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Stephen King Reveals Early Criticism He Got That’s Always Stuck With Him

Stephen King interviewed in Eli Roth's History of Horror
(Image credit: AMC)

As one of the most bestselling authors of all time, Stephen King has no doubt heard and seen the entire gamut of critical opinions regarding his work, from the highest of glowing praises to the lowest of dirty digs. And one can assume that the level of fame and success he's amassed makes it a heck of a lot easier to dismiss the negative comments, with sales charts and his bank account serving as easy proof of his gargantuan fanbase. But that doesn't mean the author is completely invulnerable to chiding remarks, and he's long kept at least one naysayer's viewpoint embedded in his memory banks. 

Fellow bestselling author Alafair Burke, whose novel Find Me was published in January, tweeted an anecdote about overhearing someone making a dismissive comment about her at ThrillerFest XVII, without realizing that she was nearby (and wearing a mask). Stephen King’s Twitter reply concerned a somewhat similar experience he had, only his critic was a bit more upfront with their analysis. In his words:

Early in my career, I spotted a woman reading CARRIE on an airplane. I made the mistake of asking her if she liked it. She thought it over and gave her 2-word critique: ‘Shitty read.’

Now, to be fair, King wasn’t clear about whether the Carrie reader recognized him as being the book’s author or not. And one might suspect that she didn’t, given we live in an age where social media has destroyed any semblance of manners and grace, and where airplane behavior has become all the more extreme. But this was presumably long before Facebook and Twitter arrived, since Stephen King’s career has lasted for nearly 50 years at this point, with Carrie having been published in 1974. 

It possibly also depends on whether or not the woman looked at the author’s picture on the book jacket, or on the rear cover if it was a paperback. I like to think that right after she called it a “shitty read,” her eyes glanced over the picture and she slowly grew more and more mortified as she realized what she’d just done. Or, alternately, that the woman was actually a bestselling author in her own right whom Stephen King didn’t recognize. Mary Shelley, I presume? (Okay, she died 50 years before the Wright brothers brought flight into the mainstream, but still.)

I’d certainly like to know if that airplane critic went on to read more of King’s work, and what she thought of it. Did she enjoy Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation more than the book? Did she think Cujo was too light-hearted? (King has a fix for that, if so.) Or that Pet Sematary could have used more kids being destroyed by Mack trucks? What else was happening in this woman’s headspace?

Clearly her words didn’t do much to keep the author down, since Stephen King is one of the most prolific writers of any genre, and not even being hit by a van could permanently derail his storytelling swagger. These days, he no doubt bears witness to far more insulting comments on Twitter, where he’s just as vocal about political matters as he is about praising other writers’ works, and sharing the horror TV shows he’s obsessed with.

With the most recent Firestarter adaptation currently streaming for anyone with a Peacock subscription, King fans can also anticipate a slew of other upcoming feature and TV takes on his work, from Gary Dauberman’s freaky vampires in ‘Salem’s Lot to The Boogeyman to Sleeping Beauties and beyond. And if Netflix wanted to bring him in to work on the Stranger Things spinoff ideas he had, that’d also be great. 

Nick Venable
Nick Venable

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.