Stephen King: Victim of his own success

Stephen King Book Signing - LondonStephen King remains one of the past 50 years’ most prolific authors, publishing in excess of 84 books and selling over 350 million copies of his work worldwide. His novels have formed the basis of a number of publicly and critically acclaimed films, including academy award-winning Misery and cult hit The Shining. Despite this, although King might easily be considered one of the most commercially successful writers of his day, his work has failed to receive equal critical attention, Harold Bloom referring to him as ‘an immensely inadequate writer.’

King’s simple – or simplistic depending on who you ask – style, choice of genre, and, to an extent, the popularity of his work have seen his novels condemned by many a literary critic as unworthy of any significant praise or attention. His novels are often viewed as a social phenomenon, regularly compared with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter as an example of writing which does not merit the popular attention it has received.

However, few literary critics have stopped to question what it is about King’s work which has made him so hugely popular. Few authors have sold more books (he ranks in the top 25 best-selling writers of all time), and this cannot be put down solely to good timing and fortune. Not only does he know, perhaps better than anyone, how to tell a story, positioning characters we as readers relate to in situations that frighten and engage us, but his command of prose should place him in the pantheon of critically acclaimed authors. There seems to be the prevailing view that ‘real literature’ has increased value if it is taxing or demanding, but I do not think this is always the case. The worth of a novel should not be determined solely by the style and subject matter, it cannot be objectively quantified. Books are deeply personal, one person’s masterpiece is another’s artistic failure, we must all consider how a novel made us think and feel to determine its value to us.

Even so, if you were to spend some time with one of King’s novels, considering how his life and experiences have shaped his writing, you might be surprised at the depth and subtlety of his work. His depiction of human frailty, domestic violence and alcoholism are simultaneously shocking and deeply moving, and surely that in and of itself makes his work worthwhile and ‘valuable.’

Jolie, Senior Prefect


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