Saturday, February 7, 2009

Loving the Lot, but hating the King

Scary books were a big part of my teenage reading years. I recall the thrill of seeing a new Stephen King paperback displayed on the shelves of National Bookstore and then saving money to buy it. Back then, we didn't have the Internet and, unless you subscribe to publishing journals, the only way you'd find out if an author you're closely following has a new book out is if you check out the monolith that is National Bookstore. I'd get giddy of the prospect of reading that new King, never mind that it meant forgoing recess at school because I needed to save money from my allowance.

The authors that I was really into were Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Clive Barker. These guys were the masters of the horror novels, achieving their popularity in the 1980s. Straub wrote the creepy gothic novel Ghost Story and a darkly atmospheric coming-of-age fantasy/horror novel called Shadowland. Barker is known for his morbid imagery in his novels. His novel The Hellbound Heart, whose main character is Pinhead, has achieved cult status and has spawned several substandard sequels/prequels. Of the three, my favorite was King. (I am using the past tense here because I stopped reading him after the unimaginative Rose Madder.) And my favorite King novel was, and still is, Salem's Lot.

Salem's Lot is a vampire novel. Unlike the vampires in today's books, King's vampires are anything but beautiful. In Salem's Lot, they're described as giving off a strong rotting stench. This stench somehow makes sense, doesn't it? If you're living off human blood and you've been dead for several hundreds of years and your body has stopped all its metabolic functions (including digestion, circulation, and waste excretion), you'd really have a noxious smell, right?

King's vampires are traditional, too. They don't get out in the day. They use humans as their familiars to do their daily business for them. They can't enter your house unless you invite them. They can shape shift into bats. Garlic and holy water are lethal to them. Still, King's vampires are downright scary. When I was about 10 years old, I saw a faithful TV adaptation of Salem's Lot, and I couldn't sleep for days. The scariest scene in the movie had to do with a boy vampire scratching at the window of his best friend's room while whispering, "Let me in. Let me in."

Nevertheless, despite my admiration for King's early works, I was really thrown back by what he had to say about Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight novels. King mentions that Meyer "can't write worth a darn. She's not very good." Perhaps King is nearing the untimely twilight end of his career and needs the publicity. Let's face it, King hasn't really made an impact lately on the horror genre. His latest books (except for Lisey's Story, which won the Stoker award) have been panned by critics. I think King has lost his edge in scaring the wits out of his readers. His recent works are a feeble attempt to tell people that he can come up with something "literary," too. Well, I think he doesn't need to. Why come up with something new when the old formula worked, and worked really really well.

I'm not a huge fan of Twilight. Although, when I read the first book 3 years ago, I encouraged people to get a copy. It was refreshing to have a vampire novel for young adults without the gore. Still, I'm not big on cosmetic vampires that are just too perfect. I think it's wrong to romanticize something that has its roots on people's fear of the unknown, the occult, the non-human. However, Meyer can indeed write, and she achieves a remarkable feat: she made people read. Her characters maybe archetypes -- the fish-out-of-water heroine, the brooding hero with a dark secret, the third wheel who desperately wants the affection of the girl -- but people relate to them very well. People root for them. They talk about them. And these characters make people want to read more about them.

When you think about it, King shouldn't be saying these things about any author. Sure, King could have critiqued her books and would probably have raised very interesting points. But calling someone who's sold millions of copies of her books in just a few years as someone who couldn't write is another thing. In a way, King has isolated himself from legions of potential readers of his books by saying that what they like isn't worth a darn. If we were talking about TV shows, people would say that King has jumped the shark. A good portion of Meyer's readers are teenagers. And when they grow up, they'd want to explore other vampire fiction. Perhaps they'd sample King's work, and perhaps they wouldn't after what King said about their reading preferences.

If you want to read more about what King has to say about Meyer, click here.


Charlotte said...

I'm not a fan of anything horrific. I don't like reading something or watching a movie only to end up sleepless (and not even in Seattle).

I respect Stephen King because he is- of course- Stephen King and after all- he 'successfully' scared millions of people. But the only book among his collection that I like is The Eyes of the Dragon (because of the fairytale factor). I also respect Stephenie Meyer for creating a hip vampire story.

But to compare Stephenie Meyer to Erle Stanley Gardner (of Perry Mason fame) and to call him (Gardner) as 'a terrible writer?' Wow. I am hurt! I love Erle Stanley Gardner- and I sincerely enjoyed all his Perry Mason books.

Now I'm wondering... why is Stephen King criticizing Stephenie Meyer? Is it because they have almost the same name? Hahaha!

Rhett said...

Maybe Stephen King is becoming more and more like the characters he writes about. Particularly bitter writers haunted by inner demons. In his case, the demon happens to be Stephenie Meyer.

mitch ramirez said...

I never attempted to read horror books. My bestfriend even tried convincing me to read her one from her Stephen King collection. I can't read horro books because, no matter how badly te're written, I still imagine them to be so true. Find the images creepy. I read the Twilight series and I didn't find it good. The first book made me feel like i was a highschooler excitedly waiting for what will happen next. It sure got me hooked though. 'New Moon' was oh-so-boring for me. Eclipse was so-s. Breaking dawn, for me, is so pinilit. Reading it made me tired. But i finished it just the same, so I could say I was fair.

Peter Michael C. Sandico said...

Hi Mitch! I have to agree with you on the Twilight series. Have you seen the movie?