Rugby and Stephen King

10 November 2001

Fox Sports World keeps showing the same rugby match over and over again. For the past week, I’ve been trying to tune in to watch some more rugby. I want to learn more about the sport. I want to try to determine when a ruck occurs and when a scrum occurs. I want to determine why and where a team has to be on-sides. The sport is fascinating its foreign-ness: similar to football and soccer, but sufficiently different to be something completely original. It’s not gratuitously brutal like football, and seems to have some depth to it.

But whenever I fire up the digital cable box and jump to channel 107, the only rugby game I can find is the NLC match between Canterbury and Otago that must have been played weeks ago. I always seem to find the game at about the eighteen minute mark, about the time that one of the Canterbury players becomes enraged at an Otago player and lays into him with his fists, pummeling him to the ground. The score is tied 3-3, but I know that by half-time Otago will hold a 16-6 lead, despite being the underdogs.

“Don’t get too cocky!” I want to shout. “Stay sharp!”

I know that the second half is a long and painful one for the men in the blue shirts. Canterbury comes out and dominates, moving the ball at will. I don’t recall the final score, but I think that Otago gets only another try, but Canterbury gets nearly 30 points in the final half.

“Watch your backs!”

I really want to see another game, though, not Canterbury vs. Otago again.


As I read Stephen King, I am again struck by how effortless he makes it seem.

King doesn’t write well, in a technical sense, but he doesn’t write poorly, either. His writing is serviceable, and in fact lives to service the story. It’s his story-telling that enchants the reader, dulls the outside world.

I’ve heard that a movie is well-directed if the viewer is unaware of the direction. Maybe the same is true with writing. Maybe a book is well-written if you don’t notice how it is written (technically). I’d like for it not to be so — I dearly love the work of Ursula LeGuin, and books like Cold Mountain and As I Lay Dying, books in which the writing is obvious, is part of the story, is a feature that cannot be ignored.

With King, though, you don’t notice the writing. You swallow the story effortlessly. You consume it. You sit down to read a few pages and when you look up, an hour has passed. Where did the time go? How many pages did you read? What’s going on around you? You note that you’ve read seventy pages. Seventy pages in an hour? That’s impossible; you don’t read that quickly! Oh crap — didn’t you put the tea kettle on? Damn! It must be dry by now. (A whistle-less kettle seemed like a good idea at the time, didn’t it?) How could you forget about that? And why is it dark already?

Several times, Kris and I have tried comparing Stephen King to Charles Dickens. Dickens was immensely popular in his day, both in England and in the United States. The masses loved his novels. For the most part, his stories dealt with every day life, every day concerns. They were populated by distinct characters and propelled by compelling stories. King’s work is nearly identical in these regards: popular, based in the every day, with strong characters in strong stories.

Admittedly, the two authors differ in objective and tone, but that’s not necessarily a strike against either one of them. Critics often deride King’s books as lacking merit, as being fluff. I used to join the chorus, denouncing King as a hack churning out one piece of junk after another. I’ve had to change my position after actually reading him, of course. In particular, his recent work has become something greater than what he once produced. His stories acquired greater depth, as if he were consciously attempting to add resonance. Is there symbolism in his work yet? Perhaps not, but not all great work needs symbolism (and some would be better without it).

One hundred years after his death, Dickens is firmly ensconced in the English canon. In fact, he’s generally elevated into the upper echelon of English writers, resting at the feat of Shakespeare. Will King ever attain such heights? I doubt it. But I suspect that one hundred years from now, his place in the canon will be more firmly established than we can possibly imagine: greater than Lovecraft (who, honestly, does not even near the canon), greater than Poe — King will be recognized as the greatest author of supernatural that ever lived.

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