Tuesday, August 14, 2007

One Last Word on Pottermania

Now that the dust has settled on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it seems fitting that one publishing giant should comment on another. Therefore, Stephen King devotes his latest column in Entertainment Weekly to a thoughtful commentary on J.K. Rowling and the publishing juggernaut she built.

King begins with 1986, the year that R.L. Stine wrote his first teen horror novel, Blind Date. King does his usual self-referential thing (less charming than it once was) by describing Stine as "the Stephen King of children's literature." But he also spends some time comparing Stine--"perhaps the best-selling children's author of the 20th century"-- to Rowling--the undisputed queen of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

I've had an off-and-on love affair with King's work for my entire adult life. Even after all this time, his cheeky audacity can still shock and amuse me. In comparing Stine to Rowling, he says, "He's largely unknown and uncredited...but of course John the Baptist never got the same press as Jesus either."

After that bon mot, King gets down to business. He compares the two authors' writing styles (Stine was "an adequate but flavorless writer" while Rowling grew to be "an incredibly gifted novelist"). He also points out other differences. Stine's kids were kids forever while "Jo Rowling's kids grew up...and the audience grew up with them."

King then compares the two authors with the larger literary world:

. . . unlike Stine, Rowling brought adults into the reading circle, making it much larger. This is hardly a unique phenomenon, although it seems to be one associated mainly with British authors . . .

I've described myself as having a low-brow entertainment agenda. I spend a lot of my time reading dry, scientific detail and (only) slightly livelier news accounts. When I read for entertainment, I want to be seriously entertained.

There was a time when I had implicit trust in Stephen King to do just that. He forfeited the right to that trust in the late eighties when he allowed the dreck he'd written in a drug-induced haze to be imposed upon his Dear Readers.

His story mastery--and, equally important, the cheery optimism--I'd grown to rely upon disappeared. I didn't like the new darker, nastier King--he scared me . . . for real. The delightful chills had been replaced by a crazed grimness that caused me to retreat in alarm.

Fortunately for both of us . . . he went into rehab, and I grew up. Today he's sober, and I'm no longer a dewy-eyed girl who places faith in feckless troubadours.

King ends his EW column with the optimism that drew me to him in the first place. Far from bemoaning the lack of reading among kids today, he says:

The kids are alright. Just how long they stay that way sort of depends on writers like J.K. Rowling, who know how to tell a good story (important) and do it without talking down (more important) or resorting to a lot of high-flown gibberish (vital) . . . It's good make-believe I'm talking about . . . J.K. Rowling has set the standard: It's a high one, and God bless her for it.

And God bless Stephen King.

You can read the entire Entertainment Weekly column here.


Mitz said...


Great minds. I also included the link the King's column on my blog - www.mitzimusings.blogspot.com.

He's one of my literary heroes - and I did say "literary"- in all meanings of the word.

He doesn't get the credit he deserves.

BTW: I go to your blog whenever I want immediate news on publishing. My blog? Well, I'm not sure I can spell narcissistic. VBG

Maya Reynolds said...

Hi, Mitz: Good to see you again.

I've visited your site and love the graphics.

Thanks for stopping by.

David Roth said...

High praise, given that as you pointed out, most of the time his idea of praise is to say that someone else is almost as good as he is.

And I think he got it right on all counts. My daughter was a huge RL Stine fan, and I don't think Goosebumps comes close to HP - but then, its an apples and oranges comparison. Novelettes vs full scale epics - how can you compare them? It's like King trying to compare one of his Four Past Midnight short stories to the epic length The Stand (with all the deleted scenes tossed back in, or even The Stand to the Dark Tower series. Can't be done fairly.

Then there is that whole bit where King tore James Patterson apart. Hmmmm.

The big thing JoAnn did for the rest of us (yes, we are on a first name bases, rather ;o) ) was to show what persistence can do if that same persistence is accompanied by a good product, which hers definitely is.

As always, Maya, thanks.

Maya Reynolds said...

David: As always, thanks for your thoughts.