From the very beginning, Stephen King was captivated by the allure of the macabre. By age 12 he had already published his first horror story, "I Was a Teenage Grave Robber". Later in life, while attending the Un
iversity of Maine at Orono, King continued to write short works of horror fiction and in the early days of his marriage, he supported his young wife Tabitha with occasional submissions to horror and science fiction magazines. In 1973, Doubleday and Compa
ny published King's first novel Carrie, the first of what was to become a prolific stream of horror fiction. To date, Stephen King has authored 27 novels and numerous other collections of short stories (www.stephenking.com).
At the point at which Different Seasons was published in 1982, King had written seven complete novels, all of which had been bestsellers. All of the novels had also been tales of horror so terrifying and gruesome in their details, that King's popular rea
dership had at once proclaimed him the "Master of Horror" and hungrily clamored for more. Thus, right on the heels of Cujo, his tale of a rabid dog's murderous rampage, King submitted Different Seasons for publication.
Different Seasons was unlike any other book that Stephen King had written up until that time. To start with, Different Seasons was not one book, but four, four novellas written over the course of seven years. Each short novel had been written after the
completion of four of King's earlier novels. The Body, Apt Pupil, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, and The Breathing Method were respectively written in the months following Salem's Lot, The Shining, The Dead Zone, and Firestarter. King himself d
escribed the experiences in the following way, "?It was as if I always finished the big job with just enough gas left in the tank to blow off one good-sized novella" (King, 522). The other major difference between Different Seasons and King's previous wo
rk was the fact that Different Seasons represented a body of writing which was fundamentally outside of his typical horror domain.
Whereas King's seven previous novels triumphed as horror masterpieces, Different Seasons was fundamentally a book of slightly more mundane fiction. Given the stark contrasts between Different Seasons and Stephen King's previous works, it seems appropriat
e to assume that a fundamentally different force was responsible for the bestseller status which Different Seasons did, in fact, achieve. Different Seasons was the number seven bestseller in 1982. In analyzing both the critical and popular reception of
the novella collection, the single unifying factor seems to be curiosity. Curiosity concerning the book's unique format, its possible big screen potential, and King's attempt at non-horror fiction all played key roles in garnering a widespread readership
for Different Seasons. What follows explores these three contributing factors in greater detail.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the serial publication of short stories and novellas was fairly common. Collier's, The American Mercury, and the Saturday Evening Post all featured both short and long fiction as a staple amidst their pages. Stephen King himself
remembers his childhood anticipation of the Post's Ray Bradbury serials in his Afterword to Different Seasons saying, "When the postman finally did show up, walking briskly with his leather bag over his shoulder, dressed in his summer-issue shorts and wea
ring his summer-issue sun helmet, I'd meet him at the end of the walk, dancing from one foot to the other as if I badly needed to go the bathroom; my heart in my throat" (King 524). In 1982, no such outlets for shorter fiction existed.
King envisions the novella as an author's equivalent of no-man's-land. Amidst the realm of 25,000 to 35,000 words there exists, in King's opinion, the somewhat awkward hybrid of the novel and the short story. Too long for publication in the fantasy and
science fiction magazines of 1982, King opted to combine his four oddball fictional babies into a collection totaling almost 530 pages, Different Seasons.
For Stephen King, the publication of a collection of shorter stories, or novellas, was a new experience in 1982. It was also a new experience for his readership, the millions dedicated to his long, and complex tales of horror. In 1982, King had yet to p
ublish the horror collections such as the Bachman Books, which later became a staple of his fictional offering. Thus, it would seem that curiosity concerning King's submission of a collection of four novellas in place of one novel might have induced read
ers to purchase a copy of Different Seasons.
It has already been mentioned that seven best-selling novels preceded the publication of Different Seasons. What has not been mentioned is the fact that each and every one of those seven novels was later turned into a major motion picture. Even the most
casual film aficionado would recognize the list of titles, which reads like a top ten list of horror film classics: Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Shining, The Stand, The Dead Zone, Firestarter, and Cujo. Stephen King's readership had a thirst for his stories
that even his prolific writing couldn't sate. Audiences hungered to see his stories splashed across the screen in garish color and that is what they got. It could even be argued that King's readers came to expect that sooner or later a film version of
his latest novel would hit the big screen. This expectation and curiosity concerning what they might expect to see in theaters may also have played a significant role in the success of Different Seasons. Indeed, Different Seasons has made it, at least p
artially onto the big screen. Three of the four novellas in the book have been made into major motion pictures.
Because of the absolute accuracy with which Stephen King's stories were translated onto film, his books acted as a sort of two-dimensional trailer for his films. This was definitely true for Stand By Me, the first movie to be scripted from one of Differe
nt Seasons' novellas. Stand By Me, a screen adaptation of The Body, was directed by Rob Reiner and released by Columbia Pictures in 1986. The film featured a quartet of young, but up-and-coming actors: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerr
y O'Connell (www.imdb.com). The young stars' success in portraying King's protagonists earned the film the accolade of numerous film critics and also brought King a great degree of recognition for his adaptability to different genres.
The second film to come out of Different Seasons first hit the silver screen in 1994, some 12 years after the book's initial publication. The Shawshank Redemption, the film adaptation of the novella of the same name, featured veteran actors Tim Robbins a
nd Morgan Freeman in the lead roles (www.imdb.com). So long after the release of King's collection of short stories, few moviegoers recognized his hand in the subtle dialog and non-horror writing of the Shawshank Redemption. In fact, the text attributin
g the story to Stephen King does not appear until the very end of the film's closing credits, and then only in the most minute print. This, despite the fact that the film replicates the actions and dialogue of his writing almost scene by scene and word b
y word. The film enjoyed unprecedented success as a sleeper hit in movie theaters.
