The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is my first exposure to Stephen King’s fiction. But not my first exposure to his writing – I read his ‘Stephen King on Writing’ some years ago where he advocates a workmanlike attitude to writing instead of an esoteric approach the other books I had read on writing and related subjects had advised. Does a writer stands stripped before his reader if he reveals the tricks and methods he employs to spin his yarns? Well, King, among the most successful authors in America, doesn’t think so.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, a collection of short stories King has written over a period of time and some poems, marks a re-manifestation of that belief. Every short story - some of them are sometimes not exactly short running into enough number of pages to be a novella - is preceded by an author’s note on the source of inspiration of the following story and sometimes the author’s reflection on the subject the stories are based on. I found these notes very interesting and truth be told sometimes more interesting than the stories. He explains how an incomplete idea, a rough idea, even a thought string - has the potential to be developed into a full-fledged story.
Some of the gems are. An idea can sometimes remain in the depth of an attic (of your mind) and requires retrieving from there. Another is an idea sometimes come as a cup without its accompanying handle – and the handle can come to you from the most unlikeliest of situations without any outward appearance of being the missing handle to the cup.
Once, when King was shopping in a departmental store, he was approached by an elderly woman who asked him why he didn’t write stories like Shawshank Redemption. When King said Shawshank Redemption was written by him, the woman refused to believe. Fame can be so limiting!
One of the stated purposes of the book is to show that King’s quiver of creativity has more variety to offer his readers than scary stories to which King owes his fame as a writer. I agree King can offer much more than ghost stories, which is quite evident from the stories, but almost all the stories show a tendency to return to King’s familiar turf: horror, some subtle, some a little gross, but horror. But of course, they have a lot else to them than that.
None of the stories is bald horror. They have properly developed characters with their world explained in detail. And horror is not a persistent theme with most of them. In some of them it’s just a ruse to end a story. In some horror is a plot possibility King slowly builds up towards. And even those with the express intent to scare have an interesting body of narrative which works without the smattering of horror moments.