I recently started dreaming again. Remember back in the early days of the pandemic, when “Covid dreams” were a thing? It was one of many times that I felt I was having an opposite experience of the pandemic. I had always dreamed complex and vivid dreams but once Covid started, my dreams stopped. I’ve had short periods where I didn’t seem to dream as much but for nearly two years, I don’t remember a single dream. I didn’t realize how much this affected me until I started dreaming again. They still don’t feel quite the way they did pre-pandemic but it’s almost as if my brain has started breathing again, still gasping for air but at least in a regular rhythm.
Fairy Tale by Stephen King felt like one of my old dreams. What that means is that it felt familiar, but also askew. The familiarity shouldn’t be a surprise – the title is Fairy Tale and it’s no lie. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Stephen King also can’t be surprised by the fairy tale being a little bit tilted, although the story itself is surprisingly straightforward: A boy and his dog visit a faraway, magical land on a personal quest but are pulled into a fight for the greater good. There is good and evil, a beautiful princess and a talking horse. There is even a magical cricket. Of course, King being King means none of those things are exactly what and where they are traditionally.
Stephen King is not a particularly subtle writer and Fairy Tale is no exception. It actually reminds me more of some of his early books, similar in style to Christine. Which says to me that he has an editor again, someone who can give his word-processor some anti-diarrheal. I believe his editor’s hand can also be seen in the ending, in that there actually is one and it comes after only 608 pages. I have to admit that I missed reading the prologue and epilogue that often detailed what was going on in Mr. King’s world at the time he was writing. (Based on nothing but pure speculation, I would hazard a guess that Mr. King lost or was about to lose a beloved dog while writing Fairy Tale). But the trade-off of an ending that actually ended was worth it.
Where this book succeeded for me was in its somewhat spare tone and the story itself. It’s not a fun read but it is an engaging one. I couldn’t stop thinking about Charlie Reade and Radar. I almost felt guilty when I had to stop reading because I felt like I was leaving them hanging in perilous situations (a side-effect of reading the Thursday Next books, I imagine).
One of the things I’ve always appreciated about King’s writing is how well he can usually enter into someone’s perspective. It strikes me as an empathetic way of writing – King seems to understand his characters’ motivations very well. There were places in Fairy Tale where I felt like he stumbled a bit for the first time. It wasn’t so much that Charlie was inconsistent in his motivations, more that I felt like King fell into the trap of trying to show he understood youth culture more than any 70+ person will ever be able to. King definitely remembers the impulsivity of being a teenage boy but… he does not remember the impulsivity of being a teenage boy in 2014. It’s a small thing but Charlie’s references to technology or pop culture felt off at times. YMMV.
If someone is a fan of Stephen King but has drifted away in recent years, as I’ve done, Fairy Tale is a good re-entry point.