It’s almost difficult to believe now that I was more into books than video games as a young child. Reading was something I did almost every day after being taught at an early age by my grandmother; and I have fond memories of visiting our local library and spending long sunny days with hardbacks in her garden.
During the summer holidays when I was maybe eight or nine, my dad handed me a paperback. He was very into Stephen King back then and had taken to reading books on his lunch-breaks. He’d finished one that day and thought I might like it too: a somewhat unpopular novel called The Eyes of the Dragon, originally published in 1984. This fantasy took place in a medieval world and told the epic tale of a young hero framed for his father’s murder, a powerful sorcerer and the battle between good and evil.
I’m not sure why my dad thought this would be suitable material for a nine-year old. Sure, The Eyes of the Dragon was a deviation from King’s usual horror stories but it had the effect of making me eager to read more of his works. My grandmother borrowed novels on her library card for me and I moved on to his scary classics – although I did stop for a short period after reading Pet Cemetery. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more frightened by anything I’ve read since.
King eventually introduced me to other writers in the genre, including Dean Koontz and James Herbert, although I don’t recall the time I spent with them in as much detail.
Perhaps that’s because I found myself continuously returning to his novels while growing up. There was just something about the way he weaved together words to create stories that made you feel as though someone was watching you, featuring characters who weren’t perfect heroes but flawed humans.
The one I remember most was The Stand, another book given to me by my dad when I was far too young for it.The story is a vision of the breakdown of society after the accidental release of a strain of influenza modified for biological warfare causes. That 99.4% of the world’s population are killed in an apocalyptic pandemic by what was initially a common sickness makes it all the more terrifying; read this novel while the person next to you is coughing and you’ll soon feel a chill creeping up your spine.
I love tales where seemingly unrelated threads come together in unexpected ways, and that’s one of the reasons why The Stand is so brilliant. Nothing in it is an accident and every situation means something. Smaller narratives, belonging to characters who are neither complete heroes or villains, are gradually interlaced to create something much larger. I found myself caught up in an ambitious battle between good and evil where it never felt certain that the lighter side would triumph, just like with The Eyes of the Dragon all those years ago.
This will always be one of my favourite books although I rarely get the time to read nowadays, and it influenced my gaming preferences in some ways.
Take two of my favourite video game series: Dreamfall and Fable. They’re stories about the struggle between light and dark, spanning an extended period of time and resulting in a situation which isn’t entirely positive. I love that feeling of being involved in something which feels as though its foundation could repeat and go on forever.
And even though I can’t play anything in the horror genre myself, I find it difficult to not watch a scary story while it’s playing out. My husband frequently gets roped into taking on the controls for releases such as Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and Blair Witch because I want to find out what happens – from the safety of behind a cushion. There’s something about horror which keeps pulling me back into its murky depths, not wanting to find out what’s hiding in the shadows but unable to look away.
I credit the start of my love of video games to finding The Secret of Monkey Island as a child because it showed me that stories I thought existed only in books could be brought to life on-screen. Perhaps if my grandmother hadn’t shared her love of reading when I was young, I might not have become as enraptured as I did and maybe then I’d be blogging about something completely different today. It’s been a number of years since I last read The Stand. I think I might have to do something about that.
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