NY Times: Stephen King’s Horror About Caged Children ‘Sounds Familiar’ in Trump’s America

September 3rd, 2019 6:58 PM

Anthony Breznican interviewed the renowned horror novelist Stephen King for The New York Times: “Life Is Imitating Stephen King’s Art, and That Scares Him -- In his 61st novel, “The Institute,” children with supernatural abilities are taken from their parents and incarcerated. Sound familiar?

In case that subhead wasn’t obvious enough, The Times is referring to Trump “locking kids up.”

King’s writerly reputation has strengthened among the literati in the last couple of decades, as has his liberal political outspokenness. His commentary on Twitter and in interviews are a common feature on NewsBusters. The Times is the latest outlet to give his rants a sympathetic hearing:

Stephen King wouldn’t still be in business if all he had to sell was fear.

Within every terrifying story about a shape-shifting killer clown, homicidal father in a haunted hotel or super flu that depopulates the planet, the relentlessly prolific writer has filled his pages with equally powerful supplies of strength, selflessness and even hope. That may be why so many readers, many of whom discovered his books when they were kids themselves, have remained loyal over 45 years of storytelling.

Breznican, who is in the process of moving from Entertainment Weekly to Vanity Fair, observed that King is about to publish his 61st (!) novel, The Institute, in which “children who display supernatural abilities [are] being forcibly rounded up for study by a shadowy organization that brutally discards them when their usefulness is exhausted” (click “expand”):

For a while, King considered making the villains of “The Institute” the same group that hunted the pyrokinetic Charlie McGee in 1980’s “Firestarter.”

“I thought at first, ‘Well, O.K., I’ll make this The Shop. The Shop is locking these kids up,’” he says. “But then I thought, ‘No, I don’t really want it to be a government deal.’ Instead, he decided the antagonists should be privately funded zealots.

Then, as King neared completion of the book last summer, things got weird. The broad strokes of “The Institute" began to parallel what was happening in real life: Children, seeking asylum at the border, were being removed from their parents under the administration’s family separation policy. “All I can say is that I wrote it in the Trump era. I’ve felt more and more a sense that people who are weak, and people who are disenfranchised and people who aren’t the standard, white American, are being marginalized,” King says. “And at some point in the course of working on the book, Trump actually started to lock kids up.” At least seven children have died while in immigration custody since the policy was enacted. “That was creepy to me because it was really like what I was writing about,” King says. “But I don’t want you to say that was in my mind when I wrote the book, because I’m not a person who wants to write allegory like ‘Animal Farm’ or ‘1984.’”

As any of King’s 5.4 million followers on Twitter can attest, he prefers to save his soapbox for social media. Novels are a place to explore human nature, not current events. “But if you tell the truth about the way people behave, sometimes you find out that life really does imitate art,” he says. “I think in this case it really has.”

King doesn’t claim to have psychic abilities or experience visions of the future, but he may possess one extrasensory power that seems to be in short supply: empathy.

Breznican’s own Twitter feed is full of standard anti-MAGA invective.

He’s far from the first Times writer to raise supposedly ominous parallels between the Trump administration and dystopian fantasy stories.