Facts About Stephen King's Childhood
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.
As A Child King Saw A Friend Get Hit By A Train - But Doesn't RememberPhoto: Stand By Me/Columbia
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's Father Abandoned Their Family When King Was Two Years Old
King was two years old when his father deserted his family in Portland, ME. According to biographer Lisa Rogak, Donald King "casually told his wife he was going to the store for a pack of cigarettes." He never returned. 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."
He Started Writing When He Was Six Or Seven Years OldPhoto: MW Publications
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."
He Had A Terrifying BabysitterPhoto: cyclonebill / wikimedia / CC BY-SA 2.0
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.
One Of King's Earliest Memories Is Pain
In King's memoir On Writing he says one of his first memories is of being stung by a wasp while playing outside at the age of two; his next memory is even more painful.
The author recalls he was playing outside one day - pretending to be a circus strongman - when he decided to lift a cinderblock. He continues:
Unknown to me, wasps had constructed a small nest in the lower half of the cinderblock. One of them, perhaps pissed at being relocated, flew out and stung me on the ear. The pain was brilliant, like a poisonous inspiration. It was the worst pain I had ever suffered in my short life, but it only head the top spot for a few seconds. When I dropped the cinderblock on one bare foot, mashing all five toes, I forgot all about the wasp.
King's Love Of Horror Blossomed When He Found A Box Of His Father's Stuff In The AtticPhoto: JohannesW / pixabay
Even though King's father ran out when the author was only two, the patriarch's belongings continued to move with the family for years. Nearly a decade after his father disappeared, King traveled into his aunt and uncle's attic to look through his absent dad's things.
King found a bunch of books his father had left behind, and it turns out the two of them have similar taste. He said:
The box I found that day was a treasure trove of old Avon paperbacks. Avon, in those days, was the one paperback publisher committed to fantasy and weird fiction. The pick of the litter was an H.P. Lovecraft collection from 1947 called The Lurking Fear and Other Stories. I took the books out of the attic with me. That day and the next, I visited the for the first time, visited the towns of Dunwich and Arkham, Massachusetts, and was, most of all, transported by the bleak and creeping terror of 'The Color Out of Space.'