Saturday, February 7, 2009

Stephen skins Stephenie

The first time I read Stephen King was in 1988, for my Composition class under Ms. Elvira Tabobo. I hadn't heard of him before that as I had barely graduated from Sweet Valley High then.  Christine just caught my eye because, well, it had my name on it. And when I started reading it I realized that I had seen the movie adaptation on video some three years back. 

That it was about an evil car is the only thing I remember about that book, but it had introduced me to the guy whose Pet Sematary will later give me my first experience with the macabre. This is the same guy who is now dissing Stephenie Meyer. In a recent interview with USA Weekend, King was quoted to have said:

"Both Rowling and Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people. ... The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good."

Ouch! I've read those lines more than a few times today and I squirmed every time. 

He then explained why he thought Twilight was a phenomenal success:

"People are attracted by the stories, by the pace and in the case of Stephenie Meyer, it’s very clear that she’s writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books. It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it's not particularly threatening because they’re not overtly sexual. A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet."

Apparently he thinks he got SM's formula down pat. It's simply sex. Subtle maybe, but it's still just sex. And girls like that because it appeals to feelings they can't confront yet. Safe, not theatening, appeals to feelings. Whew! How it must hurt to be dismissed like that by no less than Stephen King!

Of course, gauging from their reaction, SM fans are definitely not taking this sitting down. If they were shape-shifters like Jacob and his pack, I believe they would have already phased completely into wolves. From their forum posts, I could imagine the shaking and shuddering, and carotid arteries bursting. I shudder to think what they would  do to King if he were within leaping range. 

Facing the furor, my favorite Book Examiner Michelle Kerns explains King's comment here, basically saying that King criticized SM as a writer, not as a storyteller, which she is obviously an effective one. She concludes that "Twilight is not an example of good writing, but, really, it wasn't a serious attempt at it either. Stephenie Meyer did achieve what she was attempting--to tell a compelling story spiced with a bit of danger and a bit of romance."

I personally agree that Twilight is not a contender for the National Book Awards. It was never intended to be. I also believe that there's no point in comparing SM and King. I'm not going there at all. They simply wrote for different audiences, and for different reasons. The same way that there's no point in comparing King and Tolkien. They're not in the same league, although the former often names the latter as his influence.

But what I question is King's motive in publicly dissing SM. Is he just being frank and straightforward? Perhaps. He has, after all, the "Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters" tucked under his belt. And the American literary clique is definitely behind him, those defenders of literary standards who are forever bitter at the general reading public for largely ignoring their "critically superior" works.

But no matter how King belittles SM as a writer, it remains a fact that her debut novel, Twilight, is way more succesful commercially that his Carrie was. That means more people paid to get copies of Twilight, and more people read its supposedly inferior text. Not all the dissing in the world could change that.

Who do writers write for, if not readers like you and me? Let the critics pan or praise what they want. In the end, it is we, the consumers, who judge--with our currency--if a book is any good. After all, isn't literature a mere commodity, subject to economic laws?

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