The final and most recent screen adaptation of a Different Seasons novella came with the Phoenix Pictures release of Apt Pupil in 1998. Of the three movies Apt Pupil fails most noticeably in its ability to honestly reproduce Stephen King's story. The fi
lm, which features well-known actors Brad Renfro, Ian McKellen, and David Schwimmer, mercilessly condenses King's taut thriller into a most forgettable bit of film history (www.imdb.com). It might be argued that the novella, some 166 pages, the longest o
f the Different Seasons quartet, defies replication in a 90-minute format. Historically, other King-inspired films have encountered similar replication problems.
The final, and perhaps most significant example of Different Seasons' curiosity draw pertains to the book's status as King's first official foray into the realm of non-horror fiction. Since Different Seasons, King has authored numerous books of fiction t
hat defy the horror classification, but the one published in 1982 caught both the critics and the readers off guard. In his Afterword, Stephen King recalls that even his editor at the time, Alan Williams was somewhat skeptical of his plan to write four "
sort of ordinary stories" under the title of Different Seasons "Just so people will get the idea that it's not about vampires or haunted hotels or anything like that" (King, 526). Williams, as King recalls, meekly suggested that King include something of
a "similar season" in order to appease King's loyal following. King agreed, and consequently the last of the four novellas, The Breathing Method, has a slightly stronger tinge of the macabre. Undoubtedly, fan curiosity about a "sort of ordinary" story
from King played a large role in the book's tremendous sales.
In critiquing Different Seasons, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times describes the book in the following terms, "Mr. King seems concerned about being trapped or stuck? one can't help suspecting that the author's sense of entrapment involves at
least in part his being a writer of horror stories. This suspicion is reinforced by Mr. King's somewhat self-conscious Afterword, in which he explains how the stories in ?Different Seasons' came to be written, and betrays considerable ambivalence over b
eing ?typed' as a horror writer. In a sense, then, the very act of writing these stories is a rite of passage from a tight place?" (Lehmann-Haupt, C22) Lehmann-Haupt's allusion to Different Seasons as a "rite of passage" for King hints at a metaphor tha
t is central to both the theme of Different Seasons' novellas and King's first foray into non-horror fiction. Within each of the book's four stories, embedded sometimes not all that deep below the surface, is a story of escape and transformation, King's
own story of the need for change and the escape from one genre of writing.
In the tale of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption the metaphor is unmistakable. The story, which is ultimately the tale of an elaborate prison break, concludes with an escape through a sewage pipe that lands the hero as a free man and a respected cit
izen of the outside world. The imagery is strongly evocative of King's own self-visualization, that of a man, once trapped, who must slug it out through the slime and ooze of his own horror stories in order to emerge as a respected writer.
The novella Apt Pupil can be read not only as the story of a 12 year-old boy (coincidentally, the same age that King was when he published his first horror story) who becomes obsessed with the stories of a local ex-Nazi, but also as King's own unapologeti
c reasoning behind his own captivation with the darker side of humanity. Through the young boy, Todd Bowden, King seems to make the assertion that the macabre can become an infectious sort of obsession. The macabre, King seems to say, can be a hobby tha
t is just as captivating, if somewhat more terrifying, as reading comic books or shooting bb guns.
Barbara A. Bannon of Publishers Weekly spoke of King's novella, The Body in the following terms, "One, ?The Body' is semiautobiographical and might be called King's ?American Graffiti,'" (Bannon, 64). The Body is indeed somewhat of an autobiography for K
ing. The story, one of the adolescent rites of passage, details one summer's adventure for a quartet of 12 year-olds. The story does take place in King's home state of Maine, but more significant than that is the fact that the narrator of the story, one
of the four boys, is a writer. With The Body, King seems to be telling his audience that he is a person too, not just a horror writer, but a writer plain and simple.
In the last of Different Seasons' four novellas, The Breathing Method, all of King's previous assertions of triumph over his ?type' seem to be called into question. The Breathing Method is the only one of the four novellas that incorporates the "gooshy p
arts" as King calls them, in this case bloody premonitions and decapitation. This last story, whether King is conscious of it or not, seems to indicate that he will forever be tied to the horror genre. It would seem, at least according to the ease with
which he capitulated to his editor's suggestion for a "similar season", that Stephen King does not entirely begrudge being a horror writer no matter how much he may strain against the genre's walls.
Curiosity played a significant part in the popular draw of Different Seasons. The new format and the tradition of film adaptations coupled with King's first attempt at mainstream fiction seems to have been a strong enough lure to capture the adoration an
d praise of many readers of Different Seasons, but what of his subsequent writing. King continues, to this day, to be a best-selling author. The reason surely cannot be just curiosity. No, Different Seasons seems to be the exception to the tradition of
King's popular reception. King's popular acclaim might best be described by the inscription that appears amidst the pages of The Breathing Method, "It is the tale, not he who tells it." For Stephen King, it will always be the stories that fire the imag
inations of his readers.
Bannon, Barbara A. Publishers Weekly: June 18, 1982.
King, Stephen. Different Seasons. New York, NY: Viking Press, 1982.
Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. The New York Times: August 11, 1982.
The International Movie Data Base: www.imdb.com.
The Stephen King Home Page: www.stephenking.com.