People say that there are two sides to every person. It is sort of true: we can’t be good or bad all the time. And there’s also the belief that who we are when we’re alone is different from who we are when we’re in public.
It’s this duality that Stephen King explores in The Dark Half (1989), the author’s 23rd novel. It tells the story of novelist Thad Beaumont, who writes a series of wildly-popular books under the pseudonym George Stark. When it is discovered that Beaumont and Stark are the same person, Beaumont “kills off” Stark. However, Stark develops his own body and personality, and attempts to replace Beaumont.
King was inspired to write The Dark Half after his own pseudonym, Richard Bachman, was discovered. Leave it to King, who has written about evil cars, dogs, and clowns to turn his nom de plume evil, too.
And it’s effective. What makes The Dark Half a terrifying read is how grounded it is in reality even if it’s fantasy. I don’t know about you, but I’ve toyed with the idea of another personality living inside my body, surfacing only when triggered. And to some extent, the story is real. It almost reads like an autobiography, when you consider that both King and Beaumont dabbled in substance abuse while contemplating their family life and publishing career.
Premise aside, Stephen King’s The Dark Half is an exciting read because it looked like the author took a cinematic approach in writing the novel. It’s such a sensory experience. Take for example the sparrows, which take on a prominent role in the book. It usually signifies that Stark is about to make his presence felt. Before it happens, Beaumont hears the sound of a thousand sparrows cheeping or taking flight. As the story goes on, the sparrows appear, and they cover almost every surface of the scene. It was a treat for the imagination, and I’m excited to see how it would be translated in film (George Romero directed an adaptation in 1993).
It’s easy to think that I enjoyed this book because I’m also a writer. But you don’t need to be one to enjoy a story that explores one’s dark side, and what could go wrong when you let it go unchecked.