Stephen King Snobbery

Stephen King Caricature by Esnesto Priego
Stephen King Caricature by Esnesto Priego

Stephen King is a phenomenal writer and storyteller.  But for some reason he is not held in high regard in the literary world.  Fellow avid book readers oftentime seem to discount him, to consider him to be a sort of pulp fiction writer.  I find this bothersome.  His works are certainly page-turners but many people who think he’s simply a pulp fiction writer are not very familiar with his books.  They may have read It when they were teenagers and saw Carrie and Christine, placed him in the category of popular fiction, and then done what we all are guilty of, closed their minds to the topic.

Rolling Stone published an interview with him recently in which he and Andy Greene discussed this issue:

“[Andy Greene:] By writing horror novels, you entered one of the least respected genres of fiction.

[Stephen King:] Yeah. It’s one of the genres that live across the tracks in the literary community, but what could I do? That’s where I was drawn. I love D.H. Lawrence. And James Dickey’s poetry, Émile Zola, Steinbeck . . . Fitzgerald, not so much. Hemingway, not at all. Hemingway sucks, basically. If people like that, terrific. But if I set out to write that way, what would’ve come out would’ve been hollow and lifeless because it wasn’t me. And I have to say this: To a degree, I have elevated the horror genre.

Few would argue with that.

It’s more respected now. I’ve spoken out my whole life against the idea of simply dismissing whole areas of fiction by saying its “genre” and therefore can’t be seen as literature. I’m not trying to be conceited or anything. Raymond Chandler elevated the detective genre. People who have done wonderful work really blur the line.

A lot of critics were pretty brutal to you when you were starting out.

Early in my career, The Village Voice did a caricature of me that hurts even today when I think about it. It was a picture of me eating money. I had this big, bloated face. It was this assumption that if fiction was selling a lot of copies, it was bad. If something is accessible to a lot of people, it’s got to be dumb because most people are dumb. And that’s elitist. I don’t buy it.

But that attitude continues to this day. Literary critic Harold Bloom viciously ripped into you when you won the National Book Award about 10 years ago.

Bloom never pissed me off because there are critics out there, and he’s one of them, who take their ignorance about popular culture as a badge of intellectual prowess. He might be able to say that Mark Twain is a great writer, but it’s impossible for him to say that there’s a direct line of descent from, say, Nathaniel Hawthorne to Jim Thompson because he doesn’t read guys like Thompson. He just thinks, “I never read him, but I know he’s terrible.”

Michiko Kakutani, who writes reviews for The New York Times, is the same way. She’ll review a book like David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, which is one of the best novels of the year. It’s as good as Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, has the same kind of deep literary resonance. But because it has elements of fantasy and science fiction, Kakutani doesn’t want to understand it. In that sense, Bloom and Kakutani and a number of gray eminences in literary criticism are like children who say, “I can’t possibly eat this meal because the different kinds of food are touching on the plate!”

Film critics can look at a popular movie like Jaws and heap praise upon it, then in another section of the paper, the critics will bash you for The Stand.

By its very nature, film is supposed to be an accessible medium to everybody. Let’s face it, you can take a fucking illiterate to Jaws and he can understand what’s going on. I don’t know who the Harold Bloom of the film world is, but if you found someone like that and said to him, “Compare Jaws with 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut,” he’d just laugh and say, “Well, Jaws is a piece of crappy, popular entertainment, but 400 Blows is cinema.” It’s the same elitism.”

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2 thoughts on “Stephen King Snobbery

  1. Like you, I’m a Stephen King fan, so I feel bad for the guy when these critics say that his work is trash. I think it’s plain jealousy. King is rich, and his name will live on forever. As for the critics, I already forgot all those names of critics mentioned in your post!

    — M


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