Heidi Strengell: On the notions of good and evil.
Articles » January 2003

1. Introduction

During his literary career Stephen King has published almost forty novels, about a dozen novellas, and over a hundred short stories. He has also written two non-fiction books, screenplays, e-books, and even a comic book. Stephen J. Spignesi maintains that the total body of his fiction includes an astonishing 550 individual works (The Essential Stephen King, 10). Such a prolific writer has dealt with all kinds of imaginable themes, but the question of good versus evil dominates, epitomizing and summing up the core of all of his writing. In a November 17, 1988 interview with Janet Beauliau, King argues that, above all else, he is interested in whether or not there are powers of good and evil exterior to man. While exploring the possibility of outside good and evil, he views them through God and the Devil (King in Spignesi, Essential 62). In his March 5, 1999 letter to reviewers that was included with review copies of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, King maintains: "I have been writing about God - the possibility of God and the consequences for humans if God does exist - for 20 years now, ever since The Stand [1978]" (62).

In this essay I attempt to show how King portrays good and evil in his fiction. But before focusing on these notions of good and evil, let me briefly illustrate King's worldview. King has been deeply influenced by the Bible, and he professes a faith in the Christian God (King in Magistrale, Stephen King: The Second Decade 3; Underwood & Miller, Feast of Fear 64). Brought up in the atmosphere of Methodism and "fascinated by the trappings and solemnity of Catholicism" (King in Underwood & Miller, Feast 64), King has been preoccupied with religious themes throughout his writing career. Since King has repeatedly acknowledged the existence of personal good and evil forces beyond human control, it is mainly the deterministic view of man which relates him to literary naturalism, and which, according to Rod W. Horton and Herbert W. Edwards's Backgrounds of American Literary Thought, is regarded as the "most prevalent literary attitude [in the United States] during the first half of the twentieth century" (259). King came to embrace the deterministic view of the world at a very early age, because in such unpublished short stories like "The Thing at the Bottom of the Well" and "The Stranger," both written when he was a young schoolboy, it is already clearly present (Spignesi, The Lost Work of Stephen King 9).
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Heidi Strengell is a post-graduate student in the Department of English at the
University of Helsinki, Finland. She has just completed her doctoral
thesis entitled "The Multiverse of Stephen King: A Study of Genres."

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