The Functions of Unnatural Death in Stephen King: Murder, Sickness, and Plots examines over thirty of King’s works and looks at the character deaths within them, placing them first within the chronology of the plot and then assigning them a function. Death is horrific and perhaps the only universal horror because it comes to us all. Stephen King, known as the Master of Horror, rarely writes without including death in his works. However, he keeps death from being repetitious or fully expected because of the ways in which he plays with the subject, maintaining what he himself has called a childlike approach to death. Although character deaths are a constant, the narrative function of those deaths changes depending on their placement within the plot.
By separating out the purposes of early deaths from those that come during the rising action or during the climax, this book examines the myriad ways character deaths in King can affect surviving characters and therefore the plot. Even though character deaths are frequent and hardly ever occur only once in a book, King’s varying approaches to, and uses of, these deaths show how he continues to play with both the subject and its facets of horror throughout his work.
Rebecca Frost, PhD, is an independent scholar and co-chair for the Stephen King Area of the National Popular Culture Association Conference.
Introduction: “Death is When the Monsters Get You”
Chapter One: “It’s Not Really Her Anymore”: Creating the Threat
Chapter Two: “You Know About the Cycle?”: To Perpetuate the Monster
Chapter Three: “People Are Mortal”: To Build Suspense
Chapter Four: “I Saved My Book By Blowing Approximately Half its Major Characters to Smithereens”: To Narrow the Focus
Chapter Five: “Question: Death, Where is Thy Sting? Answer: Every-fucking-where”: To Urge the Characters on to Action
Chapter Six: “More Than Any of us Probably Know, She Hurt”: As Revenge
Chapter Seven: “What if He Has a Helper?”: As Renfield
Chapter Eight: “I Want to Die Well”: As Heroic Sacrifice
Chapter Nine: “It Could Destroy Everything”: To Restore Order
Conclusion: “It Seemed to Mean Something”: Confronting Death and Multifaceted Horror
About the Author
Not satisfied in providing a broad compendium of the many deaths and forms of dying that haunt the landscape of Stephen King’s fiction, Functions of Unnatural Death in Stephen King also reassembles the undead spirits and ghouls that refuse to remain quiescent throughout his canon. A cadaverous catalog sure to engage the King enthusiast.
The Functions of Unnatural Death in Stephen King is a welcomed addition to the constantly growing collection of insightful analyses of “The Master of Horror.” In this book, Rebecca Frost takes us on a journey through the bulk of the Stephen King canon with an incisive focus on death that easily contradicts claims of King’s work to be contrived, or, rather, telegraphed. Indeed, Frost’s exploration reveals the depths of King’s choreographed writing, showing us the numerous and nuanced steps that comprise the “danse macabre” that charge the Constant Reader to look at death as more than happenstance or cheap fright.
Dr. Frost in her trail-blazing book intrepidly takes the reader into the most terrifying undiscovered country of all: unnatural death as depicted throughout the collective works of Stephen King. As one might expect from an author often described by critics and readers alike as the “Master of Horror,” King frequently kills off his characters in any number of violent and disturbing ways, a pattern that may at first appear random or non-sensical but in fact Dr. Frost discovers to be integral to the narrative structure and drive, suspense, and meaning of the plotlines. Through Dr. Frost’s insightful and refreshingly readable analysis, we discover that the characters who die unnatural deaths in King’s fiction indeed play a significant role in the author’s overall agenda to both support and subvert the generic conventions of horror. Monstrous serial killers, hell-raising spree and mass murderers, rabid dogs, malevolent aliens, ghosts, and all kind of supernatural beings from unseen worlds and dimensions beyond our own: all are catalogued and discussed here as the agents of unnatural death. Covering the range of King’s career from his earliest publications to his most recent, Dr. Frost’s book is an important new contribution to King scholarship.