Discover the Charm of Dark Retellings & Cozy Horror in Stephen King’s ‘Fairy Tale’


Fairy Tale by Stephen KingKing’s Out Here Redefining Dark Retellings & Cozy Horror


Stephen King reflected before writing Fairy Tale and asked himself what would make him happy to write, and this was it: “As if my imagination had been waiting for the question to be asked, I saw a vast deserted city—deserted but alive. I saw the empty streets, the haunting buildings, a gargoyle head lying overturned in the street. I saw smashed statues (of what I didn’t know, but I eventually found out). I saw a huge, sprawling space with glass towers so high, their tips pierced the clouds. Those images released the story I wanted to tell.”

The story King ultimately wanted to tell was one of Charlie Reade, a 17-year-old sports star who learns far too young about terrible heartbreak, addiction, and grief. By the age of 17 and barely a football field away from graduating, Charlie seems to have it all. But then one afternoon, he hears a dog mournfully howling in his neighborhood—a dog who had once been called vicious, dangerous, and a reincarnation of Cujo—and he is unable to ignore the cries. Upon entering the dog’s backyard, he discovers that the dog’s owner, Mr. Howard Bowditch, had fallen from a ladder and was unable to get up.

What comes next is a beautiful relationship between a young and elderly man who develop a unique, almost grandfatherly bond, but it pales in comparison to the love Charlie feels for Mr. Bowditch’s dog, Radar, a female German Shephard who is anything but foaming at the mouth. But Charlie soon discovers that there is more to his new relationship than an elderly pair of man and dog and an old house filled with books and outdated devices.

Given his age and condition after his fall, it comes as no surprise when Mr. Bowditch dies, leaving the aging Radar in Charlie’s care. But in leaving behind his possessions, Charlie discovers that the shed behind Mr. Bowditch’s home isn’t a shed at all—but a portal to another world, and it’s a place where Charlie might be able to save his elderly furry friend.

Entering the boarded-up shed in the backyard, Charlie begins the slow, haphazard descent into another world, via a spiral stone staircase, and what lies below is at first more than he can fathom—but eventually, he finds himself questioning which world is real, which world is the fairy tale, and which world he wants to spend his final days in.

Charlie and Radar in Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Echoes of Fairy Tales Past

True to its name, Stephen King truly has created a fairy tale landscape within this book, complete with a royal family, a princess that Charlie finds himself falling for, strange creatures, a beyond-terrible curse—and a monster who guards it.

Both, in the dialogue and the descriptions of the story, there are frequent references to well-known fairy tales, including RumpelstiltskinHansel and GretelLittle Red Riding Hood, and even The NeverEnding Story and The Wizard of Oz.

Though there are references to fairy tales in this book, this is hardly a Disney-friendly rendition, but more so leaning into a Brothers Grimm or true-to-Stephen-King gory take on the genre. But that isn’t to say that the echoes between what King has created and the stories Charlie (and we) are familiar with aren’t, well, enchanting.

And—speaking of echoes…

Welcome to the Stephen King Universe

At some point, any regular reader of Stephen King will either mention “the Stephen King Universe” or “Easter eggs.” It’s common to read a Stephen King book, or watch one of his films, and notice a nod to another story. Sometimes, it appears to just be a nod—like Radar being compared to Cujo—but other times, it holds serious significance.

What I noticed from page one was a stirring in my memory of other characters, other stories and other towns—not that I had heard this exact story before, but that there were echoes—consistencies—that gave the book a certain sense of familiarity… and a chill that only a Stephen King book has.

There are some easy comparisons here, like two boys’ voyages to save someone they love in Fairy Tale and The Talisman, or the literal descent down a staircase into another world or another time in Fairy Tale and 11/22/63—but there were other nods that were even more interesting to me. There’s a similar first-person narration to Hearts in Atlantis, and I loved the subtle nod to Lisey’s Story through the mutual collecting of books and magazines.

But perhaps my favorite nods were the ones to The Dark Tower series—which regular readers know is the grandest place for Easter eggs—with the red poppies leading to the city like the roses leading to the Tower, or even Mr. Bowditch’s gun of choice, matching the Gunslinger.

