(May 11 – May 23)

It seems Stephen King is such a powerhouse writer that he routinely churns out novellas while ‘resting’ during his novel-writing process. Just imagine writing something like The Stand, and then also churning out the novella that spawned The Shawshank Redemption while taking the authorial equivalent of a tea break. Yes, I agree: it really is enough to make you sick.

Different Seasons is King’s first novella anthology, and it comes at the tail end of phase when he had become a legitimate blockbuster-bestselling author; during which he had released a series of books that broadened the perception of him as a ‘mere’ horror writer—and Different Seasons properly cemented the understanding that King had more than just horror to string his bow with.

Nevertheless, Different Seasons does have some subtle little connections to the rest of his work. The Body, for instance, takes place in Castle Rock, and we even get mention of the unfortunate Sheriff Bannerman and Cujo. On a more subtle level, it’s easy to see the origins of It in The Body—a story that revolves around a close-knit group of young children learning to face up to their mortality and other terrors.

While I’ve opted not to reread King’s short story collections at this time (I will get to them however, as his short stories are some of my favourites) his ability to write comfortably beyond the horror genre is well established in those collections. Still, without that piece of the puzzle, reading something like Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption (to give the story its full title) comes as a bit of an eye-opener. Beyond the expected horrors of prison-life, the novella is nothing like [the novels] King has published before; it’s a reflective piece about hope. It’s what snobby reviewers would probably call ‘proper writing’. The same goes for The Body, a lovely, almost poetic tribute to a forgotten youth.

King circles closer to expectations with the other two stories. Apt Pupil is a genuinely horrifying tale of youth gone wrong with almost no hope mixed into its putty—a sharp contrast to Shawshank and The Body. The final story, The Breathing Method, is something of an outlier (even though thematic links can be drawn) and is probably so because by all accounts it was added in simply to round the collection up to four novellas (and thus justify the ‘seasons’ being in the title).

I’ll discuss more below, but I enjoyed all four of these tales: some far more than I expected to.

The Adaptations

There are three movies that spawned from this collection. Apt Pupil is the only one I’ve not seen: apparently it was a big bomb, and I don’t rate Bryan Singer in any way so I won’t be checking it out any time.

By contrast, The Shawshank Redemption is arguably one of the most perfect examples of cinema you can get, and is a film I absolutely love. While Frank Darabont did make a few changes for his adaptation (mostly character streamlining such as having a single Warden for the duration of the movie, and making Hadley and Bogs more present as villains) it’s amazing how close the film hews to the book. A lot of the dialogue is taken word for word; many scenes play out exactly as they do in the novella. However, despite the subtlety of the changes, Darabont brings some magic to his adaptation. The novella is good, but the movie transforms it into something wonderful.

There’s a similar magic at play with Stand By Me (renamed from The Body so cinemagoers wouldn’t think they were about to watch a horror movie). I watched it again, just prior to writing this blog post, and it’s remarkably faithful to the source material. It’s not a film I would in any way rank among my favourites, but it’s a good watch and it would probably make for quite a nice double bill with Shawshank.

The Reading

I went into Different Seasons with some preconceptions. Of the four novellas, Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption is the only one I’ve read in recent years. I expected that one to be my clear favourite, followed by The Body. Of the other two I expected to enjoy Apt Pupil the least, and The Breathing Method to be of passing entertainment.

Turns out my limited recall of those last two stories meant they were the most interesting to rediscover. Apt Pupil had whole sections of narrative that I’d completely forgotten about, while The Breathing Method came wrapped in a pretty cool framing device (of which I’m keen to read more).

Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption remained as good as ever, but I have to admit (perhaps sacrilegious) that the film version is easily my favourite telling of this story. Meanwhile, The Body was a perfectly good read but didn’t engage me in any revelatory sort of a way. It’s a nice tale which spawned an equally nice film.

Up next: what’s red and goes vroom-vroom and probably wants to kill you?