When Stephen King was honoured with the Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2003, the National Book Foundation said, “He crafts stylish, mind-bending page-turners that contain profound moral truths — some beautiful, some harrowing — about our inner lives.”
And that was before Under the Dome, King’s just-published, 1,100-page-long tour de force about the lightning-swift disintegration of civilization that occurs when a small town is cut off from the world by an invisible dome. It is the sprawling good-vs.-evil of the The Stand reined in on a smaller stage. King is in town Thursday to promote the book.
Under the Dome knits together many themes from King’s mind-boggling production: corruption, loss of faith, abuse of power, denial of reality, the possible heroism of the ordinary person, redemption and, yes, buckets of moral truths. Also, of course, creative disembowelment and blood-dripping, severed limbs twitching gently in the afternoon breeze.
While there’s a strong liberal streak running through most of King’s work, the politics is more overt in Under the Dome.
“It’s a pretty political book. I tried to write this book in the ’70s ... I had the idea, wouldn’t it be a terrific image to have these people out at the edge of this force field, looking out at this press conference? I can see that, people knocking at the dome,” King said. “You couldn’t see anything that was there, but it would be totally separated, like fish in an aquarium.
“The minute I had the image, I really wanted to write this because it had these terrific ecological implications. Because we’re all under the dome. We all live on this little planet. Our resources are limited and our populations continue to grow ... we’re running out of things, we’re crowding each other, we have different theologies and, sooner or later, people get irritated and things happen. The way they happened on this U.S. army base (Fort Hood). People get angry. I really wanted to write this but there were so many technological issues, meteorological issues and I kind of got scared.”
As it was in The Stand, faith and religion are explored in Under the Dome. Is the author religious?
“I’m not the sort of religious person who goes to church … I have serious problems with organized sectarian religion. I think it’s 90 per cent of all the trouble in the world.”
“But the idea of faith, the idea of God, the idea of a higher power that calls on us to be better than we would be otherwise, I’m very attracted to that. I’m the kind of guy who prays, ‘Give me faith. Let me believe in this.’”
On Thursday, in what could be the geek-out event of the season for horror fans, King will have a conversation with David Cronenberg (who directed The Dead Zone some 25 years ago) at the Canon Theatre.
“I love David’s work. I’ve been watching David Cronenberg movies since Rabid and The Brood and there was a movie called They Came From Within (a.k.a. Shivers) back in the ’70s ... I have never seen a Cronenberg movie that didn’t interest me. There were one or two that weren’t as successful as the other ones, but I’m sure he feels the same about my books ... In terms of chronology we’ve had a very similar timeline. A dream director for Under the Dome?
“Martin Scorsese. Because he’s terrific on a big canvas. Cronenberg would be great too. I’d love to see him go back to a more naturalistic kind of feeling.
“When I see him, I’ll say, ‘David! Baby! Why don’t you do this?’”