I thought about this topic for awhile. Reason being is that most reviewers that I read, indie book bloggers or from a nationally known magazine or newspaper or bookstore website (and son of a bitch, even Amazon), the reviews for King’s work has seemingly gotten better and better. It’s almost sacrilege to say anything bad about his work these days. So I started to think about this subject for a little bit.
Why? Why are most of the reviews that I read these days cast King in a better light? Is he a better writer at an older age? Has all the haters from the 70’s and 80’s finally quit, yielding to a younger generation that read and liked King’s work? Or is it simply because there’s more fans able to use technology to tell the world about how good his books are? Perhaps it’s all of these possibilities.
It’s true, back in the day when King was turning out books like The Stand, The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, etc., reviewers would often times rake him over the coals saying this and that and that King couldn’t write and that horror was just a low-brow form of writing. A lot of older reviewers from back in the day that I read said that King couldn’t write at all and that the people that were reading him were just the dregs of society with minimal education. These were some pretty solid hits on King’s work early on. Of course none of this turned any of King’s fans off. King writes for the fans, not the elitist, stuffy book reviewers that can’t and won’t read anything that wasn’t written 80 years ago or someone from current times that writes like the authors they read when they were growing-up. They are entitled to their opinions, however.
Obviously these old school Hemmingway, Wolfe type fans can’t get into the modern world with King. While these self righteous reviewers were looking for the next Herman Melville, King was hammering out novel after novel like Christine, IT, Pet Sematary much to the disdain of these reviewers that were already in their fifties and sixties when King was early in his career. The more that King wrote and published, the more some of the reviewers hated his work. Pretty soon there was a dividing line being drawn in the literary world between those reviewers that hated King and couldn’t/wouldn’t accept him in literature and those that did.
The reviewers that loved King told the world through their nationally read book reviews in newspapers or on TV and in the last two decades the internet. This new school bunch of reviewers were the reviewers that King had hooked way back when Carrie had hit the scene. Some he hooked on The Shining, some on ‘Salem’s Lot and others on The Stand (and as time and books went on, so did his fan base). What I think is great is that some of the reviewers of his work today were the same kids that read King and watched the movies adapted from the pages. You’ll be hard pressed to find a generation X’er that doesn’t like King’s work whether it be all of it or just a portion.
Once King made more fans through his inventive imagination, some of those fans would grow up reading King’s work even today and those same fans took to whatever medium they could get their hands on and review Stephen King’s work, me included. Most reviews of his works are positive today, unlike the stale old book reviewers that expected books to be boring, and about times that no one in the last century could recall. I understand there’s classics out there, I do. I’ve read those same classics that the old school book reviewers can’t let go of. I think the biggest problem that the aging elite book reviewer of King’s work is that they can’t accept that the world has moved on and no longer care for long gone forgotten novels. And I will hazard a guess that as time goes on, most of King’s work will be forgotten save for a few novels and shorts that will probably outlive us all. It happens to all the greats. How many Ray Bradbury novels can you name right now?
Very, very few writers write like writers did 80 years ago. I feel that one of the biggest reasons that older books don’t get looked at much anymore is simply because they just don’t translate well into our vernacular anymore. King still does and has been for decades; for my generation and the one behind me.
I re-read Firestarter not too long ago and that book still translates well into 2017. It helps that I was alive when the book was published and know a lot about the pop culture that King references in the novel. However, in 2020, when a 19 year-old kid picks up Firestarter, are they going to be able to relate to that novel and the pop culture references? No, probably not. Does that mean King then becomes Mark Twain?
The thing that really help boost King was the adaptations of his work to the small and big screens. People that didn’t like to read could watch his work on film and they loved it. Then you had the people who read his books and then watched the films. With this double-pronged attack, it was hard for Stephen King’s name not to be a household one. Even my mother knew who King was even though she never watched a King adaptation or read any of his books but she knew what he was. He’s the blue collar writer that connects with most of the people that buy his books and goes to the theaters to watch the films because at the end of the day, no matter how much the man is worth, he likes to write and tell stories. I have a strong feeling he’d be writing even if he wasn’t doing it for a living. It’s very rare that anyone gets to turn a hobby into a career.
It’s not to say that all book reviewers from back in the day were harsh on King. Not all of them were. Early on King had a slew of supporters helping him along the way. King has always had his share of supporters and detractors from the baby boomer generation. But in my opinion, the detractors are diminishing in numbers. Why? Several things actually have contributed to his more positive reviews.
