Darker Shapes, Bloodier Sheets

A Review of Stephen Spignesi's The Lost Work of Stephen King


Have you ever wondered if there was anything more to The Shining than meets the eye? Or what King thought about his first experiences playing with the band The Rock Bottom Remainders? Or if King ever collaborated with anyone else before he teamed up with Peter Straub to write The Talisman?

Well say hallelujah, folks, because all your questions – and more – have been answered in Stephen J. Spignesi’s newest, The Lost Work of Stephen King: A Guide to Unpublished Manuscripts, Story Fragments, Alternative Versions, and Oddities. This book finally lets us see the hidden works outside the general King mainstream; the stories, articles, and screenplays (and “oddities”) that have yet to be borne unto the masses. In this fact-packed reference guide, Spignesi lets us in on some of the more difficult-to-find works in the shadows of one of the most prolific writers of all time. And he does it with style.

Each chapter is designed the same, headed off with a factoid about “What it [the story or article] is” and your “chances of getting a copy,” followed by a brief overview of the work, concluding with its publishing history. This setup is refreshing for those who had to wade through pages upon pages of detailed analyses in Tyson Blue’s 1989 book The Unseen King. Blue also grouped the works by subject (“The Early Uncollected Short Stories,” et cetera), making that book difficult to thumb through for facts.

The works in Spignesi’s book are covered chronologically, from 1956 through 1998, each listed individually in the Table of Contents. They include King’s very early attempts at fiction (stories like “Jhonathan and the Witchs” and “The Killer”), articles on such diverse subject matter as King’s first car and the assassination of John Lennon, and an odd, one-minute stage play entitled “An Evening at God’s.” King’s prelude to The Shining, the five-act “Before the Play” is discussed, as are the completed, unpublished novels “Blaze,” “The Aftermath,” and “Sword in the Darkness.” Perhaps most interesting is the very detailed chapter on King’s college newspaper column, “King’s Garbage Truck.” Spignesi gives the publication date, first line, and detailed synopsis of every column, extremely interesting to those who wonder what King thought about as a young man. One wishes Spignesi had included the first line to all the Lost Works, as those given in the “Garbage Truck” section proved quite fascinating. As an added bonus, Spignesi has capped off the book with a quick reference guide to all of King’s mainstream published work, starting with his first Doubleday novel Carrie and continuing through King’s current contract with Simon & Schuster.

How important is this book? Very. By uncovering stories like “The Killer,” we are able to understand some of the motivations behind King’s “evil machines” stories like Christine or “Trucks.” The long section covering Slade, a comic Western King wrote in college, provides an early look at King’s continuing fascination with The Dark Tower. And by revealing some of the difficult-to-find, completely uncollected nonfiction, we are able to glean King’s true thoughts on the world around him without the shield of fiction on them.

As with his previous books on King, The Stephen King Quiz Book 1 & 2, and The Shape Under the Sheet: The Complete Stephen King Encyclopedia, Stephen Spignesi transcends form. Meant mainly as a guidebook, The Lost Work of Stephen King becomes truly engaging, fascinating enough to read cover to cover, like a novel. Spignesi’s voice, as always, is inviting and doesn’t talk down to his readers. It’s darn hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm – it’s easy to tell he loves what he writes about, and he’ll do his best to make you love it just as much.

Accessible enough for the casual reader yet pertinent enough for the King expert, The Lost Work of Stephen King is a must for every King fan. Go ahead, buy it. You know you want to.