On September 21 2022, the legendary horror writer Stephen King celebrates his 75th birthday! Happy birthday, Stephen! Many PopHorror writers will be doing their own writeups of his works, including his books and movies, this month. As a whole, Stephen is proud of his projects and most of the movie adaptations that came from them… except one. The one he is so thrilled with happened to indirectly cause some of the worst tragedies in United States history. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about the 1977 Richard Bachman novel, Rage.
Let’s go back in time for the story behind this one. In 1965, an 18-year-old King wrote a story about a troubled boy that murders his high school faculty and takes his Algebra class hostage. The story was called Rage. Because of the gruesomeness to it, Stephen put it in his drawer for a later day.
Fast forward to nearly 10 years later when the nearly penniless author is trying to sell his stories to Doubleday Publishing. Doubleday editor Bill Thompson took a look some his works, including Rage, and said, “No,” to most of them but settling on Carrie in 1974. Carrie was Stephen’s first published book and he followed up with Salem’s Lot before making another smash success in The Shining in 1977.
Around this time, King felt that some of his earlier works were good enough to publish and asked Bill and the Doubleday bigwigs if that would be an option. Bill said sure but the problem would be oversaturation; too much of anything is not a good thing and too many books at once would be bad. To solve the problem, Stephen agreed on publishing them under a surname, Richard Bachman. The name came from the combination of American crime novelist Donald E. Westlake’s pen name, Richard Stark, and the rock band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, which happened to be on the radio. Under this new pen name, King released Rage in 1977. Initially, it flopped like a dead deer.
King thought nothing of the book content itself. His only question was if he was getting by on luck or talent since Rage flopped but The Shining was a success. In 1978, The Stand became one of King’s signature books, although when he published The Long Walk under the Bachman name in 1979, there was very little interest.
The gig was up in 1985 after a fan named Steve Brown working at a book store discovered that King and Bachman wrote identically to each other. He did some research at the Library of Congress and discovered King himself had signed off on the Bachman novels. Rather than go to the press, Steve called King himself and asked what to do. The author thought it was commendable that Steve went to him personally rather than raise a stink or try to blackmail him, so he came up with a funny idea. King told Steve to write an article about “exposing” Bachman as King and Stephen would say, “Aw, ya caught me!” and allow himself to be interviewed about it.
Once it was discovered Bachman was King, sales for his novels The Running Man and Thinner skyrocketed almost immediately. To capitalize on this, King published an anthology called The Bachman Books which was just The Long Walk, Roadwork, Rage and The Running Man put together. This would be the last time Rage would be published in the United States.
Things went south for Rage beginning in 1988. On April 26, Jeffrey Cox held his San Gabriel, CA classmates hostage for a half hour with a rifle before surrendering to police. He admitted he was a huge fan of Rage. A year later, Dustin Pierce in McKee, KY took his school hostage with a shotgun. Police found a copy of Rage in his possession but Dustin never publicly admitted it was inspiration. Both those instances were scary but there were no casualties. That wasn’t the case on January 18, 1993, when Scott Pennington in Grayson, KY shot his English teacher and the interfering custodian in the head with his father’s .38 caliber handgun after the teacher gave his essay on Rage a C in class.
All these incidents made King want to burn every copy of the book himself, but the final straw came in December of 1997. Fourteen year old Michael Carneal of Heath High School in West Paducah, KY went berserk with a Ruger old style pistol and killed three of his classmates and injuring five others in the process. In his locker was a copy of The Bachman Books anthology. King told his publishing companies never to publish Rage again. So, because of high school idiots in Kentucky and California, the rest of us would never be able to read one of King’s earliest books without going through expensive hoops.
That’s the story of Rage and why King let it go out of print. School shootings continued to happen over the years in Columbine High School in Columbine, CO (1999), Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX (2022), University of Texas in Austin, TX (1966), Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA (2007), and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT (2012). After the Sandy Hook shooting, King published an essay called Guns in January 2013 where he denounced guns and why he himself cancelled Rage and The Bachman Books. Did he do the right thing?
That’s the big question amongst his readers. Why should he cancel a fictional book because of a few morons? Imagine if yours truly was an obsessive fan of Scream, the same movie PopHorror writer Lacy Lou also loves. Now, if I were to have gone insane and started hacking people up in a Ghostface mask in 1998, director Wes Craven might call for a boycott of the movie. Why punish Lacy because I went nuts?
Back in 1971, The Three Stooges comedian Moe Howard went on The Mike Douglas Show and said, “A problem child will act out what they see on TV but a normal child won’t.” Out of the millions of people that had access to Rage until it went out of print, why punish them all because three kids from Kentucky and one from California took a work of fiction way too seriously?
Speaking of one of the kids, Michael Carneal is eligible for parole. He was tried as an adult and convicted before being sentenced to 25 years to life in Kentucky prison. Its been 25 years, so Michael is seeking parole claiming mental illness. Whether or not you believe him is up to you. But, any way you slice it, that doofus is one of the main reasons why Rage is no longer in print. You can still find an original copy on eBay… for $2,000, that is. If you want to drop a month’s rent on a hardcover book from 1977, be my guest. But if a few people didn’t take King’s works too seriously, then maybe you wouldn’t have to sacrifice eating for three weeks in order to afford Rage.
We were robbed of 45 years of Rage because idiots acted out what they read 25 years ago. They should deny Michael’s parole on that alone. Thanks for nothing, Carneal!