed, King has himself suggested that he writes what he does to maintain his own sanity, exorcising his nightmares onto the page ("Novelist Sounds Off" 80). In Misery, however, insanity is displaced into a crazed fan, rather than resident in the writer himself (or, more accurately, the novel downplays the writer's own imbalances by playing up those of the fan). Novelist Paul Sheldon suffers a car accident in a remote area and rather implausibly finds himself in the custody of Annie Wilkes, who is not only a trained nurse and a huge Paul Sheldon fan but also a crazed serial killer who will go to any lengths to force Paul to resurrect his romance heroine, Misery Chastain, whom he has killed off in the latest (and presumably last) book in the series. Paul suffers misery to resurrect Misery and write Misery's Return for Annie; as Clare Hanson suggests, "The text thus explores the relation between `misery' as a common noun (defined by King as `pain, usually lengthy and often pointless') and the generation of texts, stories. The access to misery must be there, King seems to suggest, in order for the text to be" (149).

Misery Chastain is Paul Sheldon's bane, in his opinion. He conceives of himself as a writer of two kinds of books, "good ones and best-sellers" (Misery 7), setting up an opposition between popularity and literary quality, or, to put it another way, between the demands of the marketplace and the demands of art. Misery is Paul's sop to the marketplace, the heroine of his best-selling series but also the basis of his reputation as a popular hack and consequently a creation he resents, even hates. Though the narrative denies that he deliberately murdered her in the final book, arguing that the story simply followed its natural course, Sheldon had already brutalized Misery in an earlier private chapbook meant for his friends only, in which Misery has sex with a dog, and when she does die, his reaction is "cheerful capering" (35). Therefore, despite the surface assertions that Misery's death was the natural outcome of the story, Annie's counterargument that Paul murdered her is not so easy to dismiss: "Characters in stories DO NOT just slip away! God takes us when He thinks it's time and a writer is God to the people in a story, he made them up just like God made US up" (35-36; emphasis in original).

And clearly as Misery was to Paul, so in many respects is Paul to Annie. Just as romance fiction depends on implausible coincidences and extreme behavior so have implausible coincidences placed Paul in extreme circumstances. In effect, he has become like a character in one of his own books, but whereas his heroine is a passive female victim, Paul has become a passive male victim of a horrifying mirror image of Misery--a literalizer of Misery's name, for him. The book is most overtly metafictional in its frequent reflections on how Paul's current circumstances are akin to the world of fiction. Early in his recovery process, before Annie's full madness is revealed (before she has read the book in which Misery dies, in effect), Paul reflects, "It was as if he was a character in a story or a play, a character whose history is not recounted like history but created like fiction" (11), and such self-reflexive comments recur throughout the book. Such a narrative strategy serves superficially as a way to encourage the reader to accept the fiction as real, precisely because the fiction contrasts itself with fiction. However, the novel involves more complex and extensive metafictional commentaries that problematize this strategy's use merely as a realistic device.

The frequent comparisons of the action to other works of fiction, for instance, serve not only as a kind of source for the new Misery novel Paul writes but also as devices to contextualize Paul's own experiences in terms of fiction. For instance, Paul wonders if Annie "had John Fowles's first novel on her shelves" (163); that novel, The Collector, is about a madman who kidnaps and imprisons a woman to make her over into his ideal, and as such is a kind of mirror image precursor text to Misery. King also quotes from it for the epigraph to part 3 of the novel. Such references remind us that the novel we are reading has novelistic antecedents, despite its claims to be reality, not a book. Similarly, Paul invokes H. Rider Haggard, author of such classic adventure novels as King Solomon's Mines and She (both mentioned by King), early in the novel. The plot of Misery's Return, with its exotic African setting and quest narrative among strange lost peoples, is highly reminiscent of Haggard's characteristic plots and devices, but in fact the first invocation of Haggard is in relation to Annie, whom Paul imagines as a figure akin to "the graven images worshipped by superstitious African tribes in the novels of H. Rider Haggard" (7). This likening of Annie to an idol, and not merely an actual idol but to an idol from a fictional world, contributes to the blurring of the line between reality and fiction in the novel. Though the novel (characteristically for King) is set in a resolutely realistic environment, we are invited to see shadowed beneath its prosaic surface the contours of more overtly constructed fictions. Since we watch Paul construct Misery Returns to Annie's specifications, we are inescapably aware of how our preconceptions about reality are shaped by fiction.

