STEPHEN KING IS GOOD BUT NOT A GREAT WRITTER
It was on last Saturday, 8th 2014, somewhere late in the morning, when I just finished reading The Needful Things, the last and most fine fictive Novel by Stephen King. I had been reading it hurriedly so that I could jump next to the weekend editions of Saturday Nation and the Saturday Standard. The sole motivation for the entire panic being the Saturday , a day on which the two main Kenyan Dailies run stories and counter-stories on world literature.
As I finally closed the Back cover of The Needful Things, my hand effortlessly went for the Saturday Nation, then flipped straight to the literary pages, in my mind expecting to meet the literary journalisms of either Godwin Siundu or Evans Mwangi. Unfortunately, none of them was in the pages on that particular day. However I suddenly came to Austen Bukenya, who is also the Knife Mate of my father, he had written about how to achieve the survival of African Languages in literatures and intellectualism. His story was sham and devoid of scientific logic. It did not have any hint of language shift and language maintenance as anthropological phenomena. My taste was only tickled a little bit further when the readers’ section of the paper had the main letter by Collins Odhiambo. Carrying nothing strange, but still again a riposte unto previous essay by Bukenya on the murder of Ken Saro Wiwa .Jejune. I tossed the paper away in distaste, typical of Soyinka style, and then grapped the Saturday Standard.
I similarly went straight to the literary pages; I suddenly came to Tony Mochama’s historical essay of Gaddo and Madd Mad world. I enjoyed the queer culture that characterizes his language, I also reflected about the letter that was published two weeks ago in the Pambazuka Journal of Pan African Voices, accusing Mochama of having sexually harassed a Kenyan girl of Indian origin a la Patel. I mused away the letter as Mochama’s Personal challenge as he looms on the verge of breaking away as Africa’s literary giant in the stature of Vladimir Nabokov. Then I looked at the bottom of this story only to come face to face with BBC serialization of Stephen King as a great writer. I said lo! What a pataphysics? Only to finish reading a writer a few minutes ago and discover that the world class media is serializing him as a great writer. It was telepathy of the time in my reading life. Almost a Dadaism.
That was not the only book I had read from Stephen King series. I had already read other works of his. At most I enjoyed his, Dark Zone, Tommyknockers , cujo, and The Body which also exist as a film; Stand by me. All of these books I read them in the mid of the 90’s during the last century. However, these books never left me with any emotion or ratiocination to a point of regarding Stephen King as Great writer. In my sincere appreciations, I found him a good writer among others of that time and even today.Period.But a brief literary looksy for now cannot be dismissed.
Those of us who grew up during the last two decades of the last century are aware of the social discipline we went through. They are aware that it was only going to the conformist church and reading novels and textbooks, but nothing more was our social pastimes. Singing in the church choir was not officially accepted by most of the families. There was no facebook, twitter, Sms, please call me, kindler, YouTube nor any digitally convenient socialization agent. Love letters were the main form of romantic communication. And one could easily stand to forfeit his or her lover on the basis of quality of English used in writing the love letters. So it was reading. Nothing else but reading.
Hence, through our reading we became aware that Stephen King was not a great writer. He was only a good writer. He was averagely among the equals of popular fiction writing. He is one of those who wrote in order to confirm rosy side of capitalism. But he was not alone. His accolades are to be shared among very many others. The likes of Harry Porter, Len Dighton, Phillip Higgins, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Sussane Jacqueline, Robert Ludlum or last but not least, Frederick Forsyth could leave any leeway for Stephen King to emerge as a great writer.
Those who read Mario Puzzo and Sydney Sheldon, Alistair Maclean and Don Pendloton, Anthony Grey and Bob Geldof can readily agree with me that literary greatness of Stephen King is relative but not absolute. Especially under light of Mario Puzzo’s Godfather, Sheldon’s The Other side of Midnight, Grey’s Saigon and also Geldof’s Is that it?
The problem was that the cultural wave of capitalism was a tornado like. And the western writers that wrote in tune with literary culture of capitalism lost creative power and succumbed to the commercial power available on the market for popular fictions. This is perhaps why literary creative power simmered off among the western societies. This is also the time Russia was toying with idea of Perestroika and Glasnost for literature.
However, those who wrote under a different cultural wave reserved their creative power. These are the Likes of German literature Nobelite; Gunter Grass, the author of The Tin Drum. Alexander Sholenystsin, the Russian author of I Will be on Phone by Five, and Amoz Oz, the Israeli literature Nobelite. Thus writers that remained creative were mostly from non western societies. But likes of Stephen King and Jeffrey Archer, who had a literary commitment to popular fictions as a mirror of capitalism, were mostly from the western world. Sadly, they were not able to attract long lasting literary recognition
Africans were not yet culturally settled to participate in this global level of ideological and cultural divide. Their wounds of colonialism were still fresh. And therefore their literatures were basically ranting about historical injustices suffered during colonial epoch. What they could only do was nothing else but to use literature as a device for decolonizing African mentalities and cultural spaces. This case is bare in Achebe’s Hopes and Impediment and Ngugi’s Decolonizing the mind. It was only Wilbur Smith, a white African from South Africa that managed to write at the level of Stephen King.His works were pure fiction and very entertaining. They were full of rosy pictures painting colonial capitalism as an elegant civilization. They include The fall of the Sparrow. Smith was not a creative literary writer. That is why the literature Nobel prizes went to his contemporaries, who were purely creative, in the likes of Nadine Gordimer and Josua Maxwell Coatze.
Alexander K Opicho