Critical Insights: Stephen King
In-depth critical discussions of his life and works - Plus complimentary, unlimited online access to the full content of this great literary reference.
Stephen King has been terrorizing America ever since Carrie was published in 1974. For nearly forty years, he has fed our imaginations with a panoply of spooks and monsters, from telekinetic teenagers, vampires, and malevolent clowns to space aliens, crazed fans, haunted hotels, and our own psyches. Moreover, he is one of the country's most commercially successful writers: His books regularly shoot to the tops of best-seller lists, and in 2009 alone he earned an estimated $30 million. Yet for all of King's popular success, critics have long been hesitant to welcome him into the pantheon of American literature. Though the National Book Foundation awarded King its Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2003, critics such as Harold Bloom have continued to dismiss him as just another catalyst in "the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life."
Edited and with an introduction by Gary Hoppenstand, Professor of American Cultures at Michigan State University, this volume in the Critical Insights series brings together a variety of perspectives on King's contribution to American literature and popular culture. Hoppenstand's introduction situates King within the horror genre and American popular and literary fiction, and Nathaniel Rich of The Paris Review offers a writer's appreciation of King's fictive powers.
A brief biography acquaints readers with the essential details of King's life, and a quartet of new essays helps them build a framework for in-depth study. Amy Palko describes how King has attempted to straddle the gap between popular fiction and serious literature, and Philip L. Simpson reviews King's popular and critical reception. Dominick Grace examines the metafictional elements of three King works, and Matthew J. Bolton demonstrates how Robert Browning and T. S. Eliot were sources of inspiration for King's Dark Tower series.
Continuing the discussion is a selection of essays from the growing body of King criticism. Horror novelist Clive Barker meditates on King's imaginative abilities and his relation to the horror genre, and Michael R. Collings surveys King's fortunes among book reviewers, academics, and his peers and readers. Douglas E. Winter explores the tensions between fantasy and reality across King's work, and Heidi Strengel analyzes how American culture has shaped King's body of work. Through a series of close readings, Samuel Schuman makes a case for King's artistry, and Jonathan P. Davis turns his attention to King's particular brand of morality. Tony Magistrale links King to the American gothic and romance traditions, and James Egan offers an examination of King's dystopian attitude toward science and technology. Patrick McAleer analyzes the ending of King's Dark Tower series, and Tom Newhouse attends to King's teenaged characters and their revolts against the modern world. Edward J. Ingebretsen argues that, in his novels and short stories, King transmutes American culture's religious discourse into fictional horror. Finally, Mary Findley attempts to re-vision the film adaptation of Misery to cast it, along with The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, as part of King's "prison film trilogy."
The essays are approximately 5,000 words in length, and conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:
- A chronology of the author's life
- A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
- A general bibliography
- A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
- Notes on the individual chapter authors
- A subject Index