Rebecca's Reviews > Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre by Stephen King
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Feb 24, 12

bookshelves: non-fiction, horror-and-supernatural, literary-criticism
Read from February 07 to 24, 2012

Based on the writing style alone, Danse Macabre would easily merit a 4 star rating. 2012 marks a decade since I read my first Stephen King book, and in-between I have read almost everything he has published to date; and I have always been struck by how conversational and somehow intimate the introductions and author's notes to his books feel, even the ones that were written many years ago (and in some cases, before I was born). Basically, Danse Macabre is one of those author's notes extended to novel-length, and I mean that as a very positive thing. It's hardly an academic text (this is pointed out by King himself a number of times throughout the book, and is something he flatly refuses to apologise for): the opinions within are largely King's own and there is no assumption that the reader will agree with everything he says. It's a fun, interesting and unpretentious examination of the horror genre taken from the point of view of one of its most significant modern contributors - and, amongst other things, it's packed with book and film recommendations that I doubt any devoted horror fan will be able to resist following up on after they finish reading. As long as you are a fan of Stephen King's writing - and I really think this is the only requirement if you're going to enjoy this book - getting a brief insight into what influences and inspires his work, or even just strikes him as a particularly good example of a horror story done well, means that whether you personally agree or disagree with his opinions is very much beside the point.

However, for me this book pretty much hit its own personal glass ceiling at a 3 star rating, for a reason that is in no way King's fault, but nevertheless impacted hugely on my reading of it. Put bluntly, Danse Macabre is very much bound up in its own time, and has not aged as well as King's fiction has. Coming to this book thirty-one years after its original publication can feel more like reading a history text than a literary and cultural commentary. This does not in itself, of course, degrade the contents of the book, but the immediacy with which King approaches his contemporary material is hard to re-create as you read so long after the fact. I must point out that in most cases the effect of so much hindsight on the part of the reader is not so much to make you roll your eyes as to giggle out loud - King's confident assertion that The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the enemy of 'real' sci-fi/fantasy/horror fans springs to mind (today liking that film is almost mandatory for admission into my university's SciFi&Fantasy Society). It's also interesting to read King's opinions on his own works back when he had only published four novels and one short story collection (I estimate that to be roughly 8% of his prolific output to date) - and inadvertent hilarity ensues when he is accused by some critics of already having written too much. So I state again emphatically that it's not King's fault that this book feels limited to a present-day reader - and indeed the whole time I was reading this book I had one thought in the back of my mind: might he one day do a follow-up? I'd love to hear, for example, whether his opinion that horror cannot be done well on TV - and that the only way to get close is with an anthology show, not a continuing story arc - still holds in a world that has now seen the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, American Gothic and its younger relative American Horror Story, to name but a few. Danse Macabre covers, roughly, the thirty years between 1950-1980... now that roughly the same amount of time has passed since its publication, can we hope that Stephen King will be inclined to revisit and revise his treatise on the state of the art of horror fiction? As his fans, we can but hope.
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