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This weekend I posted an article on my Facebook page that caused a bit of an uproar.

For some reason, people are just now discovering an article Dwight Allen wrote for Salon in 2012. Calling himself a “literary snob,” Allen wages a full-on attack of Stephen King’s work and the morons who enjoy it.

The writer admits up front that he’s never had any interest in reading a book by Stephen King, and only did so to figure out why his high-ranking literary friends were suddenly finding merit in King’s work. The entire article is coated in disdain, as if King were attempting to get into a country club without a jacket and tie.

“He’s not one of us,” you can almost hear Allen sneer. “Who does he think he is?”

If you don’t have the time or inclination to wade through the original article, which is a novel–or, at the very least, a novella–I’ll save you the trouble. Allen reads Pet Semetary, Christine, and 11/22/63, and from this, decides King’s immense body of work is crap. He compares it to the so-called literary works he favours, and finds King’s writing suffers by comparison.

This viewpoint is nothing new. As King himself has said, (loosely paraphrased): “The moment you write anything, someone will try to make you feel bad about it.”

I’ve read almost everything King has ever written, including his volumes of letters to his Constant Readers, and I’ve yet to see him refer to himself as literary. Call King a hack if you must, but don’t call him pretentious. The man just gets out there and tells the best story he can, each and every time. His readers may disagree on which ones deserved to be told, but King has never made the mistake of taking himself too seriously. Writing is still fun for him, and if that ever changes, he probably will actually retire, as he’s been threatening to do for at least a decade.

Every writer of genre fiction can tell you about the slings and arrows they’ve suffered. The genre King has made his mark in is perhaps the most beleaguered. Horror is for sick, crazy people with twisted desires, and therefore the people who write it must be every bit as sick and twisted as their fans. Those who say they don’t like horror miss the point that there are as many different types of horror as there are books. Some mysteries, thrillers, dark fantasy, sci-fi, and even romance could be categorized as horror. Sadly, only one category springs to mind when people say they don’t like horror: Extreme Horror (otherwise known as blood ‘n gore).

Gone Girl is one of the scariest psychological horror tales released in recent memory, but it wasn’t marketed as such.

Allen mentioned the struggle of literary authors, who write “beautiful books that reveal something about life on every line,” accepting the fact that, unless they are very lucky, only a handful of readers will ever hear about them. I can understand that the success of King, and J.K. Rowling, and Anne Rice (God knows how they feel about E.L. James) must really rankle some of those authors.

But instead of making it a battle, of declaring a book war and proclaiming which books are worthy of readers and praise and which are not, why not examine each author’s novels to see what works?

Allen missed the point in his critique of King. He evaluated King on the depth of his characterization and what his books revealed about life, and of course found him lacking. But he never once mentioned the “Master of Horror’s” greatest strength: his voice.

King’s voice is so strong that, within a sentence or two, anyone familiar with his work will instantly be able to identify it. It’s a voice that reaches out and grabs you, drawing you in, until you’re hooked. Whether you like the story or not, you are in love with that voice. It’s a voice that’s spoken to many of us since childhood. It’s become a friend to millions of readers. I’ve hated several of King’s books, but I’ve never once abandoned one partially read. Why? Because I love his voice.

That may not make King worthy of a seat in the elitist country club, but I don’t know a single writer who wouldn’t kill to have that gift.

Are you a King fan, or do you agree with Allen’s assessment? What’s your favourite King work? Have you ever had to defend what you read or write?

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59 Comments

  1. Susan Scott

    I’ve read a few of King’s books though I couldn’t tell you which ones. I wonder if people know that King wrote the Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile? A few people I know rate them among the best books they’ve ever read and they are well read people.

    Dwight Allen sounds pretentious in the extreme …

    Reply
    • JH

      Most definitely, Susan. I came across this attitude in college, where a fellow student said fairytales and anything popular were not worthy…only “great literature” should be enjoyed.

      Missing the fact that today’s great literature is often created by yesterday’s hacks. Just look at Charles Dickens.

