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The Impact Of Stephen King On American Culture

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“And the most terrifying question of all may be just how much horror the human mind can stand and still maintain a wakeful, staring, unrelenting sanity” (Stephen King). The late twentieth century was a time of racism and bigotry as the civil rights movement was coming to a close, yet many Americans still refused to integrate African Americans into regular society. As stated in Memmott’s article, American author Stephen King grew up during this time in Portland, Maine, taking care of his grandparents and simultaneously learning how to ¨capture a difficult but important truth about the harshness of the world,¨ which would later have an immense impact on his novels (2011). For example, The Shining, one of King’s first novels, portrays a man who has trouble deciding whether to protect his family or pursue his aspirations of a writing career. Another novel written by Stephen King, 11/22/63, tells of a man who travels back in time to stop John F. Kennedy’s assassination while additionally seeing the struggles people of all backgrounds go through during this time period. Both novels, as well as many others written by King, have been made into movies or television series due to their entertaining and thought-provoking portrayals of science fiction and horror. Stephen King is one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, and his works continue to have an impact on American culture today.

To begin, Stephen King was born on September 21st, 1947, in Portland, Maine. During King’s early life, he faced many challenges which helped to shape his perception of society. As Marie J. MacNee wrote in her novel, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Writers, “He was the second born son into a blue-collar family in Portland, Maine. When King was two years old, his father, a merchant sailor, went out for a pack of cigarettes one night and never came back.” (1995). In the same chapter, MacNee explains how, although King had some friends as a child, he was “overweight and uncoordinated, often feeling like an outsider” (1995). However, King’s difficult childhood did not stop his imagination as he started ¨putting together his first story at the age of seven¨ (MacNee, 1995). Years later, according to an Encyclopedia Britannica article titled Stephen King, King stayed on the writing path as he ¨graduated from the University of Maine in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in English¨ (2018). However, needing to increase his earnings, MacNee’s novel also mentioned King’s start towards his years as an author when he published his first novel, Carrie, in 1974, and from then on, ¨unleashed a parade of tales of terror¨ for many readers’ entertainment (1995). After this, King’s writing career became unparalleled as he began to write dozens of novels for American enjoyment. Overall, Stephen King’s main claim to fame were his horror and science fiction novels which impacted American society.

Over the course of his career, Stephen King has written more than 50 novels and 200 short stories, and he continues to write today. As far as King’s current global status in literature, Mathias Clasen’s article states, ¨King has published about seventy books, which have sold around three hundred fifty million copies according to one estimate (Hough), and his books have been translated into about fifty languages (Lilja).¨ (2017). One can see how King’s impact on literature spreads not only through American culture, but also through many others as millions of people have read his novels. MacNee also writes how some of King’s most famous works include his very first, Carrie, as well as It, the story of “seven teens battling an evil alien in a city’s sewers” (1995). More famous books include Christine, his second book published, featuring “a car haunted by a female spirit that takes control of a teenage boy”, along with his 1987 novel, Misery, where a “demented fan holds a writer hostage so that he will resurrect her favorite character in his new book” (MacNee, 1995). However, King does not only write tales of terror. As stated in Rothman’s New Yorker article, “He is not exclusively a horror writer- [King writes] sci-fi, horror, fantasy, historical fiction, post-apocalyptic tales, and so on” (2013). Some of King’s later novels include stories of time travel and other situations with science fiction undertones. Out of King’s love for the horror and science fiction genres of literature came his third novel, The Shining.

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One of King’s earliest and most popular novels is The Shining. According to MacNee, this novel was published in 1977 and portrays “An alcoholic caretaker of an obscure resort motel who is driven by evil spirits to try and murder his wife and child” (1995). King’s third published novel ever, it was also his first bestseller, and, as stated in Clasen’s article, “one of his most enduringly popular works” (2017). The same article states that the novel “ is one of the most well known horror stories of all time, and made [King] one of the world’s most successful horror writers” (2017). Many wonder how The Shining has kept its place as one of the best horror novels/movies ever written over the decades. One explanation written in Clasen’s article explains, “The central conflicts of Stephen King’s horror novel The Shining are rooted in human nature and reflect evolutionarily recurrent adaptive problems-that is why the novel continues to engage readers worldwide…” (2017). King’s disgustingly descriptive writing portrays the conflicts evolving in the novel in a unique way, which is just one reason why The Shining, along with dozens of other novels King has written, stays popular through the decades. More recently, King has published a new novel, titled 11/22/63.