Annie insists, for instance, that fiction requires a sort of provisional reality. Though she has already noted that the fiction writer is God to his creations and therefore presumably capable to doing literally whatever he wants, she nevertheless expects fiction to conform to reality in at least acceptably plausible ways. In a key passage in the book, she rejects Paul's first attempt at the new novel out of hand because he has simply ignored the ending of the previous book and resurrected Misery without explanation or logic. The example she provides is of old movie serials that end with a cliff-hanger one week only to open the subsequent week with a "cheat" that opens up the narrative corner into which the protagonist had been painted. Paul recognizes that Annie is objecting to the hoary device of the deus ex machina, a standby of fiction that, as Paul Sheldon notes, "finally went out of vogue around the year 1700. Except, of course, for such arena as the Rocket Man serials and the Nancy Drew books" (108; emphasis in original). Furthermore, he recognizes that she has caught him trying to use a simple narrative trick to resolve his problem, and she's having none of it. Misery was dead and buried at the end of the previous novel, and that's where he has to start: Annie "would not allow him to kill Misery . . . but neither would she allow him to cheat Misery back to life" (107). And Paul in fact agrees with her: "The real stuff would make the crap he had given Annie to read last night, the crap it had taken him three days and false starts without number to write, look like a dog turd sitting next to a silver platter. Hadn't he known it was all wrong?" (114) Consequently, the process of how an author goes about finding his way out of an apparently impossible narrative predicament becomes a major element in the next movement of the novel. The irony is that the novelist is also in an apparently inescapable predicament himself, and his hope for escaping his own death depends on him finding a way to resurrect Misery.

He does so, of course, but, tellingly, the germ of the idea of how he does so comes from Annie, not his own subconscious (which is imaged repeatedly in the novel as "the guys in the sweatshops," whose work is sending up flares, which represent ideas). As Hanson notes, "Annie acts . . . as Paul's hellish muse" (151), not only by literally forcing him to write but also by providing the narrative kernel that not only explains Misery's apparent death but also serves as the basis of the entire plot of the novel, when she suggests that Misery's deathlike coma was caused by a bee sting (149). She thereby becomes a sort of collaborator with Paul, a role reflected graphically in one of King's favorite strategies, playing with the physical appearance of the text (which appears in both The Dark Half and Secret Window, Secret Garden as well). King renders the physical reality of writing graphically by having Annie provide Paul with a typewriter that drops its n, leaving a blank space where the letter should appear. (It begins to drop other letters later, and Paul is finally reduced to completing the manuscript in longhand--several pages of Misery Returns appear in the book in handwritten form.) Annie's collaborative role is reflected by the fact that Paul has her fill in the missing n's (at least initially), though it is probably not fair to say that the n's justify her meanness.

In fact, as becomes clear, despite the brutal conditions and the literal compulsion to write--write or die--Paul recognizes that Misery Returns is easily the best of the Misery books. Even when he first begins to write the "real" novel, rather than the hackwork he initially tried to pass off, Annie's role as taskmaster is amusingly inverted, as when she tells Paul he should knock off for the night and he asks "for another fifteen minutes" (122), much like a child eager to stay up just until the next commercial break. Paradoxically, Annie might force Paul to create the book, but his own writerly nature forces him truly to devote himself to the task. And what Annie does to him helps make the book what it is; as Anthony Magistrale notes, she "makes him write the best Misery novel of his career because this time he is able to invest his heroine with the reality of his own suffering" (275).

