Ezy Reading: On Stephen King’s The Last Rung On The Ladder

Evan Kanarakis

As this week features the launch of the Cud’s second annual literary issue I thought seeing as I’m now residing in Bangor, Maine that it might be worthwhile recommending something by this town’s arguably most famous resident, the author Stephen King.

It’s now well known, thanks in a large part to the commercial success of such film adaptations from his work as ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, that King’s considerable writing talents are in no way limited to horror fiction. Indeed, just as ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘The Body’ were short stories that inspired the aforementioned films, it is another King short story, ‘The Last Rung on the Ladder’, that has always remained, in my mind, one of the finest I’ve ever read.

The tale was originally published in the 1978 anthology of King short stories, ‘Night Shift’, and was in fact my first encounter with his writing. It was my mother who bought me the book, and if memory serves correctly it was in either 1987 or 1988, and I was in my first year or two of high school and in hospital for an operation. She brought me two books to while away the time during my recovery –‘Night Shift’, and another collection or short tales, ‘Stories From The Twilight Zone’ by the great Rod Serling. Both books remain favourites to this day, however ‘The Last Rung on The Ladder’ was a revelation.

The story itself is certainly brief and only a few pages long, and so to avoid spoiling the material for any potential readers I won’t go into too much detail. What I can outline is that it’s about a brother and sister relationship and how, as children growing up on a farm, they used to play a game in a barn wherein they’d dare each other to climb higher and higher up a ladder, and each time fearlessly leap off and land safely in a pile of hay. On one occasion the ladder breaks and the sister is left dangling from the last rung of the ladder with only her brother down below racing madly to gather enough hay to save her fall from such a height. Years later the story presents a heartfelt, honest insight into how relationships can change and lives divert. There’s little more I’m willing to say here for fear of giving away too much, however King manages to offer a nostalgic, sad glance back on the promise and innocence of youth, without ever once spilling over into cliché or forced sentimentality.

If you haven’t already acquainted yourself with Stephen King’s ‘Night Shift’, I suggest you seek out a copy, if alone for a chance to read the incredibly moving ‘The Last Rung On The Ladder’, however several other classic, more ‘typical’ King favourites are also contained within, including ‘The Lawnmower Man’ and ‘Children of the Corn.’

Ezy Reading is out every Monday.