We Are Every Story: Stephen King’s Hidden Masterpiece ‘Lisey’s Story’
The following contains content about self-harm and mental health.
“I loved you then and I love you now and I have loved you every second in between.”
There is something magical and truly unique about the works of Stephen King and the various ways they find an audience in different mediums. There are plenty of diehard constant readers who read, or at least attempt to read, everything he has written. Some only find his work through adaptations in both movies and television. His prolific output is impressive and ever-growing. Although the stories he has written or have been adapted to both the big and small screens vary in degrees of success, there is generally something for everyone, both constant readers and casual fans alike.
Lisey’s Story is one of my favorite stories King’s ever written, and yet, it’s also the hardest one to read mostly due to the overuse of the word “smoosh,” which thankfully in the Apple+ adaptation is left on the cutting room floor (a decision made by King himself as he was the sole writer for the mini-series). Aside from the language, the content is especially hard-hitting and not for the faint of heart. The story hits me on so many levels and though I never list this in my favorite Stephen King pieces, it’s one I often return to that makes me struggle the most in a cathartic way.
Many things written about the book — and the show — have mentioned that it is King’s favorite story he has ever written, and though I will touch upon that later, this is about my connection to the story, and I hope in some ways if this is a show that you missed or a book you haven’t picked up, that you give it a chance. The purpose of this writing is to help someone see something else from a different perspective. A forewarning: I will be discussing themes that are hard to write and read about.
You Are Every Story (Lisey’s Journey)
“I was lost in the dark and you found me. I was hot — so hot — and you gave me ice.”
One of the major complaints I’ve noticed about Lisey’s Story is that the series is more about Scott Landon (Clive Owen) than its namesake Lisey Landon (Julianne Moore). While I understand why some would make this complaint, I can’t personally agree with this assessment. The story is about memory, specifically Lisey’s. In the story, we sift through her memories as she processes loss, love, and the legacy that Scott left behind in the literary world. It’s a look at the emptiness she feels when surrounded by his writing. It’s also about the lack of his presence and how it lingers in every corner of her life. We are watching her grieve, struggle, and come to terms with the fact that not only has Scott passed on, but she will too. We are watching her story; we are watching her fractured relationship with her sisters; we are watching things mend, break, and be renewed in a way that only change makes happen. When the story begins, we have a protagonist stuck in patterns of grief and an inability to move forward. Scott Landon may be the famous writer, but Lisey is the story.
Have you ever had someone in your life who makes you feel ok being yourself? The real you? Have you ever looked at someone and realized that they are every story that has ever crossed your mind, written, or dreamt of? Not because they are magical or somehow better than others, but because they just see your truth and don’t run away even if they don’t understand it at all? That’s Scott and Lisey’s relationship.
At one point Scott tells Lisey, “You are every story.” It happens in the first episode. The line acts as a primer, almost as a thesis statement from King himself. Yes, most of the tale is told in strange flashbacks with Scott. All of it revolves around either Scott’s books, lost manuscripts, or his death, but it also deals with the places he disappeared to as both a child and an adult, and how he wrote about it all to acclaimed status as a true literary giant. While this story is about all of those things, it’s also about the importance of Lisey and her role in Scott’s life. It’s a story about love — true love. Lisey is a strong character who continues to find her strength at times others would give up. Reading and watching her dive deep into herself is a beautiful experience. Every time I read or watch her story I am amazed at the courage, love, and light that King brings into this character.
It truly is Lisey’s story.
Toxic Fandom (The Potential Jim in Us All)
“The harder you had to work to open a package, the less you ended up caring about what was inside.”
Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan) is a Camper, which is the name of the Scott Landon ultra-fans, not too dissimilar from Stephen King’s Constant Reader. There is something about having a Camper as one of the main antagonists in the story that makes it so unnerving. As readers and viewers, we spend quite a bit of time in the mind of said Camper, Jim Dooley. It’s quite honestly a scary place to be. Still, there is a vital lesson that can be gleaned from spending so much time with Jim.
Sometimes we as fans can want something which was never ours to begin with. We generally gravitate to authors or creators who tap into something within ourselves, that makes us feel like we are a part of something bigger. The danger lies in those who feel they are the only one who understands the author or creator and that the creation is connected with their heart and only their heart.
For Jim, it’s an unfinished manuscript of Scott Landon’s and the lengths that he will go to have it. Jim is scary because he represents the toxic fandom that permeates so much of popular culture, but he’s also scary because he acts as a mirror to us, the audience. I know for me The Dark Tower changed my life. I met the love of my life while re-reading the series during the pandemic. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if King had died during his well-documented accident in 1999 or right after he finished the final three books. There the manuscripts would sit inside a box within an office (or at least rumor had it they were). I would pray I wouldn’t go down the same route as Jim, but the obsession would be there, a dark desire for those manuscripts to reach the light of day. Luckily, the entire Dark Tower series did get released. but I’ve always seen a small part of myself in Jim. Sometimes our worst versions of ourselves are good to acknowledge before they take hold. I think that is an important part of art.