Charlie and Radar in Fairy Tale by Stephen King


Begin Your Own ‘Fairy Tale’ Journey 

Fairy Tale

Written by Stephen King

Scribner; First Edition (September 6, 2022), 608 pages

ISBN-13: 978-1668002179


“I read (in one long, long sitting) Stephen King’s fabulous Fairy Tale and it was just such a trip! A trip to a magical, terrifying land where wonders and horrors are one. But also a trip back home- to that prose that lulled me into nightmares in my teens. The voice of the King.” Guillermo del Toro


Perfect for King Newcomers & Lovers of Cozy Horror

A question I am asked—pretty much every time a new Stephen King novel comes out—is if this book would be a good place to start. After all, Stephen King published his first book at the age of 18, and he’s now 74, so the books are piling up. I started reading King right after my thirteenth birthday, in bed after a surgery (which would make King proud, as he often turned to reading after his ear surgeries as a child), and my introduction was Misery. It was heavy for a young teenager, but it remains one of my favorites.

That being said, I believe King’s work made a significant turn after his hit-and-run accident in 1999, the appearance of more of his mystery-style writing, as well as Lisey’s Story, which gave us a more emotionally compelling (and heart-wrenching) and character-driven story than we had seen in his earlier works, and I find some of his newer work to be more palatable in a way as an entry point.

Fairy Tale feels like a perfect choice to open the door. It’s character-driven, it has amazing dark fairy tale retelling elements to it, it reads like cozy horror, and it has King-worthy spooky twists. It isn’t terrifying, and it isn’t gory in the way, say, Dreamcatcher is, and I think it would be an incredible launching point for anyone.

Charlie and Radar in Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Risking It All for LOVE

Beyond the possessed cars, aliens and dancing clowns, Stephen King has a secret that his whole fandom knows: he’s a sucker for love. No matter how dangerous or unexpected this new world could be, Charlie knows what he needs to know: if he is successful, Radar will live.

The extent to which Charlie pushes himself to save this dog and the resolve he has against danger is all at once admirable and enthralling. Knowing the danger this young man and his dog are in, you’ll struggle to be able to put the book down, wondering if they’ll make it past the next despicable-looking character or if they’ll make it somewhere safe before nightfall when dark creatures descend.

But while I loved their relationship, I loved the world-building King managed to do, as well, not to mention the curse and how it impacted every single character differently. The detail in this book is so rich, and it makes the world feel that much more real because the characters inside of it are true individuals. There’s also an urgency to the writing, including heavy foreshadowing, that made me want to turn the pages faster than I could read them. This is an incredible take on the concept of the fairy tale and a welcome addition to the Stephen King collection.

In short, I understand why this was a story Stephen King wanted to tell — and this is absolutely the sort of story that would make him (and his fans) happy.



Stephen King and Fairy TaleSTEPHEN KING was born in Portland, Maine in 1947, the second son of Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. He made his first professional short story sale in 1967 to Startling Mystery Stories. In the fall of 1971, he began teaching high school English classes at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. Writing in the evenings and on the weekends, he continued to produce short stories and to work on novels. In the spring of 1973, Doubleday & Co., accepted the novel, Carrie, for publication, providing him the means to leave teaching and write full-time. He has since published over 50 books and has become one of the world’s most successful writers. King is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to the American Letters and the 2014 National Medal of Arts.

Stephen lives in Maine and Florida with his wife, novelist Tabitha King. They are regular contributors to a number of charities, including many libraries, and have been honored locally for their philanthropic activities.

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Written By McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan (she/her/hers) lives and writes in Europe with her family (originally from the Midwest). In addition to being the Editor-in-Chief of Lit Shark Magazine and the Banned Book Review, she is a novelist, poet, and book reviewer. She received her MFA in Poetry from Western Michigan University and her BA in English/BS in Education from Indiana University South Bend, where she began her work in publishing. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, Young Ravens Review, The Birds We Piled Loosely, and Encore Magazine, among others; and her book reviews and essays have appeared in The Rumpus, Green Mountains Review, Memoir Mixtapes, The Life Collective, Her Journal, Motherly, and more. When not writing, she enjoys reading, appreciating nature, and spending time with her husband and three children.




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