Stephen King's America by Jonathan P. Davis (Bowling Green, OH: Popular Press, 1994), ISBN 0-87972-648-2, $16.95 pb.
Landscape of Fear: Stephen Kings American Gothic by Tony Magistrale (Bowling Green, OH: Popular Press, 1988), ISBN 0-87972-405-6, $16.95 pb.
The Gothic World of Stephen King: Landscape of Nightmares by Gary C. Hoppenstand and Ray B. Browne (Bowling Green, OH: Popular Press, 1987), ISBN 0-87972-411-0, $13.95 pb.
Guide to the Gothic III. An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism, 1994-2003, Volume I, II by Frederick S. Frank (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005) ISBN 0-8108- 5101-6 pb, $200, set.
Spectral America: Phantoms and the National Imagination edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), ISBN 0-299-19954-1, $13.57.
Three out of the five books under review are a decade old, and two are over fifteen years. Why review them? The first thing one can say is that if the Gothic is a literary archive, the American shelf of this archive prominently features Stephen King, the subject of the three vintage books. Yet, it is 2005, and to paraphrase an 184Os British comment on American literature; who ever reads a Stephen King novel nowadays?
Of the three books on King one is written by, it appears, a young journalist who, the jacket notes say, graduated from college 'magna cum laude'; the study has the feel of an undergraduate thesis. The Introduction to this largely worshipful volume might speak for other, perhaps more sophisticated examples of a similar tendency in Gothic criticism - Magistrate's Landscape of Fear and Hoppenstand and Browne's The Gothic World of Stephen King are similarly motivated. Concerning King's relation to the horror genre Jonathan P. Davis writes, 'Horror fiction is largely allegorical. Aside from its traditional moral implications concerning the individual, it also constructs superficial models as external manifestations of the world that surrounds people in real life.' (19) In these studies (Davis; Magistrale; Hoppenstand and Browne) that world is, as James E. Hicks describes it, the Violation' of American pastoral' ('Stephen King's Creation of Horror', Hoppenstand and Browne, 75). Further, in this allegorical read, the alleged pastorality of the Gothic scene is matched by its ethical, perhaps aesthetic, and certainly ideological, insularity. Samuel Schuman, in 'Taking Stephen King Seriously: Reflections on a Decade of Best-Sellers', sums it up best: 'Stephen King's novels ... do not ask us to stretch our moral imaginations. On the contrary, most of his books solidly and reassuringly reinforce conventional, middle-of-the-road ethical positions' (Hoppenstand and Brown, 113).
To be fair to King, however, it must be said that these studies do not include the great majority of his 89 published novels, chap-books, and collections of stories. Since Dolores Claiborn (1992). King's work shows an author reflective enough to read his own narrative critically and occasionally to deconstruct it. Indeed, he continuously changes his mode. The Colorado Kid (2005) is a revisionist Noir, and shows King's inability to keep within genre boundary lines. The self-critical Gothicism of the later King, then, is of a very different sort than the bumps and chills of his earlier, less nuanced work. There is more to him - and to Gothic - than malicious lawnmowers, cars, and other products, Polaroid cameras with an eye to kill, revenant cats, or home-grown kid vampires.
Having said that, Magistrale's Landscape of Fear is probably the best sustained, singleauthor exploration of King's American Pastoral mode. An American literature specialist, Magistrale not surprisingly, and correctly, places King - once upon a time a high school English teacher - in the American Romance tradition; he examines King's early work in its relation to writers such as Hawthorne, Poe, and others. The volume also usefully features an Annotated Bibliography of the early King ( 1980-87), compiled by Marshall B. …