Stephen King is arguably the most successful horror writer since H. P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allen Poe. Just where did he spring up from?
Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine in 1947, but subsequently moved to Chicago, Wisconsin, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, before returning to Maine when King was eleven years old.
Despite so much moving around, when taking a look at King’s writings it is obvious that Maine has left the greatest impression on the King of Horror. He has a famously close relationship with his home state.
Stephen King’s Childhood
“Children have to grow into their imaginations like a pair of oversized shoes.” – The Shining (1977)
Though King spent some of his early years roaming around the states, most of his adolescence was spent in Durham, Maine. His mother moved there to look after her aging parents. After their deaths, she got a job in a local residential facility for the mentally challenged.
King’s mother had a huge influence on his reading habits as a child. When she couldn’t afford a babysitter, she would have King and his older brother, David, read books to each other. When she returned, she would question them on the books to make sure they’d read them.
During his formative years, King realized he had an appetite for horror, even disobeying his mother to stay up late and listen to a horror radio show called Dimension X. In a 2000 interview with NPR, he recalls his love of 1950s horror comics, and going to see horror films as a pre-teen:
“And I’m thinking about the horror comics of the 1950s, things like “Tales From The Crypt” and “The Vault Of Horror.” And at the same time, I was discovering horror movies. I usually went by myself in the afternoon to the Hi-Way Theatre in Stratford, Conn., and saw things like “I Was A Teenage Werewolf” with Michael Landon or “I Was A Teenage Frankenstein” or whatever it happened to be.”
King is also said to have witnessed a friend being struck by a train when he was four years old but seems to have repressed the memory. Some critics believe this is where some of the darkness in his works stems from.
Influence on King’s Writing
The state of Maine has had an undeniable influence on Stephen King’s writing. Most of his 60+ novels are set in Maine, and he’s even created a trio of fictional Maine towns where most of his books and short stories take place:
Derry: Most famously featured in It (1986), Insomnia (1994), and Dreamcatcher (2001).
Castle Rock: The setting for Cujo (1981), The Dark Half (1989), and Needful Things (1991).
Jerusalem’s Lot: The setting for Salem’s Lot (1975), and mentioned in The Shining (1977) and Doctor Sleep (2013).
These three towns are frequently mentioned or referenced in dozens of King’s works. He has created a fiction alternate-universe Maine where his horror novels take place.
Stephen King incorporates many of Maine’s personal characteristics into his novels, whether it be the faded, small-town feel, eerie abandoned structures, or the still, misty waters of the harbors.
The small-town feel that is native to much of Maine can be felt in settings like It’s Derry, where the town willfully ignores the deaths of multiple children every 27 years.
His experiences there as a child have proven the inspiration for his books. The one-room school he attended as a young teenager, with only four other students, provided the inspiration for his novella “The Body, which later became the 1986 film Stand By Me.
King’s Influence on Maine
Not only did Stephen King grow up in Maine, he still lives there in a house in Bangor. The house is from the 1800s, but true to form, he has added a wrought-iron gate featuring a bat and spiderweb motif.
King is actively involved in his local politics. As arguably one of the state’s most famous residents, he used his Twitter platform to pressure Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram into keeping a newspaper segment that supported local writers and books about Maine.
He has also been a vocal critic of Maine Governor Paul LePage, engaging with him in a public dispute over taxes and joking at one point that he might need to run for Governor of Maine himself.
It’s fair to say that King’s life has been shaped by where he grew up.