Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Rabbit rabbit rabbit rabbit

Lots of messages in on the Stephen King and Harold Bloom front, of which my favourite is probably:

Re: Stephen King

Of course, Mr. King isn't above a bit of snobbery himself. In a recent Entertainment Weekly article, he trashed James Patterson as "dopey" and dismissed William Gaddis and Paul Auster (as well as their "ilk") as "dull" and "overpraised." I am sure the late Mr. Gaddis wishes he had been able to please Mr. King more by having written about a group of childhood friends who, as grownups, fight monsters; choosing instead to write about such dull topics as politics, law, religion, language, music, economics, education, art, and love were surely mistakes which he now greatly regrets from beyond the grave. I am sure he also wishes he had been praised less (if such a thing were possible in light of the sort of reviews he received during his lifetime) in order to have made his writing more palatable to Mr. King.


and if your point is that authors (and columnists) say dopy things sometimes, you're absolutely right (I know. I'm one of them, and I certainly do). If your point is that authors write bad books from time to time, or retread, worry and chew over old themes, not always for the best, well, you're right there as well.

But I can't make the jump from there to anything other than puzzled irritation at the Bloom article in the LA Times, in which King's faults are demonstrated for the world to see. They appear to be 1) he is a writer of "penny dreadfuls" and 2) he liked Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and said so in print. (Bloom then goes on to explain that it would be better for children not to read at all than to read J. K Rowling, and be led down the slippery slope to reading Stephen King. Read the article if you don't believe me.)

Now, I like and respect Steve very much as a person, and I've been a fan since picking up Salem's Lot on East Croydon station when I was fourteen. I've reviewed his work (not always positively), and twice now I've wound up on the BBC World Service talking about Stephen King as a writer, and his strengths and weaknesses. If I wanted to write an article about why Stephen King shouldn't be honoured as a writer, I bet I could come up with some more cogent and convincing reasons than Bloom's (and by the looks of it, so could you).

King's written some really solid non-fiction (Danse Macabre, and On Writing), many excellent short stories, several very fine novels. He's also a working writer who has raised a family by writing. He's written enough that there are some stinkers in there, but that's what happens when you write a lot. (And very few writers set out to write a stinker. Most of us hope that this next story will be one of the beautiful, angel-winged children we are proud of, rather than one of the evil malformed ones who should have remained locked in the cellar forever.) But I'd say that his strengths, like Twain's, far outweigh his weaknesses. And the man understands story...

And this was my other favourite comment:

I read your comment about the Harold Bloom piece and thanks to the login id and password provided by a fan went ahead and read the article by Professor Bloom. Much of Blooms comments are just part of a problem that exists in the academic world, especially in literature departments. I earned a Bachelor's degree in Literature from a pretty respected program at the time and found a lot of snobbery that I just didn't understand. One example, is the idea that certain people understand literature and some people just can't really "get it." There were numerous examples of people who came to me asking for help in their composition or literature classes who had made it all the way to college and were otherwise obviously very intelligent people but were struggling in some way or another. With a little dedication and some teaching to how these people needed to learn I was not only able to help them improve their grades immediately but I found their performance improved on following tests and assignments because their foundation was better. I understand that at the college level it's virtually impossible for a professor to teach to each individual but I think in 13 years of public school they could have gotten, as a foundation, what it took me a few days to give them. Unfortunately, these people were led to believe they just couldn't perform as well as people with more "talent" for it and they should just accept scraping by with minimum passing grades. In one instance I was astounded to find a college junior whose research for a paper was excellent but couldn't put sentences together to make a coherent paragraph. Not only did her grade on the specific paper on which we worked reflect my help, but future papers which she brought me to look over showed a definite improvement in organization and clarity. By asserting that King is unworthy of the award and Pynchon, or any of the other writers he mentions are more so, Bloom is clearly showing he "gets it" and the millions of people who read King don't. I think this is related to a myth that is propagated, in society at large, if not in the literary academic establishment specifically. That being, that great artists (writers included) are not really appreciated in their own time. I can't speak to other art forms but when it comes to writers this just isn't true. All members of the canon of western literature I can think of were popular in their day (and I'm willing to bet all the readers of your blog could only come up with maybe one or two exceptions total). Poe, Twain, Hemingway, Dickens, Shakespeare, Plato, Dante, you name it and they were very popular even when they were alive. Shakespeare's plays at The Globe were very popular among both the illiterate and the literate of his time. Dickens was wildly popular. So much so, that not only did he sell his novels in serial form but then turned around and sold them again bundled together as whole books. Twain was not only popular for his writing but was a sought after speaker who traveled not only on this continent but Europe and Asia as well. Now, Huckleberry Fin is considered one of the greatest works of American fiction.

Another of Bloom's comments is patently untrue and again I base this on personal experience. He says he would rather kids not read anything at all rather than read J. K. Rowling. That reading the Harry Potter books only prepares them to read King and not more worthy works. The first book I remember enjoying is The Hobbit (another book frequently derided by the literary critics and professors). This led me to read the rest of Tolkien's works and then on to other books in the fantasy genre. Eventually, I began to read and enjoy works other than fantasy including those works part of the western literary canon. This all led me to choose to seek a degree in literature. There is a gap in literature from Dick and Jane beginner reading to heavier material that turns a lot of kids (mostly young boys) away from reading. If only a fraction of those kids go on to enjoy or even just appreciate the works of Shakespeare or any of the other great works of literature as a result of reading Harry Potter, then I applaud Rowling. If one person of any age reads King, or you, or whoever and decides they want to pass on their enjoyment of the written word by becoming a writer or a teacher then I think anyone who already loves the written word in any form should be overjoyed.

Always a fan,

Larry Johnson, Jr.

Hello Neil,

Just curious - the Silver Bullet Comics page you linked to a few days ago mentions that the picture and story about Endless Nights for Entertainment Weekly was supposed to run in the September 19th edition. Well, there was a short (pictureless) review of the Neverwhere DVD in there, but I didn't see anything else pertaining to you in that edition, nor in the September 26th one either.

Did the story get pulled or something, or am I just incredibly blind?

Thanks for all your wonderful work,


it'll be in the one that comes out on Sep 26th (which is cover dated a week on from there -- probably 3 October 2004. Bizarre matrix-male-model photo and all.

High points of today:

Went to see Will Eisner for 50 minutes in the afternoon, during my only down time.

Met (and signed copies of Endless Nights and Wolves in the Walls) for many hundreds of Barnes and Noble Managers. And while many of them were "You have to sign something for my assistant manager who hand-sells your stuff and reads your journal and says she'll stab me in the night if I forget to get something signed" there were also an awful lot of "So who is Virginia Dare?" and "I've been reading you since Sandman #1" and so on, just like a normal signing. We ran out of Endless Nights for them. Then we ran out of Wolves in the Walls. Then, about 5 hours after I started, I stopped.

Low points of today: just got to my hotel. It's nearly 1:30 am right now. I leave for the airport at 6.00 am. I need to figure out how to connect to the internet do e-mail and post this...

Posting may become a bit irregular, as I will probably next be logging on from Finland. Or maybe Amsterdam airport.