      King has a great story about a woman telling him she didn’t like his work, but instead preferred stories like Shawshank Redemption. When he tells her he wrote that too, she argues with him. You’re right; a lot of people don’t know.

      Reply
  2. Todd

    This is a great post. I’ve read every Stephen King book and short story collection, and his book On Writing is the best book on writing I’ve ever read. So, I’m a fan, and my ire gets up when I hear literary types bash King. I also read contemporary “literature” as well, and King’s writing stacks up against it and at the very least belongs amongst it if not surpasses it. You’re right about King’s “voice” it’s remarkable and beautiful and I love reading him and I’ll defend it to anyone who will argue against it, but his greatest gift is his sheer output. How many “literary” writers can even match 5% of what King has done in his career. Thanks for writing this post I’ll be sharing it with all of my pretentious friends.

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome to my blog, Todd! Thanks so much for commenting.

      His output is insane! It’s one of many aspects of his career that is worthy of awe.

      And I totally agree with you about On Writing. Best. Book. EVER.

      Reply
  3. Heather M. Gardner

    Bashing Stephen King just seems like a cheap shot. I admire Mr. King’s body of work, even if I’m not a fan of his writing.

    That’s not his fault. I started with the wrong book and never tried again. (IT) (I hate clowns).

    The man can write a shopping list better than I can, but it doesn’t mean I like what he’s buying at the store.

    Some people just don’t have anything better to do than to rip up others.

    Hi! : )
    HMG

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Heather, 🙂

      I recommend Different Seasons if you’re willing to try again.

      It’s long been a joke that King could write a shopping list and people would buy it. That’s the power of his voice.

      Reply
  4. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    Allen who? Yeah, no one will remember you, dude. They will remember King for years to come though. making an impact with the readers matters far more.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Alex.

      Perhaps Allen stumbled upon an audience-boosting truth: if you want high numbers of viewers, bash King.

      I’m sure his audience has lowered back to normal by now.

      Reply
  5. Somer

    That Salon article was so full of the author name-dropping literary authors that it seemed like he was not only driving the point home that his tastes are more refined than the pleb masses who read King, but that he was also trying to make sure that anyone reading the article would be thoroughly impressed with him. I’m a King fan as well as someone who has criticisms of his work. I’ve read nearly everything and while I love it, there are also quirks to the works that make me a little nuts. Will I stop reading him? Hell no. I resent the point that the Salon article tried to make where genre fiction is seen only as an escape from life while literary fiction is an enhancement of life. Anyone who has become deeply attached to a Stephen King character carries that affection with them forever. If that isn’t enhancing life, then I’m doing this wrong.

    Reply
    • JH

      Bravo, Somer. Totally agree!

      And yes, the entire article oozes with, “Look how much better I am than you.”

      Reply
  6. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    I’m a definite King fan. I don’t love everything he’s written, but what I do love stays with me for a long, long time. And isn’t that one of the greatest things for a writer? To know you’ve entertained and moved and touched readers some how, some way?

    And if you read my posts about when I met King and when I’ve heard him speak, “pretentious” is certainly not a word you’d apply to him.

    Reply
    • JH

      Not at all. He’s always been very much an “everyman” writer.

      And I agree…who wouldn’t want to be able to touch readers the way King does? There’s a reason millions buy every single book he writes.

      Reply
  7. Randee Dawn

    I do consider myself a King fan. I’m just less of a fan of his books later on. Not sure that he himself ever decided to say he was taking a literary bent, but between the lack of editing he’s had in recent years and his own delving into “how to write” (“On Writing” is good but gets a bit too much credit) that’s how it comes across.

    I prefer his rawer, more spare (even then, long) stuff — including the short stories. And I always read his author notes! The one thing I haven’t read of his is “Danse Macabre.”

    Reply
    • JH

      Sometimes it does seem like his books could do with a bit of editing. A lot of his novellas and short stories are stronger, for sure.

      But I wonder how many of us would still be crafting “perfect” novels if we’d written over 60 like him. Not to mention the hundreds of short stories, screen plays, and novellas.

