Stephen King Is The Modern Charles Dickens

I am reposting this article in honor of Charles Dickens' 200th birthday.

Dan Simmons published a fantastic book called Drood. In the novel, Mr. Charles Dickens is haunted by ghostly figure named Drood. Dickens is sure he saw Drood eating people after a serious train accident. Yes, you read that right: Cannibalism. It's a wonderful, dark, humerous novel.

King said this about Drood on "Simmons is always good, but Drood is a masterwork of narrative suspense. It's a story of Egyptian cults, brain-burrowing beetles, life-sucking vampires, and an underground city beneath London...or is it? Maybe it's all in the drug-addled mind of Dickens contemporary Wilkie Collins (The Moonstone), whose poison jealousy of the Inimitable becomes more apparent as the story nibbles its way into the reader's head."

I think that Mr. King is very much a modern Charles Dickens.

One blog reader responded to my article about Dickens and King by noting, "The last names of Little Nell in Old Curiosity Shop and of Tad in Cujo are almost exactly the same. Both children were created by extremely popular writers and proved outrage among readers because of their deaths. Coincidence?"


Charles Dickens was largely a writer of his own times. A few exceptions come to mind, namely A Tale of Two Cities. (By far, not Dickens strongest work. It is too bad that is forced on school children.) But for the most part, Dickens wrote about his own time period. Like him, Stephen King is very much a writer of his times. Sure, there are a few books that go back maybe to the 50's, but for the most part books take place in the "prime reality" -- right now.


Second, both King and Dickens have/had the ability to enthrall the lower and middle class. Why is King so popular in schools? For the same reason people lined up on docks to cry: "Will little Dorrit live?"

Andrew O'Hehir of wrote, "King's real literary grandfather is not Henry James but Charles Dickens, another shameless yarn spinner who captured the middlebrow popular imagination, who shares King's sentimentality, didacticism and love of the grotesque, and against whom all the criticisms of the previous paragraph (save perhaps the scatology) could be leveled."

O'Hehir continues, "It's impossible to know whether King's work will ever acquire the aura of respectability that Dickens' has. While Dickens was probably just as big a celebrity, in 19th century terms, as King is today, he was never stigmatized as a back-of-the-store genre novelist in quite the same way (nor was the disjunction between popular and elite taste quite so exaggerated)."


Third, King has at times openly tried to emulate Mr. Dickens. For instance, the Green Mile was published in installments much the way Dickens novels were released.

Christina McCarroll and Ron Charles of The Christian Science Monitor note that "Like Charles Dickens, King's published his work in serial form to great commercial success."


Fourth, both writers have a deep understanding of children. In fact, most of Dickens works connect in some way to children. Most popular are David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Pip and, of course, Tiny Tim.

Both writers are willing to take children seriously as characters. They aren't added in to toss out a few cute lines, they are understood at an unnerving level.

 Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace, once said of Dickens, "All his characters are my personal friends."  And we have the same feeling for many of King's characters as well, don't we?  One reason we read King is because we identify with the people in the books. 

If Dickens is known for having popularized Christmas -- what Holiday might we attribute Mr. King? Yes, I'm afraid you're right: Halloween.

Social Injustice

Sixth, both writers fought against social injustice. Dickens with the debtors prisons and picture of dire poverty in England. A good example of this is his novel, "Hard Times."  King speaks clearly on social issues as he sees them today -- his sympathy always falling to the side he sees as the oppressed.

About Mr. Dickens book Little Dorrit, King writes that Dicken's "most sentimental, absorbing, delightful novel...and yes, you will like it. Dorrit is as easy to read as any current best-seller, and more rewarding than most. Also, it explains the whole Bernard Madoff mess. If I'm lyin', I'm dyin'."


Seventh, it is worth noting that both writers are extremely prolific. Of course, Dickens had to write by hand, which certainly would cramp his output. And, at least according to Simmons' view of Mr. Dickens, the old man took long breaks from writing. I've heard that King writes every day except the fourth of July and his birthday. (But I can't confirm that)


Eigth, Dickens left the Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished. That was almost the fate of the Dark Tower! Thankfully, Mr. King lived on and became a part of his own story. (I don't think Dickens ever wrote himself into a novel).

