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Fairy Tale by Stephen King

15th January, 2023.

(The podcast version and shorter video version of this review are on this page. You can find the links to listen on Apple, Spotify, Amazon at the bottom of this page - you can also search on your usual podcast platforms.)

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

For me, the prospect of a new Stephen King book to immerse myself in is a proper treat - and Fairy Tale provided a vivid, thrilling, surprising, and enormously fun new world to live in.

Has Stephen King written a YA novel?

I reckon I can make that argument via some connections to Stranger Things and Hunger Games - and I also think I have a good suggestion for who would be the ideal film director for Stephen King.

Let's start with the title -. I do love a Ronseal title.

For the first part of the book, you might be forgiven for mumbling a tad bitterly “where’s my fairytale?” but like a number of recent King stories, things take a turn. I have to say, I’m a fan of this format - a bit like those songs that start all fluffy acoustic and then kick in with a drum beat and chunky guitar riff.

We get some of the tropes we might be expecting with a troubled upbringing for a child protagonist who fills out into a suitable hero as a teenage boy. Charlie Reade is a successful High school athlete struggling along with his recovering alcoholic of a dad in the small town of Sentry’s Rest in Illinois. We get a lot of detail about his childhood and hints about how he got up to no good as a kid when he was largely left to his own devices; and how a love of stories and books played a part in focusing him on more positive pursuits.

World building and whodunnit.

Even when we get to the haunted house (or is it?) bit of the narrative, King still takes his time to really sketch out the mysterious and possibly dangerous owner of the house Mr Bowditch and his rumoured Cujo type dog. But it is never a drag. King focuses on the story giving us all the info’ we need about Charlie and it clips along dropping enough gold nuggets to act as an enticing trail to follow.  I really don’t get how I sometimes see someone dismissed as a “storyteller” as if that means they can't also be a great writer.  Often “an economical style” isused as an insult, whereas it appeals to me as a compliment . That ability to expertly craft thenarrative to give you all the information you need whilst making it exciting to read without relying on stylistic flourishes.  That isn't to say that Fairy Tale isn't full of clever turns of phraseor interesting prose - it does.

 

I properly enjoyed King’s recent detective series (starring with Mr Mercedes) and here again King shows his credentials as a mystery writer who would surely be a dab hand at knocking out a whodunnit series. We get a string of questions to ponder and get us involved. Why is the shed at Mr Bowditch’s locked? And what are those noises coming from it? How does he afford this big old house and what did he used to do? Will Charlie’s past resurface?

 

In a satisfying fashion the answers lead to more questions and then the world is turned upside down with a quick sequence of events from an accident, to a mission, to a fatal encounter that leave Charlie with a defining choice to make. I don’t want to be too much of aspoiler so I’ll just say that there is adventure, fantasy, mystery, and a smidge or two of classic King horror.

 

It also gets bonus points for the abundance of animals that play a leading role. I mean, sure, a dog is pretty standard in a film or book; even the butterfly symbolism is not uncommon - but full marks for a starring role going to a cricket. He certainly helps Charlie become a real boy.

 

In fact, the natural world plays a significant role in this most unnatural of stories. There is much discussion and fear of humanity’s impact on the world and the horrors caused by a greed for resources. There is even an affliction that has decimated a population and keeps people separated and largely living in their own homes. It’s not hard to see where the inspiration came for a novel written during the height of the pandemic.

 

For me, the prospect of a new Stephen King book to immerse myself in is a proper treat - and Fairy Tale provided a vivid, thrilling, surprising, and enormously fun new world to live in.

So why do i think this is a YA novel?

So why do I think this is YA novel? Aside from the teenage main character, there is the coming of age quest, the battle with authority figures and a clear sense of struggling with what is “right.” There are some overlapping themes with Stranger Things in terms of the dark tone and battling a monster that may or may not have been conjured from imagination. Although, to be fair, Fairy Tale doesn't have some of the whimsical humour of Stranger Things.

 

In the final third there is a hint of Hunger Games and elements of the quest reminded me of the Maze Runner.  It would be quite a neat reversal if King had been inspired by Stranger Things - a show he has been a loud fan of - which had taken inspiration from Stephen King…

Let’s face it, King is no stranger to this genre and although his flavour may have been dark with Firestarter, IT, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and The Institute, he has never been shy about putting minors in mortal peril and challenging to grow up at the same time as trying to stay alive. Which brings me to my last point - surely the ideal director for King’s work is also someone else who has a track record with letting teens and children take the lead role, and is adept at putting time in peril and confronting them with the challenges of parents, monsters and growing up? Yes, Steven Spielberg. I mean, Fairy Tale even features the lead on a bike so the connecting threads are complete…aren't they?

On yer bike: Stranger Things, Goonies, ET
On yer bike: Stranger Things, Goonies, ET

Big screen adaptation and biscuit rating.

So it’s a little underwhelming to find out that although Fairy Tale is being adapted into a film,it isn’t Spielberg who’ll be directing, but Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy, Bourne Ultimatum, Green Zone, News of the World) instead. Perhaps the bigger surprise is that they’re going to try and cram into a single film rather than a TV series.

 

Maybe you’re coming to this with the briefest knowledge of Stephen King’s most famous works and have him neatly field away as horror. If so, this is the ideal book to reintroduce yourself and get acquainted with modern Stephen King.

 

Biscuit rating: Border classic selection:

Top quality all round and with a variety that you want to take your with and luxuriate in.

 

My next review will be The Coming Storm podcast series - a deep dive into the background of the Capitol Hill riots of January 6th and the links stretching from our the British government, to the Witch Trials, to conspiray theories online. Next review is The Power by Naomi Aldernman. But time now for a brew, and maybe a biccie. Until next time, ta-ra.

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