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First Things on Stephen King

The February issue of First Things includes a retrospective by Ross Douthat: “Stephen King’s American Apocalypse”.

A thousand potboilers have been bought, devoured, discarded, and pulped in the thirty years since Carrie was published, and only King, out of all his million-selling peers, has managed to maneuver his way out of the mass-market ghetto and into a kind of quasi-respectability. You won’t find many critics eager to champion him, exactly, but there’s a sense that he needs to be at least grappled with, a courtesy that’s extended to few other members of the rich-hack club.

In part, King has pulled off this unlikely feat by his steady work as a genre writer, where the relative dimness of the competition makes his talents shine brighter than they otherwise would. Indeed, there’s a sense in which he invented the modern horror novel, doing for the form what Agatha Christie did for the murder mystery: taking a genre that was defined by the short story and pulling it off at novel length—not once or twice, a Dracula here and a Frankenstein there, but over and over again.

The article is more convincing on King’s implicit theology than on his alleged desire for literary respectability:

King’s God isn’t a well-meaning weakling, holding our hands and hoping things turn out OK; rather, he’s so far above the various adversaries, from Tak to Randall Flagg, that the possibility of their winning passing victories concerns him not at all.