on 16 January 2015
Some time ago, I heard an audio book version of Stephen King’s “LT’s Theory of Pets”, which was, at the time, an unpublished story read by the author himself live at the Royal Festival Hall. At the time I was disappointed that the introduction to the tape suggested there would be questions at the end but that these weren’t included on the reading.
However, there is a recording in existence called “Stephen King –Live!” which is a recording of the whole show. The first half was always likely to be a minor disappointment, as it’s the reading of “LT’s Theory of Pets”. It's not a bad tale, and it’s quite engagingly told. However, King’s voice isn’t the most interesting to listen to, and he does seem to overdo the humour in it, as if he’s trying to entertain the audience, rather than just telling them a story.
The pieces that disappointed are still present, with the introduction and Stephen King’s words before he goes into the story both hamming up his “King of Horror” reputation. However, the good things from that story are also still present and it is one of the most out and out fun stories that King has written. Largely because of this, King doesn’t seem as draining to listen to as on a previous collection “Blood and Smoke”, where his attempts to voice characters and add gravitas to a more serious reading does end with you getting quite bored of his voice after a while.
However, the main problem with the single cassette version of “LT’s Theory of Pets” for me was that the introduction promised questions later in the recording, which didn’t appear on that version. It is that which made me want “Stephen King Live!” most of all – the chance to hear King answering questions and talking about (hopefully) his life and his work.
With the story been and gone, this time the end of the tape is not the end of the end. Instead, the second can go in, and we get Stephen King, with questions being put to him by Muriel Gray, who is a Scottish writer and broadcaster. This is going to be so good!
Well, no, not quite. Admittedly, there are a lot of very good question put to King, and the tone he keeps up is very light hearted. It seems as if the tone of the evening was set by the story, which was filled with humorous moments and that has been continued for the questioning. King never takes himself too seriously, although he doesn’t try to crack as many jokes when talking about sensitive subjects, such as an eye disease he may be genetically predisposed to. There are a couple of points where his humour could be guilty of bad taste, though – there’s a line he does about Alzheimer’s that really is a little too nasty to be funny.
Some of the questions are well asked, concerning his potential eye problem, and about the future of his writing. Some of those relating to his past, his influences and how he sees himself and his opinions on how others see him are pretty interesting. Some of the questions concerning the way he has written certain things are illuminating, as there are points where you feel you’re actually getting inside the mind of a great writer, which is almost essential for a fan. Some of the questions on these subjects may be the ones you would ask if you had the chance. For fans of King’s film work, his answers to questions on that subject and particularly concerning the original version of “The Shining” are particularly interesting.
There are problems with this tape, though. The first of these is Muriel Gray. It’s always likely to be an interesting conversation – held at London’s Royal Festival Hall, it conversation between an American with a fairly dull voice which has been compared, not unfairly, to Elmer Fudd and a Scottish lady with a fairly strong accent and a very loud, very high pitched laugh. It is this laugh that gets in the way, as she is highly amused, almost to the point of it seeming fawning at points, by more or less anything King says. Admittedly, most of the audience are laughing at some of the things he says, but she laughs louder and longer than anyone else. Considering that she’s closest to the microphone than anyone else, it does get pretty grating after a while.
She doesn’t seem to be the greatest of interviewers, either. There are occasions when she tries to interject things, and she seems a little too amused by things she herself has said at points, as if forgetting that she isn’t the main attraction there. There’s one point where King seems to be getting a little upset with her and ends up talking over her, and he does have to raise the volume of his voice in a couple of parts to avoid stopping talking as she laughs. To her credit, she does deal with the issue of King’s eye disorder quite well and her tone is suitably concerned and sympathetic. Most of the time, though, she seems to get in the way.
Although the answers are actually quite funny, there’s a fair bit of the time that King spends talking about the cricket game he had been to see during his visit to the UK. Whilst it’s funny to hear what he has to say, it’s not really what a fan would want to hear Stephen King talking about; particularly after getting hold of a recording that promises questions on “his life and work”. Given that it’s only a 45 minute session, taking some of that time away, and it does take up a fair chunk of that time, almost seems like a waste. It’s a good thing its funny, is all I can say.
The other major problem is that it has dated quite badly since it was released. The show in question was recorded in August 1998 and some of the questions refer to his “latest” novel which at the time was “Bag of Bones”. Since then he has published all of the works he lists in an answer to one of the questions, as well as many that weren’t even conceived at the time. There’s even a slightly sad moment where he says he feels he stayed settled as a writer largely because “I stayed married and I stayed healthy”. Of course, only half of this has been true for some of the intervening years.