Sadly, one day King will be gone — we all will. I don’t see myself going to the extremes that Dooley does but seeing this example in the story is a powerful reminder that no matter how many synchronicities King’s writing has provided me, I’m not the only one who understands him like Jim thinks he’s the only one who understands Scott Landon. Hell, I’ll never know Stephen King personally, but it doesn’t mean his words won’t have a profound impact on me forever — they always will. It’s just nice to be reminded of what toxic fandom looks like on an extreme level.
Going Places (Scott’s Journey)
“I’m so afraid that all I can reach will lead me to all I dare not see.”
Scott Landon is a character I relate to in many ways (no, not the famous author part). At a young age, Scott escaped the world and stresses around him by going someplace else. It was a place called Boo’ya Moon, and he’s gone there since his childhood. The show does a terrific job showing what this place is like. It’s at once beautiful and terrifying. I think it’s an escape, but the dangers of the world are still there. Scott is “gone” when he goes there.
Since I was a kid, I would just disappear inside myself, sometimes with no control and sometimes for hours. Now I wouldn’t literally disappear as Scott does, but I would be “gone.” I wouldn’t be in my body. I never harmed myself like Scott Landon did either, but like Scott was prone to do, I healed quickly any time I had an injury. He would go to Boo’ya Moon and be healed. I think the mental health aspects of the book/show hit me the hardest. Scott isn’t well, but he isn’t broken. He is us, fumbling through the darkness from his past. Reading and then seeing a character go through the closest thing I’ve experienced (and still do sometimes) was profound — it was a jolt. Truthfully, I wish I could go to a world as immersive as Boo’ya Moon, but mine is a little less magical, although strangely less frightening as there isn’t as much darkness surrounding it.
I think the mental and emotional impacts of using a place where trauma is addressed and tackled in a fantastic way helped me process my childhood traumas. Like anything within ourselves, we can get lost. We see this in Lisey’s sister Amanda (Joan Allen) who Scott taught the healing powers of Boo’ya Moon, but like so many of our mental states, we can easily be trapped there. Being trapped inside of ourselves and being unable to get out is the scariest feeling alive — at least to me. It’s one I know too well. Still, there is hope, and we can get out and we can heal. Lisey’s Story shows us that. It’s not always in the way we think, but healing can be a beautiful thing.
Memory is a Funny Thing (The World Through Lisey’s Eyes)
“There were no ghosts. Only memory.”
There is something amazing about seeing things through Lisey’s eyes, particularly her memories. The story (the show especially) oscillates between time periods which could be a challenge to the viewer, but it makes sense because so much of this is Lisey remembering the time she spent with Scott when he was alive. Since she is on a quest almost from the start, reaching back into her mind and looking for clues and how to eventually access Boo’ya Moon is beautiful. The imagery and the story that she is telling are beyond powerful.
As the story progresses and the tension increases, we follow Lisey through both the present and the past. We are given a direct look at how she processes grief and pain and then begin to understand that she was really every story Scott ever wrote. She was at once his anchor, his partner, and his eternal lover. She didn’t see him as broken but instead as human. And he did the same for her. She eventually understood the trauma that impacted his life. When he suddenly died, she was stuck in patterns of grief and trapped in her own way, but by accessing her power and strength and understanding of both her family, Scott, and the darkness inside of her, she finds herself able to move on and realizes that Scott will always be with her.
This was Lisey’s story. It always was, after all.
Moving Forward (Healing and Growth)
“Isn’t bravery always sort of beautiful?”
My biggest takeaway from King’s self-proclaimed favorite novel is that for one to heal, one must accept that dark and light exist at the same time. When we recognize whatever it is that is holding us back actually has a purpose, we must find out what that purpose is, but we must not let it consume us. Lisey’s Story is a love story, but it’s not just about the love between Lisey and Scott — it’s about love of the world around us. It’s about moving forward. It’s about allowing yourself to grieve. It’s about admitting it’s ok to be stuck. It’s ok to go places. It’s ok to move forward. It’s ok to be you. You, like Lisey, are the story after all, and that is beautiful.
I suggest picking up a copy of Lisey’s Story novel if you’re a King fan. It’s an incredible read and one that isn’t too long. If you have Apple+ (I know, there are just too many streaming services), give the TV series Lisey’s Story a watch; this show deserves more attention. While it may not necessarily be for you, for me it was like coming home, helping me be okay, and moving forward. I hope someone reading this decides to check this story out in either form. I hope it unlocks for them what it did for me. 🩸
Quotes are from the novel Lisey’s Story by Stephen King.
Justin Drabek is a contributing writer for Manor Vellum. He also writes for Horror Obsessive and formerly for Killer Horror Critic. He loves cats, and dogs seem to like him…he’s not so sure about them. Follow him on Twitter @Justin_Drabek.
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