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Stephen King's Danse Macabre Hardcover – January, 1981
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In the fall of 1978 (between The Stand and The Dead Zone), Stephen King taught a course at the University of Maine on "Themes in Supernatural Literature." As he writes in the foreword to this book, he was nervous at the prospect of "spending a lot of time in front of a lot of people talking about a subject in which I had previously only felt my way instinctively, like a blind man." The course apparently went well, and as with most teaching experiences, it was as instructive, if not more so, to the teacher as it was to the students. Thanks to a suggestion from his former editor at Doubleday, King decided to write Danse Macabre as a personal record of the thoughts about horror that he developed and refined as a result of that course.
The outcome is an utterly charming book that reads as if King were sitting right there with you, shooting the breeze. He starts on October 4, 1957, when he was 10 years old, watching a Saturday matinee of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Just as the saucers were mounting their attack on "Our Nation's Capital," the movie was suddenly turned off. The manager of the theater walked out onto the stage and announced, "The Russians have put a space satellite into orbit around the earth. They call it ... Spootnik."
That's how the whole book goes: one simple, yet surprisingly pertinent, anecdote or observation after another. King covers the gamut of horror as he'd experienced it at that point in 1978 (a period of about 30 years): folk tales, literature, radio, good movies, junk movies, and the "glass teat". It's colorful, funny, and nostalgic--and also strikingly intelligent. --Fiona Webster --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
King's 1987 disquisition on the nature, quality, and substance of the horror genre from 1950 to 1980 gains new life as an audiobook, and listeners will enjoy (and enjoy disagreeing with) King's conclusions and seeing which ones have held up. A new introduction features King revisiting his book and recent horror narratives. William Dufris narrates with a clear, easygoing tone that works well with King's playful and enthusiastic prose. Dufris keeps up with King's shifting tone and even attempts the occasional goofy impersonation when King's writing suggests it, such as the devious laugh of the Crypt Keeper. Though its breadth can be overwhelming, the book becomes a delight to listen to in the hands of Dufris's skillful performance—and listeners will leave with an extensive list of must-see and must-read material. A Berkley paperback. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Lest the very idea of a thirty-year overview of the horror genre conjure up fears of a stale, academic, and tedious exposition, rest assured that this tour through the spooky and macabre is conducted by the perfect guide-King is an award-winning author of more than 49 horror novels and short stories with many movie and TV adaptations. In Danse Macabre he approaches his task as someone who loves and lives the genre, not as the critic, who dissects and pontificates as an outsider. This book is an insider's tour delivered in King's pouncey-bouncy writing style, a conversational one that both entertains and educates.
There are three main contributions in this book. First, there is the dutiful comb-through of the horror highlights of the radio, TV, movie, and book formats. But though it is interesting to hear about mid-1950s radio broadcasts, such as Suspense or Orson Wells's War of the Worlds, I suspect that most people today, in an era of streaming Internet movies, may have difficulty relating to (horror) radio broadcasts. Nevertheless, the inclusion of radio makes the overview of the horror genre complete, and it reinforces the fact that telling a scary story is not limited by technological channels--an entire world was frightened by Orson Wells intoning over just a radio microphone.
In discussing horror movies and TV shows, rather than heavy analysis King focuses simply on which pieces speak most to our fears, whether they be universal, political, social, or cultural, along with mentioning those films and shows which are just plain entertaining to watch. Again, the tone is light and informational. While we learn how the movie The Amityville Horror can be seen as playing on our economic fears, we also gain insights into how this movie, though it was not critically acclaimed, nevertheless struck a resonant chord with the viewing audience. There are pages to this discussion, touching on many tangents and related movies, such as The Exorcist, Fahrenheit 451, and Them!, but King also sums up his point succinctly with this nugget: "As horror goes, Amityville is pretty pedestrian. So's beer, but you can get drunk on it." Time and again in Danse Macabre King similarly illuminates as well as he entertains.
For novels, King discusses ten books that represent the best of the horror genre as both literature and entertainment, such as Peter Straub's Ghost Story and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. As with his discussion of radio, movie, and TV shows, King careens through the entire literary corpus with tangents, anecdotes, and behind-the-scenes commentary, such as entertaining stories about what happened when Harlan Ellison, an author with some notoriety, was invited to work on the script for the first Star Trek movie.
Beyond just overviewing the horror genre, King more interestingly takes a step back and looks at the elements of the horror story--what scares us and why. He proposes three iconic monsters for the horror genre, and details especially the horror stories those monsters are known for: the thing, (in Frankenstein), the vampire (in Dracula), and the werewolf (in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide). He also shows three levels of emotion horror stories can target within us: terror, horror, and revulsion. The finest and most primal emotional level reached by a scary story is terror, and we are terrified when stories allow our own minds to fill in the details about the baddies around the corner. So in stories that evoke terror-judged to be the most effective at being scary-we are actually not allowed to see the monster behind the closed door. A slightly more coarse emotion, but still scary enough, is that of horror. Here, the door is opened and we see the monster, lurching. If a story can't achieve the effect of terror or horror, then it can at least cause revulsion--you see the monster, slurping the victim's entrails like pasta in a wine-dark marinara sauce.
The third and perhaps most important contribution of Danse Macabre is that this book is an homage to the horror genre. King shows us why horror matters and why people who like horror stories aren't psychopaths. On the contrary, horror can help us understand our deepest fears by showing us a side of life that we don't often experience directly, lifting the lid of the casket, so to speak. By looking inside, we can learn the truth about ourselves.
Horror stories have the power to transport us back to when we were young and the world was ominous and life was to be relished, and King generously shares his encyclopedic knowledge and enthusiasm for the genre in Danse Macabre. The book makes us want to be scared, to want to go investigate that strange sound, and King cheerfully leads the way for us down into the dark and dank catacomb. With his insights and recommendations we can crawl as far into the tunnels as we dare in seeking the creepy, guided by Stephen King in the role of our inner child.
A word of caution however, if you hate spoilers, you WILL hate this book. King goes in depth in discussing several movies and books that he feels have had major influence upon the genre and he doesn't hold back from describing major plot points or endings. If you think that you might have the urge to read older sci-fi, fantasy, or horror and don't want to have any spoilers, this is not the book for you.
Perhaps not HIGHLY recommended... but recommended for those who are interested in the history of horror.