When Stephen King published this book in 1982 it was seen almost as a joke. The horror guy? Four short novellas? None of which have any spooky monsters? The world at large was ready to laugh him off the stage. So even if you don't connect with King as a writer you have got to respect the courage it took for someone to undercut their own image so thoroughly in service of their muse.
Imagine Tom Cruise taking a small part in an ensemble Broadway drama. Britney Spears mounting a tour in which she sat on a stool in front of a bass/piano/drum trio and sang standards. Angelina Jolie playing a regular person. Harrison Ford doing any independent film. (Quick aside...just watched 'The Mosquito Coast' for the first time and I am now DESPERATE for someone to save Harrison Ford from himself...Peter Weir??? Are you listening? Can you put something REAL together for Harrison Ford, please?)
Whatever you think of those examples and their current career trajectories, the point is that for them to completely go against the grain of what has made them who they are would be a supremely courageous act. It might not work, it might backfire, but they must be commended if they TRY.
Now, Stephen King in 1982 was seen as a JOKE. In spite of the fact that Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest artists of all time in any genre, had responded to his creation with a masterpiece of his own interpretation, in spite of the overwhelming connection the public made with his work, his writing was looked at like a succession of car crashes on the highway. Riveting but hardly artistic or human.
So what does he do? He comes out with four novellas. Which in and of itself is not common. To make matters worse, none of these stories have the least bit of supernatural gore. They are all real plausible human stories.
Of the four stories, three have been made into SUPERB movies. The first was 'The body' which became 'Stand By Me'. This film, along with 'The Princess Bride', 'Spinal Tap' and 'When Harry Met Sally', make a great case for Rob Reiner as the Film Director of the 1980's. Who else had a better run than that?
'Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption' famously became 'The Shawshank Redemption'. And 'Apt Pupil' is the grossly underrated 'Apt Pupil' with Ian McKellen and the late Brad Renfro.
So. From a man who'd called forth demons, vampires, werewolves, and unspoken evil, we now had four kids on a life changing hike looking for a dead body, an unjustly imprisoned man who grimly clings to hope over almost thirty years in jail, and a twisted young man who blackmails a Nazi war criminal into telling him the grisly details of everything he'd done.
Again, you might not respond to the writing style or the films in any way whatsoever. I've gone over this territory with King and I can't blame anyone who doesn't feel the way I do about his work. But if you can separate those things and see the risk he took, the gamble inherent in taking such a radical left turn away from your hardcore audience, you will begin to get a glimmer of what I'm talking about.
The great artists never rest on what they've already accomplished. They are bored with what they just did. Their lifeblood pumps only in the face of a new challenge, a new idiom, a new path. We cheer them when they rediscover this trait after having abandoned it (John Travolta, Robert Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke, etc.)
So here's the challenge. Imagine yourself in Stephen King's shoes in 1982. You have countless manuscripts in your drawer that your fans would eat up. You don't know the future. Plenty of writers as popular as Stephen King have faded into obscurity when it seemed like they would never disappear.
What do you do? What do you turn in?
The next vampire epic or the personal story?
That takes balls. I don't know about you, but I'm following that guy's lead.