Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Nightmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King (1993)
Nightmares and Dreamscapes is Stephen King's third and, to date, largest collection of short pieces by about 100,000 words. If it weren't for King forgetting that "The Cat from Hell" had not been collected, Nightmares and Dreamscapes would have completely cleared King's published back catalogue of stories he intended to collect.
Yes, Virginia, there are published King stories that have never been collected because King thought they sucked, from the 1960's to the 1980's. "The Cat from Hell" (adapted in Tales from the Darkside: The Movie) would finally appear in 2008's collection of otherwise recent stories, Just After Sunset. But other than that accidental omission, King's two collections after this one contain material published after 1993.
Besides being the longest of King's collections, this is also the broadest by about four genres and one non-fiction essay about King's son Owen's Little League baseball team. King was a much more nuanced writer by 1993 than he was earlier in his career, and that generally shows up in places like that excellent baseball essay, mainstream pieces that include "My Pretty Pony", straight-ahead suspense stories such as "Dolan's Cadillac," and homages to hardboiled detective fiction ("Umney's Last Case") and Sherlock Holmes ("The Doctor's Case"). There's also a nifty Cthulhu Mythos story from 1980, "Crouch End."
Where the collection falls down is in the area of horror. The best pure horror story here is the earliest story in the book -- "Suffer the Little Children", from the late 1960's, is a marvelously nasty story. "Chattery Teeth," from the 1990's, is a fun mirror-image of the much-superior "The Monkey" (collected in Skeleton Crew). "The Moving Finger" and "Rainy Season" are both enjoyable duds as horror, with concepts that are simply way too over-used, or that are much funnier than they are scary. "The Night Flier" and "Popsy" are both pretty terrible, vampire stories without any bite.
King's career really is interesting if one now takes completely seriously the concept that the gigantic 1986 horror novel It really did represent King's summation of his fictional concern with horror. There hasn't been much straight horror since, and much of what there has been has been awfully scattershot.
King's best post-It long work of horror fiction, The Library Policeman, is itself essentially a condensed retelling of It. He may always be a horror writer in the popular imagination, but I don't think King's best work has been in horror for decades. In any case, this is a solid collection. Maybe too solid. It's thick as a brick. Recommended.