Back in 2007 I started writing my second Bachelor’s thesis on “The Dark Half”, one of my favourite novels by Stephen King. I finished it in the matter of days and now, five years later, I was interested to see if it survived the test of time (albeit a short period). To my surprise, some of these passages proved even more true in the present, so here they are:
Introduction – excerpt
It is always said that a writer makes up a fictional world, fictional persons, that come alive on the pages he delivers from his trustworthy pen/ typewriter/ computer – choose your own “poison” thank you very much.
A world we all like to delve in from time to time (or more than just occasionally), persons we love to love or love to hate, characters we root for or turn pages frantically desiring to see them executed as soon as the next chapter starts.
Stephen King, who in almost all his work opens a window in the life of a writer, also puts most of his autobiographic tid-bits along the character of the writer, scattering them throughout his novels, whether they be problems with alcohol, drugs, life with his family, teaching at a near-by university, writer’s block. In this one he particularly addressed writing under a pseudonym. His own “Richard Bachman” he decided to “murder” in 1985, or better say retire, since King later wrote a couple more novels under the Bachman pseudonym. It is Bachman to whom King thanks for help and inspiration in writing “The Dark Half”.
All writers are split personalities by default. This syntagm, with which we all like to make jokes every now and then, is the central point of “The Dark Half”. Everyone has it, and writers don’t have to be pronounced legally insane to pen name their dark halves and write under the name (and most would say, with the mind) of another, fictional person, not to mention all the characters in their work, that have to sound, above all things, credible.
Split personality is of course a serious matter, a matter which a master of story telling – Stephen King – took to a whole new level. He did this by simply asking himself a couple of questions, and they all start with “what if?” What if it was possible to physically divide the two opposing voices in one’s head into two different individuals? Add a bit of poetical twist, and you have Thad Beaumont, a critically acclaimed writer who becomes a slightly different person when writing under a pseudonym of George Stark . All hell breaks loose (and one is drawn to say “almost literary”) when the other, dark half of an all-around-nice-guy Thad decides it’s time to leave the grave his author intended him to lie in, and shake things up. Rage and incredible arrogance walking hand-in-hand with unmistakable life coarsing through its veins. The non-existence that demands its own existence… sometimes with a fist, sometimes with a gun, sometimes with a flashy razor. A fiction of a fiction, as one character describes it… or is it really?
Power of writing
“But writers INVITE ghosts, maybe; along with actors and artists, they are the only totally accepted mediums of our society. They make worlds that never were, populate them with people who never existed, and then invite us to join them in their fantasies. And we do it, don’t we? Yes. We PAY to do it.”
Mediums for a world that doesn’t exist in a traditional sense of the word, that is one way of describing entertainers of humanity. Inspiration is that magical device that sent these mediums, since eons ago, into conjuration of the worlds and people. Old Greeks used to call inspiration “zeia mania” – divine madness, and an inspired man was a possessed man. Possessed with demons of creativity.
This possession creates masterpieces, and, looking at this from a strict psychological point of view, the readers of such work have to be “infected” by the same kind of possession to read and to enjoy the fantasies behind the words. As Stephen King noted in his aforementioned essay “The Importance Of Being Bachman”: “Delusion is, after all, something writers of fiction try to encourage in their readers, at least during the time the book or story is open before the reader’s eyes, and the writer is hardly immune from this state of … what shall I call it? How does “directed delusion” sound to you? To me it sounds pretty close to the mark.”
Imagination, or delusion, is crucial to our existence, going from less than a secondary need to a primal, biological need (although without the basic physiological indicators such as hunger and thirst) as the humanity climbs the stairs of evolution.
Going back to the Greek theory of art and creativity – we might say that writing as a form of show-business profession differs from other in the same group. While other professions get objectified as obsessions of the media, tabloids etc., and although this has slightly reflected upon the world of writers, we can still say that some writers don’t write thinking about art, don’t write thinking about fame and fortune, but they write and don’t know why they write. They write because they have to, it’s the only way of facing their personal demons.
Was George Stark a demon to Stephen King? Or maybe was it Thad? Or, all tables turned, Stark possessed the late Richard Bachman. In layman’s terms, the jury is still out on that one. Nevertheless, possession by demons does not necessarily dismiss the enlightenment of human spirit that literature offers. Depending on the genre of that literature, demons possessing the writer aren’t demons at all, but more of a slight push towards creating something on a blank piece of paper, fulfilling a wish that often comes from different sources, yet leads to a uniform goal. When it comes to the genre of horror and gore, well, the case is still the same.
The entire humanity is under a collective burden of living. And it mostly isn’t such a wonderful world, as Louis Armstrong sang decades ago. Some of us decide to get rid of the pressure by making mayhem in some public area, some turn on themselves and use drugs and other toxins, others torture their own family. Writers (though it isn’t an exclusive “gift”, some may do these actions and still write, and vice versa) free themselves from the burden by imprisoning his or her demons on those blank pages. By doing so, they free themselves of the obsession of writing… until the same process starts again.
When George was writing, and at the same time, was written in the form of Alexis Machine in four novels, he was in the dungeon. When he was no longer bound by pen, then it was the time he freed himself and made a claim on “real”, Thad’s life.
