The Gospel of Stephen King

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For better or worse, I’ve been a fan of Stephen King’s work since I was a teenager. I’ve always said there’s more depth in his books than most people give him credit for (as is easily evidenced in stories like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), but his books certainly aren’t for everyone.

Last week, CNN published a story called “The Gospel of Stephen King,” which is far from comprehensive, but is interesting nonetheless if you’ve ever wondered about the Christian themes in King’s work. Here’s an excerpt:

Zahl, the Episcopal priest, says so many heroes in King’s books are broken people: physically frail, alcoholic, disabled and lonely. Even the evil people are rendered with compassion.

“King understands grace at a deep level,” says Zahl, author of “Grace in Practice.” “He typically concentrates on the marginalized and the outsiders who ultimately carry the day. God often does his work where people are the most messed up.”

Read the entire story here.

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


19 Comments

  1. Aaron

    I’m finishing ‘The Wind Through The Keyhole’, and was just thinking that someone could write one of those ‘Gospel According To…’ books on Stephen King.

    I’m glad I pushed past the distaste I had for the 90’s miniseries (Gary Sinise & Molly Ringwald may be the most awkward onscreen couple in film history) and read The Stand as my first introduction to his writing. There are some beautifully Christian themes in that book, and many more throughout most of his books that I’ve read.

    All that, and he’s just a heckuva good storyteller.

  2. Caleb Morris

    Shawshank is one of my favorite films. I probably saw it ten times before I ever knew it was a King story. I’ve never read one of his books, and I guess out of some sort of knee jerk, preconceived idea I was very surprised (images of scary 80s films pop into my mind).

    I find it interesting that you start this post of with almost an apology for being a fan. I do the same with Louis L’Amour. Literary types usually scoff at the name but I’ve been deeply impacted by his writing.

    Pete, how does the Shawshank film hold up to the story to you? Also, could you recommend a King reading plan for the initiated?

  3. Loren Eaton

    King’s a fascinating guy, especially given that he grew up in a devout Methodist home and is friends with Jerry B. Jenkins of Left Behind fame (!). But he’s also publically said that he believes it’s impossible to know if there’s any kind of afterlife, so he seems pretty far from basic Christian orthodoxy.

  4. Mike

    “Desperation” was/is one of the clearest presentations of the gospel that I’ve read in a non-christian fiction piece. The main character is King-like character and through the witness of a Christian kid is converted. Not King’s best story but worth a read.

  5. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Caleb, here’s a great post by our own Russ Ramsey about none other than Louis L’Amour. You’re not alone, cowboy.

    http://www.rabbitroom.com/2009/01/tell-me-a-story-louis-lamour/

    And Jud/Jon/Jazz, I’m sure Pete will answer when he has a second. We’re not just sitting around. Well, maybe we are, but we’re working while we’re doing it. I’ve been wanting to write a post about my long, troubled relationship with Stephen King’s books but haven’t found the time (again, not sitting around).

    In the meantime, though, I can tell you that It and The Talisman both made me long for adventure when I was a teenage kid. The ending of It actually brought tears to my eyes. Part of the reason I said I have a “troubled” relationship with King’s books is that when I’ve gone back to try and re-read the stories, I can’t stand his weird need for sexual strangeness and end up abandoning the story. When I pick up something by Wendell Berry after King it’s like taking a bath–and I’m not typically the most prudish guy in the room. As I said, I’d love to dig in a bit more, but time doesn’t permit me.

    Thanks for the link, Pete.

  6. Caleb Morris

    Andrew, thanks for the link to the L’Amour post. That was way before my time here and I surely would have never seen it.

    Russ, if you’re reading, thanks for that. I enjoyed it as much as anything I’ve ever read here.

  7. Chris Whitler

    I just finished the Dark Tower series and had a similar feeling as when I finished LOTR and the Harry Potter books. You walk a long way with Roland and his Ka-tet and in the end, there is a bit of mourning for those characters and relationships. Like all good stories, you change with them.

    There is a part in one of the books where great darkness surrounds a character who is framed in a very thin light. The line is about how the darkness made the light shine all the brighter. And that’s how I feel about King’s work…the darkness gets super dark and it makes the thin light shine all the brighter.

    I have been shocked time and time again by his knowledge of the Bible and how God (the one, true God) intervenes in his stories. How the work of evil is exposed for how pitiful it really is and how sacrifice and friendship win the day.

    The books I’ve read (The Stand, Salem’s Lot, Dark Tower, Hearts in Atlantis) have also had the tried and true template of an older, wise mentor and a young kid sharing an adventure and I just can’t ever get enough of that.

    And lastly, I always go back to a passage in The Stand every year before Lent. No one had ever explained ‘fasting’ to me better than Steven King… http://cwhitler.blogspot.com/2010/02/best-explanation-of-fasting-ive-come.html

  8. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    I’d have to say some of my favorites are: It, The Talisman, The Stand, Firestarter, The Running Man (i.e. The REAL Hunger Games ), Needful Things, and Misery. I’d also consider the short story collections Night Shift and The Skeleton Crew as favorites.

  9. Aaron

    Hmmm… Of your five favourites, I’ve only read one so far, The Stand. I need to get going on those others.

    And is it just me, or does the man seem to write books at a faster pace than one can actually read them? It’s like he’s got a new 500-pager out every 2 weeks!

  10. Tony Heringer

    I saw the CNN article on FB. I sent it to my son who is a King fan. Barliman, I had a simlar reaction to It and at the time I read that book I was a wreck spiritually. Even still I felt it to be very odd sexually. But, other than that I enjoyed several of his books.

    Thanks Pete!

  11. Peter B

    Ah, I remember that post. Thanks, Russ, for properly introducing me to Louis L’Amour.

    And Aaron: a friend recently told me that Stephen King began writing under a pseudonym because his publisher told him they didn’t want to flood the market with “Stephen King” books. He wanted to keep working, so he created an extra author to share the fameload.

  12. JJ

    How could I have missed this post?! Oh, I was at the beach.

    I got hooked on King after reading The Gunslinger. I had always avoided him thinking he was “just a horror/gore writer” (that was mainly from overhearing my Mom read The Raft to my younger brother when we were kids). But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sure his stuff isn’t for everyone, and there are lots of things some people won’t want to read, but his stories and characters are really fantastic. The Dark Tower series is up there for me (like Chris #19 said) with LotR and Harry Potter. A series I’ll reread for years and years. Wind Through the Keyhole is a great addition to the DT series, and 11/22/63 is fantastic too.

    If I had to list my top 5, it’d probably be like this. But I can’t really put them in order of favorites. They’re just too fantastic to list that way.

    The Dark Tower series (they have to be read as one)
    The Stand
    It
    Salem’s Lot (the best vampire story I’ve ever read next to Bram Stoker)
    The Shining (dare I say it’s better than the movie)

    My biggest enjoyment with King’s works though are all the ties to his Dark Tower series. That’s what really sucked me in. Some of the major ones (like The Stand, Salem’s Lot, The Eyes of the Dragon, and Insomnia), but also the more subtle ones, like The Shining and 11/22/63. Now I can’t not read a King book without looking for the subtle nods to the DT series

    Mike #9: I recently finished Desperation (trying to finish The Regulators now), and I agree with you. When I finished I thought it could have been a great Christian Fiction novel minus all the language.

    I could go on and on. I’m probably a bit more passionate about King’s books than is normal.

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