The relationship between them, therefore, is not quite as clear-cut as it might appear, and as clear-cut as the text, on one level, wants it to be, given that Annie's monstrosity is repeatedly stressed. "There could hardly be a clearer image . . . of the feminine as monstrous," Hanson argues (150), but though this may be true, and though Paul and, arguably, the book aim ultimately to destroy and deny the monster, neither can fully efface her. Paul comes increasingly to understand Annie not simply through experience but by coming to recognize some kinship with her. He is able to deduce why she chose her earlier murder victims, for instance: "The Annie in him knew" (192). He's like Annie in his own narrative desire--"Some part of him that was as addicted to the chapter plays as Annie had been as a child had decided he could not die until he saw how it all came out" (241)--which he realizes as he struggles to give birth to Misery's Return (a metaphor in fact employed in the novel). He even begins to adopt Annie's vocabulary, such as "cockadoodie" and "brats," in his internal monologues, tellingly when he is thinking of the critics who did not recognize his "good" books as having merit: "Don't you DARE turn away from me! Don't you DARE, you cockadoodie brats!" (286). And ultimately Paul does to Annie what she would have done to him: he kills her in a scene with overtones of rape, overtones that echo her saving of him in the novel's opening pages, when her mouth to mouth resuscitation is imaged as her forcing her breath into him "the way a man might force a part of himself into an unwilling woman" (5). To inspire is, literally, to breathe life into, so this early image can hardly be an accident.

As Lauri Berkenkamp notes, the relationship between Paul and Annie is "both antagonistic and eerily complementary" (209), with Paul becoming a sort of conduit for Annie as author: "Their roles as writer and reader blur, at times even becoming indistinguishable" (204). Paul even confuses them in terms that explicitly blur their roles, as when he "dreamed that Annie Wilkes was Scheherazade. . . . But of course it wasn't Annie that was Scheherezade. He was" (66). Scheherazade, the narrator of the The Thousand and One Nights (commonly called The Thousand and One Arabian Nights), is able to live only by telling stories so interesting that her husband keeps her alive to finish them. In this analogy, Annie is akin to the sultan who spares the tale-weaving wife (note the gender inversion, by the way), but that Annie is a kind of author, too, is an essential point in the book. Her narrative senses may be derived from "best-sellers"--bad books rather than good ones--but she shows an ability to plot comparable to Paul's. Her strategy to test whether Paul has been out of his room, by leaving strands of hair to see whether they become displaced, is right out of thriller fiction, as Paul recognizes, and her elaborate scenario for deferring suspicion when the police arrive is another example of her narrativity. While Michael Arnzen's suggestion that "Annie, ostensibly, is the monster that Sheldon has created, a Frankensteinian creation which threatens to take its master's place" (244) may be a bit extreme (though we'll revisit this idea shortly), Annie clearly is presented as a kind of novelist herself, rewriting the world to her own muse.

The point is literalized when Paul finds Annie's book, a scrapbook of her career as a serial killer and the real-life analogue to the books she is making him write. Just as Paul has a concordance in his usual life as a writer--"a loose-leaf binder where I have all my Misery stuff . . . characters and places, but cross-indexed three or four different ways. Time lines. Historical stuff'" (62)--so too does Annie have her carefully ordered record of her own history. Paul's is the invented history he must keep track of to keep the Misery books internally consistent; Annie's is the real history of her life and murders, but it reads to Paul as compellingly as a novel: "He bent over the book again. In a weird way it was just too good to put down. It was a like a novel so disgusting you just have to finish it" (194). Here Paul becomes Annie's reader, as she has been his, compelled, as this passage suggests, by a comparably perverse dynamic of attraction and repulsion. His own writerly nature reasserts itself as he attempts to interpret Annie's book, to read between the lines and deduce what has happened, such when he discovers, through a careful parsing of word order, that Annie's husband left her (195). Later, he compares the imaginative power he uses to create fiction with the imaginative power Annie uses to reshape her world: "She was playing Can You? in real life. Maybe, he thought, that's why she doesn't write books. She doesn't have to" (275).

Such passages suggest that Paul and Annie have much in common despite the polar opposition between them on the level of plot. These similarities offer unsettling suggestions about the power of the imaginative force on which writers rely. When the line between reality and fiction blurs, the result, Misery suggests, becomes destructive rather than creative. Even when Paul merely falls in a creative fervor as he writes, Annie sees a fearsome power in him: "It was as if she was a little frightened to come any closer--as if she thought something in him might burn her" (148). Allen Pangborn has a similar response to Thad Beaumont in The Dark Half. In Misery, however, the dark and unsettling subtexts suggested by the metafictional elements of the book are pushed aside. Their fruits are allowed to thrive, as Misery's Return survives and is published and Annie is literally killed (ironically a victim of the instrument of writing, when the typewriter becomes the chief weapon used against her) and relegated to the shadowy realms of imagination and nightmare. The figure of the mad writer is elided.

