Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cimmerian sighting: Evaluating Don Herron's hard look at Stephen King

Essayist/raconteur Don Herron is best known ‘round these parts for his outstanding Robert E. Howard criticism, which includes essays and editing duties in seminal works like The Dark Barbarian and The Barbaric Triumph. Elsewhere he’s also regarded as an expert on the works of renowned mystery and noir writer Dashiell Hammett.

Based on this photo, he also wears a fedora and trenchcoat better than anyone.

But a lesser-known side of Herron’s resume includes his Stephen King criticism. I myself was unaware of Herron’s work as a reviewer of the king of horror until coming across his essay, “King: The Good, the Bad, and the Academic” from Kingdom of Fear: The World of Stephen King (1986, NAL/Plume).

Seeing as how I’m writing for The Cimmerian website, whose now defunct print journal was home for many Herron essays, this next statement may make me seem like a suck-up, but that’s fine, I’ll say it anyway: I think Herron’s essay is perhaps the best in Kingdom of Fear. This is no mean feat, given that some of the other contributors to the volume include horror immortals like Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, and Harlan Ellison.

Whether or not you agree with that assessment, it’s rather indisputable that Herron’s essay is the most provocative of the lot. I first started typing “equal parts criticism and praise,” but upon further review it’s decidedly tipped in favor of the negative. Considering that Kingdom of Fear was published in 1986—arguably the height of King’s creativity and popularity—Herron’s final analysis of King as a talented but flawed writer is rather ballsy. Herron pulls no punches, neither for King nor his legions of fans and admirers. For example, he rips Douglas Winter’s book Stephen King: The Art of Darkness for containing too much fan-worship and not enough honest appraisal. Writes Herron: “[It] strikes me as remarkable because Winter never once disagrees with a King dictum, he does not suggest that one of the novels under discussion might, just possibly, have a minor flaw or two. In this respect it is typical of most of the new criticism, where the critics, like the audience of teenage girls who buy so many of the King books, find everything to be just wonderful.”

To read the rest of this post, visit The Cimmerian website.

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