Neither King nor Dickens wrote their ownbiography in so many words. King came pretty close, though, in On Writing. However, both writers used their own lives in their fictional work. King in the Dark Tower, Dickens in David Copperfield.


Both writers have been known to give live readings of their work. It's not just that both did it, but that both saw it as an important aspect to the craft itself. King explains the value at the beginning of the Dark Tower, the Gunslinger, audio edition why it is good to hear the writer himself read the book. Imagine hearing Dickens read his own work!

Subject Matter

I thought this one might be the place where I would find a major difference, until I began to think over Great Expectations. Dickens wrote his fair share of spook stories. Come on, the old woman who lives in her wedding dress is pretty spooky. And she is burned alive in it! Just because they put pretty pictures on the cover of Great Expectations, doesn't mean it doesn't have its fair share of scary stuff.

And in shorter fiction, Dickens often resorted to Ghosts. A Christmas Carole is frightening, with three ghosts scaring poor Scrooge into repentance. 


These guys wrote big books!  Dickens was paid by the word, so imagine hearing the pennies drop every time he pressed the pen to paper!  I need not mention that Stephen King has written a couple of books that are, as he put it, bigger than his head.

I see no point in buying those books that are "all the works of Charles Dickens."  Seriously?  That's like those ones that bind 5 King novels together.  Aren't you afraid it might fall on you while you're reading and cause serious injury -- possibly death!

Dickens -- The Inspiration For Misery?!
Stephen King explained: "The inspiration for Misery was a short story by Evelyn Waugh called The Man Who Loved Dickens. It came to me as I dozed off while on a New York-to-London Concorde flight. Waugh's short story was about a man in South America held prisoner by a chief who falls in love with the stories of Charles Dickens and makes the man read them to him. I wondered what it would be like if Dickens himself was held captive."  (

Dickens On Kindle For. . . FREE!

Mackenzie Carpenter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes:
Charles Dickens celebrates his 200th birthday Tuesday, and while the author of "A Christmas Carol," "Great Expectations" and "A Tale of Two Cities" obviously isn't around to enjoy this tiny, exquisite exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum, he no doubt would be pleased at all the attention his birthday is getting -- while simultaneously outraged that readers can now get his novels on Kindle free.
Interesting Stuff:
  • In his birthplace, Portsmouth, the buses are named after his novels.
  • He was a terrible husband!  He left his wife for another woman, and banished her from the family home.  He even ordered the ten children she bore him not to have contact with her.  Contrast that with Mr. King, who so often honors his family and wife in particular. 
  • Charles Dickens wrote his books by hand. They didn’t have typewriters, so the printer had to carefully read Dickens messy writing.
  • Queen Victoria ordered Dickens be buried in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abby in London.
My favorite Dickens novel is Great Expectations.  So, with free Kindle downloads of Dickens books, you should hurry and get reading!


  1. Never read any Dickens (apart from "A Christmas Carol"). I'll get around to it someday.

  2. WHAT ?! Never read ANY Dickens ? What, did you go to school in California. Oh, wait, even we in the lost pitiful state of California had to read Dickens !

  3. One other similarity between Dickens and the works of King.

    Well this is just my take on it, however I always felt their best works were, in the strictest sense, almost confessional.

    Dickens in some way confessed his own faults with books like Christmas Carol and Great Expectations, his two best works.

    Likewise I'm convinced King in some sense does the same with works like Hearts in Atlantis, Desperation, and in particular The Shining and It.

    Of course that's just my opinion, still you have to admit the idea of King's fiction as confessional is an interesting idea.


    Sorry, wanted to leave username in profile, didn't know how. Old fart tech syndrome.

  4. I couldn't agree more. At one point in my own King overview I said "Someone should do a comparison of King and Dickens, there's a lot there" thinking foolishly I was the first to postulate this idea.

    In addition to the reasons you mention (and kudos, by the way) they occupy similar places in pop culture (Dickens for Victorians, King for little-old-us). If Kubrick (not to mention movies) existed back then, I'm sure people would be divided on whether his version of Our Mutual Friend or the Dickens-approved one was better!

  5. "The last names of Little Nell in Old Curiosity Shop and of Tad in Cujo are almost exactly the same. Both children were created by extremely popular writers and proved outrage among readers because of their deaths. Coincidence?"
    I remeber posting this comment is randalflaggsghost some years back