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Family

With 'The Dark Tower' and 'It' in theaters, Stephen King's family themes hit mainstream America

Posted August 2

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Idris Elba, left, and Matthew McConaughey in the Columbia Pictures film, The Dark Tower." (Ilze Kitshoff/Columbia Pictures/Sony via AP) (Deseret Photo)

Stephen King is a writer who opens doors to a number of worlds. And this fall, he's inviting moviegoers nationwide inside some of his most famous works.

On Friday, one of King’s earliest works, “The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger” will be adapted for film as “The Dark Tower" and in September moviegoers will get a new — and if the trailers are to be believed — terrifying version of his 1986 novel "It".

Based on the first book in The Dark Tower series, the film “The Dark Tower” will tell the story of Roland (Idris Elba), a gunslinger who lives in a fantastical world that runs parallel to our own. As a peacekeeper of that world, Roland’s only goal is to protect the dark tower — a literal tower that keeps all worlds, including our own, alive and well — from falling due to the hands of the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey).

Aiding Roland in his quest is a young boy named Jake (Tom Taylor), who hails from our world (New York City, specifically). Roland and Jake develop a bond that lingers close to the line of father and son.

In King's Dark Tower series, which includes seven books and one novella, Jake and Roland’s relationship grows into a father-son relationship, with the boy going as far as to call Roland his father toward the end of the saga.

This short thread of a story reveals something consistent throughout King’s tales. No matter how dark, twisted or malevolent, at their core, his stories are often family, even love, centered. Take any King tale written or adapted for television, movie or miniseries, and viewers will see familial themes shining throughout.

While it's true that King's tales often contain overly sexual content with plenty of irreverence and violence, they still highlight the idea that family can help people through anything.

Take a look King's famous story “It,” which opens in theaters Sept. 8. Most people know the general idea of this tale: a demon clown terrorizing a group of youngsters who are working their way through adolescence.

The book’s characters go through a number of experiences that define modern boyhood — winning the heart of the prettiest girl in school, facing the bully and his cronies and seeking out mystery on a boring summer evening. And while King knew childhood from his growing up years, he was a father by the time he wrote "It," and the book is peppered with parental guidance.

One prime example comes from Edward “Eddie” Kaspbrak, a boy with asthma problems and a loving — perhaps too loving — mother. As the story progresses, readers learn that her love has led her to do dark things, but while her actions are extreme, it is clear that she is a parent trying her best to protect her son.

Love — in all its forms — is a theme that crops up again and again in King's novels. In “Christine,” the story of a demonized 1958 Plymouth, nerd Arnie Cunningham grew more handsome the more times he spent with the possessed car. His best friend tried to save Arnie as did his parents, who constantly argued with their teenage boy over his obsession with the car. Arnie saw his parents as overbearing, but it was their love that kept them working to save their increasingly disturbed son.

These themes of love and family appear in King’s shorter works as well. His novella “The Mist,” which was previously adapted for film but more recently became a TV show for Spike TV, tells of a father, David, who got caught inside a grocery store with his son, Billy, as a supernatural mist overtook their town. It becomes up to the father and son to work together to save themselves and their neighbors. The movie's dark ending forces readers to look at what sacrifices they would make for love, family and survival, highlighting once more King’s fascination with family.

From his newer work to the older pieces, King’s reliance on family continues to present itself. Not all tales are focused on family, but many have familial themes sprinkled throughout and many touch on the idea of what it means to be a family.

To understand why these themes are important to the author, it may be helpful to look at King himself. The New York Times profiled the best-selling author back in 2013, highlighting what they called King’s “family business.”

King, a modest man with his mind stuck on Halloween, has a family full of writers. His son Joe, who changed his name to Joe Hill, and Owen, who stuck with Owen King, both write successfully. His wife Tabitha is also a writer. His daughter, Naomi, is a minister, but she too has writing experience.

In fact, King often had his family help him with his writing and reading, teaching them storytelling in multiple ways.

“If reading was a common escape in the King household, it was nonetheless deeply social,” The New York Times reported. “They read on tape, but they also took turns reading aloud after dinner, passing around ‘The Hobbit’ or the Narnia chronicles. It followed that writing came to feel like something they all could share as well. Stephen and Tabitha did not take themselves off to quiet sheds or off-site offices to write; they wrote in their home, upstairs, as their kids, below, wondered what words were being put on the page and played elaborate role-playing games of their own.”

That long-standing tradition morphed into something greater. Hill and Owen King often write books alongside their more famous father. Interested readers can find all of their books at Barnes and Noble or on any best-seller list.

In fact, King and Owen are releasing a new book this fall called “Sleeping Beauties.” That book, which will be released Sept. 26, takes place in small town in West Virginia where all women across the world fall asleep, leaving men to fend for themselves.

King said the experience of writing with his son was “a blessing” and a “thrill,” according to USA Today.

He even posted a Father’s Day video of him and Owen in preparation for the novel.

Family too isn't just a theme in King's stories — sometimes, the people themselves inspire his tales. The idea for "Sleeping Beauties" came from something his mother used to say.

“The first thing that came into my mind was something my mother used to say,” he said at a Book and Author Breakfast at the BookExpo America in June. “She raised my brother and me alone. We were latchkey kids before there were latchkey kids, back in the ‘50s. She used to say that if you go into a house and you use the bathroom and there is no ring around the toilet, there’s a woman around somewhere because men don’t do that.”

Once again, even with his latest work, like “Sleeping Beauties," King presents the connection to family, one that weaves its way inside and outside of his stories. There’s some core element of family buried deep inside each tale. It may not always be positive, but it is there, waiting to be explored.

Moviegoers may see it this weekend with “The Dark Tower,” as Roland and his compadre, a young boy who is more or less a son, work to save this world and all worlds together.

A father and son traveling to save worlds sounds like a family story to the last.

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