Absolutely fantastic read from the Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life on oft-maligned novelist Stephen King. Anyone who dismisses King as a hack horror writer simply hasn’t read him.

Ross Douthat tries to explain why King should get more literary respect:

And then, of course, there are all those pesky ghosts and vampires. What kind of realistic novel includes a demonic clown, or a haunted car, or a literary pseudonym that comes to life and stalks his creator? Except that they are our ghosts, our vampires, our haunted houses, and our monsters: They’re at once horrifying and entirely recognizable, intruders from an alien dimension and just another part of the great America pantomime.

The UFO that Bobbi Anderson digs up in her backyard in The Tommyknockers isn’t just a spaceship-it’s nuclear power and environmental contamination, the military-industrial complex and the just-as-oppressive drug culture that tried to overthrow it, with the strains of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” playing in the background. In Needful Things, the devil seduces the residents of a small Maine town with bits and pieces of Americana: a rarer-than-rare Sandy Koufax baseball card, a pricey fishing rod, a photograph of Elvis. In The Stand, Satan’s avatar, Randall Flagg, remembers spending time as a member of the KKK and the Weather Underground; he once attended high school “with a red-haired, bandy-legged boy named Charles Starkweather”; played a part in the wave of civil rights-era violence (“the beatings, the night rides, the churches that had exploded as if some miracle inside them had grown too large to be contained”); and recalls “drifting down to New Orleans in 1962, and meeting a demented young man who was handing out tracts urging America to leave Cuba alone.” Flagg is history’s string-puller and a walking compendium of dark Americana:

His pockets were stuffed with fifty different kinds of conflicting literature-pamphlets for all seasons, rhetoric for all reasons. When this man handed you a pamphlet you took it no matter what the subject: the dangers of atomic power plants, the role played by the International Jewish Cartel in the overthrow of friendly governments, the CIA-Contra-cocaine connection, the farm workers’ unions, the Jehovah’s Witnesses (If You Can Answer These Ten Questions “Yes,” You Have Been SAVED!), the Blacks for Militant Equality, the Kode of the Klan. He had them all, and more, too. There was a button on each breast of his denim jacket. On the right, a yellow smile-face. On the left, a pig wearing a policeman’s cap.

I firmly believe that King will make the Norton Anthology of American Literature … one day.

Read the whole article for an exploration of King’s concept of God. And pick up one of his novels for your summer reading.