Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman
Stephen King has claimed that he buys his ideas for stories at an out-of-the-way, secondhand bookstore.
However, in Archetypes in 8 Horror and Suspense Films, Walter Rankin identifies the fairy tales that he believes underlie several of Stephen King’s novels:
"Little Red Riding Hood" is the basis of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, in which a young girl is lost in the woods and encounters a monster.
"Sleeping Beauty" is the basis for Christine, in which a teenage boy falls in love with his car.
"Rapunzel" is the basis of Carrie. In the former story, “a girl is locked away in a high room by a woman who fears the girl’s maturity and interest in men, which are symbolized by remarkable changes she can’t control.” Carrie is locked away by her mother, a religious fanatic who bore her daughter as a result of having been raped, fears and hates men and sex, and, like the woman in the story of Rapunzel “fears” he daughter’s “maturity and interest in” boys, in not “men.”
"Snow White" is the basis for “Apt Pupil,” in both of which stories “an older, seemingly normal person is revealed as an evil, deadly foe by a younger person with remarkably similar policies,” and the older person dies, survived by the younger one, his or her protégé. In “Apt Pupil,” the older person is a Nazi war criminal, while his protégé is a sadistic American teenage boy.
"Cinderella" is the basis of Firestarter. In both stories, a girl is exploited by a group who adopt her as their own, but, aided by a fairy godmother (in Cinderella’s case) or her own developing pyrokinesis (in Charlie’s case), vanquishes her foes.
"Hansel and Gretel" is the basis of Silver Bullet. In the former, siblings alone in an enchanted realm must fend off the attacks of a “villain who appears in two forms, one normal and one otherworldly and powerful.” In the latter, a brother and sister, aided by their uncle, resist the assaults of a character who is the parish priest by day and a werewolf by night.
"Rumpelstiltskin" is the basis for Storm of the Century. In both stories, a mysterious man appears demanding that he be given children before he will leave the townspeople in peace. The citizens seek to uncover the stranger’s secret and prevent him from abducting their children.
According to Rankin, the fairy tale’s prohibition-violation premise structures the plot. The audience understands (and expects) the character or characters to violate a prohibition and to suffer the consequences of their doing so. The prohibition may involve almost anything--opening a closet, investigating a strange noise, believing that a killer is dead when he or she is not, wandering off alone, opening a locked door. The consequences, at some point, will likely include one or more (or all) of the characters’ meeting an untimely and gruesome end.
What about the West Coast Stephen King, Dean Koontz? Where does he get his storylines?
In Horror Film: Creating and Marketing Fear, edited by Stefen Hantke, Richard John Hauser is credited with having identified the “five basic plots [that] Dean Koontz uses over and over ad infinitum. Actually, it seems that Koontz uses but one plot and four variations on one of its parts. The blank indicates the part that changes (slightly) from one employment of the formula to another: “Guy meets girl and they stumble across _________________. The _______________ tries to kill them. They survive and fall in love.” With this in mind, these are the five plots that Hantke identifies; the parenthetical examples are his as well; the underlining is added:
- Guy meets girl and they stumble across a government experiment gone wrong. Government forces try to kill them. They survive and fall in love (Watchers, Strangers).
- Guy meets girl and they stumble across a non-government experiment gone wrong. Non-government forces try to kill them. They survive and fall in love (Midnight).
- Guy meets girl and they stumble across a supernatural horror. The supernatural horror tries to kill them. They survive and fall in love (Twilight Eyes, Darkfall).
- Guy meets girl and they stumble across a psychopathic killer. The psychopathic killer tries to kill them. They survive and fall in love (Watchers, Strangers).
- Guy meets girl and they stumble across a horror that doesn’t quite fit one of the above categories. The horror that doesn’t quite fit one of the above categories tries to kill them. They survive and fall in love (Watchers, Strangers).
Fairy Tale Archetypes in 8 Horror and Suspense Films by Walter Rankin; McFarland and Company, Inc., NC, 2007.
Horror Film: Creating and Marketing Fear, Stefen Hantke, ed.; 2004.