Reading The Institute made me want to revisit some King stories that I preferred to The Institute. Stephen King is not a writer I think of as feminist overall – some of his stuff is pretty regressive, but he is feminist in the sense that his work abounds with “strong” female characters. By “strong” I don’t mean that they can light your head on fire (although one of them can). I mean that they are of various ages and classes (but not, alas, races, being almost all White) and they are layered and complex. They are not shamed for surviving. They are allowed to grow. Sometimes they are villians, sometimes heroes, and sometimes some of both. Way back before people were talking much about representation, King was giving us moms in Pintos with marital problems, and middle-aged domestic violence survivors, and crazed elderly fans.
For a list of my favorite female King characters, read on. This refers only to written works, not adaptations. Since I haven’t written everything by King, a lot of iconic female characters are left out of this list – I count on you, readers, to help me out. Also, I read some of these a long time ago and I can only hope that they hold up – they’ve walked with me through many dark passages.
Sue Snell, Carrie: I’m fond of Carrie for obvious reasons. It’s kind of a hot mess but it’s empathetic as hell thanks to a warm narrative voice and the character of Sue. According to legend he wrote a draft and tossed it out. His wife, Tabitha, of whom we shall read further, dug it out of the trash and made him write a full-length novel, which became his first hit. He told her, “I don’t know anything about high school girls,” and she replied, “Well, I do” and went on to be instrumental in the writing process.
Charlie McGee, Firestarter: You little badass. The final chapter of Firestarter (not the violent climactic scene but the actual end of the book) is so satisfying that sometimes I read just that chapter for a little power boost. This is the first King I read and I’ve read it a billion times. I love that kid. She’s smart alright, and has a high level of intuition (possibly a low level of prognostic power), but she still thinks and acts like a little kid. A smart, resourceful little kid. She’s my girl.
Donna Trenton, Cujo: Fucking kickass mom. Regarding the ending, we never criticize authors here (the work, yes, the author no) but just once, allow me to say, “YOU BASTARD.” It’s the only ending King publically regrets, and he let the screenwriters change it for the movie.
Dayna Jurgens, The Stand: The Stand has given us some of the worst female characters of all time (Julie Lawry), but it also gave us Dayna. This book abounds in problematic stuff, and there are some problematic tropes specifically at play with Dayna, but Dayna is an early, positive portrayal of an open bisexual who is accepted by the community. She’s smart, she’s funny, she kicks ass, she makes good plans and improvises like a champ, and she risks everything, more than once, to save her friends. Also, she outwits Satan, so that’s pretty awesome. In high school I based a character in Vampyre: The Masquerade after her. I can offer no higher tribute.
Emily, “The Gingerbread Girl,” Just After Sunset: The protagonist of a short story that reduced me to screaming (while reading) “HIT HIM AGAIN! HIT HIM AGAIN!” Unlike the final girls of many slasher stories, her fight for survival does not make her become evil herself, or cause her to develop PTSD, or set her up for death in a sequel. She is liberated and healed by fighting for and winning her life. Go, team.
Lisey, Lisey’s Story: I have to admit that the only thing I remember about this book is that it gave me a deep and abiding fear of can openers. I dimly recall, however, that Lisey was a great character who went through some interesting arcs and wielded a mean shovel. Anyone want to back me up here?
What do you think readers? Who are your favorites?