      It’s okay to say the man’s work is flawed. It’s not okay to say it’s crap without value, as Allen did. Well…unless you want millions of readers to dig out their pitchforks and torches.

      Reply
  8. Samantha Bryant (@mirymom1)

    Gah! Snobbery is always so ugly. In all its forms. Even mine, I assume. 🙂 I’m snobby about cake-eaters (a term from my own upbringing in a more blue collar town: a version of Greasers and Socs). I’m a Greaser.

    Reply
    • JH

      Mmm, cake….

      Wait, what were you saying? Oh yeah, snobbery. Snobbery sucks.

      But cake….

      Reply
  9. Lisa S.

    Stephen King has the ability to share his imagination and make you feel like you’re inside the canals of his creative mind. He provokes the primitive response of fear and makes an imprint on your brain for years to come. He is a master at his genre.
    Allen seems to prefer high-brow literary works. I’m glad Allen’s found a literary niche he enjoys. But why go beyond that and criticize another’s work because it doesn’t fit into his narrow-minded idea of what true literature is?
    I read the first part of Allen’s article and got bored by the fourth paragraph. Perhaps if he reads a little more Stephen King, he’ll learn the art of drawing a reader in and keeping them there.

    Reply
    • JH

      Well said, Lisa. He could learn a thing or two from the Master of Horror.

      I’m so tired of literary snobs criticizing popular fiction. If they’re that proud of their work (or their reading choices, in this case), they should promote it rather than attacking everything else.

      Reply
    • JH

      I’ll go out on a limb and say no one can tell a story like him. Even if it’s a shitty story, he makes you want to read it.

      Reply
  10. Patricia Lynne

    This happens with Young Adult all the time. Someone who doesn’t read the genre takes it upon themselves to write an article bashing it and anyone who reads it. Why are they doing it????? Just let people read what they want and enjoy what you read.

    Reply
    • JH

      Good point, Patricia. I’d forgotten about that article criticizing adults who read YA.

      Isn’t it great that people are reading at all? Why would anyone want to make them feel bad about it?

      Reply
  11. Tami Von Zalez

    I am a King fan but when he started cranking out the books, my interest fell off.
    My favorite of his works is The Stand, I have read both versions the original and the uncut.
    I have even read some of the “Bachman” books, his pseudonym.
    Perhaps I will return to reading horror, I dove into the gorier authors of Barker and Koontz and read the Anne Rice series but lost interest in them all.
    I get to read so little for pleasure, most of my reading now is college textbooks and what is on my Feedly.

    Reply
    • JH

      Koontz, gory? :O

      Of course, I stopped reading when he began publishing all of his early, unpublishable novels, so maybe he got bloodier since then.

      The Stand is widely considered to be King’s opus, much to his chagrin.

      Thanks for commenting! Hope you’re able to get back to pleasure reading soon. It’s tough when you’re in school.

      Reply
  12. C. Lee McKenzie

    People love to bash what they don’t enjoy. I think it makes them feel superior. I even had one “friend” tell me she never bothered with fiction. It was beneath her to read created stories and she only bought non-fiction.

    So there you have it. What I write is c—p! What she reads is gold.

    I’m sure King enjoyed reading Allen’s article if he even bothered.

    Reply
    • JH

      Are you still friends with this person, Lee? I get that our friends don’t have to have the same taste as us, but that’s a pretty tacky thing to say to an author!

      I’m sure King has better things to do with his time. Like write another bestselling novel while Allen is still bemoaning the world and its plebeian tastes in literature.

      Reply
  13. Toinette Thomas

    Everyone who takes the time to read a book has the right to criticise it, but that doesn’t mean others have to accept their criticism. This Allen guy is barking up the wrong tree. Who is this Allen guy exactly? If he doesn’t like his idea of “horror” then he shouldn’t be reading it. King writes for the enjoyment of it and entertains millions.
    In the simplest and least literary terms I can think of, I can sum this all up by saying “Haters gonna hate.”

