Dashboard: Who will be their Mark Twain?

Each time I log in to NewAlbanyBooks, I’m offered a “dashboard” of options. Respecting my promise to post new content here each and every day (and sometimes that means late in the day), I thought I would “dash” off something we’ve been talking about in the store. That is, 100 years from now, who will our progeny consider to be their Mark Twain?

The way I would define it is thus: A writer whose mere mention evokes memories of a large body of work that was generally excellent; whose work stands the test of time; who had worldwide fame and literary success; and whose work was controversial and widely discussed during his lifetime and over the next century.

My nominee (and you’ll have a hard time budging me off of this one) is Mr. Stephen King. Now, one could argue that Twain was known as a humorist as much as he was a novelist, but it is the impact the writer has/will have 100 years down the road that, in my view, qualifies “Uncle Stevie.”

The Stand is likely to weather the vicissitudes of time. It is arguably King’s finest work and one whose themes (and sometimes its characters) are woven throughout King’s ouvre. If you, as I do, consider that the pinnacle of King’s work, then the other pillar might be 2009’s Under the Dome. In the first, a remnant travel vast distances to join together and take sides in a great battle of good and evil. In the latter, a community is arbitrarily sealed off from the physical and moral constraints of the rest of the world. One is expansive. The other is claustrophobic. Yet both grapple with the choices people will make when faced with crises.

Let’s consider The Stand and Under the Dome to be modern fables that will be studied, dissected, praised, and reviled 100 years from now in much the same way that Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are treated today.

Both writers also wrote short stories and King may, in fact, already be the superior of Twain in that field. It certainly can’t be argued that King hasn’t had as much impact on popular culture, especially with their adaptations into film. Who doesn’t remember the movies made from “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” or “The Body?” “The Shawshank Redemption” (Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, directed by Frank Darabont) and “Stand by Me (River Phoenix, Jerry O’Connell, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, and Keifer Sutherland, directed by Rob Reiner) are treasured memories for a generation of moviegoers.

And I’ll make one more observation. Samuel Langhorne Clemons wrote under the pen name Mark Twain. King, when told by his publisher to slow his output, found another publisher to put out more work under the name Richard Bachman. Fortunately, we discovered this during the man’s lifetime and we have been enriched by those works, too. Do you remember when King released 2 giant novels at the same time – one as King and one as Bachman? The Regulators and Desperation released on the same day and, amazingly, put pretty much the same characters into two plots in two distinct settings.

I remember buying both and tossing a coin to determine which one I would read first. I believe I finished them both before the weekend was ended.

My final tribute in this “dash” to Stephen King involves not his fecundity but his meticulousness. I read a lot, and that includes advance copies from which, purportedly, all the errors will be removed pre-publication. In my experience, by the time it is in advance bound copies, I’m looking at the same book you will be reading. Anyway, I may see more errors than you do and as an old editor, I’m orders of magnitude more peevish about anachronisms, word choices, spelling, punctuation, etc.

Let me attest that I have never found an error in a Stephen King book. I have a theory as to why that is so. BECAUSE STEPHEN KING TURNS THE MANUSCRIPT IN WITHOUT ANY FLAWS! If the author nails it, there is no occasion for the editors to miss a mistake. Tom Clancy’s latest book was almost ruined for me (I wrote about that in early January) by errors that clearly were the authors’ and not the editors’.

One last “dash.” While reading Under the Dome, I remarked to Ann that at last I had found an error in a Stephen King book. Rather than disappointment, my reaction was shock. This was a special edition of a final bound copy, too, and the thought that King had finally lost his grammar/spelling mojo was too hard to believe. So I investigated. As it turns out, for Mainers, there is an alternate spelling of the relevant word that is unique to that place and that dialect. King had not made a mistake, after all, and the earth returned to spin on its axis and revolve gracefully around its star.

Please join the conversation and tell us who you think will be studied in schools 100 years from now and whose works will still be known by practically all English speakers.

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