By Andrea Tomkins –
Many of us have probably read a Stephen King novel or two, but a local resident and “super fan” is offering the opportunity to examine the political motivations behind Stephen King’s work with a two-hour session at the Westboro Brainery on October 27.
The Westboro Brainery, supported by the Dovercourt Recreation Centre, was originally inspired by the Brooklyn Brainery and the Rochester Brainery in the United States. The Brainery facilitates short and inexpensive workshops on a unique range of subjects usually not found anywhere else in Ottawa.
Bob LeDrew is a little shy about calling himself a Stephen King “expert,” but he admits he might know a bit more about the author than the average person.
LeDrew is a local writer, broadcaster, teacher, and communications professional. For the past 4 ½ years he has produced a weekly Stephen King podcast called The King Cast.
LeDrew estimates he’s done 80 hours worth of podcasting about King. (The full archive of episodes is available on his website at thekingcast.ca.)
“I’m trying to thread this needle between fandom and criticism,” says LeDrew of his podcast. “It’s informed, enthusiastic, criticism that doesn’t take as a given that everything that King has written is great.”
So why Stephen King? LeDrew’s interest began when he was a teenager in the 1970s.
“A lot of kids around that time… got into science fiction, fantasy, and horror. That was the case for me,” says LeDrew. His first “science fiction crush” was Ray Bradbury, especially his earlier, darker material. “He was the gateway for me,” says LeDrew. (LeDrew wrote him a fan letter and actually received a letter in response, which is now framed).
LeDrew thinks the first book he picked up of King’s was Salem’s Lot. “That’s the one that hooked me,” he says, and he still has that first copy. After Salem’s Lot, Stephen King novels became an easy Christmas gift and he slowly amassed a collection.
King’s books are not exactly considered to be high literature. LeDrew credits Elizabeth Boardmore, a university professor at what is now Cape Breton University, for encouraging a deeper look at the popular author.
“One of the things she taught me was to love literature that has a sense of place. That to me, is one of King’s great strengths,” he says.
If there’s one thing many would agree upon, it’s that King’s books are immensely readable.
“I have always felt like if you can only read a book once, it’s not much of a book… A really good book is one you can go back to multiple times and find some discovery in it,” says LeDrew.
LeDrew points out how King’s life path has in many ways mirrored the people – and the fears – of his age, the baby boomers.
“Everything [Stephen King] has done has a context, whether it’s sociological, psychological, or political. He’s a writer of his times.”
Take Firestarter for example: “It’s essentially a story about a government gone rogue, a shadow government. It’s a story about people who have great power and no accountability.”
Although Stephen King is not commonly known for his political writings, LeDrew’s session promises to provide an evocative look at a side of the author that most people do not consider.
“He’s a deeply political man who writes about stuff in a very allegorical way. If you choose to read it.”
Prep for class!
LeDrew’s session will cover the following themes:
- The Rime of the Aging Boomer
- Stephen King, from Goldwater to Hippie in four easy years
- Trust no one
- Evil versus incompetence
- The dignity of the working stiff
- The corruption of power
Workshop participants can do some advance reading (or re-reading) beforehand. Even if you aren’t signing up for the class and are new to Steven King, this reading list might be a good place to start.
An experimental drug test carried out by a secret government organization inadvertently creates a little girl with the power to start fires with her mind. ‘The Shop’ chases Andy McGee and his daughter Charly to explore the depths of her ability. But can they control what they’ve created?
An accident at a government biological weapons facility unleashes a deadly flu virus on the world. With only 0.6% of the people left, Americans begin to coalesce around two people: the 108-year-old Mother Abagail or Randall Flagg, the ‘walkin’ dude.’ These two communities form, and the powers of good and evil prepare for a final “stand.”
Hearts in Atlantis (especially “Why we’re in Vietnam”)
A sprawling and seemingly unconnected series of tales spanning decades and geography, a group of young Americans grow up, surviving the end of the 50s, the hippie movement, Vietnam, and the modern day. It’s an ambitious attempt to sum up a generation by drawing deft portraits of some of its members.
Under the Dome
A seemingly-idyllic small town in Maine is suddenly cut off from the outside world by a transparent and impenetrable dome. As the residents of Chester’s Mill come to grips with their isolation and try to understand what’s happened to them, the corruption behind the town turns savage, amoral, and venal. Their actions put the entire town in danger. Can a small group of disparate townsfolk save themselves, discover what the dome is, and lift it?
When the owner of Jake Eoping’s local diner asks for his help, the schoolteacher discovers a portal that allows travel between the present and 1958. Will he be able to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy? And what will that mean for the future?
LeDrew’s recommended pre-class film viewing includes Dead Zone, Firestarter, and The Stand.