One. I think many of King’s early antagonists voices have become irrelevant. These golden oldies don’t like change and with the way the internet is the prime source of news nowadays, no one is reading their tired reviews about writers that no one is going to read except the elite much like them. Like it or not, things in this world have become a niche market. Thing is, these King haters held on as long as they could slamming his work every time King put something out (Harold Bloom comes to mind). But time and technology has slowly pushed their audience, voices and reach to the margins. They don’t have the clout they once had say in the 1980’s. Sure, King still has staunch haters out there that simply do not like his work. And that’s okay, because we are all entitled to our opinions. But let’s be honest here; how many of these elite reviewers over the years really read and gave King a chance? I’d say not many.
I have more respect for a reviewer that has actually read the work he is discussing and give it a chance with an open mind. I think King’s rep forced a lot of these old school reviewers from back in the 70’s and 80’s and hell, through the 90’s, to just look at the jacket synopsis and they’d write a review based off that. Not saying that it happened, but I think it did for those that hated his work that much. I can’t see these stuffy old folks sitting down and reading through Desperation.
Two. Another reason Stephen King’s work isn’t getting the negative feedback as it once did is because his writing has gotten a lot sharper and with deeper meaning. I guess this all came with age. I’d say from Carrie to The Dark Half, King was what I would call a gunslinger (yeah, I went there for all the DT fans). He just wrote like he was on fire and gave us some of the most awesome stories, both novels and shorts and novellas the literary world had ever seen. He was becoming what very few writers become: Successfully prolific. From Needful Things through Desperation, King was still giving us some great novels and shorts and novellas, but there was a maturity in his writing. That maturity I saw came in The Green Mile, Bag of Bones and with The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. That’s where I saw King beginning to get some age on him and start to get a little more profound with his work. Then his near fatal accident happened. And then came Dreamcatcher, a seemingly return to the gunslinger King. But as he healed both mentally and physically, he wrote meaningful books afterwards like Lisey’s Story, From A Buick 8, 11/22/63, Duma Key, a return to The Shining with Doctor Sleep just to show us all that he could still bring it, and even Under the Dome with a hardboiled detective novel, his first, Mr. Mercedes. King has shown us all that he can still come up with great stories, unforgettable characters and everyday situations that can turn bad on a dime. To me and I think to most fans and reviewers like myself, King’s best work lies in the last 21 years from The Green Mile to Revival. I love all of King’s work on some level or another, but I think he’s done a terrific job of keeping things fresh and new even though he’s been at this for over 40 years. And if you think it’s easy to keep things fresh after four decades, think again.
Three. I think another reason King’s work is better reviewed nowadays is because more of his fans are out there with technology at their fingertips. Now, thanks to the internet, you don’t have to be a newspaper columnist with your own section in the weekend paper to review things that you like. Now, if you hate or love something you can take it straight to your own blog or social media page and tell the world what you think. Stephen King blogs like mine I think are important because we’re fans first. Why else would we take all this time to write about something if we didn’t like it or that our heart wasn’t into? It’d be silly. Also, I feel that me and all these other Stephen King bloggers are helping to extend King’s past books by reviewing them our way. Let’s be honest here: Will King be popular in 50 years from now? Let’s see, I’ll be 88…ummm. I don’t know. Stephen King himself was asked which of his books he thought would still be popular 50 or 60 years from now. He replied The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining. I think there’s more than that that will be popular. But then again I don’t truly know. I bet people back in Mark Twain’s day thought he’d never be forgotten. But he nearly has if not for some of our public schools that still require his books as required reading. Twain isn’t totally gone out of sight, but he has to a degree because time goes on and people die and things are forgotten. It’s people like me and others that do blogs about King’s work, review the books that entertained us for decades hoping that a younger generation that has never read King stumbles upon our reviews and reads what we, the fans, have to say about this prolific and folksy and award winning author. Maybe we’re able to turn someone onto King’s work later on. Hopefully.
People have their own opinions when it comes to things. Stephen King’s writing over his career is not different. At the end of the day it comes down to preference. I got that. But I can stomach someone that reads King and gives him a bad review as long as they read his work, not what’s inside the flap.
I don’t give every Stephen King novel or short I read a rubber stamped 5/5. I can’t do that; because not all his books and stories are that. He knows that and so do all his fans and reviewers. But to me there is something that works in every King tale; something that makes us keep reading on even though it isn’t our cup of tea at the moment. It comes down to trusting his narrative and his voice. I have since I was 12 way back in 1990.
It’s true, King has written some not so good shorts, novellas and novels. In 40 years he’s bound to write some bad ones. However, with that being said, I’d still rather read his worst story than another writer’s best…it’s Stephen King’s voice that has always kept me coming back. He’s like an old friend I sit with that likes to tell stories. And there’s a comfort in that I think; bad reviews be damned…