Without a doubt, it can probably be agreed that Stephen King is one of the most successful and popular novelists working today. After a career of more than forty years, not only are King’s novels and short stories still going strong, but they have been the source of countless film and TV adaptations. King’s writing has been the basis of everything from horror classics, such as Carrie and The Shining, to more dramatic works, such as Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption. Most recently, King’s 2009 novel Under the Dome was adapted into a CBS television series this past summer.
With so much success to live up to, it can be understandable that Joseph Hillstrom King didn’t want to live in his father’s shadow. As such, when he decided to follow his father’s footsteps and get into writing in the mid-1990s, Joe King decided to use an abbreviated form of his name as a pseudonym, becoming Joe Hill. Before moving into writing, Joe Hill was probably most well-known for when, at the age of nine, he starred as Billy in the framing story of George A. Romero’s 1982 anthology horror film Creepshow, which was written by his father.
Even through Joe Hill strived to separate himself from his father’s legacy and develop a writing career on his own merits, it quickly became apparent that he was destined for this legacy, whether he wanted to or not. After a decade of writing short stories under his pen name, the cat inevitably came out of the bag, around the 2007 release of his debut novel Heart-shaped Box, that Hill was Stephen King’s son.
Not only was the novel immensely successful, but it also seemed that Hill was following his father’s footsteps in terms of film adaptations, since Heart-Shaped Box was quickly optioned by Warner Bros for a film adaptation, with Irish director Neil Jordan (Interview with the Vampire) set to direct. However, as it currently stands, the film adaptation of Heart-Shaped Box has yet to surface.
Joe Hill received equal success with his 2010 sophomore novel Horns, which was adapted into a film directed by Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, Piranha 3D) and starring Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple. The film recently premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and is set to have its general release sometime in 2014. Hill’s third novel NOS4A2 (pronounced Nosferatu) was released earlier this year and has become the best-selling novel of his career.
At this point, it can be safe to say that, during his short writing career, Joe Hill has experienced a level of success comparable to that of this father, however, the question that remains is whether or not Hill was able to reach this success on his own merit, or if readers merely bought Hill’s books solely because he is the son of Stephen King?
The answer is quite likely a bit of both. Even though Hill has come clean about being Stephen King’s son, he still writes using a pseudonym and doesn’t actively advertise his lineage. As such, it is quite likely that there are readers who are entirely unaware that Hill is the son of Stephen King.
One thing that is for certain is that, while Joe Hill’s writing career is just getting started, Stephen King’s is slowly reaching its end. King is still going strong in his career, having just released Doctor Sleep, which is his sequel novel to The Shining; however, the 66-year-old King is not getting younger and there will inevitably come a time when he finally decides to retire from writing. When this time comes, the pressure might be put onto Joe Hill to pick up where his father left off, which will undoubtedly be hard shoes to fill. As it currently stands, Joe Hill seems completely content with following his own path.
When it’s all said and done, it is probably for the best that Joe Hill is trying to separate himself from his famous father. While it’s clear that the apple has not fallen far from the tree, Stephen King’s career is not one that can easily be emulated, even by his own son. When Horns is released next year, audiences should be advised to view it solely as an adaptation of a novel from an up-and-coming author, rather than focusing solely on the fact that he’s the son of one of the most successful and poplar authors of the last forty years. Joe Hill just doesn’t need that kind of baggage.
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