The Dark Half, by contrast, narrows the gap between the writer and the monstrous other. Like Paul Sheldon, Thad Beaumont is a novelist with a dual career, one under his own name as a critically respected but unpopular novelist, another under the pseudonym George Stark as the author of a series of extremely popular but critically dismissed crime novels--a split comparable to the one in Misery between being the author of good books and best sellers. The Stark pseudonym has not only generated more popular success and more money than Beaumont, but also more actual books: Thad's literary career has stalled after two books, and the Stark books have become the only ongoing outlet for his creativity. However, George Stark proves to be more than just a pen name. Even before George Stark is retired--by being metaphorically killed and buried in a mock grave--Thad seems almost like another person when working on a Stark book. As his wife, Liz, reports, "`When he was writing as George Stark--and, in particular, when he was writing about Alexis Machine--Thad wasn't the same. When he--opened the door is maybe the best way to put it--when he did that and invited Stark in, he'd become distant. . . . There was no big personality change . . . but he wasn't the same'" (206-07). So much so, in fact, that despite this characterization of the differences as relatively minor, Liz also asserts, "`Not only was George Stark not a very nice guy, he was in fact a horrible guy. He made me more nervous with each of the four books he wrote, and when Thad finally decided to kill him, I went upstairs to our bedroom and cried with relief'" (198).

Though only a mask, a pseudonym, Stark also seems to Thad and Liz to have some degree of independent reality, despite his fictionality. As Thad says, "I don't have the slightest idea when he became a . . . a separate person. He seemed real to me when I was writing as him, but only in the way all the stories I write seem real to me when I'm writing them. Which is to say, I take them seriously but I don't believe them . . . except I do . . . then . . ." (206). He is, in effect, a manifestation of an aspect of Thad--Thad's dark half, as the title suggests. The idea of the double, or the doppelgänger, is central to the novel. The doppelgänger is an ancient concept, with roots in many myths. Cain and Abel, for instance, can be seen as opposites sides of the same coin, though also clearly separate characters. And as this example attests, as do other famous ones such as Jekyll and Hyde, or Poe's William Wilson (indeed, one of Thad's twin infants is named William), or Dorian Gray and his portrait, or Frankenstein and his monster, the double usually functions symbolically as a representation of the monstrosity that lurks beneath the surface of an apparently good person. It "is transgressive and exposes an uncontrollable and unpleasurable side of the individual often concealed behind the facade of cohesive selfhood and social and literary convention" (Slethaug 19). It may be a fully separate figure functioning purely symbolically as a manifestation of the dark half, or it may be a single person literally divided, as it is in the case of Jekyll and Hyde, and as it arguably is in the case of Thad Beaumont. The man who discovers Thad's use of a pseudonym refers to Thad's "divided mind" (120), for instance, and Thad himself shows some anxiety about the coherency of his own identity as a writer even before Stark's nature becomes clear:

He sometimes believed that the compulsion to make fiction was no more than a bulwark against confusion, maybe even insanity. It was a desperate imposition of order by people able to find that precious stuff only in their minds . . . never in their hearts.

Inside him a voice whispered for the first time: Who are you when you write, Thad? Who are you then?

And for that voice he had no answer. (128-29)

Here the common metaphor of the self as internally split, able to talk and debate with itself, serves as the basis not only of Thad's anxiety about his own sanity but also the genesis of the novel's supernatural monster.

Though writing here may seem to be the anchor to sanity--as the bringer of order--it is also the root of a profound sense of doubt about the coherency of the self, as in Thad's sudden anxiety about his identity when he writes. As Stephen Bruhm suggests, "King's postmodern Gothic documents the fear of doubleness and self-splitting that is the result of documentation, of the act of writing and of representing the self" (58). George Stark is "the projection of Thad's own fear: fear of writing as an addiction, and as something that will take over our lives, fragment us, and alienate us from our families/and ourselves" (57-58). Bruhm goes on to make the Frankenstein comparison that was arguably somewhat unsuitable in the case of Misery but which fits well here, since George Stark is indeed a monster of Thad's creation: "Horror is the result of a chain of signifiers, a veritable lexis machine; Frankenstein's monster is the written word" (58) made flesh. Bruhm's reference to a "lexis machine" puns on the name Alexis Machine, a recurring Stark character, the basis for Stark's personality, and "a fiction within a fiction" (164) doubly removed from reality (it is perhaps worth noting, too, that King borrowed the name from the work of another novelist, thus further fictionalizing his fictional fiction). A "lexis machine" would be a word machine, and Stark is in some respect a creature made literally of words, able to exist because of writing and able to continue to exist only through writing.

