On Stephen King Versus “The Classics”

When I was sixteen and just starting my A levels, my English teacher- who I normally loved for her snarkiness and no-nonsense attitude- rubbished my declaration that Stephen King was one of my favourite authors, insisting that it was too “lowbrow” and I ought to be reading the serious classics, and only the classics, in order to be properly influenced for our course. Whilst I agreed with her that those books are essential, I took great offense to the idea that King’s books were any less important than others, as I had always considered him to be a tremendously clever writer.

See, for example, Under the Dome, in which a semicircular dome cuts off an American town from the rest of the world with no explanation, leading to air pollution as a metaphor for climate change, the breakdown of authority figures and a wonderful narrative structure in which the town’s inhabitant’s stories weave effortlessly together. Or, indeed, The Green Mile, in which King explores the concept of miracles and morality set on death row, whilst using the periodic story medium in order to exploit suspense writing. I could go on; in nearly all of his books, despite a varying level of the supernatural and fantastical, King grounds his stories in reality using a writing style that is both easy to read and inherently thought-provoking. Just because he uses a different style to some of the “classic” authors shouldn’t make what Stephen King does any less worthwhile, and indeed it isn’t to his readers. If his work is so important to those who read it, then isn’t that enough?

I believe that every work, whether serious or light-hearted, classic or totally modern, has its own place in the world, and this has been emphasised to me recently by the words of writer John Green. He is now a well-known young adult author, but he is notable in that he attempts to treat teenagers as the intelligent beings they are that not all adults take them for; this is most obvious in his 2012 novel, The Fault In Our Stars. The main characters in this book all have cancer, but he writes for them with humour, allowing them to be people who live instead of just people who died.

Anyway, he has said that every book is a collaboration between author and reader, allowing it to be a personal experience that means that any book can be as important as another. While I didn’t mind reading what my English teacher wanted, I wanted her to understand that sometimes these books don’t offer the best individual meaning that I, and others, require.


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