You know Stephen King as the master of horror, a writer whose work is synonymous with fear, and the brain behind chilling books like It, The Shining, and Pet Sematary - but what drives King to create such terrifying tales? Any Stephen King trivia buff will tell you the key to his craft can be found by looking to his childhood. King grew up with his mother and brother - his father split shortly after his birth - and his life didn’t get more peachy as he matured.
Aside from the normal hardships many single-parent families endure, King’s young life was full of horrific events that informed many of his stories. He witnessed the passing of one of his friends and lived through several other harrowing events. King has said he doesn’t believe the grim facts about his upbringing have anything to with his stories, but it’s arguable his childhood formed the basis for much of his work.
At the age of four, King was playing with a friend who lived near a railroad. Although he doesn't remember the exact circumstances, he knows he saw that friend run over by a train.
According to King, the story has stuck with him his entire life. He said:
The event occurred when I was barely four... According to Mom, I had gone off to play at a neighbor’s house - a house that was near a railroad line. About an hour after I left, I came back, she said, ‘as white as a ghost.’ I would not speak for the rest of the day. I would not tell her why I’d not waited to be picked up or phoned that I wanted to come home. I would not tell her why my chum’s mom hadn’t walked me back, but had allowed me to come home alone. It turned out that the kid I had been playing with had been run over by a freight train while playing on or crossing the tracks… My mom never knew if I had been near him when it happened. But I have no memory of the incident at all, only of having been told about it some years after the fact.
King was two years old when his father deserted his family in Portland, ME. It was 1949 and King was left alone with his mother and brother, David. The loss of King's father put the family in a dire financial situation. Not only did they spend nearly a decade constantly relocating to various apartment and relatives' homes, they never had any money. King says they "lived a virtual barter existence, practically never seeing any hard cash."
It's no surprise to learn King, one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, started practicing his craft at a young age. While speaking with The Paris Review King said he began writing before he was 10 years old, although it took a while for him to become a published author:
I was about six or seven, just copying panels out of comic books and then making up my own stories. I can remember being home from school with tonsillitis and writing stories in bed to pass the time. Film was also a major influence. I loved the movies from the start. I can remember my mother taking me to Radio City Music Hall to see Bambi. Whoa, the size of the place, and the forest fire in the movie - it made a big impression. So when I started to write, I had a tendency to write in images because that was all I knew at the time.
In King's memoir, he says the first story he ever published had its title changed from "I Was a Teen-Age Grave-Robber" to "In a Half-World of Terror."
In his memoir, King recalls living in Wisconsin, where he had a babysitter named Eula "or maybe she was Beulah"
The babysitter would tickle four-year-old King with her bare feet before hugging him, then hit him on the head hard enough to knock him down, then start tickling him again. This continued until a harrowing experience King says started with fried eggs. He writes:
One morning Eula-Beulah fried me an egg for breakfast. I ate it and asked for another one. She had a look in her that said, 'You don't dare eat another one, Stevie.' So I asked for another one. And another one. And so on. I stopped after seven, I think.
After eating around seven eggs, young King vomited on the floor; rather than taking care of the boy, his sitter became aggressive. She hit him upside the head then locked him in a closet. When his mother came home she discovered the sitter asleep on the couch and King still in the closet covered in vomit.