    Reply
    • JH

      Yep, and King has been dealing with this kind of hate since he was a kid in high school.

      At least he gets the last laugh.

      As for Allen, Allen who?

      Reply
  14. Chrys Fey

    I’ve tried reading a few of Stephen King’s books (The Shining, Salem’s Lot, and Under the Dome) but I couldn’t make it past the first few chapters. I even picked up The Shining four times and still couldn’t do it. I guess he’s just not an author for me. I certainly never attacked him, though, or claimed he’s not a horror author. He is a horror author. But there are a couple of his books that I still want to try to read sometime. I may not be able to get behind his writing (yet) but I do like his movie adaptions. 😀

    Reply
    • JH

      Hmm…try one of his collections of novellas or short stories. Different Seasons, Everything’s Eventual, Full Dark No Stars…shorter fiction is where he really shines, IMO, and if you don’t like one story, there’s others to try.

      Under the Dome is brutal. Always enjoyed The Shining, though.

      Reply
  15. Ness

    I’ve been a fan of King since I was a teen (OMG, The Dark Tower!) and I agree with you about his voice, and that he’s never taken himself seriously. He’s the first to call himself a hack (repeatedly) and that’s just the way he likes it.

    But honestly? I think King’s selling himself short. As you mentioned, he’s got such a strong voice. But his books reveal SO much about life, even if people like this Allen turd don’t want to see that. Maybe it’s not revealed in every line, but that kind of writing is a snoozefest, not to mention it can get far more on the nose and precious than lit authors realize (or probably intend). There’s so much blending of lit and genre now (hello, Gaiman or Atwood, anybody?) that this sort of snobbery seems antiquated. Genre (and King) have so much power to reveal the world to us and to change lives.

    People like Allen are everything that’s wrong with this industry. “I’ve read little/nothing of this author’s work, but I’m just narcissistic enough to believe I’m still somehow qualified to give a definitive opinion on it.” Ugh, no thanks.

    Horror (or any other genre) not for you? That’s cool. Not everything has to be your jam. But you don’t get to tell other people what they can/can’t read and love. You don’t get to assign quality.

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Ness! I’m so glad you stopped by to add to the discussion, because you brought up some great points. (And you called Allen a turd, which made me laugh.)

      I agree that the type of writing Allen espouses is often a snooze fest. I hate it when you can tell that an author was attempting to blow people’s minds with theme and imagery. Just tell the damn story, and if theme and imagery and revelations about the human condition fit, great.

      I also thought it was hilarious that he mentions Dickens, who was criticized for being a hack in his day. Ironically, King is often compared to Dickens, but I guess Allen doesn’t know that….

      Reply
  16. Birgit

    I have to admit I never read a King book because I am scared-weak, i know, but the truth. Sounds like this guy likes his nose being scraped by the underbelly of a plane…what a snot! he is a pretentious fop who only loves to ridicule especially when another person is very successful. Some said the same about Agatha Christie but it still sold and was well written. Some people just like to bash others (I know someone like that). It reminds me of some art people who show nothing but disdain for an artist like Robert Bateman who creates beautiful works of art on wildlife, but these critics praise idiots who place a red blob on a canvas and call it art. makes me ill

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s a great description of him, Birgit. 🙂 I had no idea some people show disdain for Bateman–wow! The man is insanely talented, but I guess it doesn’t matter what art form one chooses. Show me someone at the top of their game, and there will be a crowd of haters heckling at his heels.

      Reply
  17. Stephanie Faris

    When I started “Under the Dome,” I was thinking, “Now THIS is the Stephen King I loved as a teenager.” Then I later read that he’d written that first chapter early in his career! I loved 11.22.63, but it was more adventure/time travel than horror, I felt. As I read that article you posted on Facebook, I was thinking, “Stephen King doesn’t HAVE to be literary.” He doesn’t have to do anything…he just writes and money pours in. Will kids study him in Lit class 100 years from now? Probably…seems we need time to truly appreciate the great minds of our present day and see them as brilliant artists, rather than “sellouts.”

