By the year 1982, as mentioned, I’d read all author Stephen King‘s novels, including his Hugo Award winning non-fiction work Danse Macabre. For the most part in chronological order, except for Carrie1. So when I came upon his newest that summer, Different Seasons, I thought I knew what I’d be getting. Another of his horrific, but imaginative, tales that would make me shudder by the time I’d close the novel. I was so wrong.
Different Seasons would throw the proverbial curve at readers (perhaps by King’s preferred Bosox pitcher), to say the least. The book was the author’s first collection of four novellas put into one bound volume. Each of these, likely the first novellas of this or any kind I’d ever read outside of school, were very divergent affairs of fiction. Even the book’s table of contents had an unforeseen design aspect. Each of the novella titles had a seasonal lead in — I still have the original Viking Press hardcover sitting in my book shelf. From the original Table of Contents page:
That first story would drag me down the rabbit hole and rock my perception of what I’d ever come to expect from Stephen King. The outré titled Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption told the story of Andy Dufresne. A quiet Maine banker who, through some of the worst luck imaginable, ended up doing a life stretch in the hell hole that was Shawshank prison. His account of perseverance and survival told through his fellow prisoner and friend, “Red” Smith. He being the guy that every state and federal prison has,
“… the guy who can get it for you. Tailormade cigarettes, a bag of reefer if you’re partial to that, a bottle of brandy to celebrate your son’s or daughter’s high school graduation, or almost anything else… within reason, that is.”
By the time I reached its end, I found the story surprisingly and supremely uplifting. The ‘Hope Springs Eternal’ moniker befitting in that odd list of contents. Essentially, a conclusion so contrary to what I’d presumed, given the author’s bibliography up to that point. The yarn’s unexpected conveyance warranted a reappraisal of Maine’s best literary asset. Just the same, whatever brightness the horror writer let through, he painted the story with his now well-known dark palette. King’s skewed mirth and starless tone always within easy reach.
Naturally, that same murkiness fit the color-scheme of prison life and despair just fine, which nonetheless proved to be the true testament of King’s storytelling abilities with what emerged the other side of the pen.
Different Seasons was renowned for another reason, besides. Three of its four novellas were adapted for the big screen by studios. I daresay director Frank Darabont’s adaptation of this story was perhaps the best of the lot, too. Although the third tale, The Body, retitled Stand by Me for Rob Reiner remains a close second, in my opinion. Bryan Singer managed to bring the oft-started and somewhat maligned Apt Pupil to the screen by 19982. I’m still waiting for someone to take on the motherly Winter’s Tale, though. The daring Breathing Method an eerie favorite of mine.
The Woman in the Room another of the author’s atypical threads I revisited here.
Shortened to The Shawshank Redemption for the cinema, released in 1994, I think it’s also the foremost work by this filmmaker in a notable career. I say that despite the fact a number of my colleagues lean toward The Green Mile for that accolade. I stand by this and don’t think he’ll ever top it…even though, Darabont continues to try and catch the same lightning in a bottle with other Stephen King works. He, in fact, started his writing-directing career in ’83 by adapting a short story from King’s 1978 collection Night Shift3.
Shawshank’s story did undergo a number of changes in its movie translation, with Darabont again crafting the screenplay. Kudos also have to be given for the casting of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman as the leads, which took an 180° bend away from the character descriptions in the novella. A bold change that worked immeasurably in the final product. Nevertheless, the story’s spirit remained essentially intact, which was surprising given the track record of studios adapting King’s work. So successful was the film, even its shooting script was later published.
Unfortunately, new material didn’t work for me in Darabont’s translation of The Mist, as noted here.
The movie adaptation also accomplished another rare feat. The director-screenwriter created and added an entirely new segment, which didn’t exist in the source novella, to an already riveting story. Says a lot that it complimented the original work while simultaneously bringing about a singular sequence that could only be part of the cinematic experience. I speak none other than of the Mozart Le Nozze Di Figaro aria scene in the film, which was sung by Edith Mathis and Gundula Janowitz from the 1968 Berlin Opera recording.
It remains an all-time favorite film sequence, and gets to me every time I watch it.
Still, the original work doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone else’s interpretation of it. The novella was released as a single unabridged audiobook by Penguin Group later in the 90’s, and performed by the man whom the Library Journal called “…the first superstar of audio.” Rightly deserved as the late-Frank Muller continues to be held in the highest regard by the audiobook community and book listeners. His voice work through the years earned him many accolades and awards, and he performed a number of Stephen King audiobook productions that provided the pairing a rich legacy4.
Though I was familiar with the story, Muller’s reading of the material proved an eye-opener for this listener. Much like eavesdropping an old friend, or at least someone you thought you knew, tell his own very personal, troubled tale. The kicker at the end made lending an ear well worth the effort. Throughout, the famed narrator’s delivery illuminated the reader’s journey into and out of Shawshank, no matter how dark the saga could and did get. Certainly enough to make it difficult to pause the audiobook once started.
This audio clip a fine example of Frank Muller’s talent, especially at rendering Stephen King’s words off the page and into people’s heads.
Made the audio reproduction a solid compliment to the wellspring in Different Seasons. For the curious, the audio is available on YouTube, found here. If the above doesn’t pique your interest, another version, this one narrated by Clarke Peters from The Wire and performed for BBC Radio 7, might draw you in.
Suffice it to say, years ago when I revisited the tome via audio it planted the seed for what’s written in this forgotten post. Coming back to Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption made me re-appreciate Stephen King’s unanticipated ’82 collection of seasonal tales, and chiefly this intriguingly hopeful, perchance spiritual, lead parable all over again. Its differences with what made the author initially famous opened another avenue for writer and readers. Made the book novella worth remembering, in whatever form you’d care to take it in. At least for me.
“You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?”
I told him I didn’t.
“They say it has no memory. And that’s where I want to finish out my life, Red. In a warm place that has no memory.”
- The books written under King’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman, I wouldn’t read till much later, and The Dark Tower series I never did get into. ↩
- James Mason agreed to play the former Nazi, Kurt Dussander, but died from a heart attack before filming began in ’84. Richard Burton was considered as his replacement, but a cerebral hemorrhage took him before accepting the part. Filming with Ricky Schroder and Nicol Williamson began in ’87, ran over budget, and ended after six weeks of shooting. Per IMDB, author King thought Alan Bridges’ film “…was really good.” ↩
- Darabont sent King a query letter in 1980 asking for permission for him to adapt the short story into a film. King agreed because he thought students taking short stories and adapting them into films was a good idea. ↩
- Stephen King would go on to organize a benefit to help defray some of the medical costs following Frank Muller’s tragic motorcycle accident. ↩