Stephen King is, of course, one of the best-selling authors of the past half a century. Even people who’ve never read him know his name, and even 44 years after the publication of his first novel, each new book still hits the top of the New York Times’ list. Most horror authors who have come since count him as a major influence.
That doesn’t mean, however, that he is universally loved. Not even by his most ardent fans. No author can please a reader 100 percent of the time, and as much as I love King’s work, he has delivered stories that didn’t work for me personally. That being said, I have noticed that I tend to be of a different mind on some of his most criticized works. I thought I would spend a little time talking about a few of these.
I first started thinking about this when I realized how much ire existed for the ending of King’s massive novel Under the Dome. I feel like people hold this novel up as a prime example of how King doesn’t always know how to end novels. Hearing these criticisms, I was left a bit baffled as I adored the ending. Under the Dome isn’t a perfect novel by any means, it has its flaws and weaknesses, but it is a novel I thought was damn entertaining and kept my interest throughout (and for a novel over 1000 pages, that’s quite a feat). And I actually thought the ending was the absolute best part of the book. It didn’t go for the standard over-the-top confrontation, the kind of ending I call “The Big Shoot Out.” Instead, King gave us something quieter, something more thoughtful, and therefore more unexpected. This ending actually gave me chills and felt very real, very human, and profound in a way that doesn’t have to beat you over the head with its profundity.
I think one of King’s least appreciated novels is From a Buick 8. I think this one is largely dismissed and almost forgotten. I found this novel emotionally powerful and affecting. Some said he was recycling ideas, going for another story of a supernatural car, and yet I found almost no similarities between this and Christine. Others also said From a Buick 8 was boring, a criticism I definitely don’t agree with. A story doesn’t have to have constant action to be exciting. A story of character and emotion can be exciting, and I definitely think this one is.
It is one of King’s most well-known novels, but it also gets a lot of criticism for certain elements of the story. Without giving too much away for those late to the party, sections that involve a smoke house that gives cosmic visions, a giant turtle that is the force of good in the universe, a battle of the mind instead of the physical, and a very controversial and unorthodox way of renewing a bond in order to survive are often cited as King going too far and being too weird. Yet for me these are the very elements of the novel that save it. They save it from being a very standard monster story. When King gets very weird and “out there,” it shows a storytelling bravery that I admire, and an originality and out-of-the-box thinking that keeps his work from being cookie-cutter but instead elevates it to something spectacular. I feel that way about It.
These are merely a handful of examples, but I thought I would share. As I said, I sometimes have my own criticisms of King, but I find the most common criticisms are ones I do not share. That is part of the beauty and magic of storytelling. It is a different experience for each reader. Ten people can read the same words and have ten vastly different reactions.
Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf. You can find out more about Mark and his work—including his latest, Deviations from the Norm—on his Amazon page. Click HERE.