Losing Stephen King Manuscripts Means Losing Important Pieces of Our Literary History

Bangor book collector Gerald Winters thought he'd lost several original Stephen King manuscripts. That is fortunately not the case.

On Jan. 16, a water line broke and flooded a little shop in downtown Bangor, Maine. That shop was none other than Gerald Winters and Son, owned by Winters himself, a collector of rare signed books, manuscripts, and letters. His business, which opened in 2016, acts as a bookstore as well as a sort of niche museum for those who love pop literature. 

Letters written by J.R.R. Tolkien, signed copies of George R. R. Martin and J.K. Rowling first editions, and his most important collection of all: a ton of Stephen King manuscripts, signed editions, letters, and memorabilia – such as old fan newsletters, posters, periodicals and rags with some of the writer’s earliest published stories, and even a rare King action figure based on his appearance on The Simpsons. If you’re as big of a King fan as I am – or a Constant Reader, as Uncle Stevie likes to call us – Winters’ shop is your heaven. 

But last week a water line broke and flooded Gerald Winters and Son, destroying up to 90% of the shop’s inventory. In an alarmingly cruel twist of fate found in only the darkest of King stories, Winters had moved much of his collection to the basement the week of Jan. 16 so that he could reorganize his shop. This put even more of his inventory in danger. Winters estimated that he had lost up to 2,000 rare books and seven original manuscripts typed by King, all of which had taken the collector years to gather. This added up to tens of thousands of dollars in losses for Winters.

“I’m horrified,” King told the Bangor Daily News a day after the accident. 

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I was horrified, too, to think that seven major pieces of our literary history had been washed away by the most unstoppable monster of all: fate. Among the manuscripts thought to have been destroyed were drafts of Black House, “Dolan’s Cadillac,” “The Plant,” the script for Creepshow, and two drafts of The Eyes of the Dragon

The Eyes of the Dragon was the very first King novel I read back in my early adolescence and the book that opened my eyes to both adult fiction and the horror genre specifically. While it’s not explicitly meant as a work of horror – King actually wrote this adult fairy tale for his children – there were scenes with the evil sorcerer Flagg that were so inescapably horrific that I had no choice but to enthusiastically lap up the blood oozing out of the rest of his early novels.

While most King fans back in the late ’80s apparently hated The Eyes of the Dragon because it felt like too much of a departure from the writer’s more well-known works, such as Carrie and The Shining, this book meant the world to a kid in the 8th grade trying to escape the growing YA space being carved out for him by the publishing world. I loved the Harry Potter books but not much else meant for kids trying to figure their shit out. To me, The Eyes of the Dragon, with its racy moments of sex and betrayal, was the next logical step for a Harry Potter fan. It remains, all these years later, one of my favorite literary experiences and is in no small part the reason I write today. 

Imagine my relief then when Winters reported to the Boston Globe on the Friday after the flood that six of the seven manuscripts thought destroyed were recovered with little to no damage. Winters had kept the typed pages in special boxes that were airtight and watertight, and thus these precious pieces of literary history were saved. Many letters and signed books were also recovered.

Winters is still looking for the manuscript for the short story “Trucks,” which was the basis for the cult movie Maximum Overdrive – the only film anyone was crazy enough to let King direct himself. While objectively a terrible movie, the people of Bangor have a special relationship with it, as its very own Dysart’s Restaurant & Truck Stop served as the inspiration for the Dixie Boy Truck Stop from the film. (I ate a lobster roll at Dysart’s while on a tour of King’s hometown and it was quite delicious!) All of this is to say that King’s screenplay for Maximum Overdrive didn’t survive the flood, a major loss for cult movie buffs. 

To hear that at least six important pieces of King’s tremendous oeuvre have been recovered is a true relief, especially when it comes to The Eyes of the Dragon, a novel I’ve wondered about for years. While not his deepest (or best) novel, it is a book that has shaped some part of my life, the part that decided to be a writer (for better or worse). To have those two manuscripts, to be able to see how the story changed from one draft to the next, as King figured out how to best relate the monsters in his head to his children, is an invaluable window into the writer’s mind. 

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Losing any original piece of King’s work is losing a piece of our modern literary tradition and history. Perhaps no other writer has captured the nightmares and fears of working class Americans like King. His are terrors of suburbia, of the very real darkness within ourselves. King relishes the destruction of small town comforts – ones we’ve continually called into question, whether justified or deeply misguided, in the ever changing landscape of our country.

In many ways, including those involving killer clowns, King is a chronicler of the ugly things waiting to seep out of the darkest sewers of our minds. That he makes those ugly things concrete in the shape of monsters – a quality that compels some members of high literary culture to deem his work unworthy of serious examination – makes King no less important when discussing the things that have shaped American culture for the past fifty years. Perhaps he’s even one of the most important shapers of that culture for the simple fact that he speaks to a more general populace and not just an academic or artsy one.

Whether he knows it or not (King is an unbelievably humble guy), these manuscripts allow us to see the process of our culture being shaped and that makes them unbelievably important – even the bad ones that sometimes result in beloved cult movies, such as Maximum Overdrive, or a personal favorite, Dreamcatcher. At the very least, The Eyes of the Dragon helped shape me. (Scott Snyder, one of the great comic book writers working today, tells a fantastic story about how The Eyes of the Dragon made him fall in love with storytelling while having a tough time at an all-boys sports camp.) 

I visited Bangor and Gerald Winters and Son for the first time in August 2017 as part of a press tour leading up to the release of The Dark Tower and was amazed by the rows, stacks, and racks of deep-seated love for King’s work. It’s a small shop with glass-encased hardcover editions, cardboard cutouts, movie posters, and even a sign that proudly asks you to “Vote Pennywise.” I spoke to Winters for no more than a few seconds to ask him about the different gift items in the glass case next to the register. What I remember is that he was nice and I wish I’d asked him to show me The Eyes of the Dragon manuscripts, if only briefly. He was understandably busy with the rest of the reporters in my group, though.

I did buy a few things: a keychain for room 217 at the Overlook Hotel (the story of the significance of this particular room is best left for another day) and the t-shirt King wore on the cover of Parade magazine that reads, “I <3 Books.” Neither the keychain or the shirt are particularly rare, but they mean a lot to me. You can imagine what Winters’ collection meant to him. I hope he has more good news for us in the coming days, as he wades through his shop. For now, let’s all rejoice in the fact that six pieces of our literary history were preserved. 

John Saavedra is an associate editor at Den of Geek US. Find more of his work on his website. Or just follow him on Twitter.

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