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?