Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ranking King

To note the mass-market publication of Stephen King's The Wind Through the Keyhole, his 62nd book and his eighth in the Dark Tower series, the culture website Vulture put together a ranking of his books from worst to best.

Lots of comments call into question the different positions given to different books. The top parts of the list are dominated by King's pre-1990 work -- and that really is when he was consistently good and before publishers realized that the more pages his torrential downpour of undisciplined narrative put between covers, the more green would come their way from his devoted fanbase.

I don't quibble with much of it myself, other than thinking anything other than a bottom ranking for Blockade Billy is inappropriate. I can't agree with Needful Things, Christine and Firestarter in the bottom half. The latter two date from the time King would still tell a story straight more often than not and Needful Things has a moral center that makes me fonder of it than I probably should be. The Regulators is as the list says, far worse than Desperation, and the gimmicky simultaneous publication of two books with the same character names by King and his late pseudonym Richard Bachman doesn't save the former.

We get into dicier territory the higher up we go. Wolves of the Calla is by no means the second-worst of the Dark Tower books and the idea that not only is the awful Wizard and Glass the best of that series but deserves the no. 7 spot overall pretty much burns out the credibility meter. And while I too found King's memoir/style manual On Writing worth thinking about, it's not the second-best book he's ever written.

Unsurprisingly, The Stand is at the top of the list. Although article author Gilbert Cruz promised no cop-out ties, you could make a case he welshed on that by including a mention of both the original 1978 publication and the unexpurgated vanity version from 1990. The 1978 Stand is a long but still lean variation on ye olde Good v. Evil, only with the cosmic scale reduced down so that the battlefield is the hearts and minds of individual men and women. If J.R.R. Tolkien's muse had been a little less mythical and a little more Jack Nicholson, The Lord of the Rings might have been like The Stand. But the 1990 version adds meanderings and mutterings galore, close to 90 percent of which are unnecessary and a good 80 percent of which turn a smooth ride into a cross-country journey of speedbumps. The pair are different enough to almost be two different books.

But the list is fun, and I can't say I minded seeing Gerald's Game, The Tommyknockers and Blaze take their lumps in someone else's opinion as well.


TodBryant said...

Thanks for posting that link. I realized, after reading this, just how few King books I've actually read. I gave up on him when he described his protagonist, in vivid detail, taking a dump in one of the novella collections (Four Past Midnight?). I gave him another chance, and read 11/22/63, which I thought was pretty good.

It was ranked too highly, in my opinion, for reasons having to do with the ending. Also, I would have ranked 'Salem's Lot in the top 3.

King's best work came when he still had an editor...

Friar said...

Yeah, It gets love, I think, for being one of his last throws as a straight-up horror writer before he became more phenomenon than author. But the ending is weak.

11/22/63 was probably one of the best things he's put out in the last 15-20 years; it certainly shows as the result of harder work than a lot of his post-1990 output.