Another one of King’s novels, 11/22/63, has a stronger focus on the science fiction genre. Memmott’s article states this novel was published in 2011, and, “It’s the story of a Lisbon Falls high school teacher, Jake Epping, who finds a portal to the past and goes back in time in hopes of killing Oswald before he shoots Kennedy and, in effect, changing history.” (2011). The article also states how the novel was given a four-star review by USA Today, and even before it was published, a film deal was announced (2011). As far as critics’ opinions, Nicola Longford, an executive director of The Sixth Floor Museum, says King did a terrific job evoking the early 1960’s in 11/22/63, blending history with fiction; the themes of racism and bigotry are “Just as prevalent in the novel as the cars, music, and movies of the era” (Memmott, 2011). Also, the novel is written for young adults and older ages, as Memmott writes, “[King] was not worried that young readers might not relate to the time-traveling story”(2011). An interesting fact about 11/22/63 is how King had come up with the idea of the novel decades before he ever wrote or published it. As stated in Memmott’s article, “King had been holding on to the idea of writing 11/22/63 since November 22, 1971. [KING:] Somebody had asked the question, ‘What if Kennedy had lived?’ and I thought, ‘This would make a great story’”(2011). These two novels, along with the rest of King’s other novels, short stories, and movies demonstrate King’s impact on American culture.

The aspect of horror and science fiction in American culture was shaped by King during the twentieth century. King’s popularity can be seen through the number of awards and other honorable mentions he has received throughout his life. According to Clasen’s article, “King has won a staggering number of awards and prizes, most prestigiously the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2003”(2017). More recently, a Britannica Encyclopedia article claims another award, The National Medal of Arts, was presented to King in 2015 (2018). King’s novels have also been put on the New York Times best-seller list numerous times. MacNee writes, “He made the record for being the first writer to have more than two titles on the New York Times best-seller lists at the same time, then he broke his own record by having more than three-and then more than four”(1995). The impact of King’s novels on American horror can be seen all over the country-from their grand adaptations into movies to their influence on small toys and games. MacNee’s novel also mentioned King’s impact on American culture, stating, “Works by King have been adapted for film, television, and drama, recorded on video and audio, and spun off into calenders and gimmicks” (1995). For example, a few of King’s first novels, including Carrie and The Shining, were made into movies and changed the picture of horror in the late twentieth century Ultimately, King had a major impact on American society through his many novels and short stories.

To conclude, Stephen King’s substantial influence on America’s horror genre is still present today. King’s imaginative yet disturbing writing techniques have helped him to write nightmarish stories ever since he was a small boy. This writing style impacted his novel, The Shining, and in return impacted American horror. After becoming a worldwide sensation, his more recent novels include tales of science fiction and fantasy, which are just as popular. One example of this is 11/22/63, where King blends science fiction with American history to entertain readers all over the country. Stephen King also entertains his fans through movies and television shows, and more recently, remakes of his older movies. As for King’s current life, he does nothing more than any average American would do. According to MacNee, “Everyday after a long walk in the morning, he spends three hours on new material, and another three hours on rewriting or unusual writing projects” (1995). King, although seemingly average, has made an impact on American tales of terror that many are unable to achieve as he continuously impresses Americans and the world alike. “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win” (Stephen King).


  1. Clasen, M. (2017, Spring). Hauntings of human nature: an evolutionary critique of King’s The Shining. Style, 51(1), 76+. Retrieved from
  2. MacNee, J. M. (Ed.). (1995). Stephen King. Science fiction. fantasy, and horror writers (pp. 221-226). New York. NY: U.X.L.
  3. Memmott, C. (2011, November 15). King evokes the horrors of history in ’11/22/63′. USA Today, p. 01D. Retrieved from
  4. Rothman, J. (2013, October 11). What stephen king isn’t. The New Yorker. Retrieved from
  5. Stephen King, American Novelist. (2018, November 1). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from

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