A Tribute to Stephen King, UMaine’s Finest Son

KingsHouseWith Stephen King’s The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County coming to The Collins Center for the Arts this Saturday to kick off its national tour (as previewed by FTS’s own Matt Grondin), it seems only fitting to reflect upon King’s impact as one of the College of Our Hearts’ most storied alums. A man who has chosen to stay in the Pine Tree State when he could live anywhere in the world, King has revolutionized the “horror” genre while basing large portions of his work on Maine locales.

King is estimated to have sold 350 million books since he first published Carrie in 1974, just 4 years after graduating from the University of Maine. This puts him on the list of the top 20 best selling fiction authors of all time, among some other authors you just might have heard of such as William Shakespeare, J.K. Rowling and Dr. Seuss.

While King is first and foremost an author, the impact of his work has been multiplied many times over by the number of his books and stories that have been adapted for movies and television. A personal favorite is Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, based in a Maine prison. The film had a modest reception in theaters when it was first released in 1994, but went on to huge success on home video and cable and is now widely recognized as a classic. Don’t we all have that one Shawshank uncle who, after a few drinks, will start ranting about it being the best movie ever made as he fondly recounts the way that Andy Dufresne and Red stuck it to the warden? But what Uncle Pete probably won’t tell you is that The Shawshank Redemption is based on Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, a novella King published in 1982. Stand by Me, The Shining, Misery, The Green Mile, CBS’s Under the Dome, Cujo, and Christine are all based on King’s work, as well as the Carrie, Creepshow, and Children of the Corn movies. King has not always appreciated the manner in which his work has been adapted for the screen, and is widely reported to dislike Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of The Shining. But that has not diminished its huge commercial success.

There are Stephen King fans, something I consider myself to be. I am currently reading King’s 11/22/63 and I’ve been known to let out a “Here’s Johnny” now and again as I bust into the rooms of my fellow Cumberland Hall occupants. But then there are Stephen King superfans, bordering on the point of obsession. These include fanatics who spend entire weeks visiting Stephen King landmarks across the state of Maine and blogging about it. These landmarks include Hampden Academy, where King taught when publishing Carrie; Acadia National Park, a place he mentions in The Tommyknockers; and of course Gannett Hall, where King lived in his freshman year here at the State U.

203 Gannett Hall. The reason we know this to be King’s freshman dwelling is the weekly King’s Garbage Truck column that he wrote for The Maine Campus back in the day. In his final column as a senior in 1970, King brought readers back to when he first moved in as a freshman:
“There I was all alone in Room 203 of Gannett Hall, clean shaven, neatly dressed, and as green as apples in August. Outside on the grass between Gannett and Androscoggin Hall there were more people playing football than there were in my hometown. My few belongings looked pitifully uncollegiate. The room looked mass-produced. I was quite sure my roommate would turn out to be some kind of freak, or even worse, hopelessly more ‘With It’ than I. I propped my girl’s picture on my desk where I could look at it in the dismal days ahead, and wondered where the bathroom was.”

Ahhh Stephen…I can relate. He undoubtedly busted out a few verses of The Stein Song to cure his homesickness – a foolproof remedy for the blues for any true Black Bear. And that view of the Androscoggin, Gannett, Cumberland quad that he portrays…well that just brings a tear to my eye for it is indeed the view I wake up to every morning as well. When the sun’s shining on that green grass just right as the scent of the morning’s dew creeps into your nose…just wish Stephen and I could have enjoyed it together…each of us nursing a steamy cup of Irish Breakfast tea…him running a few story ideas by me as I give him constructive feedback….

Sorry, my bad. I snapped out of it. Whew. Anyway, Stephen King’s legacy and influence truly cannot be ignored. Not only is he inarguably our most famous alum (while we swell with pride for Nobel Peace Prize recipient Bernard Lown, he is hardly a household name), we love Stephen King for helping put the State of Maine on the map. Although none of King’s books will ever consume me with the amount of fear I experience every Sunday morning in my dorm as I push open each bathroom stall door in hopes of finding one of some mild usability, he will always be a fellow Black Bear and an immensely entertaining one at that. So fill a stein to The King this weekend and if you’re in town catch the Saturday night showing or perhaps the Sunday matinee. Because with the help of John Mellencamp, T Bone Burnett and the boys, you know he’s going to tell one hell of a story.

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