There isn't a huge amount of Stephen King news that's broken since the last time I wrote one of these columns, but do you honestly think that's going to keep me from writing something?
Let's start with what is, theoretically, the coolest news I'll be discussing tonight: the fact that Stephen King has been invited to become a voting AMPAS member. That's right, the director of Maximum Overdrive may now be able to vote for the Oscars.
Plenty of other Hollywood bigwigs were on the invite list, too, including Matthew McConaughey, Terence Malick, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, and Andy Serkis.
Still waiting for MY invitation, guys...
In casting news, Deadline reports that Justin Long is in talks for the lead role in Tom Holland's upcoming movie The Ten O'Clock People. In case you don't remember who Justin Long is -- or never knew in the first place -- here's a reminder:
Whoops; my bad. That's actually Machete. Let's try again:
No, not John McClane, the OTHER one, the one who looks a lot like the Mac guy from those Mac vs. PC commercials. THAT'S Justin Long, who is arguably still best known as the Mac guy, or possibly from Live Free Or Die Hard. He's been around for a while now, though, and has had good roles in Drag Me to Hell, Walk Hard, and Youth In Revolt, amongst others. He's one of those guys I can't claim to be a fan of, but I've got no problem with him. He seems like someone who is simply waiting on precisely the right role to come around. Will The Ten O'Clock People be it? Well, anything is possible.
I'd be a lot more excited if it was Danny Trejo who was up for the role, though.
Here's an article -- complete with a video -- about a Stephen King tour that is conducted in Bangor by Stu Tinker, former proprietor of Betts Bookstore. For those who enjoy this sort of thing, I'd imagine this is a fun tour to take, so if you're in the Bangor area at some point, you might want to add it to your itinerary.
Seems like there may be an actual Firestarter in Vietnam, or at least that's what this article speculates might be the case. An eleven-year-old girl in HCM City has allegedly been burning electrical outlets, mattresses, and so forth using nothing but the power of her mind. She has been examined by several different doctors, some of whom seem to feel that she may actually have some unusual traits.
I'm skeptical, but I'll say this: Vietnam, we WILL send Machete after this girl if we need to, so don't get any fancy ideas about how to put her to nefarious use.
I should also mention that the name "Charlie" has obvious associations with this story, both in terms of Firestarter and Vietnam itself. It's also worth mentioning that in the novel, John Rainbird was a former Vietnam veteran who had run-ins with Charlie AND with Charlie. Coincidence?
I leave that decision to you...
Here's a link to an interview Matt Jacobs (of the Stephen King Fancast) did with Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the subject of the science of The Dark Tower. Tyson discusses, amongst other things, 11/22/63-esque time portals, whether you could or should go back in time to kill Hitler, and Prometheus.
It's a brief interview, but a very cool one. Congrats to Matt on a job well done!
Time to transition to a couple of bits of commentary. First up, let's talk video games.
Here is an article wherein Whatculture! discusses ten Stephen King stories that would make for good video games. I'll let you read it for yourself, but my take on it is that I agree with approximately one of their ten picks.
I'm less interested in the specifics of the article, though, than I am in talking about the subject of Stephen King video games in general.
There really AREN'T any, is the thing. And I, for one, am glad. Now, lest you get your gaming shorts in a bunch, don't misunderstand me: I have nothing against gaming. Heck, I've recently been devoting about half an hour per day to Plants Vs. Zombies. Back in the day, I owned an Xbox, a PS2, and a GameCube, but the time eventually came when I had to drop out of gaming. I love games, and would happily indulge in that love more frequently if time and money were not issues.
They ARE issues. See, I love games, but I also love movies, books, comics, music, and television. And I love all of those things more than I love gaming; when it comes to leisure time, games are demonstrably the runt of the litter, and they get the least attention from me. Combine that with the fact that one simply cannot be a devoted gamer without spending a lot of money on it, and it was a simple decision; games had to go.
Ah, but here comes the rub: my Stephen King fandom trumps all other considerations, so if and when the time comes that the gaming industry decides to start adapting King works for that medium, then I'll have no choice but to get back into the gaming life. It'll mean I'll have to buy a system (or -- *shudder* -- multiple systems), and that I'll have to drop the $50+ bucks on the games as they come out.
And frankly, I just can't afford it right now. So I hate to sound overly self-obsessed, but for my own sake, I hope the gaming industry will continue to turn a blind eye to Stephen King for a few more years. My finances appreciate it.
(Incidentally, yes, I am aware that the Alan Wake franchise of games has unofficially delved into Stephen King territory already. I don't concern myself too much with unofficial adaptations, though, so -- for now -- I'm good on that front.)
Finally, let's talk about snobbery.
At the Los Angeles Review of Books site, Dwight Allen recently published a piece wherein he talks about his attempts -- and failures -- to enjoy the work of pop culture juggernaut Stephen King. The piece is titled "My Stephen King Problem: A Snob's Notes."
If you're a Stephen King fan -- and presumably you are (otherwise what are you doing here?) -- then you might want to consider not reading the article. It'll probably just piss you off.
Here's the summation: "King may be an adequate enough escape from life, if that's all you require from a book of fiction, but his work (or what I've read of it) is a far cry from literature, which, at its best, is sentence by sentence, a revelation about life."
