Different Seasons, by Stephen King (1982, Occult) collects four of King’s stories, including Hope springs eternal: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and Fall from innocence: The Body.
On the volume’s publication, a reviewer scathingly condemned Stephen King’s Different Seasons: “It will take all of King’s monumental byline-insurance to drum up an audience for this bottom-of-the-trunk collection: four overpadded novellas, in non-horror genres” (Kirkus Reviews, 1 August, 1982). He or she didn’t know three of the four stories would in time be transformed into major motion pictures. Two of the movies would become classics, loved by millions and watched over and over again: The Shawshank Redemption, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, and Stand by Me, featuring four budding young actors including the brilliant but ill-fated River Phoenix.
I tend to steer clear of horror/supernatural fiction and Stephen King’s slick production line in particular. The standard of his writing (as well as the laughable subject matter) often suffer criticism. But King in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and The Body doesn’t go anywhere near his usual stamping ground. The novellas are a revelation.
Shawshank tells the story of the prison years and eventual escape of a young man condemned to life imprisonment for two murders he didn’t commit. In The Body, four 12-year-old boys in a country town go on an extended adventure together along a railway track. King’s first-person narration is inspired. The bemused narrator in Shawshank who brings the story to life and makes it entertaining is ‘Red,’ an Irish lifer. The Body is narrated in nostalgic retrospect by Gordie, one of the gang of four boys, who grows up to become a writer.
The tales are minor masterpieces, whatever their faults. Some of my favourite images: Chopper in The Body was “the meanest dog for forty miles around… and ugly enough to stop a striking clock.” Chris’s voice in a poignant moment “came out of his throat like a handful of dry bristles from an old whisk broom.” King can create magic after all. “You always know the truth, because when you cut yourself or someone else with it, you bleed” (The Body). Stories that reveal flashes of gems like that are worth reading.
If you’re a fan of The Shawshank Redemption as I have been for many years, be prepared for a few surprises. Andy Dufresne (played by a youthful Tim Robbins throughout the movie) is actually older than Red (Morgan Freeman), and Red is a young white Irishman. Andy as depicted by King is “a short neat little man with sandy hair and small, clever hands,” not tall and imposing like Robbins, and he is 60 years old by the time he escapes Shawshank. Vern and Chris are far too nice in Stand by Me — they come from families of thugs. And, in The Body, it is Chris who aims the gun, not Gordie. The movie director got it wrong. Stephen King in his masterly way had it right.
Both the movies are beguiling and unforgettable. But the stories in King’s Different Seasons, whatever faults one might find, are the caves full of buried treasure from which the screen classics emerged.
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