‘The Monkey’ was originally published in the November 1980 issue of Gallery magazine as a detachable insert. It was later expanded and included in the short story collection of King’s entitled Skeleton Crew. Gallery was a “skin” magazine started in 1972 in imitation of the lucrative Playboy. Because of Hugh Heffner’s love of Sci-Fi and horror, (he was a card-carrying member of the ‘Weird Tales Club’ after all), Playboy often included very good genre fiction. Gallery, I imagine in imitation of Playboy, published their own genre fiction. In addition to Stephen King, Gallery hired some of the same authors as Playboy including Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov. What intrigues me about this story in the collection is that it is early career King. It’s safe to say he had exploded on the scene six years earlier with Carrie in 1974, then followed it up with several bestsellers. King’s status can be seen in his prominent billing on the magazine cover, sandwiched below “‘Girl Next Door’ Winner of the Year” and above “Can We Survive the Next President?” However, at the same time this story was published, he was still publishing under
the pseudonym Bachman, only two stories had been turned into films, Carrie and The Shining, and he wasn’t the genre-shaping force he has become today!
If there is one thing I’d like people to take away from this post it’s that the film Monkey Shines has absolutely nothing to do with Stephen King’s ‘The Monkey’.
For almost my entire life I thought Monkey Shines directed by George A. Romero was a film adaptation of ‘The Monkey’. It is in fact based on the book Monkey Shines by Michael Stewart. I have been very wrong about this story in different ways for years; though to be fair
the movie poster for Monkey Shines is a total rip-off of the Stephen King collection Skeleton Crew. Something I’m not wrong about is it’s a damn good story.
The story is about Hal. As a child, he stumbled across a wind-up monkey with cymbals in the attic/crawlspace. Anytime the monkey’s cymbals ‘jang-jang-jang’ a person dies. After disposing of it 20 years ago it has suddenly reappeared in his life, endangering his wife and kids. He decides it’s time to get rid of the monkey once and for all.
As Wagner said in his opening “it is absolutely imperative that the author convince the reader of the reality within his story.” The basic plot could very easily be campy but the reality and anxiety about what Hal is going through grounds everything. It’s not until very late in the story that I was sure it wasn’t all in his head. Hal is dealing with losing his job, moving his family, a son who is drifting away, and a recent funeral that is dredging up his rather tragic past. It’s easy to see why this object that represents that past is causing major problems. I was invested in Hal which made me invested in the story. There is a supernatural payoff at the climax that was fabulous. Other than two cringe-worthy moments of the material not aging well I thought this story was an amazing piece to launch a collection of the year’s best.
Next: ‘The Gap’ by Ramsey Campbell