I recently re-read my favorite Jules Verne book, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Next I chose to revisit Stephen King‘s The Shining, which Patty and I have long agreed is King’s best book. It must be at least 25 years since I last read The Shining.
Oh, does it suffer by comparison! People nowadays don’t give Jules Verne much credit as a novelist. He’s mostly remembered as a pioneer of science fiction who was among the first to see the potential of the submarine. Okay–but 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is still one corker of a novel. It’s also one of those books which, once I’m into it, I don’t want to see come to an end.
Just a few chapters into The Shining, I find myself wondering just how fast I can read this book so I can start on something better.
For those of you interested in the craft of writing, do you know what is the difference between these two books?
In The Shining, Stephen King tells you everything, and I do mean everything, in flashbacks galore. You know almost as much about his major characters’ lives as the Recording Angel does. All right, this sort of helps you to understand them, and to understand what happens to them as the story plods on. But it sure does slow things down. Later in his career Stephen King would carry this practice to a ridiculous extent: for instance, in The Tommyknockers you get the whole life stories of various walk-on characters. It’s like someone having you in a headlock and giving you noogies, and you can’t get away…
in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne is too busy telling an exciting story to bother with flashbacks of his main characters’ early childhoods, etc. And yet as his story gallops on, you come to know Prof. Arronax, Conseil, and Ned Land like brothers. How does the writer do that, without flashbacks? Let me elucidate a deep mystery: What the characters say and do reveals their personalities. Voila! He makes it look so easy, you’re hardly aware you’re reading a book at all.
I despise the Serious Mainstream Literature of the 20th century. It’s all pseudo-intellectual cow-flop and no story.
It’s Jules Verne over Stephen King by a knockout, just a minute into the first round.