For a long time this wasn't the case. Condescension and a certain amount of hostility used to mark the critical reaction, and because of that, perhaps, he is belligerently against what he sees as rarefied writing types. Stuttering Bill Denbrough in It storms out of a college writing class when the instructor sneers at his horror story. "Why does a story have to be socio-anything?" Bill asks. "Politics. . . culture. . . history. . . aren't those natural ingredients in any story, if it's told well? I mean. . . can't you guys just let a story be a story?"
The biggest beef King has with mainstream literary culture is one of productivity. He was recently asked by the New York Times to review Donna Tartt's new novel, The Goldfinch. "And Donna Tartt is an amazingly good writer. She's dense, she's allusive. She's a gorgeous storyteller. But three books in 30 years? That makes me want to go to that person and grab her by the shoulders and look into her face and say, 'Do you realise how little time you have in the scheme of things?' "
It is 11 years since Tartt's last book, and King says, "I looked at it and thought, 'God help you, Donna, this better be interesting.' " And was it? He smiles. "It's very good." When people ask why he is so prolific, he smiles and tells them: "I'll stop soon enough."
Almost all his books have been turned into movies, the bulk of which have been successful, although King doesn't bite his tongue when something isn't to his liking. He enjoyed Brian De Palma's 1976 adaptation of Carrie, starring Sissy Spacek. But he "hated" what Stanley Kubrick did to The Shining in 1980: the film turned his novel into "a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones", he said at the time. He also thought Jack Nicholson hammed it up appallingly, and Shelley Duvall as Wendy was "insulting to women. She's basically a scream machine."
It has been frustrating, he says, when he has tried to bust out of his genre and been largely dismissed or misunderstood - primarily with his novel Needful Things, a satire of Reagan-era materialism that baffled the critics. "They read it and said, 'This is just peculiar.' " He has a lot of sympathy for JK Rowling, who was spectacularly mauled for her first non-Harry Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, which King is reading at the moment.
"Man, this book is like. . . Do you remember Tom Sharpe? It's a bit like that. And it's a bit like Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? It's fucking nasty. And I love it. The centre of the book is a dinner party from hell and you say to yourself, 'These little people in the town of Pagford are a microcosm not just of British society, but western society as a whole, of a certain class.' The fact that she set it around this little election that nobody cares about in a shit little town is fabulous. She's a wonderful storyteller and the writing is better than in any of the Harry Potter books, because it's sharper."
King is not so successful as to be above the fray, and he is sceptical about some of his more direct rivals in the mega-selling horror and fantasy categories. Contrary to popular opinion, he says, this is not a golden age of horror. What about the Twilight franchise? "I agree with Abra's teacher friend [in Doctor Sleep] who calls Twilight and books like it tweenager porn. They're really not about vampires and werewolves. They're about how the love of a girl can turn a bad boy good."
Sweet Valley High with teeth?
"Yeah. Pretend I said that."
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