As you might suspect, Allen drops a lot of names during the article, names of authors who better fit his notion of "literature." Those names include Thomas Pynchon, Vladimir Nabokov, John Cheever, David Foster Wallace, William Styron, Diana Abu-Jaber, and Roberto Bolano. I've heard of most of them; not all, but most. I've read none of them, and that's probably a failing on my part. I'd love to read EVERY acclaimed author, but -- reference my previous comments about video games -- there is only so much time ad money for me to devote, so I have to pick my battles.
The overriding thought behind Allen's article seems to be this: why, if I have only a limited amount of time on this Earth, would I spend that time reading someone (Stephen King) whose work does not move me? Frankly, I find it to be a perfectly understandable question, because it's exactly how I feel. And give Allen credit where credit is due: because so many people have assured him that King IS worth reading, he did eventually give the man's work a shot. Several, in fact. It wasn't to his liking. He found the prose to be less than inspired, and I'd say that's a fair assessment of King's work. (I especially agree with what Allen has to say about The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon; he found the prose in that one to be borderline dreary, and I would tend to agree with him.)
I've got an English degree, and while I didn't put it to particularly inspired use even while I was receiving it, I did at least encounter enough of the type of literature Allen is championing to have an understanding of where he is coming from. It's not my cup of tea. A great deal more emphasis is put on the notion of a work of art being "worthy" in some way than on it being actually enjoyable. Allen talks in his article about the need for literature to be a "revelation about life," and that's a noble desire. For my part, I'm less interested -- at least in the short term -- with understanding life than I am in enjoying life. Ideally, I'd like to do both, and perhaps that explains something about my reaction to his article. You'd think it would be a thoroughly negative reaction, but it isn't; I find that while I disagree with Allen, I understand where his thoughts come from, and I completely support his right to them.
The reason for that is simple: I am intelligent enough to know that I have the power to reject such thoughts for myself. A writer/reader like Allen might once have had some sort of power over me; no longer. I know what I like, I know why I like it, and I can defend my own sense of self-worth against criticisms from people who feel that the things I enjoy are less than worthy. I simply don't need for someone like Allen to validate my opinions. Likewise, I'm sure he doesn't need someone like me to validate his.
I was actually more annoyed by this defense of King by Erik Nelson at Salon than I was by Allen's dismissal of him. I understand where Nelson is coming from, and I certainly appreciate the fact that he feels King is vastly more worthy than Allen indicates. However, Nelson commits the unfortunate mistake of sounding offended, and in so doing, he gives Allen's opinions a validity that they don't actually deserve. Sure, they probably deserve them within the insular literary circles of which Allen is a member; but it is a mistake to assume that that tiny community represents the totality of the literary world, and every time someone like Nelson responds to someone like Allen in a "how dare he!" manner, it is encouraging the notion that the judgment of Allen and others like him are, ultimately, the ones that matter.
I can't support that idea, and I think it is unfortunate that Nelson unwittingly bought into them. Worse: he responds by making the argument personal, insisting that Allen is revealing his own insecurities and is jealous of King's success. Some of Allen's original article was also perhaps a bit too personal in regards to his thoughts about the character of King fans (whom he characterizes as potentially being "aggrieved" adolescents or nerdy adults). I feel as if Nelson feels I ought to be offended by what Allen says, but I'm not. I am a nerdy adult; I was an aggrieved adolescent (who isn't, in some way?). You might even say I'm an aggrieved adult, but if so, I'm a self-aware aggrieved adult nerd. It doesn't bother me; it simply is what I am, and I don't know that being such is a fundamentally worse fate than it is to be a writer/reader who can only find the value in works which speak to a small number of people, as opposed to those who speak to a large number of them.
So, yeah, I'm fine with what Allen says, because it doesn't actually have much of anything to do with me.
For my final words on the subject, I'd like to tell you how I feel on the subject of Stephen King and where he falls in the spectrum of literary merit. I was in graduate school for exactly one semester, during the time 9/11 happened. It was an American Studies program, and I adored American Studies because it took the view that ALL pop culture was valid from a standpoint of using the type of analysis one uses on literature, because all pop culture is revelatory. You can learn just as much from The A-Team as you can from John Updike, provided you know how to look properly and don't have any prejudices about the worthiness of what you might find.
While in that program, I was assigned Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner. I tried to read it; I really did. But I found it to be thoroughly impenetrable, and eventually I gave up even trying. I'd managed to earn an English degree without having to deal much with Faulkner, and I'd, frankly, felt better for it.
The way I would describe Faulkner is that I would ask you to imagine a room full of people, all of whom are sorted by their level of literary complexity. The "smartest" are on the left-hand side of the room, whereas the "dumbest" are on the right. Everyone else is in the middle, and, of course, the middle is far and away the most densely populated. Faulkner is on the left-hand side of the room, whispering so that only the people in his immediate vicinity can hear what he is saying. Stephen King, on the other hand, would be right in the middle of the room, talking in a normal tone of voice, so that everyone around him can hear him extremely well; additionally, some of the people on either end can hear him, as well, so that ultimately he is, potentially, reaching nearly everyone in the room.
I suppose that if I were Dwight Allen, and I only wanted to hear what Faulkner was whispering, it might bother me that Stephen King was being so loud. But, really, he's not being loud; he's just being clear. But I'm not Dwight Allen. I don't begrudge him his desire to not have to hear what Stephen King and others like him are saying. It's just that, for me, the middle of the room is where the party is happening; it's where the most people are, and it always will be.
Allen can stay on his side, and the people who don't read at all can stay on theirs. I'll stay right here in the middle, and I'll feel just fine about it.