My Life In Books: Different Seasons

I found this book in my junior high school library. It changed my life – quite literally. Very simply, this was the first Stephen King book I ever read, and he so blew me away as a writer that he’s influenced my writing ever since.

DIFFERENT SEASONS is a book containing four novellas, each one representing one of the four seasons – sometimes somewhat tenuously. Three of these tales have been made into Hollywood Films. “Stand By Me” is the film version of the story “The Body”, representing Summer. Four 12-year-old boys go on a hike to glimpse a dead body they hear rumour is lying by the railway track some miles away. The story is more about their journey than the dead boy – and the journey represents their passage from childhood into puberty. The film version did a pretty good job of staying true to the spirit of the story.

Then there was “Apt Pupil”, the Autumn story (subtitled “Fall From Innocence”) about a young boy who makes repeat visits to an old man with war stories to tell. I didn’t like this story much, and I haven’t yet seen the film that it was made into, but there’s a sinister air to it, and the real story is about deception – although initially the man seems to have power over the boy, by the end of the story the table is turned, and if there is an evil character, it’s the boy.

“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” is more famous as the film “The Shawshank Redemption”. By the process of elimination this story has to represent Spring (I think the subtitle was “Hope Springs Eternal”, the story of a man, wrongly charged with the murder of his wife, who spends years in prison and all the while persistently digging a tunnel with a tiny hammer, until he can escape this way. The story is mostly about human nature – largely the flaws, but also the hope, which keeps the main character digging his tunnel.

But it was the fourth story – the one subtitled “The Winter’s Tale” that got me the most. As far as I know this has never been made into a film. Possibly it’s considered just a bit too gruesome, but it had such an impact on me I can still remember this story, even though I’ve only read it once and that was nearly 30 years ago. The story, entitled “The Breathing Method” is narrated by a retired doctor, telling the tale of a patient of his, many years ago. His patient was a young single pregnant woman, and back in the 1950s, being single and pregnant was scandalous, but this young woman was determined to have her baby, and that it would be healthy. The doctor decided she was a likely candidate for the new birthing method – known as The Breathing Method – that at the time had only just come into practise, where the woman is not given drugs and instead controls her breathing to make childbirth easier. All went well, and his patient never wavered in her determination to have a healthy baby. But the day she went into labour,there was a terrible blizzard, and the taxi taking her to the hospital skidded on the snow and ice and was involved in a terrible crash right outside the hospital. The pregnant woman was decapitated. But as the doctor arrived on the scene, he realised with horror that the headless body of his patient was still breathing, still in labour, still determined to give birth to her baby.

That story really got to me. In hindsight, perhaps the shock effect would not be the same in a film. But as a 13-year-old, I read that story and it gave me nightmares for a while. It also inspired me to look for more Stephen King books, and it was then I first started to understand the thrill of a really scary book.

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