Thursday 1 December 2022

Twenty-two in '22: Fairy Tale

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 books in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read twenty two books in 2022. I'll review them all here.

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

12/22: Fairy Tale by Stephen King

The blurb: Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was seven, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself - and his dad. Then, when Charlie is seventeen, he meets a dog named Radar and her ageing master, Howard Bowditch, a recluse in a big house at the top of a big hill, with a locked shed in the backyard. Sometimes strange sounds emerge from it.

Charlie starts doing jobs for Mr. Bowditch and loses his heart to Radar. Then, when Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie a cassette tape telling a story no one would believe. What Bowditch knows, and has kept secret all his long life, is that inside the shed is a portal to another world.

King's storytelling in Fairy Tale soars. This is a magnificent and terrifying tale about another world than ours, in which good is pitted against overwhelming evil, and a heroic boy - and his dog - must lead the battle.

The review: The dedication at the start of this book reads "Thinking of REH, ERB, and, of course, HPL" and that tells you all you really need to know about what follows. For this is King's homage to the books he consumed in his youth, and the writing of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and especially H.P. Lovecraft. Indeed, you could say that Fairy Tale is King's take on Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu. Of course, King being King there are plenty of other fictional touchstones woven in too, from conventional fairytales like Rumpelstiltskin and The Three Little Pigs, to more recent fairytale allegories like Star Wars and The Hunger Games. He even throws in a subtle reference to his own Dark Tower series, for the Constant Readers among us to spot.

Also, King being King, the author has great fun with the fact that all the best fairytales have gruesome aspects. And we know he can do gruesome!

Anyway, I'd better write a review, hadn't I? This is King's umpteenth book, and he's racked up a pajillion sales, so he can write, we all know that. This is no exception: it's an enjoyable page-turner, that I rattled through quicker than anything I've read since ... well, since the last King novel I read. It won't win him many new fans but if you already like his work, you'll like this too. And that ought to be the end of the review, hadn't it? Well, it is, really, except for one observation. Like many of King's novels, Billy Summers being the most recent obvious comparator, this book pivots on a single moment about 30% of the way in; it's in the blurb, so there's no spoiler in me saying that moment is the point at which our hero Charlie goes through the portal in Howard's shed into another world. The world of make-believe, if you like - the land of fairytales. And the simple opinion I want to offer here is that, although the whole book is good, I preferred the section before that pivot, with Charlie rooted in normality, dealing with familial issues, high school issues, helping an old neighbour. It's got to the point, I think, where King is just a better prose fiction novelist than he is a horror/fantasy/supernatural writer. There. I said it. Don't @ me, as the influencers of the world might still say. But do comment, below.

The bottom line: King's take on a modern, yet traditional, fairytale, bears all his hallmarks, whilst also being an homage to those that came before him. Fans will lap it up - I did.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆


  1. This sounds really interesting - I haven't read any Stephen King for, well, decades! I think the last one I read was Salem's Lot or Cujo - I really am going back in time (I think I just went off horror/fantasy type reading). But the fairy tale bit caught my attention as I do have a penchant for them. As I have been alerted to some great reads through your posts in the past, may I offer one in return on the subject of fairy tales which I really enjoyed? Not sure if it would be up your street but something different anyway, a collection of short tales: 'Fairy Tales For The Disillusioned' (Enchanted Stories from the French Decadent Tradition). I.e. fairy tales for adults!

  2. "It's got to the point, I think, where King is just a better prose fiction novelist than he is a horror/fantasy/supernatural writer."

    I've been of this opinion for a long time, and frankly it's what's put me off reading this book. I know I'd love the first half and I know I'd hate the second half. The only King books I can't read are the fantasy ones - The Dark Tower, Eye of the Dragon, that one he did with Peter Straub. Add to that the fact that the whole "dark fairytale parody" thing has been done to death by other writers over the years. I am supremely uninterested in the second half of the book and don't want to become enthralled by the first half only to have to slog through that.

    Billy Summers was great though.

    1. Definitely steer clear then. The first half continues his recent rich vein of form, the second half - whilst an effective love-letter to Lovecraft - is just not as good.