In order to ascertain what The Eyes of the Dragon can teach readers about bestsellers in general, one must examine among other things the style and structure of the novel, the type of the novel, the status of Stephen King as an author, and the relationship of the novel to other novels and to bestsellers in general. Upon examination of the categories into which the novel falls and the patterns which the novel violates, it is clear that an author of Stephen King's stature can deviate from his usual genre and compose a novel (a fantasy aimed at young adults in this case) that will nevertheless achieve bestseller status.
First, it is essential to examine the novel itself. What does it look like? What is the title of the novel, and what kind of novel is it? How is it written? The cover of the novel is green with red writing and the picture of a dragon, which course jumps out at potential readers. The title of the novel is The Eyes of the Dragon, definitely more provocative than the original title, The Napkins, and almost surely destined to sell more copies. Next, the novel is a fantasy, a genre not usually found at the top of bestseller lists, which of course makes the novel an intriguing topic for investigation. This fantasy seems to have made it onto the bestseller list largely due to the fact that Stephen King's name appears on the cover. Had a relatively unknown author written The Eyes of the Dragon, then the best it probably could have hoped for would have been an audience restricted children, a few adults, and those who specifically read fantasies.
Although fantasies do not appear as often on bestseller lists as other types of fiction, some examples provide insight upon comparison to The Eyes of the Dragon. One might first suspect that The Eyes of the Dragon simply falls into the same category as such science fiction bestsellers as William P. Blatty's The Exorcist and Carl Sagan's Contact. But The Eyes of the Dragon is more of a fairy tale than a science fiction novel. It is related to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien's The Silmarillion was even a bestseller in 1977 (Jordan). However, Tolkien set out to create an entirely different world called the Middle-earth that required maps of its geography and an extensive vocabulary dreamed up by Tolkien himself; King simply wanted to tell a brief fairy tale that readers could enjoy on a fairly simple level. Tolkien's work requires an adult level of understanding whereas even a child can fully comprehend King's novel. The childlike tone of the novel is more reminiscent of The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, but those novels create an extensive alternate world just as Tolkien's do, and The Eyes of the Dragon has that touch of evil and fright (especially evident in the descriptions of Flagg, the evil wizard) that is not so prevalent in The Chronicles of Narnia.
The primary reason that The Eyes of the Dragon is different from these other novels is that Stephen King wrote it so that his own daughter could enjoy it. The novel is only 326 pages long, and it has the "atmosphere of a made-up bedtime story" (Tritel). For example, the novel begins, "Once, in a kingdom called Delain, there was a King with two sons" (King); one can easily imagine a parent reading that very sentence to a child as the beginning of a bedtime story. That aspect of the novel is a large part of its appeal. Not only can Stephen King fans enjoy the novel, but children and their parents can enjoy the novel as well, and for that matter, so can anyone who enjoys a fantasy of escape that is easy and enjoyable to read.
Of course, those qualities of the novel are important to its success, but the main reason it is a bestseller lies in the fact that its author is Stephen King. Plenty of authors write tales of wizards and dragons not unlike The Eyes of the Dragon that end up in the fantasy/science fiction sections of bookstores and come nowhere near reaching bestseller status. But when an author of Stephen King's prestige writes a novel, people pay attention and people buy it. The Eyes of the Dragon became a bestseller even though it was somewhat of a deviation for King. However, King is not the only author who has made a deviation such as this one. For example, Michael Crichton's Disclosure achieved bestseller status as a novel about an interesting twist of sexual harassment, a far cry from science fiction novels such as The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park. And if John Grisham were to try his hand at the horror genre or if Anne Rice were to write a novel with no vampires or mummies in it, the chances of achieving bestseller status would remain high anyway because the public recognizes the names of these authors and reads their novels often just for the sake of reading "a Stephen King novel," for example. Stephen King has succeeded in creating his own classification of novel, the novel written by Stephen King. It seems that all of these novels are destined to become bestsellers, so it is no surprise that The Eyes of the Dragon became a bestseller as well. The author's name on the cover of the book can often be more crucial to sales than the title of the novel.
Additionally, The Eyes of the Dragon is evidence that there is room on the bestseller lists for more than just legal thrillers or romance novels. There is room for a fairy tale fantasy as well. And Stephen King mixes in just the right amount of evil and despair to make the novel appealing to a general audience. Peter is wrongly convicted of his father's death and then locked in the top of the Needle while Thomas gets to be king but must live in guilt because he knows that his brother is innocent. At the end of the story, King asks, "Did they all live happily ever after?" (King 322); and he answers realistically that they did not: "No one ever does, in spite of what the stories may say" (King 322-323). But King does maintain the tone of a storyteller talking to a child as well. He admits as narrator that after the events of the story all the protagonists "lived well, and bravely, and I love them all, and am not ashamed of my love" (King 323). And at the end of the novel, one can picture a parent tucking a child into bed as the narrator says, "But now the hour is late, and all of that is another tale, for another day" (King 326). Peter assumes the throne at the end of the story, restoring justice to Delain, but the evil Flagg escapes and Thomas feels obligated to leave the kingdom and pursue an evil entity that will continue to lurk in the shadows. The combination of childlike fantasy and the harsh adult reality of the perpetual presence of evil make the novel interesting to wide audiences.
Another point worth noticing concerns the many illustrations by David Palladini that adorn the novel. People often assume that bestsellers are aimed exclusively at adults, but the fact is that bestsellers are the novels that sell, even the ones with illustrations that are aimed at children as well. People most often associate illustrations with children's books, and in this case that is to some degree accurate because Stephen King intended for his daughter to read the book, but it is clear that illustrations do not preclude a novel from becoming a bestseller simply because younger readers are part of the target audience. Indeed, the illustrations and many chapters help break up the novel into parts that make it easier to read and therefore more appealing to a greater number of readers.
One final assertion about what The Eyes of the Dragon can teach readers about bestsellers is subtle but is definitely worth examining. Adults may often tell themselves that fantasies and fairy tales are just "kids' books" and that they as adults have no interest in reading them. It could often be the case that an adult is merely unwilling to admit that an earnest desire to read such fiction exists. So if the novel has Stephen King's name on the cover, such an adult would definitely be more likely to purchase the book with the conviction that all remains well because Stephen King is the author and because reading his work is perfectly acceptable for adults because he always produces bestsellers. Admittedly, this instance could be rare, but it could very likely contribute to the sales of the novel. This hypothetical instance would be another example of someone who purchases a bestseller because of the author and not necessarily the content of the work.
Clearly, The Eyes of the Dragon holds a special place among bestsellers. Of course, the primary reason for its success is the reputation of its author, indicating an important facet of bestsellers--that well-known, successful authors have not only achieved fame but have also gained the freedom to explore other methods and categories of writing with strong possibility of continued prosperity. But this important lesson about bestsellers should not overshadow the other important characteristics of the novel. The novel is a fantasy of fairy tale qualities that pits good against evil and beckons children and adults, a bestseller that is truly fit for readers of all ages rather than only adults. This novel reminds the public that even bedtime stories can be bestsellers.
"1990s Bestsellers." People Entertainment Almanac. n. pag. Online. Internet. 30
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Jordan, Cory. "The Silmarillion." Bestsellers Database. n. pag. Online.
Internet. 30 Apr. 2000. Available http://www.engl.virginia.edu:8000/courses/bestsellers/search.cgi?title=The+Silmarillion
King, Stephen. The Eyes of the Dragon. New York: Viking Penguin, 1987.
Tritel, Barbara. "What the Wicked Magician Did." New York Times Book
Review 22 Feb. 1987: 12.