The Author Is the Story

Misery Chastain cannot be dead!”

Kubrick header image [edit]

In this latest Pollak Library Blog article, Samuel T Barber focuses on stories where authors lie at the very heart of the narrative. As a result, the author and their writing processes themselves become integral parts of the wider story, often with devastating effect.

The Shining (novel: Steven King, 1977; movie: Stanley Kubrick, director, 1980)

Author and recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance seeks peace and tranquility as a means to concentrate on resurrecting his writing career. A winter off-season caretaker job at the remote Overlook Hotel in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains seems to provide the perfect solution of calmness and solitude, free from life’s distractions.

Unfortunately for Jack, his wife and young son, we learn that a previous caretaker – Charles Grady – developed cabin fever and massacred his family, merely pointing to similar foreboding in the future. Ghostly spirits haunt the cavernous hotel, with the mysterious Room 237 an apparent epicenter of evil.

As Jack’s mental health deteriorates, his wife Wendy discovers the sum total of his months of painstaking creative endeavor: page after page of the repeatedly typed phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.

Kubrick body image

Image source: Author’s archive, captured at the Kubrick exhibition (LACMA, May 2013)

Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (written and directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 2014)

Haunted by past glories that serve only to confirm just how far his star has fallen, Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson seeks one last attempt at artistic redemption. He writes, directs and stars in an upcoming Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Iñárritu’s chiefly single-shot cinematic treatment of the movie creates a hyper-realism which contrasts starkly with Thomson’s near-super powers of levitation and telekinesis. After all, he previously ‘was’ the super-hero Birdman.

As the play’s gestation develops through chaotic rehearsals, an on-set ‘accident’ which leads to a last-minute cast replacement, a disastrous preview performance and the promise from a leading critic to “kill” his play, Thomson’s prospects for a successful comeback are looking bleak.

Seeking to make one final artistic statement to ensure he will be “respected and validated,” Riggan Thomson replaces a prop gun with a real firearm and shoots himself at the play’s climax. The unexpectedly positive consequences perhaps tell us that – even in times of darkness – light can somehow still prevail…

Misery (novel: Stephen King, 1987; movie: Rob Reiner, director, 1990)

Stephen King’s 1987 novel and its subsequent movie adaptation offer a stark glimpse into the darker side of fanatic adulation. Successful romance novelist Paul Sheldon is initially thankful for the “miracle” that led nurse Annie Wilkes to discover his wrecked car, rescue the author and nurture his recovery to health.

Unfortunately, Sheldon soon discovers his self-professed “number one fan” is in fact utterly obsessed with both the author and his fictional characters. Her anger at discovering the death of the character Misery Chastain in Sheldon’s unpublished manuscript leads to an enforced re-writing of the story, with ever-increasingly cruel punishments for failing to satisfy Wilkes’ onerous demands as a reader.

It becomes clear the author is physically imprisoned in his own misery and his hopes of freedom appear increasingly forlorn. A glimpse into King’s own thoughts on a writer’s ‘imprisonment’ as dictated by the demands and expectations of their own readership, perhaps?

References

Carver, Raymond (1981). What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories – Book

Available: 3rd Floor North PS3553.A7894 W4 1981

King, Stephen (1987). Misery – Book

Available: 3rd Floor North PS3561.I483 M5 1987

Kubrick, Stanley [2007]. The Shining – DVD.

Available: Circulation/DVD PN1997 .S4766 2007

Luckhurst, Roger (2013). The Shining – British Film Institute book.

Available: 3rd Floor North PN1997.S475 L83 2013

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