    Reply
    • JH

      So true, Stephanie. I don’t think writing popular fiction is selling out, because who can control whether or not their work is popular? If it was easy to sell books like King–if it was a choice–a lot more writers would do it. That said, I did hate when King wrote that thinly veiled advertisement for Kindle, but the man can do whatever he wants. Who knows–if Amazon waved a bunch of money under my nose, I might have been tempted too.

      While he’s a rich man now, he grew up poor and married poor and raised kids while poor. I’m sure that feeling never really goes away entirely.

      Reply
  18. Frank

    The guy who wrote that is a case study for the kind of people I recommend writers to avoid. For 2 decades he avoided King’s work, judging it unworthy before he ever read it largely based on other works that he thought should have the same or greater success than King, again without every having read King. That’s not snobbery, that’s douche baggery.

    When he finally did read King, it only reinforced everything he thought about King, again things he thought with no experience to have made those judgments. That’s just lucky, that is. Well, not really. When you go looking for things to criticize it’s a forgone conclusion that you will find them, especially if you’re as self-righteous as this idiot is.

    He is the epitome of the college literary major. Stuck up self important jerks who think they have a right to tell other people what good writing is based on works that are only still in print after 100 years or so because some college professor likes the book. Books will sales near exclusively from college students forced to buy them.

    He didn’t try reading King for fun. He read King so he could pay himself on the back for being right about things he never read.

    He’s an ass and writers, especially new writers, should steer well clear of people like him. They are toxic.

    Reply
    • JH

      I couldn’t agree more, Frank. Not to mention people like Allen are absolutely no fun at parties!

      Reply
      • Frank

        I apologize for the typos, still not back in fighting form. One of the weirdest side effects of this shoulder issue is that my fingers have taken on a life of their own. They type whatever they want regardless of what my brain is telling them. It’s annoying.

        Reply
  19. Frank

    BTW, I say all of that not really being a fan of King.

    Reply
    • JH

      You don’t have to be a fan of King to appreciate his strengths and accomplishments.

      Reply
      • Frank

        I just thought it important to point out I’m not some fan boy. I admire him for the place he’s carved out but he’s not for me. Who am I to tell others that they are wrong for not having my same taste. I’m arrogant but I’m not that arrogant.

        Reply
  20. Roland Yeomans

    King is an icon. His GREEN MILE and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION would be considered literary if written by any other writer. My favorite of his is DUMA KEY because of the special friendship between two unique men. It is also a horror tale of creating art (painting).

    It will be decades before King is appreciated by scholars. Sad. 🙁

    Reply
    • JH

      And now that he finally is getting that respect from some, the literary hacks are coming out in droves to protest and discredit him. Have they nothing better to do? What would the ghost of Charles Dickens say about all this?

      I’ve been meaning to give Duma Key another read, because I remember very little about it. You’ve inspired me to move it up the TBR list.

      Shawshank is a work of art.

      Reply
  21. Shelley Munro

    I’ve read King’s On Writing, which I really enjoyed. Kudos to his wife for fishing that manuscript out of the rubbish bin. While I haven’t read his books, I’ve watched many of the TV/Movie adaptations and enjoyed them too. As a romance writer/reader, I get this snob factor spouted at me. I ignore it and kill them off in the next book. Hmm, maybe there’s a bit of the psychological horror in me after all. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Shelley. I’ve long referred to On Writing as my Bible. That book got me writing fiction again after a long hiatus, so I’ll always feel indebted to King.

      Romances with murders? You might turn me into a romance fan after all!

      Reply
  22. Sara C. Snider

    I’m sorry, I just can’t take anyone seriously who proclaims himself as a “literary snob”. As if it’s a badge of honor. Encountering people like that is when I switch on to “daydream mode” and let whatever they’re going on about turn into white noise.

    I fell out of love with King in high school and haven’t read him since. But I still respect him as a writer and his impressive body of work. I hope he’s chuckling over this Allen guy. Or, better yet, forgotten all about him.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m with you, Sara. It’s not something I’d strive to have printed on a business card.

