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The once and future King: Stephen King’s critical reception

With more than 60 novels, works of nonfiction, and short-story collections under his belt, Stephen King has likely developed skin thicker than his notoriously beefy tomes.Why? Despite their bestseller statuses, King’s works have been attacked by critics about as brutally as his characters are tortured, possessed, and terrorized. But in the past 20 years, critical reactions to this absurdly prolific author have shifted. Here’s a review of notable lows and highs in the gradual rise of Stephen King’s literary star.

1. 1974 First novel “Carrie,” is published. It becomes a paperback bestseller.

2. 1977 “The Shining” appears. The New York Times declares King “a writer of fairly engaging and preposterous claptrap.”

3. 1980 In a review of “Firestarter,” the Toronto Globe and Mailskewers “Carrie” as “a clumsy experiment.”

4. 1981 “Cujo” released. The Los Angeles Times calls it “‘Paws’ instead of ‘Jaws’ …It doesn’t work.”

5. 1983 In the same year that “Christine” and “Pet Sematary” are published, in an essay in the N.Y. Times, critic Robert R. Harris declares that reviewers “might admit that they would just as soon have a beer with [King] as read him.”

6. 1986 “Where did Stephen King, the most experienced crown prince of darkness, go wrong with ‘It’?” trashes the N.Y. Times. “Almost everywhere.”

7. 1987 Concerning “The Tommyknockers,” the N.Y. Times declares King “a great and terrible storyteller.”

8. 1990 In its review of “Four Past Midnight,” the N.Y. Times itemizes “King’s flaws: tone-deaf narration, papiermache characters, cliches, gratuitous vulgarity, self-indulgent digressions.”

9. 1994 His short story,“The Man in the Black Suit,” appears in The New Yorker.

10. 1996 The story wins The O. Henry Award for best American short story.

11. 2003 Awarded The National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In the Boston Globe, critic Harold Bloom calls this decision “another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life.”

12. 2004 When King publishes the seventh volume of his “Dark Tower” series, the Washington Post gushes the novel is “a humane, visionary epic and a true magnum opus.”

13. 2007 Edits the anthology “The Best American Short Stories 2007.”

14. 2011 For the first time, makes the N.Y. Times list of “The 10 Best Books” of the year, with his JFK assassination novel “11/22/63.”

15. 2013 Publishes “Doctor Sleep,” the sequel to “The Shining.” Critical reactions are mixed.

— Ethan Gilsdorf

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