Things weren’t improved by Erik Nelson’s response on Salon. Nelson accuses Allen of a variety of thought crimes, including but not limited to: professional jealousy, snobbery, elitism, and ignorance. His tone is shrill and his metaphors are quite literally laughable (“…Allen should have read, before trying to set this straw man on fire with his woefully wet matches.” “…work worthy of more than a drive-by shooting by a lazy marksman.”). Most of Nelson’s criticisms were off-mark themselves. He never defends King’s work on any basis other than: 1) He enjoys reading it 2) Other people enjoy reading it 3) He is a JFK documentarian and can attest to the accuracy of King’s last novel, 11-22-63. I know I sound mean when I say this, but the kind of defense King should get from accusations of being a bad, stupid writer, probably shouldn’t come from one of the same. Because he’s not, and he deserves more than that.
In other words, I think both Allen and Nelson are wrong. Allen is wrong because he’s too vague in his criticism about the criteria he uses to judge the literary merit of King. Sentence by sentence, King may not be a David Foster Wallace. But as a storyteller, isn’t he one of the best? Don’t his trenchant social criticisms have literary value? And Nelson is wrong because he defends King using the same material that Allen uses to criticism him with. No, being popular does not make you good. Or at least that’s what a banner hanging in my sixth-grade classroom told me. It seems like these semi-annual “should I feel bad about reading Stephen King?” battles are getting a bit out of hand. Snobs: your standards are not objective. King Defenders: don’t be so insecure. These arguments always seem to bring out the worst in people, because it really becomes a war about your identity as a reader. But who cares who considered which author to be what? Sit down and read and enjoy.