Is there any other living novelist who calls for a perpetual re-evaluation as much as Stephen King? Thirty-seven years after the publication of his first novel, Carrie, King still seems not just underrated but uncomprehended. For years his critical evaluation was hampered by the dual whammy of his being not only a genre writer but an immensely successful one. He was ridiculed and dismissed when he was paid any attention at all, yet when he didn’t go the convenient route of fading away after a few bestsellers (all but two of his books have remained in print), a sort of grudging attention began to be paid to him. Occasionally it was even approving. At a conference of postmodern novelists at Brown University, the critic Leslie Fiedler, who had written appreciatively of King (even mischievously calling him a closet intellectual), announced to an assembled group that included William Gaddis, Donald Barthelme and Robert Coover, “When all of us are forgotten, people will still be remembering Stephen King.” The serious consideration King has sporadically received over the years peaked in 2003, when the National Book Foundation honored him with a medal for lifetime achievement. The dedication was exactly right: “Stephen King’s writing is securely rooted in the great American tradition that glorifies spirit-of-place and the abiding power of narrative.” Notable among the expected harrumphing that followed was the noxious black cloud hanging over New Haven, which materializes whenever Harold Bloom decides a barbarian is about to defile the canon (see also Rowling, J.K.).
more from Charles Taylor at The Nation here.