Posted by: Robin | November 16, 2008

“The ecstasy of perfect recognition”

stephenkingI just finished Stephen King’s Dark Tower series minus book 4, which our county library system seems to have corporately lost. This is a few thousand pages (6 novels) in about three weeks time. Other than his Entertainment Weekly column I was a blank slate where King was concerned and had few expectations, but if I’d been quizzed before hand, I couldn’t have imagined a writer more my opposite in personality and life experience. In many ways that opinion hasn’t changed, though he is often a remarkable writer (I’ll save the review for another entry). With this in mind, the final two novels of the series (Susannah’s Song and The Dark Tower) were a shock. In these novels King himself enters the story as a character, and he speaks extensively about what writing is like for him, his creative process and the tyranny of talent. Using his own words from book 5 The Wolves of Calla, I had that experience for which all bibliophiles read and which too few novels deliver: the pure joy, the “ecstasy of perfect recognition” that makes your midsection feel like a fizzy drink and your head like its ready to soar into the air and burst into big-city fireworks. “I’m NOT alone in the world after all!” Someone thinks or feels or sees what I think, feel and see, but am too inarticulate or too unaware to explain even to myself.

King snuck up on me with his fictional alter ego. Fictional King tells gunslingers Roland and Eddie that as counter-intuitive as it may seem, he can’t tell stories. That’s why he writes them. Lifelong that has puzzled me about myself. When my kids wanted me to make up stories for them orally and extemporaneously my brain seemed to lock up, while give me a pen or a computer and it pours out. That was kind of nice to know that one of our most prolific writers (at least until his accident) had the same disconnect. But when he said he knew writers who really write, as in plotting everything out and using language and metaphor with a sculptor’s intentionality, but he wasn’t one of them, the fizzy feeling began. When he talked of feeling like a conduit and quoted an editor who spoke of Thomas Wolfe as “the divine wind chime,” the fireworks ignited. I’m not saying that what I write is divine, but the Fire-Dragon Prophecy series I’m writing came to me as if on the wind and demanded to be told.

King is not the first writer I’ve read who has described his experience of inspiration and writing as something independent from himself, but he is the first to give it the detailed texture and depth that so precisely evokes my experience. I am grateful for that “perfect recognition.” And for his remark in Song of Susannah, ” . . . telling stories is like pushing something. Pushing against uncreation itself, maybe.” I could almost believe he’d read Dorothy L. Sayers Mind of the Maker. This last was the balm and push that a discouraged writer needed to listen to the wind and be faithful to the gift of a story given once upon a time, even if my talent falls short of of fully doing it justice. As fictional Stephen King makes clear to his own detriment, pushing against the dark requires courage. It’s time I found some of my own. He speaks true, thank ya, sai!



  1. It truly is a wonderful phrase. I does what it describes. May you have many moments thereof.

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