      The timing of this post is interesting. I’m reading King’s “Finders Keepers” right now and there’s mention of a popular writer being slammed in a Salon article.

      Hmm…

      Reply
  23. Nicola

    I have the utmost admiration for Stephen King and have learned a lot from him via his non-fiction and seminars but I haven’t read much of his fiction work – it’s not my thing, and that’s ok. My brother is a great fan. If there is one thing I despise in a person’s character, it is snobbery. I reckon it should be added to ‘the seven sins’ – now there’s an idea for a novel “The Eighth Sin”. I’ll get right on it 🙂 Have a great week and thanks for the interesting post.

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Nicola! Thanks for commenting. Glad you liked the post.

      Let me know how the novel turns out. 🙂

      Reply
  24. Loni Townsend

    I’ve only read Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s not that I’ve got anything against him, it’s just I haven’t gotten around to it when I have all these other books I’ve wanted to read. I did like his voice as you mentioned. I’m really looking forward to the day I can get into his Gunslinger series.

    Literary snobs usually make my skin crawl. Usually anyone who takes the route of “only one way is the good way” puts me off to whatever they are saying.

    Reply
    • JH

      I can’t stand snobbery either, Loni. How does it help anyone, literary or not? No one should be shamed for reading…OR writing.

      On Writing is amazing. I owe so much to that book. The Dark Tower series is about the only thing of King’s I haven’t read.

      Reply
  25. Jaime

    In a way, attacking Stephen King for his failure to be a literary author is almost laughable, as I’m sure King would laugh too…all the way to the bank! One of my favorite novels ever is Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, and it’s one of the few books I have read and reread. I’m not even sure I can say why I love it so much, but I think it has something to do with the way that now, many years after I first read it, I can still remember being in the middle of reading it and feeling like I was almost helpless in my inability to put it down. Life stopped while I read that book!

    I think that an author who wants to write an essay criticizing King, for whatever reason, seems to be using the name “Stephen King” to hype the essay, otherwise, why else would you pick someone so famous, and beloved? It just makes him sound like someone with a bone to pick.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed. The surefire way for a literary “snob” to get a lot of attention is to pick on King.

      Bag of Bones is one of my favorites too! Surprisingly, few people seem to have heard of it, even King’s fans. It seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle somehow.

      Reply
  26. Misha

    I’ve only ever read On Writing (I know, I know), but people who are elitist about reading/writing *snivelly voice* “literature” invariably miss the point.

    They might think they’re superior for the reasons you mentioned.

    Others might argue the writing is inferior because it’s a pain the ass to stay invested/understand the point the writer was trying to make.

    This, of course, is a horrible, terrible generalization, but so is the assumption that all literary stories are somehow superior to all genre ones.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed. There’s an awful lot of terrible literary fiction out there.

      And it’s fine to have only read On Writing. Not everyone is going to be a King fan. I still think that’s one of his best, and I’m so glad he wrote it.

      Reply
      • Misha

        It’s not that I’m not a fan of King. I’ve just never gotten around to reading any of his works to actually make a call. 😀

        Reply
  27. Dianne Salerni

    Here are my 4 thoughts:

    #1: I’ve never heard of Dwight Allen — so who is he to belittle Stephen King, a household name?

    #2: “Literary” authors will always find fault with authors who entertain people.

    #3: Sadly, I cannot purge my brain of a GR review of my own work that gutted the second book in my MG fantasy series, saying, “It’s just another book about an ordinary kid who saves the world, which is all the first one was. I don’t think I’ll even bother to finish this one.” ~~ Really, do you think there are no ordinary kids who dream of being important? And besides which, if you hate reading books where ordinary kids save the world, why are you reading in my genre? “Cause that’s what it’s about.

    #4: Work on your own craft and stop criticizing others.

    Reply
    • JH

      Bravo, Dianne, and welcome back! I’ve missed you.

      Sorry to hear about your GR review. Sometimes people just read things to criticize them, I think. As my friend would say, “They’re not your people.”

      Reply

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