In evaluating and reviewing a recent challenge to Stephen King’s Different Seasons (Signet, 1982) in a high school library in Rocklin, California, we were amused to read the following passage in King’s the story “Apt Pupil”. In the passage, the main character, 13-year-old Todd, is discussing his interest in and research into the Nazi death camps during World War II:
“At first the crummy librarian didn’t want me to look at any of it because it was in the adult section of the library, but I told her it was for school. If its for school they have to let you have it. She called my dad though.” Todd’s eyes turned up scornfully. “Like she thought Dad didn’t know what I was doing, if you can dig that.”
“He did know?”
“Sure. My dad thinks kids should find out about life as soon as they can– the bad as well as the good. Then they’ll be ready for it. He says life is a tiger you have to grab by the tail, and if you don’t know the nature of the beast it will eat you up.”
“Mmmm,” Dussander said.
“My mom thinks the same way.”
A little bit later in the story, Monica, Todd’s mother, frets about her boy reading Tom Jones (he’s not actually reading Tom Jones, rather he is prodding old man Dussander’s ex-SS officer memories about his time running a concentration camp):
“She watching him go with a fond smile, hoping there was nothing in Tom Jones he shouldn’t be reading; he was only thirteen. She didn’t suppose there was. He was growing up in a society where magazines like Penthouse were available to anyone with a dollar and a quarter, or to any kid who could reach up to the top shelf of the magazine rack and grab a quick peek before the clerk could shout for him to put that up and get lost. In a society that seemed to believe most of all in the creed of hump they neighbor, she didn’t think there could be much in a book two hundred years old to screw up Todd’s head…”
Oh, how meta. If you read “Apt Pupil” you will see the irony: reading books is the least of Todd’s problems or his parents worries. If only he were innocently reading Tom Jones!
Same goes for King’s works: reading period is the least of a parent’s worries, despite hand-wringing to the contrary.