Why Carrie Defined Stephen King’s Career

While Carrie wasn't the first novel Stephen King completed, it was his first published novel. The story both defined his career and changed his life.

Stephen King, who is widely regarded as the master of literary horror, might never have reached his current heights of success without his 1974 novel, Carrie, which has played a role in defining his career.

While Carrie wasn't the first novel King ever wrote, it was a different tale than the other works he penned during the same period. He's since seen an incredible amount of success with many other novels being published, film and television adaptations made from his body of work, and has played a role in defining the horror genre as we know it.

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His most recent hit, Doctor Sleep was one of the lower performing films King has experienced in a long time, but modern horror is traditionally permeated with at least one King adaptation, in some form, every year. In 2019 alone, audiences got IT: Chapter Two and Doctor Sleep as well as a new season of Castle Rock, which is based on many characters and stories that have been featured in King's literary universe.

King's Wife Encouraged Him Not To Throw Carrie Out

King, who was a lifelong horror fan, wanted to break into the genre and generated enough ideas to fuel several novels, which remained unpublished as he struggled professionally. In 1973, King was a high school English teacher who made $6,400 yearly (equivalent to $38,000 today). King supplemented his income by publishing short stories in men's magazines, including Playboy. He received an opportunity to become the head of a debate club on top of his teaching, which paid more, but his wife Tabitha told him that he should not take the offer because it would take time away from his writing. During the course of that year, he wrote Carrie. 

Tabitha saved not only King's career, but also the novel that launched it. In his memoirOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King recalls the story of how he got frustrated writing Carrie because he didn't know anything about teenage girls and their experience. Most of his novels featured male protagonists, and he wasn't confident in his ability to tell Carrie's story. When his wife saw the first pages in the trash, she asked about them and encouraged him to finish. When he addressed his concerns, she volunteered to help. Nine months later, he was rejected by 30 different publishers before Doubleday Publishing picked it up. It only sold 13,000 hardcover copies, but its success would reach unrelenting heights. King went on to sell the paperback rights to Signet Books for $400,000.

Carrie Was a Genre-Defining Leader In Feminist Horror

Sissy Spacek in Carrie

Despite his initial concerns, the book is widely regarded as one of the key defining pieces for modern day feminist horror and that particular sub-genre of horror in general. In Carrie, the title character finds herself through the development of telekinetic powers. She overcomes adversity, both from her peers that play a hand in her relentless bullying at school and her overbearing, highly religious mother, Margaret, at home. The horror comes to a head on Prom night when Carrie is chosen to be Prom Queen, then quickly discovers that the event had been manufactured to humiliate her.

Related: Stephen King's Carrie Has Been Adapted Into Four Different Movies

Her tormentors rigged a bucket of pig's blood to dump on her during her crowning ceremony, and the outburst of emotions she experienced following that event triggered her budding telekinesis. Carrie exacts her revenge by locking everyone in the gym before setting it on fire, then proceeds to continue her massacre of her classmates and even faculty members throughout the course of the night. There was only one survivor, Sue, who was one of the only people who showed any remorse for her actions. Sue stayed home on Prom night after talking her boyfriend, Tommy, into taking Carrie as his date in her place.

Carrie has been adapted in many different formats following its initial 1976 film which starred Sissy Spacek in the titular role. There was a sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999), which got negative reviews and was an overall box office failure. There was also a musical based off the story in 1988 and a TV movie in 2002, but director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) retold the tale with Chloë Grace Moretz in 2013 and put Julianne Moore in the role of Margaret. This film got mixed reviews despite remaining closer to King's original novel. For the remake, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Riverdale) was hired to write the screenplay that would be faithful to the source material, which many agree it was. There have been talks of another remake since it seems to have hit another resurgence in popularity, though it could be argued that it has never fully gone out of style.

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