The Dark Half: King and Romero in Crisis
The Dark Half continues Stephen King's 'writer in crisis' concept as a means of exploring the act of authoring horror fiction: The Shinning and Misery (and to some extent Desperation) have as their protagonist a novelist who is trapped within a remote environment: Jack Torrance and his family are trapped within The Overlook Hotel whilst the severely crippled Paul Sheldon of Misery is held hostage by his 'Number One Fan', Annie Wilkes. As Torrance immerses himself deeper into insanity to sustain himself, so Sheldon uses his fear to write what turns out to be his best novel to date.
Of the two novels, The Dark Half bares the strongest resemblance to Misery: In both narratives the novelist kills off their best selling character (Sheldon's Misery Chastain and Beaumont's pseudonym George Stark) in order to write more 'serious' literary works. Their literary deaths are, however, short lived as each returns, in one form or another, to punish their creator. One cannot help but see these texts as King critiquing (and fearing) his own success - the paranoia of reprisal from the established audience (let alone a critical response) as well as the anxiety of how one is perceived as the creator of disturbing and violent acts: In Misery Sheldon writes for an audience of one, Annie Wilkes, yet as his 'Number One Fan' she is representative of all of Sheldon's fans (implying that readers of such fictions are as deranged as those within the novels) where as George Stark represents that dark secluded part of the writers personality that enables them to produce such horrific works of fiction.
As the threat to each writer increases, those around them are systematically killed and so implicate a sealing of the fate of the writer. Their only chance for survival ironically remains in their ability to write: Sheldon is aware that if he continues to write Wilkes will not kill him and so provides him with the opportunity to conceive of an escape plan where as Beaumont must confront his alter ego and write with him in order to prove that the dark and violent acts of the George Stark novels come from him and not his alter ego.
Within the novel King provides the reader with a multi layered text, one that is symbolically written in an almost schizophrenic style as it shifts from placid descriptions of the Beaumont's family life to the graphic descriptions of Stark's murders. As a novel of seemingly two halves one cannot help but continue to draw comparisons with the author himself, one who opted to publish some of his darker, more violent texts under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman.
Whilst King's critique is internalised and centred upon the self, Romero often presents an externalised analysis, using his characters and their isolated entrapment to deftly examine contemporary cultures decline into consumerist violence. Whilst doing this Romero, like King, makes use of images of extreme violence and gore to emphasise his point: the grotesquely decaying zombies of the Dead trilogy are the ultimate consumers, explicitly indulging in acts of mindless cannibalism.