However, he is not merely the manifestation of Thad's imagination. He is also on some level a revenant, the ghost of the twin brother Thad absorbed in the womb--a doppelgänger. At the age of eleven, just when he discovered writing, Thad began suffering from headaches, hallucinations, and seizures brought on by a growth in his brain. This growth, however, turned out not to be cancer--or not a conventional cancer, anyway. The brain surgeon opens Thad's skull and sees "protruding from the smooth surface of the dura . . . a single blind and malformed human eye" (9). Also removed from Thad's brain are "part of a nostril, three fingernails, and two teeth" (9), which, for reasons unknown, began to grow in Thad's brain after lying dormant since Thad's womb war with the vanished brother. The novel suggests strongly that the revivification of this tissue coincides with Thad's discovery of writing, and that Thad's creation of the George Stark pseudonym constitutes another such originary moment; Stark becomes real, literally, as a manifestation of Thad's imagination, but Stark is also on some level literally Thad's twin, or double. He does not look like Thad but instead like what Thad imagined George Stark would look like. Still, Stark shares Thad's blood type and fingerprints, and Liz actually recognizes their shared identity despite their apparent differences: "They looked nothing whatever alike. . . . Thad was slim and darkish, Stark broad-shouldered and fair in spite of his tan. . . . Yet they were mirror images, just the same" (426). Even the infant twins recognize their daddy in Stark. King blurs the line between self and other in the book, allowing an explanation (such as it is) for Stark that rationalizes him as an intruder, an externally existing manifestation of the horrific other, much like Annie.

However, even as other, Stark is intimately linked with Thad as his double or twin, and Thad's absorption of his brother in the womb, as natural an occurrence as this may be, also suggests Thad's own monstrosity. Stark is both other and self, one might argue, an attempt to project the horrific aspects of the self out of the self that fails. It's clear, for instance, that Stark is darkly appealing to Thad; Michael J. Meyer points out that "despite Thad's alleged aversion to the type of writing Stark produces, his attraction to Stark is depicted as similar to alcohol or drug addiction" (111). Part of Thad does want to be George Stark because part of him is. And the final threat Thad faces in the novel is that he will become Stark--or that Stark will become him. Just as Thad absorbed the infant in the womb, Stark hopes to absorb Thad through the medium of writing. The novel suggests that if Stark succeeds in learning to write from Thad, then Thad will disappear and only Stark will be left. In order for Thad to write, the novel pessimistically suggests, Thad needs Stark; he must become Stark. His choice is stark. He must become his dark half, or surrender his gift: "He wanted to write stories . . . but more than that, more than he wanted the lovely visions that third eye sometimes presented, he wanted to be free" (447). But freedom from Stark is very different from freedom from Annie. Whereas Paul is able to return to his career as a writer, even turning his horrific experience into a successful novel, Thad is left bereft. There is no indication that his writer's block is broken. Indeed, the epigraph of the epilogue comes not from the new book Thad is evidently still unable to write but from one of his earlier novels, and it's an epigraph that recounts lovers parting and that denies the viability of happy endings. In The Dark Half writing is so dangerous that the writing itself becomes the horrific, destructive other. Losing the dark half of the self means losing the ability to write.