So, the question is, should you buy? Simple answer, no. But let me justify that a little more. If you’re not a King fan, or if you’re someone who would say they liked King, but wasn’t crazy about him, then the answer remains in the negative. But if you’re a massive King fan, as I am, merely learning of the existence is going to make you want it. After all, it’s a rare chance to own an interview, however poorly executed, with a man who could well be one of your favourite writers. If this is how you feel about King, and it’s exactly the way I feel about him, I’m not likely to put you off by telling you it isn’t very good.
It’s going to disappoint you, largely because it’s almost certain that the question you want to hear the answer to wasn’t asked. It’s also going to be appalling value for money as all it has is novelty value - there is no shelf life to it at all. Once you know the questions and you’ve heard the answers, there’s no reason for you to play it again . But if you’re that determined to own it, pick it up on the cheap.
on 19 September 2007
OK, I know that the release date for this product has nothing to do with anything whatsoever. It's a total coincidence that this audio book happened to be released on June 17, 1999, and two days later, on June 19, 1999, a car ran into Stephen King and he suffered very serious injuries. It's just that this date is so significant for Stephen King fans, especially for those of us who have read "The Dark Tower"...
So, how about the audio book itself? What can be said about it?
The version that is sold on cassette consists of two tapes. The first cassette contains Stephen King reading his short story "LT's Theory of Pets", while the second one is a recording of a question-and-answer session with Muriel Gray as the questioner. Both were recorded before a live audience at London's Royal Festival Hall in August 1998.
"LT's Theory of Pets" is also available as a separate audio book (CD, cassette and audio download), and is included in the print version (but not the audio version) of the short story collection "Everything's Eventual". I've reviewed this story on it's own. My conclusion was, "Nice little story with a disappointing ending", and I gave it only three stars.
The question-and-answer session is much better, even though it only lasts 39 minutes. Stephen King fans will really enjoy hearing Mr. King fielding the various questions, and he seems to be in high spirits and makes many amusing remarks. But he also answers the more serious questions, and you feel that you've gotten to know the person whose books you love a bit better.
The questions covered many subjects. Here's an almost-complete list: Discussion of "Bag of Bones", quitting while you're still on top, future projects, "The Dark Tower" series (last three volumes remaining), writer's block, does he get scared by his own writing, favorite film adaptations, "The Shining" movie, cricket (the game), has he finally discovered sex, being honest as a writer, eye problems, and is there an afterlife?
Because the interview took place in August 1998 it is a bit dated, but this can also be interesting in retrospect. I was especially glad to hear Mr. King tell how important it was for him to complete "The Dark Tower" series.
Even though I really enjoyed listening to the question-and-answer session I'm only awarding four stars to the whole product. This is mostly due to the short length of the second tape. You're paying a lot of money for a short story that isn't all that great and only 39 minutes of "the good stuff".
Incidentally, one slightly irritating thing about the question-and-answer session is that the interviewer, Ms. Gray, has a very high-pitched laugh, and she was really enjoying herself and laughing a lot and laughing very loudly that evening. Quite a contrast to Stephen King's low-pitched New England accent.
If you would prefer to read the interview in print then instead of getting this audio book you should get "Secret Windows", a collection of many articles and short stories by Stephen King. That book includes a transcript of this interview, even though it doesn't mention it on the listing here at Amazon. ("LT's Theory of Pets" is not included in that collection, but it's in "Everything's Eventual".)
My recommendation? If you're a Stephen King fan then try to buy a used copy of this audio book at a reasonable price. You'll enjoy hearing Mr. King talk about, well everything.
on 5 February 2010
Does anyone use cassettes any more? It doesn't matter, if you need to hear this collection of tapes you'll find one.
Stephen King is being interviewed by Muriel Gray, the blonde Scots chick who used to present The Tube Channel 4 rock show before Paula Yates. Well, Muriel's written some great horror fiction herself, so have a look and get her novels, they're well worth it.
But Stephen King answering questions and reading one of hs stories was and still is quite something, which makes these tapes precious, despite cassettes not being 'cool' any more.
Of course, interviews with the man can be found on You Tube, but they are not THIS interview. This one was official and released with his good grace, and if you're a King fan you'll thoroughly enjoy it.