The other thing I want to rave about is the work and philosophy of Stephen King. I am not the first person to compare him to Dickens, but they do have a lot in common. Not least among these things is that King is both hugely popular with ordinary people and underrated by contemporary critics. He’s supposed to be a horror author, but King writes painfully accurately about real (often small-town) people. It’s only then that he eviscerates, immolates or tortures them. (I was shocked to hear that Misery, his novel about the capture and torment of a novelist by a fan, was toned down for the movie—not because I believe that films should be true to the works they are based on, but because the only clip of Misery I have experienced was so nasty that it put me off seeing it—and that was one of the bits that was softened.)
One of the best things about King is his attitude to creativity. I have a simple rule of thumb when I listen to interviews with writers, performers, painters etc. If they talk about making works “for artistic reasons” or “to please themselves”—often tacking on “if anyone else likes it it’s a bonus”—they are usually either lying or shit. If they talk about “their craft” or “doing a good job” or say that they’re “only in it for the money”, not only is there a chance that they know what they’re doing, there’s a tiny, but not negligible, possibility they are artistic geniuses in the making: William Shakespeare, Pablo Picasso, Dr Seuss.
King has the right attitude for greatness:
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
Working hard doesn’t guarantee achievement, but not working hard guarantees obscurity. King writes and writes and writes. He’s even written a book about writing.
The reason I rave about him now is that I rented a dodgy adaptation of one of his most recent novels yesterday. Dreamcatcher is a superb study of the behaviour (both good and bad) of groups of ordinary boys and men, before it becomes a study of the extraordinary bond between them under even more extraordinary circumstances. Stated baldly, however, the plot of the work is almost silly. This is why it should never have been made into a film. Amongst the special features included on the DVD is an interview with King. In one short section he talks about one of the silliest parts of the story and makes complete and elegant sense of it.
[Incidentally, before their first books came out, Theodor Geisel (“Dr Seuss”) was rejected by 28 publishers and Stephen King by 60.]