In any situation where the son of a famous writer follows in his father’s footsteps, the question is raised as to their similarities: do they nurture a similar style? Do they share thematic interests? Is creativity genetic, and if so, how closely are the father’s genes mapped onto the son? In the case of Stephen King and Joe Hill, there are striking and uncanny similarities such as the contemporary concerns voiced in their works and their thematic interest in childhood and its dark side. However, I maintain that each has a different sense of aesthetics.
In one sense, King is more straightforward in his writing style, though both writers jump from genre to genre (sometimes within the course of the same work).
Hill’s latest publication, Strange Weather, seems to me quite a departure from his former style, but his previous works all share a sense of layered composition that in its nature is different from the tone of King’s writing. (It must be said at this point that I have not read King’s entire body of work, though I have read Hill’s).
In his novel Horns, for instance, Hill is meticulous about building and emphasizing the heavy historical and literary layers behind the concepts of good and evil, and Heaven and Hell. The imagery he uses shares much in common with Milton’s “Paradise Lost”—I believe it directly references it. Its obvious literary and historical predecessor is the Bible, but not in the sense that every horror film or novel about demons or the devil has the Bible as its predecessor. In a very deliberate and calculated way, Joe Hill takes the weight of biblical narrative and places it into the story he has created of a man, Ignatius Perrish, who suddenly gains powers that historically have been solely attributed to the side of evil, and as a result is forced to question his own nature and that of those around him. The characters in Horns, and in many of his other novels, embody and defy (often simultaneously) classic literary, mythological, and religious types and figures.
King’s thoroughness, on the other hand, seems to reside in his seemingly tireless research into any object, place, time, scientific principle, etc. that he includes in his work. King’s people are his own; he has been writing so long that the type of characters that emerge from his work can be defined entirely in terms of himself. He can be cited as his own precedent. If you think about how immersive his creative worlds are and the ways in which his novels intersect with each other, King is creating his own literary history. Both approaches are incredibly compelling and I very much recommend the work of both writers.
Meagan wants to eat your children. But she’s super fun.