Secret Window, Secret Garden pushes this idea even further. Like Paul and Thad, Mort Rainey is a novelist and, like Thad, one suffering from writer's block. He, too, is confronted by a terrifying figure, John Shooter, who wants to force him to write. But while Annie forces Paul to return to Misery's world, and George Stark tries to force Thad back into the blood-soaked world of popular crime fiction, the threat John Shooter presents is somewhat different. He turns up accusing Mort of stealing a story he wrote and demands that Mort write him a new story in its place. Not until relatively late in the novella is it made clear that, like Stark, Shooter is a manifestation of Mort. This is hinted at in various ways in the early chapters, though, most notably when Mort thinks he has Shooter trapped in the bathroom and attacks him with a poker: "Mort brought the poker down in a whistling overhand blow and he had just time enough to realize that Shooter was also swinging a poker, and to realize that Shooter was not wearing his round-crowned black hat, and to realize it wasn't Shooter at all, to realize it was him, the madman was him, and then the poker shattered the mirror over the washbasin" (313). This realization is truer than Mort realizes at the time; he really is the madman, the writer so absorbed in his love that he literally rewrites his reality.

Elana Gomel argues that in the novella, "The relationship between the writer and the author is figured in terms of demonic possession, with the added ironic twist that Mort Rainey's `ideal self' is not even his own creation. He is the phantom of recycled texts and worn-out formulae, which are Rainey's stock in trade" (90). Shooter, she argues, is the construction of literary clichés and formulae; Rainey's dark half, his demonic possessor, is a purely fictional construct. This is true enough, but the assertion that Shooter is not Rainey's creation is perhaps misleading. Shooter's only source is Mort's mind; he may be constructed from scraps and fragments Mort has picked up in various places--e.g., Shooter's hat is actually an old hat of Mort's, his hometown is a place Mort invented in an earlier book, and so on--but he is assembled in Mort's mind and eventually takes it over. Like Thad, Mort creates an alter ego, but, unlike Thad, he is subsumed by his. As his ex-wife, Amy, observes, "`He was two men. . . . He was himself . . . and he became a character he created'" (377-78). He loses his mind, literally. And so powerful was its imagination that, like George Stark, John Shooter acquires a degree of reality. After the climactic revelation that Mort in fact is Shooter, the epilogue provides counterevidence of Shooter's manifestation in an account of a ghostlike presence seen in dialogue with Mort, and in the form of a letter received from "Shooter" after Mort's death, reporting that Shooter has finally received his story. (Dare we speculate that Shooter's story is the very one we are reading?) Amy concludes, "`I think there was a John Shooter. . . . I think he was Mort's greatest creation--a character so vivid that he actually did become real'" (381). And if so, he is writer as madman.

King's metafictional conceits in these stories explore in a fantasy context the problematic relationship authors have with their art. Misery is in some respects the most complex and successful of the stories, but it is also the most reassuring in the conclusions it draws. While it acknowledges that writing itself is dualistic and the cause of considerable anxiety, it displaces any serious concerns about the dangers of writing on to readers by making Annie into an unrepresentative extreme of the fan. The Dark Half internalizes the madness manifested in Annie Wilkes but ultimately exorcises it, as well. Though the novel's conclusion is not optimistic, it also allows for escape from the mental stresses of writing, and in subsequent King novels Thad Beaumont's unhappy fate is reported briefly. Secret Window, Secret Garden, the shortest and most straightforward of King's most overt metafictions, is also the most unsettling. It ultimately denies the writer any escape from his imagination, dissolving the line between the real and the imagined and rendering the writer the insane God feared in Misery's Return: "His ideas about God had changed. . . . He had discovered that there was not one God but many, and some were more than cruel--they were insane, and that changed all. Cruelty, after all, was understandable. With insanity, however, there was no arguing" (310).

Works Cited
Arnzen, Michael. "The Misery of Influence." Paradoxa 4.10 (1998): 237-52.

Berkenkamp, Lauri. "Reading, Writing, and Interpreting: Stephen King's Misery." The Dark Descent: Essays Defining Stephen King's Horrorscape. Ed. Tony Magistrale. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992. 203-11.

Bruhm, Stephen. "On Stephen King's Phallus; Or, the Postmodern Gothic." Narrative 4.1 (Jan. 1996): 55-73.

Gomel, Elana. "Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the (Un)death of the Author." Narrative 12.1 (Jan. 2004): 74-92.

Hanson, Clare. "Stephen King: Powers of Horror." American Horror Fiction: From Brockden Brown to Stephen King. Ed. Brian Docherty. Houndmills: Macmillan, 1990. 135-54.

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