One of the most sought-after out-of-print books is a violent early novel by Stephen King that he removed from print because he feared it inspired kids to shoot up their schools.
Although King wrote the novel “Rage” when he was still in high school in 1965, he didn’t publish it until a decade later after his other works found success. It first appeared as a paperback under King’s pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1977 and then was published in 1985 in a collection of short novels, titled The Bachman Books.
A few years ago, I discovered “Rage” when I bought the collection at a used book store. After realising it was out of print, I learned the story of why King grew concerned about its circulation.
“Rage” is about a psychologically troubled high school student who brings a gun to school, kills faculty members, and holds his Algebra class hostage. In a 2013 essay published as a Kindle Single, titled “Guns,” King acknowledged he wrote the novel in a world very different from the present-day.
“I suppose if it had been written today, and some high school English teacher had seen it, he would have rushed the manuscript to the guidance counselor and I would have found myself in therapy posthaste,” King wrote. “But 1965 was a different world, one where you didn’t have to take off your shoes before boarding a plane and there were no metal detectors at the entrances to high schools.”
However, the world started changing after King published the book. He asked his publishers to remove “Rage” from publication after the novel was linked to four real-life school shooting incidents:
- In April 1988, a California student held his high school humanities class hostage before backing out and telling police he got the idea from “Rage.”
- In September 1989, a Kentucky 17-year-old held his classmates hostage for 9 hours in an apparent attempt to act out “Rage.”
- In February 1996, a 14-year-old boy in Washington state who was apparently inspired by “Rage” shot and killed his algebra teacher and two classmates.
- In December 1997, a Kentucky 14-year-old fired on a prayer group at his school, killing three, while a copy of “Rage” was in his locker.
The collection containing four novels written under King’s Bachman pseudonym was reduced to three novels, with Rage permanently removed.
In BookFinder.com’s list of the 100 most sought-after out-of-print books of 2013, Rage is ranked higher than any other novel, at number two overall. Used copies of the first printing paperback are currently on sale online for anywhere between $US700 and upwards of $US2,000.
King wrote in his 2013 essay that he didn’t consider “Rage” great literature, given his young age when he wrote it. However, he called it an honest portrayal of the horrors and emotions children — including King — face in high school. “The book told unpleasant truths, and anyone who doesn’t feel a qualm of regret at throwing a blanket over the truth is an a[–]hole with no conscience,” he wrote.
Although King doesn’t believe his novel alone caused those four violent school shooting incidents, he regards “Rage” as a “possible accelerant” affecting people whose troubled backgrounds and psychological problems have already driven them to the brink.
“I pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do,” King wrote.
Some reviewers of Rage on Amazon have shared their own opinions of King’s decision.
“Stephen, I have read that you regretted writing this novel,” one customer wrote in an Amazon review shortly after King removed “Rage” from print. “Please don’t. The actions of others are not in your control. I once was bitten by a rabid St. Bernard, but I don’t blame you for writing ‘Cujo.'”