However, writing itself isn’t such a liberating process. As we see in the grand finale of “The Dark Half”, both participants understand that it is about a far greater magic than simply conjuring up ghosts on paper. Writing is just the ritual. With this ritual, a passing of power was starting to occur between Thad and George, a passing of life and the right to be living. Magic that occurs during writing and reading of the written, is a path that, perhaps, transcends our linear way of thinking, and connects different worlds.
Maybe nothing in the world has never been truly “created”, maybe it has just been seen in another world, and brought to this one in a specific form. As French poet Arthur Rimbaud said “ So the poet is truly a thief of fire”.
Truly, writers are mediums, special kind of individuals who are “in tune” with other worlds and sensitive to whispers of the ghosts beyond. They are the visionaries, the “seers” of all things hidden to an ordinary eye, mind, heart.
Writing is a high act that promises again the birth of humanity with each written passage. “Scribere est agere”, or translated from Latin – “to write is to act”. Stark, as a half-conscious creation of Thad’s writing, is as powerful as no other human being, borrowed from another place where basic laws were different. Words have acted as a passage-way for him to this world, and to them he is ultimately bound.
Is then writing as an act a sort of a God? And literature its ever-growing Word? If this was a performance, Thad Beaumont and George Stark would certainly star as the Holy Duality. Biblical references are almost unavoidable and yet coincide perfectly with fundamental processes, with the core of various streaks of conscience, knowledge, affection etc. Before we mentioned a Cain and Abel struggle in the form of Thad and George, and it is exactly the same fight. The evil brother rised against the good one and tried to punish him out of his jealousy that the good brother was in the mercy of God.
To end this chapter, we go back to Rimbaud’s eloquent, visionary contemplations on writing and poetry. In his own struggle to become a “seer”:
“It is wrong to say: I think. One ought to say: I am thought. – Pardon the pun –“
George Stark is thought, and that allows him to think. Going outside the boundaries of the imaginary world of Stephen King – Thad Beaumont is thought, and it allows him too to think.
Exiting the linear thinking and opening a door to a hallway of doors to other realities, dimensions, dreamscapes – We are thought, which gives us the possibility to think. That is the power of writing, the strength of art.
Dualism exists in everything, and in everyone. The ancient yin-yang circle. An obvious truth to all of us. Sometimes we’re split, we’re in a dilemma, sometimes in same situation we can act like two different people… and the theory of the absorption in utero that postulates we could really have been two people before our birth… and the most creative, insane part of our mind must, sooner or later, comes to a question: what if it is possible to actually physically divide the two opposing sides of one’s personality? Bad from good, black from white, male from female, egg-white from egg-yellow…
I have always been a devoted fan of Stephen King’s work. From the first book read in English – “Shining”, and the subsequent number of more than twenty novels and stories read/owned so far (while the movie and tv adaptations circle around that number as well), journey through the gruesome Maine cities and evil that lurks inside the dark alleys is one of the most exhilarating and thought-provoking experiences my mind has ever been to, and loves coming back to old trails over and over again. What drew me to “The Dark Half”? Reasons are beyond simple explanations, as is Stark beyond the usual range of logical grasp, and perhaps this diploma work is a sort of an homage to this novel.
It is its genuine uniqueness, the idea that kept my mind in amazement for a long time after I’ve read it. Such strength in writing that could actually both resurrect the dead flesh and breathe life into tears of ink sprayed on paper, is a thing I can only wish for my own writing and creation of lines and lines of words that could, perhaps, revive something out of pure imagination, like the electricity bolt in “Frankenstein”. Exorcising one’s own demons by writing them down.
Significance of “The Dark Half” lies in its uncontrolled beauty that also serves as a warning. When Thad unconsciously created George Stark and his alter ego Alexis Machine, he called upon powers which were unbeknowst to him, yet he sensed they were present during his whole life. A higher power that granted him a unique gift – his inner eye, but such a gift must always come with instructions for use, doesn’t it? The inner eye through which, when opened, he opened up a sort of a passage through a thin fabric of dimensions, fictitional or not – it’s not even important, since they all exist. It was just the case of opening it to a place not “on the sunny side of the street”, a place called Endsville, where now both Thad and George have a permanent residence, perhaps alongside Cujo and the Sun Dog, next door to Homer Gamache, Rick and Miriam Cowley, Laura Noonan…
Writing is a calling that is both blessing and a curse, More often the latter part. A writer feels propelled to serve his destiny, however dark or apocalyptical it might be with all those demons patiently waiting and grinning, but he MUST write. Fernando Pessoa, a Portoguese writer, when asked about his reason to write, said :” I write, because it’s not enough for me to live”. One is left to ponder a rather rhetorical question, whether to write or crumble into mediocrity, meaninglessness, uniformity.
If it really is so, maybe there is truly nothing left to do other than to take one of Berol Black Beauties, or any equivalent of it, and write. Create good and evil, create fabric dreams and nightmares are made of. Wrap troubles in dreams, or vice versa, it doesn’t really matter. Make the sparrows fly again.
 King, Stephen: “The Dark Half”, Penguin Books, New York, 1990, p. 379.
 Referring to the myth of Prometheus and how he stole fire from the gods to bring it to humans.
 King originally intended the novel to come out under both his and Bachman’s name, as a collaboration of the two authors in light of the theme, however, publishers dismissed the idea.
 Stark also means “strong” in German; a pun King often uses in the novel.