I will always remember that old Monty Python line, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Along those lines, I invariably get that kind of reaction when people unaware of the fact enter my office and see seven two-meter tall vitrines stuffed to the brim with (contemporary) horror fiction. They frown and immediately get that strange look. You can virtually watch them trying to imagine me shambling droolingly down dark rainy streets at night, emitting mewling sounds. Nevertheless, it really all started with that book. Stephen King’s “It”. Sort of, at least.I had read all the previous Stephen King novels when I traveled around the States and South America in the years prior to buying “It”, but somehow that novel changed everything. In fact, it started a 20-year collecting craze that was also a pain in the neck as English-language editions were extremely difficult to come by in Germany at the time.
In short, whenever abroad, I loaded up on books, both paperbacks and hardcovers, whenever I hit a new city with English bookshops, I spent half of my holidays inside any number of them, at some point I started importing from US mail-order dealers and, at the end, I started writing about all of this weird stuff in one of Germany’s best semi-pro horror magazines, Tales/Nachtschatten, published by Carsten Scheibe in Berlin..
To legitimize this infatuation with contemporary horror fiction, dark fantasy or whatever you want to call it, I wrote a 137-page final paper at the University of Saarbrücken on “Growing Up in America: Children and Teenagers in Selected Works of Stephen King” (1989) which, at least as far as I know, was the first lengthy study on this subject in Germany, probably in Europe. Maybe it still is the first today. At the end, I was almost ready to write a PhD thesis on a modern an updated genre definition, all of which I had mapped out in my head, ready to refute the older ones that had been published before the “contemporary” was added to “horror fiction”. Alas, it wasn’t to be as an academic career in the beginning 90s was virtually impossible.
What had drawn me to King’s fiction initially was his ability to portray the lives of children and teenagers in the hell that is called childhood and adolescence, at least according to King’s protagonists who mostly suffered throughout and in their misery mirrored some of King’s own experience as the bespectacled outsider, nerd or whatever label he or others could attach to that state of being. His fiction was littered with the many victims and the (very) few survivors of the many stages of initiation.
And “It” was certainly both the culmination and the epitome of this theme.
I read the book in roughly two days, all 1138 pages of it, and despite its few flaws, it has stayed with me until today.
Some books do that to you and this one certainly did it to me.
The rest of the whole story will be outlined in other posts further down the (time)line, but suffice it to say that when I started reading up on King, when I got into contact with him and his secretary (Stephanie/Stefanie?), I was quickly drawn into a totally new and ever-growing universe filled with the most fascinating characters, all of whom were literate and intelligent, who introduced me to other interesting figures by passing my letters on – in short, who seemingly integrated me into their circle(s) without ever having seen me in person.
- There was the wonderful Ted Dikty of Starmont House (that’s actually “Thaddeus Maxim Eugene (Ted) Dikty“), who wrote me letters up until shortly before his death in October of 1991.
- There was Robert Weinberg, a world-renowned collector of fantastic art and an equally known, wonderfully dedicated mail-order dealer who went out of his way to keep in touch with his customers.
- There was David Silva who ran “The Horror Show”.
- There was the notorious and wildly funny Joe Bob Briggs (my personal hero for almost bringing the Dallas “Slimes” Herald to its knees).
- Forrest J. Ackerman …
- and a seemingly endless line of other totally unique personalities, both abroad and at home, that suddenly started showing up on my radar.
And they had recommendations, to boot.
Note: The cover shown at the top of this post is the one for the 2011 25th anniversary special edition published by Cemetary Dance.